Take a wee stroll through Scottish prehistory and history with this handy timeline.

The first people

Scotland was colonised around 10,000BC by small groups of hunter-gatherers who lived off the land, hunting and foraging. But natural events could pose a serious threat – coastal communities in the northern isles and eastern Scotland were decimated by a 25m high tsunami in 6100BC.


Living off the land

From around 4000BC and the start of the Neolithic period, farming began. People started to cultivate the land, making pottery and stone axes, and building permanent settlements and shelters. Tombs built to house the remains of their ancestors show how these new societies began to claim ownership of the land.

Adoption of metal

The Bronze Age started around 2500BC and saw technological change in the arrival of metalworking. Burial practices and ornaments made from exotic materials suggest there was a rise in individuals displaying their status or wealth, and that social hierarchies began to form.


Iron weapons and defended settlements

The Iron Age began around 700BC. Iron made better tools and weapons and was easier to access. Defensive forts of timber, earth and stone were constructed to keep enemies at bay. The Romans invaded Britain in AD43 and entered Scotland around AD79; they tried their best to conquer Caledonia, but would eventually retreat.

Tourists walking near St John's Cross on Iona

The beginning of history

The period from AD300 up to the end of the first millennium used to be known as the ’Dark Ages’. We now call this period Early Historic, since this was when Scotland’s written history began. Records, mostly written by monks, tell us that Christianity reached the west of Scotland in AD563 with the arrival of Columba on Iona.

Around AD800 the Norse Vikings arrived to raid and then settle in the west. Early Historic Scotland was a melting pot of different groups: the Britons, the Picts, the Angles, the Gaels (Scots), and the Norse. A mixture that is reflected in place-names across the country.

A kingdom of Scots

The medieval period saw the gradual expansion of the Scottish kingdom. Kings and queens came and went at a steady pace. From Macbeth to William I, and from Alexander II (and then Alexander III) to Mary, Queen of Scots, the death of a monarch always led to fresh fighting over independence and rule.

Mighty castles were built following the Anglo-Norman model in England and famous battles at Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn made heroes of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. And the stories of both Wallace and Bruce were then written down shortly after in extensive works of literature.

The Union of the Crowns

In 1603, James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English throne after Elizabeth I died without children. He became James VI & I, and uniting the two kingdoms was expected to bring peace. But civil war raged across Britain in the mid-17th century, and by the end of the 1600s the Jacobite risings were in full swing.

War and peace

The start of the 1700s saw another attempt at peaceful union. This time there was a sort of success, with prosperity for many families and merchants in the first half of the century not spoiled by the bloodshed at Glenshiel and Culloden. Then, when the fighting was over, the Age of Enlightenment – an intellectual movement that shaped the world – would begin in 1750. Major changes in farming techniques would partly lead to a rise in population levels.

The age of industry

With the arrival of industrial technology, and the money made from the selling of tobacco, sugar and cotton, based largely on the exploitation of enslaved Africans, Scotland shifted from rural to urban living at the turn of the 19th century.

Mining, shipbuilding and textiles were vital to Scotland as huge towns and factories came to dominate the landscape and the economy. The move to increase rents and the profitability of the land led to changes in land holding. Poor harvests, famine and enforced clearance pushed people from the countryside to the towns and sometimes led to families emigrating abroad.

Modern Scotland

Following the two World Wars of the 20th century, Scotland began drilling for oil in the North Sea 1967. The 1990s saw Scottish culture make its mark on the world, with films like Trainspotting and the books of J K Rowling finding huge success. In 1997, Scottish scientists cloned a sheep and called her Dolly. And in 1999 Scottish Parliament reconvened for the first time in nearly 300 years.