Mesolithic harpoon found on Arisaig beach 50 years ago comes home to Lochaber

Fiona Bowie, right, holds the harpoon dating back to the Mesolithic age, while West Highland Museum curator Vanessa Martin looks on. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon03-1-scaled.jpg
Fiona Bowie, right, holds the harpoon dating back to the Mesolithic age, while West Highland Museum curator Vanessa Martin looks on. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon03-1-scaled.jpg

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Year after year, young Fiona Black, as she was then, and her family from Northumberland, returned to their favourite holiday campsite close to Arisaig, where she and her brother played on the shimmering sands, collecting shells and driftwood.

But while on holiday in the Back of Keppoch in August 1971, Fiona spotted something unusual sticking out of the sand.

Last week, that small prized object which had spent the past 50 years either in her mother’s china cabinet or on display in her own home in Alnwick, was presented to the West Highland Museum in Fort William.

It was excited museum staff who, two years ago when Fiona – now with the surname Bowie – first got in touch and sent a photograph, realised what they were looking at was a rare Mesolithic harpoon dating from almost 5,000 years ago.

It is hoped the Mesolithic harpoon, pictured, will be able to go on display in the West Highland Museum in Fort William. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon01-scaled.jpg
It is hoped the Mesolithic harpoon will go on display in the West Highland Museum in Fort William. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon01-scaled.jpg

Fiona had decided the harpoon rightfully belonged in a museum nearest to where she discovered it on that August day half a century ago.

Although museum curator Vanessa Martin believed it to be a Mesolithic bone harpoon, due to the Covid pandemic, no further action could be taken until this summer.

Ms Martin told the Lochaber Times: ‘In July 2021, I consulted an archaeologist who happened to be visiting the museum on a research trip. It was Dr Alison Sheridan, formerly of National Museums Scotland, and she was really excited by the artefact.

‘From images, she confirmed it was indeed a Mesolithic harpoon probably more than  5,000 years old. It is a really significant find.’

The harpoon will now go on display at the West Highland Museum while Treasure Trove procedures are instigated.

Ms Martin added: ‘We would love to accept the harpoon into our collection immediately due to the importance of this marvellous local find, however, because the object was found on the shoreline it is subject to Treasure Trove procedures.

‘This means that anything found in the ground must be reported to the Treasure Trove Unit in Edinburgh which will carry out an investigation, object assessment and, where appropriate, will investigate the find spot.

‘I hope we will eventually be allocated the object in accordance with Fiona’s wishes so that it will be on permanent display at the museum.’

The harpoon dates from the Mesolithic period, also called Middle Stone Age, the ancient cultural stage that existed between the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), with its chipped stone tools, and the Neolithic (New Stone Age), with polished stone tools.

Fiona told the Lochaber Times handing over the harpoon to the museum last week had been a much more emotional experience than she was expecting.

Fiona Bowie holds the harpoon, believed to be 5,000 years old, which she found on a beach near Arisaig 50 years ago. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon02-scaled.jpg
Fiona Bowie holds the harpoon, believed to be 5,000 years old, which she found on a beach near Arisaig 50 years ago. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon02-scaled.jpg

‘It was just because so many of my family memories are linked with it. Just handling it brings back such happy memories of family holidays at Arisaig,’ she said.

‘I had begun to worry that if anything happened to me, it might just end up in the bin somewhere and so felt it best that it be returned to somewhere as close as possible to where I found it that day so long ago.

‘Back then no-one was very interested in it – my daughter even used to take it to school for history-related subjects.

‘Mind you, while I might have felt emotional handing it over, I wonder how the person who lost it felt. A lot of effort clearly went into making it.

‘Maybe someone had speared a fish and it got away – so the person lost not just their tea but their harpoon as well!

‘At least now it has come back home and I’m pleased about that. My hope is the museum in Fort William is allowed to keep it as that would be fitting.’

CAPTION:

Fiona Bowie, right, holds the harpoon dating back to the Mesolithic age, while West Highland Museum curator Vanessa Martin looks on. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon03-1-scaled.jpg

 

EXTRA pics:

It is hoped the Mesolithic harpoon, pictured, will be able to go on display in the West Highland Museum in Fort William. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon01-scaled.jpg

Fiona Bowie holds the harpoon, believed to be 5,000 years old, which she found on a beach near Arisaig 50 years ago. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos

NO-F36-Mesolithic-harpoon02-scaled.jpg