The Historical Background

Archaeological study of Scotland points the way
to the pre-history of the north of Britain
showing that the land was inhabited as early as 5000 BC
by peoples who probably came from Northern Europe.
These people were firstly hunters, then pastoralists and agriculturalists.
Their weapons personal adornments and artifacts
give us a small glimpse at their way of life,
but tell us little of their history.

Our Celtic origins begin with a civilisation
which developed from it's Indo-European roots
around the headwaters of the Rhine, the Rhone and the Danube
spreading out in all directions through Europe.
Their advanced use of metalwork, particularly their iron weapons,
made them a powerful and irresistible force.
Greek merchants, first encountering them in the sixth century BC,
called them Keltoi and Galatai.
Later, the Romans would echo these names in Celtae, Galatae and Galli.
Today we generally identify them as Celts.
The ancient Celts have been described as 'the first Europeans',
the first Transalpine civilisation to emerge into recorded history.
At the height of their greatest expansion, by the third century BC,
they were spread from Ireland in the west across Europe
to the central plain of what is now Turkey in the east.

We begin to learn more about the peoples of Northern Britain
with the arrival of the Romans,
who under Agricola in AD84 came up against a confederation of tribes
some 30,000 strong under the leadership of one Calgacus
the first man to be named in Scottish history.
Though Calgacus and the confederation were defeated at the battle of Mons Graupius
there was no Roman occupation of the North of Britain as there was of the south
and the Romans contained the northern tribes
by building the barrier from the Tyne to the Solway known as Hadrian's Wall.
Roman writers can tell us the names of about seventeen tribes
but they tended to group them collectively as "Caledonii" or "Picti".
Picti they used as a collective name for all the inhabitants of North Britain
but by the sixth century the historic kingdom of the Picts
was the eastern area of the land stretching from Orkney to the Forth.

The Romans were not the last invaders of Scotland
nor were the tribes who resisted them the only peoples who
eventually made up the nation we now know as Scotland.
Most of the South West was inhabited by Welsh-speaking Britons
and known as Strathclyde.
The South East was settled by Anglians from Northumbria.
The Scots who had migrated from Ireland, like the Picts were of Celtic origin
and developed a different version of the Gaelic language.
They established themselves in what is now Argyll
and it came to be known as Dalriada
and for a time was associated with Dalriada in Northern Ireland.

We first hear of Scots in the writings of Ammianus in the fourth century
and until the tenth century Scotia meant Ireland.
In the tenth century Scotia was being used
for the mainland of modern Scotland to the north of the Forth and Clyde
and the Forth was sometimes called "The Scots Water".
From about the middle of the eleventh century
Scotia gradually came to mean the whole of modern Scotland.

The formation of modern Scotland began about the year 843
when Kenneth MacAlpin, king of the Scots, become also king of Picts.
The myths and legends of the Scots
became the common tradition of the whole people
and the name of the Scoto-Pictish kingdom,
which at first had been called "Albainn", became "Scocia or Scotia".

Scottish intrusion into the area of the Picts has left us with a legacy of
place-names, hill-names, river-names and district-names
which have given rise to many surnames.
On the whole Celtic land names, as a rule,
are formed to denote some peculiarity of surface, position, product,
or some incident occurring or occupation carried on there,
men in possesion or occupation of lands
generally took their surname from the land they occupied,
then a reverse process took place where these names
were conferred on other lands.
William Stewart in his metrical, vernacular version
of the History of Scotland by Hector Boece,
says that at a general councill meeting held at Forfar in 1061
during the reign of Malcolm Ceanmor (1057-1093)
the latter directed his subjects after the customs of other nations
to adopt surnames from their territorial possesions
and there created, "the first Erlis that ever was in Scotland".

Howe of The Mearns
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Last Update To This Page 14th November 2004 ©Alan Mitchell Drummie 2004