My Muirhead`s Mysteries blog of today is essentially a precis of an article by Ian Whitaker (deceased) in Archives of Natural History (1986) 13 (1) pp 11 - 18 titled ` The survival of feral reindeer in northern Scotland.
Whitaker states : " The reindeer, Rangifer tarandus L., was commonly found in the British Isles at the end of the last Ice Age and some remains have been found within a considerably later archaeological context. In Northern Scotland,however, it seems to have survived into the present millennium. In particular there is a reference in the Old Norse text,the Orkneyinga saga, to a hunt of this animal having taken place in Caithness in the year 1158. In this article I shall examine this passage in its literary context, as well as other archaeological records of the animal in Scotland..."
Unconvincing remnants of the reindeer have been found in Allt nan Uamh in Scotland and also in Tain, Co.Ross. There is a sculptured stone, originally from the area of Grantown-on-Spey, Inverness-shire which "seems to show a reindeer " (Whitaker, p.11). Whitaker then goes on to describe more realistic reindeer relics from Orkney in the form of "brochs."
"However , the most specific evidence of the reindeer in Scotland is a literary one, contained in chapter 102 of Orkneyinga saga. There we read: "The Earls used to go over to Caithness every summer hunting red deer and reindeer in the woods there." Boyd Dawkins ,a naturalist,pointed out that the author of the saga " ...must have been well acquainted with the animal in Norway,Sweden and Iceland.."
Whitaker believed that the author of this saga may not have seen reindeer himself but he may have met travellers to Norway who may have seen it for themselves. The reindeer may have become extinct in Scotland when the woods were burnt down to clear out the wolves.Or possibly climate change.Other ideas put forward include the idea that Lapps visited Scotland to tame the reindeer and milk them, and the similarity between Lapps and fairies!
Whitaker believed the feral Scottish reindeer tended towards the " woodland type" (Whitaker p. 15) of reindeer.