In modern Scotland wolf bones have been found, together with those of reindeer, northern lynx, brown bear and arctic fox at the Creag nan Uamh caves in Inchnadamph National Nature Reserve in Sutherland, and on Crossflat at Muirkirk in Ayrshire.
At the latter site, near the upper reaches of the River Ayr, the lower jaw of a wolf was discovered along with the remains of red deer and aurochs, the giant wild ox that inhabited Scotland into Mesolithic times approximately 5, - 8, years ago and probably even later. From these and other remains it seems likely that the Scottish wolf, referred to in the beautiful Gaelic poem quoted above, was similar in size and form to wolves living in Europe today. Skeletal remains of wolf that date from historic times, however, are hard to separate from those of the very large hunting dogs which were legendary in Iron Age Britain.
All dogs are now considered to be descended from the wolf, and although the split between wolves and domestic dogs occurred far back in time, certainly before the Mesolithic period, dogs and wolves can interbreed and produce viable offspring to this day. The osteological differences between wolves and wolf-like dogs are mainly in the skull and teeth, and positive identification of remains of large canids from historic times as those of wolf depends on the presence of these parts.
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Evidence of a different kind exists, however, in the form of a 6th century Pictish carving of a wolf discovered at Ardross in Ross and Cromarty, the original of which is on display in the Natural History Section of the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. This striking image clearly illustrates several points of difference between wolves and dogs, including the long jaw, straight back, large feet and the distinctive set of the tail. As well as being biologically accurate the carving is of great artistic merit, full of grace, stealth and power.
The written record of the wolf in Scotland is inseparable from the history of its relationship with Man. In cultures that continued to practice a hunter-gatherer way of life into recent times, the wolf was respected as a fellow-hunter and revered as a creature of powerful magical and spiritual properties. The change from a hunter-gatherer life style to farming during the Neolithic approximately 2, - 5, years ago , though the two systems continued to operate side by side to some extent, radically altered the way in which people used the environment.
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It appears that it also drastically changed the relationship between wolves and humans, as destruction of wolf habitat gave rise to a displaced population of wolves, and shortage of wild prey caused them to become a serious nuisance to stock farmers. The earliest record of this conflict between wolves and the people who lived in what is now modern Scotland comes from the 2nd century BC.
According to Hector Boece, a king called Dorvadilla reigning at that time decreed:. Boece also mentions a Scottish contemporary of Julius Caesar called Edeir as a great hunter of wolves, and Boece's translator, Bellenden, tells us that in the forests of Caledonia there were: "Gret plente of haris, hartis, hindis, dayis, rais, wolffis, wild hors, and toadis fox ,".
He later describes the "wolffis" as being "rycht noysum to the tame bestiall in all parts of Scotland. There are also references to wolf predation on people, and whilst these are not necessarily reliable it seems that the history of the wolf in Scotland, as in some parts of Europe, was different from that of the same animal in the New World.
Living in much closer association with people, it may have lost much of its natural fear of humans and also been made unnaturally bold by its desperate situation, as an expanding human population made increased inroads into wolf habitat and decreased supplies of its natural food. Wars, leaving numbers of blood soaked corpses littering a battlefield, may also have been responsible for some wolves becoming accustomed to consuming human flesh.
The Orkneyinga Saga tells the story of the Battle of Waterfirth, fought in the 11th century between the islanders of Skye and the invading Norse. Arnor, the Earl's Skald, describes the aftermath of the battle:.
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The tendency of wolves to dig up buried corpses is well documented, and it was possibly this habit that made it especially feared and hated at the height of the Christian era in Scotland and elsewhere, being perceived as a personification of the Devil, desecrating consecrated ground and devouring human souls. From Ederachillis in north west Sutherland comes a tradition that the dead had to be buried on the island of Handa to preserve them from being disinterred by wolves. The poet John Webster, a contemporary of Shakespeare, wrote:.
The fine mounted specimen of a wolf which, incidentally, died a natural death on display in the Natural History Section of the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is realistically posed in the act of attempting to dig up a Bronze Age cist containing human remains. Throughout the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries wolf persecution continued relentlessly. In the reign of James 1st of Scotland an Act was passed for the destruction of wolves in that kingdom.
The wolf hunts were to be conducted three times a year, between St.
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In the mid 15th century Lady Margaret Lyon, described as a "stout, bold woman, a great huntress," is said to have purged Mount Caplach part of the range running parallel to the Beauly Firth of wolves. A wolf hunt in the mid 16th century during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, killed 5 wolves along with deer.
By all accounts, however, this persecution had little effect on the general wolf population, although local populations may have been temporarily wiped out. The destruction of Scotland's great natural forest resource, not hunting, was what finally brought the wolf to the brink of extinction.
A few miles from Loth, a stream falls through a glen, and nearby on the roadside is a memorial that states that the last wolf in Scotland met his lonely end by the hand of Hunter Polson about the year In ancient times the wolf's howl was frequently heard throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Today the wolves live only in sparsely populated northern reagions and in a few wilderness areas in southern Europe, Mexico and India.
One thing is certain, the wild and magnificent wolf made its last eerie call in Scotland, after thousands of years of existence, at the end of the 18th century. Today, we can only think and dream of it when we walk in the same hills and glens. Thank you for reading this article, if you have any comments about it or wish to contact me, please e-mail me, Marilyn. Cameron btinternet. Home Read Write Forums Blogs.
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