Repeated glaciations, which covered the entire land mass of modern Scotland, destroyed any traces of human habitation that may have existed before the Mesolithic period. It is believed the first post-glacial groups of hunter-gatherers arrived in Scotland around 12,800 years ago, as the ice sheet retreated after the last glaciation.
Groups of settlers began building the first known permanent houses on Scottish soil around 9,500 years ago, and the first villages around 6,000 years ago. The well-preserved village of Skara Brae on the mainland of Orkney dates from this period. Neolithic habitation, burial and ritual sites are particularly common and well-preserved in the Northern Isles and Western Isles, where a lack of trees led to most structures being built of local stone. The discovery in Scotland of a 4000 year old tomb with burial treasures at Forteviot, near Perth, the capital of a Pictish Kingdom in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, is unrivalled anywhere in Britain. It contains the remains of an early Bronze Age ruler laid out on white quartz pebbles and birch bark. It was also discovered for the first time early Bronze Age people placed flowers in their graves. Scotland may have been part of a Late Bronze Age maritime trading culture called the Atlantic Bronze Age which also included other Celtic nations, and the areas that would become England, France, Spain and Portugal.
During the 5th to 8th centuries, Scotland was invaded by Gaels from Ireland, the Anglo-Saxons from the continent and the Norse from Scandinavia. The Kingdom of Scotland as we now know here was established in the 9th century. Because of the geographical orientation of Scotland and its strong reliance on trade routes by sea, the kingdom held close links in the south and east with the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea, and through Ireland with France and the continent of Europe. The kingdom of Scotland was ruled by the House of Stuart from 1371.
Scotland formed a particularly strong bond with France and this bond was solemnisd by the treaty of 1295, known as La Vieille Alliance in France and to Scots as The Auld Alliance. The links between Scotland and France have been forged on many levels and there are blood ties uniting founding members of the Knights Templar and Scottish nobles, particularly the St. Clairs, an alliance that also founded what is now known as Freemasonry. Scots had fought alongside the French as early as the 9th century but it was in the Hundred Years war that Scots played a significant part in France's fight against the English forces. It is thought that as many as 15,000 Scots left their homeland in the years 1421-25 to fight for France and indeed in 1429 they formed part of Joan of Arc's bodyguard and her Pennon and Standard, (Jhesus Maria), which she carried into battle, were made by Hamish Power, (Fr:Heuves Polnoir), a Scot who lived in Tours.
After the death of England's Elizabeth I, in 1603, the thrones of Scotland and England were united under Scotland's King James VI. However, the Scottish parliament was independent until the Acts of Union (1707) which united Scotland with England in a new sovereign state called Great Britain under Queen Anne who ruled until 1714. The 1715 and 1745 Jacobite 'rebellions' saw the Royal House of Stuart attempt to regain the throne from the House of Hanover but both attempts failed although the latter, under the youthful charm and optimism of Bonnie Prince Charlie, seemed at one point to have a fair chance of success. However, after a long march from Scotland into England and several minor victories in battle and his army only 120 miles from London the Prince was persuaded to abandon the march on London and return to Scotland, a decision that led to the disastrous Battle of Culloden in April, 1746 where the Stuarts cause perished.
During the Scottish Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, Scotland became one of the commercial, intellectual and industrial powerhouses of Europe and was at the forefront in the sciences, engineering, economics and medicine. Its industrial decline following the Second World War was particularly acute, but in recent decades the country has enjoyed something of a cultural and economic renaissance, fuelled in part by a resurgent financial services sector, the proceeds of North Sea oil and gas, and latterly a devolved parliament. Edinburgh is still prominent as a major European financial centre, second only to London, but Scotland now barely resembles the 'place where we look to for all ideas of civilisation', as professed by Voltaire.
Scotland attracts many visitors and though the weather is often unkind the welcome is always friendly. Edinburgh during the Official and Fringe Festivals in August-September is a wonderful place to visit and it is not uncommon that the weather is more cooperative in these months. The Borders have a pastoral beauty that may be overlooked not only by visitors but also within Scotland itself and the Highlands and Islands region's beauty, known throughout the world, is surprisingly accessible and yet retains a remote and melancholy beauty.