Since prehistoric times the landscape of the Scottish Highlands has seen hunting, pastoral, arable, agricultural and horticultural use. The first known settlements in Scotland date back to about 8500 BCE. They were Mesolithic hunter-gatherer encampments. These first settlers were still highly nomadic and traveled in boats. They made tools out of bone and antler.
Around 6,000 years ago, during the Neolithic Period, the first permanent farming communities settled in the Highlands. Their two main sources of food were grain and cows milk, and so dairy farming and arable agriculture were born. At this time the Highlands were still largely covered in forests, but from the early Bronze age about 2000 BCE arable land spread out into the forests and the deforestation of the Highlands began. Terraces and cultivation ridges were established from the 7th century BCE during the Iron Age. The hillforts, the remains of which can still be found in the Lowlands today, bear witness to this.
During the Roman occupation, Scotland saw a decline in population and in farming. As a result, birch, hazel and oak began to cover the former farmland for the next five centuries.