For over 120 years, the shell middens of western Scotland and the series of open-air sites on Oronsay have been the focus of debate in European Mesolithic studies. This paper challenges the significance of Oronsay in light of results from the geophysical survey and test-excavation of a new limpet and periwinkle shell midden dated to the late 5th or start of the 4th millennium cal bc at Port Lobh, Colonsay that offers fresh evidence to re-evaluate critically the role of Oronsay and coastal resources in island settlement models ahead of the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition. Test excavations recovered a marine molluscan assemblage dominated by limpet and periwinkle shells together with crab, sea urchin, a fishbone assemblage composed mainly of Gadidae, some identifiable bird and mammal bone, carbonised macroplant remains, and pumice as well as a bipolar lithic assemblage and coarse stone implements. Novel seasonality studies of saithe otolith thin-sections suggest wintertime tidal fishing practices. At least two activity events may be discerned, dating from the late 5th millennium cal bc. The midden could represent a small number of rapidly deposited assemblages or maybe the result of stocastic events within a more extended timeframe. We argue that alternative research questions are needed to advance long-standing debates about seasonal inter-island mobility versus island sedentism that look beyond Oronsay to better understand later Mesolithic occupation patterns and the formation and date of Oronsay middens. We propose alternative methodological strategies to aid identification of contemporaneous sites using geophysical techniques and lithic technological signatures.