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In places the effect of glaciation on the seabed is pronounced.
For example, the Firth is 320 metres (1,050 ft) deep between Arran and Bute, although they are only 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) apart.
A forecourt area may have been used for displays or rituals associated with the interment of the dead, who were placed inside the chambers.
They are concentrated in Arran, Bute and Kintyre and it is likely that the Clyde cairns were the earliest forms of Neolithic monument constructed by incoming settlers although few of the 100 or so examples have been given a radiocarbon dating.
There are about forty islands and skerries, of which only four are inhabited and only nine larger than 40 hectares (99 acres).
Unlike the four larger Scottish archipelagos, none of the isles in this group are connected to one another or to the mainland by bridges.
There is a diversity of wildlife, including three species of rare endemic tree.
During the early Iron Age Brythonic culture held sway, there being no evidence that the Roman occupation of southern Scotland extended to these islands.
The geology and geomorphology of the area is complex and the islands and the surrounding sea lochs each have distinctive features.
The influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Atlantic Drift create a mild, damp oceanic climate.
Mesolithic humans arrived in the Firth of the Clyde during the fourth millennium BC, probably from Ireland.
This was followed by a wave of Neolithic peoples using the same route and there is some evidence that the Firth of Clyde was a significant route via which mainland Scotland was colonised at this time.
Bute has the most productive land, and a pattern of deposits that is typical of the southwest of Scotland.