OVER THE LAST YEAR, WE’VE HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF WORKING WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF THE HIGHLANDS & ISLANDS IN PREPARING THE GROUND FOR WHAT WE HOPE WILL BE A WIDE-RANGING PROGRAMME OF ARCHAEOLOGY-BASED ACTIVITIES IN THE ECOMUSEUM.
Funded by a UHI Knowledge Exchange and Innovation grant, Dan Lee and Crane Begg (1) and Alex Sanmark and Steven Timoney (2) have created a baseline data set of the heritage and archaeology across the whole 1,000 square kilometres of the Ecomuseum, which aims to support the development of this programme.
In this second blog post, we’ll share the period based summary they created, presented as a timeline. The limitations of a linear timeline-based chronology are recognised (e.g., it presents a linear view of time where reuse and the complexity of multiperiod sites and landscapes are supressed), but is used here as a starting point.
The Baldowrie Symbol Stone, Photo Clare Cooper
The Ecomuseum contains contrasting landscapes divided by the Highland Boundary Fault with different stories of cultivation and settlement over the past 6,000 years and contrasting types of archaeological remains and survival. North-east Perthshire contains considerable blocks of upland, exploited by people in the past, but now beyond cultivation. North of the Highland Boundary Fault, the area is characterised by hard metamorphic rocks which rise to the Highland Grampians. To the south-east, the rocks are predominantly Old Red Sandstone, with some harder lavas and tuffs (RCAHMS 1994: 1). Geology, topography and land use vary greatly across the Ecomuseum transect, from lowland river valley to upland and high mountain, with shifts in agriculture and settlement between upland and glens over millennia, to more recent population movements from rural settlements to industrial towns in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Preservation of archaeological sites and monuments across the Ecomuseum area falls into three broad zones – present cultivation (cropmarks, upstanding buildings and monuments), areas of rig and furrow (between cultivated land and steep slopes, and high glens), and heather moorlands (prehistoric settlement and field systems) (RCAHMS 1990: 1). Recent surveys have recorded numerous new sites, including earthworks in the upland and cropmarks in the lowland, but very few of these have been investigated with intrusive archaeological excavation.
This summary is designed to provide a broad overview to contextualise the heritage assessment and case studies. For more detailed period summaries please refer to the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Agenda (released during the final stages of this assessment).
For this assessment, Canmore data has been used to provide a broad summary of site types, to feed into the identification of potential themes. The sets of HER data are in a slightly different format, and it was beyond the scope and needs of this study to combine the data sets and undertake detailed analysis. A visual assessment has been made of the HER data sets in the GIS, and areas of difference noted. Detailed sample maps of case study areas have been used to illustrate the range and distribution of site data.
Couttie Law, Photo Clare Cooper
Introduction to the prehistoric period
Our knowledge of the upland areas was greatly enhanced by the first RCAHMS survey in the area, which took a multi-period landscape approach and recorded large areas of unrecorded former settlement and cultivation remains which survive as upstanding earthworks. Large areas of upland were mostly abandoned by the end of the first millennium BC leaving extensive areas of settlement and cultivation remains. The upland areas in the northern part of the Ecomuseum contain some of the most remarkable prehistoric landscapes in Scotland. Glenshee has always been an important route through the eastern Highlands, probably since prehistory, and was formalised with the route of the 18th-century military road to Braemar. Several key routes from the west and east converge at the head of the glen.
In contrast, south-east Perthshire is an area of great agricultural wealth, with fertile straths flanking the River Tay and its tributaries (including the River Isla), and the strategic location of Perth with sea access to the east. The wider landscape is characterised for several millennia by areas of more intense farming activity interspersed with rough grazing and forest. The large majority of known archaeological sites in Strathmore have been ploughed out, with few upstanding, except in the Sidlaw Hills to the south. Most of the sites in Strathmore are evident as cropmarks, with the majority found in wheat or barley crops, their visibility dependent on soil type and patterns of survival and discovery. Cropmarks in south-east Perthshire tend to be pits, ditches or other cut features, appearing as dark spots or stains, ditched enclosures, pits (discrete or in settings) and linear features.
Mesolithic (7000-4000 BC)
Evidence for the first settlers in the Ecomuseum area is lacking. Once the glaciers had retreated following the last Ice Age, leaving wide straths and glens, it is generally accepted that the area was inhabited by the 7th millennium BC (Stevenson 1999: 20-21; Wright et al. 2022). Evidence for hunter gatherer communities in the region is sparse, with evidence for burning appearing in pollen records, although it is highly likely that communities were exploiting the rivers, glens and uplands which would have been rich in natural resources. Outside the Ecomuseum, evidence for Late Mesolithic activity has been found in the Tay estuary at Wellhill, and in the uplands at Edramucky Burn (Wright et al. 2022). Survival of the ephemeral evidence from temporary camps is rare, with some examples excavated on the coast in Fife (e.g. at Morton). No Mesolithic settlement sites are listed in Canmore or the HER records for the Ecomuseum area and evidence of early human activity in the region is so far restricted to surface lithic scatters. For a detailed over view of the Mesolithic period see the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (Wright et al. 2022).
Neolithic (4000 – 2500 BC)
In the Neolithic, new forms of material culture and farming practices appear in the area from a more settled way of life: burial monuments, domesticated animals, standing stones, rock art and new objects such as pottery, polished stone axes, carved stone balls and new ways of working flint. Neolithic sites can be isolated upstanding monuments in farmland, evident as cropmarks, or discrete clusters surviving in upland areas that have escaped modern ploughing and improvements (cropmarks are caused by buried features or structures resulting in different growing patterns in the crop which can be seen from the air). Settlement evidence before the Early Bronze Age is lacking in the region, but is most likely to exist in the upland areas (Knight & Sheridan 2022). In north-east Perthshire there is a lack of Neolithic evidence (mostly only visible in pollen diagrams) with no Neolithic cairns or barrows in Strathardle or Glenshee. Rings cairns, cup-marked stones and hut-circles all follow a similar pattern of distribution. Beyond the monuments, there are numerous prehistoric find spots throughout the Ecomuseum which are Neolithic to Bronze Age in date, including flint scatters, stone axes and a single carved stone ball (with six carved knobs, found at Netherton). One of the axeheads is an exquisite polished jade axehead found buried in the bank of the River Ericht at Rattray sometime in the Neolithic and originally from Mount Viso in the Italian Alps. For a detailed over view of the Neolithic period see the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (Brophy & Sheridan 2022).
Burial practices become visible in the Neolithic, when the dead were buried collectively in earth and stone-built tombs which were often constructed in prominent places in the landscape, for example the prehistoric cairn on the natural mound at Knowehead Farm, near Coupar Angus. Due to the materials used and their elevated location they often survive in the landscape today. Burial monuments in the Ecomuseum include chambered tombs, long and round cairns and ring cairns. Late Neolithic ring cairns, for example at Lair and at Balnabroich, contained large amounts of white quartz, a material that elsewhere in Scotland was associated with the dead.
Ceremonial monuments, such as standing stones and stone circles, are more commonly found in south-east Perthshire, where they are upstanding as earthworks or evident as cropmarks in arable areas. One henge monument, typically a circular bank and ditch with entranceways, has been identified as a cropmark in aerial photographs at Whiteloch near Blairgowrie. There are 25 standing stones and 13 stone circles listed in Canmore for the Ecomuseum area. The stone circles are distributed from around Blairgowrie to Glenisla in the north, with a distinctive cluster of six stones circles in Glenshee. Within this there are 11 ‘four poster’ stone circles listed, including the Grave of Diarmid at Spittal of Glenshee, which form a distinctive monument type in the region. Where excavations of four posters have occurred in the region, they are generally Early Bronze Age in date, although this is from a limited number of excavated sites (Knight & Sheridan 2022). Recent excavations at Na Clachan Aoraidh near Blair Athol, outside the Ecomuseum area, showed that the standing stones were surrounded by a cobble-built platform with an outer kerb and cremation burial (Ellis & Ritchie 2018). In north-east Perthshire, single standing stones and paired stones are generally located on valley floor terraces.
Park Neuk Stone Circle, Photo Clare Cooper
In addition to the stone monuments, there are two timber circles in the Ecomuseum surviving as cropmarks, one at Carsie Mains which was excavated in 2002 (Brophy and Barclay 2004), and another possible example as part of a more complex cropmark site at The Welton. Timber circles consisted of rings of timbers set in large post holes and were used for ceremonial practices in a wider ritual landscape. The timbers were removed or sometimes burnt in-situ, leaving infilled postholes which can show as cropmarks.
Cursus monuments are long (often measuring kms) earthwork enclosures, defined by an enclosing bank or line of posts a ditch on the outside. There are several cursus monuments in the region. The Cleaven Dyke, a massive linear earthwork or cursus dating to the Neolithic – and the largest in Scotland – is just outside the Ecomuseum area, with another at Blairhill, even further to the south. These demonstrate the importance of this wider area for ceremonial activity, with a broad group of other ritual monuments to the north-east of the Cleaven Dyke, including mortuary enclosures, a henge, and pit settings, circles, and alignments. Within a broad group of pit alignments and settings in the Ecomuseum, there are two pit defined cursus monuments identified as cropmarks (e.g. Milton of Rattray and Kinalty).
Pits can signify Neolithic and Bronze Age activity and are usually evident as cropmarks found in south-east Perthshire. Pits could represent prehistoric settlement or other ceremonial boundaries or monuments. A palisade is a fence constructed of wooden stakes, and a palisaded settlement has been identified at Dillivaird, Angus, and other palisaded enclosures at The Welton settlement could have been bounded by numerous timber posts. There are two pit alignments (e.g. Balendoch and Cardean) one pit enclosure and 21 single pits, pit groups / settings listed in Canmore. Many pits and pit alignments are evidenced as cropmarks in arable fields (e.g. Ardmour, Berryhillock and Myreside), mostly in the Blairgowrie area.
There are a significant number of rock art sites in the Ecomuseum. Rock art normally takes the form of cup or cup-and-ring marked stones which are broadly dated to the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age. These simple pecked designs connect us with the actions of individual people in the past, but it is difficult to be certain of the original meaning and intentions behind the rock art. They are often found along routeways in the landscape or carved into other prehistoric monuments such as standing stones or significant earth fast rocks. Were they spiritual designs connected with ancestors and a living landscape? Were they waypoints or markers at significant places in the landscape? Many rock art sites are located at prominent places in the landscape with interconnecting views. In the Ecomuseum, rock art is typically found on earth fast stones and sometimes part of more complex sites such as areas of settlement and field systems.
The Kynballoch Stone, photo Clare Cooper
In the Ecomuseum there are 34 recorded rock art sites, with eight cup-and-ring marked stones, and 26 cup-marked stones listed in Canmore. Some of the more complex designs with multiple rings with cups are found on earth fast stones, often with clusters of cup-marks, some surrounded by single or multiple rings: for example, the triple and double rings with cup-marks at Muir of Gormac near enclosures and hut circles; the 28 cup-marks and two triple rings and quadruple ring at Drumderg; and stones with multiple cup-marks such as the 40 or so on the stone at Tulloch. Many cup-marked stones were found during the RCAHMS survey and are within prehistoric field systems. There are nine cup-marks on the large standing stone at Craighall and one cup-and-ring marked stone has been found re-used in a souterrain at Ruthven.
Bronze Age (2500 – 800 BC)
Upstanding burial mounds, such as earthen barrows and stone-built cairns, are the most common funerary monument in south-east Perthshire, often located in conspicuous places in the landscape. In the Early Bronze Age, there was a change in burial practices to individual burial, often as cremated remains but also inhumation burials in stone-built cists (stone-lined burial boxes) or pits, often within pottery urns (Stevenson 1999: 26-28). For example, the cist excavated at Mains of Airlie, Angus, contained created remains and a specific type of pottery from this period known as a Beaker vessel (distinctive decorated pots). In general, there is a variety of burial practice in the Early Bronze Age in the region, in cists, cairns and earlier monuments (Knight and Sheridan 2022). Cists were often covered with earth mounds (also known as barrows), sometimes with surrounding enclosures or sometimes built into earlier monuments such as Neolithic tombs. For a detailed over view of the Bronze Age period see the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (Sheridan & Knight 2022).
The reuse of earlier monuments was common in the Early Bronze Age throughout Britain (Bradley 1993). Sixteen barrows are listed in Canmore in the Ecomuseum, for example the large barrow on Culhawk Hill and the mound at Milton of Drumlochy, which was excavated in the 19th-century. In south-east Perthshire, the discovery of cists and urns is often related to the destruction of barrows or where the mounds have been completely removed often as a result of landscape change through the expansion of cultivation during the Agricultural Revolution. With the covering burial mound removed or ploughed out, many of the locations for barrows survive only as cropmarks. Where they do survive as upstanding monuments, barrows and cairns are often tree covered, and located on lower lying ground, though some are located within the Sidlaw Hills.
There are currently 47 records in Canmore for sites in the Ecomuseum which contain cists, though many are undated. Cists and urn burials are common in Strathmore and sometimes found in cemeteries, most dating to the Bronze Age. Recent excavations at funerary sites within the Ecomuseum are rare, with more examples in the south of the region. Ring ditches are a common site-type, and some may have had a funerary role, but this type of site may also represent prehistoric round houses. Without excavation it is difficult to ascertain their original form and function. There are 22 ring ditches listed in Canmore, many associated with hut circles, with more found at higher altitude (over 400m above sea level). There are numerous prehistoric cairns and cairn fields in the Ecomuseum (over 200 listed in Canmore). These may result from clearance for agriculture during the prehistoric or early historic periods, rather than funerary uses, though most cairns are undated. Many are associated with enclosures and settlement in upland areas.
Belliduff Bronze Age Cairn & Cist, photo Clare Cooper
Round house groups (often shown on maps as ‘hut circles’) dating to the Bronze Age in north- east Perthshire “form one of the densest concentrations of prehistoric settlement remains known in Scotland”. Over 845 hut-circles are listed in the 1990 survey, generally in the heather moorland zones, even up to 300-400m above sea level. Their survival is in part due to the changes in agricultural and settlement pattern in the uplands at the end of the Bronze Age, and subsequent rough grazing. Early recording, including excavation in the first part of the 20th century, occurred at the Balnabroich and Dalruzion groups. Despite early classifications the types of hut-circle in the region are highly varied, but all generally have single (most common) or double walls – the latter being “the most distinctive element of the Perthshire hut-circle groups, representing a form of elaboration rarely seen elsewhere”. Many hut circles are denuded or robbed of stone, but some have external and even internal facing stones surviving. The wall core may have extended upwards with turf, but most are now reduced to stony banks or low platforms. Some show evidence of multi-period construction with modifications in the medieval period (e.g. Pitcarmick houses).
There is little dating evidence for hut circles. Where excavations have taken place dates are at the end of the 2nd Millennium BC (e.g. Tulloch Field, Enochdhu; Thoms and Halliday 2014) and pottery suggests a late 2nd or early 1st millennium BC date (e.g. Dalnaglar and Dalrulzion; Thorneycroft 1933). In general, the hut circles, field systems and cairns appear to span a broad period in later prehistory. Upland areas were probably cultivated by the late 3rd or early 2nd millennium BC, with subsequent periods of occupation and abandonment. The final occupation at a number of ring cairn sites is represented by the Pitcarmick-type buildings in the early medieval period. Overall, the prehistoric settlement pattern was one of dispersed farmsteads clustered around cultivated land.
Prehistoric agricultural remains tend to survive around settlements, evident as cairns or stony banks, forming field systems. These can be associated with specific huts; form larger enclosures (sometimes enclosing several huts); or lynchets (field terraces) and strip fields, for example at Drumderg (29140). Burnt mounds, which have a range of interpretations from saunas to cooking or wool fulling sites, may also have been associated with Bronze Age settlement. They often survive as mound of discarded burnt stone containing a water tank or pit and are associated with structures. In the Ecomuseum, 26 burnt mounds are listed and distributed widely, with examples around Alyth, Blairgowrie and Kirkmichael. Many survive as substantial mounds and were identified during the RCAHMS surveys.
Pollen analysis in the north-east of Scotland has demonstrated that a change in agricultural practices occurred at the end of the Bronze Age, from upland to lowland, coinciding with a widespread deterioration in the climate (Tipping et al. 2008). This change did not necessarily represent the complete abandonment of upland areas but is likely to account for the shift in settlement and agriculture to the glens and lowlands within the Ecomuseum.
Iron Age (800 BC – 400 AD)
Enclosed settlements became more common during the first millennium BC, with four undated forts listed in Canmore evident as cropmarks with a large enclosure ditch (e.g. promontory fort in Glenisla 31071 and the small hill top fort at Castle Hill, Meams No forts have so far been identified in Glenshee or Strathardle. The only example of a large hill fort in the Ecomuseum is at Barry Hill. This is a substantial enclosed settlement with multiple outer banks that have been remodelled on many occasions (Stevenson 1999: 30; Atlas of Hillforts 2016). A large oval inner enclosure is surrounded by a ditch which may have been recut with earlier enclosures evident to the west. The hill fort has not been excavated and interpretations are derived from examining the earthworks alone. Smaller scale Iron Age settlement is evident in the two crannogs at Loch of Kinnordy and Stormont Loch. Other settlement is evident as roundhouses which often show as cropmarks and in association with souterrains and enclosures (e.g. The Welton).
Barry Hill from Loyal Hill, photo Clare Cooper
Souterrains are a significant group of monuments in the Ecomuseum. These are stone-lined underground passages and chambers, often associated with settlement. Interpretations of their function are varied, from underground storage to more ritual purposes. There are 38 souterrains listed in Canmore in the Ecomuseum, with at least 5 likely examples identified from cropmarks (with some 15 more cropmarks as possible examples).
Although Iron Age funerary evidence is rare, there are five square barrows listed in Canmore (e.g. The Welton and Wester Denhead). Square barrows consist of a square outer ditch with a central burial and are often Pictish (see Section 11.1). Some potential examples are evident as cropmarks (e.g. at Monkmyre Burn) or part of wider monument complexes (e.g. Burnbank). These are all located in the Blairgowrie and Coupar Angus area. For a detailed over view of the Iron Age period see the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (Strachan et al.).
Evidence for Roman occupation in the region is well attested. Within the Ecomuseum there is one fort, at Cardean, with a further two temporary camps (at Cardean, identified in aerial photos, and Coupar Angus Abbey as an earthwork enclosure), and a possible signal station at Westmuir). For a detailed over view of the Roman period see the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (Strachan et al. 2022b).
Cardean Bridge next to the site of Cardean Fort, photo Clare Cooper
Introduction to the Historic Period
The time periods that follow the Romans can be confusing as they appear under several different labels, as set out in Table 2. The dates assigned to these time periods vary too, but one of the most common divisions has been followed here.
In Canmore, the archaeological remains from the historic periods (i.e. the medieval to modern periods) have often been assigned a wide date range, such as ‘medieval’ covering AD 400- 1550, or even ‘medieval/post medieval’. The reasons for these classifications vary; many remains have simply not been closely dated, but many sites/parts of sites also remained in use over very long periods of time. In view of these long periods, the discussion in Section 12 of the key archaeological remains in the Ecomuseum will be thematic, allowing a more useful overview and discussion of the remains.
The Early Middle Ages
Scotland after the Romans was a diverse and politically shifting area. In early medieval Scotland several different peoples or cultures were present. The ones most relevant to the Ecomuseum are the Picts and the Dál Riata (Gaels). The Dál Riata were found in Argyll, while the Pictish area extended over most of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The Pictish heartland was the territory between Inverness and Perth, within which the Ecomuseum sits and where significant Pictish archaeological remains have been found, in particular stone sculpture of different types.
The Picts appear in written sources from the late 3rd century. Their name, derived from the Latin word picti, was first recorded in a Roman letter from AD 297. Picti is translated as the ’painted’ or ‘tattooed’ people and was intended to distinguish those living north of the Roman border from the Romanised Britons further south. This well-known letter, together with other mostly external written sources, has created an awareness of the Picts as a strong presence in early medieval Scotland. The difficulty for early researchers to identify and understand Pictish archaeological remains however meant that many studies were dominated by rather basic questions. Without satisfactory answers, the Picts came to be viewed as ‘enigmatic’ and ‘mysterious’, expressions which are still found in popular writing today. In current academic research, the Picts are no longer viewed as ‘problematic’, but are instead on a par with any other historic people.
The Picts and the Dál Riata gradually amalgamated and by c. AD 900, they formed the kingdom known as Alba. This newly amalgamated identity is termed Scottish and the people north of the Forth-Clyde line are generally called Scots. For a detailed over view of the Early Medieval period see the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (Strachan et al. 2022a).
The High and Late Middle Ages
The High and Late Middle Ages, which lasted between the 11th and the 16th century, saw much change on the political scene. By the late 11th century, the kings of Alba were using the term rex Scottorum, or ‘King of Scots’, to refer to themselves. By the 12th century, the Kingdom of Scotland had political boundaries that closely resembled those of the modern nation. Following the Norman conquest of England, Norman influence can be traced in Scotland as well. After the reign of King David I (c. 1084 – 1153), the Scottish kings are often seen as Scoto- Norman rather than Gaelic. French institutions, ideas and values took hold. In the Late Middle Ages, the ‘wars of independence’ raged, with Scotland asserting its sovereignty over England through the aid of well-known figures such as William Wallace (late 13th century) and King Robert the Bruce (14th century). The Stewart Dynasty took over in the 15th century and steadily gained power for the crown. It was in the High and Late Middle Ages that many towns developed and grew, and the royal burghs appeared, as well as a large number of castles, churches, and monasteries. For a detailed over view of the Medieval period see the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (Bowler & Rhodes 2022).
Alyth Market Cross, Photo Clare Cooper
The Early Modern Period and Modern Period
The period after 1500 saw major changes in religious, political and economic terms. The Reformation led to the establishment of a new Church through the Reformation Parliament held in 1560. This led to the discontinuation of religious houses, with many of them sacked. Changes were also made to the interior design of churches and in time, a variation of new reformed Churches appeared. In terms of political change, the Union of the Crowns took place in 1603 and with the Acts of Union in 1707 Scotland and England united in a single kingdom.
The Agricultural Improvements, which lasted between the 17th-century and the end of the 19th century led to a huge increase in productivity and agricultural net output. This in turn supported an unparalleled growth in population and freed up a large proportion of the workforce. In the Ecomuseum lowland areas, the old outfield-infield farming systems were abandoned, and new crops were introduced together with land drainage and crop rotation. In the Highland areas, livestock production was expanded into lands that had previously been small communal holdings and fermtouns, and population levels decreased. As a result, the existing clan society and structures disintegrated. Before this time, the majority of the population would have had access to land, which they cultivated mostly for their own needs. After the reforms, large parts of the population became wage labourers (Duncan 1999: 92-3). Another result of the Improvements was the introduction of geometrically laid-out villages.
The Industrial Revolution involved the transition to new manufacturing processes, from production by hand to using machinery and the rise of factories. The textile industry developed in the Ecomuseum area because of the availability of waterpower, the locally growing flax, and imported jute and cotton. By the middle of the 19th century, mechanisation of the textile industry and the increasing number of factories had major effects on the population distribution as people moved from the rural areas into the towns.
One of the weirs on the Ericht built to drive the Textile Mills in Blairgowrie, photo Peter Dawson
The population of Blairgowrie, for example, increased almost tenfold between 1800 and 1900, to c. 4,000 people (Duncan 1999: 95; Cooke 1999: 190). Other improvements also took place with new road systems and bridges and Blairgowrie received its own waterworks in 1870 (Duncan 1999: 96). Over time, the textile industry went into decline, although Blairgowrie kept its jute mill into the 1960s (Cooke 1999: 190). For a detailed over view of the Medieval period see the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (Rhodes et al. 2022).
(1) Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, UHI Archaeology Institute
(2) Institute for Northern Studies, Perth College UHI
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