2.3 History of Research in Perth and Kinross

The history of Mesolithic research in the region is brief. It could be argued that chance discoveries of individual lithic artefacts or assemblages from the beginning of the 20th century form the earliest recorded investigations. However, Wright’s (2012) re-examination revealed that the majority of these finds are either non-diagnostic for any prehistoric archaeological period or can be typologically categorised as of Neolithic or Bronze Age origin.

The Ben Lawers Historic Landscape project 1996–2005 (Atkinson 2016), led by the Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD), therefore represents the first formal archaeological research project to identify Mesolithic activity in Perth and Kinross and notably also the first in Scotland from an upland context (Finlay 2016, 27). The SERF project (2012–17) followed with its excavations at Forteviot, Wellhill and Millhaugh, yielding Mesolithic dated material (Forteviot), pits (Wellhill) as well as comparable pit features (Millhaugh) on the shores of the River Earn. To date, the Tay Landscape Partnership (TayLP) Early Settlers project (2014–17) remains the only investigative work dedicated to identifying Mesolithic activity that has taken place in the region (Nicol and Ballin 2019; Ballin and Nicol 2017). It was developed by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust in response to the lack of known sites within the area (David Strachan pers comm) and during development of the TayLP Early Settlers fieldwalking programme, the Trust commissioned two reports on the area which in themselves represent valuable research contributions. Wright (2012) produced a comprehensive assessment of known lithic artefacts and assemblages held in museum collections that were attributed to the Mesolithic period. Dawson, Duck and Young’s ‘Ice Age to Modern Coastline’ report (2014) combines geomorphological and stratigraphic studies with radiometric dating to provide a detailed synopsis of relative sea level changes in the broad valley lowlands of the River Earn and the firth lowlands of the River Tay since deglaciation around 14,000 years ago. Digital mapping of the main postglacial shoreline (MPGS) at its maximum inundation forms part of this work and provides a significant resource for informing regional Mesolithic research and targeting fieldwork. It is noteworthy that since the successes of Early Settlers along the edges of the MPGS, efforts are being made to place fieldwalking conditions on development work in this area which, if successful, will increase the opportunities for Mesolithic discoveries in the firth and broad valley lowlands in the future. The recent publication of guidance on the investigation and management of lithic scatter sites in Scotland by the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), which sets out the significance of scatters and presents technical best practice, is a welcome addition to maximising any future developer-led opportunities (Wickham-Jones 2020).