2.4.1 Pits

At the time of writing current ongoing research across Scotland has identified 166 radiocarbon dates from 48 Mesolithic sites (Wright and Brophy forthcoming). These pits can be categorised as:

  1. Pit alignments;
  2. Dwelling structures with associated pits where lithics and carbonised assemblages have been recovered;
  3. Pit(s) with recovered lithics and carbonised material; and
  4. Pit(s) with carbonised assemblage.

The only known radiocarbon dates from pits in Perth and Kinross are from Edramucky Burn, Ben Lawers (category 3), and Wellhill, Dunning (category 1). A radiocarbon date of 7200–6700 cal BC (8045 ± 55 BP; OX-A-9867) was obtained from willow charcoal recovered from a single pit at Edramucky Burn. It also included an assemblage of quartz flakes, nodules and small fraction debitage interpreted as material from a seasonal camp that was buried as a cache intended for use on a return visit but never recovered (Atkinson 2016, 15; Donnelly 2016, 15; Finlay 2016).

Black and white aerial photograph of field systems with visible cropmarks. A pit alignment is highlighted with a black square.
Aerial photograph of the scheduled pit alignment at Wellhill © HES

The SERF-excavated alignment of ten pits at Wellhill, Dunning [8205–7525 cal BC] was distinctive in plan due to their outer ring appearance and defined as ‘halo’ pits. An L-shaped ditch was also recorded which may have been from a weak, self-supporting windbreak.

Oblique photograph of a large, open trench in a green field. Two wheelbarrows are in the middle of the trench, and two people are on the side of the trench looking in.
Three of the ‘halo’ pits at Wellhill © University of Glasgow
Digitally illustrated plan of excavation trench, with features highlighted using blue, green and purple infilling.
Post-excavation plan of trench WH14.1 from Wellhill © University of Glasgow

A similar ‘halo’ pit was excavated by SERF at the scheduled multi-period site at Millhaugh, Dunning (MPK2015); however, no Mesolithic dating evidence was obtained. A residual backed bladelet of flint, recovered from a late Neolithic post/posthole, has been suggested as indicating a possible Mesolithic presence (Wright and Brophy forthcoming). All the same, it should be noted that backed bladelets are not as strictly Mesolithic as geometric microliths like isosceles and scalene triangles, trapezoids and crescents.

Graph showing date ranges for 5 different radiocarbon samples. The range is from 8300 BC to 7300 BC
OxCal v4.3.2 multi-plot of radiocarbon dates from Wellhill (Bronk Ramsey 2017)

Non-functional interpretations are a consideration for this site class on account of the lack of lithic artefacts – none from Wellhill and only five discovered at Warren Fields on the River Dee, Aberdeenshire (Pollard 2017, 176–7). Indeed, Murray and colleagues (2009) have argued that Warren Fields had a ceremonial function due to the astronomical alignment of the to the pits which may mimic the phases of the Moon (Gaffney et al 2013). However, pragmatic explanations also exist for pit configurations; both the site at Milltimber, also on the River Dee, and that at Blackdog, on the Aberdeenshire coast, are interpreted as hunting traps (Dingwall et al 2019, 121–31; van Wessel and Wilson 2019, 309). Few pit alignments in Britain and Ireland were radiocarbon dated to the Mesolithic prior to the discovery of Warren Fields and Wellhill (Bayliss et al 1997; Cleal et al 1995; Pollard 2017). Regardless of a subsistence or non-subsistence-orientated interpretation, the evidence from Perth and Kinross therefore represents a valuable contribution to understanding the form and function of Early Mesolithic pit configurations at both regional and national levels.