4.2 History of Research

Perthshire and Kinross-shire were an early focus of antiquarian activity, especially through the Perth Literary and Antiquarian Society which was founded in 1784 and was active through the 19th century. The Perthshire Society for Natural Science was established in 1867 while the Kinross-shire Society for Antiquarian and Historical Research was set up in the 20th century.  In 1824 the Perth Literary and Antiquarian Society created one of the earliest purpose-built museums in Britain to house the global collections of the Society. Many artefacts have been and continue to be acquired by what is now the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, forming a rich collection of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age artefacts in Perth (Anderson and Black 1888, 337–41; Callander 1929a; 1929b; Cowie and Reid 1986; Lyddieth 1965). Other Chalcolithic and Bronze Age artefacts from Perth and Kinross have been acquired by National Museums Scotland and its predecessor institutions. Continued work by curators from both NMS and Perth Museum on these collections is doing much to improve our understanding of the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age material culture from the region (Cowie and Hall 2001; Cowie et al 2011).

By the later 19th century, prehistoric sites and monuments such as the Balnabroich funerary complex and settlement (MPK4027; MPK4032; Stuart 1866), Shanwell cremation cemetery (MPK1816; Anderson 1885) and various stone monuments (Allen 1881; MacMillan 1884; Stewart 1884; Gow 1885) were increasingly surveyed and investigated. Sherriff (2000) presents a particularly useful summary of excavations that took place within the boundary of the pre-1975 county of Perthshire during the second half of the 19 century. The surveys of Perthshire and Kinross-shire stone circles by Coles in the early 1900s built on this earlier work and emphasise the richness of the region (Coles 1906; 1908; 1909; 1910; 1911).

During the 20th century the Bronze Age sites and monuments of Perth and Kinross repeatedly attracted the attention of scholars working in Scotland, resulting in excavations and surveys that contribute to our picture of Bronze Age Scotland and, indeed, Britain overall (eg Anderson 1902; Abercromby 1905; Callander 1918; 1929a; 1929b; Simpson and Coles 1990). Margaret Stewart’s contribution to understanding the Bronze Age in Perth and Kinross deserves particular mention, with her numerous surveys and excavations of stone circles, standing stones and cists (eg Stewart 1965; 1966; 1985; Stewart and Barclay 1997; see also Hall 2018, 414 for an assessment of her role).  Derek Simpson’s excavation of Four-Poster monuments and a stone circle at Fortingall (MPK8) – due to be published by Murphy et al (forthcoming) – and Aubrey Burl’s nationwide survey of Four-Poster monuments (1988; see also Burl 2000) shed important light on this class of monument. The comprehensive sites and monuments surveys of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments for Scotland (RCAHMS) carried out for Kinross-shire (RCAHMS 1933) and north-east and south-east Perthshire (RCAHMS 1990; 1994) have added significantly to our understanding of the monument landscapes of these respective areas. Although not extending across all of Perth and Kinross, these surveys have established the density of occupation and interaction with the prehistoric landscape for a large extent of the region upon which future studies can build.

Notable research excavations between 1970 and 2000, in addition to those undertaken by Stewart, include Barclay’s of the North Mains henge and barrow (MPK1359; MPK1538; Barclay 1983), Piggott and Simpson’s excavation of the Croftmoraig multi-phase monument (MPK363; Piggott and Simpson 1971), the then-named Central Excavation Unit’s survey and excavation of the Carn Dubh landscape (Rideout 1995) and Mercer and Midgley’s excavation of the massive mound at Sketewan (MPK53808; Mercer and Midgley 1997). Details of others can be found in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal

Important research excavations have continued to take place since 2000, enhancing our understanding of the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age periods in Perth and Kinross. Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) has made a major contribution in the recovery, conservation and analysis of the Carpow logboat (MPK12214) and in the subsequent application of a multi-faceted approach to its contextualisation that included studies of settlement, metalwork and the wider Tayside environment (Strachan 2010a). The subsequent experimental archaeology project, undertaken in partnership with the Scottish Crannog Centre, to build a replica on Loch Tay has added further to our applied understanding of logboat design, construction and performance (Strachan 2010b).

The major SERF research project, led by the Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen (Brophy and Noble 2020), has shed important new light on the Forteviot prehistoric ceremonial complex, its landscape and its settlements (Poller forthcoming; see also http://www.seriousanimation.com/hillforts/). The comprehensive research undertaken on the Forteviot dagger-grave (MPK1888; Brophy and Noble 2020, chapter 5) is of national significance.

Bradley’s reassessment and re-excavation of the Croftmoraig multi-phase site (Bradley and Sheridan 2005; Bradley and Nimura 2016: chapters 4 and 10) has not only clarified the sequence of activities at that important monument, overturning Piggott and Simpson’s construction sequence, but it has also elucidated the Middle Bronze Age date of oval stone settings in this part of Scotland.

More recently, the excavation of, and research into, the Four-Poster monument at Na Clachan Aoraidh (MPK1245) by Ellis and Ritchie (2018) has provided important evidence which suggests that this class of monument was constructed during the Late Bronze Age. The archaeoastronomical research carried out as part of this project has shed additional light on this important aspect of Four-Poster design (Ellis and Ritchie 2018; Scott and McHardy 2020).

Over the last quarter century, the increasing number of developer-funded excavations in Perth and Kinross have also helped to clarify the chronology of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age activities in this part of Scotland, with the extensive excavations around Blackford (O’Connell et al 2021) being particularly informative in this respect. The rescue excavation of the large Early Bronze Age cemetery at Kilmagadwood (MPK18535) by Hall (Sheridan et al 2018a) has provided the potential to refine the dating of Early Bronze Age funerary practices in the region. The foundations of this work have been laid by Sheridan and colleagues, but the absence of resources for further post-excavation work means that this potential remains unrealised. Rectifying this by a fully-funded post-excavation programme has to be a research priority.

Allied to this, the National Museums Scotland’s long-term and ongoing programme of radiocarbon dating initiated by Sheridan has provided many useful dates pertaining to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age in the region. These include those for the Blairdrummond wheel, the Dumglow log-coffin and for various Bronze Age funerary material including the Pitnacree standing stone grave (MPK1714) and the child with a miniature battle-axehead at Doune (Sheridan 2006; 2007a; 2007b; 2008b; 2010a; Sheridan and Saville 1993; Sheridan et al 2013).

Despite past and ongoing research into the Bronze Age of Perth and Kinross, a comprehensive region-wide synthesis of the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age periods has not hitherto been carried out. Although regional summaries by Stevenson (1999) and Stewart (1973), as well as Tayside studies by Coutts (1970; 1971) and Winlow (2010) provide a strong baseline, a comprehensive synthesis is required for underpinning future archaeological research.