Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Beakers

The few other Beakers found in Perth and Kinross are likely to be of Late Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age date, while others, probably belong to the Early Bronze Age.

A small (about 147mm tall), Short-Necked Beaker was found in a probable grave pit, orientated east-west, with traces of what could have been a wooden coffin or chamber, inside a double ring-ditch monument at Forteviot (MPK1887; Wilkin 2020). Wilkin concluded that the likely date of this Beaker was either Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age, between around 2400 BC and about 2000 BC (Wilkin 2020, 259). This concurs with Needham’s observation (in Parker Pearson et al 2019, 174) that the currency of Short-Necked Beakers in Britain more widely extends from the Middle Chalcolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Given that the form of the grave was an organic coffin or chamber rather than a stone cist – a Chalcolithic date around 2300 BC seems likely (Brophy and Noble 2020, 250).

Beaker from a double-ditched monument, Forteviot (by Marion O’Neil), and a plan of the monument (from Brophy and Noble 2020) 

A further Short-Necked Beaker (of Clarke’s ‘N2’ Developed Northern type) was found in 1876, in ashort-stone cist near Kincardine Castle (MPK1450; Reid 1878; Clarke 1970, 342, fig 514, and 520). It had accompanied the remains of a contracted skeleton, with a further skeleton buried beneath the floor of the cist. Unfortunately, Reid’s attempts to keep the skull that had accompanied the Beaker safe until it could be removed safely backfired. He recorded that ‘The place was covered up, and endeavours were used to prevent people disturbing the remains, but in the meantime the story of the discovery got abroad, and some of the Auchterarder youths went up and disturbed the cist, breaking the skull and removing the teeth’ (Reid 1878, 683). Two other Short-Necked Beakers, both Clarke’s ‘N3’ Late Northern type, have been found in Perth and Kinross: one at Tillyochie, under a cairn (MPK1837; Clarke 1970, 518) and another in a cist at Upper Muirhall (Reid et al 1986).

Long-Necked Beakers are known from short cists at Tippermallo, Methven (Anon 1899; Clarke 1970, 354, fig 609, and 520); White Cairn, Glen Cochill, under a cairn containing numerous pieces of white quartz (MPK1593; Clarke 1970, 520; Stewart and Barclay 1997); and Balnaguard (MPK1705; Mercer and Midgley 1997). The first two must have contained unburnt contracted skeletons, of which traces were found at Tippermallo, while calcined bones were found at Balnaguard. By analogy with dated examples elsewhere (as discussed in Parker Pearson et al 2019, Chapter 4), these Beakers are most likely to date to between 2300 BC and 2000 BC (the Late Chalcolithic and early part of the Early Bronze Age). At Tippermallo, the Beaker was accompanied by two flint scrapers and a flint knife.

Other Beakers from Perth and Kinross: 1. Near Kincardine Castle (Clarke 1970); 2. Tillyochie (Clarke 1970); 3. Upper Muirhall (Reid et al 1986); 4. Tippermallo, Methven (Clarke 1970); 5. White Cairn, Glen Cochill (Stewart and Barclay 1997); 6. Balnaguard (Mercer and Midgley 1997)

Clarke’s corpus of British Beaker pottery lists sherds of two Beakers found near the top of a large, imposing, earth-capped cairn, the Fairy Knowe, at Pendriech, Bridge of Allan (Alexander 1868; Clarke 1970, 520). The cairn is located on a spur of the Ochil Hills and commands extensive views of the landscape. Sherds of one of the Beakers could not be attributed to a specific style. The less incomplete of the two pots , which is sadly lost, is a Mid-Carinated Beaker of Clarke’s ‘N/NR’ (Northern British/Northern Rhine) type. The currency of such Beakers is known to have begun during the later part of the Chalcolithic, and continued into the early part of the Early Bronze Age. The pot’s association with an ostentatious cairn is consistent with an Early Bronze Age date, probably between the 22nd and 20th century BC. The grave that lay under the Fairy Knowe cairn is a short, stone-lined grave covered with a capstone; its size suggests the former presence of a contracted skeleton (but note that Alexander records that some of the bone fragments found in the grave showed signs of heat damage).

Beaker from the Fairy Knowe, Pendreich, Bridge of Allan (Alexander 1868)

Five other finds of Beaker pottery in Perth and Kinross are known. These include i) the small, single-entrance ‘mini-henge’ at Moncreiffe (Moncreiffe House, MPK3163; Stewart 1985) and ii) a pit in a row outside the ‘mini-henge’ at Belhie (MPK1318; Ralston 1988). Further examples are iii) the Class II, two-entrance henge and the large Early Bronze Age barrow at North Mains (MPK1358; Barclay 1983); iv) a short cist at Balmuick (MPK288; Boston 1884); and v) Brookfield House, Blackford, in a residual context (MPK17956; Johnson in O’Connell et al 2021, 26).

At Moncreiffe, a sherd with diagonal comb-impressed lines bounded by a horizontal line was found in the henge ditch fill, while sherds of what are probably a cord-impressed Beaker were found within the area enclosed by the henge ditch. Despite the sherds’ small size and the incompleteness of the two vessels represented, it is possible that these Beakers date to the Late Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age, possibly between 2300 BC and 2000 BC. If the cord-impressed Beaker has All-Over-Cord decoration, this need not necessarily mean that it dates to the Early Chalcolithic. As Needham (2005) and Sheridan (2007a) have shown, the currency of this decorative scheme extended into the late third millennium BC (eg at Eweford, East Lothian).

Beaker sherds from Moncrieffe: 1. Rimsherd with probable horizontal lines of twisted cord impressions; 2. Sherd with diagonal comb-impressed lines bounded by a horizontal comb-impressed line (Stewart 1985)

As for the Beaker sherds found at Belhie, no details have yet been published and their relationship with the ‘mini-henge’ (which was artefactually sterile, Ian Ralston pers comm) is one of proximity – they were in a pit row outside the ‘mini-henge’ – rather than close association.

The Beaker pottery associated with funerary and associated ‘ritual’ activity at  North Mains henge (MPK1359; Barclay 1983, figs 28.6,9,10; fig 30) and with the massive round barrow at North Mains (Barclay 1983, 217; MPK1358)  can be attributed confidently to the Early Bronze Age. One complete Beaker of late style was found in a cist (‘Burial F’), accompanying a deposit of cremated human remains, inside the henge. Sherds of similar Beakers were associated with ‘domestic/ritual’, but much more likely to be ritual than domestic, activity elsewhere in the henge, and a single, possibly residual, Beaker sherd was found near the top of the Early Bronze Age barrow. A fragment of the calcined human bone from ‘Burial F’ produced a radiocarbon date, for National Museums Scotland’s radiocarbon dating programme, of 2191–1947 cal BC (at 95.4%; 3670±35 BP, GrA-24863), confirming its Early Bronze Age date.

Late-style Early Bronze Age Beaker from North Mains henge (Barclay 1983)

At Balmuick (MPK288; Boston 1884), sherds of what is likely to have been a Beaker decorated with cord impressions were found in a short cist under a round cairn. A nearby cist was contained a handled vessel that has been described by some as a handled Beaker, and by others as a handled Food Vessel. It will be dealt with in the Early Bronze Age section.

At Brookfield House, Blackford, a fine, thin Beaker rimsherd decorated with two rows of closely-spaced impressions, made by a reed or bird bone, and with two horizontal grooves below, was found in a residual context in Middle Bronze Age Structure 3C (MPK17956; Johnson in O’Connell et al 2021, 26). It is unclear where, in the typochronology of Scottish Beaker pottery, this sherd belongs.

Overall, Beakers of any kind are considerably rarer in Perth and Kinross than in north-east and south-east Scotland as seen on the distribution map below.

Distribution of various types of Beaker in Perth and Kinross, within the broader distribution of Beaker finds as published by Clarke in 1970. (From Clarke 1970, with additions)