Ceremonial Monuments

The construction of ceremonial monuments not explicitly associated with funerary practices – even though some commemoration of the dead may well have been involved in the rituals undertaken there – during the Chalcolithic period is attested in Perth and Kinross, in the form of henge monuments.

Brophy and Noble’s recent excavations at Forteviot (Brophy and Noble 2020; see also Brophy and Noble 2012) have revealed that two Class I, single-entrance henges (Henges 1 and 2) were constructed during this period, within a landscape already marked by important Middle and Late Neolithic monuments. Henge 1 (MPK1888; Brophy and Noble 2020, chapter 4) is a single-entrance henge with a wide, deep ditch and with ephemeral traces of an external bank. A timber circle some 45m in diameter, associated with two radiocarbon dates calibrating to 2620–2475 cal BC (Brophy and Noble 2020, 135), had decayed before the henge was constructed. It has been suggested that the henge bank may have been built on the remains of the circle, with some posts possibly even projecting through the bank (Brophy and Noble 2020, 136 and fig 4.34). Modelling of the radiocarbon dates associated with Henge 1 has concluded that it was probably constructed 2460–2230 cal BC (95% probability: Hamilton with Brophy 2020). This dating is consistent with the early, Continental-style Beakers found in the ditch and in posthole fills.

Henge 2 (MPK1885; Brophy and Noble 2020, Chapter 6) also has a wide ditch (1.7m wide), around 29m in diameter at its outer edge; no trace of a bank was found, however. Within the area enclosed by the ditch, eight large oak posts had stood, which were erected before the ditch was dug. These do not seem to have been arranged into a circle, though. The radiocarbon dating evidence for two of these posts suggests that they were not all erected at the same time, with one dating to 2885–2675 BC and the other to 2475–2310 BC (Brophy and Noble 2020, 217). Dating of a fragment of willow charcoal from the lower part of the henge ditch fill suggests that the henge ditch was created around or just before 2496–2299 BC (Brophy and Noble 2020, 223), possibly around the same time as the later of the two dated posts was erected. This date also accords with the style of the six Continental-style Beaker pots whose sherds were found in the ditch fill and in the upper fill of two other postholes.

Both of the Forteviot henges were subsequently reused and modified during the Early Bronze Age (and later).

Artist’s reconstruction of henges and other monuments at Forteviot (Brophy and Noble 2020, fig 4.34)

The question of how many (if any) other henges were constructed during the Chalcolithic period in Perth and Kinross remains one of the outstanding research challenges. It is known that some henges were constructed during the Early Bronze Age. This is demonstrated by the evidence from North Mains (MPK1358; MPK1359) and elsewhere in Scotland such as Broomend of Crichie, Aberdeenshire (Barclay 1983) and the Balfarg henge in Fife (Gibson 2010) as well as more widely in Britain (Cummings 2019). Sometimes they enclosed earlier, Late Neolithic timber or stone circles. Moreover, Bradley’s excavations of small ‘henges/hengiform monuments’ at Pullyhour, Highland (Bradley 2011) and the Hill of Tuach, Aberdeenshire (Bradley and Nimura 2016) have revealed that small ‘hengiform’ monuments were built during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages respectively. Indeed, Gibson argued in his review of the chronology of ‘henge’ and ‘hengiform’ monuments that the term ‘henge’ has outlived its usefulness, given the long period of time over which superficially similar-looking penannular bank-and-ditch monuments were constructed (Gibson 2012). He therefore proposed that the term be retired. Barclay has also called for the abandonment of both terms ‘henge’ and ‘hengiform’ (Barclay 2005). Despite Gibson’s and Barclay’s reasoned objections, the terms have remained in widespread use; they will be used with all due caution here.

It is impossible to tell whether the small, single-entrance henge at Moncrieffe House with its Beaker pottery was constructed during the Chalcolithic, as opposed to the Early Bronze Age (MPK3163). This monument, which had a long history of subsequent use and modification, consisted in its first phase of an oval penannular ditch, around 12 x13m in extent, with an exterior bank (of which only traces survived), and a timber circle within the enclosed area. Sherds of a Beaker with probable twisted cord-impressed horizontal lines were found within the enclosed area, while a sherd of another Beaker with diagonal comb-impressed lines bounded by a horizontal line was discovered in the ditch fill. These Beakers are likely to post-date those from Forteviot henges 1 and 2. If the cord-impressed vessel is of All-Over-Cord type, then that need not imply that it is of Early Chalcolithic date, since the currency of this style of decoration extends into the Early Bronze Age. It is impossible to say whether the Moncreiffe Beakers date to the Late Chalcolithic or to the Early Bronze Age, although they pre-dated 2000 BC.

Plan of the small, single-entrance henge at Moncreiffe (Stewart 1985)

The discussion of the date of Moncreiffe is relevant to the dating of several other similar-looking, single-entrance monuments – termed by Millican and others ‘mini-henges’ – in Strathearn (Brophy and Noble 2020, Chapter 4.6). One such ‘mini-henge’ is located just 12m to the south of Forteviot Henge 1, and is surrounded by a timber circle 12m in diameter. Other examples are at Leadketty (MPK1956), Millhaugh (MPK2024), Belhie (MPK1318) and Bennybeg (MPK751), and all except the cropmark site at Bennybeg have been excavated. As argued by Brophy and Noble, with Millican (2020, Chapter 4.6), the Forteviot ‘mini-henge’ is highly likely to have post-dated the larger Henge 1 nearby, respecting its location. It is unfortunate that the only radiocarbon date obtained for this monument relates to residual charcoal of seventh-millennium date (Brophy and Noble 2020, 151). The Leadketty monument had a single massive posthole in its interior, and charred oak from this produced a date of 2351–2196 cal BC (SUERC-65637, 3824±30 BP: Brophy and Noble 2020, 155 and see Wright and Brophy forthcoming), which is reasonably interpreted as a terminus post quem for the creation of the ditch. No artefacts or datable material were found at Millhaugh (Brophy and Noble 2020, 155). While the style of the Beaker pottery from Belhie remains to be identified, it is unlikely to post-date the 19th century BC. One outstanding research question, therefore, is to narrow down the date range for ‘mini-henges’ in Perth and Kinross, if possible. Apropos their distribution, Ford (2017, 131–2) has commented that they are located along the River Earn or its tributaries, in rich agricultural land; she has suggested that their locations indicate the spiritual and logistical importance of the river to the builders and users of these monuments.

Distribution of single-entrance ‘mini-henges’ in Strathearn (Brophy and Noble 2020)

It is unclear whether any other type of non-funerary monument apart from henges, possibly including the aforementioned ‘mini-henges’, was constructed in Perth and Kinross during the Chalcolithic period.