4.3.2 Early Bronze Age

The beginning of the Early Bronze Age is marked and defined in Perth and Kinross, as elsewhere in Britain, by the appearance of artefacts made of bronze – an alloy of copper and tin – during the 22nd century BC. There are two main consequences of the appearance of bronzeFirstly, it was a novel medium that was used to express wealth, status and power, since bronze, like copper before it, will have been precious and not necessarily in large supply. Secondly, anyone who was able to control the flow of bronze, and/or its constituent materials, into and around Perth and Kinross was afforded the possibility of enhancing their power and authority.

It may be, then, that the other changes that are witnessed between the 22nd century and the 20th century BC relate, at least in part, to this introduction of a new metal. What we see during these centuries is a diversification of funerary practices and material culture, but above all a series of expressions of conspicuous consumption. This is demonstrated by the creation of new, ostentatious monuments such as the enormous funerary mounds at Sketewan (MPK5380; Mercer and Midgley 1997) and North Mains (MPK1358) and the Class II, two-entrance henge at North Mains (MPK1359; Barclay 1983). It is also seen in symbols of power, buried as the grave goods of important individuals. The latter are exemplified by the dagger found in an imposing cist grave set inside Forteviot Henge 1 (MPK1888), with its bronze blade, gold pommel-mount and hide scabbard. It is also represented by the jewellery of jet and jet-like materials found in graves at Easter Essendy (MPK5487; Thoms 1980), Abercairny (MPK1519; Rideout et al 1987), and Almondbank (MPK2064; Stewart and Barclay 1997, 24–33) and Craigiehall (Callander 1926, 261). The reuse of ancient monuments and sacred material (in the form of by-then ancient rock art) at this time constitutes an appropriation of ancient locales and symbols as part of the Early Bronze Age power play. The fertility of lowland Perth and Kinross (Cowie and Shepherd 2003, 153) will no doubt have contributed to the flourishing of a society in which unequal power was expressed through monuments, funerary practices and symbols of power. This, rather than control over the flow of metal, may have been the actual basis for wealth and power. Perth and Kinross was indeed a wealthy region during the Early Bronze Age.

The Forteviot dagger ©️ Andy Holland

Developments after about 2000 BC are most clearly seen in the evolution of various styles of ceramic cinerary urn, and the appearance of novel artefact types including bronze razors. Evidence for habitation structures appears towards the end of the Early Bronze Age.

Although lost through later land use in lowland areas, Early Bronze Age agricultural activity is extensively evidenced in the uplands where field systems and clearance cairns demonstrate a well-managed and productive landscape supporting a mixed subsistence economy (Cowie and Shepherd 2003, 162–5). There is also evidence for tillage under both the massive barrow and henge bank at North Mains, with the former suggesting the use of a spade or hoe (Barclay 1983, eg 273). Although a much earlier, Neolithic, date for this cultivation activity is a clear possibility, given the presence of Neolithic sherds in the contexts in question.

A summary of the palaeoenvironmental evidence for the Early Bronze Age is found in section 4.4.5. Suffice it to note here that Tipping has observed, apropos a study of the Carn Dubh area in the Perth and Kinross uplands, that the first substantial evidence for forest clearance since the beginning of the Neolithic in that area appears to have occurred around 2050 BC (Tipping 1995). He suggested that an intensification of grazing, albeit without evidence for permanent settlement in the area, is the reason for this. Whether this in turn relates to population expansion or to some other factor remains to be established, however. Funerary Practices Grave Goods Ceremonial Monuments Settlement Material Culture