Ceremonial Monuments

In addition to monuments that were expressly constructed for funerary purposes, Perth and Kinross has a number of earthen, timber and stone monuments. These include henges, timber circles, stone circles, single standing stones and other stone settings – notably ‘Four-Poster’ settings, at least one stone row and several paired stones – with distinctive clusters evident. In Glen Shee, for example, there is a particularly dense concentration of six stone circles of various forms within four miles of each other. However, disentangling which monuments were constructed during the Early Bronze Age, and which were constructed before and after that period, is a challenge. This is made harder by the fact that some monuments have long and complex use-lives, with various remodellings and re-uses, including for funerary purposes – eg at Forteviot (MPK1888; Brophy and Noble 2020) and Moncreiffe (MPK3163; Stewart 1985).

Distribution of stone circles, including ‘Four-Poster’ settings, in Perthshire, from Burl 2000, fig 27

Radiocarbon dating, including the National Museums Scotland’s dating programme whose results are reported annually in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, has helped to provide some clues. Bradley’s reassessment and re-excavation of the multi-period monument at Croftmoraig, east of Loch Tay, has clarified not only the complex sequence of that site, but also the chronology of stone circle construction in this part of Scotland more generally (MPK363; Bradley and Sheridan 2005; Bradley and Nimura 2016, chapter 4). One of Bradley’s key conclusions is that small, oval stone ‘circles’, orientated south-west, less than 10m in their greatest diameter, and with no more than eight stones (cf Burl 2000, 243–51), are likely to be of Middle Bronze Age date in this part of Scotland. The Croftmoraig example dates to 1410–1220 BC. These will therefore be discussed in the Middle Bronze Age section along with the stone row at Sketewan, on the grounds that two short-stone rows in the west of Scotland have been dated to the Middle to Late Bronze Age. The date of the region’s paired stones is unknown, but these, too, will be considered in the Middle Bronze Age section.

‘Four-Poster settings, which are numerous in this part of Scotland, will be covered in the Late Bronze Age section. The recent excavation by Ellis and Ritchie (2018) at Na Clachan Aoraidh (MGK1245), above Loch Tummel, and the dating of cremated human bone from Simpson’s excavation at Fortingall North West (MPK8) point to a Late Bronze Age date for this class of monument. This in spite of finds of earlier material, such as Early Bronze Age types of cinerary urn, at other ‘Four-Posters’: Lundin Farm, Aberfeldy (MPK1108; Stewart 1966); Carse Farm 1 (MPK1036; Stewart and Barclay 1997) and Kynballoch, Glenballoch Farm (MPK3726; Cowie 1978; Burl 1988, 177–8). The arguments for an Early vs Late Bronze Age construction date of this kind of monument will be set out in the Late Bronze Age section.

The following is a summary of Early Bronze Age monuments:

Single-Entrance Mini Henges

As noted in the Chalcolithic section of this chapter, single-entrance ‘mini-henges’, such as the first-phase structure at Moncreiffe House (MPK3163; Stewart 1985), with its internal timber circle, are associated with the later part of the currency of Beaker pottery. They are either of Late Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age date, probably within the 2300–2000 BC span. Examples of this type of site are listed in the Chalcolithic section.

Oval Double-Entrance Henges

Oval, double-entrance Class II henges are likely to have been constructed during the Early Bronze Age. The example at North Mains (MPK1359; Barclay 1983) has a terminus post quem date of 2196–1920 cal BC (at 95.4% probability; GrA-24007 [3665±45 BP]) from calcined bone in a cist (‘burial A’) located under the bank of the henge. A similar date was obtained for a sub-bank context at the similar henge at Broomend of Crichie, Aberdeenshire (Bradley 2011). Further Early Bronze Age funerary activity provides termini ante quos for the construction of the North Mains henge (Barclay 1983, 133ff). The complex of ceremonial monuments at Forteviot includes two unexcavated Class II henges, Henges 3 and 4 (MPK1886; MPK19205; Brophy and Noble 2020, fig 2.5). The distribution of other examples in Perth and Kinross as well as elsewhere in Scotland, is shown in Fig 25. The question of how such monuments were used has been discussed elsewhere (eg Barclay 1983; 2005; Bradley 2011), so will not be repeated here.

Plan of North Mains Class II henge, from Barclay 198
Distribution of 1. All henges; 2. Class II henges in Scotland, from Barclay 2005

Timber Circles

At least one timber circle may well have been erected during the Early Bronze Age: this is the one inside the ‘mini-henge’ at Moncreiffe (Moncreiffe House: Stewart 1985). Unlike the Late Neolithic timber circle that preceded the construction of Henge 1 at Forteviot – discussed in the Chalcolithic part of this chapter – the Moncreiffe circle appears to be integral to the design of the ‘mini-henge’. As discussed in the Chalcolithic section of this chapter, this monument is associated with the use of Beaker pottery, and it is currently impossible to tell whether it dates to the Late Chalcolithic or the Early Bronze Age, but a date bracket of 2300–2000 BC seems likely. It remains to be seen whether any other timber circles in Perth and Kinross (as listed by Millican 2007) were constructed around the same time, or during the Early Bronze Age more generally. As opposed to timber circles built in the Late or Middle/Late Neolithic, such as at Haughs of Pittentian‌ ‌(MPK18545; Becket‌ ‌2014;‌ ‌Becket‌ ‌‌et‌ ‌al‌ ‌forthcoming) and Carsie Mains (MPK6980; Brophy and Barclay 2004).

Single Standing Stones

As for single standing stones, the evidence from Pitnacree (MPK1714) indicates that at least one such stone was erected during the Early Bronze Age, or Late Chalcolithic. There, cremated human remains dating to 2340–1960 cal BC (GrA-21744, 3740±60 BP at 95.4% probability) were deposited in the pit of a standing stone on the summit of an Early Neolithic round barrow. The slab bearing by-then ancient cupmarks that probably stood erect at the summit of the massive round barrow at North Mains (MPK1358; Barclay 1983, 199) is highly likely to have been erected during the Early Bronze Age – or, at least, the creation of the barrow in that era provides a terminus post quem for its erection. The evidence from elsewhere is more equivocal. At Balnaguard (MPK1705), the proximity of cists and other funerary deposits to a standing stone that may actually have been part of a row does not prove that the stone/s was/were erected during the Early Bronze Age. One of the outstanding research questions is: how many single standing stones were erected in this part of Scotland during the Early Bronze Age?

Stone Circles

Regarding stone circles, Bradley’s re-evaluation of Croftmoraig (MPK363) concluded that the 11–12m wide circle of nine stones that formed the outermost stone setting was probably erected around or shortly before 2000 BC. This stone setting included a ‘porch’ facing south-east, close to two possible grave pits. It was the earliest monumental structure at the site (Bradley and Nimura 2016, 118). The stones are graded in size, being taller towards the south and south-west, and those taller stones are also of a stone type that glitters in the sunlight. A gradation of stone heights which emphasised the south-west was also noted for the kerb of the ring-cairn at Sketewan (MPK5380; Bradley and Nimura 2016, 118). Moreover, the natural mound upon which the circle was erected had been shaped so that it was highest at the south and south-west (Bradley and Nimura 2016, 150). This emphasis on the south and south-west is shared with the recumbent stone circles of north-east Scotland (Bradley 2005; Welfare 2011) and the Clava Cairns around Inverness (Bradley 2000).  These are monument types that were constructed during the Late Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age, probably between 2300 BC and 2000 BC, and which may well have been contemporary with the first stone circle at Croftmoraig. This orientation indicates an interest in the position of the midwinter setting sun as it travelled down the side of a nearby hill (Bradley and Nimura 2016, 146). Scott has also noted that this also marks the position of the setting full moon near its southern standstill position (Sheridan 2021). A further orientation for the circle, indicated by the outlying stones forming the ‘porch’, is that towards the north-west, where the midsummer sun sets into the side of Schiehallion, a prominent mountain in the distance.

As for how many of the other stone circles in Perth and Kinross are likely to be of Early Bronze Age date, this remains to be established by excavation. The grading of stone heights towards the south and south-west is a feature shared with the Middle Bronze Age oval setting at Croftmoraig.

Bradley’s phasing of Croftmoraig, from Bradley and Nimura 2016, fig 4.21b

Rock Art

A further key outstanding research question is the issue of whether any cupmarks, or indeed cup-and-ring marks, may have been created here during this period, as opposed to during the Late Neolithic. Both the Neolithic chapter and the Scotland’s Rock Art Project website provide information on the chronology of Scottish rock art in Perth and Kinross and elsewhere in Scotland (ScARF Neolithic section; Scotland’s Rock Art Project). Elsewhere, Bradley has reasonably argued that cupmarks may have been added to Clava Cairns (Bradley 2000) and recumbent stone circles (Bradley 2005) during the Late Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age. In a recent study of the rock art site at Urlar (MPK1011), Bradley has argued that the depth of the cupmarks there point towards an Early Bronze Age date, although there is no corroborative dating evidence at that site (Bradley and Watson 2019). Currently, the only firm candidate for any kind of ‘rock art’ dating to the Early Bronze Age in Perth and Kinross is the unusual, and non-cupmarked, design on the underside of the Forteviot ‘dagger-grave’ cist capstone. This has nothing to do with the Atlantic rock art repertoire of cup- and cup-and-ring marks  etc. One other potential candidate for Early Bronze Age ‘rock art’ is the apparent ‘ring with handle’ design found alongside cup-and-ring motifs on a cist slab at Loanleven (MPK2114; Russell-White et al 1992, illus 10). It is reasonable to suggest that the slab represents the reuse of an ancient piece of Atlantic cup-and-ring rock art (Russell-White et al 1992, 304). However, the ‘ring with handle’ design does not sit comfortably within that tradition and nor does it sit comfortably within the Irish passage tomb art repertoire, despite the excavators’ claims (Russell-White et al 1992, 311). It may be that that particular design was added when the slab was inserted into the cist. Human remains from that cist have been radiocarbon dated to 2140–1783 cal BC (GU-2543 [3620±50 BP]; Russell-White et al 1992, 304).

Photo of Loanleven cist 1 slab (HA/Perth Museum photo plus line drawing from Russell-White et al 1992)