The Early Bronze Age saw a diversification and an evolution in the styles of pottery in use. Our evidence comes solely from funerary contexts, so we may not be seeing the full ceramic repertoire.

Distribution of Food Vessels in Scotland ©️ Marta Innes (from Brophy and Noble 2020)

The use of Beaker pottery continued from the preceding Chalcolithic period, but a novelty that joined it, and far outnumbered Beaker pots, from the 22nd century BC was Food Vessel pottery (Sheridan 2004a; Innes 2020). This tradition may well have originated outside Scotland – with Ireland and Yorkshire being the most likely areas of origin – and it was initially used in the same way as Beaker pottery. In other words, Food Vessels containing some form of sustenance for the deceased’s journey into the Afterlife were placed in graves. The decision to use a Food Vessel, rather than a Beaker, may have related to the desire to identify with the fashionable new style. It was perhaps also intended to underline connections with Ireland – as shown, for example, by the Irish Bowl Food Vessel from cist 3 at Beech Hill House, Coupar Angus (Stevenson 1995) – or Yorkshire, eg the 1891 find at Westhaugh of Tulliemet (Stewart and Barclay 1997). The latest Beakers show design influence from Food Vessels; indeed, a vessel such as SF 20 from the henge at North Mains (Barclay 1983, fig 30b) could be described as a Beaker/Food Vessel hybrid pot.

Most Food Vessels in Perth and Kinross are variants on a vase shape, usually bipartite (eg Almondbank cist XI (MPK2064) or tripartite, eg Westhaugh of Tulliemet 1891 find, Gairneybank cist 2 (MPK5639); Westhaugh of Tulliemet cist 1. Bowl Food Vessels are much rarer; in addition to the Beech Hill House example, a simple bowl was found in Westhaugh of Tulliemet cist 2, and an unusual, small, squat bowl with perforated lugs for suspension was found in cist 1 at Gairneybank. One very rare type of Food Vessel, or Food Vessel/Beaker hybrid, – one of only five such vessels found in Scotland – is the handled pot from a short cist at Balmuick (MPK288; Boston 1884). This has variously been described as a handled Beaker (Manby 2004) and a handled Food Vessel (Clarke 1970, 245) but is perhaps best described as a handled Food Vessel/Beaker hybrid. The wider distribution of handled vessels, and their comparative frequency in Yorkshire and other parts of east England down to East Anglia, has been discussed by Manby (2004, fig 72). One comparable example from Balfarg henge – a handled Beaker – has been radiocarbon dated (from associated unburnt bone) to 2127–1829 BC (OxA-13215, 3605±37 BP; Sheridan 2004b), placing it firmly within the Early Bronze Age. It may well be that the Balmuick vessel is broadly contemporary.

Selection of Food Vessels from Perth and Kinross

A rare example of where the dispersed products of an individual potter could be identified was discovered at North Mains, where Cowie noted a marked similarity between a bipartite Vase Food Vessel from henge burial B and another, found 36km away at Cowdenhill, Bo’ness, West Lothian (Cowie 1983, 255).

Vase Food Vessels that may have been made by the same potter, from North Mains henge burial B and Cowdenhill, Bo’ness, West Lothian (Cowie 1983)

While most Food Vessels have been found with unburnt human remains, or in graves where the former presence of such remains can be deduced, some have accompanied cremated remains, such as at Westhaugh of Tulliemet cist 2 (Stewart and Barclay 1997). From the 21st or 20th century BC, cinerary urns in the Food Vessel tradition – formerly called ‘Food Vessel Urns’ (Cowie 1978), now called Vase Urns, with an Encrusted variant – began to be used. With these, the cremated remains were buried inside these large pots. An Encrusted Urn from Kilmagadwood that was found in 1946 (MPK3013; Fig 18) has recently been dated, from a fragment of calcined human bone, to 2028–1889 BC (SUERC-79487, 3600±26 BP: Sheridan et al 2018a). Other Vase Urns from Perth and Kinross are from the recent excavations at Kilmagadwood (MPK18535; Sheridan et al 2018a); Mawmill (MPK5583; Encrusted type; Cowie 1978, 125); Muir of Blairgowrie (MPK3918; found with an Accessory Vessel: Cowie 1978, 131); Callum’s Hill, Crieff (MPK860; Cowie 1978, 131); Doune (Cowie 1978, 131); Glenballoch (Kynballoch) Farm (MPK3726; Cowie 1978, 132; of Encrusted type); Woodhead of Garvock (Cowie 1978, 132) and North Mains henge (Cowie 1983, 161, fig 32b). Radiocarbon dating of Vase Urns from Perth and Kinross and elsewhere in Scotland (Sheridan 2007b) indicates a currency between the 21st and 19th century BC for this style of cinerary urn, indicating that it was in contemporary use with late Beakers and with non-cinerary urn Food Vessels.

Collared Urns joined the repertoire of cinerary urns, possibly as early as the 20th or 19th century BC, to judge from the date of 2132–1749 BC (GrA-21743, 3580±60 BP) obtained from a fragment of calcined human bone from Haugh of Grandtully (MPK6035; Sheridan 2007b, fig 14.1). The floruit of this style of urn in Scotland, and indeed throughout its distribution, appears to fall within the period 1900–1600 BC (Sheridan 2007b). This style of urn may have emerged in England – quite possibly Yorkshire – and its distribution in Scotland is markedly thinner than in Yorkshire and parts of eastern and south-east England (Longworth 1984, fig 42). Examples from Perth and Kinross are listed in Table 3.

Findspot ReferenceComment
Kilmagadwood (MPK18535): Urns 1, 7, 8, 10–13 and 16Sheridan et al 2018aThe dating of this cemetery is currently ‘book-ended’ by the dates of 3600±26 BP (SUERC-79487, 2028–1889 cal BC at 95.4% probability) for an Encrusted Urn and 3357±24 BP (SUERC-76278, 1737–1542 cal BC at 95.4% probability) for a Bipartite Urn associated with a segmented faience bead (Sheridan et al 2018a).
Haugh of Grandtully (MPK6035): pits 1 and 16Simpson and Coles 1990There is a mismatch in Simpson and Coles 1990 between the description of the urns in question and their labelling and attribution to pits in illus 10. The pit numbering follows the description in the text
Lundin Farm (MPK1108)Stewart 1966; Longworth 1984, no 1986 –
Inchtuthil, Caputh (MPK3643)Longworth 1984, no 1988 –
Mont Alt Farm, Path of Condie, ForgandennyLongworth 1984, no 1992 –
Easter Gellybank Farm (MPK5211)Longworth 1984, no 1995 –
Sketewan (MPK5380), cremations F89 and F90Mercer and Midgley 1997 –
North Mains Henge (MPK1359), burial HCowie 1983, fig 31 –
Carse Farm 1 (MPK25651)Stewart and Barclay 1997 –
Note that Longworth erroneously attributed a find of a Collared Urn from Aberdeenshire to Blairgowrie (Longworth 1984, no 1987); the error was pointed out by Cowie and is noted in Canmore ID 72062
Table 3: Findspots of Collared Urns in Perth and Kinross (Note: this does not claim to be exhaustive)
Examples of Collared Urns, from 1. Kilmagadwood (Sheridan et al 2018a) and 2. Grandtully (Simpson and Coles 1990)

The most informative findspot for this, and for other types of Early Bronze Age cinerary urn, is the cemetery at Kilmagadwood near Loch Leven (Sheridan et al 2018a). The stratigraphic and spatial relationships at this site allow the following sequence to be proposed:

  • Vase Urn (including Encrusted Urn)
  • Collared Urn
  • Cordoned Urn
  • Bipartite Urn 
  • (possibly) Bucket Urn.

The dating of this cemetery is currently ‘book-ended’ by the dates 2028–1889 BC for an Encrusted Urn and 1737–1542 BC for a Bipartite Urn associated with a segmented faience bead (Sheridan et al 2018a). However, many more radiocarbon dates are required to create a more detailed chronological narrative for this cemetery.

The sequence of cinerary urn types seen at Kilmagadwood accords with the overall picture for Scotland – and elsewhere in Britain and Ireland. The impression gained from the existing Scottish radiocarbon dates suggests some chronological overlap between the different styles (Sheridan 2007b). The currency of Cordoned Urns – which appear to constitute a northern and western stylistic ‘evolution’ of Collared Urns – appears to extend from around 1900/1800 BC to 1600/1500 BC (Waddell 1995; Table 4). The connection between Cordoned and Collared Urns can be seen in the example from Moncreiffe.

Examples of Cordoned Urns: 1. Kilmagadwood (Sheridan et al 2018a); 2. Moncreiffe (Stewart 1985); 3. Shanwell (Anderson 1885)
Findspot Reference
Moncreiffe (MPK3163)Stewart 1985
Kilmagadwood (MPK18535): urns 2, 3, 9, 15, 20, 23Sheridan et al 2018a
Broich Road (MPK18471)Savory 2012 
Shanwell (MPK1816)Anderson 1885
Table 4: Cordoned Urns in Perth and Kinross. Note: this does not claim to be exhaustive.

Bipartite Urns – a style of urn that has not hitherto received much attention – are likely to belong to the second quarter of the second millennium BC, to judge from the dated example from Kilmagadwood. The urn from North Mains henge that was hard to classify in 1983 (Cowie 1983) can be described as a Bipartite Urn.

Bipartite Urns: 1. Kilmagadwood (Sheridan et al 2018a); 2. North Mains henge (Cowie 1983)

The possible Bucket Urns from Kilmagadwood belong to a style of cinerary urn whose currency mostly lies in the Middle to Late Bronze Age, as exemplified by the example dated to the Late Bronze Age from Sandy Road, Scone (MPK3285; Sheridan 2007b, fig 14.6). This type of urn will be covered in the Late Bronze Age section of this chapter. They are all small and associated with child remains. Like a similar small, undecorated urn with bevelled rim found in Pit 24 at Haugh of Grandtully (MPK6035; Simpson and Coles 1990, illus 10, middle), it is unclear whether these should be regarded as early examples of Bucket Urns, or else as an unusual kind of Early Bronze Age urn used for some young people.

One other type of pottery has been found alongside Early Bronze Age cinerary urns: this is the accessory vessel, as found at Muir (Moor) of Blairgowrie alongside a Vase Urn (MPK3918; Cowie 1978, 131 and fig 3). These small pots would have performed a specific role within the cremation cemetery, and some, at least, may have been used as chafing vessels, used to transport burning embers for lighting the pyre.

Accessory vessel from Muir of Blairgowrie (Cowie 1978)

Finally, there are other finds of cinerary urn from Perth and Kinross that may date to the Early Bronze Age, but sadly the urns are lost. This is the case, for example, with a cemetery at Meet Hillock, Blairgowrie (MPK3732) and a single find at Thorn Knowe, Easter Coldrain (MPK1840). Elsewhere, at Brookfield House (MPK17957), there is a vague reference to a ‘possible cinerary urn’, but no further details are available and the site remains unpublished.