Metal Artefacts

By the Early Bronze Age, metalwork such as the Migdale-Marnoch axeheads was being produced in north-east Scotland (Cowie 1988; Needham 2004). However,  evidence for bronze artefact production in Perth and Kinross is minimal; it is confined to the mould from Easter Clunie on the Perth and Kinross-Fife border (Cowie and O’Connor 2009, 317–9). This part of Scotland lies on the fringes of north-east Scotland where numerous stone moulds for Early Bronze Age axeheads are known (Cowie 1988). Perth and Kinross’s river valleys could have acted as routeways for metal coming in and out of this region, though historically relatively few deposits of metal objects have been encountered along them. Indeed, Stuart Needham’s observation that classic Migdale-type flat axeheads tend to occur north of the River Tay, and particularly in the east including Perth and Kinross, Angus, Fife and Aberdeenshire (Needham 2004, 222–3), raises the possibility that the River Tay played an important role as a natural boundary in the circulation of metalwork.

Mould for flat axeheads from Easter Clunie (Cowie and O’Connor 2009)

The range of bronze artefacts used during the Early Bronze Age in Perth and Kinross comprises flat axeheads, which were initially similar in shape to those made of copper that had been used during the Chalcolithic period, then evolving to early flanged forms. There are also daggers and knife-daggers (as listed in Table 1); one or two tubular sheet bronze beads like found in urn 3 at Kilmagadwood (MPK18535) A ribbed bangle or armlet was discovered at Williamston (MPK3676; Callander 1919); while awls have been found at Almondbank, Beech Hill House and Kilmagadwood; Razors are also listed in Table 2, one of which is depicted below, and an additional example comes found close to the Kilmagadwood cemetery (Sheridan et al 2018a, illus 5). Excepting the axeheads, all these types of artefact have been found in funerary contexts. As noted in the Chalcolithic section, it is possible that the copper halberds found at Backside of Aldie and in Portmoak Moss date to the earliest part of the Bronze Age, although a Chalcolithic date is equally plausible or more likely. Whether the short-socketed spearhead from ‘Perthshire’ (Coles 1969, fig 34.4) belongs within the Early Bronze Age or the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age is also unknown. Coles’ 1969 review of Scottish Early Bronze Age metal artefacts lists the objects known to be of that date (Coles 1969; Cowie and Reid 1986 for one update).

Fragments of one or more tubular sheet bronze bead from Kilmagadwood, urn 3 (Sheridan et al 2018a)
Finds from cists at Almondbank, including bronze awl from cist II. From Stewart and Barclay 1997

Bronze axeheads are the most common artefact type; Coles lists 25 examples from Perthshire and Kinross, and further examples have been found since then, including one discovered at Kinnesswood (MPK15631/MPK17664), not far from Loch Leven (Cowie and Hall 2009). They have been found singly and in hoards, with the latter including the decorated axeheads from Bunrannoch near Kinloch Rannoch (Cowie 2004). The latter, like some of the single axeheads, had been deposited in a significant location in the landscape; this conforms to wider practices across Scotland. Moreover, the location of the Bunrannoch hoard, between Loch Rannoch and Loch Tummel, may indicate an east-west route enabling communications and connections.

Hoard of decorated flat axeheads from Bunrannoch (Cowie 2004)

Of the daggers, the example from a large cist at Forteviot (MPK1888) is both the most elaborate and the most extensively researched, with a full description and discussion provided in Brophy and Noble (2020, chapter 5). Among the many fascinating insights is Standish’s finding that the gold used for the pommel-mount had most likely originated in Cornwall – the same area which was the source for gold to to make lunulae. While the sparse and poorly-preserved human remains in the Forteviot cist could not be sexed, they are likely to have been male: elsewhere, where found in graves with well-sexed remains, daggers are consistently associated with males. Smaller knife-daggers, by contrast, can be found with both males and females; one such object was found in the Forteviot cist.

The tubular sheet bronze bead/s discovered at Kilmagadwood are a very rare type of artefact in Britain, whose only Scottish parallels come from a hoard at Migdale, Highland. Likewise, the ribbed bronze bangle/armlet found at Williamston is a rare find within Britain. Awls are slightly less rare, and tend to be associated with females. As they are small, they corrode easily; it may be that the metal staining seen on some calcined human bones from the Kilmagadwood cemetery relates to their former presence.

The use of bronze razors may have started during the 18th century BC, continuing through the second quarter of the second millennium. Here, as elsewhere in Scotland, they are associated with Cordoned Urns and appear to be a male-associated artefact. There are very occasional exceptions, in Kilmagadwood urn 20, for example, the adult occupant was probably female.