A number of securely dated settlements south of the Firth of Forth attest to a marked increase in the visibility of domestic sites from around 1800 BC (Pope 2015); however, there is limited dating evidence for the numerous hut circles recorded across the uplands and lowlands to the east of the River Tay in Perth and Kinross (Harris 1984; RCAHMS 1990; 1994). Very few excavations have taken place, whereas elsewhere in Scotland, since the 1990s, increasing numbers of settlements dating to the Middle and Late Bronze Age and Iron Age have been excavated (as reviewed in Halliday 1999; 2007; forthcoming; Pope 2015). By analogy with these dated settlements, the examples in Perth and Kinross are likely to date to that same time range. The challenge is to obtain the necessary dating evidence, and to untangle which of the settlements belong to the Middle Bronze Age, which to the Late Bronze Age and which to the Iron Age.

The distribution of hut circles is uneven, and this may well relate to the variable amount of survey work that has been undertaken. Little has been done in the uplands to the west of the River Tay, with Cowley’s work (1997) in Strathbraan providing a rare exception that has demonstrated the great potential for settlement evidence to be found in that part of Perth and Kinross.

A variety of structural forms have been recorded, including predominantly unenclosed building platforms, ring-ditch and post-ring structures, and single- and double-walled stone hut circles. The latter are heavily concentrated in the upland glens and straths to the north-east of Perth and Kinross and into Angus (Halliday forthcoming; Pope 2015; RCAHMS 1990, 2–3). Concentrations of hut circles, and therefore settlement by implication, are also known along Strathearn, the Tay valley and Strathbraan. The excellent preservation of structures in the north-east, especially in Strathardle and Glen Shee, where hut circles are situated at altitudes of 300–400m above sea level, has long been a focus of archaeological interest. This began with the Statistical Accounts in the 1790s (Thoms and Halliday 2014, 13; see also RCAHMS 1990), and this area continues to promise great research potential for the future. In contrast, a lack of settlement evidence in the Ochil and Sidlaw hills has been attributed to disturbance from medieval and later agricultural activity as well as fewer surveys having been undertaken in these areas (RCAHMS 1994, 9–10).

Map of domestic/settlement sites

Within this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of excavations of hut circles and enclosures in Perth and Kinross have taken place in the uplands. Although comprehensive excavation of an upland Bronze Age settlement is still lacking, investigations at Carn Dubh (Badyo) (MPK1752; Rideout 1995), Dalrulzion (MPK4038; Thorneycroft 1933; 1946), Dalnaglar (MPK4338; Stewart 1962),  Craighead (MPK4114; McLellan in Rideout 1995) and Tulloch Field (MPK2854; Thoms and Halliday 2014) have provided some valuable chronological evidence, as well as other evidence whose dating remains to be established.

At Carn Dubh, Rideout concluded that the earliest structural evidence for settlement was probably of Late Bronze Age date (1995, 184), despite evidence for earlier agricultural activity in the area. The area was clearly returned to in later periods, including the medieval period.

The settlements at Dalrulzion and Dalnaglar have produced two different styles of undecorated pottery (as discussed by Coles in Stewart 1962). Direct radiocarbon dating of encrusted organic residue on the sherds, and/or of absorbed lipids in the sherds, would be necessary to tease out their chronology. It could be, as Coles argued, that the Dalnagar pottery is of Late Bronze Age date. Whereas Thoms and Halliday (2014, 14) argue that it is most likely to be of late second millennium date. The Craighead settlement produced one shouldered pot that McLellan (in Rideout 1995) compared to vessels from Dalrulzion and Dalnaglar; once again, direct dating would be required to clarify its date.

At Tulloch Field in Strathardle, a group of at least six hut circles and circular platforms were surveyed and excavated. Possible structural timbers from one of the hut circles (Site A) produced two Middle Bronze Age radiocarbon dates, from birch charcoal – namely 1411–1116 BC (GU-1147) and 1416–1130 cal BC (GU-1148) respectively (Thoms and Halliday 2014, 4), along with pottery that includes a tall, flat-based jar (Thoms and Halliday 2014, 7 and illus 8). Moreover, the neighbouring hut circle (Site B) produced a fragment of what is thought to be a Middle Bronze Age rapier fragment (Thoms and Halliday 2014, 8–9), suggesting that Sites A and B were in contemporary use. Site B also produced oak charcoal dating to the Iron Age – which may relate to much later activity at the site (Halliday 2007; forthcoming).

1. Plan of the settlement at Tulloch Field; 2. Plans of Sites A and B; 3. Jar from Site A (Thoms and Halliday 2014)

Middle Bronze Age settlement activity in the lowland areas of Perth and Kinross remains relatively limited. However, settlements comprising at least 14 roundhouses and activity dating from the Middle Bronze Age to Early Iron Age were recently excavated around Brookfield House and Kirkton Farm near Blackford (O’Connell et al 2021). The extensive remains of enclosed and unenclosed settlements were investigated across ten areas on well-drained knolls near Blackford. The Middle Bronze Age is the best represented period from the excavations, with single and closely grouped roundhouses with ring-ditches and south-east orientated entrances recorded (O’Connell et al 2021, 112). The first regional suggestion of palisade enclosures of Middle Bronze Age date is notable (O’Connell et al 2021, chapter 5). A range of interpretations for their function have been offered: stock enclosures; defence around roundhouses;  protection against the weather; display of status. Evidence for barley and emmer wheat demonstrated the presence of a mixed farming economy, and craft production through cannel coal jewellery (O’Connell et al 2021, chapter 5). The Blackford discoveries, coupled with those of other lowland Middle Bronze Age roundhouses at Hatton Farm (Gray and Suddaby 2010) and Cliffbarn Road (Dunbar 2012), both in Angus, and at Pitlethie Road, Fife (Cook 2007) demonstrate that the picture of lowland settlement will become clearer as more work is undertaken and reported.

Before leaving this review of settlement, the evidence from the ‘roundhouse’ at Croftmoraig needs to be reviewed (Bradley and Sheridan 2005; Bradley and Nimura 2016, chapters 4 and 10; particularly 148–50). This ESE-facing structure, built inside the stone circle of putative Early Bronze Age date and radiocarbon dated to 1370–1120 BC, shares many features in common with Middle Bronze Age roundhouses elsewhere in Scotland. However, as Bradley has pointed out, its porched entrance is much narrower than equivalents in other roundhouses, making the interior harder to access. Moreover, the building’s orientation means that its interior would have been exceptionally dark. Given its position in the middle of a pre-existing sacred space, it may be that this building was not designed for everyday inhabitation, but had a special function associated with ceremonies.

The many outstanding issues for the study of Middle, and Later, Bronze Age settlement in Perth and Kinross include the need for many more radiocarbon dates; these would allow the clarification of the chronology, especially with those sites with multi-phase occupation. There also need to be more studies of occupation duration and frequency, such as has recently been undertaken by MacDonald for Bronze Age settlements around Lairg (2020).