Funerary Practices and Ceremonial Monuments

As in the Middle Bronze Age, cremation is the only funerary practice attested for the Late Bronze Age in Perth and Kinross. Calcined human bones that have been dated to this period are listed in Table 5:

Findspot (Canmore ID)Radiocarbon date, cal BC at 95.4%ReferencesComment
Sandy Road, Scone (MPK3285)1196–898 (GrA-23985)Stewart 1965; Sheridan 2007b, 184In upright Bucket Urn in pit in centre of oval stone setting
Fortingall North East, Site 1 (MPK8)1107–901 (SUERC-18874)Burl 1988, 166–75; Sheridan 2008b; Murphy et al forthcomingIn shallow pit, un-urned, with pyre charcoal, inside Four-Poster monument
Na Clachan Aoraidh (MPK1245)Calcined human bone (female): 903–803 (SUERC-73565);
Associated alder charcoal from pyre: 1117–923 (SUERC-73595)
Ellis and Ritchie 2018From pit in centre of Four-Poster monument
Croftmoraig (MPK363)1218–939 (SUERC-47157)Bradley and Nimura 2016, 68, 70In fill of ring-ditch associated with the ’roundhouse’, but clearly post-dating that structure; calcined bone fragment too small to be ID’d to species, but likely to be human
North Mains henge, burial Q in F5 and burial O in F6 (MPK1359)F5: Charcoal (species unidentified) 1206–839 (GU-1437)
F6: charcoal (species unidentified), 1261–827 (GU-1350), and 1439–1055 (GU-1351)
Barclay 1983, 136 (table 2), 145, 187From pits in the tops of two of four pits to the N of the henge enclosure, Phase IV; cremation is thought to have occurred there, with deposition of cremated remains and pyre debris in situ. The calcined bone from F5 could not be ID’d to species but is believed to be human; that from F6 is definitely human. The lack of charcoal species ID means that there may be an old wood effect with GU-1351. The calcined bone needs to be dated
Blackford, Area X, pit 1/001 (MPK15812)1055–914 (UBA-15227)O’Connell et al 2021, 9, 12In oval pit; un-urned deposit of calcined human remains, with charcoal from pyre; contemporary with LBA occupation in the area. Some other calcined bone from the excavations at Blackford could not be ID’d as to species
Blackford, Area H, pit 149 (MPK17957)  1209–998 (UBA-13439) O’Connell et al 2021, 75, 78, 79, 81In upright Bucket Urn in pit, in area of LBA settlement. NB: a nearby pit (329) contained calcined bone of indeterminate species plus a fragment of a cannel coal bangle
Table 5: Cremated human remains (and/or associated material) radiocarbon dated to the Late Bronze Age. Dates calibrated using OxCal v.4.4.4

The proximity of the graves at Blackford to areas of contemporary settlement is noteworthy, indicating that not all funerary activity was associated with monuments.

Also noteworthy is the fact that, where cremated remains were buried in a cinerary urn, the urns were buried upright, not inverted, as had been the case with Early Bronze Age cinerary urns.

There are other finds of cremated human remains that are likely to be of Late Bronze Age date in Perth and Kinross. At the multi-phase monument at Lundin Farm (MPK1108; Stewart 1966), whose final-stage structure was a Four-Poster, the deposits of calcined bone marked ‘I’ and ‘II’ on Stewart’s site plan (Stewart 1966, fig 5) – the least deeply-buried deposits – are arguably the most likely candidates. Although, without a radiocarbon dating programme targeting the whole assemblage of calcined bone from this monument, it may be hard to disentangle Late Bronze Age from Early Bronze Age remains, with the latter relating to a Collared Urn. There may well have been Late Bronze Age deposition of human remains at the multi-phase monument at Moncreiffe (MPK3163; Stewart 1985); again, radiocarbon dating is needed to clarify this.

As regards Late Bronze Age monuments in Perth and Kinross, the evidence from the Four-Poster setting at Na Clachan Aoraidh (also known as Na Carraigean Edintian; MPK1245) has been interpreted as indicating its construction during the Late Bronze Age (Ellis and Ritchie 2018). Ellis and Ritchie have argued that the fact that the monument was constructed around a tree-throw hollow into which calcined human remains and pyre debris dating to the Late Bronze Age were deposited points towards the monument being contemporary with the funerary deposition. A similar date was obtained for calcined human remains from the Four-Poster at Fortingall North East (Table 5; MPK8). Together these dates challenge the previously-held view that Four-Posters were constructed during the Early Bronze Age – a view based on the presence of Early Bronze Age cinerary urns at several monuments. A critical reappraisal of the evidence shows that several Four-Posters are located on pre-existing monuments (eg Lundin Farm), with the Early Bronze Age urns relating to funerary activity that pre-dates the construction of the Four-Posters by several centuries. This may well be the case even at Carse Farm 1, where a Collared Urn and cremated human remains were found in a pit adjacent to the foot of one of the uprights (MPK1036; Stewart and Barclay 1997).

View of Na Clachan Aoraidh (Ellis and Ritchie 2018) ©️ D Scott 2017

The construction, distribution and archaeoastronomical orientation of Four-Posters were discussed by Ellis and Ritchie (2018; cf Burl 1988). The key features are as follows.

1. They tend to be constructed on flat-topped circular platforms, sometimes in areas commanding extensive views;

2. They are small, often around 6 m across.

3. Some have stones that are graded in height.

4. Their placement – sometimes marking the cardinal points – suggests a concern with marking the movements of the sun and moon, with the evidence from Na Clachan Aoraidh suggesting alignments with the rising moon during (and around) its southern major standstill, once every 18.6 years, and with the rising and setting of the equinoctial sun.

5. Quartz is frequently associated with these monuments (and at Na Clachan Aoraidh, the uprights are of quartziferous schist, which glints in the sun- and moonlight).

6. Several are associated with cupmarks, which could have been created when the monuments were erected.

Characteristics 4–6 are held in common with some Middle Bronze Age monuments such as kerb-cairns and oval settings, and suggest a continuation of Middle Bronze Age concerns and traditions – something that accords with the Late Bronze Age date of Four-Posters proposed above.

Perth and Kinross contains the densest concentration of Four-Poster monuments in Scotland, with around 30 known (Ellis and Ritchie 2018). Burl’s argument that they derive from the recumbent stone circles of north-east Scotland (Burl 1988) – which she also applied to stone circles of graded heights, including one at Fortingall South (Burl 1988, 174–5) – has rightly been criticised by Ellis and Ritchie (2018, 24) and by Welfare, who described it as ‘naïve architectural derivation’ (2011, 259).

Distribution of Four-Posters (Ellis and Ritchie 2018)

As for other Late Bronze Age monuments in Perth and Kinross, it is possible that the paired stones that cluster in Strathtay and Strathearn (Stewart 1966, appendix II) were constructed during this period, rather than during the Middle Bronze Age. Obtaining dates for their construction should be a research objective. It is not known whether oval settings continued to be constructed after the Middle Bronze Age. The discovery of an upright Bucket Urn in the centre of the oval setting at Sandy Road, Scone (MPK3285), its cremated remains dated to 1196–898 BC, need not indicate that its deposition was contemporary with the erection of the stones – although one cannot rule out that possibility.