4.3.5 Palaeoenvironmental Evidence

As with the Neolithic, palaeoenvironmental evidence for the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age is patchy across Perth and Kinross. It mostly relies on site-based approaches to scientific analysis and environmental reconstruction. Landscape-scale investigations and major developer-led projects covering multiple sites across a common landscape offer some of the best sources of palaeoenvironmental data. The results of such investigations are dealt with in more detail in the ‘Science and Environment’ chapter, so only a few comments will be offered here.

The multi-period submerged woodland remains at Craggantoul in Loch Tay included three oaks radiocarbon dated to various spans between about 2500 and 2100 BC (MPK 17641; Dixon 2007). It is an as-yet unassessed resource for potential contribution to the development of long tree-ring chronologies in Perth and Kinross (Mills 2021). The suite of radiocarbon-dated tree remains also include Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic dates, with a large gap after the Chalcolithic dates until the Early Historic period. However, other phases may have gone undetected and there may be as-yet undiscovered sub-fossil woodland remains elsewhere in Perth and Kinross which could contribute tree-ring data.

Drawing from the pollen records of Black Loch near Grange of Lindores in the Ochils (Whittington et al 1991) and Methven Moss near Perth, the Late Bronze Age environment of the River Tay Valley was considered as part of the Carpow logboat investigations (MPK12214; Tipping and Milburn in Winlow 2010, 141–3). It was concluded that oak-dominated deciduous woodland remained extensive into the Late Bronze Age, with a fluctuating but steady increase in open land and arable agriculture within small forest clearings (Winlow 2010, 141–3). The use of fire as a method of land management and clearance was inferred from the high levels of charcoal observed in samples (Winlow 2010, 141–3). Despite difficulties in securing pollen samples from its study area, the work of the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project nonetheless extends the coverage of Tipping and Milburn’s palaeoenvironmental reconstruction work further west, enhancing the picture of both the site and setting for the Forteviot prehistoric ceremonial complex. The extensive analysis of the organic material recovered from the Forteviot dagger-grave is of particular relevance for this chapter (MPK1888; Brophy and Noble 2020). Excavations of prehistoric settlement landscapes around Blackford (O’Connell et al 2021) and Carn Dubh (MPK1752; Rideout 1995) offer noteworthy upland examples where extensive environmental sampling and analysis inform our understanding of the region’s Bronze Age environment and offer insight into the land management and cultivation regimes employed.

One key outstanding research question is whether there was a climatic downturn around 1000 BC and a concomitant abandonment of upland settlement, as has been claimed (Strachan 2010b, 49). To address that question, fine-grained palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic data, and more dating evidence relating to Middle and Late Bronze Age settlement patterns, are needed.