While enclosure is recognisable as early as the Neolithic (Harding et al 2006; see PKARF Neolithic Chapter), the idea of constructing enclosed places which divide both the physical and mental landscape is widely recognised as a key feature of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age (Haselgrove 2007; Romankiewicz et al 2019, 1). Enclosure has wide associations, from fortification, and the demarcation of domestic space, to the classification of field systems, linear banks, pit groups and alignments across multiple chronological periods.
Primarily discovered and recorded as cropmarks, over 60 rectilinear and curvilinear enclosures, generally 25–100m across in size, are known in Perth and Kinross. Around a third of these have been interpreted as later prehistoric or Iron Age settlements largely on their morphology, while others lack any further definition beyond their basic identification. Apart from the circular enclosure east of Cuil-an-Daraich (MPK1672) near Logierait, they are distributed across the region’s lowland straths and are often juxtaposed with other settlement evidence such as souterrains.
At Peterhead (MPK1287; Dingwall 2011), Auchterarder, a sub-circular enclosure, excavated in advance of expansion of the A9 Loaninghead Junction, was found to contain two well-preserved souterrains and two long cists, with possible roundhouses suggested in the immediate environs through geophysical survey (Gondek 2008). With a lack of radiocarbon dating, the chronology of the site remains unclear. While early medieval dates have been attributed to the cist burials, as discussed further in the early medieval chapter (Winlow 2010; Mitchell et al 2020), an Iron Age origin should not be ruled out without radiocarbon dating or diagnostic grave goods.
An array of techniques was also successfully applied to the cropmark circular enclosure at Millhaugh (MPK2022; Wright 2017), Dunning, with fieldwalking, geophysical survey and test pitting, followed by open area excavation which revealed stake-defined structures within a palisaded enclosure (Wright 2017). With no radiocarbon dates, an Iron Age date has been tentatively attributed based on comparable sites in advance of full publication (Wright and Brophy forthcoming).
A dedicated programme of cropmark mapping and research at multiple sites is required to disaggregate this broad class of monument and ascertain the nature and date of settlement represented. It is possible some may be assigned to periods other than the Iron Age. In addition to excavation, research should use the full potential of more traditional non-invasive techniques such as geophysical survey and fieldwalking, which have already proved valuable. Newer techniques such as multispectral imagery and LiDAR which, when available, will most likely assist with better identification of features.
Most of these enclosures, defined by one or more rows of closely-spaced vertical timbers embedded in a narrow foundation trench, are generally known as cropmarks, generally circular or oval (RCAHMS 1994, 50) and between 20–75m in diameter. They occasionally have internal features such as roundhouses and souterrains. While very few in the region have been excavated and fewer accurately dated, they have been suggested as being broadly placed in the latter half of the first millennium BC (Davies 2006, 203).
The recent publication of excavations near Blackford has made a significant contribution to improving understanding of this form of enclosure, as well as the region’s transition from Bronze Age to Iron Age (O’Connell and Anderson 2021). The elliptical palisaded enclosure at Kirkton Farm, dated to 742–397 BC, provides some of the earliest dates for enclosed settlement in Perth and Kinross (MPK17955; O’Connell and Anderson 2021, 94–106). A pair of large roundhouses and associated four-post structures were uncovered within the enclosure, which occupies a prominent knoll with commanding views across a landscape that had seen open settlement from the Middle Bronze Age. This location, and the intent for display, may be comparable with other Iron Age monuments, such as the forts, monumental roundhouses and crannogs. It may represent Early Iron Age communities beginning to respond to factors that continued to drive increasingly monumental forms of construction through the Iron Age. Along with Brookfield House (MPK15814), the Blackford sites suggest a degree of lifestyle continuity from small-scale communal living in the Bronze Age (O’Connell and Anderson 2021, 131). A rich mixed subsistence economy is evidenced from large assemblages of cereal grain and animal-worn pits with faeces-rich bedding indicating that livestock were stalled within roundhouses (O’Connell and Anderson 2021, 109–11). Excavations at the example at Upper Gothens, Blairgowrie, however, suggested use around AD 885–1024 and to AD 1040–1259 (MPK5496; Barclay 2001) and indicates extended use of the form.
Four of the five examples confidently attributed to the Iron Age are located in lowland straths with either souterrains or roundhouses present. Owing to the limited level of investigation, the nature and function of the surrounding palisade, and the sites as a whole, remain difficult to ascertain, although defence and a visual projection of status or ‘wealth’ within small-scale communities are prevalent themes (O’Connell and Anderson 2021, 119). Palisaded enclosures are usually of only one or two roundhouses within the palisade perimeter. Future research would benefit from pre-excavation non-invasive surveys to help characterise and identify targets for excavation.
Excavation at Methven Wood in 1979, following discovery in advance of quarrying, revealed a heavily truncated palisade trench with an entrance (MPK2065; Sherriff 1987). However, the poor preservation of botanical remains prevented radiocarbon dating and so the site chronology remains unclear. There is a need for better chronological resolution and in addition to being a priority where preservation allows, it could be addressed by reviewing existing assemblages, such as Methven Wood, where radiocarbon dating might now be possible with AMS measurements requiring less material.