9.2.4 Chalcolithic and Bronze Age

The Chalcolithic and Bronze Age is marked by fluctuating and often declining woodland, attributed to pastoral and mixed agricultural land use, but interspersed with periods of tree regeneration. Some sites are poorly dated or lack chronological controls (eg Caseldine 1980) so cannot be confidently placed within the existing archaeological framework. Where dating is sufficient, there is evidence for progressive and substantive incursions into woodland cover, particularly for grazing at upland sites like Carn Dubh (Tipping in Rideout et al 1996). The pollen signal for farming, especially cultivation, remains low or sporadic. Nonetheless, Edwards and Whittington (1998a) suggest that, as in the Neolithic, ‘forest farming’ may have taken place during the Bronze Age (around 4520–3210 cal BP), consisting of small openings, possibly near the shore of Rae Loch and contributing to soil erosion.

Peaceful morning on Rae Loch ©️ Alan Reid (CC BY-SA)

Phases of apparent forest regeneration are common but can be difficult to interpret in terms of settlement and land use, since some sampling sites may have supported a fringe of tree cover. These may therefore produce a very local signal of tree growth, rather than indicating that trees colonised hillslopes. Hillslopes are more likely to have been the focus of land use, and some areas of human activity may have remained relatively small and difficult to detect in the pollen record, as indicated for the Neolithic.

On a broader scale, comparative analysis of a network of sites in eastern Perthshire allowed Caseldine (1980) to suggest that local tree growth persisted into later prehistory in the high ground at Loch Maraich but not on the lower hills around Alyth, which appear to have supported more intensive and continuous land use. It is unfortunate that these records are undated. The lowland catchment around Rae Loch remained predominantly wooded until 3120 cal BP (Edwards and Whittington 1998a). Overall and similar to the Neolithic, this suggests a dynamic and heterogeneous landscape. This could be in keeping with the interpretation offered at Blackford, of a fluid and shifting social and physical landscape of construction, use, discontinuity and reuse over multiple human generations (O’Connell and Anderson 2021). There is, in contrast with long-running academic debate (Armit et al 2014; Turney et al 2016), no evidence for extensive climate-driven abandonment of upland areas in the late Bronze Age (Tipping 1995).