The recovery of archaeobotanical remains from Early Bronze Age sites within the region has been very limited; this is a reflection of the general lack of settlement remains dating to this period uncovered in Perth and Kinross.
A rare example of analysis of early Bronze Age archaeobotanical remains was carried out in 1997 on samples from the area of a funerary pyre at Sketewan, Balnaguard (MPK5380; Mercer and Midgley 1997). The assessment identified three burnt grains of emmer wheat, which suggests that the pyre had been set down immediately upon the cultivated surface.
Similarly, macroplant remains were recovered from an old ground surface uncovered below the remains of a burial cairn at Beech Hill House (MPK5042; Stevenson 1995), Coupar Angus. Soil thin analysis (Carter 1995) suggested that the ground surface was likely a cultivated soil and that there had been considerable disturbance of the area prior to the construction of the cairn. Some poorly preserved cereal grains of barley and emmer wheat, along with seeds of cultivation and fragments of nutshell were recovered from samples of the old ground surface. Boardman (1995) suggests that either the charred plant remains may have been produced while the site was cleared of scrub, initially for agricultural purposes and then subsequently for the development of the funerary monument. Alternatively, the plant remains originated from dumped midden material used to manure the soil.
An extensive sampling strategy employed during recent excavations of a number of roundhouses discovered at Kirkton Farm, near Blackford (O’Connell and Anderson, 2021) recovered a wealth of carbonised macroplant remains dating to the Middle Bronze Age. The charred plant remains recovered not only indicated that arable farming was being practised at the site throughout the Middle Bronze Age, but extensive sampling of deposits from each roundhouse allowed the spatial distribution of the plant remains across the site to be assessed. Naked barley was the most common cereal identified with lesser quantities of bread wheat and emmer wheat grains, with some emmer chaff; together with a weed seed assemblage that was typical of arable fields; the plant assemblages are typical of Scottish Bronze Age sites. Within a number of roundhouses, the charred plant remains were found to be accumulated in post-holes and ditches at the edges of the structure, suggesting that central areas were likely being swept clean during occupation. A large concentration of carbonised cereal grains recovered from the southwest corner of a ditch of a palisaded enclosure was interpreted as the possible remains of a destroyed corn store with a proportion of the grain surviving with attached rachis and grains fused together. While other grain assemblages from pits outside the roundhouses suggested that grain was being processed outside the buildings (Hastie 2021). Similar evidence has been uncovered at Kintore in Aberdeenshire (Holden et al 2008) and at Blackford. Those at Kintore illustrate that well-sampled settlement can provide a wealth of macroplant remains which give us valuable insight into the storage and processing of cereal crops at Bronze Age sites. As further well-preserved settlements are uncovered throughout the region, comparable macroplant data can be collected and collated to increase our knowledge of subsistence practices during the period.
A few Late Bronze Age sites from the region have yielded evidence for cereals and other macroplant remains. Of note, are the excavations of the series of roundhouses at Carn Dubh in the early 1990s (Rideout 1995), and more recently at Blackford (O’Connell and Anderson 2021). Structures and activity on both sites were found to span the Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age periods. In both cases the amount of macroplant remains were found to be generally low and spread throughout many of the different deposits and features.
The cereal assemblages at Blackford were dominated by barley with small amounts of emmer and spelt wheat, while the assemblages from Carn Dubh were dominated by barley (6-row variety) with low amounts of oats. Interestingly, small amounts of rye were recovered from a post ring (Structure 1D) at Blackford. There is little evidence to date for the specific cultivation of rye during the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age periods and it is suggested that the small amount of rye identified, at the site, were likely weed seeds of the barley crop (Hastie 2021).
The archaeobotanical remains from Carn Dubh were recovered principally from hearth deposits. Boardman (1995) suggests that the spatial distribution of the plant remains probably indicates that the bulk of this material has come from cooking deposits. Similar results were noted at Blackford, where the very abraded nature and general poor preservation of plant remains from the Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age features likely indicated that the plant remains were re-worked and diluted food debris burnt during daily activities (Hastie 2021).
Spatial analysis of the plant remains from Carn Dubh indicated that the internal areas of the roundhouses were generally devoid of plant remains suggesting that the houses were being kept clean throughout their use (Boardman 1995). A similar pattern was noted with the Middle Bronze Age structures at Blackford (see above) where charred plant remains were found accumulated in features at the edges of the roundhouses suggesting that central areas were kept clean. The results could indicate that use of internal areas continued to be similar throughout both periods.
Other plant remains of note from the roundhouses include apple pips from a ring ditch (Area H) at Blackford (Hastie 2021) and seed-bearing fruits from heather at Carn Dubh (Boardman 1995). The recovery of such remains indicates that wild resources were continuing to be utilised throughout this period. The heather was likely collected for bedding or flooring material, and the apples gathered as a supplement to the cultivated crops.
Although only small amounts of plant remains were recovered from the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age structures at Carn Dubh and Blackford, both sites have shown that extensive sampling of deposits, from across such settlement sites, is crucial. Such sampling enables analysis of the distribution of the plant remains which can provide information on day-to-day activities within the roundhouses. Sampling for macroplant remains from future sites will continue to enhance our understanding of the organisation of daily life during this period.