6.4.4 Settlement Continuity

The evidence of upland and lowland settlement, outlined above, confirms that early medieval communities occupied previously settled landscapes and sites. As with the debate regarding continuity from Bronze Age to Iron Age settlement, it is pertinent to ask whether a Late Iron Age – early medieval settlement continuum existed. The distribution of known Pitcarmick-type buildings has a close affinity to prehistoric monuments. They share upland landscapes with later prehistoric unenclosed hut circle groups rather than the ‘fermtouns’ (farmsteads) of the late medieval and post-medieval periods (Strachan et al 2019, 22–6). Possible explanations for this relationship include the reuse of the existing field systems (Carver et al 2013, 185) and land previously cleared and improved for cultivation (Cowley 1997, 166). The analysis of pollen from Lair, however, suggests that long intervals of hundreds of years existed between farming phases, and that no continuum existed (Strachan et al 2019, 108–9). The location of these surviving sites must be borne in mind, however, as their altitude may have made them more marginal and continuity may have prevailed on lowlands sites, or even on the valley floor of the upland glens.

House 8 at Carn Dubh (MPK1752), where a roundhouse amidst a predominantly Bronze Age dated settlement appears to have been adapted to a sub-rectangular early medieval structure, is also relevant. Rideout (1996) questions whether House 8 was actually roofed. It is also unclear whether the evidence indicates settlement or merely the presence of people in the hills such as herders tending livestock (Strachan et al 2019, 132). With only one known example of such adaptation, it remains to be seen whether House 8 represents an anomaly or provides a signpost to otherwise unidentified, unexcavated evidence still awaiting discovery (Strachan et al 2019, 132).

Obliques aerial image of a vast landscape of farms, forests and a large loch. In the loch, towards the left of the water is a small, rounded island which is covered in tall green trees.
Artificial island on Loch Clunie ©️ HES

It is also likely that some early medieval crannog sites in Perth and Kinross remained usable island sites into the medieval period as they did elsewhere in Scotland (Stratigos and Noble 2014; 2018; 2021). A possible example is Clunie; during the reign of Cináed mac Ailpin (843–58), a Viking raid was said to have reached as far as Clunie. This suggests that it was a centre of political and administrative importance  (Woolf 2007, 94–5, 102). Although it is unclear where the early medieval site was located, one possibility is the artificial island on Loch Clunie, where the bishop of Dunkeld’s tower house was built in the medieval period (MPK5255; RCAHMS 1994, 90–1), as discussed above. A case has been made for the Tower of Lethendy cross-slab (MPK7010) originating from Clunie and probably marking an early church site there. It may have been associated with the royal assembly mound that sits on the lochside, adjacent to the crannog.  (Hall 2015, 191–2). The deliberate use of lochs and crannogs in the development of landscapes of assembly and power is well articulated in Ireland, and hints of similar or parallel crannog-use in these ways have been identified in northern Scotland (Stratigos and Noble 2021).

Black and white image of a long slab with carvings taken against a window. At the top is a dove, in the centre are two cherubs and at the bottom are two people playing instruments - one a harp and the other a trumpet. All carvings are done in relief.
Cross slab from Tower of Lethendy ©️ HES