Most of the excavated medieval cemeteries in Perth and Kinross have come from urban communities. Such burial sites were typically heavily used, meaning that graves have often been disturbed or intercut. This poses challenges for excavators, and limits some of the sampling techniques which can be employed. The constraints of developer-led archaeology has also, at times, restricted approaches to excavation (D Hall pers comm). Some rural graveyards in Perth and Kinross are probably less overcrowded, and are likely to be similar to the cemetery excavated at Ballumbie Parish Church, Angus (Hall and Cachart 2005; D Hall 2007). However, many cemeteries of rural parish churches also show indications of being quite intensively used, and are probably have comparable problems to those of urban graveyards. It is possible that some non-parochial chapels might have less densely occupied burial grounds.
Burial practices in medieval Perth and Kinross appear to have conformed to customs found across Western Christendom. Burials were typically in sacred ground with the bodies laid out full length, though not necessarily aligned east to west. Yet unusual features have been found at some sites. For example, the Carmelite friary in Perth has produced intriguing timber-lined graves and burials with curious grave goods; these perhaps relate to pilgrimage or signs of office (MPK3515; D Hall 1989; D Hall 2020; M Hall 2012). More systematic study of grave goods associated with the burials of churchmen could perhaps be revealing.
Perth and Kinross has a number of impressive medieval funerary monuments. Dunkeld Cathedral (MPK2445) has a particularly notable collection of memorials. These include the tomb of Alexander Stewart, Wolf of Badenoch, which is of considerable significance given the rarity of extant medieval Scottish royal tombs, and the monument to Bishop Robert Cardeny (RCAHMS 1994, 124). Recent conservation work on Bishop Cardeny’s tomb revealed previously hidden carving – a reminder of how detailed study of even relatively well-known memorials can provide new insights (Muir 2018). Coupar Angus Church (MPK4876) also houses fragments of medieval tombs from the nearby former Cistercian abbey (MPK5328). These include monuments to former abbots and two armoured effigies (RCAHMS 1994, 128). Greater conservation and study of the Coupar Angus monuments should be a priority.
Perth Museum holds a figure from the 15th-century tomb of one of the Hays of Errol (accession 1990.169), which was formerly in Coupar Angus Abbey, before it was relocated to Errol churchyard (MPK6513). It seems likely that in the medieval and post-medieval period funerary monuments were more moveable than we have sometimes assumed. Another example of a relocated memorial in the region is the incised tomb slab of a Perth Carthusian prior which was moved to Tower of Lethendy (MPK5508; Fisher and Greenhill 1972, 240–1). Medieval grave slabs can also be found in several parish churches in Perth and Kinross, such as Aberdalgie (MPK2176) and Longforgan (MPK5117) (Gifford 2007). Although often removed from their original context, the remains of such memorials provide invaluable evidence for the piety, art, identity and clothing of medieval elites.
Recent decades have seen the development of new methodologies for recording Scottish graveyards through schemes such as the Carved Stone Adviser Project and ScARF’s Future Thinking on Carved Stones (Foster et al 2016). However, despite such guidelines, many graveyards in Perth and Kinross have received limited study. Valuable progress recording graveyards was made by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) through the Historic Churchyards Project (2011–2013), the Tay Landscape Partnership Project (2014–2019), and conservation projects such as Westown (MPK4666), but there is much more left to do. While the majority of surviving memorials are post-medieval, there may well be a small proportion of overlooked medieval grave slabs and fragments from other monuments.
Inscriptions on gravestones are of considerable interest, providing an important record of literacy and cultural identity. In Perth and Kinross such inscriptions might give a window on the interaction between Highland and Lowland culture. The reuse of fragments of medieval tombs in non-religious settings should also be noted. For example, part of a medieval tomb with a Latin inscription can be seen in a rockery at Scone Palace (D Hall 2006a, 13; RCAHMS 1994, 124–7). Indeed, an audit of all the surviving sculptured stonework at Scone Palace would be advisable.
Previously, several graveyard surveys were carried out by local groups. Community archaeology might offer a productive way to record and identify sites. Between 2009 and 2011 PKHT carried out rapid condition surveys of historic churchyards in the ownership of the local authority, assessing and scoring 124 graveyards. The need for local authorities to manage risks associated with monument stability has introduced additional threats to memorials, beyond those already existing from ongoing issues such as weathering and grass cutting (D Strachan pers comm). Greater discussion between heritage professionals and other interested parties about how best to study and preserve the funerary monuments of Perth and Kinross should be a priority. For a discussion of the analysis of human remains see PKARF 7.3.3. Health and Mobility.