3.2 Regional Overview

The diverse natural environment of Perth and Kinross, with its distinctive Highland and Lowland landscape character types, has prompted an equally unique historic environment consisting of a broad range of Neolithic timber, earthwork and megalithic sites and monuments. These generally survive as upstanding archaeological sites in upland areas and as sub-surface remains, often made visible as cropmarks, found throughout the more agricultural broad valleys, basins and river corridors of the lowlands. Important natural routeways such as the east-west running straths and river corridors affording access to the Tay estuary and Firth coincide with good-quality agricultural land, especially in the eastern and southern parts of the region to make an attractive landscape for Scotland’s first farming communities.

Not surprisingly, since Perth and Kinross is a modern administrative construct, the Neolithic of this part of Scotland has seldom been synthesised in isolation. It has generally been considered as part of the ‘Tayside Region’ or ‘eastern lowland Scotland’ as demonstrated by many of Barclay’s publications (eg Barclay and Maxwell 1998; Barclay 1999; 2003). Incorporation into a broader regional picture is also evident in the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) where Perth and Kinross features extensively in the Neolithic report as part of an ‘East and Central Scotland between the Great Glen and the Forth’ synthesis (ScARF Neolithic section 3.3.1). Valuable insights into various aspects of the region’s Neolithic past can also be found in edited volumes such as Vessels for the Ancestors (Sharples and Sheridan 1992) and The Neolithic of Mainland Scotland (Brophy et al 2016). Noble’s Neolithic Scotland (2006), Kinnes’ review of Scottish Neolithic studies (1986), and Prehistoric Forteviot (Brophy and Noble 2020), the first monograph of the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF), are all significant contributions. Bradley’s excavations at Croftmoraig/Croft Moraig (MPK363), Strathtay are invaluable; they revealed that some monuments, long considered to be of Neolithic date, are in fact much later (Bradley and Sheridan 2005; Bradley 2011; Bradley and Nimura 2016) Neolithic material culture from Perth and Kinross is considered in individual publications; the axeheads of Alpine jadeitite are discussed in relation to the French-led international Project JADE (Sheridan et al 2011; Sheridan and Pailler 2012; Gauthier and Pétrequin 2017). The thin-sectioned axeheads of other kinds of stone are listed in Stone Axe Studies II (Clough and Cummins 1988; Ritchie and Scott 1988). While the results of National Museums’ Scotland excavations at the stone quarry at Creag na Caillich near Killin were published by Edmonds et al in 1993. A review of the Neolithic pottery from central and eastern Scotland was published by Cowie (Cowie 1992; 1994; see also Sheridan 2016), while the pitchstone finds from Perth and Kinross are covered by Ballin’s nationwide survey of the use and dating of pitchstone (Ballin 2009; 2015). Maceheads are included in Roe’s nationwide survey (Roe 1968; 1979).

An ‘Eastern Lowland’ Scottish Neolithic

In a sense, the Neolithic of Perth and Kinross, as we currently understand it, forms part of an ‘eastern lowland’ Scottish Neolithic which has been defined by Sheridan and Brophy (ScARF Neolithic section 2012) as consisting of:

  • an extensive array of timber and earthwork monument types, notably cursus monuments, palisaded enclosures, timber circles and pre-henge activity;
  • a burial record dominated by long barrows, mortuary enclosures and, to a lesser extent, round mounds/barrows;
  • cropmark evidence for timber halls (eg Claish) and similar rectangular structures;
  • a settlement record dominated by pits and pit clusters;
  • a broad selection of material culture including Neolithic pottery traditions from Carinated Bowl to Grooved Ware.

To these can be added Late Neolithic timber structures which feature a central setting of four large posts, with one or more surrounding post ring. The dating of these structures has become a little clearer since 2012 thanks to the excavations at Leadketty (MPK5150; Wright and Brophy forthcoming), Dunning and Haughs of Pittentian (MPK18545; Becket et al forthcoming), Crieff. Their function, however, remains a topic for debate.

An ‘Upland’ Neolithic?

The evidence for Neolithic activities is somewhat different across the upland areas of the region north of the Highland Boundary Fault. Here the Neolithic is characterised by the presence of different monuments and site types, namely chambered cairns, long cairns, stone circles, standing stones and other stone settings. Rock art appears to be more common in this part of Perth and Kinross than in the lowlands, although that may partly be due to more intensive prospection in this area, combined with greater destruction in intensively-farmed areas to the south. The stone quarry used for making axeheads and at least one cushion macehead at Creag na Caillich (Edmonds et al 1993) is also located in this area above Killin. Standing stones are also present in the lowlands such as around Dunning, Strathearn and lower down the valley in the shadow of Moncreiffe Hill and around Mailer Hill (where there are also flint scatters) there are fewer surviving examples than in the uplands. Whether this reflects deliberate site construction decisions by Neolithic communities or is a consequence of site preservation, with more destruction occurring in the more intensively-farmed lowlands, remains a matter for further investigation. The patterns of the megalithic tradition (or megalithic construction?) across different landscape types (upland and lowland) requires more extensive research and analysis., However it is clear that the chambered tombs at Cultoquhey (MPK859), east of Gilmerton and Kindrochat (MPK348), near Comrie can be understood as easterly outliers of the Clyde cairn tradition of south-west Scotland. Careful consideration of chronology is also needed when dealing with standing stone monuments, since it is clear that some of these were erected during the Bronze Age. While rock art is assumed to date to the Late Neolithic, further investigation is required to allow the development of accurate chronologies for their creation.