Middle Neolithic

Middle Neolithic funerary practices are represented by structures which, at first sight, appear to resemble the large Early Neolithic houses or ‘halls’ of the initial farming groups. However, these are believed to be enclosed spaces for raised exposure platforms which would have allowed open-air decomposition of the dead. They consist of roughly rectangular post-built structures with rounded ends and with further postholes indicating the former existence of massive posts within the interior. They measure up to c 23m in length and c 9m in width. In some cases they appear to have been burnt down. Excavated examples include Littleour  beside the Cleaven Dyke (MPK6955; Barclay and Maxwell 1998) and Carsie Mains, also near Blairgowrie (MPK6977; Brophy and Barclay 2004). As with the Early Neolithic rectangular mortuary enclosures, no human remains have been found although no unburnt bones left in the open air can be expected to have survived in the soil conditions of this part of Scotland. A further example known from cropmarks at Balrae Cottage near Blairgowrie (MPK7125) adds to this small cluster of sites. Another possible example was excavated in 2020 on the opposite side of the River Tay at the A9 Dualling Stanley Junction Borrow Pit (MPK20176; Airey 2020). This structure consists of six large and four smaller adjacent post holes, some of which contained undiagnostic prehistoric pottery. Further afield, two examples of this kind of site were excavated at Balfarg Riding School in Fife (Barclay and Russell-White 1993). No parallels for this type of monument can be found outside this part of Scotland and it appears to represent a regionally-specific phenomenon. The dating of these monuments relies on the apparent pre-dating of deposits of Grooved Ware at Littleour and Balfarg Riding School as well as a radiocarbon date of 4640±60 BP (3629–3111 cal BC at 95.4%, GU-4379) obtained from oak charcoal from a massive axial post inside Littleour. An ‘old wood’ effect may apply to a further date (4435±70 BP / 3341–2917 cal BC at 95.4%, AA-53270B) obtained from a charred hazel twig at Carsie Mains, which may have made its way into one of the small post holes after the post had rotted or been removed.