3.4.2 Ceremonial Monuments and Neolithic Enclosures

The question of whether any Early Neolithic causewayed enclosures exist in Perth and Kinross,and indeed anywhere else in Scotland, has long been debated (eg Oswald et al 2001). Putative candidates have been excavated at Loanleven near Blairgowrie in 2002 (MPK2056; Barclay pers. comm.) and Leadketty Strathearn in 2013 (MPK5150; Barclay 2001a; Wright and Brophy forthcoming). In terms of clarifying chronology and function, however, neither excavation produced any conclusive evidence. Barclay also conducted excavations at another possible causewayed enclosure identified through the cropmark record at Upper Gothens near Blairgowrie (MPK5496). It was hoped that the site would be similar to a cropmark enclosure at Collessie in Fife (Barclay pers. comm.) where excavation in the 1980s produced a date of 3800–3100 cal BC for charcoal from the fill of the inner ditch and also revealed some Neolithic pottery (Barber 1983; Cowie 1994). A pit containing Late Neolithic Grooved Ware was subsequently found here during fieldwork in 2011. Ultimately, Upper Gothens has proved to be early medieval in origin (Barclay 2001b) and the Collessie enclosure could equally be of Late Bronze Age date with residual Neolithic material in the ditch (see Cowie in Barber 1983). Despite these results, large circular to oval cropmark enclosures continue to hold potential as Neolithic sites and should not be discounted from future investigation. Indeed, the hilltop enclosure at Dun Knock in Strathearn (MPK2004) demonstrates this, where the outer ditch (a cropmark) of this supposedly Iron Age site contained a complete Carinated Bowl pot and was found to date to the Early Neolithic (Wright and Brophy forthcoming; Poller forthcoming).

During the Late Neolithic, more circular monument forms emerged; Perth and Kinross contains a fair proportion of the known timber circles in Scotland as well as cropmark sites categorised as pit-circles (as discussed by Millican 2008). Excavation of some pit-circles has revealed that they occur either in relative isolation for example at Carsie Mains (MPK11208; Brophy and Barclay 2004); within henge monuments as at North Mains (MPK1353; Barclay 1983); or surrounding henge monuments  for example Forteviot Henge 1 (MPK1888; Brophy and Noble 2012). Where timber circles and henges are found together, the timber circles are almost always earlier in date than the henges (Barclay 2005), and the excavated examples from Perth and Kinross conform to this pattern. At Forteviot, for example, the timber circle was dated to 2620–2475 cal BC (from oak charcoal: Brophy and Noble 2020, 135) while the henge it surrounded was probably constructed 2460–2230 cal BC at 95% probability (Hamilton 2020b). That said, given that the timber circle date is from old charcoal, the possibility remains that the timber circle, like the henge that succeeded it, was constructed during the Chalcolithic period. There are a wide range of henge types known in the region, from ‘mini’ henges to massive earthworks (cf Harding and Lee 1987; Younger 2015). However, where excavated for example at Moncreiffe House, North Mains, Forteviot Henge 1, the earthworks have dated from the Chalcolithic period or later and are therefore discussed in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age chapter of the framework.

At no more than 50m in diameter, timber circles are dwarfed by palisaded enclosures which were enormous timber-defined arenas that emerged after 2800 cal BC (Noble and Brophy 2011a). Of the five currently known in Scotland, two are located in Perth and Kinross, just 4km apart on the south terrace of the River Earn at Forteviot (MPK1882; Canmore ID 26559/296263) and at Leadketty (MPK1961). These massive monuments would have consumed huge amounts of oak, labour, time and resources to build and maintain, and although superficially similar in plan when compared as cropmarks, the excavations have revealed them to be contrasting structures. Forteviot appears to have been a gathering place for ceremonial activities, while Leadketty is believed by the excavator to be a fenced enclosure that more likely contained settlement and perhaps farm animals (see Brophy and Noble 2020; Noble and Brophy 2014).

Standing stones, stone settings and stone circles are relatively common in the region, with over 50 known stone circles. However, it remains unclear whether any of the stone circles were erected during the Neolithic period since excavated sites have consistently yielded Chalcolithic or Bronze Age dates. The only exception is the stump of a standing stone at Forteviot associated with a Late Neolithic cemetery featuring cremated remains. (Noble et al 2017; Brophy and Noble 2020). Pitnacree (MPK1714) is a good example where the cremated human remains found in the pit of a standing stone erected on the top of the Early Neolithic round barrow produced a date of 3740±60 BP, 2340–1960 cal BC (Sheridan 2010b). Bradley has convincingly argued, in relation to the structural sequence at Croftmoraig/Croft Moraig (MPK363), that the earliest stone circle is no earlier than the Early Bronze Age, with the final oval stone circle having been erected during the Late Bronze Age (Bradley and Nimura 2016; cf Bradley and Sheridan 2005). Further, excavated evidence for ‘four-poster’ stone ‘circles’, of which over 30 have been recorded in Perth and Kinross (Burl 1988), indicated they were erected and used during the Bronze Age. The most recently published example is at Na Clachan Aoraidh (MPK1245) above Loch Tummel (see Ellis and Ritchie 2018). The site excavated by Simpson at Fortingall Church Site A (MPK8) has produced a radiocarbon date of 1108–901 cal BC (2825±30 BP, SUERC-18874: Sheridan 2008). Further discussion on these monument types can be found in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age chapter of the framework.

Finally, the question of the nature and function of Late Neolithic structures featuring a central square setting of four massive posts surrounded by one or more post rings, such as at Leadketty (MPK5150; MPK1977; Wright and Brophy forthcoming), remains a topic for debate. While the evidence is presented in the section on ‘Settlement Evidence and Timber ‘Square-in-circle’ Structures’, it could be argued that these structures were anything but domestic in nature. Resolving the issue of their function must be one of the key outstanding research questions.