The stone axeheads found in Perth and Kinross and the quarry site on Creag na Caillich have received considerable research attention. Axeheads of jadeitite from the Alps in north Italy have been found in antiquity at Monzievaird (MPK914; Sharples and Sheridan 1992), from the bank of the River Ericht at Rattray (MPK3783), and at Comrie Cottage, Comrie (MPK371). One from Lochearnhead is also relevant as the findspot was formerly in the County of Perthshire. Thanks to the international research project, Project JADE, we can now say that the jadeitite used for the Monzievaird axehead came from the western massif of Monte Beigua, above Genoa, while that used for the other three came from Monte Viso, south-west of Turin (Pétrequin et al 2017). The jadeitite for the Rattray example came from the southern part of that massif, while the material for the Fortingall axehead probably came from Bulè (Pétrequin et al 2017). These axeheads most likely came to Scotland around 3900 BC as treasured possessions by the immigrant farmers from northern France and would have been centuries old by the time they were deposited (Sheridan et al 2011; Sheridan and Pailler 2012). The Rattray example was deposited vertically with its blade pointing down in the bank of the River Ericht and the Monzievaird axehead was burnt before it was deposited. Both of these acts are consistent with Continental depositional practices involved with returning sacred and special objects to the world of the gods whence they were believed to have originated (Pétrequin et al 2012a; 2012b; 2017a; 2017b).

Burnt axehead of jadeitite from Monte Beigua, Italy, found at Monzievaird ©️ NMS

There is no precedent in Britain or Ireland which confirms that the people who deposited these axeheads were indeed Continental immigrants (or descendants thereof). The Lochearnhead axehead is reputed to have been found in a ‘cist’, but there is no independent confirmation of this. As for the Monzievaird axehead, investigations by the Archaeological and Historical Section of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science have uncovered an intriguing reference in the Statistical Account of 1793 to the discovery of two axeheads in a barrow:

‘about 200 yards west of the church of Monievaird [sic], a barrow was opened some years ago, in which two urns were found, each containing a stone of bluish colour, very hard, about 4 inches long, and of triangular shape, somewhat resembling the shape of an ax [sic]. One of them is in the possession of Peter Murray esq, younger, of Ochtertyre. I am told they are of the same kind of stone and shape, with those which the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands fasten to a shaft, and use as a weapon of war’

The reference to ‘bluish’ may be a mis-translation of the Gàidhlig adjective ‘glas’, which can also mean green. This description, and the mention of Peter Murray of Auchtertyre, fits what we know about the Monzievaird axehead and the reference to South Sea Islanders must have been informed by Captain Cook’s voyages during which he would have seen New Zealand nephrite axe- and adze-heads. Sadly, nothing is known of the barrow or the pots and the whereabouts of the second axehead are unknown.

Other stone axeheads found in Perth and Kinross have been studied by Ritchie and Scott for the formerly-named Implement Petrology Group (Ritchie and Scott 1988) with thin-sectioned examples listed in Stone Axe Studies 2 (Clough and Cummins 1988, 239). Ritchie and Scott petrologically identified 20 axeheads, roughouts and axehead flakes from the pre-1975 County of Perthshire and concluded that nine of these, including the roughout and flake from Creag na Caillich, were of the calc-silicate hornfels from the Creag na Caillich quarry. This rock type has been given the IPG Group number XXIV. One other, labelled ‘banded hornfels’, might also come from that quarry. Of the other axeheads, five are of porcellanite (Gp IX) from Tievebulliagh or Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim; three are of Langdale tuff (Gp VI) from the Lake District (with a possible fourth example); and one is of a cherty slate. To these can be added a further Langdale tuff (Gp VI) axehead found at Wellhill (MPK7185). A review of all the axeheads found in Perth and Kinross since 1988 would be necessary to establish whether any other exotic axeheads have been found. The presence of imported axeheads, like the evidence for exportation of Creag na Caillich Group XXIV axeheads to elsewhere in Scotland and England (Clough and Cummins 1988, map 19; Edmonds et al 1993, Illus. 3), exemplifies the interconnected nature of Neolithic farming groups with networks, over which objects, ideas and people moved, having being established upon the initial arrival of Continental farmers (Sheridan 2017).

View of Creag na Caillich, near Killin, from the south side of Loch Tay. The quarried areas are below the snowline at the left of the image ©️ NMS

The excavation in 1989, funded by the National Museum of Scotland, shed light on the exploitation of the Creag na Caillich Group XXIV calc-silicate hornfels (Edmonds et al 1992). This study concluded that axehead production started late in comparison to the exploitation of porcellanite and Langdale tuff and was on a much smaller scale. Exploitation seems to have been intermittent and to have taken place during the Middle and Late Neolithic, probably from the late fourth and into the third millennium BC. The relatively small number of axeheads identified as belonging to Group XXIV are, however, scattered widely; they are found as far afield as Bedfordshire, although most have been discovered in north-east Scotland. It is clear that Late Neolithic cushion maceheads were also made from Group XXIV rock; a petrologically-confirmed example has been found at Knock in Lewis and there are a few others suspected (Ritchie 1992).

In situ debitage from axehead manufacture at Creag na Caillich, Killin © NMS


As for other types of ground stone artefact, Middle to Late Neolithic maceheads are conspicuous by their absence from this part of Scotland (Roe 1968, Fig. 34; 1979, Fig. 11). The closest example is the miniature pestle macehead found, along with a food vessel in a child’s cist, over the local authority border at Glenhead, Doune; this is dated to the Early Bronze Age (Anderson 1883, 452–3, Figs 10, 11).

Carved Stone Balls

28 carved stone balls, probably dating to around 3000–2800 BC, are known to exist in the region with the majority housed in the collections of Perth Museum and Art Gallery. The most recent addition, one with six knobs, was found at Sheriffmuir (MPK20240) on the Blackford Estate in 2017 (Anderson-Whymark and Hall 2020). Another six-knobbed ball had previously been found at Sheriffmuir, although its precise findspot is unknown; it is likely to have been several miles from the 2017 findspot. An assemblage of Late Neolithic struck lithics was also recovered from the topsoil around the 2017 findspot during fieldwalking by Anderson-Whymark and Hall. This provides both circumstantial dating evidence and an indication that carved stone balls were not necessarily deposited in isolation but can form part of larger episodes of activity (Anderson-Whymark and Hall 2020). Given that fewer than 50 of Scotland’s known examples have accurate findspots or contextual data (Anderson-Whymark and Hall 2020, 1), the Sherrifmuir ball is important both nationally and locally, and provides an opportunity for future investigation of the wider environs of individual findspots. In addition to being a valuable research resource, carved stone balls form an important popular entrée for the public to engage with the past (Hall et al 2017).

Image of a stone ball with carve marks across the lower facing side and pronounced knobs on the upper half. The stone is dark grey/brown and placed on a gradient background from black to light grey.
Neolithic Carved Stone Ball ©️ PMAG

Struck Lithics

With the exception of the pitchstone artefacts (Ballin 2009; 2015), the struck lithics of Neolithic Perth and Kinross have arguably not received as much attention as they deserve. Wright’s unpublished report for the Tay Landscape Partnership Scheme (2012) assessed collections for Mesolithic lithics. He revealed the majority of finds to be non-diagnostic to any prehistoric archaeological period although some were typologically categorised as having Neolithic or Bronze Age origins. Beyond this, there is currently no reliable overview of the region’s various lithic scatters and stray lithic finds; however, some important observations can still be made. The presence of pitchstone artefacts from the Isle of Arran in the Early Neolithic ‘hall’ at Claish indicates that pitchstone was being imported to this part of Scotland from at least as early as around 3700 BC. The presence of Middle or Late Neolithic pitchstone associated with rock art at Ben Lawers (MPK12583 & MPK17236; Canmore 238569 & 290143; Bradley et al 2013, 49) as well as in a seemingly Late Neolithic context at Sheriffmuir (MPK20240; Anderson-Whymark and Hall 2020) demonstrates that it was still being imported several centuries later. To Ballin’s list of 11 findspots of pitchstone in Perth and Kinross (and including Claish, Stirling) published in 2009 (Ballin 2009, Appendices 1 and 2) can be added finds from Forteviot (MPK1882; Brophy and Noble 2020, 85, 261), Wellhill (MPK1785), Ben Lawers, Sheriffmuir (Anderson-Whymark and Hall 2020), Freeland Farm (MPK20049; Nicol and Ballin 2019) and Leadketty (MPK1965).

Regarding the use of other raw material, locally-obtained flint seems to have been used at Sheriffmuir (Anderson-Whymark and Hall 2020), while good-quality translucent dark grey flint, believed to have been imported from a chalk zone within England, was used for the Late Neolithic artefacts found at Littleour (MPK6955; Saville and Finlayson 1998). While Saville did not specifically name Yorkshire as a candidate source area, Ballin has emphasised the extent to which Yorkshire flint was imported into southern Scotland during the Middle and Late Neolithic (Ballin 2011). A review of all the finds of probable imported Neolithic flint in Perth and Kinross would be worth undertaking, in order to gauge the extent of its spread in this part of Scotland. Other non-local lithic resources are the quartzite pebble and flint found associated with rock art on Ben Lawers (MPK12583, MPK17236, MPK17237 & MPK12584), which are thought to have been brought from a coastal deposit (Bradley et al 2013, 49). Other raw materials known to have been used during the Neolithic in this part of Scotland include locally-available quartz and agate. Further information on the choice of raw materials in Neolithic Scotland more generally can be found in ScARF Neolithic section 2012 and Warren (2006).