by Grace Woolmer-White
Close to the Black Spout waterfall, Pitlochry, there is a circular banked enclosure, approximately 20m in diameter (MPK1607). It is one of a group of massively walled and roughly circular structures within Perthshire, first noted in the 18th century, several of which were excavated in the 20th century. Suggested as early medieval, the date of this group has remained contentious, however. Five seasons of excavation at the Black Spout, led by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, were carried out between 2005-9 as a community archaeology project which aimed to investigate the structure, and the wider group, further (Strachan 2013).
The excavations explored the enclosing walls, entrance and interior of the site. The massive stone wall varied in thickness from 3 m at the entrance to 2m, and included a distinct ‘shelf’ in its internal face, a feature known as a ‘scarcement ledge’ and common in broch and dun architecture, where they supported raised floors.
The entrance at the north-west included a rebated door jamb and an intra-mural chamber was set into the interior of the wall, c. 5m to the north-east of the entrance. Both of these features are also associated with broch and duns. and the intra-mural chamber may have accessed stairs leading to a raised floor. Discovered set into the stone foundations of ground floor, and positioned centrally in front of the entrance, was part of a much worn rotary, with a small circular stone disc covering its ‘hopper’ or opening. Both of these objects had clearly been deliberately and carefully placed.
While the interior of the building was heavily disturbed by tree roots, paved surfaces, a two ill-defined hearths (one at the centre of the enclosure) were identified. Stone small finds included five rotary quern stones, loom weighs, worked flint, a whetstone, smoothers and stone discs. Metal finds included fragments from iron implements including a dagger or sword tip, a hooked fitting, vitrified material and iron slag, while a bead or toggle made of reused Roman glass was also recovered. Ecofactual evidence included a small assemblage of animal bone and evidence of oat and barley grains were also recovered. All of these indicate domestic occupation through activities such as food processing and metal working.
Dating and Interpretation
The group had previously been described as ‘circular buildings’, ‘ring-forts’ and ‘homesteads’ and were suggested as being early medieval in date on the basis of excavations by Margaret Stewart in the 1970s. Radiocarbon dates from the Black Spout excavations confirmed the site was occupied between the late 3rd and late 2nd centuries BC, however it appears to have been reused, if not reoccupied, in the early medieval period, although the nature of the reuse is not yet clear. This Iron Age date is in keeping with the architectural characteristics of the site and suggest a massively walled ‘monumental’ roundhouse. A similar, and broadly contemporary, building has recently been revealed within Moredun fort near Perth.
The Value of Community Archaeology
The initial season of excavation was carried out as part of Perthshire Archaeology Week 2005, and afterwards, excavations were undertaken annually until 2009. In total, 70 days of excavation were carried out by a range of community volunteers, PKHT staff member and archaeology students who learned excavation, recording and surveying skills. This demonstrated the popularity and value of community excavations within Perth and Kinross and inspired several more community archaeology projects, led by PKHT and other organisations at sites across Perthshire since.
The publication on the full excavation and results at the Black Spout can be purchased from PKHT’s online bookshop.
Strachan, D 2013 Excavations at the Black Spout, Pitlochry and the Iron Age Monumental Roundhouses of North West Perthshire, Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust: Perth.