by Grace Woolmer-White
The Buzzart or Buzzard Dykes is an earthwork located on Middleton Muir, approximately northwest of Blairgowrie (MPK3821). Originally interpreted as a ‘Caledonian Camp’, it was re-identified as a medieval deer park in the 1940s. It has remained mysterious however, with limited research carried out due mainly to the fact that original historic name of this park is not currently known. It comprises a bank, up to 1.4m high and an internal ditch, up to 1.2 deep and encloses an area of roughly 86ha. The E of the earthwork had been obliterated by cultivation, but most of the perimeter survives intact elsewhere. It is best preserved on the W where it measures 10.1m in overall width.
Deer parks are understood to have reached Scotland in the early 12th century as part of a new feudal lordship style introduced by Scottish kings, which included the privatisation of hunting. Interdisciplinary research on deer parks in England has suggested that their function as enclosed areas for the management of deer herds is only one function among many, and they represent more complex systems. Less research has been undertaken on these monuments in Scotland however, where they remain a poorly research monument type.
Following Scheduled Monument consent for the works, excavations at the Buzzart dykes were undertaken 2010-13 as part of Stirling University’s medieval deer parks project. In 2010, a trench was excavated at the western boundary of the park at a point where there seemed to be break in the bank. This revealed that the western bank had a stone base constructed from glacial erratics from the surrounding area. The ditch upcast had been used on top of these stones to form an earthen bank. The ditch had been recut with the original ditch measuring 3.5m by 1.2m, but the later recut was much narrower. The gap in the bank and ditch appeared to be original, likely forming an entrance, although there was no sign of any gate structure.
In 2013, three trenches were excavated. One of these was placed across the northern boundary line of the park, closest to its northwest corner, which showed that the bank had been constructed using material dug out of the ditch on its southern side. Three features representing stake or post holes in the bank, driven in at a slight angle, were also discovered, indicating that a fence or palisade probably ran along its top, possibly of wattle construction. Another trench was placed across the western bank and ditch of the park, 250m north of the trench excavated in 2010. There was no stone base in this bank section, indicating that stone may have only been used at entrances in the park’s perimeter. There was also some evidence that a hedge may have been planted along the top on the bank.
The third trench explored the potential building outside of the park boundary to the northeast (MPK3854). This building was recorded by RCAHMS in 1987, and it is shown as roofless on estate plans on the 19th century. Measuring 37m by 8.5m and aligned east to west, its large size and proximity to the deer park suggested that it was associated with the deer park, perhaps as a hunting lodge. A trench was placed across its north and south walls and interior; 125 sherds of medieval pottery were discovered in the southern drip or drainage trench, and a single sherd was found within the building’s interior. These sherds were identified as being from a single handled splash glazed Scottish Redware jug, no later than the 14th century in date. Several samples of charcoal were also retrieved from the structure, and one of these, from a clay surface within the interiors of the building, yielded a radiocarbon date of 1219-1285 AD (calibrated at two sigma; SUERC 48405). Both the pottery, and this radiocarbon date, place the structure firmly within the medieval period.
These excavations have provided a tantalising glimpse into the Buzzart Dykes. The 13th century building was the largest so far excavated in a rural location producing wheel thrown pottery, and more work exploring this building, both to investigate its function and relationship with the deer park, and more broadly the archaeology of Scottish rural medieval landscapes which have been largely unexplored, would be desirable. The three trenches along the park’s boundary have also shown that different methods were employed for the park’s main role of enclosing deer, with fences and hedges and glacial erratics used to create the parks boundaries and taking advantage of the site’s unusual topography. Much more work could be done to explore the park and its associated structure, and more broadly, a wider sample of sites is needed to contextualise the Buzzart Dykes, and ascertain whether its construction, which differs from English Parks, was part of a Scottish design, or unique in itself.
The Buzzart Dykes will perhaps, always retain an element of mystery, until its historic name is discovered. Field investigation of the park however, has revealed much more than was previously known, and further work can only reveal more.
The 2010 excavation was undertaken as part of a Masters Degree at Stirling University by Kevin Malloy and the 2013 excavations as part of a PhD by Kevin Malloy based at the University of Wyoming. All of the archaeological fieldwork, post excavation and analysis were carried out under the supervision of Derek Hall, archaeologist and ceramic specialist.
Hall, D 2010 Excavations across the Western bank and ditch of the park at Buzzart Dykes, Perth and Kinross. Unpublished Data Structure Report.
Hall, D 2013 Excavations at Buzzart Dykes, Perth and Kinross 2013. Unpublished Data Structure Report.
Hall, D, Malloy, K and Oram, R 2011 ‘A Hunting we will go?’ Stirling University’s medieval deer parks project, Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal 17, 58-67.
Hall, D, Malloy, K 2015-16 ‘Always chasing deer – further excavations at Buzzart Dykes and Kincardine Park and new excavations at Kincardine Castle in 2013’, Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal 21-2, 25-34.