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Latitude: 56.3394 / 56°20'21"N
Longitude: -3.5322 / 3°31'56"W
OS Eastings: 305376
OS Northings: 717394
OS Grid: NO053173
Mapcode National: GBR 1V.4JF1
Mapcode Global: WH5PC.QX5H
Entry Name: Funerary and ritual complex, S and SE of Forteviot
Scheduled Date: 14 February 1979
Last Amended: 15 February 2022
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Source ID: SM4232
Schedule Class: Cultural
Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: henge
County: Perth and Kinross
Electoral Ward: Almond and Earn
Traditional County: Perthshire
The monument comprises a multi-period funerary and ritual complex visible as cropmarks on oblique aerial photographs and evidenced through excavation. The complex includes a Neolithic henge, Bronze Age round barrows, Iron Age or early medieval square barrows, an Iron Age ritual enclosure, an unenclosed Pictish cemetery and the remains of a substantial early medieval boundary ditch. The monument is located on flat agricultural land at around 20m above sea level to the south and southeast of the village of Forteviot.
The monument is formed of several different elements, representing funerary and ritual activity from the Neolithic (4,100BC – 2,500BC) to the early medieval (AD400 – AD1000). A large round barrow, measuring around 18m in diameter, a second barrow which is only partially visible on aerial imagery and a henge of 20m in diameter are located on the western edge of the monument. A large square ditched Iron Age ritual enclosure is located to the east of the barrows. This enclosure measures around 30m across within a ditch 2m wide with a possible entrance on its east side. To the east of the enclosure are two further round barrows, the largest of which measures around 14m in diameter. To the south and east of these barrows is a large unenclosed cemetery; excavations have shown that this cemetery is Pictish in origin. To the south of the cemetery are a pair of conjoined square barrows which date to the 7th to 9th centuries AD. Near the eastern edge of the scheduled area are a further two square barrows. In the northern area of the monument between the bowling green and the modern road is a wide, broadly east-west orientated ditch which dates to the 7th to 9th centuries AD and is likely a section of a boundary for a large monastic enclosure or secular power centre. Spread across the monument are a large number of pits, which excavations have shown to date from the Neolithic to post-medieval periods.
The scheduled area is irregular. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area specifically excludes all modern land boundaries and gates.
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):
a. The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as a large multi-period ritual and burial complex containing features from the Neolithic through to the early medieval period. This complex and its component parts contribute to our understanding of the siting and development of prehistoric ritual and funerary monuments in the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and early medieval periods.
b. The monument retains structural and other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as a ceremonial centre, combining both burial and ritual elements. The remains have the potential to increase our understanding of the construction, use and abandonment of the various elements as well as increasing our understanding of prehistoric and early medieval burial practices.
c. The monument is a rare example of a large scale multi-period ceremonial and burial complex. The concentration of prehistoric and early medieval burial monuments makes the site particularly significant.
d. The monument is a particularly good example of a multi-period ceremonial and burial complex, comprising multiple different monuments from the Neolithic to the early medieval period including an extensive unenclosed Pictish cemetery and a rare Iron Age ceremonial enclosure. It is therefore an important representative of this monument type.
e. The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past. It can tell us about the character, use and development of ritual sites, and the nature of prehistoric and early medieval society, economy, social hierarchy in this area of Scotland and further afield. Excavation has demonstrated the significance of archaeological remains at this site and further research and investigation has the potential to further explain the precise chronology of this site. A more precise understanding of the chronology would help to inform our understanding of the development of this and other ceremonial sites across Scotland.
f. The monument makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the historic landscape as a large ceremonial complex. It is one element of a wider concentration of prehistoric and early medieval ceremonial, burial and domestic monuments in the Forteviot area. Study of this monument in relationship to the other monuments in the area can enhance our understanding of these monuments within the historic landscape.
Assessment of Cultural Significance
This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:
Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)
This monument has been recorded as cropmarks on oblique aerial photographs. Archaeological investigations as part of the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot Project have provided further information about the buried deposits surviving below the ploughsoil. The plan of the monument is clear from aerial images with individual features identifiable. The earliest component of this monument is a henge which is located to the southwest of the Pictish cemetery. This element of the complex is known only from aerial photography. It measures around 20m across within ditches up to 5m in width. Comparable examples were excavated to the southwest (Noble and Brophy 2020); these were dated to the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic (copper) Age periods (3,100 – 2,300BC) and it is likely that this henge was constructed sometime during this time span.
To the north of the henge are a pair of round barrows, which are likely to date to the Bronze Age (2,500 – 800BC). The larger of the two barrows measures around 17m in diameter; the second barrow is only partially visible on available aerial imagery but it appears to be smaller, around 12m in diameter. A further two round barrows are located close to the eastern side of the square enclosure, one of which was excavated and was found to contain a central burial and two postholes which may have held marker posts or stones and has been radiocarbon dated to the 4th– 6th centuries AD.
The largest single feature is a square ditched feature, which has been identified as a probable Iron Age ritual enclosure. The enclosure is a perfect square which measures 30.5m across with a ditch approximately 2m wide. Although the monument has been partially excavated, no definitive date has been given to the enclosure. Morphologically it has similarities with temenos - sanctuary enclosures of Romanno-Celtic temples which are found across southern England and the northwest of continental Europe. Another comparable monument type are ditched enclosures of this shape and size found in Germany (Viereckschanzen), the Netherlands and northern France (enclose cultuels) which are usually associated with important Iron Age sites and are thought to be sanctuary sites associated with ritual assemblies.
To the south and east of the square enclosure are at least four square barrows and a very large unenclosed cemetery. Archaeological excavations have shown that these features probably date to the second half of the first millennium AD. Two of the barrows close to the ritual enclosure were morphologically similar to Pictish barrows which have been excavated on other sites, such as Redcastle, Angus (Canmore ID 35800) and Bankhead of Kinloch (Canmore ID 346583). The cemetery is laid out in rough rows, of simple ovoid pits with vertical sides and rounded ends, orientated in a west-east direction. Several of the graves held coffins and excavations have shown at least two of these were log coffins. The graves were of differing size, suggesting both adults and children were buried in the cemetery. None of the burials cut earlier graves which suggests that there were either mounds or grave markers which were visible reminders of burials. Radiocarbon dates from one of the log coffins and an adjacent grave show that at least some of the burials date to the 5th to 6th centuries AD.
The large boundary ditch which runs across the northern extent of the monument was partially excavated and shown to be early medieval in origin. Around 130m of this ditch is visible on aerial imagery and it appears to turn north at its end which coincides with the end of the village and boundary of the Farm of Forteviot. This appears to have enclosed an area of land between the Water of May and the Earn floodplain, forming either a rectilinear or D-shaped enclosure which has similarities with early medieval monastic sites such as Portmahomack (scheduled monument SM12793) and Iona (scheduled monument SM12968).
The archaeological investigation of this monument has confirmed that significant archaeological and environmental evidence survives in the buried layers. Deposits and artefacts such as pottery, metalwork, human remains and animal bone as well as botanical remains create an important overall assemblage. Investigations have determined that the monument had a long development sequences and multiple phases of use. The monument and this assemblage can therefore help us understand much about prehistoric and early medieval life - the lives, deaths, contacts, beliefs and practices of the people who built and used it; the events and ceremonies that took place here; the phases of its use and re-use and, the wider environmental conditions that prevailed when it was built and in use. Study of the monument's form and construction processes compared with similar monuments would enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and ceremonial and burial monuments in general.
Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)
The largest single feature that forms part of this monument is the square enclosure, which has been identified as a ritual enclosure possibly of the Roman Iron Age. The cemetery and barrows appear to respect this enclosure which suggests it was an existing feature at the time of their creation, around the 5th or 6th century AD. This indicates that the enclosure was earlier and perhaps dating from between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. There are few comparable examples of this type of site identified in Scotland. However, examples do include Cuiltiburn (Canmore ID 25255), some 16km to the west of Forteviot. The Forteviot and Cuiltiburn enclosures may have been constructed by Roman soldiers stationed on the Gask Ridge. There are several excavated examples of enclosures in the Netherlands which date to the 1stst century AD that are close in size and shape to the example at Forteviot. There is documentary evidence of soldiers from Batavia (The Netherlands) stationed on the Gask Ridge. This type of monument could have been familiar to these soldiers and the re-use of existing native religious or ceremonial sites by the Romans is well documented.
While there was no direct evidence of Roman activity found during the excavations at Forteviot, a scatter or Roman finds were recovered mostly in the topsoil. Other Roman artefacts, such as coins have been recovered from the fields to the north and northeast of Forteviot village.
A further significant element of this monument is a feature which belongs to a group of prehistoric ceremonial monuments which have been variously classed as henges, mini henges, and hengi-form monuments. Henges are circular earth enclosures with an external bank, an internal ditch and at least one entrance. They can be associated with pits, post holes, standing stones, cremations, burials, mounds, and cairns. Many henges have been shown to have multiple phases of activity and reuse. They date from the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age and are thought to have been used for a broad range of ritual and ceremonial practices. This monument is one of a number of henges and mini-henges that are present around Forteviot, several are located to the south and form part of another monument (scheduled monument SM4111 Prehistoric ceremonial complex, 205m WNW of Dronachy Wood). The significance of the henge is heightened as part of this larger group.
Two types of barrow form part of the monument; round barrows and square barrows. Round Barrows are part of a sub-class of more than 600 earthen burial monuments known of across Scotland – some are upstanding field monuments which generally survive on marginal land where there has been little or no agricultural improvement. Others, such as here, survive on lower, fertile improved agricultural land and are generally known through cropmark evidence. Fewer square barrows have been identified; only 109 are recorded in the National Record for the Historic Environment (NRHE). Round barrows are generally interpreted as prehistoric funerary monuments whereas square barrows commonly date from the Iron Age into the early medieval period. There are notable concentrations of barrows across the lowlands, eastern coasts and in the Western and Northern Isles. There almost 90 examples of round barrows and 30 square barrows recorded in the Perth and Kinross area, both as upstanding field monuments and cropmark sites. The examples at this monument are of particular significance due to their association with the other ritual and funerary monuments that comprise this ceremonial centre. There are other examples of barrows in the vicinity of the monument, most notably the prehistoric and early historic burial and ceremonial complex 260m to the northeast which also comprises round and square barrows (scheduled monument SM4111 Prehistoric ceremonial complex, 205m WNW of Dronachy Wood).
The unenclosed cemetery forms a large part of this monument. It is located to the south and east of the Roman Iron Age enclosure. The cemetery is laid out in rough rows which are oriented west-east. Forteviot is one of a number of such monumental cemeteries of barrows and unenclosed graves of the Pictish period which are known from as far south as Fife to Moray in the north. However, the spread of these features over a large area at Forteviot and the proximity to a long-standing prehistoric ceremonial complex sets this monument apart. Archaeological excavations at Forteviot suggest that the graves and barrows are likely to have been visible on the surface as they respect each other. The study of these monuments and other similar Pictish monumental cemeteries as the potential to allow us to better understand the ritual and funerary practices of this era.
One of the latest elements of the site is the massive boundary ditch which can be seen on aerial imagery running east-west from through the northern part of this monument. Radiocarbon dates retrieved from excavations of the upper fills of the ditch show that it is likely to be early medieval in origin (7th – 9th century AD). It is thought that the ditch may have enclosed an area of land between the Water of May and slopes of the Earn floodplain. The exact function of this boundary is uncertain, however, it may have been the vallum of an important ecclesiastic centre or the boundary of the Royal palacium (palace) of Cínead mac Alpín (Kenneth MacAplin) or indeed both.
There is potential to study the different elements of this monument and other similar monuments together to better understand their functions within their contemporary local communities and possible chronological development. The monument has the potential to enhance and broaden our understanding of prehistoric society, community as well as ritual and funerary practices. In particular, this monument can help us understand the relationships between the different elements of a multi-period site.
Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)
There are no known associative characteristics that contribute to the site's national importance.
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 26560 (accessed on 02/11/2020).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 26568 (accessed on 02/11/2020).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 144783 (accessed on 02/11/2020).
Alexander D et al (2006). 'Redcastle, Lunan Bay, Angus: the excavation of an Iron Age timber-lined souterrain and a Pictish barrow cemetery' in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. 135, pp. 41-118. Accessed online at Redcastle, Lunan Bay, Angus: the excavation of an Iron Age timber-lined souterrain and a Pictish barrow cemetery | Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (socantscot.org)
Campbell E and Driscoll S (2020). Royal Forteviot: excavations at a Pictish power centre in eastern Scotland. SERF Monograph 2. CBA Research Report 177. Council for British Archaeology 2020. Accessed online at: https://doi.org/10.5284/1082003
Campbell E and Gondek M (2009). Forteviot, Perthshire: Excavations of a Pictish Cemetery and an Iron Age Enclosure 2009. Unpublished SERF Data Structure Report. University of Glasgow.
Woolscroft D, Hoffman, B et al (2002). 'Excavations at Cuiltburn on the Roman Gask Ridge System, Perth and Kinross' in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol. 131, pp. 149-166. Accessed online at Excavations at Cuiltburn on the Roman Gask System, Perth and Kinross | Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (socantscot.org)
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
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