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Latitude: 56.335 / 56°20'5"N
Longitude: -3.5326 / 3°31'57"W
OS Eastings: 305343
OS Northings: 716899
OS Grid: NO053168
Mapcode National: GBR 1V.4Y1P
Mapcode Global: WH5PK.Q10C
Entry Name: Prehistoric ceremonial complex, 205m WNW of Dronachy Wood
Scheduled Date: 14 February 1979
Last Amended: 15 February 2022
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Source ID: SM4111
Schedule Class: Cultural
Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: henge
County: Perth and Kinross
Electoral Ward: Almond and Earn
Traditional County: Perthshire
The monument comprises the remains of a ceremonial complex of the Late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age period (c. 3100 – 1900BC) with later Iron Age burials, visible as cropmarks on oblique aerial photographs and evidenced through archaeological excavations. The site includes a large palisaded enclosure defined by a series of massive pits and accessed by an avenue on its north side. Within and around this enclosure are a concentration of associated elements. Within are numerous archaeological features including a henge and a mini-henge. Located to the north and around the outside of the palisaded enclosure are a further two henges and double ring-ditched enclosure. To the south of the palisaded enclosure are square and round barrows and another mini-henge. The monument is located on flat agricultural land at around 35m above sea level. The monument is bounded on its western side by the Water of May.
The monument primarily consists of various elements spanning a period of time around 3100BC to 1900BC. The largest of the elements is a sub-circular or oval pit-defined palisaded enclosure which measures about 265m north-south by 220m east-west enclosing an area of around 6 hectares. The western edge of this enclosure is defined by a natural escarpment overlooking the Water of May. The enclosure was accessed via a 30m long post-lined avenue. Near the north-western edge of the palisaded enclosure is a near circular Chalcolithic/ Early Bronze Age henge enclosing an internal circular space around 22m across within an enclosing ditch which measured 6-8m across. There would have been an outer bank which is estimated to be a further 6-8m across and as much as 2m high. This henge is located on the site of a Late Neolithic cremation cemetery, which was later enclosed by a timber circle of 22 posts. The timber circle measures 45m in diameter. 12m to the south of the henge is a mini-henge of the Bronze Age period. The mini-henge took the form of a small penannular structure 9m across within a ditch with a single entrance. The mini-henge would have had originally an outer bank and an internal space of no more than 4m across.
Around 30m to the southeast of the mini-henge are the remains of a Neolithic timber circle and Bronze Age round barrow. The timber circle is formed of at least eight post-pits and measures 10-11m in diameter. The round barrow is located within the timber circle, measures around 8m at maximum diameter. There is another mini-henge on the-western edge of the site, again within the palisaded enclosure. This mini-henge appears to measure no more than 7m across. Many pits and other cropmarks are visible within the palisaded enclosure which are likely to relate to activity within this monument but are not sufficiently diagnostic as to be categorised.
Located outside the palisaded enclosure are a ring-ditch and two further henge monuments. The ring-ditch is located immediately to the north of the palisaded enclosure and to the west of the entrance passage. The two henges are also to the north of the palisade but to the east of the entrance. The most northerly of the two measures 24m east-west by 24m within a ditch around 4m wide. The more southerly measures 22m east-west by 29m within a broad ditch 4-6m wide. Within this henge was an earlier timber circle which may have been the earliest timber monument at this site. To the south of the enclosure are at least four barrows and another possible mini-henge. Two of the barrows are Bronze Age round barrows and the others are later Iron Age square barrows.
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 above ground elements of all modern field boundaries are specifically excluded from the scheduled area.
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 of the past, as a large and complex multi-phase ceremonial site dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age with later Early Medieval use. Large palisaded enclosures are a rare source of evidence for the Neolithic in Scotland, and more widely across the UK, so this example is important in our understanding of the nature of Scotland's prehistoric society and landscape. This complex and its component parts contribute to our understanding of the siting and development of prehistoric ritual and funerary monuments in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
b. The monument retains structural and other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as a prehistoric 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 Iron Age burial practices.
c. The monument is a rare example of a large scale prehistoric ceremonial complex. The concentration of elements dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods makes this site particularly significant.
d. The monument is a particularly good example of a prehistoric ceremonial complex, comprising multiple different monuments from the Neolithic to the Iron Age periods and 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 society, economy, social hierarchy in this area of Scotland and further afield. Excavation has demonstrated the significance on 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 in 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 largest component of the ceremonial complex is the palisaded enclosure. The enclosure was defined by between 130 and 150 large pits, spaced between 3m to 5m apart. Excavation has shown that these were filled by large oak posts, although at least one living oak tree formed part of this entrance passage. The enclosure measures up to 265m across and encloses an area of around 6 hectares. The enclosure was accessed by a narrow 30m long entrance passage, again defined by oak posts. The excavations have shown that many of the pits were accompanied by a ramp, which would have helped in placing the timber posts into the pits. Radiocarbon dates show that this monumental enclosure was constructed during the Late Neolithic period (between c.2575 - 2490BC) and is likely to have taken tens of thousands of worker hours to complete.
Located within and around the outer edges of the Neolithic enclosure are three henges and at least three 'mini-henges'. Three of these features have been investigated through archaeological investigations. The henge located near the western edge of the palisaded enclosure had a long sequence of use, re-use and change. The earliest definable activity on this part of the monument was in the Late Neolithic when excavations have shown that a cremation cemetery was established between 3080 – 2900BC. The cremations were within an arc of pits, one of which had held a standing stone. This suggests that there may have been an earlier stone circle on site which was repurposed but the current available evidence does not allow us to state this with certainty. This cemetery is the largest Neolithic cremation cemetery so far identified in northern Britain. After the cremation cemetery ceased to be used a large timber circle, some 45m in diameter was erected around the site, probably between 2620 – 2475BC. The timber circle was, in turn, replaced by the henge. Excavations have suggested that the henge was constructed in the Chalcolithic period probably sometime in between 2500 - 2300BC.
Sometime between 2205 – 2130BC the henge was altered and a large pit was dug into the partially filled henge ditch. A substantial stone cist (stone lined burial) was placed within this pit. In the cist there was a burial with a range of grave goods including a dagger with a large flat bronze blade and composite hilt of horn, gold and sperm whale tooth. The dagger was within a sheath made of calfskin. This is one of 28 dagger graves known from Scotland, and the only one from within a henge. The base of the cist appears to have had a birch bark floor and amongst the grave goods was the most complete fire making kit currently known from anywhere in Europe. This burial was probably enclosed under a stone cairn which probably survived into at least the Early Medieval period (500 – 1000AD).
To the north of the palisaded enclosure is ring ditch measuring around 18m in diameter within a pair of ditches. Within the centre of the ring ditch was a triple cist for which there are no known Scottish parallels. The ring ditch may have been a Late Neolithic multiple-ditched enclosure of a kind more common in southern Britain. The ring ditch was re-used in later prehistory as a site for burials.
Along the southern edge of the palisaded enclosure is evidence of later activity in the form of a group of round and square barrows. The round barrows are likely to date to the Bronze Age (2,500 – 800BC), while the square barrows are, in form, Iron Age (800BC – 500AD). Two of the square barrows have been excavated, however, no definitive dating evidence was recovered.
The archaeological investigation of this type of monument has confirmed that significant archaeological and environmental evidence can survive in the buried layers. Deposits and artefacts such as pottery, flints, the unique fire making kit and animal bone as well as botanical remains create an important overall assemblage. Investigations have determined that these monuments had long development sequences and multiple phases of use. The monument and this assemblage can therefore help us understand much about prehistoric 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 process compared with similar monuments would enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and ceremonial monuments in general.
Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)
Large scale Neolithic palisaded enclosures are rare monument type; there are only four other examples in Scotland and a dozen or so across Britain and Ireland as a whole.
Several other elements of the monument belong to a group of prehistoric ceremonial monuments which have been variously classed as henges, mini henges, and hengi-form monuments. Researchers have shown the difficulties in these over-simplified terms. However, the general use of the term 'henge' is still helpful in distinguishing a monument whose primary purpose is for ceremony and ritual events as opposed to settlement / domestic / agricultural or similar activity. 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. In addition to the larger henges are at least three smaller henges, which due to their small size are classified as 'mini' henges.
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 this monument, survive on lower, fertile land such as in 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 (NHRE). Round barrows are generally identified as being 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. Locally, 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 SM4232 Funerary and ritual complex, S and SE of Forteviot).
There is potential to study different elements of this monument and other similar monuments together to better understand their functions within their contemporary local communities and possible chronological development in the area. 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. The presence of later square barrows, that could date from the Iron Age or early medieval period, provides further great potential to study the development of a site with a particularly long-time depth.
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 26559 (accessed on 12/08/2021).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 26562 (accessed on 12/08/2021).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 26563 (accessed on 12/08/2021).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 26564 (accessed on 12/08/2021).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 26565 (accessed on 12/08/2021).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 26566 (accessed on 12/08/2021).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 26567 (accessed on 12/08/2021).
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 314691 (accessed on 12/08/2021).
Brophy K and Noble G (2020). Prehistoric Forteviot. York, CBA Publishing. Accessed online at https://doi.org/10.5284/1082002
Greaney, S et al (2020). 'Tempo of a Mega-Henge: A New Chronology for Mount Pleasant, Dorchester, Dorset' in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society Vol. 86 pp 199-236. Accessed online at https://doi.org/10.1017/ppr.2020.6
Noble G and Brophy K (2011). 'Ritual and remembrance at a prehistoric ceremonial complex in central Scotland: excavations at Forteviot, Perth and Kinross' in Antiquity Vol. 85. pp 787-804. Accessed online at http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/085/ant0850787.htm
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Other nearby scheduled monuments