Sunday, October 10, 2010


A 4000-year-old burial chamber in Perthshire has been described as Scotland's 'Valley of the Kings.' Excavation of the site at Forteviot began in earnest last year and has been regarded as something of an archaeological jewel. It was uncovered by the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project, run by archaeologists from Glasgow, Aberdeen and Chester universities, and the results of the project's first three years have just been published by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust.

Researchers first discovered the four-tonne capstone slab covering the burial
chamber in 2008, but had to wait until last year to organize the resources to lift it. The team had hoped there was a burial chamber beneath but had no idea it would prove to be one of the best preserved sites in Britain, almost undamaged by the passage of time. The high quality of preservation proved to be 'virtually unique' and archaeologists were soon claiming the early Bronze Age grave as a site of 'exceptional importance.'

At the entrance, a stone sealed the grave so well that organic materials survived, with a leather bag, unidentified wooden objects, plant matter and a distinctive bronze dagger with a gold hilt band among the items found. The plant matter was later identified as meadowsweet blossoms and was hailed as the first proof that people in the Bronze Age laid flowers upon the graves of loved ones. Together with carvings on the underside of the capstone, the findings were taken as evidence that the grave was that of a significant person.

The team returned this year to reveal more impressive burials and monuments, indicating that the site was a significant center of ceremony and burial in the early prehistoric and Pictish periods. Excavations explored part of a massive Neolithic timber enclosure - the monument required over 200 huge timber posts which needed a ramp to hoist them into position.

The site continued as a major burial location and ritual landscape into the Bronze Age. There are also square barrow cemeteries from the Pictish period and although these burial mounds have not yet been dated, their form suggests they are early, demonstrating that people in the Dark Ages were using the prehistoric earthworks as a sacred place for burial in the period around the formation of the Pictish kingdom.

The full story, along with illustrations and photographs, is revealed in a new 60-page Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust publication, Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot Project Report 2006-2009. The booklet is available from the trust's office, Perth Museum and Art Gallery and the AK Bell Library.

Edited from The Courier (25 September 2010)
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