Pictish Byre-houses at Pitcarmick and their landscape: Investigations 1993-5

Martin Carver, John Barrett, Jane Downes, Janet Hooper, Alison Sheridan, Fraser Hunter, Peter Rowe, Allan Hall, Mark Edmonds, Derek Hall, Matilda Holmes

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Abstract

'Pitcarmick-type' houses were identified by the Royal Commission in north-east Perthshire in 1988 and published in their survey of 1990. Long and narrow with rounded ends, they seemed to occur in a sequence between prehistoric roundhouses and medieval and post-medieval dwellings. They were therefore provisionally assigned to the later 1st millennium ad, a period associated in this region with the Picts. Excavations by John Barrett and Jane Downes at Pitcarmick (North) in 1993-5 defined the basic properties of two Pitcarmick-type houses and produced radiocarbon dates between the 8th and 11th centuries. A subsequent survey of the broader landscape by Janet Hooper offered a sequence of the main phases of occupation and their context. The Pitcarmick upland had been settled in the Bronze Age with circular stone-and-turf houses, thought to represent a series of self-supporting farmsteads using mixed farming and in touch with similar settlements in adjacent territory. Two thousand years later, Early Historic settlers inserted their dwellings into this relict landscape, also practising mixed stock and crop farming. In the Middle Ages, the land was settled by farmers who kept sheep and ploughed the earlier settlement areas. The post-medieval period is represented by a group of shielings on the eastern edge of the prehistoric and early medieval settlement area, where ploughing continued. These investigations are here brought to press by Martin Carver, supported by Historic Scotland and a team of specialists who examined the quartz, charcoal, animal bone and pottery and produced a tighter array of radiocarbon dates. This account proposes that the Bronze Age roundhouses are of conventional type, with a central hearth, entrances facing south-east, and roofs supported by a post-ring. The two Pictish buildings are defined as longhouses with byres (properly byre-houses), constructed with turf-and-stone layered walls and timber roof-supports. Occupants sheltered round a hearth at the west end and animals were stalled either side ofa paved drain at the east end. These houses are radiocarbon-dated to the period c ad 700-850. Both buildings had been reused between c ad 1000 and 1200 and both were subsequently flattened by later medieval and post-medieval ploughing, the effects of which severely inhibited subsequent interpretation. While Pictish in date and territorial affiliation, these longhouses exhibit strong links with preceding and contemporary practice across the North Sea. Their form currently stands in marked contrast both to their prehistoric predecessors and to contemporary neighbouring settlement in Britain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-199
Number of pages55
JournalProceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Volume142
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2013

Keywords

  • Radiocarbon Dates
  • Roundhouses
  • Settlement
  • Circular Stoneandturf Houses
  • Radiocarbon, Artefacts
  • Sheep
  • Farmsteads

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