Octocopter over Scotland’s Valley of the Kings helps reveal prehistoric secrets

Flying Scotscam continues supporting archaeologists in the field with its multirotor camera platform. In 2009 the discovery of a 4000 year old burial chamber in the heart of the royal centre of Forteviot, Scotland – containing unprecedented preservation of flowers and a distinct bronze dagger was a spectacular event for the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project team run by archaeologists from Glasgow, Aberdeen and Chester Universities. In 2010 the SERF team returned to Forteviot to reveal more impressive burials and monuments, further emphasising Forteviot as a significant centre of ceremony and burial in the early prehistoric and the Pictish periods.

Excavations in 2010 explored areas surrounding and including part of a massive – over 250m in diameter- Neolithic timber enclosure, initially seen as cropmarks from the air. Excavations of this enclosure demonstrated the monumental undertaking that the construction would have required as each of the huge timber posts defining the enclosure (of which there are over 200) required a ramp in order to hoist the timbers into position. Also revealed this year was a large clay-lined pool at the entrance to this enclosure.

On the fringes of the giant timber enclosure two other enclosures were investigated. One of these enclosures is a henge monument, in which was found the broken remains

Mike Smith of Flying Scotscam

of some of the earliest Beaker pottery found in Scotland, indicative of the start of the Bronze Age in 2500-2300BC. Within this henge, SERF also found a cremation burial, laid on a bed of pebbles and set within a small cist (stone box). This cremation was carefully placed to the side of a unique early Bronze Age bowl, and amongst the burnt bone was found a single fragment of beaker pottery, probably deliberately buried with the dead.

The second enclosure excavated nearby was distinct in shape to the other monuments at Forteviot. This remarkable structure was defined by an inner segmented ditched enclosure and an outer timber lined enclosure with two entrances. At the heart of this structure were three adjoining stone coffins, a triple cist. Although no human remains survived within these, flint flakes including an arrowhead had been placed with the dead and suggest this dates to the Bronze Age. In a pit beside these cists, a largely complete but shattered Beaker pot had been deposited.

This possible ‘cult’ building, as well as the smashed pot and cremation burial within the henge, should be considered in the context of our discovery in 2009 of the Bronze Age dagger burial with flowers. It seems likely that people were being buried within and around an already ancient ritual centre towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC, and that for over 1000 years in prehistory Forteviot was one of the most important sacred centres in Britain.

 

The investigations have also hinted to the significance of which Forteviot maintained centuries after the Bronze Age. From the upper levels of the henge ditch an iron spearhead and a glass bead, dating to the Iron Age, was recovered and from the possible Bronze Age cult building a lead object likely dating to the Roman Iron Age was also retrieved. This evidence all point to the continued interaction and reworking of these monuments in later prehistory.

Further excavations just to the south of the prehistoric complex revealed two square barrows or burial mounds from the Pictish period similar to ones excavated to the 0.5 km to the north in 2007, making Forteviot one of the most extensive known cemeteries of this period. Although these barrows 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 discoveries made by the SERF team demonstrate the significance of Forteviot as a focus of ceremony and burial for millennia and how different generations paid tribute to their ancestors.

The SERF project receives funding and support from Historic Scotland and Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust and operates in Forteviot with the cooperation of the Dupplin Estate and A & P Grewar Ltd.

Flying Scotscam is licenced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to operate rotary UAV for aerial photography and survey in the United Kingdom.