Archaeology in Glenshee

Glenshee, in north-east Perth and Kinross, is a beautiful and distinctive landscape that is remarkably rich in archaeological remains - from prehistoric stone circles and burial cairns to Pictish longhouses, and the  fermtouns and sheilings of the 19th century. The well-preserved archaeological remains have been neglected by academics and national agencies, and only lightly-touched by developer funded archaeology since the RCAHMS publication North-east Perth: an archaeological landscape highlighted its importance and value in the 1990's.

The Glenshee Archaeology Project was developed by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust and delivered in partnership with Northlight Heritage between 2012 and 2017. Through 'citizen science', the project aimed to address the neglected narrative of north-east Perth and Kinross, uncover the fascinating story of prehistoric and early historic life in Glenshee and share this with residents and visitors.

The initial thrust of the project was concerned with the so-called 'Pitcarmick' style buildings in the uplands around the glen and investigated several rare Pictish turf and stone longhouses dating to around 500-1000 AD. It also explored related features of the wider landscape, such as clearance cairns, trackways and boundaries.

The Pitcarmick buildings are stone/turf and timber longhouses of the late first millennium, and were first identified in the uplands of north-east Perthshire in the late 1980's (RCAHMS 1990). Their date, function and relationship to other archaeological sites remains poorly understood, as very few have been excavated, the notable exception being the site in Strathardle (Carver et al 2013) from which the group takes its name.

The site-type is important as early medieval buildings are rarely found elsewhere in Scotland, with the exception of Viking settlement in the Outer Isles (ScARF 2010). Like Pitcarmick, the Lair site comprises a relatively dispersed settlement of long-houses around an earlier prehistoric settlement (itself consisting of round houses of probable late Bronze Age or possibly Iron Age date). These are all set around a ring-cairn of probable earlier Bronze Age date.

Further reading:

  • RCAHMS (1990) North-east Perth: an archaeological landscape. Edinburgh.
  • Carver, Barrett, Downes & Hooper, M. J. J. & J. (2013) 'Pictish Byre Houses at Pitcarmick and their Landscape: investigations 1993-5’ Proc Soc Antiq Scot Vol 142, 2012, 145-200 .
  • ScARF (2012) Hall, M & Price, N. (eds) Medieval Panel Document. Scottish Archaeological Research Framework: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Available online athttp://www.scottishheritagehub.com/
A reconstruction of the longhouse and cairn excavated at Lair. Illustration by Alan Braby & coloured by Gill McSwan
 

Citizen Science in Action:

The project wouldn't have been possible without the considerable support of the local and wider community. A huge thank you to the 66 enthusiastic and hard working people who volunteered their time to assist with the excavation over the six year duration of the project.

"I am proud to have participated in this project. I  remember that excavation fondly, excavating in the Highlands on an interesting site, with great volunteers and archaeologists."

Alexander Westra, GAP 2012 Volunteer

Across it's duration, over 1,500 people engaged with the project including:

  • 66 volunteers who contributed over 900 volunteer days, that's around 6,000 volunteer hours!
  • 155 school pupils who spent a day in the outdoor classroom and engaged with university students in near-to-peer outdoor learning;
  • 42 further education students, including archaeology undergraduates and post-graduates from all Scottish universities;
  • over 600 people who attended guided site tours and walks;
  • over 700 people who attended the 2014 Living History Fair in Blairgowrie.

Project Funders:

Aviva Insurance

Northlight Heritage

Cairngorms National Park via LEADER funding

Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust

Friends of Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust

Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

National Lottery Heritage Fund

SSE Drumderg Windfarm Local Community Fund

Historic Environment Scotland

The Gannochy Trust

Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust

The Strathmartine Trust

Clues in Names

The name Glen Shee comes from the Scottish gaelic word glean meaning 'glen' and sìth meaning ‘fairy people of the Other World’, so hence ‘Fairy glen or glen of peace’. As part of the project, a place-name survey was commissioned to try and unlock more of the history of the Glen and its people from the names of natural and man-made features in the landscape. Have a look at the results in the report below to find out more.

The Placenames of Glenshee

Publications:

Read more about the Pitcarmick-type buildings and the discoveries at Lair in the book. Available as Open Access download and to buy in print from Archaeopress.

Front Cover

Don't forget to check out the online store for more of our publications.

Low-level Drone Aerials Photographs 2013-2015

Images by Edward Martin Photography www.em-photo.co.uk

Excavation Reports

Glenshee DSR 2012
Glenshee DSR 2013
Glenshee DSR 2014
Glenshee DSR 2015
Glenshee DSR 2016
Glenshee DSR 2017

Finds Reports

The Lair Spindlewhorl
The Lair Padlock