Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The History of the Broich Cursus Gradually Unravels !

 
Dr Brophy points out the extent of the Broich Cursus 


Crieff High School pupils lay out the plan of the Pittentian Round house 





The growing importance of Strathearn as an area of significance in  a Neolithic Scotland  was further emphasised last week with the  visit to the Campus  site  by Dr Kenneth  Brophy of Glasgow University and his archaeologist colleague Ally Becket of Northlight Heritage . The visitation  was  part of the Perth and Kinross Archaeology Month organised  by the Perth and Kinross Heritage trust . Apart  from the  significance of the Cursus dating  back to 3000 BC a number of recent finds  throughout the Strath have now  firmly established this part of Perthshire as something unique  in the long path to Scottish nationhood .


Ally Becket discussed in some detail the  Pittentian round  house  located  during the  pre construction work on the Beauly  to Denny overhead power line . It was graphically illustrated  to an appreciative audience the  size and  type of construction  involved .Thanks  to the  cooperation  of the pupils of Crieff High School  , a layout was  constructed using  a number  of  large pots  to illustrate the positioning of the post holes . The captivated  audience  then climbed  the  adjoining embankment to the school rugby pitch  and  were able  to look down on the layout and appreciate  just how large it was actually .


Earlier  the audience listened  attentively to Ken Brophy  as  he outlined  what was  now known about the Broich Cursus . Dr Brophy   is part of the SERF (Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot ) team  who have  carried  out a  considerable amount of  excavation  and  study  of the area  since 2006 and is a renowned  authority on the Cursus that have  so far been discovered in Scotland


 Between 2006 and 2010 Alder and SUAT Ltd had investigated what is now  known as the Broich Cursus monument. Broadly speaking Cursus monuments are long Neolithic enclosures bounded by ditches, banks or pits usually built on gravelly river terraces. The are many interpretations for these structures from ceremonial processional ways to strips of land where people were prohibited to walk, but the truth is that the function of these monuments is poorly understood.

 

The Broich Cursus was originally identified from aerial photographs showing a 400m long crop mark in a field south of Broich Road near Crieff. The monument comprised two ditches (135-105m apart) which diverged slightly as the monument extended north. North of the Broich Road the monument could not be traced on aerial photos, the western ditch crossing a grassy field and the eastern seeming to follow Pittenzie Road.

Crieff Cursus

When the land north of Broich Road became the focus for the development of the new community campus, an archaeological investigation took place to try to locate traces of the Cursus. In the first phase of work (2006) trial trenching successfully located the western ditch, but unfortunately the eastern ditch was not found which suggested that it presumably ran along land now occupied by Pittenzie Road. In 2007 the turf and topsoil covering the western ditch was stripped right back, exposing a 147m length. No associated bank had survived, a sign that the field may have been ploughed over after the monument went out of use. The ditch varied in depth from between 0.56m deep to just 4cm deep, and was 1.5-2.5m wide and had gently sloping, roughly symmetrical sides and a flat to concave base. It was most shallow in the northern-most excavated portion.




CrieffCursusIn 2008, the ditch was again revealed and excavated during the construction of the new campus north of the old railway line. The ditch here was deeper than expected (up to 0.42m) but most importantly, contained hazel charcoal, giving dates showing that it had started to infill by the middle of the 4th millenium BC.

Crieff Cursus

The old school is located to the north It was demolished about 2009

The focus of the 2009 investigations was to find out how far the western ditch had survived under the playing fields towards Crieff High School (the 1960s school, now demolished). Surprisingly the ditch was found to have survived right up to the school walls under a tarmac playground. The dimensions of the ditch were roughly as they had been in the 2008 phase (2.2m wide and up to 0.4m deep). One interesting discovery from this phase was that the ditch bent eastwards here, suggesting that the ditch in this area was approaching the northern terminal of the Cursus. Terminals of cursus monuments are generally considered important as they seem to be the focus for ritual activity . Unfortunately  when trial trenches were placed  across the demolished school in 2010 it was  found that the construction of the old school had destroyed any evidence of the monument's terminal.

Dr Brophy pointed out that the northern end of the Cursus  would  have provided a  spectacular  view of the rising hills above Crieff and that the  overall size was such that it  could well have taken some decades  to construct .

South of the Broich Cursus across the River Earn  is another cursus at Bennybeg on the road to Muthill  . Once again one of the key  points  is that it adjoins  a spectacular item of scenic grandeur , namely  the  rock face which nowadays  attracts  young trainee climbers  from all over .

Much is  still to be learned  from these monuments  from the past  which have largely lain undisturbed since  pre history . They have added  yet  more to the fascination of Strathearn’s ancient past .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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