Case Study: The Idea of Scotland

Figure 12: The magnificent 'Dupplin' Cross, which marked the boundary of the royal estate at Forteviot, and commemorates King Constantine mac Fergus (d. 820) in the earliest known inscription to a Scottish king. ©S Driscoll.

Figure 12: The magnificent 'Dupplin' Cross, which marked the boundary of the royal estate at Forteviot, and commemorates King Constantine mac Fergus (d. 820) in the earliest known inscription to a Scottish king. ©S Driscoll.

The Strathearn Environs & Royal Forteviot (SERF) project is a long-term study of the archaeology and history of a remarkable landscape at the heart of Scotland in Strathearn. The project involves excavation, field survey, historical analysis, a training field school, community involvement, and archaeological monitoring. Initiated by members of the Department of Archaeology, University of Glasgow, SERF seeks to explore the early prehistoric origins of the Pictish royal centre at Forteviot and document the area’s subsequent evolution. Forteviot occupies a special place in the history of Scotland, being located at the geographical and historical heart of Scotland.

The death of Cinaed mac Alpin, one of the first kings of a united Scotland, was recorded at the ‘palace’ of Forteviot in AD 858 and at this time it is clear that this site was the most important royal centre in a fledgling Scottish nation. Forteviot is also the location of the largest and most extensive concentration of prehistoric ritual monuments identified by aerial photography in mainland Scotland. The Project was designed to answer the key question of why this area was so important to the early Scottish kings, and whether the extensive prehistoric monuments played a role in the choice of this power centre.

The results of the first five years of fieldwork have begun to answer this question. Evidence has been found of first millennium AD involvement in all of the prehistoric monuments so far excavated. The type of activity varied, but included deposition of Roman and Norse period artefacts in the silted up ditches, massive pits dug in the centres of henges, and extensive Pictish style burial grounds surrounding and respecting the prehistoric monuments, which would have survived as upstanding earthworks at this period.

The further importance of the site has been evaluated through a reconsideration of the exceptional collection of carved stone monuments found around the church, and the early medieval bell.  Trial excavations around the church show a medieval foundation, and hint at the presence of a royal monastic establishment. 

Work continues on the challenge of discovering the topography of the royal settlement and estate, the subsequent development of the medieval and post-medieval village, and the relationship to later medieval landholdings. In conjunction with this work, a wider programme of excavation on all of the hillforts of the surrounding area is uncovering surprising details of the first millennium BC settlement pattern and its relationship to the early medieval power centre.


Return to Section 2.6 Archaeological strategies

 

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