‘SERF 1 – Royal Forteviot: landscape setting and political contexts’

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On 6 November 2012, the Centre was pleased to welcome Professor Stephen Driscoll, who discussed the ongoing SERF project in the first of a three-part seminar mini-series. Prof. Driscoll covered ‘Royal Forteviot: landscape setting and political contexts’ and below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

‘SERF’ stands for Strathearn Environs of Royal Forteviot, an archaeological project by the University of Glasgow with the aim to uncover more detail on this crucial place in the creation of Scotland. More information can be found here: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/driscoll323/. Yesterday’s lecture opened with a demonstration of a 1000 year old church hand-bell found at Forteviot.

Prof. Driscoll noted that Forteviot’s pre-historical record is exceptional material, though only a limited amount of work has been done. Noteworthy finds include an early Bronze Age burial capped underneath a great cairn and a dagger with a pommel made of sperm whale tooth (which Prof. Driscoll noted is somewhat surprisingly not a unique find). There is also evidence of floral tributes and a capstone with impressive rock-art.

Moving ahead from pre-history, there is clear evidence of an important cemetery, which along with a parish church, is thought to be part of the palace grounds where Kenneth McAlpin died in AD 858. There is also a strong density of monuments with various standing stones, including the famed Dupllin Cross (which Prof. Driscoll believes should be renamed Constantine’s Cross as it is dedicated to Constantine son of Fergus, who was king of the Picts from 789-820). It was noted that Constantine’s kingdom was based in Fortriu around Inverness, so why is there an inscription to him at Forteviot? Was it a clear site of ancient significance and ceremony?

Some have claimed that Forteviot is Scotland’s Stonehenge and while it is not as famous, it may have shaped the landscape equally. Others have argued that Forteviot is closer to being Scotland’s Tara, as it clearly attracted kings and was an ancient ceremonial centre. Conor Newman’s conceptual map of Tara was used to elucidate this point and it depicts a processional road that wound up towards the summit where an inauguration would take place. In the first OS map of Forteviot, a road running along a field boundary is hypothesised to be a possible road in this mould.

In terms of place names, the area has comparatively little of mystical value apart from Jackschairs, an Iron Age hill-fort, which translates to ‘fairy fort’.

The work done at Forteviot has so far reinforced the idea that it is a ‘nationally important Royal centre’ and it seems to show what ‘royal looks like’ in 9th/10th century Scotland.

After the lecture, Dr. Stuart Airlie commented that other contemporary palaces from the continent were more like complexes than large buildings or halls. They were sites of great activity with shops, churches and residential areas, but with a clear focus on the palace as the centre-piece. Dr. Airlie asked about the possibility of animal bones being found at Forteviot that would indicate it as a place of feasting. Prof. Driscoll noted that this evidence would not be found as the soil is too acidic, coupled with the Pictish ritual of cremation which would leave only teeth.

The Centre‘s seminar series continues with the next ‘Vox Populi’ lectre on Wednesday 14th November, with Keith Brown’s lecture on ‘Elections, voting and representation in early modern Scotland’. This will be held at 5.30pm in Room 412 of the Boyd Orr Building.

And next Tuesday in Room 202 of 3 Uni Gardens at 5.30pm, the Chronicle Research Group welcomes Jaclyn Rajsic from New College, University of Oxford who will discuss ‘Making British history English in the thirteenth century: some short, genealogical chronicles’.

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