‘SERF 2 – Picts, Palaces and Prehistory: Early Medieval Forteviot’

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On 5 March 2013, the Centre was pleased to welcome Ewan Campbell who discussed ‘Picts, Palaces and Prehistory: Early Medieval Forteviot’. This was the second part of our SERF mini-series, which began with Prof. Driscoll’s lecture last semester: http://cscottish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/serf-1-royal-forteviot-landscape.html. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

The area around Forteviot, near Perth, is one of the richest and most fertile regions in Scotland. Alex Woolf dubbed it the ‘central transit zone’ as it linked other important areas nearby, such as Scone and Abernethy. It is of interest for earl medieval archaeologists due to the high frequency of hill forts, burials and monumental sculpture. Of the latter, 3 high crosses from the 9th century (one ‘ringed’ as often found in the Western Isles), 1-3 cross slabs and 1 unique 9th century archway, have been found. Furthermore, it was a known royal and ceremonial site since at least the 9th century. Allegedly, Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin), so-called King of the Picts and Scots, died in 858 in his royal palace at Forteviot. The Dupplin Cross, found at Forteviot, names Constantine, son of Fergus, king of the Picts from 789-820, which again emphasises its status as a focal point for royalty. The ongoing SERF project began excavating at Forteviot some six years ago and the next four years will be focused on the nearby area of Dunning.

A 10th century church handbell was found at Forteviot by SERF and those who attended Prof. Driscoll’s lecture were fortunate enough to enjoy a demonstration of it. Made of cast bronze and weighing around 5kg, it must have been a very costly and valuable item. Other handbells have been found at Dumbarton, Glasgow, Little Dunkeld, Loch Shiel and Strathfillan, but there seems to be no obvious correlation with this haphazard distribution. A raised letter ‘m’ is cast on the bell, suggesting the original handbell was melted down, recast and initialed in the 17th century. Ewan pointed out that the shape of the original 10th century design was retained, suggesting it was held in respect despite contemporary Presbyterian ideals. Ewan pointed out the philosophical quandary this causes and alluded to the famous paradox of the ‘Ship of Theseus’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus

Medieval foundations were found below Forteviot parish church and they seem to have been constantly rebuilt from the 11/12th century onwards. The church had glazed floor tiles and stained glass windows, both highly unusual and prohibitively expensive for most parish churches. This indicates the church at Fortveiot was comparatively rich. Within the church grounds, an early medieval graveyard was found but unfortunately, a lack of bone preservation prevented exact dating. However, Ewan suggested it may have been the site of the old early medieval church.

Outside of the church grounds, a charred log coffin dating to 4/5th century was found in a grave. Ewan noted that King Bridei of the Picts was supposedly buried in ‘a block of hollow withered oak’, which had practical and symbolic purposes. Elsewhere, it was discovered that postholes from the Neolithic period were reused in the early medieval period. The old artifacts were dug out and replaced with their own materials, which Ewan suggested was a way of laying claim to the land. Burnt wood and charred grain are often found in these holes, which suggests a ceremonial purpose akin to the fire-focused Beltane festival.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher) 

Next week, our seminar series continues on Tuesday 12 March with Abigail Burnyeat’s (University of Edinburgh) discussion of ‘A source-book for senchas? Educational miscellanea in B.L. Egerton 1782’. This will be held in Room 202, 3 Uni Gardens at 5.30pm. All very welcome.

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