A Bronze Age Cemetery

Recent excavations at Crieff, Perthshire by CFA-Archaeology Ltd have revealed a Bronze Age funerary complex.  A circular cemetery was identified from a cluster of cists, pits, post holes and cremation deposits whilst some 15m to the south there was a separate group of cremation pits and inverted Cordoned Urn burials.

Beautiful and unusual stone objects formed part of the funerary ritual including groups of barbed-and-tanged arrowheads, a perforated stone pendant and stone tools.

A group of seven barbed-and-tanged arrowheads from Cremation Pit 10, Broich Road, Crieff. Photo by Woody Musgrove
A group of seven barbed-and-tanged arrowheads from Cremation Pit 10, Broich Road, Crieff. Photo by Woody Musgrove

A group of seven barbed-and-tanged arrowheads were placed on the cremated bone deposits interred in a large pit in the southern group of features. These arrowheads are in a particular style – based on the use of the Kilmarnock arrowhead template as defined by Stephen Green.  However, there is clear variation within this group in terms of flint colour, size, shaping technique and finished shape which may indicate that at least two or maybe three persons contributed to their manufacture.

Ann Clarke
A group of three barbed-and-tanged arrowheads from Cist 5, Broich Road, Crieff. Photo by Ann Clarke

Another group of three barbed-and-tanged arrowheads of burnt flint was found amongst the cremated remains placed in a Cist from the circular cemetery. The finest arrowhead is narrow and elongated in form and is most similar to Green’s Sutton C type whilst the other two arrowheads are smaller but too heavily damaged from burning to classify.

Are these arrowheads a representation of a hunting kit, not owned by the deceased but made especially for the cremation ritual? Joanna Bruck has commented on the role of artefacts which accompany Early Bronze Age funeral ritual and proposes that they should be viewed as gifts from the mourners representing the character of the inter-personal relationships between them and the deceased. The multiple authorship of the arrowheads from Broich might indicate a small group of people contributing their personally-made gifts to the deceased.

Ann Clarke www.annrocks.co.uk
Stone pendant found within a Cordoned Urn, Broich Rd, Crieff. Photo by Ann Clarke

What should we make of this stone pendant found within an inverted Cordoned Urn? This slender, finely-shaped object has been ground all over to form smooth, slightly curved ends, sides and faces with additional grinding down the four long edges to produce distinctive bevels. The perforation is made at one end by twisting or drilling to form a biconical hole. There is subsequent wear around the perforation which is complex and comprises a distinctive reshaping of the outer edge at either end of the perforation and on both faces. Just how this wear pattern was produced is not known; it could not be the product of the pendant simply dangling from a cord as the lower edge is also worn. A possible scenario is for a loop of cord or thin leather to have been pushed through the perforation and then held in place, perhaps with a toggle placed across the width of the pendant. The stone object could then have slid up and down the cord, either deliberately or incidentally through body movement thereby forming the friction-induced wear pattern observed on the pendant.

Ann Clarke www.annrocks.co.uk
Cobble tool with ground facet from Cremation 10, Broich Rd, Crieff. Photo Woody Musgrove.

Stone tools were also found amongst the deposits in the same cremation pit as the group of seven barbed-and-tanged arrowheads.

A cobble with a fine ground facet on one end may have been used to crush the cremated bone.

Ann Clarke www.annrocks.co.uk
Stone tool with a ground, faceted side from Cremation 10, Broich Rd, Crieff. Photo by Woody Musgrove.

On this flat cobble two distinctive linear facets have been worn down one side; these are smooth through use as a possible whetstone and they form distinct ridges.

Other flint and stone artefacts were  found and a full excavation report will be published soon. In the meantime a lecture on the findings from the cemetery at Broich Road, Crieff was given by Dr Mel Johnson of CFA-Archaeology Ltd to the Archaeological Research in Progress conference 2015.  This has been made available online through Archaeology Scotland http://www.archaeologyscotland.org.uk/news/arp-conference-great-success-talks-available-watch


Stone axes from Orkney

Recent excavations in Orkney have almost doubled the number of recorded stone axes. Consequently, a large proportion of these tools, some 64%, come from excavated contexts at settlement or funerary sites dating from the Early to Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Many different types of stone were chosen for the axes and they were produced in a wide range of shapes and sizes. This information, together with the contextual detail, allows us to go beyond the standard ‘source and distribution’ aspect of stone axe studies and instead take a wider view of how all the axes in a region may have been used in prehistory by exploring the relationship between the style of axe, by looking at the choice of stone and shape, and the means of deposition of these tools.The research demonstrated that there were significant differences in axe style and deposition between funerary sites and occupation sites of the Early Neolithic, Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. For instance, axes that were placed in Early Neolithic chambered tombs or as ‘special’ deposits at Late Neolithic occupation sites were larger than axes that were in general use on settlement sites and they were more likely to be complete. The axes found in Late Neolithic houses were often further defined by variations in their shape and the patterning of the stone. In contrast, axes that were deposited in the Orkney Cromarty tombs had less variation in shape and were possibly more restricted in the choice of stone. Axes from external deposits at settlement sites tended to be smaller in size or more fragmented.

Discussion as to why the axes were deposited in particular ways touches on their role in the life of the house or chambered tomb; some were placed against walls or under floors whilst the structures were in use and others came from contexts that may have acted as closing deposits or markers of transition. The use of stone axes continued into the Early Bronze Age at cist cemeteries and they were also deposited in middens of this date at settlement sites.

The full article is to published as: Clarke, A forthcoming ‘Does Size Matter? Stone axes from Orkney: their style and deposition’ in RV Davis and MR Edmonds (eds) Stone Axe Studies lll, CBA and can be downloaded here:


We now have records on all axes that were found through excavation up to September 2008 as well as all of the axes from the National Museum of Scotland, the Hunterian Museum, Tankerness House and Stromness Museum. A full catalogue is to be lodged with the Implement Petrology Group. It is hoped to update this catalogue with any new finds of stone axes and I would be delighted to hear of any axes that have been found recently in Orkney, either as stray finds or excavated finds.