Two Neolithic halls have been identified within a previously unsuspected prehistoric landscape, thanks to new dating analysis following extensive excavations in Carnoustie, Angus.
GUARD Archaeology investigated the site between August 2016 and February 2017, in advance of the planned development of two football pitches. While Neolithic and Bronze Age pits had previously been found nearby, the team did not expect the outstanding range of finds that subsequently emerged – a landscape that is becoming ever clearer as the post-excavation analysis continues and the radiocarbon dates start coming in.
One of the project’s first finds was a well-preserved Late Bronze Age hoard (see CA 326). It included a leaf-shaped bronze sword (BELOW), wrapped in a woollen blanket and fastened with a sunflower-headed swan’s-neck bronze pin, as well as a leaf-shaped bronze spearhead wrapped in sheepskin (BELOW). Unusually for such finds discovered in non-waterlogged conditions, fragments of the textiles were successfully recovered and analysed.
The hoard had been buried in a pit close to a roundhouse – one of five found on the site. On excavation it was thought that these were most likely to be of Bronze Age date, which subsequent radiocarbon analysis has confirmed. A scabbard that was among the contents of the hoard has been dated to c.1118-924 BC, and its neighbouring roundhouse yielded two radiocarbon dates of 1118-931 BC and 1082-905 BC. Four other roundhouses identified in the same corner of the site also yielded Late Bronze Age dates, suggesting that they may have been part of a larger settlement continuing beneath the road on the edge of the excavated area.
There were signs of even earlier activity, however. The roundhouse adjacent to the hoard appears to have cut through the post-holes of what was interpreted as an early Neolithic hall (TOP). Radiocarbon dates recently obtained from its remains provided dates of 3929-3530 BC, suggesting that the structure was contemporary with the other Scottish Neolithic halls found at Balbridie in Aberdeenshire (see CA 70 and CA 72) and at Doon Hill in East Lothian (see CA 72 and CA 343).
To the south-west of this building lay another slightly smaller and more enigmatic rectilinear structure. The radiocarbon results revealed that it had been built at around the same time as its larger neighbour, and it is thought that this was a second Neolithic hall, which may have continued to be used for a period after the first was abandoned.
While the Neolithic structures represent the earliest evidence of occupation at Carnoustie, radiocarbon dating also revealed evidence of activity on the site during the medieval period: a scattering of features identified across the central eastern part of the site, as well as a small linear stone structure just to the south of the larger Neolithic hall, were dated to c.AD 700-1000 and have been interpreted as a possible Pictish settlement.
We hope to bring you the full story of this rich and long-lived landscape in a future issue of CA.