Glenisla Golfcourse, Alyth

In 2014, Alder carried out an excavation on an active (but soon to be decomissioned) golfcourse, in advance of the construction of housing and a retirement village. The dig resulted from an evaluation which Alder conducted in 2013 as part of the same development, which had exposed fragments of prehistoric pottery presumed to derive from a funerary urn, which in turn lay a short distance from the Pitcrocknie Stone, a large standing stone that was both a scheduled ancient monument and a notable feature of the course.

 

                                              Pitcrocknie Stone, with excavation behind

The evaluation trench was in the northwest of the site, close to a minor road into Alyth and also in the presumed vicinity of a modern rubbish dump, which had been buried as part of the landscaping of the course. It was, moreover, on the edge of the fairway of the 9th hole, which continued in play during the excavation (hard hats were more than usually necessary!). It was decided to open a 20m square around the findspot, which uncovered evidence of a rough track and other made ground probably related to the dump. Below this, however, lay more evidence of prehistoric activity.

 

Excavation trench opened, with the fairway alongside

The remainder of the vessel originally identified in the evaluation was fully excavated and recovered; it was found to be a fragmented Early Neolithic carinated bowl. No evidence of a cremation was found, with the vessel containing charred hazelnuts rather than human bone, along with a  flake of translucent quartz and seven small chips of sandstone and quartzite, all bearing signs of heat discoloration. It appeared to be a food offering. A short distance away, what appeared to be a rabbit burrow contained a displaced rimsherd from the same bowl.

Relocated structured deposit 

Further north again, a silty deposit containing charcoal was noted; beneath this, a significant quantity of charcoal overlay an arrangement of cobbles around a sandstone slab discolored pink by heat and set just below the lip of a small pit. Among the stones was a small flake of cracked, heat-discolored sandstone that had apparently spalled off the main slab. Although this feature was clearly a hearth, a lack of heat staining in the surrounding subsoil suggested that the fire had been small, of low intensity and probably not repeated. Beneath the hearth, lying just above the base of the pit in re-deposited subsoil, was a sharp-edged piece of worked, milky quartz, that may very well have been used to excavate the pit. Bulk soil samples from the deposits over the hearth resulted in the recovery of two flakes, three large chips and a core of quartz, suggesting that knapping had been taking place around the fire. Also recovered were fragments of carbonised hazelnut shell and a tiny sherd of pottery of the same fabric as the vessel containing the food offering.

The hearth

C14 dates were obtained from hazelnut shell from both the food offering and the hearth. While it might have been tempting to suggest that the activity surrounding the burial of a structured deposit of hazelnut and quartz was directly linked to the presence of the Pitcrocknie Stone, the dates returned were far earlier than the likely erection of the stone in the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. The offering was dated to 3696-3531 cal BC (95.4% probability), while the hearth was dated to 3708-3634 cal BC (95.4% probability). Within these ranges, at 68.2% probability, overlapping dates of 3657-3632 cal BC (offering) and 3666-3639 cal BC (hearth) were very likely, making the idea that both offering and hearth derived from a single event some time between 3650 and 3640 BC extremely plausible.

The excavation site on the golfcourse 

The finds suggest that during the Early Neolithic, the site was visited for ritualised activity. Although this was long before the standing stone was set up, it seems possible that the area continued to have associations with this kind of behaviour and that this may have motivated later people to erect the stone.

Following the excavation, a watching brief was mounted on engineering test pits. Work is ongoing.