PART 1 - CHAPTER I - PRE-HISTORIC PERIOD

“All that tread The Globe are but a handful to the tribes That slumber in its bosom” BRYANT In attempting to trace the history of “OUR PARISH” from the earliest times of which there exist any memorials, we are at the outset met by the questions, Who were its primitive inhabitants, and what can be learned regarding them? In order to give some intelligible answer to these questions it will be necessary to view the Parish in conjunction with the surrounding district and the country at large. Proceeding all written records of Scotland, there is an unwritten, but, as far as it goes, perfectly trustworthy history, which is now attracting much attention. Materials for this history, strange to say, have been found chiefly underground. The ancient warrior had his weapons and personal ornaments buried beside him, as if for use in another world; and to this custom we owe much of our information regarding the earliest inhabitants of Scotland. Thus from grave-mounds and stone-cairns, and also from peat-bogs, drained marshes and lakes, and remains of ancient dwellings, numerous relics have been obtained which give us interesting glimpses of a race, or races, who peopled these islands many ages before the Christian era. Archaeologists have divided this unwritten history into three periods, and these they have named from the materials of which were formed the implements used by the people. The oldest depositaries contain only weapons made of flint, horn, and bone, proving that the use of metal was then unknown; having been; doubtless, lost, as we know many other arts were lost, in the migration of previous ages. This is called the STONE PERIOD. Afterwards, when the art of working in metals was introduced, a compound of copper and tin was that first employed, and the oldest metallic implements which have been found are of this material, which gives its name to the BRONZE PERIOD. The introduction of iron followed, and then commenced what is called the IRON PERIOD. Each of these periods must have been of great length – how great there are not as yet sufficient materials for determining * In the earliest ages burial was practised by depostiting the body in a cist, or coffin, made of detached slabs of unhewn stone. Cists were of two kinds – the full-sized, and the short cist. In the latter the body was placed in a sitting position, with the knees drawn up to the breast. The weapons placed beside the deceased were arrowheads, knives, celts or battle-axes, hatchets, and wedges, all made of flint. A huge mound of earth was then heaped over the body. This is called a barrow, which may be described as a gigantic grave-mound. Sometimes an immense cairn of stones was raised over the cist. A third form of sepulchre was the cromlech, consisting of a large

table or block of stone resting on three or four unhewn columns, within which the body was deposited. The cromlech, like the cist, had sometimes a barrow raised over it, and both were occasionally surrounded with those circles of “standing stones” which are commonly called Druidical temples, though only some of them appear to have been used in connection with religious rites. Such monuments were, apparently, reserved for persons of distinction. At a later period, and probably contemporaneous with the introduction of bronze, was commenced the practise of burning the bodies of the dead, though not to the exclusion of former methods of internment. The ashes were now deposited in the cist, after having been collected into an urn made of stone or clay. During this period the huge barrows, cairns and cromlechs were generally abandoned. The weapons were now chiefly of bronze, though flint was still used; and the warrior’s sword was broken and laid beside him in his grave. When the use of iron was subsequently introduced – perhaps by the Celtic race, whose smiths were famous in ancient times – bronze weapons gave place to those made of that material. From its liability to waste by rust, fewer implements of iron are found than of bronze. Along with the body of the dead chief were now buried his horses, harness, and dogs, with many ornaments of the precious metals, which have been found in considerable quantities. All over the country there are numerous remains of places of defence belonging to these remote ages. The ancient British forts were generally erected on the summits of hills; many of them consisting merely of small circular mounds of earth and loose stones, within and around which flint arrows and other weapons have been found. That the people, some of whose customs we have thus described, whether belonging to the Celtic or earlier races, inhabited this district of Fife, is evident from the numerous memorials of them which have been found. Thus, at East Flisk and Belhelvie, at Starr and Drumnod in Kilmany parish, at several places in the Parish of Forgan, at Parbroath and Balmeadowside in the Parish of Criech, and at Creich Manse, there have been dug up, at various times, cists, urns, and calcined bones – some of them having been inclosed within cairns and tumuli.* In the last named parish there were found in 1816 small circles of standing-stones at two different spots, which are supposed to have marked the tombs of distinguished chiefs. One of these monuments was, for better preservation, carefully removed by the Rev. Alexander Lawson to a spot behind his manse, where it may still be seen with the stones replaced in their original relative positions. It consists of two concentric circles, with a cylindrical stone in the centre. The outer circle contains thirty-two, and the inner sixteen stones about a foot and half in height; those occupying the cardinal points being larger than the others. Within the circles there is a flag of freestone having rude carvings on it, under which human bones were found. The whole may be found described in Mr. Lawson’s Statistical Account of the Parish of Creich, and figured in the Edinburgh Magazine of December 1817. On the Greencraig, in the same parish, are two concentric circles of loose

stones, one at the summit, and the other at some distance below, the remains of an ancient fort. An extensive fort may be traced around the summit of Norman’s Law. In the highest part of Drummond Wood, in Kilmany parish, are three circles of standing stone, of no great height, adjacent to each other. One of them, which is tolerably complete, is about forty feet in diameter. Last year there were found at Newport, nine urns arranged in a large circle, and presenting the “zig-zag and herring-bone ornament” round their upper part. They were embedded in a mass of charred wood – no doubt the remains of the fires with which the dead bodies were reduced to ashes. In the parish of Balmerino there were, up to a recent period, several of those monuments of antiquity, though most of them have disappeared in the course of agricultural improvements. On the summit of the Greenhill, near Cultra, there are still visible what appear to be the remains either of a small fort or a cairn, which is said to have been once larger than at present. It is a circular mound of stones, about fifty feet in diameter, the outer ring being composed, in part, of large stones set on edge. A similar mound is said to have existed on the top of Airdie Hill, on the farm of Grange, before the ground was ploughed up. Between Birkhill House and the Tay urns made of clay were found a few years ago. On Gallowhill, near the eastern boundary of the parish, there were several cairns, which, when cleared away, were found to contain urns, none of which, unfortunately, could be preserved. Some other cairns and grave-mounds, which are probably to be referred to a much more recent period, shall be noticed in a following chapter.

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