Parkneuk Tower

Report of excavation in 1968 by Prof A.S.Robertson and Mr J.Thomson

The full text of this report can be found in A.S.Robertson “Roman ‘Signal Stations’ on the Gask Ridge”, Transactions of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science (Archaeological and Historical Section), Special Issue, 1974.

…despite the find of a mortarium rim from Gask House, which provided a Flavian date for that tower, it still seemed advisable to secure more dating evidence from the Gask ridge. Accordingly, in 1968, a small-scale excavation was carried out at Parkneuk, the most westerly “signal station” then known. The trenching was again under the direction of Mr James Thomson and myself, with help from Dr John Mackenzie, and with a digging force of four Sixth-Formers from Daniel Stewart’s College, Edinburgh, and of several indomitable members of the Archaeological Section of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science.

The encircling ditch, and a bank inside it, were (and still are) visible on the ground, although both have been much distorted by tree-roots, and the ditch choked with reedy growth and part-filled with water. A surface survey was therefore made, and then a trench (T1), 80′ (24.4m) long and 4′ (1.22m) wide was laid out north-south at the one point where it could be directed right across the site from ditch to ditch without striking a tree. In the end, one tree-stump did cause an interruption 6.5′ (1.98m) long, at 12.5′ (3.81m) from the north end of Trench 1 (plan).

Trench 1 showed the ditch to have been V shaped in profile, and 12′ (3.66m) wide, but its precise depth could not be determined, owing to its waterlogged state. It was probably 3′-4′ (.9-1.2m) deep. There was a causeway, 8′ (2.44m) wide, visible in the north side of the ditch. The ditch enclosed an area nearly circular, but with east and west sides slightly flattened.

Trench 1 also revealed the remains of a bank on the inner side of the ditch, formed mainly of red clay upcast from the ditch. It was 9′ (2.74m) wide, and appeared to have been laid directly on the subsoil or on Roman humus. In the southern sector of Trench 1, the south bank was found to have its south edge straight, not curved. The inner edge of the south bank curved round slightly, and here there were several layers of turf, as if turf had been stripped off the surface and laid at the rear line of the proposed bank

Since Trench 1 had had to be laid out askew to the north-south axis of the “signal station,” in order to avoid trees, it picked up the south bank, part of the west bank, the curve at the north-west corner, and the north bank. The material of the bank at all points examined was of red clay upcast from the ditch. At the point where the inner edge of the west bank was encountered, there had apparently been a hollow in the subsoil, which had been filled (or had filled naturally), with grey-white clay before the red clay bank had been put down. An eastward projection of Trench I disclosed one post-hole, about 2′ (.61m) in diam, and going down at least 1.25′ (.38m) into the subsoil. A continual inrush of water made it impossible to reach the bottom. In Trench 2, a second post-hole was found, and a third in Trench 3. These were also 2′ (.61m) in diam, and went down at least 1.6′ (.53m) into the subsoil. The presumed location of a fourth post-hole has been dotted in.

Trench 3 also located the tip of the clay bank on the south-east side of the entrance gap, and part of the entrance causeway. The opening in the clay bank was 7′ (2.13m).

To judge from the four post-holes which must have held the corner posts of a wooden tower, the tower was about 10′ (3.05m) from east to west, and 11′ (3.35m) from north to south. These measurements were taken from centre to centre of the post-holes

The tower had stood within a level area measuring 22′ (6.71m) from east to west, and 18′ (5.49m) from north to south. This area was sub-rectangular, enclosed by a bank or rampart which apparently had four short straight sides and rounded corners. Unlike Gask House, the Parkneuk tower stood almost centrally within the bank. There was only 2′ (.61m) between the Parkneuk tower and the north and south banks, but 5′ (1.52m) between the tower and the east and west banks.

There were no Roman finds (except minute scraps of charred wood) from Parkneuk, but its plan is virtually a blueprint of the Gask House plan. The two must have been contemporary, that is, of Flavian date.

A surface find of flint has been described as follows by Dr E. W. MacKie, Hunterian Museum: “The fragment is part of a large waste blade of white-patinated flint which has been struck from a prepared core: the striking platform and the bulb of percussion are visible as also are, on the opposite surface, the scars of previously struck blades. There is no sign of secondary working so the flint is not an implement. It has been severely heated after being detached from the core: thermal fractures are visible on all the faces.

“It is not possible to give the flint an accurate cultural context or date, since flint working of this type was practised in Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Early Iron Age times in Scotland.”

A long term research project to study the Romans north of the Antonine Wall