It is 50 years since Stuart Piggott excavated the prehistoric complex at Cairnpapple. At that time there were few excavated parallels in Scotland, and interpretation inevitably relied heavily on sites excavated in southern Britain. Much more locally relevant data are now available and the sequence at Cairnpapple can now be reassessed its regional context.
Piggott identified five Periods, commencing with a stone setting, ‘cove’ and cremation cemetery of ‘Late Neolithic date’ around ‘c. 2500 B.C.’. Period II was a henge monument, consisting of a ‘circle’ of standing stones with ceremonial burials in association, and an encircling ditch with external bank – ‘Of Beaker date, probably c. 1700 B.C.’ Period III comprised the primary cairn, containing two cist-burials ‘Of Middle Bronze Age date, probably c. 1500 B.C.’ Period IV involved the doubling of the size of the cairn, with two cremated burials in inverted cinerary urns. ‘Of final Middle Bronze Age or native Late Bronze Age date, probably c. 1000 B.C.’ Period V comprised four graves ‘possibly Early Iron Age within the first couple of centuries A.D.’
The present paper, using comparable material from elsewhere in Scotland, argues for a revised phasing: Phase 1, comprises the deposition of earlier Neolithic plain bowl sherds and axehead fragments with a series of hearths. This is comparable to ‘structured deposition’ noted on other sites of this period. Phase 2 involved the construction of the henge – a setting of 24 uprights – probably of timber rather than stone, probably followed by the encircling henge ditch and bank. The ‘cove’ is discussed in the context of comparable features in Scotland. Phase 3 saw the construction of a series of graves, including the monumental ‘North Grave’, which was probably encased in a cairn. Piggott's ‘Period III’ cairn was then built, followed by the ‘Period IV’ cairn. The urn burials seem likely to have been inserted into the surface of this mound, which may have covered a burial (since disturbed) on the top of the Period III mound, or may have been a deliberate monumentalising of it. The four graves identified as Iron Age by Piggott seem more likely to be from the early Christian period.
The reassessment of Piggott's report emphasises the value of the writing of a clear, and sufficiently detailed account. While no report can be wholly objective it can be seen that Piggott's striving for objectivity led him to write a paper that is of lasting value.