The First Settlers…
The first humans to live on the Tay estuary were small bands of hunter-gatherers in the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age (c.8000-4000BC). They followed the animals, birds and fish that colonised the area after the retreat of the final ice-sheets around 12000BC, and inhabited the area for over 4,000 years, moving seasonally around the landscape. Today, only their small flint tools survive, and at Morton, near Tentsmuir, a camp dating to around 6000BC was excavated in the late 1960s. It produced thousands of flint tools, as well as hearths and wind-breaks, and was probably served as a base-camp that was occupied annually.
The Tay in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages
With the introduction of farming in the Neolithic (c.4000-2000BC) the heavily wooded landscape of north Fife would gradually begin to be opened up with small arable farms. While this process continued through the Bronze Age (c2000-800BC) The late Bronze Age logboat from Carpow bank, near Abernethy, excavated in 2006 and now on display at Perth Museum, illustrates the importance of the estuary to prehistoric communities. Dating to c1000BC it was probably used to moved people and goods around the estuary and inland along the rivers Tay and Earn. Also from this time are a series of bronze swords, found at various sites between Perth and Mugdrum Island, suggested as being votive offerings to a river-god.
The Iron Age, Romans and Picts
By the introduction of iron in around 700BC, society was becoming increasingly war-like, as illustrated by the establishment of new defended settlements. A prominent hill-fort stood above Newburgh, on Clatchard Craig, until it was completely destroyed by quarrying by around 1960. It was partially excavated in the mid-1950s and again in 1959 and 1960, and the excavations suggested three main phases of occupation during the Iron Age and Pictish periods. Another hill-fort, called The Ring, sits beneath gorse on Ormiston hill to the south-west of Newburgh – although almost nothing is known about its origins or history…
A major Roman legionary fortress was constructed by Emperor Septimus Severus at Carpow, a few miles to the west of Newburgh where the Rivers Earn and Tay meet, as a base for invasion of 208AD. There may even have been a bridge of Roman boats across the Tay at this point, as suggested on coins from around this time. Severus' campaign failed and the Picts were to maintain control until Alba was brought together by King Kenneth MacAlpin at Forteviot in Strathearn, to the south of Perth.