Early historic settlement on the western carselands of Forth valley: a reappraisal
Forth valley; Stirling; Scotland; UK
medieval, early modern
This paper challenges the view, widespread amongst historians and archaeologists, that prior to the Improvement period the carselands west of Stirling were devoid of settlement due to near-continuous peat mosses. The argument is supported by cartographic evidence of pre-Improvement settlement and by documentary evidence of farming and settlement from the 15th century onward. Settlement was concentrated along the river margins and most of the modern carseland settlements are recorded by the 17th century. Eighteenth-century writers thought that the mosses had always been discontinuous and identified the important relationship between settlement and soil-types across the carse. Fortunately, the scientifically and archaeologically important surviving peat mosses have made the area a focus of palaeo-ecological and geomorphological research in recent decades. The scientific evidence supports the historical conclusion that the mosses were likely to be discontinuous in the pre-Improvement period, providing attractive sites for early settlement along their margins and confirms the correlation between documented early modern settlement and soil types, themselves a reflection of the evolution of the carse in the post-glacial period. The modern landscape is not, in this view, simply a product of moss clearance but also includes land never covered by moss and land only partially reclaimed. The reasons why recorded archaeological evidence for settlement is confined to the margins of the carse are briefly considered, as are some of the wider historical implications (such as movement between the north and south of Scotland).