Prehistoric– ‘Monuments and Homesteads; shifting scales of prehistoric occupation and interaction’

Chaired by Kenny Brophy.


Kenny Brophy (University of Glasgow)

‘Houses upon houses: the impact of urbanisation on our understanding of Neolithic settlement in Scotland’

In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a ‘boom’ in discoveries of Neolithic houses in Ireland. The increase in known houses from less than 20 to over 80 occurred almost entirely because of a motorway building programme and generous developer-funded terms in the decades before the financial crash of 2008. Can we identify a similar trend in Scotland? I would argue we can, although here the evidence has been varied and complex, with the identification of timber buildings, pit clusters and traces of farming activity since the late 1980s when heritage legislation made all of this possible. These ‘domestic’ sites have been revealed because of the construction of housing developments, road upgrade programmes, the expansion of industrial edgelands, and the Scottish Government’s Schools for the Future building programme. In this lecture I will consider the role that political and socio-economic decision making has had in shaping our current understanding of Neolithic settlement patterns and lifeways in mainland Scotland, and outline what we currently know about where and how the first farmers lived.


Ronan Toolis (GUARD)

‘Shifting perceptions of Iron Age Settlement Patterns in Galloway and Scotland’

Recent research into Iron Age Galloway raises the question of whether the right perspective has been taken when trying to make sense of Iron Age settlement patterns across Scotland. While Dumfriesshire has often been attributed with settlement traits common to south-east Scotland, Galloway is perceived as sharing more in common with Atlantic Scotland. To a certain degree these two areas encapsulate the differences between the Iron Age settlement patterns of Atlantic and south-eastern Scotland. But how much does this reflect the pervasive regionalism to Iron Age research in Scotland that gravitates to a perspective that overplays local distinctions and underplays national cultural traits? If research does not so much extricate as embed regional Iron Age culture within core underlying patterns of settlement, hierarchy and culture in Scotland, where can distinctions be drawn? At what perspective do Iron Age settlement patterns across Scotland begin to make sense and potentially deeper cultural differences emerge?


Claire Christie (University of Aberdeen, PhD Student)

‘Land of Glimmering Northern Light: Neolithic and Bronze Age Settlement in Shetland’

The rarely paralleled preservation of extensive prehistoric houses, field systems and burial monuments in the West Mainland of Shetland affords unique opportunities for understanding prehistoric societies. These remains are widely considered to date from the Neolithic/Bronze Age, but have received comparatively little archaeological attention. This paper will present the results of a programme of mapping, using high-resolution aerial photographs, that explores the extent and spatial distribution of these enigmatic monuments within the landscape of the West Mainland. The mapping has revealed extensive field systems and foci of activating providing insights into the organisation of prehistoric settlement and land-use. Following on from the mapping, a house and field system at Troni Shun, West Mainland were excavated. The excavation has called into question assumptions about the date and development of Neolithic/Bronze Age settlement in Shetland which have underpinned archaeological understanding of this landscape to date.


Marta Innes (University of Glasgow, PhD Student)

‘Scottish​ ​Bronze​ ​Age​ ​Food​ ​Vessel​ ​Corpus​ ​-​ ​scales​ ​of​ ​assemblage​ ​and​ ​referentiality’

Within the study of the Bronze Age pottery class of Food Vessels, the main trend in the
conceptualisation of the pots has generally been limited to a discussion of most apparent ceramic attributes, their translation to broadly regional categories, and potential for
supplying broad socio-cultural and symbolic implications. As such, the vessels themselves are afforded little attention beyond the instrumental appreciation of the material attribute variation, offering limited engagement with the materiality of the pots beside the imposed rigid form categories. Likewise, the focus on categorisation places and defines the vessels in opposition to other prehistoric ceramics, rather than providing the platform for appreciation of the links and interactions between different ‘traditions’. This paper proposes an alternative approach to the analysis of Food Vessel pottery, situated within a realist, more-than-representational and post-humanist frame of reference, and challenging the existing theories with new ideas about the use and meaning of Food Vessels. Following the implications of assemblage theory, the theoretical
approach proposed in this paper conceptualises the pots as collective material beings, and the ceramic corpus as an active, inter- and intra-referential assemblage; situating both within the broader relational continuum of networks of referentiality and citational and indexical fields. By moving beyond the focus on categorisation and idealist interpretations, and concentrating instead on the relational, material, and referential perspectives of the creative process of assemblage making, it is then possible to propose new understandings of Food Vessel meaning, classification and material variation within the class and the wider assemblage of prehistoric ceramic ‘traditions’.


Rosie Bishop (University College Dublin, PhD Student)

‘Plants and People in Mesolithic-Neolithic Scotland’

The breakdown of the traditional rigid distinction between ‘hunter-gatherers’ and ‘farmers’ has lead to increased interest into the different types of human-plant relationships that existed in hunter-gatherer and early farming societies during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. It has been claimed that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers may have actively managed ‘wild’ plants like domestic crops and that not all Neolithic farmers carried out large-scale cultivation. The ‘transition’ may therefore have been a continuum and its nature remains a matter of considerable contention. In the last decade, new synthesises of Mesolithic and Neolithic archaeobotanical data in Scotland have highlighted the large number of sites where archaeobotanical remains have been recovered and the potential of this data for investigating past plant use in the region. This paper will consider the challenges in integrating this data to understand human-environment interactions, and will discuss new experimental archaeology results which seek to provide novel insights into plant exploitation during this key period of change.


Roman to Early Medieval– ‘Heartlands and Peripheries; power and state formation’

Chaired by Adrian Maldonado.


Rebecca Jones (Historic Environment Scotland)

‘Periphery? Scotland in the Roman Empire’

Scotland was on the periphery of the Roman Empire – from a Rome-centric perspective, Britain was on the north-western perimeter of a vast Empire, centred around the Mediterranean but which stretched from Scotland in the North to Egypt in the South, and from Spain in the West to Syria in the East. The regular movements of troops from one area to another resulted in a dynamism in frontier areas, and the frontiers of Rome’s Empire cannot be studied in isolation from each other.
Studies of Hadrian’s Wall have dominated northern Britain, but there is an increasing range of archaeological evidence aiding our understanding of the repeated attempts by the Roman in Scotland, trying to complete the conquest of Britain. These provide tantalising clues about the various invasions and relationships with the local communities.


Fraser Hunter, (National Museum of Scotland)

‘Roman silver beyond Hadrian’s Wall – impact and legacy’

Roman silver was a new and powerful material for the inhabitants of Iron Age Scotland. From prestige jewellery to political bribe, from hacked-up silver vessels to massive neck chains, this talk will trace the cultural biography of this prestige metal in the first millennium AD.


William Lowe (University of the Highlands and Islands, Student)

‘Casting Metalwork, Forging Identities in North Atlantic Scotland’

In 2003 Sharples published “From monuments to artefacts: changing social relationships in the later Iron Age” where he argued that the changes between the Scottish Middle Iron age and Later Iron Age were due to social changes which saw a shift from communal identity to the rise of individual identity, and uses a variety of evidence such as the development of more ornate Non-Ferrous metalwork, to make his argument (Sharples, 2003).

On the other hand, others such as Hunter have argued that it was the arrival of Roman goods and influence that led to these social changes (Hunter, 2007) but nonetheless Sharples’ paper remains influential when it comes to understanding the changes that led to the end of the Middle Iron Age.

The aim of this presentation is to analyse new evidence and data that has recently surfaced (the site of The Cairns in South Ronaldsay, Orkney, being the primary source) with the focus being on Non-Ferrous metalwork as it is the writer’s opinion that its development is the most significant evidence for a change in emphasis in the transition between the Middle to Later Iron Age. Finally, once the writer’s own thoughts and ideas have been mentioned, it is the writer’s intention to critically assess and evaluate the already made arguments on the topic, and try to weigh in with the new evidence and ideas.


Allison Galbari  (University College Dublin, Student)

‘Samhain: One approach to studying the intangible’

Samhain was one of the four festivals marking the divisions of the year in the British Isles. During this time, herds were prepared for winter, the harvest was completed, legal issues settled, and the veil between our world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest. This thinning of the veil made this the ideal time to practice divination. As such, this appears to have been an important part of the year in early Scotland and Ireland. But how can archaeologists study the intangible? One tool archaeologists can use is folklore.

By using folklore, archaeologists can study Halloween, the holiday that evolved from the combination of All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Samhain. By examining this modern folklore, the goal is to make some deductions about the original festival. As what is currently a small part of a larger project examining the archaeology of Samhain in Ireland, a comparison has been conducted of some of the folklore from Ireland and Scotland with the goal of gaining a better understanding of what Samhain was overall and helping to identify the more important aspects of the festival.


Jordyn Marlin (Archaeology Scotland)

Pictish Beasts and Where to Find Them: A discussion concerning the Pictish beast symbol, its distribution and utilization within the early medieval Scottish landscape

This work studies the occurrences of the Pictish beast symbol in Aberdeenshire. An impressive legacy left by the Picts, the symbol stone monuments can be found all along the northeast of Scotland. The Pictish beast symbol is prevalent in over fifty stone sculptures, and can be found anywhere from Orkney to Fife. While the symbol is interesting in and of itself, the focus of the research presented concerns the utility of the monuments on which it is found rather than the artistic form of the symbol. Through the exploration of the symbol’s distribution in Aberdeenshire, it can be hypothesized that these monuments containing the Pictish beast symbol function as political statements based on the local landscape and adoption of sacred spaces, such as prehistoric monuments and ecclesiastical structures.


Adrian Maldonado (University of Glasgow)

‘The archaeology of Charles Thomas on Iona: activating the potential of museum and archive collections’

Abstract: The recent Iona Research Group excavations on the island of Iona, Argyll & Bute have attracted national news and international interest. The current archaeological project, ongoing since 2015, was originally tasked with writing up the unpublished excavations of Charles Thomas on the famous early Christian monastery in 1956-63, funded by Historic Environment Scotland. The archive of these excavations was in a good enough state that it was possible to relocate finds and reconstruct the stratigraphy from notes, photographs and drawings. The result of this work merited a limited amount of re-excavation to obtain more contextual and dating material in 2017. While this is now growing into a much larger field project and reassessment of a critical site in the history of Britain and Ireland, we see this as just one high-profile instance of the power of museum archives and legacy data. It will be argued that more funding should be diverted toward activating such legacy data, which have the potential to add value to existing collections in various underrepresented communities, as a form of sustainable local heritage practice.



Medieval to Modern– ‘Landscapes, livescapes and living heritage’

Chaired by Chris Dalglish.


Derek Alexander and Dan Rhodes (National Trust for Scotland)

Beyond Castles and Gardens: The Recent past in Trust
The National Trust for Scotland was established in 1931 and since then has been Scotland’s largest conservation charity. For 85 years it has championed Scotland’s post-medieval heritage and worked to conserve and make accessible buildings and landscapes from the more recent past. The Trust’s Archaeologists have researched and developed a broad range of archaeologies across Scotland. This paper will discuss a number of these projects and themes, ranging from large vernacular landscape studies and elite monumental architecture to artefact studies and the heritage of tourism.


Lauren Gill (University of Glasgow, Student)

‘Phallic representation in Crusader castles as relevant to the study of Scots Castles’

This paper posits the theory of ‘Phallic Representation’ – as distinct from phallic symbolism. The author attempts to glean insight into the motivations of crusader castle-builders through a mixed psychology-archaeology approach. The paper proposes that a key driver for the building of these structures was an intent to assert both military and symbolic dominance over the landscape, its native people and its resources. Several traits integral to the theory will be examined and illuminating with case studies. The paper concludes by examining the potential lessons the theories provide in the context of Scots castles.


Elliot Grater, (University of Glasgow, Student)

‘Scotland’s Forgotten Soldiers: Commemoration and Controversy Over the Glaswegian International Brigade’

Over 500 Scottish citizens went to support the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). They went for many different reasons including political affiliations as well as how they felt the fight in Spain reflected the issues they faced in Scotland. Across the city of Glasgow there exist a few small reminders of this conflict, from evidence in museums to a memorial statue. The physical commemoration of warfare is an insight into how a culture views a conflict. By comparing the memorialisation of the Spanish Civil War to other conflicts, as well as understanding the history and politics surrounding such memorials, we can gain a deeper appreciation of how the people of Glasgow remember those who went to fight.


Rhona Ramsay (University of Stirling, Student)

‘Traces in the Museum Store’

While researching the material culture of Gypsy/Travellers in Scottish museums it has been helpful to take an archaeological approach to objects and collections. This has been beneficial in various ways. The material uncovered through this research forms a unique assemblage never brought together before, allowing new analysis of not just individual objects, but also groups of objects across a range of material – expected and unexpected. Most significant for me, however, as a museum professional, it has been helpful in coming to terms with and learning to appreciate the absent material: the uncollected, the misplaced, or the lost material. As a curator the idea of missing items is not an easy one considering the definition of a curator is a keeper or custodian – loss tends to feel like a dereliction of duty. An archaeological sensibility has increased my appreciation for the traces left by missing objects, in catalogue entries, in written ethnographies, and in photographs.

Taking the Highland Folk Museum as a focus, this paper will look at how approaching the collections with an archaeological sensibility has moved my research forward. For example, it has allowed me to consider more fully the contribution made by Traveller, Duncan Williamson, who demonstrated basket and wooden flower making at the museum in the 1980s. None of his work was added to the collection, but photographs of him carrying out the demonstrations offer a trace of both Traveller objects and agency within the museum, while his own descriptions of related skills and processes within his own writing add to the understanding.


Kieran Manchip (University of Glasgow, Student)

‘Follow the Old Military Road: routeways, the state, conflict and tourism’

The military roads constructed by General George Wade, and then by General William Caulfield, represent a deliberate attempt to exert control over the rebellious and mountainous Highlands of Scotland. These 800 miles of road carry great social, economic and military consequences and can be argued to have a profound impact on the history of the region, as well as Scotland and Britain. Although constructed by the British state it was ironically the Jacobite army under the command of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ that used these roads to the greatest effect in 1745 on route to Edinburgh. The purpose of this presentation is to introduce and explore the archaeology of the road and the impact it had on the civilian population, as well as its capacity as a piece of military infrastructure. It is through understanding the nature of the relationship between the road, landscape, civilians and soldiers that the implications of road construction can be understood.


Darroch Bratt (University of the Highlands and Islands, PhD Student)

‘Whisky: Exploring the archaeology of a national drink’.

This paper will discuss the origins and history of distilling in the Highlands and Islands, using both historical and archaeological approaches. My paper will concentrate on my research questions; what was the role of distilling in the economy and culture of the Highlands and Islands? How did attitudes towards whisky change in the periods 1746-1889? Is it possible to establish a method for correctly identifying distilling sites in the archaeological record? And finally, is there a consistent material difference between small scale illict and legal distilling sites.


Craig Stanford (National Trust for Scotland)

‘Island Museum – Conserving St Kilda’

Largely inaccessible for part of the year, located forty-one miles from the nearest inhabited landmass, and containing 5000 years of human activity crammed into 3 square miles, the St Kilda archipelago is certainly a challenging place to protect for the nation. How does the National Trust for Scotland put theory into practice on Scotland’s ‘last and outmost isle’? This paper will discuss the process of conserving the archaeology on a World Heritage Site by detailing the methods employed by the Trust on island. As St Kilda is home to unique vernacular drystone structures, drystone and turf roof repairs will feature prominently as case studies, and the value of an excellent archaeological record will be emphasised.

Other Discussions

Jennifer Thoms (Archaeology Scotland)

‘Scotlands Archaeology Strategy and Education’