Archaeological updates from across the country have been showcased in the Celebrating Archaeology in Scotland 2023 magazine, which was launched at the Scottish Archaeological Forum conference in Aberdeen in October. The free online publication shows how Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy is being delivered, by bringing together articles and comments from people and organisations across the country for anyone to read.
As the annual report for Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy, the sixth issue showcases the great work taking place across Scotland and promotes how people from all corners of the heritage sector are delivering the aims of the national strategy. This year’s issue covers a wide variety of subjects, including delivering the transition to net zero; empowering resilient and inclusive communities and places; building a wellbeing economy; as well as announcing new discoveries, such as a possible Neolithic crannog in the Highlands.
The piece explains how analysis of sediment material taken to investigate an Iron Age crannog in Assynt, has revealed there was human activity in the same spot, more than 2,500 years earlier, during the Neolithic (4100-2500 BCE).
The evidence was discovered thanks to NERC-funded PhD research conducted at Newcastle University, that built on work by the Historic Assynt community group and AOC Archaeology.
Crannogs are dwellings built on artificial islands over water. They were often composed of brush, stone or timber mounds.
The sediment was gathered using a core sample – taken by driving a hollow cylinder into the soft sediments in the bottom of the loch and trapping a section of material – to understand the origins of the Iron Age community and the impact it made on the landscape. Evidence for an additional period of Neolithic activity was therefore a surprise.
By analysing plant pollen, chemicals in the sediment and stable isotopes, it was possible to establish that human activity in the area changed the loch ecosystem and landscape around 3200–3100 BCE, and again in the Iron Age from about 450-400 BCE onwards. Neolithic crannogs are known in the Hebrides, but the earliest dates in the Highlands for crannogs so far, come from the Iron Age and later. What researchers have found may be the first evidence for a Neolithic crannog on mainland Scotland.
Other stories from this year’s magazine include the discovery of “intriguingly large animal bones” on one of South Uist’s eroding beaches, and efforts to recover the remains of four post-medieval boats in Mulochy Bay in the Black Isle.
Launched in 2015, Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy is a ten-year process of making archaeology central to Scottish life. The strategy continues to be an open conversation about archaeology’s contribution to society in Scotland and the importance of situating our heritage in a global context.
Dr Louisa Matthews, who conducted the research on the sediment core for her doctoral thesis at Newcastle University, said:
“The work at Loch na Claise confirms that we now have a new means of investigating difficult-to-excavate sites such as crannogs and islet settlements that can be applied to sites across Scotland and beyond. Many sites on water and in wetland areas are vulnerable to loss or damage through changes in land-use or the climate. This type of analysis, using multiple lines of evidence from well-dated loch sediment cores, has the potential to detect early settlement at sites even when later activity has removed most of their traces.”
Dr Andy Heald FSAScot, Chair of the Scottish Strategic Archaeology Committee, said:
“The discoveries at Loch na Claise and the many other fantastic projects showcased in Celebrating Archaeology in Scotland show how vibrant Scottish Archaeology is, and how much remains to be discovered. Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy continues to support and promote innovative work such as this, as well as the sharing of the results widely so that everyone can better understand Scotland’s past.”
Alex Adamson, Head of Heritage Research Service at Historic Environment Scotland, said:
“Celebrating Archaeology in Scotland 2023 does just that, celebrating the range of fascinating archaeological investigation taking place across Scotland. This diversity works in accordance with Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy by showing that archaeology matters for everyone in Scotland, no matter where you are or what you’re interested in.
Every year, our understanding of Scotland’s archaeology grows and changes, often in an unexpected way. The possible discovery of a Neolithic crannog on mainland Scotland is just one of the many ways that our own past continues to surprise, delight, and educate us.”
To read the magazine, visit https://archaeologystrategy.scot/magazine/
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