Aberdeenshire

That grey area between museums and archaeology

Museum networks are pretty strong and active in Scotland – whether an independent museum, local authority or national, a freelance curator or educator – there is a networking body for you. One such is the Scottish Museums Federation, of which I am an ordinary member, and semi-regularly write a blog post on work my work with the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF). I think of myself as being a museums person working on an archaeological project – a funny grey area where I’m not a curator, nor an archaeologist (strictly speaking). The SMF blog, then, is a really valuable way of sharing the archaeological side of my work for a museums audience, and likewise hopefully any archaeologists reading this will get an insight to a more museums-y focused project. So, this post has also been shared on the SMF blog, which you can see here.

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For a number of years now, there has been a project running called Day of Archaeology, wherein people working in the myriad different fields of archaeology (excuse the pun) write a blog post of what they have been up to that day. It’s provided a great insight to a ‘life in the day of’ archaeologists, not just in the UK but spanning all corners of the globe. Sadly, today is the last ever Day of Archaeology. I thought, then, that this might be a nice opportunity for another blog post showing where my job fits into the archaeological world, being as it is in that grey area betwixt museums and archaeology.

I’ve written a couple of posts before about my project (Museums Officer for the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework) but this will give an insight to an ‘average’ day in the ScARF office.

I start by checking emails – who doesn’t – reading up on latest museum news from various mailing lists and catching up with to-do notes I’ve left myself. Much ScARF time can be taken up with meetings, events, admin and dealing with incoming requests. With a team of two part-time staff, managing our time is crucial. But, this month is uncharacteristically office-based so it is that I’m working through panel reports and research recommendations spanning all of Scottish archaeology.

 Basketry in the care of Orkney Islands Council museum service. ©Anna MacQuarrie

Basketry in the care of Orkney Islands Council museum service. ©Anna MacQuarrie

These recommendations come from the 2012 ScARF panel reports and will form the beginning of a research framework for farming and fishing, based upon the work I’m doing with museums in Aberdeenshire and Orkney. It’s a new approach for ScARF and will take into account research on museum collections in both the aforementioned regions. A favourite part of this for me is producing maps and visual aides to help me visualise just where the collections and questions cross-over, if at all. My manager, Emma, is a whiz with data and GIS so we’re able to produce some nice maps and visuals.

Whilst all this work is very archaeological, I have to remind myself at all times that the collections in each area come front-and-centre. A quick flick through the photos I’ve amassed from visit to each area helps with this at a glance, as does the paperwork I share with my colleagues in each museum service. Their collections are broad, interesting and really speak of the places they represent.

Arbuthnot Museum whaling display, Aberdeenshire Council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Arbuthnot Museum whaling display, Aberdeenshire Council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

When I’ve finished reading as much as I can handle in one go, I turn to thinking about the skills workshops we want to deliver, helping to bridge that gap between archaeologists and museum professionals. We’re looking at what themes and skills would be appropriate, who might be able to help us deliver and so on. Logistics, asking nicely and identifying needs – three important parts of the process.

Medieval fishing hook in the care of Aberdeenshire council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Medieval fishing hook in the care of Aberdeenshire council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Finally, I review what details need sorted out for forthcoming visit to our project partners – travel, accommodation, making sure everyone who needs to know does know. My next SMF blog post will be from the road, as I visit colleagues in Aberdeenshire again at the end of next month. ‘Til then – happy Day of Archaeology!

Get in touch: anna@socantscot.org

For more information on ScARF go here: http://www.scottishheritagehub.com/

For more information on the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland see here: http://www.socantscot.org/

ScARF is being funded by Historic Environment Scotland and Museums Galleries Scotland.

From castles to cows: exploring the photographic archives at Aberdeenshire Council

As the first Council archaeology service in Scotland, we hold a large archive dating back to the 1970s and beyond. While this means we have a fantastic resource collected over the years, it also means there is a large amount of data that needs to be digitised to make it more accessible.

Pitsligo Castle emerging through the mist in 1988 (Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service © ACAS – www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/archaeology)

One of the projects I have been working on recently is going through our slide and printed collection of ground and aerial photographs. These have all been scanned, and my task has been to ensure that all the images are digitally indexed and attributed to the correct record within our publically available Sites and Monuments Record.

Contact sheets and index from 1989.

As someone relatively new to the area, working on the photographs has been a great opportunity for me to get to know some of these sites better, from the well-known castles to lesser-known but equally important sites such as areas of prehistoric field systems and hidden cairns.

A cow in 1980 tried to become famous, today is its day (Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service © ACAS – www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/archaeology)

There have been a couple of challenges in identifying the sites from the photographs. Sheets of slides can throw up some odd sites with little or no description or context. Often these can still be identified by comparing with other sources or by asking colleagues, who have so far shown an impressive ability to know where a blurry field is or what a close-up of a stone shows. The second challenge has been the handwriting. I have begun to develop an eye for reading the scrawls of the previous archaeologists, but some of the scribbles will have to remain a mystery for now. Despite these challenges it is always exciting to find photographs of a site that we did not realise we had pictures of, as well as the occasional outstanding picture of a particularly spectacular site.

Someone at Dundarg Castle in 1988 had the best day at work ever (Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service © ACAS – www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/archaeology)

Having these images properly digitised and cross referenced means we are able to manage and protect the sites within out area better – has that large crack in the wall appeared or changed within the last few years, or was it like that thirty or forty years ago? Images of excavations also offer a great insight: to see the sites being dug,  and the “interesting” approach to health and safety standards of yesteryear, not to mention the fantastic fashion on display.

Dispatches from Edinburgh: ScARF project & museums – part 2

A blank powerpoint presentation being presided over by Joseph Anderson FSA Scot (1916-1832)

A blank powerpoint presentation being presided over by Joseph Anderson FSA Scot (1916–1832)

Lunches had, cups of tea refreshed twice over (the only thing this office loves more than archaeology is tea – fact) I spend the first part of my afternoon doing some admin: monthly reports, target checking, timesheets etc. As the ScARF project I’m working on is funded (thank you, Historic Environment Scotland & Museums Galleries Scotland!) I need to dedicate time to considering my work in the context of outcomes and indicators. As I’ve not been in the job long (question from my boss: “when I can stop calling you ‘new’?“) this also helps me focus my work as I continue to get to grips with the wider ScARF project.

Targets, outcomes, indicators, targets, outcomes, indicators...

Targets, outcomes, indicators, targets, outcomes, indicators…

Admin duly administrated, I can focus back on preparatory work for Orkney. I’ll be giving a few talks when I’m there, spreading the ScARF and museums gospel, so I’m busy drawing up plans for what these will entail. Though I’ve mentioned Orkney already, it’s not just there that I’ll be working with museums. Later on in the project I’ll also be working with the Aberdeenshire Council museums service on their collections. While both museums services have Recognised Collections and rich archaeological landscapes around them, they are both really different. It’ll be interesting to see how each museum service benefits from our project, and how our work varies with the different museums involved.

Meeting notes, to-do lists, mind-maps. Therein lies the heart of the museum project. And tea. Always tea.

In preparing talks and any work for Orkney I need to consider how relevant it might also be to Aberdeenshire – I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to working with my colleagues there later on. The main research topics I’m looking at just now are farming and fishing, so I return to my trusty documents (the ScARF panel reports are free to view online or download here) and see how they’re referenced, and how museums might already have contributed to them.

Perhaps in a couple of months time I’d have some rather more exciting photos to share (who doesn’t love a good museum store?) but for now these will have to do. Last but not least… why not sign up to our monthly e-newsletter at http://eepurl.com/bCFibT to keep up-to-date with all things ScARF.

Monuments and Maps – A day working with the SMR

Having recently re-joined the world of traffic lights and bustle from my four years spent on Orkney studying archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands, I find myself working from an office on the outskirts of Aberdeen where I work in the Archaeology Service at Aberdeenshire Council as Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) assistant.

2016 Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology logo2

Click the logo to see the full spread of what the Archaeology Service does and offers.

Studying archaeology allowed for a time of fairly self-indulgent research where there was usually enough wiggle room that I could find a way to write about things I wanted to look at. Coming out of that into the world of working in archaeology has been exciting, as I have been forced to move beyond my comfort zone of Neolithic Orkney and into the full spread of archaeology in the North East of Scotland. While I work at Aberdeenshire Council, the Service covers Angus, Moray and Aberdeen City, as well as Aberdeenshire, so we have a large and varied area to cover. Once I had got over the idea of recumbent stone circles (I mean, really?!), discovering the archaeology of a new area has been hugely exciting and rewarding.

Whole area GIS

The full spread of sites and monuments that we cover (each coloured dot represents a unique site)

So what is it I actually do? Well the Archaeology Service has a wide ranging role, from answering enquiries from members of the public and getting involved in local community digs, to working with developers to ensure that  any archaeological remains are dealt with appropriately. Whatever we are doing, the focus is always on providing the best protection, management and promotion of the historic environment for the benefit of all. An important part of this is knowing what archaeology there is in the area we cover, and where it is, and this is where I come in. What I do most days is ensure our publicly available SMR is as up to date and accurate as it can be.

At desk

Today, I am working my way through the records for listed buildings in Moray. I check what is entered on the digital SMR against the Historic Environment Scotland listed building description, and make sure any discrepancies are checked and any additional information is added. I also aim to make the descriptions of the monuments as user-friendly as possible. Finding the balance between technical descriptions of specific aspects of monuments, and language people might actually understand, is always tricky, but I hope it helps enable those without a background in archaeology to get an overview of what there is out there, as well as being of use to those with a more specialist background. I also make sure that the monument is marked in the right place on the map, and that the mapped  area covers the whole monument. Looking at old maps is something I have always found great joy in doing, and checking these to see the evolution and origins of a site is always a highlight.

Elgin cathedral

GIS map showing Elgin Cathedral. Click on the image to go see the publicly available SMR details of this fantastic site.

I have found working within archaeology from an office side of things to be very fulfilling. While sitting in a cold muddy hole for several hours a day will always be my first true archaeological love, this job has similar aspects to it that can make it just as exciting. Like anything within archaeology, the unknown and unexpected is always just around the corner, and there is always something new that we will suddenly have to respond to. The various specialisms within the team mean there is always something to learn and discuss throughout the day, discussions can go from a Mesolithic flint scatter to an 18th century farmhouse in a flash. The job has also highlighted to me the importance policy effecting archaeology, and how imperative it is that, as archaeologists, we are engaged in this and ensure our voice is heard and consulted at every stage of the process.

From mountains to sea…and everything in between: Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service

It is our great pleasure to welcome you on the Day of Archaeology 2014 to the Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service.

Situated in the North East of Scotland, we are a small team (just the three of us!) with responsibility for a large geographic area – not only do we act as the regional archaeology service for Aberdeenshire Council, but also for Angus and Moray Councils, which is equivalent to 10,733km2!

Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Council areas in North East Scotland ©ACAS

Map showing location of Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Council areas in North East Scotland ©ACAS

Protection, Management and Promotion

For any given area roughly 95% of the historic environment is not protected by national designations, and it is down to Services like ourselves at local government level in the UK to protect it.

The team’s remit is to protect, manage and promote the historic environment of Aberdeenshire, Angus & Moray. A big part of this is maintaining a Historic Environment Record (HER) for each of these areas, an ever-growing database of sites and monuments of archaeological and historical interest hosted on our website.

There are currently almost 32,000 sites recorded in the HER, ranging from Lower Paleolithic auroch horns through Early Medieval Pictish stones to World War II defences. That’s almost 12,000 years of history!

The HER acts as the hub for our primary work within the Councils. We use it as the basis for assessing the potential impact of planning applications, forestry, utility and other consultations on the historic environment. The resulting archaeological mitigation work from these consultations then feeds back into the HER, broadening our (and therefore everyone’s) knowledge and understanding of the historic environment here in the North East, and helping to inform future decisions.

We will provide the best Protection, Management and Promotion of the Historic Environment of Aberdeenshire for the benefit of all ©ACAS

Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service Team Motto ©ACAS

(more…)

Iain Fraser (RCAHMS) – Aberdeenshire

Aberdeenshire  ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Aberdeenshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

I’m Iain Fraser. I work at RCAHMS as the Cataloguing Programme Manager, documenting our collections of archaeological and architectural archives so that they are available for public consultation.

Vertical aerial photograph of the meadows at Baluss, Longisde, 1988, showing the pattern of rigs and drains. Copyright NCAP

Vertical aerial photograph of the meadows at Baluss, Longisde, 1988, showing the pattern of rigs and drains. Copyright NCAP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My chosen site is an inconspicuous one, the need for which is perhaps not immediately obvious under Scotland’s cloudy skies. The site is an area of water meadows, near Old Deer and Longside, in Aberdeenshire. From any distance at ground level these look relatively featureless, an unremarkable expanse of low-lying coarse grass blending into the surrounding country. Standing on top of them, however, the meadows are revealed as low rigs, separated by reed-choked drains. Every now and again one encounters stone pillars set into the drains – slotted for now vanished wooden sluice gates.

 

The slotted stone pillar of a sluice gate to control the flow of water over the meadow. Copyright Iain Fraser

The slotted stone pillar of a sluice gate to control the flow of water over the meadow. Copyright Iain Fraser

Seen from the air, all these features resolve themselves into a complex of skillfully shaped and engineered blocks of rigs and drains running along the low ground on both sides of the River Ugie. With the help of historical maps, field-walking, and contemporary accounts, one can piece the process together. Upstream a wear, now breached, diverted the water of the Ugie into a lade, running along the upper side of the meadows. A series of small sluices, or hatches, then allowed the farmer to release the water of selected areas of meadow, as he required. The water was distributed across the area of the meadow by narrow feeders that ran along the crest of each rig, from which the water would then gently overflow across the sloping grassy surface of the rigs. The intervening drains would then carry the water away, either directly back to the river, or else to a second, lower, section of meadow.

Two simple bridges at Mavisbank  constructed of granite sleepers, providing access over the drains to the rigs. Copyright Iain Fraser

Two simple bridges at Mavisbank constructed of granite sleepers, providing access over the drains to the rigs. Copyright Iain Fraser

Although the use of irrigation had a long history in Scotland, the agricultural improvements of the period 1790-c.1840 saw a renewed interest in the subject, inspired by the highly successful water meadows of southern England. Several highly skilled English practitioners were engaged by Scottish landowners to construct meadows on their estates. The meadows at Mavisbank, Baluss and Inverquhomery, shown here, are part of  a series of some 90 acres constructed by the English ‘flooder’ John Bolton along both the South Ugie, for James Ferguson of Pitfour.

Aerial photograph of meadows at Mavisbank. Copyright NCAP

Aerial photograph of meadows at Mavisbank. Copyright NCAP

Aerial photograph of meadows at Inverquhomery. Copyright NCAP

Aerial photograph of meadows at Inverquhomery. Copyright NCAP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The meadows appeal to me as an overlooked and largely forgotten aspect of Scottish agricultural history. Easily dismissed by the casual observer as simple drains in an area of wet ground, with a bit of detective work, and having ‘got your eye in’, meadows emerge as a distinctive and intriguing element of the Scottish landscape.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

For further information you can also contact the local authority archaeologist. Contact details in this case are:

Bruce Mann – Regional Archaeologist
Aberdeenshire Archaeology Service
Aberdeenshire, Moray & Angus Councils
archaeology@aberdeenshire.gov.uk
www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/archaeology