George Geddes

In Search of Rocks and Stones

Name: George Geddes

What do you do?
I’m an Archaeological Investigator with RCAHMS

How did you get here? 
I started with a BSc at Edinburgh followed by a few years on the Scottish digging circuit. An MA at York in 2003-4 focussing on the archaeology of buildings in the Western Isles led to five years at Headland Archaeology as their building surveyor. In 2007, I took up the post as St Kilda Archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland, which led to an interest in conservation management planning. In 2008, I moved to RCAHMS to work on a range of archaeological survey projects.

What are you working on today? 
Today I am splitting my work over a series of projects: as aerial survey forms part of my work, I am interpreting and cataloguing photographs of cropmarks taken in the Lunan valley last year, an area where a whole archaeological landscape of multiple periods survives under modern land use.

Later in the day I will continue researching the work of Gordon Childe with RCAHMS from 1942 to 1946 and digitising the photographs, notes and sketch plans he made on about 700 sites during the war, so that they can be viewed on Canmore.

Gordon Childe, a Commissioner at RCAHMS for 4 years, in Edinburgh.

Gordon Childe, a Commissioner at RCAHMS for 4 years, in Edinburgh.

We are also producing a new book on St Kilda’s archaeology, surveyed by RCAHMS in 1983-6 and 2007-9, and I am researching and writing the chapters for the 19th and 20th century, exploring new approaches to the sites and their wider context.

My most recent fieldwork has been a re-survey of the fort at Finavon, and the discovery of a whole new and significant phase, and a trip to the Flannan Isles, where a medieval chapel and seabird hunters bothies survive – for both, I will begin the drafting of our detailed descriptions.

Favourite part of your job? 
In comparison to project manager, the job title ‘investigator’ seems so old-fashioned but the Ordnance Survey and RCAHMS used it for many years as it describes so well the process of critically engaging with the archaeological landscapes and collections in Scotland. Whether it is getting to grips with complex earthworks at Finavon, or teasing together the evidence of how we have got where we are today in interpretation, the focus at work is so often on that process of investigation.  When this process is coupled with a good old sense of ‘public service’, it can be very productive and rewarding.

What did university not teach you? 
While University was fantastic at providing a broad overview, and the opportunity to share and develop ideas, it did not provide an adequate grasp of either fieldwork skills (excluding excavation) nor of the character of Scotland’s field archaeology. While this can to some extent be learnt simply by tramping round sites on one’s own, as so many of us have done, the advantages of doing this more intensively (i.e. looking at everything within a study area), and with experienced colleagues, makes a huge difference. When one considers that RCAHMS has had staff in a similar post to myself since 1908 (initially in fact, the only staff), there has been a huge amount of accumulated organisational experience, passed on from generation to generation (this can include bad habits too!).

The chapel and lighthouse on the Flannan Isles

The chapel and lighthouse on the Flannan Isles

Surprising part of your job? 

George thinks his colleagues are surprising...

George thinks his colleagues are surprising…

The colleagues! No seriously, I’m surprised that there is still so much investigative work to do in Scotland. Though we are really far ahead of most countries in the world in having more than a century of relatively coherent and structured fieldwork (by many individuals and bodies) behind us, resulting in a fantastic collection not to mention an ever-improving sense of the past, great swathes of the country still require thorough field survey, to support research, planning and to enable the public to engage with the past. This national project, when combined with an excellent and robust system of planning-led archaeology, and community archaeology, must surely be the envy of many countries.

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?  Earn a fortune in something else and then self-fund excavations and surveys in the land of your dreams (i.e North Rona).

Colleagues on North Rona

Colleagues on North Rona


George Geddes (RCAHMS) – Highland

George Geddes, RCAHMS

George Geddes, RCAHMS

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

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

George Geddes, an Archaeology Survey and Recording Project Manager at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) explains the archaeology of Croick in the Highlands.

The ruinous and mutilated remains of an Iron Age Broch stand in the glebe lands on the riverside at Croick. Few visitors cross the wall from the churchyard to visit them – the remains are difficult to ‘read’, having been robbed and rebuilt over two millennia. The church itself, built to one of Thomas Telford’s designs, stands testament to a period of violent change in the surrounding landscape, when many of the tenantry were forcibly removed. During 1845 a number of evicted families took shelter in the churchyard and etched their names in the beautiful windows providing a lasting memorial to an event that must have been truly traumatic for the people involved. Nowadays, the church is a serene and peaceful place to visit and a visitor noted that they were ‘moved to tears’ by the display. What place then, to help one think about social progress, inequality and change, not only in the 19th century (so recently in one sense), but also in the Iron Age when movements of people and power may have been every bit as dramatic.

Croick

Aerial view looking along Strath Cuileamach with the church, manse and remains of the broch in the foreground, taken from the SE. Copyright RCAHMS (DP024749)

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.

You can also contact the local authority Historic Environment Record (HER) for more information. In this case contact details are:

Ian Scrivener-Lindley

HER Officer / Historic Environment Team / Highland Council

Planning & Development, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, IV3 5NX

T: 01463 702503

HER: http://her.highland.gov.uk/

 

 

George Geddes (RCAHMS) – East Renfrewshire

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

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

George Geddes taking notes. Copyright RCAHMS (DP148563)

George Geddes taking notes. Copyright RCAHMS (DP148563)

Duncarnock was the first hill fort survey that I took part in with the Commission. The fort is by far the largest in East Renfrewshire, and it was a refreshing introduction to the way that the staff at RCAHMS go about tackling these complex sites. Perhaps 2000 years old, the fort must have been an important place in the local neighbourhood, commanding extensive views of the surrounding area and modern Barrhead. It is likely to have contained a group of roundhouses where people lived and worked, and there may have been the workshops of metal workers and craftsmen in leather, wood and pottery.

It was surveyed by a husband and wife team Dick and Meghan Feachem, during their work for RCAHMS in the 1950s. A more recent re-survey by RCAHMS has teased out a lot more detail and clarified the condition of the fort’s wall, which has been thoroughly robbed, the stone being use in the dykes and houses in the area.

Aerial view centred on the remains of Duncarnock fort, taken from the NW. Copyright RCAHMS (DP04015)

Aerial view centred on the remains of Duncarnock fort, taken from the NW. Copyright RCAHMS (DP04015)

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.