Digitally recording land use across Scotland

I’m Mike Middleton and I work as an archaeologist for Historic Environment Scotland in the Data and Recording team, with specific responsibility for mapping. I work on two major projects; the Historic Land-use Assessment – a map of the current and relict land-use of Scotland – and a project looking to map the records in the National Record of the Historic Environment.

In my work I use sources such as historic maps, aerial photography and field survey data to try and map the known extent of sites and historic landscapes. I also work with and train colleagues so as to build mapping into their field projects.

One of our most exciting developments this year has been the completion of the Historic Land-use Assessment to give us full nationwide coverage for the first time. This has allowed us to work in partnership with the National Library of Scotland to produce a Land-use Viewer showing the change in Scotland’s land-use since the 1930s.

Showing the change in Scotland’s land-use since the 1930's.

Showing the change in Scotland’s land-use since the 1930’s.

The maps highlight changing land use and in particular the urban and forest expansion during this period, as well as the impact of infrastructure projects such as hydro schemes and bridges.

Having a nationwide land-use map allows us to quantify and monitor land-use change. By understanding what land-use change is happening we can start to think about how it impacts on the historic environment and this is turn can inform how we manage and target resources.

I got into archaeology because I grew up in Shetland – an area particularly rich in archaeology. As my career has developed I’ve come to see how archaeology is a finite resource, susceptible to land-use change. By working in archaeological mapping I feel I’m contributing by mapping the scale of the resource and by attempting to understand how land-use change is impacting on our historic environment.


Scotland: Land-use Viewer




Canmore: The National Record of the Historic Environment


Indianahannah and the Desk Based Adventure

Name:  Hannah Smith

What do you do?
Currently I’m working on the Historic Land-use Assessment project. HLA is a joint project between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland. It is an analysis of the present landscape, recording the visible traces of past land-use across Scotland, and presenting it as a digital map. My day is spent in front of a computer, working with digital sources in a GIS. This suits me well, I was always a bit of a fair weather archaeologist!

How did you get here?
I studied Archaeology at Glasgow University, and then went on to complete a Masters in Professional Archaeology there as well. As a student, I volunteered as a placement supervisor on the Hungate site in York with York Archaeological Trust. Working with YAT gave me the best crash course in field archaeology I could have asked for. Although I think the biggest thing I took away was that I preferred to work indoors!!


Dangerously close to that murky water!

I began volunteering as soon as I could, as I knew it would be difficult to find a job in archaeology. I volunteered with Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust after I graduated, helping their HER officer, and with various research projects. I was then really lucky to get an HLF workplace learning bursary in Information Management at RCAHMS in 2011.

What’s your background?
I’ve worked in various posts at RCAHMS since 2011. After completing my bursary in Information Management, I began working with the HLA project, before moving on to a data management role with Project Adair, and then working as Data and Standards officer within the Data and Recording section.

HLA mapping in progess

HLA mapping in progess

Favourite part of your job? 
I’ve enjoyed working on many different projects and in different sections at RCAHMS. It’s allowed me to gain a better understanding of all of the work undertaken by staff here. Also helping to produce our Day of Archaeology posts with staff is always a highlight.

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?
Volunteer as much as you can.

Say yes. Even when you’re in a job, say yes to everything that comes your way.

Keep at it. Jobs are often few and far between, but you’ll be surprised at the range of archaeology jobs out there and the ways you can enter this field as a career.

Wish I hadn't said yes here, too many midges!

Wish I hadn’t said yes here, too many midges!


Mike Middleton RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

My name is Mike Middleton. I am an archaeologist, specialising in mapmaking and survey, working on two archaeological mapping projects.

Out on fieldwork, getting a better view!

The first is the Defining Scotland’s Places Project which aims to defining the extent of monuments in the landscape so that people know where they are, where they are and who they need to contact if they need more information. (click here to see more about this project from last years Day of Archaeology)

The second project is the Historic Landuse Assessment Project, a partnership project with Historic Scotland, which aims to map the change in land use over time.

It is difficult to choose just one site as my favorite. Growing up in Shetland I could have chosen Mousa, Jarlshof, Clickimin or Scatness Brochs. Living on the east coast I considered choosing the Aberlemno pictish stones, the Abernethy Round Tower or Norman’s Law hill fort but instead I have gone for a site I visited on my recent field visit, Hut Knowe.

Knowe and the surrounding cord rig field system

Piers Dixon walks along a small track between fields of cord rig running in different directions

What is special about Hut Knowe is the amazing preservation of an entire prehistoric landscape. Not just the settlement but entire field systems. I’ve been lucky to visit many prehistoric sites over the years and, with colleagues, I’ve mapped and attempted to tease out field banks and boundaries. But, this can be frustrating with only tiny fragments surviving from which to interpret the whole.  What is so great about Hut Knowe is that the prehistoric fields of cord rig stand out so clearly. An entire c2000 year old landscape of rig, fields, trackways and settlement is there for all to see. A time capsule and one I recommend everyone to visit and certainly one for all students of Scottish landscape archaeology.