Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

Friday fun in the ScARF office – part 1

Not even being the Day of Archaeology 2012 could bring the sunshine to Edinburgh today, so whilst the view from the office at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (SoAS), is definitely dreich, at least reading about all this archaeology will brighten up the day!

My name is Emma Jane O’Riordan and I am the Project Assistant for the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) or @scarfhub on Twitter. The project took part in the Day of Archaeology last year too so you can read about the background to the project in the 2011 posts from the Project Manager, Jeff Sanders here and here.


Rebecca Jones RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

My name is Rebecca Jones and I’m a Romanist. My regular work at RCAHMS is as an Operational Manager in the Survey and Recording group where I am responsible for Data and Recording, overseeing a range of projects relating to the data in our online database, Canmore, and its mapping application, and working in partnership across the sector to deliver information to the public. Information Management is one strand of my research interests but another is very firmly placed in Roman military archaeology.

View of the eastern defences of the Roman fort at Ardoch (©Rebecca Jones 2008)

Scotland is one of the best places in the Roman empire to study the archaeology of the Roman army. Repeated attempts to conquer Scotland left a legacy of remains that are the envy of the rest of the Roman world. One of the places where this is most evident is the Roman fort of Ardoch in Perthshire.  This is the location of one of the best earthwork Roman forts in Britain, and the plain to the north of the fort was a marshalling ground for large armies on campaign through Perthshire to the north.

The fort itself was occupied several times leaving a legacy of multiple ditches still surviving as earthworks. I have accompanied several tours of the site and visitors never fail to be impressed by the scale of the defences. Some of these were excavated in the late 19th century by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and some of the photographs from those excavations are amongst the most fascinating early excavation shots held in the Collections at RCAHMS.

But not only is the fort an amazing site. To the north lie at least five marching camps. These were temporary structures occupied by invading armies who were housed in rows upon rows of leather tents. We are fortunate that they built ramparts and ditches around the perimeter of their encampments, for it is these that leave visible archaeological remains. Imagine a field of tents from T in the Park or Glastonbury: after the weekend is over and the tents have gone – what have you left? No doubt a sea of litter but the Roman’s did not live in our disposable culture. Once the litter is cleared you probably have a muddy field. But then six months later? Is there any evidence that those tents were there? But if a regular perimeter rampart and ditch with particular rounded corners and entrance protection is built, then that leaves an archaeological footprint that we can detect as Roman. The majority of the camps at Ardoch have been levelled through centuries of ploughing and only the perimeter ditch can be seen from the air through differential cropmarkings in dry summers, although stretches of three still survive as upstanding earthworks.

Rebecca Jones explaining the camps at Ardoch

A handful of other camps in Scotland have revealed internal rubbish pits and ovens through aerial and geophysical survey and excavation but for most camps, it is the perimeter which we can identify. The camps at Ardoch witnessed one of the largest Roman forces that ever took to the field in Britain, with the largest camp enclosing over 54 hectares / 130 acres.

It’s this combined evidence of the transient Roman army plus the troops stationed in the fort here for several years, that make these seemingly peaceful fields in Perthshire so fascinating.

RCAHMS National Collection

The RCAHMS National Collection includes a wealth of material illustrating and recording all types of archaeological sites and monuments across Scotland ranging in date from the late upper Palaeolithic period to the present day.

People have been making a record of their heritage for centuries and the archaeological collections reflect this, ranging in date from the early 19th century to the present day. Included are perspective drawings, excavation drawings and photographs, site reports and notebooks, context cards, small finds cards and correspondence, as well as the latest digital technologies like laser scanning and 3D models.


Working on the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) pt 2

Morning’s work done and after a quick lunch I now have a meeting with Stuart Campbell of the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU). The TTU is responsible for the identification and preservation of recently discovered and significant objects. They also co-ordinate the allocation of objects to public museums and set suitable market-value finder’s rewards where appropriate. The Treasure Trove website is the best place for more details and the legal background.

Discussing the document: Stuart about to volunteer his expertise

Finds reported through Treasure Trove comprise a considerable research resource and the potential it has to help us answer our questions regarding the past is something we have previously discussed. Today however, I’m talking to Stuart about his research interests, particularly in relation to the work of our Modern panel. We recently held a workshop through in Glasgow to discuss our draft report and got a lot of feedback on what we should include, and what we might edit down. All of our panels hold a workshop of around 25-40 people and it is a really useful way to get feedback. We’ve also found people are very willing to help address gaps that we might have, and today I’m discussing a couple of topics that Stuart might be able to help us cover.

After a good discussion and with Stuart volunteering to cover a few of the outstanding gaps in the report I head back to the Society offices. Everyone who contributes to ScARF gives their time and their work for free, and I’m constantly amazed at how much effort people put in. We had initially envisaged our series of reports as each being around 25,000 words long – this was then revised upwards to around 35,000. We keep on getting in really good work however, and in a variety of formats (databases, maps, date-lists, spreadsheets etc). As a result, we are developing a ‘wiki’ or online encyclopaedia in order to house the information from the reports, as well as all of the extra information that we had to edit down. Hopefully, we can keep this updated and streamlined so that it becomes a useful and used resource (not much worse than a dead wiki!).

Some of the Society’s publications

Early afternoon I was scheduled to meet with my line manager, Simon Gilmour, the Director of the Society of Antiquaries. He was called away to a funeral today however so I have a bit of time to focus on a couple more of the reports, and hopefully have the chance to have a quick look around the newly opened museum. Before I do, I thought I would highlight the work of the Society as a publisher. As well as publishing the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and the Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports (SAIR) we also produce a number of books. Our Proceedings and SAIR are both available online entirely for free – a real source of pride for the Society. I don’t have the number of times these resources are downloaded to hand, though over the course of a year SAIR is well into 6 figures, and the Proceedings into 7 figures. If my boss reads this, he may be able to update accordingly! Our publications cover a whole range of topics, with recent books on St Kilda, and on excavations of henge monuments by Richard Bradley.

My colleague Erin’s desk – publication is a busy business! (and the desk is always this tidy)

Writing about henge monuments reminds me that my next task is connected to our Bronze Age panel…

Working on the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) pt 1

Tea: Key ingredient to working life

Good morning from a summery Edinburgh, Scotland! ‘Summery’ in Edinburgh often means driving rain though today we’ve got a lot of cloud with some sunshine poking through.

My name is Jeff Sanders and I am the Project Manager for the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF). ScARF aims to provide a review of what we know about Scotland’s past through archaeology and related disciplines, and to consider what promising areas of research we might pursue in the future. We run a series of nine panels of specialists to explore different aspects of Scotland’s past (Palaeolithic & Mesolithic; Neolithic, Bronze Age; Iron Age; Roman Scotland; Medieval; Modern; Marine & Maritime; and Science in Scottish Archaeology).

Each panel produces a report which will be available online early in 2012 and we have a number of other resources that will be available on the website. A lot of my job entails co-ordinating the work of the panels and developing the panel reports, which is a fantastic way of getting to know all the exciting research that is being undertaken across Scotland.

Opening of the refurbished museum!

Today I’m working on three of the reports, but before that, it is something of a celebration at my workplace! I work for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (SoAS), an organisation that is based in the National Museums Scotland (NMS) on Chambers Street (more about the SoAS later). The National Museum is effectively two museums in one, a modern museum and a Victorian building (previously known as the Royal Museum). The Victorian building has been closed for over 3 years to have a massive refit and it opens to the public today.

The street outside was closed for the opening celebration involving a T-Rex, drummers, abseilers, fireworks and a reproduction Carnyx. There were a lot of people there and the atmosphere was incredible. It was good to move among the crowd and see so many really keen to get into the building (work colleagues included!). Inside, the museum is spectacular and I’ll include a few photos in the next posts. Before that, I need to check my email and sort out some of the work in my in-tray.


My work desk

The beginning of the day…


Just shot a video of the office I work in (above) and then its on to the real work! I am currently making changes to some of my chapters which is involving redoing images and carrying out new analyses in GIS.  For those of you who don’t know what GIS is, it stands for Geographical Information Systems and you can manipulate data to display it spatially.  So for example, I am creating maps of old routeways through East Lothian and how these correspond to the archaeological evidence.  Is it possible that these routes were in existence prior to the Medieval period? Where they are best preserved, they traverse the Uplands (in this case, the Lammermuirs), which is almost devoid of later prehistoric settlement evidence.

As you can see, there seems to be an interesting correlation between the routeways and early prehistoric monuments.  The darker areas indicate the higher ground where most of the sites survive.  Do the routeways simply pass by these monuments because they are ‘markers’ or is it because these are familiar routes that have been traversed over for thousands of years? I am still deciding!

The sites have been plotted using CANMORE which is the public online database run by the RCAHMS and has been an invaluable resource for my PhD.  CANMORE give accurate grid references for these sites however to put them into a GIS, these figures have to be converted into eastings and northings.  These are also based on the same OS grid system but are six figure grid references.  So for example, a site in my are might have the grid reference NT123 345.  To convert that into eastings and northings, it would be 312300 634500.  Each grid square has numbers preceding it, in this case 3 and 6, and then the appropriate number of ‘0s’ are added to make it six-figure.

I’ll let you know how it goes later!

(Early routeways based on Roy’s Military Survey Map (1747-1755) and

Graham, A. 1951 An old road in the Lammermuirs Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 83: 198-206

Graham, A. 1962 More old roads in the Lammermuirs Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 93: 217-35