Historic Environment Scotland was formed in October 2015 following the merger between Historic Scotland and The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Historic Environment Scotland is the lead public body established to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s historic environment. We lead and enable Scotland’s first historic environment strategy Our Place in Time, which sets out how our historic environment will be managed. It ensures our historic environment is cared for, valued and enhanced, both now and for future generations.

Heather Stoddart and Ali McCaig – Measured Survey for Historic Environment Scotland

Heather Stoddart, Measured Survey Manager, Architecture and Industry Section and Ali McCaig, Measured Survey Manager, Landscape Section at Historic Environment Scotland

We have chosen an Industrial Archaeological site on the River Clyde called Hyndford Mills, near Lanark, which we are surveying as part of an HES programme called ‘Discovering the Clyde’ http://discoveringtheclyde.org.uk/

The site sits very close to the river and floods regularly. It consists of a series of roofless buildings and archaeological remains that have been excavated by a local community group the Clydesdale Mills Society.

Panorama view of Hyndford Mills © HES

On our first visit, we explored the site and discussed the general interpretation with Miriam McDonald, Industrial Survey Manager at HES and with representatives from the Clydesdale Mills Society. At that point we agreed on the end product that we wanted to achieve – a detailed plan of the extent of the site which will show the upstanding walls, lades, tail-race and ground works in reasonable detail.

Hyndford Mills is quite a complex site, with multiple phasing. It appears on Pont’s map of Glasgow and the County of Lanark (Pont 34, c.1583-96) http://maps.nls.uk/detail.cfm?id=297  and may be much older still. The site has been used for many small-scale industrial and agricultural processes over many generations including grain milling, flax processing and animal bone crushing (for agricultural manure).

To start this survey we used two different techniques, alidade and GPS. The GPS was used to set out framework control for the site and to collect data which is used to create the detailed scaled plan and a sectional elevation drawing. The initial task was to undertake two alidade surveys which we did together, involving Ali on the survey staff and Heather on the survey board, recording the survey points. This allowed us both to discuss the survey points that needed to be taken and our evolving interpretation of the site. Once the framework of the site was complete, we split up to record and plan the features in more detail. The end product will form an annotated scaled plan and sectional elevation at 1:200.

A detailed photographic survey of the site was also undertaken by Steve Wallace, Field Photography Projects Manager at HES.

Ali producing a scaled plan at one of the mill buildings at Hyndford Mills, Lanark © HES

Ali producing a scaled plan at one of the mill buildings at Hyndford Mills, Lanark © HES


Heather adding finishing touches to one of the scaled plans at Hyndford Mills, Lanark © HES

Heather adding finishing touches to one of the scaled plans at Hyndford Mills, Lanark © HES

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


Allan Kilpatrick – Historic Environment Scotland

As I stood on the rain-sodden hillside, soaked, surrounded by two-metre-tall ferns and being bitten by a biblical plague of midges who viewed me as a three-star Michelin meal, I wondered: Is archaeology really worth it? However, once I’d brushed myself down, killed a thousand or so midges and began to move again, I realised I wasn’t finished with archaeology yet. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that there is almost no other job like it. Where else can you find yourself walking across a bit of countryside discovering the history of the landscape? This particular day, I was an archaeologist with a mission. I was looking for something not from our ancient past but rather more recent: I was seeking the archaeological remains of the First World War.

The field work is part of a HES project to survey and record the defences of the Clyde from both wars, as part of the Discover the Clyde programme (http://discoveringtheclyde.org.uk)

The sites I was looking for were military blockhouses. These are timber buildings which housed soldiers and were surrounded by an earth and sandbag wall providing a fighting position or strongpoint to defend an area of ground. I had with me copy of a map from The National Archives on which was drawn the position of a number of blockhouses on the hill. I had many questions to answer: were the blockhouses actually built? What did they look like? How accurate was the annotation on the map? Had they survived or had forestry ploughing destroyed them? So many variables and combined with the new trees and suffocating ferns, it was going to be a challenge to find them.

With the start of the Scottish version of a monsoon, I made my way upwards to a low summit which I thought might be my best chance.  For me, the thrill of fieldwork is the finding of archaeology, be it a cairn or rig, a hut circle or blockhouse.

As I reached the summit I found a small square concrete hut base which was not quite what I was expecting, but I recorded it and moved on. I carried on through the undergrowth and stumbled upon a large, square enclosure with a partial earth wall measuring about 5m by 5m.

The first Blockhouse found © HES

The first Blockhouse found © HES

Was this what I sought or was it something else? Indeed it was close to the position on the map.  I needed a comparison. Some more scrambling and two thousand dead midges later, I found a second rectangular enclosure on the edge of a steep slope covered in dense ferns and fallen trees but measuring the same internal size. Success!

The second Blockhouse built on the edge of the slope covered in dense tall bracken © HES

The second Blockhouse built on the edge of the slope covered in dense tall bracken © HES

As it turned out, these were indeed the sites of two blockhouses. We discovered two almost identical sites about 2km to the north later that day (see https://canmore.org.uk/site/331613). We have now found six of these blockhouses which defended Ardhallow Coast Battery on the Clyde from landward attack. The quest will continue as somewhere in the dense forestry lie three more.

A blockhouse was in there somewhere © HES

A blockhouse was in there somewhere © HES

Is archaeology worth it, on a day like this one it really is!

Team Digital Preservation

Hannah Smith Digital Archives Officer at Historic Environment Scotland

My name is Hannah Smith and I work for Historic Environment Scotland. I work within the collections section at HES, in the digital archive team which consists of myself and the Digital Archive Manager. We have been actively collecting digital archive since the 1990’s, receiving both internally and externally generated material. We currently hold over 500,000 catalogued digital items in our collection, which will only continue to grow in the future meaning as an organisation we need to be equipped to safeguard our archive to preserve and promote our digital material.

Current  Scottish planning guidance (http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2011/08/04132003/1 (accessed 22 July 2016) places emphasis on preservation in situ, but where this is not possible or appropriate it encourages recording or excavation following by the publication and archiving of that record.  Preservation by record is a widely recognised concept within archaeology, but it can only be achieved if those archives have a place of deposit where they will be preserved for the future. So our role in ensuring this is possible and happens is a vital part of this chain of archaeological responsibility and we consider this as important as the excavation.

The priorities for HES digital archiving are to collect all primary material relating to archaeological and architectural fieldwork and excavation undertaken within Scotland and Scottish territorial waters. This remit covers an extremely diverse range of information types including:  textual reports; databases; geophysical survey; air photography; mapping (GIS) and topographic survey; buildings survey; visualisation reconstruction; and digital video and audio. Some of these data types can pose challenges due to their complexity for example 3D laser scans which is a technology that is being utilised more and more for recording the built environment.

3D laser scan of Pencaitland Church © HES

3D laser scan of Pencaitland Church © HES

Digital photograph over 3D laser scan © HES

Digital photograph over 3D laser scan © HES

As technology evolves and file formats become obsolete we have to choose the best way to maintain access to the collections we hold. The only practical way we have to do this is to ‘migrate’ the file into a new format, however with some file types we risk losing or worse altering some of the properties of that file. Therefore we need to understand and define the significant properties of a file so that we can know what constitutes acceptable loss, and what crosses the line into unacceptable loss. We carefully consider these effects and experiment with different migration routes before finding the best possible balance between minimal or no loss of information or functionality and ongoing accessibility for that information. We also ensure we maintain the original object in an unchanged state so that should new possibilities emerge we can take advantage of them.

To help explain what we do*, I’ve included this animation to digital preservation, that HES digital archive manager Emily Nimmo helped to create. *We don’t wear capes, but still like to think of ourselves as Team Digital Preservation.

Most of my day to day work involves processing externally generated material into our trusted digital repository encompassing two areas: digital accessioning and digital cataloguing. We receive all types of digital media and often still receive obsolete media.


5¼-inch floppy disk and Amstrad 3 inch disk © HES

It’s a very satisfying job to take the digital media and link the information to our relevant records and know the data is now safeguarded in our archive and available to the public, to researchers and to inform the management of the historic environment in the future.

Submerged wartime defences off Roan Head, Flotta © Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology

Submerged wartime defences off Roan Head, Flotta © Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology

Archaeological evaluation © Cameron Archaeology

Archaeological evaluation © Cameron Archaeology

It also allows me to see all types of interesting archaeology from across Scotland every day – including cute little dogs on site . We come across all sorts of interesting material in this job and there’s never a dull day. We get to see little time capsules of archaeological events from all across Scotland, from working shots during an excavation to site diaries through to the final reports. I can live vicariously through commercial archaeologists from the comfort of my office.

Skills Collections Trainee: A Variety of Learning

Name: Gillian Rodger

What do you do?
I am a Heritage Lottery Funded Skills for the Future Collections Trainees at RCAHMS.

How did you get here?
As a creative youngster I’ve had a fascination with visiting and photographing historic places and objects as long as I can remember. Though I grew up near Chester, my family are all Scottish and having enjoyed many childhood summers exploring the Scottish countryside and going to various Historic sites, I’ve long since wanted to move to Scotland, to promote and get involved with maintaining Scottish Heritage.

Working on John Marshall Material at my Desk

Working on John Marshall Material at my Desk

Unsurprisingly then during my Art History undergrad I turned towards researching Medieval Art and objects and on returning to Edinburgh for my masters I became focused particularly on aspects of Global Material Culture and Collection Histories, whilst also collaborating with the NMS and interned on the Carved Stones Project with RCAHMS. Getting to apply and earning the chance to work as a skills trainee at RCAHMS felt like the perfect opportunity to combine my personal and academic interests whilst enabling me to gain greater experience in the Heritage Sector and in Collections.

What are you working on today?
Today, as is usual for skills trainees, I have been involved with a variety of different activities! I have been on the search room desk this morning, answering enquiries, aiding visitors with their research and hearing some brilliant family stories.

In between enquiries I’ve also started researching the sculptor John Marshall (1888-1952) in order to catalogue a fascinating box of his material for public access.

John Marshall box of material

John Marshall box of material

So far within the box I have discovered his sketchbook of sculpture from 1911, a worldwide picture postcard album and many photographs of himself and colleagues dressed for an ECA Revel Party, including Sir Robert Lorimer. This afternoon I have also been finishing organising and re-housing many excellent Threatened Buildings Survey Drawings completed by RCAHMS survey staff .

Favourite part of your job?
I would say the favourite aspect of my job is in fact the variety of activities we do during the placement. For example, so far outwit our varied ongoing collections work programme; I have been on placement at the National Galleries, attended heritage/medieval conferences, visited the outreach trainees on placement, worked with conservation on re-housing collections and done digital accessioning [see pictures]. In the next month I will also be invigilating at the RCAHMS Commonwealth pavilion for the Sightlines film, working with the NCAP team and beginning work with the other trainees on our big showcase project at Stirling Castle!

As such our job gives us the opportunity to learn lots of different skills, figure out my own strengths and interests, meet a variety of fascinating people and contribute to the work of the commission and Heritage in Scotland in various ways! So yes, getting the chance to have constant variety and new challenges in my work is fantastic.

What did university not teach you?
Despite Art History being a visual degree primarily focused on specific objects or artworks, there is a surprising lack of requirement to actually see and handle the tangible material one is researching, and for much of my art historic research I only utilised photographs, drawings or witnessed objects in their museum setting.

When I began to handle historical objects and material collections and research their collection histories for my work here, I was shocked at how little I had previously appreciated the benefit of having a tangible experience with collections. Not only this, but also just how important that form of first-hand experience can be for producing the best personal and academic research. For example, the scale, exceptional detail or even makers marks on collection material are rarely comprehensible from a photograph alone!

After this realisation I have and will certainly continue to be, an advocate for the promotion of access to original collection material and collections histories where possible, and hope I can continue working and promoting such values within Scottish Heritage beyond this traineeship!

To see a vine of my day, click here

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

Day in the life of a Public Services Officer

Name: Joe Waterfield

What do you do? I am a Public Services Officer, this means that I help people to find and use items in our collections. I issue licences for the use of material and I work out where the items can be found physically and digitally.

RCAHMS Search Room

The open access photo boxes in the search room. Loads of architectural and archaeological photographs from around Scotland. Anyone can come and have a look at these, maybe you can see your house!

How did you get here? I studied history at university and since graduating I have been working in the heritage sector.

What are you working on today? Today I have sent a reporter some photographs from the Buildings at Risk Register to use in a newspaper article, I have talked to a librarian about using SCRAN images in a display, and I have supplied RCAHMS GIS data that will be used as part of a collaborative research project.

Favourite part of your job? My favourite part of the job is the sheer breadth of people and objects it puts me in touch with. One day I could be collecting photos of buildings designed by James Salmon for a public exhibition, another day I could be helping a customer access a photograph of a relative.

What did university not teach you? I used archives as a researcher when studying at university, but I had not experienced working in archives ‘behind the scenes’. Requesting a particular document is a completely different kettle of fish to actually trying to find that document, especially in a collection as diverse as the items held by RCAHMS.

Click here to see a vine of my day!


A Grand Day Out


Yahoo! Today I, Angela Gannon, have a day in the field to look at some strange earthworks in southwest Scotland with my two former bosses, Roger Mercer and Strat Halliday. Both have now retired so today I’m in charge! For me, it’s great to get back to the day job as an archaeological field investigator and a welcome escape from meetings, merger discussions and writing my contribution for our book on St Kilda. I normally leave for work at this time so it’s not an early start. And today I can wear my favourite colour (bright pink) and do a bit of PR for Dig It 2015!

Dig It 2015!

Dig It 2015!

The first few spots of rain begin to hit the windscreen as I head to the Newbridge roundabout.


First stop, Straiton P&R just off the Edinburgh City by-pass to pick up Roger. He’s waiting for me so his bus connections have worked perfectly. Off down the A701 now to collect Strat and complete today’s ensemble. Think we will be early…


Arrived at Strat’s and as predicted we’re about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. After a concentrated effort to ‘complete his ablutions’ and transfer his wellies and waterproofs from his own car to ours, we’re on the road again. Still on the A701 heading to Moffat then onto Dumfries for our first stop at an earthwork called The Orchard, Snade (NX88NE 3). The rain is persistent now.

So what are we up to today? Well we have four sites on our hit list, all of which are novelties in the archaeological record and which we hope will provide some context for Over Rig, Eskdalemuir, a site Roger excavated in 1984 and 1985, and is writing up for publication (NY29SW 8). I was a site supervisor during the 1985 season – indeed this was my first paid employment as an archaeologist – and my memories are not so much of the multiple banks and ditches of a strange D-shaped enclosure and its unusual setting in a natural amphitheatre, but of 36 inches of rain in 9 weeks. While it may not have dampened spirits at the time, it certainly made me realise that excavation in Scotland (even in the summer!) had limited appeal, and that a career in field survey was a better option. I may still get wet but at least I’d have clean fingernails!


By some masterful map reading – not a skill many people acquire in these days of satellite navigation systems – we arrive at the cottage nearest to The Orchard. Permission granted and we leave the car. Better get those waterproofs on.


On site now with discussions ranging from location, topography, nearest known monuments, scale of the ditches and banks, visibility to and from the central platform… Certainly, its location in a watery hollow is similar to Over Rig and it has multiple banks and ditches but…Time to get out the trusted 30m tape and take a few measurements.

Having been part of the project team that introduced a Thesaurus of Monument Type to index and aid retrieval of all sites and monuments, all be it a few years ago now, I still maintain an interest in classification and I’m passionate about standards and consistency of approach – sad really. So I’m keen to improve those for the sites we’re looking at today. And if we can reach a consensus about their dates or periods even better as this will contribute to the work we’re undertaking on a Period/Timeline thesaurus.

A grand day out 4 July 2014 003

On site discussions


A comfort break in a garden centre on the outskirts of Dumfries with enough time for a quick coffee (and a scone with butter and jam – well we deserve it, don’t we?).


Arrived at Auchenhay Bridge (NX77NE 1), another curious site with triple banks and intervening ditches, classified currently as a settlement. Marshy location but the scale is very different from The Orchard. Hmmm – would be surprised if the two were of the same date and function and would be equally surprised if this was a settlement. But the orchids love the damp location and surprisingly we are still smiling in the rain.



Lunch in the farmyard at Trowdale before we set off to look at Trowdale Mote (NX76NE 1).

A grand day out 4 July 2014 020

Lunch in the farmyard


There are similarities between Trowdale and Auchenhay Bridge in terms of scale, watery location and abundance of orchids, though here the remains comprise two ditches with a medial bank and central platform. Little wonder the site is classified as earthwork. How do we improve on this, if at all?

View of site

View of site


Pict’s Knowe, the last site of the day (NX97SE 13), and one that was excavated by Professor Julian Thomas between 1994 and 1997. This conforms to a classic henge in so far as it has a bank with internal ditch and central platform. Its location is different from the other sites on our list today, being on the valley floor with open views. Well worth another look, but is it similar to the others? I suspect not.

The cattle trampled causeway across the ditch at Pict’s Knowe

The cattle trampled causeway across the ditch at Pict’s Knowe


Back to the car and heading home. No orchids here but I do love the thistles.


Annandale Arms Hotel, Moffat. The driver (me!) requests a comfort break and a revitalising cup of coffee. Home is now in sight.


Coffee for three!

Coffee for three!


Home at last. Dropped off Strat and Roger and deposited the car back at the office. Job done! A long day, yes, a rewarding day, of course, but are we any the wiser? I do hope so. My priority now, however, is a hot bath and a stiff G&T. Perhaps I’ll be indulgent that have the two together. But I bet I’ll have dried out before my socks!

My wet socks!

My wet socks!


Looking at castles for a living

Name: William Wyeth

What do you do?
I’m a PhD student based jointly at RCAHMS and Stirling University, researching Scotland’s early stone castles.

Castle Tioram Highland

Castle Tioram Highland

Part of my work as a PhD student includes visits to sites like Castle Tioram, where I help with the surveying of sites and learn how to read the masonry of castles to interpret different phases of construct.

How did you get here?
I am from London and have always been interested in pre-modern warfare. At university I studied Roman history, after which I tried my hand in various jobs before deciding on heritage and archaeology. I took a fixed-term position as an Education & Outreach trainee at RCAHMS; during this time I developed an interest in Scottish history, especially the Wars of Independence period, which led to me applying for this PhD position.

What are you working on today?
I am working on developing the questions I want to answer by looking at the evidence available to me. All research requires a lot of reading and thinking, so quite a lot of time is spent reading something which will likely never appear in the final work, but which triggers ideas and theories which may play a role further down the line.

Here I am in my office at RCAHMS, where I spend the large majority of my time. I spend my time reading books, working through a large database of sites and writing. A PhD is a long and uncertain journey, so it’s nice to have two office mates, Iain and Miriam, to keep me company!

Here I am in my office at RCAHMS, where I spend the large majority of my time. I spend my time reading books, working through a large database of sites and writing. A PhD is a long and uncertain journey, so it's nice to have two office mates, Iain and Miriam, to keep me company!

My Desk

Favourite part of your job?
Site visits! It is quite difficult to grasp a site in its entirety without either having a solid plan and bank of photographs, or a comprehensive site visit. These also give you a much better grasp of the area in which the castle sits, an element as important as the castle itself.

Recently I went on a sightseeing tour of castle sites in the Highlands. Given that many castles are located in important communication routes or well-defended locations, it’s unsurprising that some castles have been replaced by later buildings, as at Ruthven.

Lag tower was a spontaneous discovery while on fieldwork. A delay one morning meant I was able to walk in the countryside nearby; I saw an abandoned farmstead, an iron age fort and Lag Tower (marked as Tower House on the Ordinance Survey map of the area). It’s a well-preserved 16th-c tower atop a small steep mound.

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?
I am not an archaeologist by training, but my experience of site visits with surveyors at RCAHMS has taught me two things; firstly, consider the setting of the site: where is it located in relation to everything around it? How might things have been different? The second tip is to be aware of the impact of earlier people in trying to restore or conserve structures or sites; sometimes their understanding of the site might not always be accurate.

My Day as a Collections Care Assistant

Name: Alison Clark

What do you do?

Collections Care Assistant is my job title. It’s a catch all phrase including aspects of collections management and preservation (i.e. making sure items are stored correctly, liaising with conservation colleagues about items which may need some extra care, returning items to the archive after members of the public have had a look at them and a bit of location control to make sure nothing gets lost amongst the millions of items we hold). That’s what I’ve been up to so far and I only started in June so it’s been a busy few weeks!

How did you get here?

With a lot of luck I was in the previous round of the Skills for the Future Trainees (2013-14). When my training contract finished I had already applied for an internal position with Historic Scotland in the Publications and Interpretation department. In addition to this I was offered a job with the National Collection of Aerial Photography via a temping agency so when the Collections Care Assistant post was advertised internally I was eligible to apply. For me this has worked out perfectly. I enjoy a very varied working week and I also get to experience a number of different areas within the wider heritage sector. Although I am not an archaeologist I do work with archaeological material very frequently, be it site drawings, excavation reports or as research material for publications.

Favourite part of your job?

After seeing the questions for these posts I have been pondering my answer for a while. Favourite part of the job…hmm…there a lot of different aspects I really enjoy within the work itself. Firstly every day is challenging and I appreciate the chance to give my brain a good work out with such interesting and diverse material. I’m constantly learning a lot about different periods in history, correct conservation methods and the different roles within the organisation. However, I’d have to say my favourite part of my job is all of the possibilities contained in the archive and the staff who work here. I love the fact that we are all working together to preserve other people’s life work so that the current and future generations can enjoy them, be inspired by them and also go on to do great things themselves.

What are you working on today?

Today I am catching up on a lot of filing. I was off with the flu so there’s quite a lot to catch up on…

What did university not teach you?

Somewhat unusually, I am not a graduate. I’d say it is unusual as most of the people I have encountered in the heritage world have a great deal of impressive qualifications. I have highers and some University study to my name but that’s it. I think work experience is incredibly valuable and an important thing to do before you decide what to study. For me leaving University when I did was the best decision I could have possibly made. I don’t think I’d be working for the Commission now if I had completed my degree. I wouldn’t be so passionate about my work and I wouldn’t be able to manage my time and responsibilities as adeptly as I do. University is great for some, but for others time away from education to decide what you enjoy and also discover what you are good at is the best option.