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.

Nikki Moran (RCAHMS) – Aberdeen

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

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

Aberdeen: The Green

I am a Collections trainee based at RCAHMS as part of the Skills for The Future programme.  I obtained my undergraduate degree from Aberdeen University and lived in Aberdeen for almost 8 years.  The Green is a popular area in the centre of town and I know it well.  The Green’s interesting history has been revealed through a series of excavations.

Aerial photograph of Aberdeen’s Harbour taken in 1948. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1314739)

Aerial photograph of Aberdeen’s Harbour taken in 1948. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1314739)

The Green is situated near Aberdeen’s harbour and is one of the oldest known parts of the city. Archaeological excavations of the area revealed flints, used to make tools for fishing and hunting, which date back to about 8000 years ago.

In Medieval times it was in operation as an administrative and defensive point of entry to the city.  It also had a thriving religious community especially after the founding of the Carmelite Friary in 1273 when Carmelite friars settled here and made relationships with the local community.  Excavations were carried out in the 1980’s and 1990’s which revealed sections of the friary church foundations and areas where the friars would have lived.  Skeletons found through excavation are thought to have revealed the location of burials within the church and graveyard.  As you can see from the picture of Carmelite lane, below, the area has been completely built up over time and no physical remains of the church can be seen.

Aberdeen, Market Street,  View from South, showing Carmelite Lane. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1343754)

Aberdeen, Market Street,
View from South, showing Carmelite Lane. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1343754)

RCAHMS hold a collection of ink and pencil drawings relating to small finds from the excavations which one of the curatorial trainees has just recently catalogued.  The drawings were used for the publication “Three Scottish Carmelite friaries: excavations at Aberdeen, Linlithgow and Perth 1980-1986”, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland monograph series no
6 by J.A Stones which presents the results of excavations at similar friaries in Scotland.

This site is a great example of finding archaeology in our cities.  Aberdeen City Council have set up The Green Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) to tackle the problems of run down areas of historic significance and you can take part in The Green Trail,  a tour of areas of historical significance around the Green.  I would recommend paying a visit to the Green and while walking around just remember what was found beneath your feet and what may be found in the future.

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.