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.

From mountains to sea…and everything in between: Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service

It is our great pleasure to welcome you on the Day of Archaeology 2014 to the Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service.

Situated in the North East of Scotland, we are a small team (just the three of us!) with responsibility for a large geographic area – not only do we act as the regional archaeology service for Aberdeenshire Council, but also for Angus and Moray Councils, which is equivalent to 10,733km2!

Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Council areas in North East Scotland ©ACAS

Map showing location of Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Council areas in North East Scotland ©ACAS

Protection, Management and Promotion

For any given area roughly 95% of the historic environment is not protected by national designations, and it is down to Services like ourselves at local government level in the UK to protect it.

The team’s remit is to protect, manage and promote the historic environment of Aberdeenshire, Angus & Moray. A big part of this is maintaining a Historic Environment Record (HER) for each of these areas, an ever-growing database of sites and monuments of archaeological and historical interest hosted on our website.

There are currently almost 32,000 sites recorded in the HER, ranging from Lower Paleolithic auroch horns through Early Medieval Pictish stones to World War II defences. That’s almost 12,000 years of history!

The HER acts as the hub for our primary work within the Councils. We use it as the basis for assessing the potential impact of planning applications, forestry, utility and other consultations on the historic environment. The resulting archaeological mitigation work from these consultations then feeds back into the HER, broadening our (and therefore everyone’s) knowledge and understanding of the historic environment here in the North East, and helping to inform future decisions.

We will provide the best Protection, Management and Promotion of the Historic Environment of Aberdeenshire for the benefit of all ©ACAS

Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service Team Motto ©ACAS


Eve Boyle (RCAHMS) – Angus

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

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

Eve Boyle, RCAHMS

Eve Boyle, RCAHMS

A complex ancient landscape at Wheen, Glen Clova

My name is Eve Boyle, and for over twenty years I have served as a field archaeologist with RCAHMS. This job has led me all over the country, identifying, mapping and describing visible remains of our ancestor’s homes, farms and fields. It comes as a surprise to many people (and sometimes ourselves too!) to learn that there are still many areas of the country, particularly in the Highlands, with an abundance of unrecognised and unrecorded sites. The Angus Glens, on the edge of the Cairngorms, is one area that still has archaeological riches awaiting discovery. As an illustration of this, I have chosen as my favourite site this small area of pasture at Wheen, straddling the public road running into Glen Clova.

Prehistoric and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova, as mapped by RCAHMS in 1999, against modern vertical aerial photograph. South is at the top of the image. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

Prehistoric and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova, as mapped by RCAHMS in 1999, against modern vertical aerial photograph. South is at the top of the image. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

We mapped all the sites you can see in the picture in 1999, but it was only in the previous year, when this aerial photo was taken, that we realised there was anything of significance to be recorded in the glen. The crisp low light on a November afternoon throws up long sharp shadows that cause the low banks and knee-high footings of stone walls to jump out at us, almost shouting ‘Here I am! Look at me!’

The most exciting features are the prehistoric round houses, dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Three of these are clearly visible, one just left of centre in the foreground, another (which is oval rather than truly round) at the bottom right corner, the third in the middle distance, close to the right-hand edge of the frame. But there are others for the sharp eye to find. Our survey map shows seven round-houses in the area of the photo, with another six in the forestry and on the moorland to the north (the survey map has been turned to have south at the top to match the aerial photo). These are big structures, up to 50 feet across, the homes of farmers and herdsmen living in the glen two or even three thousand years ago. Around them the low light picks out small heaps of stone, now overgrown with grass and heather; these were formed as our ancestors threw into piles the stones dragged up by their ploughs.

Oblique aerial view of prehistoric, medieval and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova. Taken from the north. Copyright RCAHMS (SC437236)

Oblique aerial view of prehistoric, medieval and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova. Taken from the north. Copyright RCAHMS (SC437236)

But there are many other structures here – rectangular buildings occupied in more recent times, perhaps no more than three or four hundred years ago. The largest group of these, at the top of the photo, represents the remains of a farmstead from the 18th century, while the other small buildings (all shown in red on the survey map) were once perhaps the homes of labourers. The survey map also shows (in brown) short lengths of ruined walls and earthen banks, the remnants of a system of fields, some of which may be medieval or later, while others perhaps are as old as the round houses.

This photo is a marvellous example of the great wealth of archaeology in our countryside, often no more than a stone-throw from roads we drive along every day.

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.

For further information you can also contact the local authority archaeologist. Contact details in this case are:

Bruce Mann – Regional Archaeologist
Aberdeenshire Archaeology Service
Aberdeenshire, Moray & Angus Councils