National Trust for Scotland

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

Aisha Al-Sadie (RCAHMS) – Fife

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

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

Falkland Palace

Over the last three months I have been researching the history of Falkland Palace, situated in Fife while on placement there as a Skills for the Future education trainee. It is surrounded by a wealth of history, not only from the surrounding village of Falkland but also in the very grounds of the palace. Under the Palace garden, remains of earlier structures have been found and others have completely vanished.

View of Falkland Palace. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

View of Falkland Palace. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie



The earliest known structure on the site was a 12th century hunting lodge owned by the Clan McDuff, the Earls of Fife. It is not known whether the lodge was either destroyed or whether it was incorporated into the later Falkland Castle which was levelled in 1371.The 3rd Marquess of Bute who was the Keeper of the Palace in the 1800s carried out several archaeological digs to look for evidence of the medieval site of Falkland Castle but only found a pile of medieval rubble. However, foundations of a 14th century Well Tower and the Palace’s destroyed North Range were discovered at this time which are thought to be either part of a Great Hall or a Chapel. The Marquess placed stones over these foundations to enhance the structures of both these sites and reformed the ‘upper garden’ to express the shape of the ruined buildings. Medieval remains of the castle were also found buried in the 17th century bowling green which the Marquess removed when digging, the rest of the stone was probably reused to build Falkland Palace in the 1500s.

Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

In the 17th century Sir David Murray and his brother built a mansion house in the northern part of the Palace garden. This has been referred to as the Low Palace, the Castlestead, the Rangers House and the Netherplace of Falkland. During this period the Palace lay empty and fell into ruin so by 1757 no effort had been made to repair it.

Drawing, by the author, of Falkland Palace. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

Drawing, by the author, of Falkland Palace. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

“in my last that I was at Falkland which I found in very ill cause both as to the glasses and window cases and floorings, and besides it will be very inconvenient and chargeable living there since I have no interest in it, nor near it so that I think any charges I will be at will be better bestowed at Huntingtower…”

Lord Murray writing to his father-in-law the Duke of Hamilton on Falkland Palace, 1684

Ironically, the structures built during this period no longer exist and little is known about them. However the 3rd Marquess of Bute ensured that Falkland Palace itself was preserved for future generations. Unfortunately he died in 1900 before he could complete all his plans for the palace. One of these was to put a roof over the ruined East Range which is still a shell, it is however constantly monitored and conserved by the Deputy Keeper, National Trust for Scotland and partly funded by Historic Scotland through the Annual Maintenance Grant Scheme.

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. In this case contact details are:

Douglas A Speirs Archaeologist
Enterprise, Planning & Protective Services
Regeneration, Environment & Place Team Fife Council Kingdom House Kingdom Avenue
Glenrothes KY7 5LY
Dial VOIP: (08451 55 55 55) ext :473748
Mobile: 0785021224
Fax: 01592 583199


Robin Turner (RCAHMS) – Falkirk

Robin Turner, meeting Prince Charles at Dymocks

Robin Turner (green jacket), meeting Prince Charles at Dymocks

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

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

I’m Robin Turner, and I look after the architectural, archaeological and landscape survey parts of RCAHMS, and also the recording part – getting records into the Canmore database and out to the public. I’ve been interested in archaeology since I was at primary school, and went on my first dig in 1969. I was hooked, and spent all my school holidays going on digs in Britain and abroad, before going studying archaeology at university. As well as working in field archaeology (digging) I also spent almost 20 years in archaeological conservation and management with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS).

One of the best things I’ve ever been involved in was at the small Scottish town of Bo’ness, on the south side of the River Forth. It used to be a thriving industrial town but became increasingly down at heel in the later 20th century. As part of the NTS Little Houses  Improvement Scheme, we transformed Dymock’s Buildings –a derelict group of ugly-looking buildings –into something that the town could once again be proud of, and I was responsible for ensuring that a detailed archaeological record was made of the standing buildings and also of what was under them.

Dymocks N Street facade before

Dymocks N Street facade before Copyright Robin Turner

Dymocks N Street facade after

Dymocks N Street facade after Copyright Robin Turner









As well as unravelling the very complex story of the buildings, from their origins on reclaimed land in the 1650s to their 20th-century uses, we excavated beneath them and found the remains of an amazing salt pan: in the 1600s the south side of the Forth was a centre for heating seawater and making salt. The buildings are now in community use, but there is occasional public access where local people and visitors can find out about the story of the buildings. But the best bit is what our work did for the community. The buildings were transformed from being an eyesore to being something that people could admire and be proud of. The community went on to renovate the Hippodrome – one of the earliest picture houses in Britain. In part because of these initiatives, the community’s civic pride has been greatly enhanced.

Archaeology is not about things: it’s about people: people in the past, but people in the present too, and in the future. Through their work, archaeologists can change people’s lives.

Dymock's Building: NTS Booklet cover. Copyright The National Trust for Scotland

Dymock’s Building: NTS Booklet cover. Copyright The National Trust for Scotland

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.


Susan Hamilton, Data Upgrade and Liaison Officer RCAHMS

I’m Susan Hamilton. I work in the Survey and Recording section at RCAHMS, and am responsible for a number of data-led projects, which include exciting work sharing our database with a number of partners, for example the National Trust for Scotland, the Orkney Council Archaeology Service and the Garden History Society in Scotland.

I’ve chosen the Island of Inchkeith, in the Firth of Forth.  Located in a strategic defensive position in the middle of the Firth, it helped protect the important Port of Leith and the City of Edinburgh as well as the sheltered anchorage provided by the Forth.  As a result, it is covered in defensive structures, some of which date from the 16th century.

Today, some of the most visible remains are the concrete and brick shells of the First and Second World War defences.  I’ve been on fieldwork on Inchkeith and was struck by the evocative nature of the island.  It has been more or less uninhabited since the end of the Second World War, and in some parts it is hard to believe it is almost 70 years since up to 1000 service personnel were stationed here. In a number of the buildings, wooden rifle racks and shelves for helmets survive by the entrances. Observation posts retain painted regimental badges on the walls and small tables where maps and plans (or the daily rotas) may have been laid out.

For me, what is interesting about places like Inchkeith is that they demonstrate the massive changes that the infrastructure of the Second World War imposed on the Scottish landscape.  Although this island fortress may be an extreme example, it reflects the very real fear of invasion and the threat of aerial attack under which people lived.  Sometimes it seems easy to present a British view of the conflict coloured by ‘Dads’ Army’ and ‘Boys Own adventures’.  As we enter a period when there will be fewer and fewer survivors telling their stories, we need places like Inchkeith to remind us of the difficulties and folly of war.