Scottish government

Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past

Well, hello from a soggy south-west Scotland. I’m Giles, Development Officer for Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past and I wanted to tell you on Day of Archaeology 2012 about the project and what we are going to be doing over the next week or so…

DDGP is an exciting new community archaeology project based in south-west, providing training in using geophysical survey to help volunteers record, understand and interpret the region’s fascinating archaeology. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity for local people right across the region to get involved in the surveys – it’s a great way to find out more about buried archaeology without having to excavate.

What is geophysics, and what can we find out using it?

Not all archaeology is about excavation – you may have come across ‘geofizz’ on TV’s Time Team where it’s often used to plan where to put the trenches in. Geophysics is a way of mapping buried archaeological deposits – be they ditches, pits or building material – without ever breaking the ground surface.

There are two main techniques for geophysical survey:

Glasgow University archaeologists undertaking resistivity survey

Resistivity: By passing a small electrical current into the ground, and measuring the amount of resistance that results, it is possible to locate buried remains of archaeological interest.

Resistance is related to the amount of moisture in the soil. Around buried walls, for example, the surrounding soil will often be dryer. The current cannot pass so easily through this dry soil, so stonework can often show up as areas of higher resistance. This technique is therefore ideal for locating building walls and foundations.

Glasgow University archaeologists undertaking magnetic survey

Magnetometry:  This technique detects extremely small variations in the earth’s magnetic field, caused when the ground has been disturbed by previous activity. Burning, for instance, will often leave a significant magnetic trace.

Magnetometry is excellent for locating ditches, pits, middens, hearths and kilns – and is great at covering large areas quite quickly.

The great thing about geophysical survey is that the results can be rapidly downloaded on site to a laptop, and even with minimum processing it is possible to define ‘anomalies’ which can represent buried archaeology. For volunteers on the project surveys this is great – they can see the fruits of their labours in the field. We are aiming to get these very quickly into reports which will be uploaded onto our website, to share them with as wide an audience as possible.

Our next survey
It’s all a bit hectic in the office today as we put the finishing touches to our programme for next week’s survey. We’ll be undertaken both magnetic and resistivity survey at the nationally important site of the Roman fort at Birrens. This continues work that the University of Glasgow have been concentrating on – looking in and around Roman military sites in Eastern Dumfriesshire.

Magnetic survey results around Bankhead Roman fort, Dalswinton

This has looked at fabulous sites around Lockerbie, such as the Roman fort at Dalswinton. As you can see this has added loads of detail (as you can see on the right) to both the inside of the fort of Bankhead and the surrounding area – which aerial photographs have shown to be really interesting.

At Birrens Roman fort, near Middlebie, we’ll be focusing on similar things. A group of 6 volunteers will be joining us for 3 days next week to carry out some resistivity survey on the interior – hopefully we’ll get detail of the street pattern, as well as an idea of how the buildings – both the barrack blocks and administrative headquarters of the fort – were laid out.

You can find out more about Birrens fort – known to the Romans as blatobulgium (literally the ‘flour sack’) here.

We’re having an Open Day on Saturday July 7th – it’ll be a great chance to show the public the results as well as an opportunity to show just how geophysics ‘works’ – including the amount of walking in straight lines that’s involved! The response has been fantastic locally – so here’s hoping for some sunshine!

I hope this has wet your apetite both for ‘geophysics’ and the project – please see our website to keep up to date with the latest –

The project is jointly funded by the Scottish Government and The European Community, Dumfries and Galloway Leader 2007-2013; The Crichton Foundation and The University of Glasgow.

The professional body for archaeologists

This may seem a million miles away from what you’d expect an archaeologist to be doing, but it is essential to ensure that the profession continues to develop and can provide a (yet) better service to the public and developers. And that’s the job of the Institute for Archaeologists (

So far today I have prepared a short statement welcoming the release of a planning advice note from Scottish Government. This is an update of a 17-year old document setting out the roles and responsibilities of developers and local authorities when it comes to archaeology. I was involved on behalf of the Institute for Archaeologists in an advisory/drafting panel convened by Scottish Government, and it’s very reassuring to see that nearly all of our recommendations have been included. It’s a big improvement over the earlier draft because it now makes clear that the work developers pay for should be done to quality standards, and there’s the biggest steer possible short of actually saying it (governments are always cautious about this) that work should be done by IfA Registered Organisations. So we’re moving away from simple compliance to a concern about quality.

Meanwhile, in England, I have been preparing comments on the consultation draft of the new National Planning Policy Framework, released with a fanfare (and an IfA soundbite in media release) on Monday. This document replaces all the existing government documentation about developer archaeology is secured. Again we have had lots of official and unofficial input into the process, but you can never be quite sure if the document to be released looks like the last official draft, the last official leaked draft, the last unofficially leaked draft or nothing you’ve seen before. In fact, it’s got most of the good bits in that we wanted, but with colleagues I’ve spotted some areas that need to be strengthened. And we’ll need other documents to explain how it’s to be interpreted – we’ve started already – in order to ensure, once again, that archaeological work is undertaken whenever its necessary (and never when it isn’t), as is of good quality every time.

And I’ve attended a meeting of our specialist group responsible for illustration and survey. They’ll be making sure that we provide all the services that are needed for these critically important parts of our discipline, and that we continue the good work of the Association of Archaeological Illustrators and Surveyors, which voted to merge with IfA last month.

And this evening I shall be doing what so many paid archaeologists do – no, not downing beers in the pub (though I might), but preparing to be a volunteer archaeologist at the weekend, guiding visitors to the archaeological excavation at Woking Palace, on behalf of the Friends of Woking Palace (, as part of the Festival of British Archaeology. Why not visit?

Peter Hinton, Chief Executive, IfA

Busy day!

It’s been a busy day so far. The meeting with AAI&S has now finished, and was very successful. Look out for a press release about the merger. We’ve also been making some exciting plans for next year’s Conference (which will be in Oxford 18 – 20 April).

I’ve organised an inspection panel for a organisation that’s applied to become Registered with us, and we’re continuing to write up the benchmarking reports for those of our current Registered Organisations who need to reregister this year (they do so every two years, to make sure they’re still operating as we expect them to). I’m also getting some last minute nomination forms in from people eager to be on the Buildings Archaeology Group’s committee, and rounded up what training courses our groups have done this year for Alex, who’s writing the Annual Report at the moment. I’m currently typing up the last edits on the text of The Archaeologist for our designer, as that will go to press next month. This issue is the conference round-up. A copy of the new ‘Londinium’ map has just arrived on my desk for review (in the following edition I suspect). It’s very good, Kirsten’s just showed me the iphone app. I like the one-finger excavation technique!

Earlier today we released an exciting statement about the new Scottish government planning advice note. We are particularly pleased with the stipulation that archaeological work required through the planning process should conform to the relevant IfA Standards and guidance, and the emphasis that work should be done by ‘a professionally competent organisation or consultant’, with IfA is identified as having a Register of professionally accredited organisations.

The phone’s been busier than it has been all week, which is unusual for a Friday. I might need some more coffee….