2.2 The roots of organised fieldwork

The beginnings of organised fieldwork lay in this late nineteenth century period. Much of it was driven by interests in specific monument types, often with a regional focus. Examples are Munro’s survey and excavation of crannogs (focussed in Ayrshire initially, but ranging much further afield; Munro 1882), the work of Petrie (and later Grant) on Orkney brochs, or the Society of Antiquaries’ work on hillforts such as Dunadd and Traprain Law. This focus on a region and a monument type has remained a recurring theme – such as the work of Scott and Lethbridge on Western Isles wheelhouses in the mid-20th century, and in the post-War period, MacKie’s important work on complex stone architecture in western Scotland or excavations on promontory forts in NE Scotland.

The late 19th century saw the beginning of survey programmes, notably Christison’s work on hillforts (1898), while the founding of the Royal Commission put this survey programme on a regular basis, with later prehistoric monuments being systematically recorded. From the earliest Inventories, survey was often followed by excavation, and many Iron Age sites were trenched by Commission surveyors, with important results, until the 1970s.

The death of Christison in 1912 and the retirement of Joseph Anderson in 1913, followed by the outbreak of WWI, correspond with a drop in archaeological activities in Scotland. The following years saw a lull in activity, but with notable exceptions, in particular A O Curle and J E Cree’s major excavations on the hillfort at Traprain Law (Cree 1923; 1924; Cree and Curle 1922; Curle 1915; 1920; Curle and Cree 1916; 1921) and work on the brochs of Midhowe and Gurness on Orkney (1930-1939) (Callander and Grant 1934; Hedges et al. 1987).

Leave a Reply