2.3 Synthesis and survey in the mid-20th century

The arrival of Gordon Childe makes a useful marker for the inception of professional archaeology. He arrived in Edinburgh in 1927 to take up the Abercromby Chair of Prehistoric Archaeology. His particular interest in the phenomenon of vitrified forts led to excavations at Finavon, Angus and Rahoy, Argyll, as well as some experimental work (Childe 1935a; 1936; Childe and Thorneycroft 1938). Childe also provided two highly influential syntheses of Scottish archaeology, the first since Anderson (Childe 1935b; 1946), which included important summaries and interpretations of the Iron Age evidence.

During World War II, the hiatus in archaeological activity is less noticeable. Indeed, wartime service even provided archaeological opportunities for some; J K St Joseph used his time at Scone airfield to carry out aerial reconnaissance of the area and Peggy Piggott was engaged by the Office of Works to excavate sites commandeered for civil defence purposes. Gerhard Bersu was invited to Scotland in the immediately post-war years, after his internment and before his return to Germany, to excavate on a number of sites (Bersu 1948a, 1948b; Close-Brooks 1983), and his work was significant methodologically in the excavation of timber roundhouses.

A dramatic black and white oblique aerial photograph showing extensive remains and earthworks surrounded by an expanse of fields and rig and furrow

Hownam Rings, Roxburghshire © RCAHMS

The post-war years were dominated by attempts to apply Christopher Hawkes’ model of the British Iron Age to Scotland (Hawkes 1959). This was championed by Stuart Piggott, Childe’s successor in Edinburgh, and became a key element in the interpretations of the RCAHMS surveys of the Border counties (Piggott 1966; RCAHMS 1956, 1957, 1967). It was supported by excavation to provide type sequences, much of it conducted under the auspices of the Scottish Universities Field School, sponsored and funded by the ancient universities in Scotland. Peggy Piggott directed Scottish Field School excavations at Hownam Rings (Piggott 1948), Hayhope Knowe (Piggott 1949), Bonchester Hill (Piggott 1950) and Milton Loch Crannog (Piggott 1953). In the first three, her research aim was to elucidate the development of the hillforts of southern Scotland by testing the Hawkes and Piggott model (1948). Hownam Rings was to become a type site for Iron Age forts of eastern Scotland; concerted deconstruction of Piggott’s model did not really begin until the late 1970s (Armit 1999). The publication of The Iron Age in Northern Britain (Rivet 1966) represents the culmination of this period, with the presentation of Piggott’s structure of provinces and regions, Feachem’s survey analysis, Young’s work on pottery and Stevenson’s on other artefacts, all framed within a Hawkesian ABC Iron Age.

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