2.4 Rescue and research in the later 20th century

Two things served to destroy this framework: the development and increasing availability of radiocarbon dates, and the explosion of excavated evidence from the first rescue “boom”. For the Scottish Iron Age, a key early example was the 1950s “Rocket range” sites of the Western Isles (e.g. Young & Richardson 1960; Fairhurst 1971a), although their often slow publication and lack of synthesis has limited their impact. From the 1970s the amount of excavated settlement sites exploded. In the Atlantic zone, examples such as the roundhouses of Bu and Quanterness and the broch complex of Howe (Hedges et al 1987, vol 1; Renfrew 1979, 181-198; Ballin Smith 1994) led to radical reappraisal of the development of brochs, questioning earlier work such as Hamilton (1968, 97-101) and MacKie (1965a-b, 1971), while work in the sand and gravel landscapes of southern and eastern Scotland included important work on souterrains at Newmills and Dalladies (Watkins 1980a-b), developing the key earlier synthesis and excavation of Wainwright (1963). East Lothian was a particular focus, including the key sites of Dryburn Bridge and Broxmouth. This work was synthesised in an important conference which was published in 1982 (Harding 1982), destroying the Hownam sequence for the south-east. Sadly the energy devoted to this deconstruction was not matched by the will to create another paradigm, partly due to the lacuna created by the delayed publication of Broxmouth and other sites.

This unfortunate situation was identified by Historic Scotland as a cause for concern and resulted in the initiation of The Historic Scotland Backlog Project (Barclay and Owen 1995). This was successful in bringing to completion many important delayed publications, mostly in PSAS. Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports (SAIR) should now be able relieve such pressure on print publication.

Archaeological aerial survey has played an increasing role in the post-war years, from its early beginnings in the 1920s (Crawford 1930, 276). The end of the war saw the RAF undertaking a survey of the entire country from the air, while from 1948 oblique aerial photographic reconnaissance was sponsored by the University of Cambridge Committee for Aerial Photography (CUCAP), conducted by J K St Joseph. His interests were principally Roman, but the results often included the discovery of cropmarks indicating the remains of later prehistoric sites (St Joseph 1951; 1955; 1958; 1961; 1965; 1969; 1973; 1977; 1978). St Joseph’s activities continued until 1980 but from 1975, archaeological aerial survey was also undertaken by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS 1994, 6), while flying in north-east Scotland was undertaken by Aberdeen Aerial Surveys and by Barri Jones (Shepherd & Greig 1996; Jones et al 1993). Today, the corpus is dominated by the massive amount of data accumulated since 1975, much of it documenting new discoveries of cropmark sites. The most recent RCAHMS regional surveys (1990, 1994, 1997, 2007) represent important steps in synthesising and understanding this mass of evidence; it is to be hoped that further such synthetic regional efforts will be pursued.

The 1980s saw the foundation of long-running University-based excavation and survey programmes, especially in the Northern and Western Isles, such as Bradford’s work on Sanday (Hunter 2007; Dockrill 2007) and southern Shetland (Nicholson & Dockrill 1998; Dockrill et al. 2010 & 2015), Edinburgh’s work on Lewis and North Uist (e.g. Harding & Dixon 2000; Harding & Gilmour 2000), and Cardiff and Sheffield’s work on S Uist (e.g. Parker Pearson & Sharples 1999; Branigan & Foster 1995, 2000). This has proved a great stimulus for the archaeology in these areas, with modern excavation results and interpretations leading to fierce debates and radical reinterpretations of the Atlantic Iron Age. Other areas have seen less research effort, but notable exceptions are landscape approaches in E Lothian (Haselgrove 2009), Angus (Dunwell & Ralston 2008) and Caithness (Heald & Jackson 2001), while the under-studied areas of Wigtownshire (Cavers 2008) and the Moray coastal plain (Hunter 2002; Jones et al. 1993) have seen badly-needed work.

Much of this more recent research has operated in synergy with the second rescue boom, with developer-funded archaeology. The provision for archaeology in Scottish planning policy (NPPG5) since the early 1990s has had a huge impact on Scottish archaeology in general, as can be observed from a review of Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. Major infrastructure projects in particular have resulted in the excavation of some extremely important later prehistoric sites, such as Forest Road, Kintore, Aberdeenshire (Cook & Dunbar 2008) and Phantassie, East Lothian (Lelong & MacGregor 2008). This has included areas outwith the traditional foci of research, such as the Moray plain (Murray 2007; Cressey & Anderson 2011) and Renfrewshire (Ellis 2007). Harding’s (2004) volume on the northern British “long Iron Age”, following in the synthetic tradition of Anderson, Childe and Piggott, sought to draw some of this material into broader interpretations, although the pace of development means that much material is unsynthesised, or unpublished in sufficient detail.

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