9.5 Approaches to artefacts

There is a Britain-wide problem in developing artefact specialists, with many specialisms dependent on very few specialists. This is not a problem which can be resolved on a Scottish basis alone. In recent years, AHRC collaborative doctoral awards and IfA workplace bursaries have proved valuable initiatives nationally to develop material culture analytical skills. The continued application and publication of interesting approaches to material culture is perhaps the best advert for specialist work.

Current trends to synthetic or summary reporting, with data relegated to archive, make the detailed study of finds increasingly difficult – ironically, just at the moment when techniques such as correspondence analysis; Cool and Baxter 2002 are becoming more widely used to analyse them, and web-based databases offer a means for wide access to data. New work does not need to wait for new excavations; there are assemblages excavated to a good standard which have never been analysed in detail. It is important to revisit older and antiquarian assemblages in the light of new data; there is a tendency to think that old finds are too imprecisely dated to be useful (eg Smith 2002), but antiquarian excavations make up in breadth of coverage what they lack in chronological detail, providing a sense of distribution and associations which the detailed site-specific data of modern, resource-intensive work cannot match. The two sources, modern and antiquarian, need to be combined for best results (eg Hunter et al 2009).

The Scottish Treasure Trove system does not have the provision for a regional network of liaison officers such as in England and Wales in the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Informal conversations with metal-detectorists make it clear that much material is not being reported. Further work is needed to understand this issue. This is an issue which goes beyond the Iron Age, and is not considered in detail here.

Artefact assemblages need detailed treatment in post-excavation, and need to be reported on in ways which make the data readily accessible.

There is tremendous scope for applying innovative techniques in comparing and contrasting excavated assemblages, drawing in both recent and older excavations.

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