1.5 The History of research

With antiquarian interest in the Medieval countryside, it was not until the 1950s and 60s that Medieval settlement studies fully emerged (Dalglish 2011, 272). The work of Horace Fairhurst (e.g. 1960, 1963, 1969a, 1969b, 1971) was highly influential, integrating archaeological methods in the investigation of rural settlement. Since the 1970s a lack of fieldwork was an issue [with some notable exceptions, especially excavations at Scandinavian settlements and field survey in Caithness and Sutherland (Mercer 1981)]. This changed with the emergence of developer-funded archaeology in the 1990s. Responding to this upsurge in activity, the Medieval or Later Rural Settlement Group (MoLRS; Hingley 1993; Corser 1993; Dixon 1993) was formed in order to advise on management and preservation of the resource. In 2007, MoLRS was renamed the Historic Rural Settlement Group (HRSG), focused to a greater extent on research issues, and produced a research framework (Dalglish and Dixon 2008).

A black and white showing a person standing beside the remains of a rectangular structure in an upland location

Horace Fairhurst at Rosal, Stratnaver. Although Rosal appears in documentary evidence from 1296, Fairhurst’s work only uncovered 18th century remains, possibly as locations and materials we re-used. Fairhurst’s work was pioneering and remains influential, ©HES

RCAHMS has undertaken a number of surveys including of regions (e.g. in Argyll [1971-92]) of particular field systems (Dixon 1994; Halliday 2003) and of island/crannog sites and lochs (Morrison 1980, 1985). Combining archaeological work with records, maps and the reconstruction of economic activity has been increasingly undertaken (e.g. Campbell 2000, 2002, 2004; Boardman  2006; Crawford 1983; Dodgson 1980, 1993, 2000; Whyte 1981, 1995, 2000). RCAHMS has also combined archaeology with historical geography in this way (e.g. RCAHMS 1997a, 2001, 2007), including the First Edition Survey Project (FESP; RCAHMS 2002).

More recently, other projects have included the National Trust for Scotland’s Ben Lawers Landscape History Project, and Scotland’s Rural Past (SRP) based at RCAHMS. The Stratearn Environs and Royal Forteviot Project (SERF; see Section 2.6) has explored hillforts within the wider Medieval settlement system, complementing work by Leslie Alcock at sites such as Dunollie, Forteviot and South Cadbury (Alcock and Alcock 1987, 1992; Alcock 1995). Castle and Manorial estates are beginning to be explored (e.g. Dalglish 2002; Rutherford 1998; Dixon 1997; Stell 2006; Breen and Forsythe 2008) and there have been a number of regional studies (see Section 3.3).

Urban archaeology

Whilst urban archaeology at it broadest can be said to have begun by the early 1920s (when the first plans of an urban site – St John’s Place in Perth – were made (Hall and Owen 1998), the first set of formal urban excavations took place in Aberdeen (St Nicholas Church 1974, Queen Street midden, Queen Street frontage, Broad Street and Shore Brae all pre 1976), Perth (St Ann’s Lane 1975 and then Perth High Street 1975-77) and Elgin (in advance of the relief road 1976-78). The Aberdeen Unit was formed in 1976 (Murray 1982). The Elgin and Perth High Street projects were both funded through the Manpower Services Commission (MSC).

The Urban Archaeology Unit (UAU) was formed in 1978 under the auspices of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Its main HQ was first in Falkirk (shared with the Central Unit (later AOC) and then at Blackness Castle). In 1981 the MSC funded Border Burghs Archaeological Project (BBAP) was set up under the overall supervision of Piers Dixon and this resulted in important excavations in the burghs of Peebles and Kelso. These excavations and their associated specialist reports were published as SAIR 2 in 2003 (http://journals.socantscot.org/index.php/sair/issue/view/10).

In 1982 the UAU became the Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust Ltd (SUAT) largely due to the advent of developer funded rescue archaeology and moved wholesale to Perth although the unit continued to supervise the MSC funded excavations at Whitefriars, and another MSC scheme for excavations at Blackfriars in Perth.

Throughout the 1980s a large element of SUAT’s work was funded through a combination of Manpower Services Commission schemes in Ayr, Glasgow, Kirkintilloch, Alloa and Perth and funding from SDD Ancient Monuments to operate the monitoring and excavation of redevelopment in Scotland’s medieval burghs.

With the reorganisation of local authorities and the appointment of local authority archaeologists in the early 1990s funding for the monitoring project was ended. SUAT’s work then concentrated on developer funded archaeology coupled with funded research projects from Historic Scotland’s archaeology programme. Several other archaeological organisations where working in medieval towns by this date (e.g. City of Edinburgh Council Archaeology Service, GUARD, Headland Archaeology, Kirkdale Archaeology, Rathmell Archaeology). Since 1995, the Scottish Burgh Surveys have been published (developing from unpublished rapid surveys from the 1970s) designed to provide information on the topography, history and archaeology of the burghs and to help guide development and research.

A black and white photograph of an archaeological excavation showing the remains of stakes and a wattle fence

It was the excavations at 75-95 High Street in Perth between 1975 and 1977 that first highlighted the remarkable preservative qualities of the anaerobic middens of that burgh. The remains of up to 27 medieval wooden buildings were recovered. This photograph shows a collapsed wattle fence which had acted as a property boundary between burgage plots ©HES

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