8.4 Access to information

8.4.1 Databases and collections

A wealth of information is available in museums and archives around Scotland. Some of these have made their information available through their own on-line databases, and many more have contributed to SCRAN . The national database of sites and monuments for Scotland, Canmore , is available on-line, and contains a wealth of information about Roman Scotland and an index to the collections held by RCAHMS. Other information is also available in local sites and monuments records, many of which are on-line and/or have contributed their site-based information to PASTMAP .

Although the recording of information about timelines and periods in Canmore is scant, the Roman period is fortunate to have detailed period attribution, making it easy for the researcher to find information about Roman [military] sites in Scotland. Canmore also includes occasional references to Roman artefacts, usually where these were recorded by the Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division prior to 1983 (when its functions transferred to RCAHMS) or have been recorded in Archaeology Scotland’s annual Discovery and Excavation in Scotland publication.

Museum collections are another useful example, as few people are aware of the full extent of holdings in museum stores, and access to the information is often poor (the Hunterian’s web catalogue being a notable exception). There is no Canmore or PASTMAP equivalent for artefactual data. Whilst several museums have on-line databases, these are not always comprehensive or easy to search, and many are partial web-solutions provided by Scran. Furthermore, not all collections index their material by place. A pilot project looking at linking artefact and site records was undertaken by the NMS and RCAHMS in 2007 (Cowie and McKeague 2010), and showed the value of this as a future project.

While resources are available individually, the linking of them would greatly enhance their potential. For instance, further work in geo-referencing museum collections (especially findspot information) to RCAHMS Canmore data would be of great value.

Older museum collections are often inadequately catalogued, while the scale of more recent excavation assemblages means they are often slow to be integrated into museum databases. Targeted programmes of re-cataloguing key assemblages and the availability of archive grants from developer-funded excavations to allow cataloguing would be highly valuable.

8.4.2 Mapping programmes

Many of the concerns to do with access to mapping information are relevant to all periods and types of archaeological data with ‘mapping’ inevitably referring now to digital mapping.

There is a wealth of information available, and much can be gained from restructuring and bringing together the existing data. The Antonine Wall event mapping programme and Inveresk event mapping (see below) have highlighted the benefits of such an approach, yet these databases need to be constantly updated rather than become relics of when they were created. Standards have recently been created for polygonising data and the ‘Defining Scotland’s Places‘ pilot project has the potential to offer better depiction of large Roman complexes in the future. While there has been a long tradition of publishing information on archaeological interventions of Roman remains (e.g. ‘Roman Scotland in 200x’ in Britannia or roundups of recent excavations on the Antonine Wall in PSAS), the next logical step would be to transfer this information more fully into a spatial database.

For the nomination of the Antonine Wall as a World Heritage Site, the RCAHMS produced detailed large-scale mapping of the Wall zone. This representation is based largely on the 1980s OS survey of the Wall, with modifications from more recent programmes of aerial and geophysical survey and excavations, and has highlighted the need for a more up-to-date survey with modern methods such as LiDAR, the capabilities of which could be highly beneficial. In order to detect the slight and relatively small features that would greatly enhance current understanding of the monument, LiDAR resolution would have to be greater than that normally undertaken, to at least sub-metre accuracy.

Geophysics has long been noted as a useful technique to increase understanding of Roman features in Scotland (see section 2.4). The work conducted by GSB and Glasgow University on Antonine Wall forts, annexes and areas immediately outside of these features, has highlighted the potential, the difficulties, and the need for further work. Given the ephemeral nature of the buried archaeology, there is a potential for refinement and development of methods better suited to illuminating such remains. The recent success of large-area geophysical survey on Roman camps (Hüssen et al. 2009) highlights the potential and need for further work on these features. Whilst the results of these are now more readily available (thanks to Canmore and the OASIS geophysics module), there is still a need to make and maintain the raw data from such work accessible rather than just the processed results. Not only can different techniques sometimes bring new information to light, but also future developments in software may necessitate the reprocessing of this information.

An image showing the combined results of airborne laser scanning and geophysical survey on a landscape with archaeological features

Integration of existing spatial data in electronic form, and creation of layers of known Roman features for download or display on online GIS. The creation of such facility would be a straightforward process involving systematic selection and/or digitisation of the current information. Such a programme would highlight, for example, the poor state of current knowledge of the Roman road network in Scotland.

LiDAR survey of key monuments, such as the Antonine Wall and Ardoch, would address specific research questions but also highlight the great potential of the technique.

Refinement of geophysical techniques to correspond with the pragmatic problems of Antonine Wall sites in particular is needed.

8.4.3 Multiple unit interventions in single sites

Developer-funded archaeology has had a number of repercussions for Roman archaeological studies in Scotland. The most substantial is that many sites never excavated before are now being recorded. This has led to a glut of new information that needs to be processed and incorporated into existing frameworks of understanding. The second is that this work is highly variable in scale, quality and extent. The greatest challenge is bringing this information together in a usable fashion. Larger projects often have more substantial post-excavation work undertaken and, given the funding involved, have better research-driven frameworks; whilst the smaller interventions are, by financial necessity, often not fully integrated within any larger overview. The Roman fort and civil settlement at Inveresk is a good example of this, with projects running over different years, carried out in very different circumstances and under different temporal and financial pressures (Bishop 2002). This has led to discrepancies in the records which can often be difficult and time-consuming to reconcile. The Inveresk event-mapping pilot project offered a useful solution to some of the issues raised by multiple interventions at a single site (McKeague 2005), and was expanded to cover interventions along the Antonine Wall (Jones 2007). By bringing together the spatial information from these different interventions, a greater amount of information is gained than was possible from their individual study. The methodology highlights the need to keep information flowing and for the parties involved to archive all of their data, and specifically the spatial elements.

Annual round-ups in Britannia and regular round-ups of Antonine Wall interventions in PSAS are valuable in making data more readily available and should be further encouraged/expanded.

Funding should be sought to maintain such event-mapping programmes at RCAHMS as a matter of course in the normal course of archive deposition.

8.4.4 Is a “Roman Frontier in Scotland” publication needed?

Despite the popularity of the Romans and their role in the primary school curriculum, more academic publications rarely trouble the bestseller lists. In order to keep, promote, maintain and update a ‘Roman Frontier in Scotland’ resource, it is best served in digital format through existing web resources such as Canmore. There are already several introductory guides to the Roman remains in Scotland (e.g. Keppie 2004b), but a more detailed published introduction would be valuable.

Resource providers (RCAHMS, NMS, Hunterian Museum and others with significant Roman collections) should work together to provide an accessible information portal into Roman Scotland.

8.4.5 Backlog publication

Roman Scotland has a wealth of information gleaned from excavations and survey over the years. Whilst such a vast body of data should be an attraction to researchers, it appears that there is a tendency for it to deter many younger researchers, who see the daunting quantity of data and previous scholarship but overlook its potential. In part this comes from the training in universities, but it also shows the need for synthetic works which draw together such material for a wider audience.

Another problem is gaps in the data; researchers may be put off by access to this information, with far too many excavations remaining unpublished (the main sites are given in Table 4). There are additional small-scale excavations by others, including Anne Robertson, J Kenneth St Joseph and Gordon S Maxwell, that have not been written up for publication.

Some of the excavations remain outstanding due to delays in the production of specialist artefact reports. This problem is compounded by the age profile of many specialists, and the tragic recent loss of the two primary coarse pottery specialists for the Roman North, the late John Dore and Vivien Swan.

Modern excavations usually produce data structure reports (often referred to as ‘grey literature’), digital versions of which are becoming more and more accessible thanks to on-line data sources such as the Archaeology Data Service’s Grey Literature Library, and RCAHMS’ Canmore database. However, a cataloguing backlog for many reports results in their invisibility to researchers, who can often only identify these works thanks to summary reports in Archaeology Scotland’s annual publication Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. Furthermore, not all excavators submit their work to this publication and they should be encouraged to do so, and to use the OASIS transfer mechanism to enable their grey literature reports to receive a wider audience. There is also a cataloguing backlog in museums relating to the artefacts recovered through such projects, hampering future research.

Table 4: major unpublished Roman excavations

Site Date / excavator Current status (September 2017)
Loudoun Hill (1938-?, St Joseph)
Milton (1938-50, Clarke)
Broomholm (1964? Daniels) currently in advance post-ex and being written up by Dr Alan Rushworth (The Archaeological Practice Ltd, Newcastle)
Stracathro (1969, Robertson)
Cardean (1966-75, Robertson) being written up by Dr Birgitta Hoffmann. The latest on the project can be found at http://www.theromangaskproject.org/?page_id=144 
Croy Hill (1975-8, Hanson) in post-excavation and being written up by Prof. Bill Hanson (University of Glasgow)
Camelon (1975-7, 1979, Maxfield) with the publishers – to be a Britannia monograph (completed by Professor Val Maxfield, Exeter University)
Bearsden (1973-82, Breeze) Monograph published in 2016, edited by Prof. David Breeze (http://www.socantscot.org/product/bearsden/)
Monktonhall 1985, Hanson) in post-excavation and being written up by Prof. Bill Hanson (University of Glasgow)
Newstead (1987-90s, Jones) discussions have commenced between Dr Rick Jones (Leeds University), Scottish Borders Council, National Museums Scotland and Historic Scotland
Falkirk (1991, Bailey)
Kirkpatrick-Fleming Roman camps (1991, Leslie)
Inveresk west defences (1991-3, 1999-2001, Leslie)
Drumlanrig (2004, Time Team / Wessex Archaeology)

Comments 1

  1. Camelon: excavations by GUARD Archaeology in 2014
    Excavations by GUARD Archaeology in 2014 in advance of development near Falkirk revealed significant archaeological remains and finds including Roman pottery, metalwork and metalworking waste associated with the southern annexe of Camelon Roman Fort. Analyses of these finds sheds new light upon life during the early stages of settlement outside a Roman Fort in central Scotland. The report, ARO22: Outside the walls: Excavations within the annexe at Camelon Roman Fort, is available as a PDF from http://www.archaeologyreportsonline.com/PDF/ARO22_Redbrae_Road.pdf

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