It is, perhaps, fair to say that much research goes on in isolation from other specialist research, with no sense of there being a coherent strategy for investigating the Archaeology of the Scottish Neolithic. While there would be little support for centralised control over research activities, nevertheless the development of a research framework – i.e. the raison d’être of the ScARF project – is a useful way of seeing where individual projects can fit into a larger whole. In particular, there is a need for integrated, collaborative research that takes cognisance of what has been achieved elsewhere (e.g. in terms of effective methods and strategies) and is able to situate the research within different levels of understanding, the international, national and the local setting.
Current and recent research into Neolithic Scotland has taken a wide range of forms, as the foregoing text makes clear and as is evident from the following examples of topics and approaches:
- Isotopic and osteological analysis of human and faunal remains.
- radiocarbon dating programmes and Bayesian modelling of dates.
- palaeoenvironmental (including palaeoclimatic)
- underwater and aerial survey (including Lidar).
- analysis of absorbed lipids in pottery.
- targeted fieldwork to explore specific types of site, or as part of a broader study of an area through time (e.g.as in South Uist, Caithness, RCAHMS survey on Donside).
- raw material characterisation through petrology, chemical analysis and mineralogical analysis; material-specific mapping and inventorising (as in the case of Arran pitchstone and Alpine axeheads).
- Issues-based research programmes (e.g. the Nationalmuseet’s Farming on the Edge project, comparing the Neolithic of Shetland with that of southern Scandinavia).
- study of the Orkney Vole and its origins.
- experimental construction and destruction of a megalithic monument.
- investigation of Caithness stone alignments.
- investigation of Cursus monuments.
- reviewing assemblages from chambered tombs.
This research is being/has been undertaken by individuals and teams within and outside Scotland; on different scales; and in different capacities – some being university-based, some undertaken by museum curators, some by freelance individuals and voluntary groups.
Along with the results of previous research, it is helping to shape and transform our understanding of Neolithic Scotland. But there are various issues which mean that the broad potential of this work is not currently being fully realised.
These issues are explored briefly below; many are common to all the periods of ScARF’s remit. In essence, they boil down to the following two main issues:
- Accessibility and quality of existing information (ie dissemination and awareness issues)
- Overall approach, including scope of the questions posed and organisation of research