10.1.2 Previous Work

The view of ‘a past in the present’, emerging from 19th century antiquarian studies on the Western Isles (Curwen 1938) influenced early antiquarian and archaeological views of Highland society (MacKay 1988). In part, these ideas had their roots in stadialism – a racially charged ideology that proposed that cultures and society existed in different stages, from tribal to barbarian to civilised. In this ideology some 19th century societies were stages ‘behind’ supposedly polite, white Western society; this included ‘Celtic’ society in both Ireland and Scotland, as well as people in many parts of Britain’s Empire.  It is important to note that anti-Celtic racism and prejudice was core to the antiquarian discipline from its beginnings.

The first modern academic archaeological approaches can be seen in the work of Horace Fairhurst, of the University of Glasgow whose seminal work was on Rosal, Sutherland (Fairhurst 1960; 1968). This tradition was continued by his student Alex Morrison (Morrison 1977; 2000a), also at Glasgow. In the 1990s and early 2000s the phrase MoLRS (medieval or later rural settlement) was used to cover much work on the post-medieval Highlands (Govan, 2003). The term was taken on and supported by heritage bodies Historic Scotland and the RCAHMS. This resulted in a series of publications around the millennium on the topic of post-medieval archaeology (Atkinson et al 2000; see also Chapter 10.3).

Black and white photograph of an archaeological site in the landscape taken from ground level. The centre of the photo shows and oval of stones and boulders, with one standing stone to the north of the oval. The feature is on flat land, however, the background shows it is at the bottom of large hills.
Township remains at Rosal, Sutherland. ©HES

Another important project which emerged from this period was Scotland’s Rural Past, which built on the work of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NoSAS), Association of Certified Field Archaeologists (ACFA), Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH), and other groups working in the Highlands to support a wealth of community archaeology in the region, some of which is reported here. Recently there has been renewed interest in the archaeology of the post-medieval Gaeldom by archaeologists, resulting in a small body of recent academic work, with landscape being a particular focus. Little of it however has been in the Highland Region (see eg Grant 2018; 2019 ; Given et al 2019; Bezant and Grant 2016; Adamson, 2014; Given, 2004). There has not always been a good dialogue between academic university-based studies and the excellent work being undertaken by community archaeology groups in the Highland Region, nor has there been integration with developer-led work.

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