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 view some present-day societies were stages ‘behind’ polite, white Western society; this included ‘Celtic’ society in both Ireland and Scotland, as we as people in many parts of Britain’s empire. It is important to note that anti-Celtic racism and prejudice was core to the discipline from its beginnings.
The first modern academic archaeological approaches can be seen in the work of Horace Fairhurst, of the University of Glasgow who did seminal work in 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 or Medieval or Later Rural Settlement was used to cover much work on the subject (Govan, 2003) as it was taken on and supported by heritage bodies Historic Scotland and the RCAHMS resulting in a series of publications around the millennium (Atkinson et al 2000; see also below 10.3).
Another important project which emerged from this period was Scotland’s Rural Past, which built on the work of NoSAS, ACFA, ARCH, and other groups working in the Highlands to support a wealth of community archaeology work 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 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 more academic university-based studies and the excellent work being undertaken by community archaeology groups in the Highland Region, nor integration with developer-led work.