10.3 Settlement Evidence

The Post-Medieval period is one where we can gain a much better idea of the structure of society and how that might be reflected in the record which ranges from the castles and mansions with their policies and designed landscapes to the humblest abode of the mailer or cottar. There is an opportunity to assess how people got by at the lowest points in the social scale and discover the buildings they lived in.

Although the Highlands contain a wealth of surviving Post-Medieval rural settlement, interest in this resource has been relatively recent, and dominated the discussion of Post-Medieval archaeology from the 1960s into the 2000s. Apart from the work of Fairhurst (detailed below) and a few others, it was only in the early 1990s that there was a resurgence of interest in what came to be known as Medieval or Later Rural Settlement in Scotland (MoLRS). A statement of current research which usefully covers not just Highland case-studies but also studies from elsewhere in Scotland as well as England and Wales is provided by Atkinson et al (2000). The Conference Proceedings Medieval or Later Rural Settlement in Scotland: 10 years on (Govan 2003) provided a key summary of work up to that time. MoLRS was renamed the Historic Rural Settlement Group (HRSG), and produced a useful Research Framework for Historic Rural Settlement Studies in Scotland (Dalglish and Dixon 2008), providing a context for previous research, and recommendations for future research.

Since then there have been three developments: a revival of academic interest, developer-funded work, and, most significant of all, the rise in community archaeology and survey which has seen many surveys undertaken and some excavation. These three developments are not entirely separate: there has been a fair amount of cross-over. 

Settlement evidence in the Highlands is diverse in this period, including isolated rural buildings and shielings, townships, burghs and villages – some planned and some with a more organic evolution -, a few urban centres and special focus communities such as the spa town at Strathpeffer. This regional variation is poorly reflected in much of the literature which tends to paint the region as a monoculture. There is much scope for investigating regional variations.

Old postcards showing the spa town at Strathpeffer. Courtesy of Stewart Cameron.

10.3.1 Landscape and Settlement

10.3.2 Buildings

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