10.13 Contemporary Research

Doctoral research on early modern and modern Argyll has been limited. The most significant study was that produced by Chris Dalglish. His PhD was published as Rural Society in the Age of Reason (2003) and used the Southern Scottish highlands (Kilfinnan and Kintyre) as the research area. He dealt with the emergence of modern society and rural settlement with considerations of capitalism and land rights, using an interdisciplinary approach drawing on theoretical models from archaeology and incorporated historical geography, ethnology, folk life studies and history. Chris developed the landscape approach further in a paper published in 2009 titled Understanding Landscape: Inter-disciplinary Dialogue and the Post-medieval Countryside. His case study in that piece is the Campbells of Glenorchy, (neighbouring Argyll). He considers what evolutionary landscape history (the RCAHMS approach), environmental history, and the experiential approach can contribute.

Extremely useful historical research has also been undertaken by DJ Johnston-Smith in his University of Glasgow MA in 2002. Entitled ‘”Barbarous, and yet mixed with some shew of civilitie:” The Clan MacFarlane of North Loch Lomondside c.1570-1800’, this research brought the MacFarlane archives held in the Glasgow Procurators Library to light and has provided an excellent history of the MacFarlanes and the activities of the laird and antiquarian, Walter Macfarlane, in the 18th century. More general history books which are relevant to Argyll in the early-modern period include Clearance and Improvement: Land Power and people in Scotland 1700-1900 (Devine 2006).

It is also worth mentioning the research of Jo McKenzie at the University of Stirling and her study Deep anthropogenic topsoils in Scotland: a geoarchaeological and historical investigation into distribution, character, and conservation under modern land cover (2006) which includes an example from Tiree.

The RCAHMS continue their work with the Historic Landscape Characterisation Project which is a management tool providing a historic dimension to landscape character assessment and a more specialised review of railway signal boxes in Scotland a few examples of which are located in Argyll (Historic Scotland 2012).

Research into the medieval rural settlement of Argyll also explored the post-medieval or early-modern landscape in the hope that this would help to explain why the medieval sites were so hard to identify (James 2009). Two chapters, ‘Power, politics and rebellion the Campbell Earls of Argyll in the 16th and 17th centuries’ and ‘Economy and society in the 18th and 19th centuries’ followed a multi-disciplinary approach utilising historic maps, aerial photographs, documentary evidence, place-names analysis and consideration of climate change. A multi-scalar approach was also utilised, ranging from an extensive landscape of North Knapdale to individual ‘sites’.

Aerial view showing the remains of Airigh Ghuaidhre township ©HES

Research has also been carried out by the University of Reading over three seasons on Islay, at Airigh Ghuaidhre (CANMORE ID 82928; Mariečević, Mithen and Wicks 2011 2012).  This work included a survey, geophysics and very limited excavation around a 19th-century township and a chapel enclosure, although the main focus for the research was a possible Neolithic burial mound. A collaborative project between Kilmartin Museum, Ulster University, Queen’s University Belfast, and the National Trust of Scotland with the Colonsay and Oransay Heritage Trust explored a series of post-medieval sites on Colonsay, including a late medieval, early post-medieval settlement at Ardskenish (Horning & Forsythe 2013) and a 19th-century cottage at Port Mor (Horning and Breen 2013).

From further afield, the German Archaeological Institute, Department Rome, has undertaken research on prehistoric copper mining in Kilmartin, which also revealed more recent activity, such as clay mining in Kilmartin (Steiniger 2011a; Steiniger 2011b). Other research excavations have included Dun Mhuirich (Regan 2013) and a drovers’ inn at Tigh Caol, Strathlachan (Bailie 2014). A recent excavation of a charcoal builders’ platform at Lochan Taynish was sponsored by Scottish Natural Heritage who wanted to reconstruct a charcoal burning hearth so that it could be viewed by the public as part of a local heritage trail. The platform was found to be probably of late 18th or early 19th century date (Sneddon 2003).

The Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists (ACFA) have produced prolific surveys, many of which have taken place in Argyll, eg the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds reserve on Coll (Henry 1998). ACFA members are holders of the University of Glasgow Certificate in Field Archaeology and they undertake field survey and record cultural heritage of all periods. On Coll they visited the known archaeological remains as included in the 1980 Inventory and identified additional remains. Four new sites were included in the report and the author concluded that the RCAHMS inventory had not paid much attention to the post-medieval vernacular structures.

The Scotland’s Rural Past (SRP) Project (RCAHMS) encouraged a large number of surveys of deserted settlements to be carried out by non-professional archaeologists. This work includes very detailed surveys which add to the body of knowledge (eg Dorren and Henry DES 2012a, 2012b; Mull Historical Interest Group (eg Clare 2011). Two SRP inspired projects, the High Morlaggan Project (Regan 2010, Regan 2011b) and The Hidden Heritage Landscape Project (James 2014) went further, undertaking excavation in order to put the observed remains into their wider archaeological and historical perspective. These showed that there was huge local interest in the remains of the recent past and that little previous professional research had been done in this area. As a result of this project George Haggarty suggested that research into the introduction of industrial pottery wares into the west of Scotland was a vital area for research.

National and local Interest groups, such as the Scottish Industrial Heritage Society, aimed to bring together people interested in discovering and understanding Scotland’s past. The SIHS in particular, raised awareness of industrial heritage and provided a focus for those with an interest across a very wide spectrum. It is not clear from their web site how active they still are.

No study of Argyll can go without a mention of The Kist, the publication of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Mid-Argyll which has been going for many years. This publication contains numerous notes and articles about Argyll from the prehistoric to the modern period. There is an article on Marion Campbell and Mary Sandeman’s Mid-Argyll survey by Grahame Ritchie which provides some background to the survey and the contribution of Eric Cregeen, Resident Tutor in Adult Education in Argyll and then tutor for the Glagow Extra-Mural Department (Ritchie 2005). The mid Argyll group planned to record the deserted settlements of Argyll with sound recordings. This was never published but there may be notes within the Marion Campbell archives held in Kilmartin Museum. Industrial sites such as Taynish Mill (built 1724) were recorded and published in the Kist by members of the society (Clark 2002). In the same edition there is an article on ‘North Knapdale Woods in the 18th century’ which has used the Inverneill Estate papers and the Poltalloch estate papers (Rymer 2002).

The web also provides access to many other sources eg the 2012 annual Angus ‘Ease’ MacLeod lecture held in 2012 on the Isle of Lewis by Professor Donald E. Meek. His title is “Charging at an Open Door? An Alternative View of Crofting History and Highland Development since 1930 from the Gaelic writings of the Rev. T.M Murchison (1907-1984)” and begins in Gaelic (see the YouTube video). The web also provides a different format for presenting and disseminating research. Cross-disciplinary work is being done by the National Trust for Scotland for example their Changing Landscapes project on Iona. The 2015 Changing Landscapes project was on the theme of ‘Working the Land and Sea’ and involved the ranger service, staff and pupils from Oban High’s School of Traditional Music and music tutors.