1. Introduction

Written by Helen Spencer, Keith Elliott, John Lawson, Stephanie Leith, Andrew Robertson and Wessex Archaeology (Scotland)

The South East of Scotland Archaeological Research Framework (SESARF) is a regional research framework for four Local Authority Areas; the City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders. The Scottish Borders comprises the pre-1975 counties of Berwickshire, Peeblesshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire. The adjoining regional marine planning area in the Firth of Forth and the North Sea is also considered within the framework. The total area of both land and sea comprises around 7409 square kilometres, which is just over a third of the total area of Wales.

Illustration of a map of Scotland marking out the areas in the SESARF region: Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders
Map of Scotland showing the council areas within the SESARF region

The region is bordered by three Scottish Local Authorities: Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian. While there is no land border, to the SESARF region, Fife lies directly to the North of the region and visible across the Firth of Forth. Currently, none of these have formal published research frameworks, though the Clyde Valley Archaeological Research Framework project began in 2023, with South West Scotland and Forth Valley Frameworks anticipated in the future.

England borders the SESARF region to the South. There are two regional research frameworks for Northumberland one being the North East of England research framework, and the other being the Northumberland National Park. To the south west of the SESARF region, the North West of England Research Framework is of particular use to consider when looking at wider regional, landscape and cultural connections. Other regional and thematic frameworks that may be pertinent to consider alongside the SESARF can be found online at The Research Frameworks Network. Others exist such as Frontiers of Knowledge (dealing with the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site), Durham World Heritage Site (where established Medieval links with Coldingham and their other Durham Priory Scottish cells are discussed) and Ad Gefrin (Early Medieval Yeavering). Further hyper-local community driven frameworks are also emerging.

wooden signpost showing the border between Scotland and England. There is a striking landscape view in the background.
The Scotland-England Border on St Cuthberts Way © Brian Turner (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The national Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF 2012) assessed what was then known about Scottish Archaeology as a whole, looking at what was known, where there were gaps in knowledge and understanding and importantly making recommendations for future research. In 2016, it was recognised that the national picture would need updating and it was decided as part of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy Delivery Plan, that a series of regional research frameworks should be undertaken to both update the national picture, but to also draw out regional differences and make ScARF more useable for commercial and developmental use.

Just over 10 years since the original national synopsis was released, this new regional framework for the South East of Scotland is the fourth regional framework to be launched. It has been developed to add more detail and nuance to the particular research questions of the South East region. However, many of the national priorities from the original ScARF still hold true for this region.

The Region

The landscape of the region has many contrasts with the low-rolling landscape of the Forth Valley, to the stark hills of the Southern Uplands and the Lammermuirs, to the flat expanse of the lower Tweed (SESARF 2.1 Landscape and Environment History). The coastal environment has also been important throughout history from the narrow channel of the Inner Firth of Forth that separates the South East region from Fife, through to the more rugged coastline on the edge of the North Sea.

Scotland’s landscape character has been mapped through regional Landscape Character Assessments (LCAs), covering local authority areas. Commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH – now NatureScot), these underpin our understanding of the landscape and are used for natural heritage and planning policy making, and development planning. They provide baseline information for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) for developments such as wind farms, housing and infrastructure, afforestation and mineral extraction. Landscape Character Types (LCTs) are homogenous types of landscape defined as ‘areas of consistent and recognisable landscape character’.

A detailed illustrated map of the SESARF region, showing the landscape character assessments (urban areas, mountains, valleys, uplands and lowlands)
Map showing the Landscape Character Assessment of the SESARF region (outlined)
Modified by ScARF © Crown Copyright, Scottish Government Licence Number 100020540
Visit https://map.environment.gov.scot/sewebmap/ for an interactive map of Scotland.

The main landscape characters of the region are shown above. Further information about LCAs and a digital map of Scotland can be found at www.nature.scot.

A detailed assessment of the landscape and environment is available in SESARF chapter 2.

The region is also home to the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh, and the development of this settlement to a burgh and into the city we know today is important to not just the history of this region, but to Scotland as a whole.