1.2 Archaeology in the Region

The assessment of the archaeological record in the SESARF region shows that over the past 30 years, the primary driver of archaeological research in the region has been through the planning and development control system. Compared to some other regions of Scotland there have been relatively few large academic studies, although in recent years, site-specific work has been undertaken on Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh and Bemersyde in the Scottish Borders by the University of Edinburgh as part of summer fieldwork for undergraduate students. Other academic research driven projects have tended to cover wider landscape across the South of Scotland – for example ‘Beyond Walls: Reassessing Iron Age and Roman Encounters in Northern Britain (Fernandez-Gotz et al 2022) and the short-lived cross border AHRC funded Tyne Forth Prehistory Forum providing summaries and outputs for prehistoric research undertaken by academics and contractors (within Crellin et al. 2016). Other ‘smaller’ cross border studies have been undertaken such as those of find types (Hunter and Painter 2013) and site types (Hamilton 2010).

Landscape view of Arthur's seat, with rows of housing in the foreground
Arthurs Seat and East Lothian seen from Braids © ScARF

Single sites within the region, within a larger programme of research, have been examined such as the recent work at Eildon Hill North within the Northern Picts project of Aberdeen University. More occasional work has also been undertaken by the University of Durham (at The Hirsel, Coldstream) and University of Newcastle (at Greenknowe, Harehope and Meldon Bridge) in the 1970s and 1980s (Cramp 2014; Jobey 1980; Speak and Burgess 1999).

The Traprain Law Environs Project undertaken by Durham University in 2000 to 2004 investigated a number of smaller settlements in an area of 150km2 centred on the hillfort, looking at the nature and development of later prehistoric and Roman Iron Age settlement in East Lothian.

The more specific circumstances of being a ‘border’ region have also been studied from being ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the Roman Empire, to the appearance and movement of the current national borders, have meant the region has been studied within larger national and international overviews.

Large-scale (UK-wide) baseline reappraisals such as the creation of the Hillforts Atlas, whilst academically-driven, have involved a large numbers of community and volunteer participants to deliver them in the region. Other cross-sectoral initiatives such as Scotland’s Rural Past, Scotland’s Urban Past and Scotland’s Rock Art Project have provided longer-term opportunities for engagement, training and learning in the region for volunteers, though the take-up of these projects across the south east region has been variable.

Aerial photograph of the pentland hills among large fields and farmland.
Pentland Hills Regional Park, one of the many area surveyed as part of Scotland’s Rural Past © HES

The Council archaeology services also work with the local communities (whether or not formally constituted as history, heritage and/or archaeology societies and groups), academic and individual finders, researchers and students. The local archaeologists also work with other Council services and national bodies (with their own range of remits) where there are overlaps of interest, as well as with planning applicants and developers (and their employed consultants and contractors). Schemes range from small householder extensions to landscape wide large wind farms and afforestation proposals. The local authorities themselves are also landowners and occupiers of historic sites and landscapes, as well as providing information and advice to others in similar positions, to finders and other national organisations for the local specifics and background. 

Annual Local Authority archaeology service initiatives provide important events to disseminate current archaeological work. These range from formal conferences, such as the annual Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders Archaeology Conference (ELBAC) held every November, to sustained series of outreach and dissemination events such as East Lothian Archaeology and Heritage Fortnight held annually in September. There are also a wide range of events undertaken as part of Scottish Archaeology Month with the promotion of the involvement of local societies and groups within larger initiatives and projects (such as Defence of Britain, DigIt! and Home Front Legacy in recent years).

Many of the archaeological companies and consultancies also deliver outreach and education projects and products. These may be linked to specific development-led projects (including events such as excavation open days), or ongoing resources and bespoke services, e.g. AOC Archaeology Group, Wessex Archaeology (Scotland), which has also included the collection and use of developer contributions, such as for the Whiteadder Historic Heart of the Lammermuirs project.

Photograph of a group of 10 people taking part in an excavation. The picture is lively, with people crouched, standing and digging in the dirt.
Excavations at Morham as part of the Whiteadder Project
© AOC Archaeology Group for East Lothian and Scottish Borders Council Archaeology Services

The diverse work of the many history and archaeology-based groups and learned societies in the SESARF Region provides a rich resource of local and county-based projects and research archives. Some of the region’s learned societies have long histories themselves. For example, the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists’ Society was founded in 1924, ‘to study the antiquities of the area, to collect material of interest, to publish relevant articles, to go on appropriate excursions, to have lectures and to stimulate general interest in the history of East Lothian.’ The Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club has an active interest in natural history and antiquity between the Tyne and the Forth and was begun in 1831 and widely ranging across Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and north Northumberland in particular for site visits, lectures and occasional excavations. The club supports a library and the long-running History volume, published since 1833, with occasional monographs being more regularly produced.

The Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society, which has been active since 1971, provides opportunities for archaeological excavation, survey and lectures throughout the year, often working in tandem with City of Edinburgh Council Archaeology Service (CECAS). Current work is focussed on the post-medieval site at Cammo, though the group has ranged more widely across the whole of the southeast region with important excavations undertaken at Fast Castle (Mitchell et al. 2001) and geophysical surveys in East Lothian, the Scottish Borders, and elsewhere. Another wide-ranging group which has lately become involved in the Scottish Borders is the Association of Certified Field Archaeologists (ACFA), which range widely across Scotland, but have been involved with the Halterburn Valley survey (Hirst and MacInnes 2020; Broad et al. 2023).

Photograph of a group of 8 people taking part in an excavation. The ground is wet and muddy, with the people digging with shovels and their hands.
The 2022 excavations on the Cammo Estate – work under way on the glasshouse
© Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society

The Peeblesshire Archaeological Society has been especially active in the western parts of the Scottish Borders, being established in 1994 to stimulate public interest in the history and archaeology of Tweeddale; encourage the preservation of features of general historic and archaeological interest; fieldwork recording, meetings and publications. A series of landscape scale (on the Manor Valley see Cowie 2000), specific monument type surveys, promotion and conservation (such as long cist burials and Adam and Eve stone at Lyne) and excavations (such as Shootinglee) have been and continue to be undertaken by the group.

Community excavations and heritage projects have been undertaken in recent years in a number of areas, including the 1722 Waggonway project in Cockenzie, Ancrum Heritage Project, the Siege of Haddington Research Group and the Whiteadder landscape project. There are cross-border projects such as the Flodden 500 project which was undertaken in connection with the 500th anniversary of the battle in 2013 (Miller et al. 2016). Some of the more recent archaeological societies and their activities also span the national border with the Border Archaeological Society (established 1997) and the Till Valley Archaeological Society (established 2013). The Biggar Archaeological Group and the Eskdale and Liddesdale Archaeological Society cross the western border of the Scottish Borders, and are amongst others more engaged in local history work, with their own lecture programmes, excursions and varied fieldwork in their local areas. A range of fieldwork types and activities have been carried out by these groups, which have included fieldwalking and metal-detecting, geophysical surveys, historic building and recording projects as well as selective excavations.

Some of these groups are affiliated to larger groups and organisations, such as Archaeology Scotland (formerly the Council for Scottish Archaeology) and the British Association for Local History, but not all.

There is currently no single list or directory of all the local societies and groups across the southeast of Scotland, but current work is being conducted by Emily Johnston of Edinburgh University on these groups (again within the whole of Scotland) to create a database of community project and groups across Scotland. Information about many of the local heritage groups based in East Lothian can be found online at https://eastlothianheritage.co.uk/.

An estimate of about 90 local heritage groups and archaeology societies are based in the SESARF region. A number of local societies and groups are developing their own hyper-local research frameworks (for example 12 Towers of Rule and Trimontium Trust in the Scottish Borders) with a variety of engagement with the local authority archaeologists. The University of Edinburgh hosts several seminar series during term time, with the First Millenia Studies Group bringing together researchers, academics, curatorial staff and commercial archaeologists who study or work on material dating between 1000 BC and AD 1000. Subject specific seminars from both the School of History, Archaeology and Classics and Edinburgh University Archaeology Society also run within term time.

Photograph of hills, embedded in a landscape mixed with trees and fields.
View of Trimontium in the Scottish Borders © Christian Bickel (CC BY-SA 2.0)