1.4 Identifying Data Gaps

During Phase 1 of the SESARF project Wessex Archaeology (Scotland) spent time gathering a range of data about the archaeology of the region. Sources included, Canmore, local HERs, academic and grey literature. A range of types of data gaps and inconsistencies across the period chapters. These were due to a variety of factors including: 

  • Geography (linked to landscape survey coverage)
  • Multi-site analysis and synthesis (both generally, and in the implementation of latest methods and standards)
  • Artefact studies and synthesis
  • Monuments (all prehistoric periods especially), their chronologies and typologies
  • Earlier prehistory generally (pre-Neolithic)
  • Neolithic and Bronze Age and their transitions
  • Geoarchaeology and regional palaeoenvironmental studies

These kinds of factors have been identified and flagged in the various period chapters, and the Working Group identified further data gaps which generated further discussion.

An initial observation from Phase 1 of the process was that for each given period or type of archaeological site, the narratives extant in ScARF and the wider archaeological literature are often based on a few ‘classic’ sites, and/or investigations undertaken some time ago. This was a key theme raised during the Phase 1 workshops, and is a factor across all period baselines and chapters.

Analysis begun as part of SESARF may serve to illustrate this point further, particularly the distribution of radiocarbon dates across the region, which is concentrated in a few sites (for example Broxmouth, East Lothian). Most sites that have been dated have only one or two dates (though the work of Hamilton 2010 and in Crellin et al 2016 should be noted here).

On such a broad spatial and temporal scale, the data is variable, dependent on the period and the effectiveness of extracting data from the various sources. However, the baselines reflected the current state of archaeological data in the region and provided a start for further development of the framework.

A survey of radiocarbon dates from archaeological sites was been undertaken in 2018 by Wessex Archaeology (Scotland), to establish a baseline of available chronometric data from the region based on a range of datasets such as HES, HERs and CBA archives held by the Archaeology Data Service, as well as dates produced from development-led archaeological works. 925 unique radiocarbon dates were compiled for the SESARF region and recalibrated to the current calibration curve. An assessment of the numbers of radiocarbon dates highlighted the disparities across geography and chronology of the sites, as well as the various plateaus and insensitivities of the radiocarbon calibration curve to calendar years (which occur at crucial periods of the Early Mesolithic and Late Iron Age amongst others).

Aerial view of Cockenzie Harbour © Wessex Archaeology

There is clear concentration of measurements around 2000 years ago, roughly equivalent to the Iron Age, with modes around the early medieval and medieval periods, and smaller concentrations around the Neolithic-Bronze Age. Overall, there are relatively few measurements older than 4000 BC.

There is also a very sporadic geographic distribution of this archaeological dating, with most dates focussed in the north and west of the SESARF region, and associated with major development-led investigations (such as the A1 dualling in East Lothian) and on many dates gathered for heavily-investigated sites, such as Broxmouth. There is a substantial data gap regarding archaeological dating across much of the Scottish Borders and more upland areas of all counties in the SESARF region.

Other chronometric datasets are being gathered within the region, such as through dendrochronological work as part of the South East Scotland Oak Dendrochronology (SESOD) project (see the SESOD Case Study).

Sampling a fallen tree amongst the Dalkeith Old Oaks as part of the SESOD Project © C Mills

The sources for gathering base-line data for the region encompassed the full range of archaeological researchers from public and community archaeological works, government programmes, and academic research projects aimed at specific topics, site types, or locations. The distribution of development-led archaeology across the region is also important for gathering information from sites that were previously unknown but probably contribute a significant proportion of the dating evidence. For example, spot dates from isolated features are beneficial to post-excavation reporting, but are typically small dating campaigns (ie the one or two rangefinder dates). Whereas set-piece excavations following watching briefs or evaluations required for planning conditions may yield significantly more developed dating campaigns on important sites encountered during these works (eg the various sites excavated along the route of the A1 in East Lothian). Hamilton’s 2010 PhD work involved a number of South East Scottish locations within his larger region, with the acquisition of fresh radiocarbon dates and also the use of museum archives for where sites previously excavated.

The publication of the A1 excavations in East Lothian © Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (for more information about the book, please visit https://www.socantscot.org/product/the-lands-of-ancient-lothian/)
A view of Traprain Law, a key site in East Lothian © ScARF

A further important aspect is the visibility of sites within the landscape. Sites may have become invisible, such as earlier prehistoric sites that are now potentially buried beneath later upland peat and colluvial and alluvial lowland deposits, and sites that have been ploughed flat within the lowlands and coastal plains due to the more extensive arable agricultural regime within those areas over the past 200 years. The establishment and movement of coastal sand dunes is also noted for parts of the region at differing times (e.g. Ashmore & Griffiths 2011; Kdolska & Connolly 2020; Griffiths 2013).