Scotland’s Island Research Framework for Archaeology (SIRFA) Symposium, Western Isles 7th – 11th January 2019
At the beginning of January 2019 I attended the opening symposium for the Scottish Islands Research Framework. This was a big event involving commercial archaeologists, university researchers, members of the local community, and many more people to discuss the future of research in the islands to and to establish a research framework. The even comprised of a discussions sessions, field trips, and public lectures.
Having completed a PhD exploring diet and economy through time in the Scottish Islands, I was particularly interested in the industry and economy session, and identifying areas that required further investigation. Discussions highlighted the relative lack of evidence for earlier prehistoric subsistence, particularly in contrast to Orkney, where a wealth of site with rich economic records exist, and explored possibilities for encountering some of these earlier sites. I enjoyed having the opportunity to see how my research complemented that of other researchers in the islands, and to think about the future direction of my research in light of other projects that have been undertaken.
Speaking with local community stakeholders, and hearing about their interests in the archaeology and the future of the island archaeology, was particularly interesting, and stimulated some valuable discussions in the final session of the symposium, exploring community, social and economic impacts of archaeological research in the islands, a theme that had consistently been raised throughout the duration of the symposium.
The field trips also provided a fantastic opportunity to get see some of the rich archaeological record that North Uist has to offer, and to think about how to showcase the archaeology to visitors to the islands. The remarkable new find of the submerged Mesolithic forest highlights the importance of community involvement in identifying new sites. It was also a valuable lesson in how the changing coastline, whilst frequently destroying archaeological sites, can also help to reveal archaeology, enhancing our understanding of periods for which very little evidence currently exists. Seeing Bharpa Langais and Pobull Fhinn also allowed a greater appreciation of the relationship of these monuments to the wider landscape.
The event demonstrated the value of drawing together different stakeholders in order to design a research framework that would be beneficial to researchers, community members, archaeologists and members of the wider public alike.
Jennifer Jones, ECR, University of Aberdeen