ScARF Student Bursary Report: Malcolm Evans

Scotland’s Island Research Framework for Archaeology (SIRFA) Symposium, Western Isles 7th – 11th January 2019

I would like to express my gratitude to the Scottish Islands Framework for Archaeology project for inviting me to their symposium for the Western Isles, and the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework Project and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for the generous travel and subsistence grant, without which attendance would not have been viable. Given that the new data from new sites being generated by my research project originates predominantly from the Western Isles, but also Shetland, this was an opportunity I am relieved I did not have to pass on.

The opening conference style adopted ensured that a diverse range of inputs and opinions received airtime and the outcome will be better for this, especially as the delegates included not only academics, but also members of a very engaged local community, and local commercial archaeologists This ensured the engagement with and access to the full gamut of stakeholders, and the massive amounts of knowledge that they bring. Inevitably, at such events one gets to put faces and voices to what were previously names on publications, and this was a very welcome opportunity to change the status of such individuals, in one’s own mind, from the abstract to the tangible. 

Barpa Langass chambered cairn, North Uist ©ScARF

Overall the structure of themed sessions and chronologically defined sessions, enabled me to both obtain a better understanding of the initiatives in other chronological periods, as well as the initiatives in other sub-disciplines within my own periods of interest. Hearing that other researchers are advocating similar alternative research agendas is comforting. Establishing follow-up contacts with researchers as far away as the USA who are looking into similar techniques was of course invaluable. Exchanging contact details with an engaged local community and commercial archaeologists is something one rarely, if ever, achieves at a conventional conference. But in terms of my own research project, as welcome and valuable as the information sharing and network building opportunities are, the highlight was the inspired decision to include field trips within the schedule. Of note was the evidence of the episodic nature of coastal erosion, and even more so the intertidal peat beds. Experiencing the above in the field adds so much more colour and texture to concepts usually limited by one’s own powers of visualisation based upon descriptions within the literature, such as that I had recently read on the site of Westward Ho!  The experience has already enriched my interpretative framework, and as I stood on the beach caused more than one penny to drop, and several new bells to jangle.  The visit to the chambered tomb also provided a welcome memory jog, as to the size and complexity of the construction endeavours made so long ago, especially given I last visited one in 1989. The field trips also provided a far more flexible approach to networking than coffee breaks and similar.

To conclude I would like to express my gratitude and thanks to the organisers, funding body, our wonderful B&B hosts, and the individual who even managed to forward a paper to me during the event. These sentiments must also be extended to the warm welcome and hospitality provided by the local community; finally, my thanks to the caterers who provided a truly magnificent meal on the last night, whilst cheerfully assisting me add to my reference collection in the process. I hope sincerely that the opportunity to attend the next event in Shetland is forthcoming.

Malcolm Evans, PhD Candidate, Durham University