ScARF Student Bursary Report: Vanessa Reid

Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework (PKARF) ‘Priorities in Progress’ Conference, 30th August 2019

In October 2018, I began a PhD researching the application of geoarchaeological techniques on Pictish settlement sites across the north east of Scotland. Not only are these sites elusive in comparison with other periods but occupation deposits within dwelling structures are often very poorly preserved. My research intends to assess the issues of preservation and evaluate the potential that fragmentary buildings have to reconstruct daily life in early medieval Scotland. The Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) has identified these as areas in need of attention, and it is hoped they will supplement the current growth in evidence for Pictish presence across Scotland.

Part of my project has involved collaborating with the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust during their excavations at Lair in Glenshee. This site has provided over 300 samples for analysis and will form the largest case-study in my research. Perth and Kinross has some of the strongest evidence for unenclosed Pictish settlement and comparative samples will also be recovered during additional excavation at two Pictish dwellings in Pitcarmick (previously excavated in 1993-5).

ScARF bursary supported student Vanessa Reid

As the area features so prominently in my research, I was very keen to participate in the Perth and Kinross Archaeological Research Framework. I had previously been approached to contribute towards the environmental aspect of the panel and, although this was eventually rescheduled for a later date, believed it would be valuable to gain an insight into the broader, period-based research in the area. I chose to attend the Iron Age and Early Medieval think-tank workshops, both of which provided lively discussions on the future directions of archaeological study. The former highlighted some of the gaps that exist when establishing directives for commercial and academic projects; part of my research will involve creating guidelines on the application of geoarchaeology and addressing these issues will likely result in a more adaptive and functional piece of literature. Similarly, the Iron Age workshop questioned the value in prescribing chronological nomenclature, particularly towards the end of the period. Participants recognised that it often masked significant radiocarbon dates which could otherwise be associated with the early Pictish Period. It was therefore agreed that new research could explore these indicators of transition and assess their value for understanding both the later Iron Age and early medieval period.

This issue of assigning radiocarbon dates, or dismissing certain dates as outliers, was also brought up in the early medieval session. Even in Perth and Kinross, evidence of Pictish settlement is limited and we discussed the need to explore the reasons behind this absence. My research will begin to address some of these factors and sharing this with other workshop participants encouraged discussion over how we can build research questions around the topic. The Early Medieval session also provided valuable discussions on the connectivity of Perth to both the south and the north, the significance of routeways and transportation, and the significant role of the church within the region. These topics emphasised the huge potential Perth and Kinross has to further advance early medieval study within Scotland and I am incredibly privileged to be part of this research agenda.

Attending the ‘Priorities in Progress’ conference was therefore an extremely valuable experience. Not only did it identify new areas of research and highlight existing challenges, but it also provided an opportunity to meet new people working in the area. Bringing together a mix of academic, commercial, community and public interest groups provided a well-rounded voice from which my research has already benefitted. I am very grateful to ScARF and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for providing a travel bursary and supporting early career researchers in sharing and developing their work.

Vanessa Reid (PhD Candidate), Durham University