Despite the wealth of Scotland’s freshwater archaeological resource being widely recognised, research has been undertaken at a comparatively low level when considered alongside the contemporary terrestrial settlement record. While coherent research directions have begun to develop over the last two decades, and most notably as a result of the recent Scottish Wetlands Archaeology Programme (SWAP) (http://www.aocarchaeology.com/research/swap.htm) research agenda, there are still significant holes in our knowledge, and key areas are under-researched in chronological. geographical and methodological terms. Wetlands and water bodies have been central to life in Scotland since people first settled the northern mainland and, in a country dominated by its precipitation, wetland environments have always been important. Although the exploitation of freshwater environments has been varied and widespread through time, from fishing and foraging to industrial and transportation use, Scotland’s wetlands are perhaps most important in that they were clearly central to a tradition of ritually-significant settlement practice that existed from at least the late Bronze Age to the High Medieval period and later: that of the island dwelling or crannog.
Some 400 island settlements/crannogs [see note 1] are listed by the NMRS, and although a proportion of these references can be ruled out as dubious or false reports, this is generally held to be an underrepresentation of the true number based on detection rates during concerted underwater survey (e.g. Dixon 1982). The extent of the resource of related structures found in bogs and mires is very poorly understood, though these are known to exist (e.g. Ballachulish, Christison 1881). Prospection in peatlands has had mixed success, and while important sites are known to exist in Scotland’s mires and carses (e.g. Ellis 2001) a spot-sample evaluation of sites located in wetlands returned very variable results (Ellis 1999). Scotland has not seen the large scale drainage and industrial peat extraction work carried out in raised bog areas of Ireland and as such any grasp of the geographical. functional and chronological extent of preserved freshwater archaeology is still basic. Primary field survey and prospection remain the most valuable research initiatives at this stage in knowledge.
[note 1] The term ‘crannog’ is a debatable one: it has been argued that this should only be applied to an entirely artificial islet built mainly of wood, but this definition would exclude many hundreds of stone islets found in the west of Scotland and related semi-natural island dwellings. Such details are to some extent unimportant since all belong to the same conceptual tradition; as such, the term ‘crannog’ is used here advisedly