4.2.3 Current paradigms in freshwater archaeological research

Largely due to the work of Coles and Coles (e.g. 1992, 1996) and the meetings of the Wetland Archaeological Research project (WARP) conference in 2005 (SWAP 2007), freshwater archaeologists are united in their aim for the incorporation of wetland remains with their wider landscape contexts; the rationale being that it is impossible to understand wetland sites when treated on specialised terms, when the people who built and used them did not live in isolation. Freshwater archaeological sites present a unique opportunity but also a unique challenge- it is often easier than on dryland sites to identify how and (to a very fine degree) when wetland sites were built and used, but equally it can be impossible to explain why. Recent movements in wetland research have aimed to move beyond empirical and functionalist description, to explore issues of motivation, agency and identity (e.g. O’Sullivan and Van der Noort 2006).

These approaches have been more widely explored and applied in Ireland than in Scotland, where regional and chronological studies have explored function and meaning within the various theoretical frameworks of prehistoric and early historical studies (e.g. O’Sullivan 1998, 2008; Fredengren 2002). This has led to a more coherent understanding of the role of lake settlement within the wider settlement system, while concurrent programmes of systematic survey work have greatly increased our appreciation of the range in form, function and status of Irish lake settlements (e.g. Fredengren 2002; Boyle 2004; O’Sullivan 2008). Contextualisations of Scottish crannogs within chronologically-appropriate theoretical frameworks have been somewhat thinner in Scotland, though Hale (2004) considered the role of the Clyde crannogs in relation to the local prehistoric settlement context and Cavers (2005) has correlated the origins and developments of crannogs in the context of the development of settlement forms of the western Scottish Iron Age.

Scottish crannog studies have, however, been successful at exploring the importance of wetland taphonomy, and the recent WARP conference proceedings produced a range of papers that summarise the current state of our knowledge (e.g. Crone 2006; Cavers 2006c; Henderson 2006). This is an important, and in multi-period sites with good organic preservation, taphonomy can be exceedingly complex; it is certain that taphonomic concerns will always be central to the study of sites preserved in Scotland’s freshwaters, and the development of new techniques for elucidating taphonomic processes should always be promoted.

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