Science in Scottish archaeology: realising the vision

March 2014

The Science panel of the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) set out an exciting vision for science in Scottish archaeology. The ambition is for archaeological science in Scotland to be a world-leader, achieved through partnership and collaboration, and building on existing strengths and expertise. The vision outlines the need to increase scientific research capacity in Scotland, create a network of specialists willing to work together, and hold workshops addressing ‘hot-spot’ areas of archaeological science. We are now working collaboratively on steps towards realising this vision.

For example, the co-Chairs of the ScARF Science Panel (Dr Richard Jones & Dr Karen Milek of Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities respectively) are working with the Society and Historic Scotland on ways to develop the network of archaeological specialists. The first phase is the creation of a Directory of Archaeological Scientists – a first of its kind in Europe – which is currently being developed by Landward Research Ltd. This will provide a virtual network of archaeological scientists and aims to improve communication between scientists and field practitioners, resulting in better integration of scientific techniques. The online portal, to be hosted on the ScARF website, will comprise a directory of scientists able to work on Scottish materials (identifying their areas of specialist expertise) and resources for potential use by archaeological scientists working on Scottish materials. Fellows with archaeological scientific expertise are encouraged to contact Landward Research Ltd – The project is overseen by an Advisory Board, comprising specialists from different archaeological science areas across Scotland, many of whom contributed to the Science Panel report.

Other activity is focusing on aspects of archaeological science in need of further attention, often in terms of profile-raising or addressing skills gaps. Dr Richard Jones, for example, recently organised a workshop on lithics research (you can download the notes from the workshop here), focusing on science-based techniques and methodologies. The event, arranged around talks, demonstrations and discussion groups, was attended by archaeologists and scientists from commercial units, universities and museums. It had the aims of encouraging more science-based analysis of lithic artefacts, telling us more about how they were used and where they were sourced. The workshop also looked at the role of experimental work and methodological issues such as recovery and sampling.

Creating the directory and hosting targeted workshops are the first steps in helping us, as a sector, identify what resources are required to ensure Scottish archaeological science achieves the rich potential set out through ScARF.

Rebecca Jones, Richard Jones, Karen Milek & Jeff Sanders March 2014

(Historic Scotland, Glasgow University, Aberdeen University & Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)

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