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I’m Susan Hamilton. I work in the Survey and Recording section at RCAHMS, and am responsible for a number of data-led projects, which include exciting work sharing our database with a number of partners, for example the National Trust for Scotland, the Orkney Council Archaeology Service and the Garden History Society in Scotland.
I’ve chosen the Island of Inchkeith, in the Firth of Forth. Located in a strategic defensive position in the middle of the Firth, it helped protect the important Port of Leith and the City of Edinburgh as well as the sheltered anchorage provided by the Forth. As a result, it is covered in defensive structures, some of which date from the 16th century.
Today, some of the most visible remains are the concrete and brick shells of the First and Second World War defences. I’ve been on fieldwork on Inchkeith and was struck by the evocative nature of the island. It has been more or less uninhabited since the end of the Second World War, and in some parts it is hard to believe it is almost 70 years since up to 1000 service personnel were stationed here. In a number of the buildings, wooden rifle racks and shelves for helmets survive by the entrances. Observation posts retain painted regimental badges on the walls and small tables where maps and plans (or the daily rotas) may have been laid out.
For me, what is interesting about places like Inchkeith is that they demonstrate the massive changes that the infrastructure of the Second World War imposed on the Scottish landscape. Although this island fortress may be an extreme example, it reflects the very real fear of invasion and the threat of aerial attack under which people lived. Sometimes it seems easy to present a British view of the conflict coloured by ‘Dads’ Army’ and ‘Boys Own adventures’. As we enter a period when there will be fewer and fewer survivors telling their stories, we need places like Inchkeith to remind us of the difficulties and folly of war.
‘With every colour in a tartan plaid spread on the sky…’
Kevin Grant CBA Bursary Scheme Community Archaeology Trainee
Out on the edge of the old world, on the blue-green ribbon of machair and mountains which makes up the Innse Gall, the barking of a seal punctuates the regular lapping of the Minch in the rugged, rocky, haven of Loch Aineort. Or at least, I imagine it will.
In 2 weeks, I head out to my favourite archaeological landscape: Loch Aineort, on the east side of the Island of South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Blogging won’t be easy, given that a phone call can be a challenge there – that’s why I’m writing this pre-emptive blog, which will be posted on my behalf, while I’m cold, damp, and midgey-bitten in my favourite archaeological landscape.
Loch Aineort was once the main port for the Uists back in the 18th century, when the MacDonalds of Clanranald wielded their power from here across the seas. The ruins of an inn lie choked in scrub at the head of the Loch, a place where a dry roof and a warm fire would have been heaven for travellers coming ashore from many of the small stone-built and rock-cut moorings nearby. Blackhouses, the low, round ended byre-dwellings of the 18th and 19th centuries, dot the landscape, nestled down against the wind. A glance at an aerial photograph of the area reveals cultivation remains everywhere: scars left by the Cas Chrom, the foot plough, cover the tiny tidal island of Riosgaigh where 10 crofters had a share of potato-land in 1805.
The Loch has bore witness to great events: it was probably from here that Clanranald departed with his men for the Jacobite rebellion and Culloden. One of his men chose Loch Aineort as the setting for what was to become one of the most significant and beautiful poems ever written in the Gaelic language. His description of sunrise illustrates why it is my favourite place: it is the perfect example of a true archaeological landscape: a place where the land, people, and culture are intricately entwined.
‘Chrian a’ faoisgneadh gu h-òrbhuidgh
Às a mogal…
Chinn dach dath bhiodh ann am breacan,
Air an Iarmailt’
‘As the Sun Bust Yellow-Golden
Out of her husk…
With every Colour in a Tartan Plaid
Spread on the Sky’
–Alastair MacMhaistir Alasdair, The Galley of Clanranald c1751 (Trans. R. Black).
To view information held about this site at RCAHMS, visit the site on Canmore
The Scotland’s Rural Past project is coming to end at RCAHMS and they have just released a second publication which is ‘A Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites’. This new guide has developed out of training courses and contains practical, hands-on advice on the techniques used for recording archaeological sites, it is an invaluable tool for anyone who would like to discover more about the rich history and heritage of this country.
I’ve just got my hands on a copy and don’t know how I’ve managed without it! You can access a free pdf copy here.
All RCAHMS contributions for Day of Archaeology are now live. Thank you to those who participated and who helped along the way.
As well as our online resources, RCAHMS also houses a public Search Room where visitors and volunteers can gain access to our drawings, photographs and manuscripts, with members of staff on hand at all times to provide assistance. For Day of Archaeology we went along to ask visitors what they were working on.
A regular volunteer at RCAHMS Hugh Dinwoodie, was busy indexing documentation stored here from excavations at Fast Castle between 1971 and 1986 carried out by the Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society. As a member of the Society, Hugh has been volunteering at RCAHMS and working on the results of these excavations for 4 or 5 years. With a keen interest in archaeology and now with knowledge of the RCAHMS cataloguing system, Hugh volunteers regularly.
Volunteer takes time out to explain his work in the RCAHMS Search Room.
The Search Room is regularly busy with members of the public researching various projects and already today we have had two visitors in researching Urquhart Castle, Medieval Castle building techniques, Iron Age archaeology and the development and spread of Celtic culture across Europe to Britain.
In the video below George Geddes, an archaeological field investigator at RCAHMS, explains a little about his most recent project involving one of the lesser known houses on St Kilda known as the Amazon’s House.
For more information and photographs why not have a look at the site record for the Amazon’s House in Canmore.
For the first 6 months of my placement I was working on the Threatened Building programme and through that I visited a lot of different threatened buildings throughout Scotland. We do desk-based research before visiting a site, and during field work make a decision on what should be recorded and which way if best to do to – whether it’s by photographic survey or a graphical survey.
I’ve moved onto the Urban Survey program, and I’m currently working on an urban characterisation study of Bo’ness. This involves sorting the town into different character areas based on historical development and topography as well as current day characteristics.
As part of the Urban Survey we’ll also update the Canmore record with new photography of Bo’ness – streetscapes as well as individual buildings. That’s actually what I’ve been doing today – I’ve put through 25 requisitions for individual building photography and I’ve also requisitioned general street views of the 18 character areas. That means that our professional photographers will know where to take the photographs!
Once the photographs have been taken and processed they’ll go into Canmore and I’ll work on captioning these. Today I also received a batch of aerial photographs from the photographers, which help to illustrate the street patterns etc. These will also form part of the characterisation study report to explain the character of the different areas of Bo’ness and how the towns developed over the centuries.
Well it’s a bit of a cheat as ‘technically’ on the 29th I’ll be blogging all of the RCAHMS contributions for Day of Archaeology, so I’ve made my own contribution early!
I’ve been at RCAHMS for 5 months working with the Data and Recording section. I’m lucky enough to be here on a funded IfA/HLF bursary which allows me to get involved in a number of different projects to provide training and workplace learning. However at the moment I’ve been working on the Defining Scotland’s Places project (when I’m not blogging for Day of Archaeology that is!) which aims to create site area polygons for existing records. These polygons will effectively create an intelligent map containing attributes and information about the site itself. To create the extent polygons, a number of sources are consulted such as aerial photography, Ordnance Survey mapping both current and historic, RCAHMS 1:10,000 record sheets as well as information created from field surveys. All of these sources are taken into account to determine the most accurate site extent.
I’ve been working on polygonising the Western Isles and I’m currently focussing on Harris. The map shows the areas which have been polygonised already as part of the project (seen in pink).
Both RCAHMS and Western Isles local authority records are available so the project provides an opportunity for concordance between the two sets of records as well.
In essence the project creates a new intelligent map which has been digitised from a combination of other sources including the record summaries which give details of the site.
Polygons are a closed shape which define an area. They provide far more information about the site than a simple dot on a map. The polygons are also flexible enough to be created for any type of site. Even at a glance polygons allow for a much more understandable map of the sites already recorded in Scotland and can be further interrogated for more detail and information.
This new data provides a much more visual understanding of the sites and their surrounding landscape. I’ve been learning a lot about the landscape of the Western Isles during this project which will no doubt come in handy when I visit the area in a few weeks to give a download of the data created so far to the Western Isles archaeologist.
For more information on the specific details of this project see the RCAHMS website.
More examples of the work being produced by the project:
In this video, Steven Wallace Field Photographer at RCAHMS explains how his work in the field is only just the beginning and the processes involved in making the images accessible by the public.