Tag Archives: HLA

Mike Middleton RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

My name is Mike Middleton. I am an archaeologist, specialising in mapmaking and survey, working on two archaeological mapping projects.

Out on fieldwork, getting a better view!

The first is the Defining Scotland’s Places Project which aims to defining the extent of monuments in the landscape so that people know where they are, where they are and who they need to contact if they need more information. (click here to see more about this project from last years Day of Archaeology)

The second project is the Historic Landuse Assessment Project, a partnership project with Historic Scotland, which aims to map the change in land use over time.

It is difficult to choose just one site as my favorite. Growing up in Shetland I could have chosen Mousa, Jarlshof, Clickimin or Scatness Brochs. Living on the east coast I considered choosing the Aberlemno pictish stones, the Abernethy Round Tower or Norman’s Law hill fort but instead I have gone for a site I visited on my recent field visit, Hut Knowe.

Knowe and the surrounding cord rig field system

Piers Dixon walks along a small track between fields of cord rig running in different directions

What is special about Hut Knowe is the amazing preservation of an entire prehistoric landscape. Not just the settlement but entire field systems. I’ve been lucky to visit many prehistoric sites over the years and, with colleagues, I’ve mapped and attempted to tease out field banks and boundaries. But, this can be frustrating with only tiny fragments surviving from which to interpret the whole.  What is so great about Hut Knowe is that the prehistoric fields of cord rig stand out so clearly. An entire c2000 year old landscape of rig, fields, trackways and settlement is there for all to see. A time capsule and one I recommend everyone to visit and certainly one for all students of Scottish landscape archaeology.

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Day of Archaeology – Historic Land-use Assessment

The Historic Land-use Assessment (HLA) is a joint project between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland. It is an analysis of the present landscape, recording the visible traces of past land-use across Scotland, and presenting it as a digital map. The Scottish landscape is not, and has never been, static and been managed, exploited and altered by past human activity over a long period of time. Evidence of some of this activity can still be traced on the ground today, though it is not always obvious to the untrained eye. HLA, therefore, aims to draw out this evidence from the present landscape and to provide a glimpse of the depth of time concealed within our landscape and immediate surroundings.

Paper and digital maps form the basis of the interpretation process and we consult a wide variety of materials to determine how the landscape has changed over time. The types of sources that we use include Ordnance Survey mapping, both current and historic, aerial photography, information from RCAHMS collections available through Canmore and any relevant written documentation. This information is used to determine the predominant current land-use of each part of the landscape and if there is any visible evidence for past land-use. In order to present this data, every part of the country has an Historic Land-use Type (the current land-use), of which there is a choice of 60, and up to three Relict Land-use types, of which there are 70. Each type is characterised by its period of origin, as well as its form and function. This data is collated, digitised and edited, and then made available via the HLA mapping website. Here a digital map of the data generated by the project can be viewed. The website also contains a number of supporting documents should anyone want to find out more about the project.

 HLA Officers Chris Nelson and Kirsty Millican at work. Kirsty is currently working on editing maps from Dumfriesshire, while Chris is busy interpreting the Lanarkshire area specifically Abington and Crawford.

Currently around 71% of the country is available to view and another 5%, the Galloway area, has been made available specially for Day of Archaeology!  We work by council area: Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire are ongoing at the moment, work will then move into the Scottish borders, Angus, Perthshire, Argyll, Invernesshire, Skye and finally finishing in Orkney.

Ultimately, the HLA project provides a valuable tool for interpreting and understanding the landscape. It helps us understand the historic dimension of the landscape, from traces of prehistoric settlement and agriculture to the more recent effects of intensive agriculture and industry. This historic landscape holds evidence of the distant past inaccessible to any other means of research and gives voice to aspects of life that do not usually figure in written history. This makes it invaluable as a resource for learning and education.