neolithic

7.2 Accessibility and quality of existing information (ie dissemination and awareness issues)

Currently researchers into the Scottish Neolithic can find it very hard to discover what information already exists, and where it is held. The results of previous research may be widely scattered - in publications, in unpublished reports, in databases, in hard copy notes, etc. - and only a small proportion is available electronically Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, which has faced problems in the current economic climate, is an invaluable resource for Scottish archaeology which makes the establishment of knowledge about current work relatively easy in Scotland; that fact needs to be acknowledged and its future existence needs to be safeguarded. Scotland also has a copyright library and the Antiquaries Library in the Museum which again is a resource that is advantageous. Furthermore, the quality of some of the existing database information leaves something (or a lot) to be desired. RCAHMS are aware of the shortcomings of CANMORE and are committed to making corrections and improvements in the light of the ScARF exercise. Similarly, the AdLib museum database of National Museums Scotland (which is, however, not publicly available) contains much out of date and incorrect information and cannot be treated as a reliable research resource; furthermore, it does not contain accurate geographical information so cannot be used to create distribution maps. The disjunction between the sites and monuments-based CANMORE database and the artefact-based databases held by museums has long been recognised as a serious problem, and a pilot project, MAGI (Cowie & McKeague 2010), has demonstrated the benefits to be gained from creating an integrated sites-and-finds database as has been developed in Wales. There is a pressing need for a full-scale integration project to be undertaken.

The problems associated with accessing grey literature and specialist reports from developer-funded excavations are well-known; the fact that specialist reports are sometimes not included in final publications (as was the case with the A1 project publication, Lelong & MacGregor 2007) makes accessing this valuable information difficult.

Perhaps this opportunity ought to be seized to remind all researchers that the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography is available on-line (http://www.biab.ac.uk/). Similarly the 1988 list of petrological identifications of stone axeheads and shafthole objects undertaken by the (formerly-named) Implement Petrology Committee, and published in Stone Axe Studies 2 (Clough & Cummins 1988), is available electronically (http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/petro_cba_1999/overview.cfm). Other on-line datasets include the very useful, Historic Scotland-commissioned SWAD database of information on Scottish wetland archaeology (http://xweb.geos.ed.ac.uk/~ajn/swad/) and SPAD, the Scottish Palaeoecological Archaeology Database (http://xweb.geos.ed.ac.uk/~ajn/spad/); other, national and international palaeoenvironmental databases also exist. It is perhaps unfortunate that none are advertised as broadly as, perhaps, they ought to be.

Other awareness issues arise from the fact that some scientific research is published in specialist journals, whose existence may not be known to non-specialist researchers on the Neolithic; while researchers may be aware of the Journal of Archaeological Science, few regularly access more specialist publications unless directed to these by the specialists in question.

This situation is complicated by the fact that there may be several researchers who are interested in undertaking a specific kind of study (e.g. isotope analysis of human remains) but who may be unaware of other's research on the same topic (perhaps even involving the same specimens). There is a need for current research, and its published or web-available outcome to be notified systematically in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. Furthermore, the attempt to create a Scottish Human Remains Database started by needs to be revived in order to ease access to material and to its research.

Finally, there is the issue of sustainability. This relates to all sets of data, including maintenance, updating and disseminating the 14C database. The comprehensive database of Scottish radiocarbon dates needs to be revived; the Historic Scotland on-line 14C database was taken down in 2011 and has not been reinstated, or updated since 2006. (The 2006 version is appended as a ScARF accessory document.) While some dates (including those obtained through NMS) are published each year in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, there has not been an annual systematic trawl of new dates since 2006.

Sustainability is also relevant to the question of skills transfer: with an ageing cadre of specialists. There has been a tendency in the last three decades for artefact studies to be eschewed in favour of more social reconstructive studies and there is a danger of a skills gap opening if expertise is not passed on to younger researchers. Acquiring specialist knowledge requires many years of experience and some kind of mechanism for training and mentoring could usefully be developed, in addition to the existing IFA Skills Transfer initiative.