Executive Summary

Why research Roman Scotland?

This is currently an exciting time to be studying Roman Scotland. Well-established approaches to the period, which have focused very much on aspects of military history and politics have been enlivened by studies questioning long-held views on frontier history. To this debate has been added a much broader appreciation of other aspects of the period, looking at topics such as military supply, the diversity of peoples and identities in the frontier zone, and more subtle understandings of interactions with the indigenous population there. The wealth of complex data from the Roman period provides an ideal arena in which to explore these topics so that the application of these ideas, and the questioning of former certainties, is newly revived for Roman Scotland.

Study of military organisation and campaigning remains fundamental – and not just in the disposition and chronology of their installations, which still presents challenges. Current research is, however, moving to a more complex, more all-encompassing picture of life in the frontier zone through studies including: the lifestyles and identities of the soldiers and the similarities and differences that occurred among them; the impact of forts on the landscape that they dominated both militarily and as settlement nodes which created and drew activity to them; and the effects of these new social and economic phenomena on local populations. The shifting chronology of contact makes it possible to look at the effects of frontier systems (and thus the meaning and purpose of frontiers) in such detail that is rarely possible elsewhere. Researching Roman Scotland therefore has a significant contribution to make to wider studies of the Roman world. The existing dataset contains material whose potential has barely been tapped – such as surveys of forts (e.g. for questions of landscape setting) or some aspects of the rich finds assemblages in museums.

Panel Task and Remit

The Roman panel was asked to critically review the current state of knowledge, and consider promising areas of future research into the Roman presence in Scotland. This is intended to help with the building of testable, defensible and robust narratives that describe and explain the impact of the Roman presence on contemporary and post-Roman societies, as well as, in turn, the impact of developments on the Scottish frontier on the Roman Empire. This will facilitate the work of those interested in the Scottish Iron Age and help set a trajectory for future research. Although the remit of the current project is Scottish, it is important that this research in undertaken within the wider context of the northern military zone and broader studies of the Roman frontier. Equally, it is vital that it should not be seen as a separate element from the Scottish Iron Age, as the interrelation of the two is critical.

This report, the result of the panel’s deliberations, is structured by theme: Changing Perspectives; The time and place of Roman Scotland; Forts in their landscapes; Supplying the army; Changing worlds; Roman Scotland in the Roman world; and Research and methodological issues. The themes reflect the desire to understand the impact of the Roman presence in Scotland within a wider European context. The document, which outlines the different areas of research work and highlights promising research topics, is reinforced by material in an on-line Wiki format which provides further detail and resources. The Roman Scottish Archaeological Research Framework is intended as a resource to be utilised, built upon, and kept updated, hopefully by those currently involved in the work of the panel as well as those who follow them.

Future Research

The main recommendations of the panel report can be summarised under five key headings:

  • • Scotland in the Roman world: Research into Roman Scotland requires an appreciation of the wider frontier and Empire-wide perspectives, and Scottish projects must be integrated into these wider, international debates. The rich data set and chronological control that Scotland has to offer can be used to inform broader understandings of the impact of Rome.
  • • Changing worlds: Roman Scotland’s rich data set should be employed to contribute to wider theoretical perspectives on topics such as identity and ethnicity, and how these changed over time. What was the experience of daily life for the various peoples in Roman Scotland and how did interactions between incomers and local communities develop and change over the period in question, and, indeed, at and after its end?
  • • Frontier Life: Questions still remain regarding the disposition and chronology of forts and forces, as well as the logistics of sustaining and supplying an army of conquest and occupation. Sites must be viewed as part of a wider, interlocking set of landscapes, and the study of movement over land and by sea incorporated within this. The Antonine Wall provides a continuing focus of research which would benefit from more comparison with frontier structures and regimes in other areas.
  • • Multiple landscapes: Roman sites need to be seen in a broader landscape context, ‘looking beyond the fort’ and explored as nested and interlocking landscapes. This will allow exploration of frontier life and the changing worlds of the Roman period. To do justice to this resource requires two elements:
  1. Development-control archaeology should look as standard at the hinterland of forts (up to c.1 km from the ‘core’), as sensitive areas and worthy of evaluation; examples such as Inveresk show the density of activity around such nodes. The interiors of camps should be extensively excavated as standard.
  2. Integrated approaches to military landscapes are required, bringing in where appropriate topographical and aerial survey, LIDAR, geophysics, the use of stray and metal-detected finds, as well as fieldwalking and ultimately, excavation.
  • • The Legacy of Rome: How did the longer term influence of the Romans, and their legacy, influence the formation, nature and organisation of the Pictish and other emergent kingdoms?

Executive Summary

Why research Neolithic Scotland?

The appearance in Scotland of domesticated animals and plants, and of novel technology (pottery manufacture), material culture, monuments, traditions, practices and beliefs - the elements that define what we call the Neolithic - marks a major change from what had gone before, and profoundly affected what came afterwards. How these novelties appeared has been the topic of heated debate for the last 25 years (and for less heated speculation for over a century. Characterising this change, understanding what happened to Scotland's indigenous inhabitants and building a narrative for subsequent developments (which include the secondary spread of the Neolithic 'package', a process of regionalisation and then an interesting broad spread of beliefs and practices associated with Grooved Ware use around 3000-2900 BC), are vital tasks. To this end, this document seeks to take stock of what we can say and do know, to highlight the principal gaps in our knowledge, and to suggest ways in which these can be filled.

We are fortunate in that Scotland is very rich in Neolithic sites and artefacts, and there have been many recent discoveries through developer-funded and research excavation. This, plus an ever-growing body of high-quality radiocarbon dates, and the results of several exciting research projects (e.g. on human remains and on absorbed lipids in pottery), allows us to make sense of the mass of information now available to us: at the most basic of levels, we now have a clearer picture of what happened and when (if we cannot always explain how and why).

It is our belief that we can only understand Scotland's Neolithic by adopting a multi-scale approach, situating developments here within a broader picture of European developments from the fifth to the mid-third millennium BC and developing narratives at the (present-day) national, regional and local scales. That is what we set out to do in this document.

Panel Task and Remit

The Neolithic panel was tasked to undertake a critical review of the current state of knowledge, and identify areas requiring future research into the Scottish Neolithic. This was undertaken with a view to identifying the key research areas that will help build narratives that describe and explain what happened in Scotland from the first appearance of new lifeways, some time between 4300 BC and 4000 BC, until the appearance of Beaker pottery and other associated novelties during the 25th century BC. The panel also sought to maintain a balance between describing the Scottish overview of major developments at the period and building regional and local narratives for Scotland's disparate 'Neolithics'.

The result is this report, outlining by theme the different areas of research in which work is taking place and highlighting the research topics to which archaeologists aspire. The report is structured by the following themes: The Overall Picture; The Detailed Picture - Issues of Regional and Chronological Resolution; Lifeways and Lifestyles; Material Culture and Use of Resources; Identity, Society, Belief Systems; and Research and Methodological issues. The document is reinforced by material on-line that provides additional (and alternative) discussion and further information. The Neolithic ScARF (Scottish Archaeological Research Framework) is intended as a resource to be utilised, built upon and kept updated, by those it has helped inspire and inform as well as those who follow them.

Future Research

The main recommendations of the Panel report can be summarised as follows:

The Overall Picture: more needs to be understood about the process of acculturation of indigenous communities; about the Atlantic, Breton strand of Neolithisation; about the 'how and why' of the spread of Grooved Ware use and its associated practices and traditions; and about reactions to Continental Beaker novelties which appeared from the 25th century.

The Detailed Picture: Our understanding of developments in different parts of Scotland is very uneven, with Shetland and the north-west mainland being in particular need of targeted research. Also, here and elsewhere in Scotland, the chronology of developments needs to be clarified, especially as regards developments in the Hebrides.

Lifeways and Lifestyles: Research needs to be directed towards filling the substantial gaps in our understanding of: i) subsistence strategies; ii) landscape use (including issues of population size and distribution); iii) environmental change and its consequences - and in particular issues of sea level rise, peat formation and woodland regeneration; and iv) the nature and organisation of the places where people lived; and to track changes over time in all of these.

Material Culture and Use of Resources: In addition to fine-tuning our characterisation of material culture and resource use (and its changes over the course of the Neolithic), we need to apply a wider range of analytical approaches in order to discover more about manufacture and use.Some basic questions still need to be addressed (e.g. the chronology of felsite use in Shetland; what kind of pottery was in use, c 3000-2500, in areas where Grooved Ware was not used, etc.) and are outlined in the relevant section of the document. Our knowledge of organic artefacts is very limited, so research in waterlogged contexts is desirable.

Identity, Society, Belief Systems: Basic questions about the organisation of society need to be addressed: are we dealing with communities that started out as egalitarian, but (in some regions) became socially differentiated? Can we identify acculturated indigenous people? How much mobility, and what kind of mobility, was there at different times during the Neolithic? And our chronology of certain monument types and key sites (including the Ring of Brodgar, despite its recent excavation) requires to be clarified, especially since we now know that certain types of monument (including Clava cairns) were not built during the Neolithic. The way in which certain types of site (e.g. large palisaded enclosures) were used remains to be clarified.

Research and methodological issues: There is still much ignorance of the results of past and current research, so more effective means of dissemination are required. Basic inventory information (e.g. the Scottish Human Remains Database) needs to be compiled, and Canmore and museum database information needs to be updated and expanded - and, where not already available online, placed online, preferably with a Scottish Neolithic e-hub that directs the enquirer to all the available sources of information. The Historic Scotland on-line radiocarbon date inventory needs to be resurrected and kept up to date. Under-used resources, including the rich aerial photography archive in the NMRS, need to have their potential fully exploited. Multi-disciplinary, collaborative research (and the application of GIS modelling to spatial data in order to process the results) is vital if we are to escape from the current 'silo' approach and address key research questions from a range of perspectives; and awareness of relevant research outside Scotland is essential if we are to avoid reinventing the wheel. Our perspective needs to encompass multi-scale approaches, so that developments within Scotland can be understood at a local, regional and wider level. Most importantly, the right questions need to be framed, and the right research strategies need to be developed, in order to extract the maximum amount of information about the Scottish Neolithic.