Executive Summary

Why research Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Scotland?

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology sheds light on the first colonisation and subsequent early inhabitation of Scotland.  It is a growing and exciting field where increasing Scottish evidence has been given wider significance in the context of European prehistory. It extends over a long period, which saw great changes, including substantial environmental transformations, and the impact of, and societal response to, climate change. The period as a whole provides the foundation for the human occupation of Scotland and is crucial for understanding prehistoric society, both for Scotland and across North-West Europe.

Within the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods there are considerable opportunities for pioneering research. Individual projects can still have a substantial impact and there remain opportunities for pioneering discoveries including cemeteries, domestic and other structures, stratified sites, and for exploring the huge evidential potential of water-logged and underwater sites. Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology also stimulates and draws upon exciting multi-disciplinary collaborations.

Panel Task and Remit

The panel remit was to review critically the current state of knowledge and consider promising areas of future research into the earliest prehistory of Scotland. This was undertaken with a view to improved understanding of all aspects of the colonization and inhabitation of the country by peoples practising a wholly hunter-fisher-gatherer way of life prior to the advent of farming. In so doing, it was recognised as particularly important that both environmental data (including vegetation, fauna, sea level, and landscape work) and cultural change during this period be evaluated.

The resultant report, outlines the different areas of research in which archaeologists interested in early prehistory work, and highlights the research topics to which they aspire. The report is structured by theme: history of investigation; reconstruction of the environment; the nature of the archaeological record; methodologies for recreating the past; and finally, the lifestyles of past people – the latter representing both a statement of current knowledge and the ultimate aim for archaeologists; the goal of all the former sections. The document is reinforced by material on-line which provides further detail and resources. The Palaeolithic and Mesolithic panel report of ScARF is intended as a resource to be utilised, built upon, and kept updated, hopefully by those it has helped inspire and inform as well as those who follow in their footsteps.

Future Research

The main recommendations of the panel report can be summarized under four key headings:

Visibility: Due to the considerable length of time over which sites were formed, and the predominant mobility of the population, early prehistoric remains are to be found right across the landscape, although they often survive as ephemeral traces and in low densities. Therefore, all archaeological work should take into account the expectation of encountering early prehistoric remains. This applies equally to both commercial and research archaeology, and to amateur activity which often makes the initial discovery. This should not be seen as an obstacle, but as a benefit, and not finding such remains should be cause for question. There is no doubt that important evidence of these periods remains unrecognised in private, public, and commercial collections and there is a strong need for backlog evaluation, proper curation and analysis. The inadequate representation of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic information in existing national and local databases must be addressed.

Collaboration: Multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and cross-sector approaches   must be encouraged – site prospection, prediction, recognition, and contextualisation are key areas to this end. Reconstructing past environments and their chronological frameworks, and exploring submerged and buried landscapes offer existing examples of fruitful, cross-disciplinary work. Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology has an important place within Quaternary science and the potential for deeply buried remains means that geoarchaeology should have a prominent role.

Innovation: Research-led projects are currently making a substantial impact across all aspects of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology; a funding policy that acknowledges risk and promotes the innovation that these periods demand should be encouraged. The exploration of lesser known areas, work on different types of site, new approaches to artefacts, and the application of novel methodologies should all be promoted when engaging with the challenges of early prehistory.

Tackling the ‘big questions’: Archaeologists should engage with the big questions of earliest prehistory in Scotland, including the colonisation of new land, how lifestyles in past societies were organized, the effects of and the responses to environmental change, and the transitions to new modes of life. This should be done through a holistic view of the available data, encompassing all the complexities of interpretation and developing competing and testable models. Scottish data can be used to address many of the currently topical research topics in archaeology, and will provide a springboard to a better understanding of early prehistoric life in Scotland and beyond.

Executive Summary

Why research Marine & Maritime Scotland?

The extent to which Scotland as a nation has developed as a result of its marine and maritime associations has long been recognised. Given the indented nature of Scotland’s coastline and the location of the major centres of population, nowhere is far from a coast, estuary or tidal river. Until the development of railways, all major settlements were on the coast or on a navigable river. The marine and maritime historic environment means many things to many people and this is reflected in the diversity, complexity and number of heritage sites and artefacts available for study and enjoyment.  These range from, for example, watercraft, harbours, religious sites, and canals, to Fair isle sweaters, fishing gear, cordage and modelling that emphasise the collective association with the sea that forms the core of Scotland.

The recently passed legislation in both Scottish and UK parliaments can be used to engender further impetus for research opportunities in the marine and maritime sphere. Individual approaches to marine and maritime heritage in the past have formed a vital foundation, based on empirical research of the highest quality. It is on this foundation that this ScARF panel aimed to create a framework to enable the next level of research to commence. It is the future use of this document and future events, projects, programmes and strategies that will continue to help understand, document, interpret, archive, and disseminate information about the marine and maritime historic environment of Scotland. It is, thus, both opportune and important that Scotland addresses its marine and maritime historic environment afresh.

Panel Task and Remit

The task that faced the ScARF Marine and Maritime Panel was to provide a critical review of, and identify priorities for, research into the marine and maritime historic environment, independent of period or regional constraints, and building on multi-disciplinary approaches. To this end, the panel undertook: to stock-take the current state of knowledge (i.e. a characterisation of information on, of understanding of, and of the current state of research into it); to identify sources of information whose potential has not yet been exhausted as well as key gaps in knowledge and questions still outstanding; and to suggest approaches and methodologies best suited to addressing these questions.

Future Research

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

  1. From Source to Sea: River systems, from their source to the sea and beyond, should form the focus for research projects, allowing the integration of all archaeological work carried out along their course. Future research should take a holistic view of the marine and maritime historic environment, from inland lakes that feed freshwater river routes, to tidal estuaries and out to the open sea. This view of the landscape/seascape encompasses a very broad range of archaeology and enables connections to be made without the restrictions of geographical or political boundaries. Research strategies, programmes and projects can adopt this approach at multiple levels; from national to site-specific, with the aim of remaining holistic and cross-cutting.
  2. Submerged Landscapes: The rising research profile of submerged landscapes has recently been embodied into a European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Action; Submerged Prehistoric Archaeology and Landscapes of the Continental Shelf (SPLASHCOS), with exciting proposals for future research. Future work needs to be integrated with wider initiatives such as this on an international scale. Recent projects have begun to demonstrate the research potential for submerged landscapes in and beyond Scotland, as well as the need to collaborate with industrial partners, in order that commercially-created datasets can be accessed and used. More data is required in order to fully model the changing coastline around Scotland and develop predictive models of site survival. Such work is crucial to understanding life in early prehistoric Scotland, and how the earliest communities responded to a changing environment.
  3. Marine & Maritime Historic Landscapes: Scotland’s coastal and intertidal zones and maritime hinterland encompass in-shore islands, trans-continental shipping lanes, ports and harbours, and transport infrastructure to intertidal fish-traps, and define understanding and conceptualisation of the liminal zone between the land and the sea. Due to the pervasive nature of the Marine and Maritime historic landscape, a holistic approach should be taken that incorporates evidence from a variety of sources including commercial and research archaeology, local and national societies, off-shore and on-shore commercial development; and including studies derived from, but not limited to  history, ethnology, cultural studies, folklore and architecture and involving a wide range of recording techniques ranging from photography, laser imaging, and sonar survey through to more orthodox drawn survey and excavation.
  4. Collaboration: As is implicit in all the above, multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and cross-sector approaches are essential in order to ensure the capacity to meet the research challenges of the marine and maritime historic environment.  There is a need for collaboration across the heritage sector and beyond, into specific areas of industry, science and the arts. Methods of communication amongst the constituent research individuals, institutions and networks should be developed, and dissemination of research results promoted. The formation of research communities, especially virtual centres of excellence, should be encouraged in order to build capacity.