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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.

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Executive Summary

The Importance of Science in Scottish Archaeology

Scotland has the potential to be a world leader in the development and application of archaeological science and builds on a long and distinctive tradition of both scientific and archaeological innovation. A variety of peoples have met, interacted and lived in Scotland over many thousands of years and archaeological science is fundamental to understanding their life stories: from establishing when and where they lived, to the objects they produced, and the material remains of the individuals themselves. The Scottish environment itself offers a unique blend of characteristics within a relatively small geographical area that preserve a range of information on past peoples and landscapes. The body of evidence is large enough to be encompassing, though small enough to be comprehensible. Understanding the past is also wholly relevant to the present day, contributing to current understandings of how peoples and individuals interact with one another and with the world around them, as well as enriching current  life through understanding and presenting this rich heritage in contemporary terms to modern people.

In Science, Scotland excels in a number of fields and can draw upon a range of resources and skills distributed across the country. Archaeologically, Scotland offers a diverse set of contexts in which to apply and improve techniques of analysis in order to understand past lives. Partnerships between these diverse (and often overlapping) communities provides the opportunity to combine both, exploring the past through landscapes, site, artefacts and people, both in the field and in the laboratory.

Panel Task and Remit

The task that faced the ScARF Science in Scottish Archaeology Panel was to provide a critical review of the application of scientific techniques within archaeological research and to identify improvements for future research. To this end, the panel undertook to summarise the current state of knowledge, divided into five study themes: Chronology, Human and animal sciences, Understanding materials, People and the environment, and Detecting and imaging heritage assets. The panel report is aimed at both archaeologists and natural scientists, hopefully making both communities better aware of the data, techniques and resources that the other can provide, and promoting the benefits of collaboration.

Future Research

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

  1. High quality, high impact research: the importance of archaeological science is reflected in work that explores issues connected to important contemporary topics, including: the demography of, the nature of movement of, and contact between peoples; societal resilience; living on the Atlantic edge of Europe; and coping with environmental and climatic change. A series of large-scale and integrated archaeological science projects are required to stimulate research into these important topics. To engage fully with these questions data of sufficient richness is required that is accessible, both within Scotland and internationally. The RCAHMS’ database Canmore provides a model for digital dissemination that should be built on.
  2. Integration: Archaeological science should be involved early in the process of archaeological investigation and as a matter of routine. Resultant data needs to be securely stored, made accessible and the research results widely disseminated. Sources of advice and its communication must be developed and promoted to support work in the commercial, academic, research, governmental and 3rd sectors.
  3. Knowledge exchange and transfer: knowledge, data and skills need to be routinely transferred and embedded across the archaeological sector. This will enable the archaeological science community to better work together, establishing routes of communication and improving infrastructure. Improvements should be made to communication between different groups including peers, press and the wider public. Mechanisms exist to enable the wider community to engage with, and to feed into, the development of the archaeological and scientific database and to engage with current debates. Projects involving the wider community in data generation should be encouraged and opportunities for public engagement should be pursued through, for example, National Science Week and Scottish Archaeology Month.
  4. Networks and forums: A network of specialists should be promoted to aid collaboration, provide access to the best advice, and raise awareness of current work. This would be complemented by creating a series inter-disciplinary working groups, to discuss and articulate archaeological science issues. An online service to match people (i.e. specialist or student) to material (whether e.g. environmental sample, artefactual assemblage, or skeletal assemblage) is also recommended.  An annual meeting should also be held at which researchers would be able to promote current and future work, and draw attention to materials available for analysis, and to specialists/students looking to work on particular assemblages or projects. Such meetings could be rolled into a suitable public outreach event.

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