Archaeological science has revolutionised the understanding of Scotland’s past. If this success is to be maintained and expanded, a strategic view that looks to the next ten years and beyond, considering how existing good work and expertise can be developed through partnership and collaboration is essential. Successful archaeological science therefore:
1. Engages in high quality, high impact research: allowing cutting-edge archaeological science to contribute to work exploring important contemporary topics such as the impacts of environmental and climate change and the potential pathways towards resilience and adaptability. As datasets become richer and more detailed researchers can engage with ever bigger questions, in collaboration internally and abroad, thereby unleashing the potential contribution that archaeology can provide to wider debates. In order to do this, mechanisms need to be developed to ensure data is permanently archived, accessible and useful, with the CANMORE database offering a suitable platform for nationwide databases and publication/report repositories.
2. Promotes knowledge exchange and transfer: enabling the archaeological science community to better communicate and work together, establishing routes of communication between field practitioners and scientists and improving infrastructure. A network of archaeological science advisers should be developed, potentially with leadership from Historic Scotland, so that researchers and commercial archaeology units have access to the best specialist advice, are aware of what others are doing, and can better work in collaboration. An online ‘clearing house’ or match-making service could use social media to match people (e.g. specialists or students) to material available for study (e.g. environmental samples, artefactual collections, or skeletal assemblages). This should include archived material from old sites, to which new scientific methods can and should be applied, and it is therefore essential that facilities and mechanisms are in place to enable the long-term storage of environmental and artefactual materials from Scottish archaeological sites.
3. Develops collaborative partnerships: promoting a long-term set of interdisciplinary working groups that meet regularly to discuss and debate archaeological science issues, and also help deal with the understanding and expectation of what science can reveal. An annual meeting should be held in the fashion of a ‘horse trade’ at which archaeologists and archaeological scientists could highlight the work they have been doing – the materials they have that require analysis, the specialisms/students they have available, or the upcoming research projects they are involved in. Such meetings could be rolled into a suitable public outreach event.
4. Facilitates training and career development in archaeological science: promoting and participating in national and European-wide networks for training in archaeological science knowledge and skills, and increasing research capacity and specialist knowledge in Scotland, especially in those areas where expertise is not currently available or is overly dependent on one or two researchers (e.g. ancient DNA, isotopes, plant phytoliths, chironomids). Targeted investment in and development of archaeological science research capacity and expertise, especially durable research clusters where critical mass would ensure that the departure of a single researcher would not leave the lab facility vulnerable to closure, will help to protect the long-term sustainability of Scotland’s archaeological science facilities.
5. Has an effective dissemination strategy: improving communication between a variety of groups – including the research community, the press and the general public. Mechanisms that already exist to engage the wider community should be built upon, including Scottish Archaeology Month and National Science week. Getting wider communities involved in meaningful data generation is essential in both raising the profile of archaeological science, as well as improving available data sets.
Scotland can become a world leader in the application and development of archaeological science: one need only look at how over the last ten years the application and development of scientific techniques are revolutionising contemporary understandings of the past. In order to build a legacy for the next generation of researchers on this solid foundation, a stable funding regime, access to resources and viable career paths for future researchers are of fundamental importance.