9.4 Access to information

9.4.1 Databases and collections

A wealth of information is available in museums and archives around Scotland. Some of these have made their information available through their own on-line databases, and many more have contributed to Scran. The national database for Scotland, Canmore, is available on-line, and contains a wealth of information and an index to the collections held by RCAHMS. Other information is also available in local sites and monuments records, many of which are on-line and/or have contributed their site-based information to PASTMAP. Whilst several museums have on-line databases, these are not always comprehensive or easily searchable (the Hunterian Museum‘s web catalogue being a notable exception). Not all collections index their material by place and there is no Canmore or PASTMAP equivalent for artefactual data. A pilot project looking at linking artefact and site records was undertaken by the NMS and RCAHMS in 2007 (Cowie and McKeague 2010), and showed the value of linking these data sets The CANMORE (Coflein) database has been successfully linked with the National Museum catalogue in Wales.

To do justice to the questions that can be asked of the nested and interlocking landscapes of Iron Age Scotland requires integrated approaches, bringing in topographical and aerial survey, LIDAR, geophysics, and the use of stray and metal-detected finds, as well as field-walking and, ultimately, excavation. There is a wealth of information available, and much can be gained from restructuring and bringing together the existing data. The Antonine Wall event mapping programme and Inveresk event mapping have highlighted the benefits of such an approach for Roman sites, yet these databases need to be constantly updated rather than become relics of when they were created. Furthermore they need to be extended to other areas of complex information retrieval and co-existence.

9.4.2 Publications and backlogs publication

Iron Age Scotland has a wealth of information gleaned from excavations and survey over the years. To attract a wider audience there is a continuing need for synthetic works which draw together such material for a wider audience into broad narratives (e.g. Armit 1997c; Hingley 2005).

A number of key Iron Age sites excavated since the 1950s have never seen full publication. Some (such as Broxmouth) are nearing publication, while steps are in hand to deal with the Udal (North Uist), but there are many others whose delayed publication has a detrimental impact on the subject’s development.

Modern excavations usually produce data structure reports (often referred to as ‘grey literature‘), digital versions of which are becoming more and more accessible thanks to on-line data sources such as the Archaeology Data Service‘s Grey Literature Library, and RCAHMS Canmore database. However, a cataloguing backlog for many reports results in their invisibility to researchers, who can often only identify these works thanks to summary reports in Archaeology Scotland‘s invaluable annual publication Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. In addition, these reports are often barely-digested field dataa, with specialist work either not carried out or not integrated. Furthermore, not all excavators submit their work to this publication and they should be encouraged to do so, and to use the OASIS transfer mechanism to enable their grey literature reports to receive a wider audience. There is also a cataloguing backlog in museums relating to the artefacts recovered through such projects which requires attention, while the artefacts themselves often reach museums in the state they left the ground, with no conservation to stabilise them and ensure their long-term preservation.

Programmes to publish backlogged sites should be developed and funded. This covers not only state-funded work, but also putting pressure on ensuring important commercially-funded excavations are brought to publication.

Grey literature reports need to be made more fully available; but for many sites, the level of detail in a grey literature report is inadequate, and specialist work should be conducted and reported on.

Resources should be targeted to ensuring that the finds from excavations are adequately conserved when they reach a museum, and catalogued to make the accessible once they enter the institution.