Case Study: The Archaeological Potential of Scottish Rivers

Scotland is favoured with extensive freshwater environments and some of the largest and finest river systems in the UK. These systems flow for hundreds of kilometres incorporating riverine catchments and numerous lochs which link ultimately with estuarine environments before issuing into the sea.

Humans have utilised these systems over many centuries, even millennia, the evidence for which forms a tapestry of rich archaeological potential. Opportunities exist for an extensive and broad-ranging study of the human exploitation of these synergistic freshwater and marine systems, encapsulated in a ‘source to sea’ approach studying a variety of archaeological evidence from prehistory to the modern day.

Examples of similar research includes that undertaken in Northern Ireland which examined the archaeological potential of the great rivers – the Bann, Foyle, Erne, Blackwater and Lagan, and their associated tributaries: http://www.science.ulster.ac.uk/cma/freshwater.html. An examination of the archaeological potential of Ulster’s lacustrine environment was also undertaken. The research focused on core themes, such as, riverine crossing points, settlement, rivers as boundaries and defences, the utilisation of rivers for transport and the conscious control of rivers for purposes of navigation, fishing, abstraction and power. Broader research questions associated with the wider river drainage basin or catchments were also explored.

The development of a ‘source to sea’ project may provide the opportunity to dovetail research into existing initiatives such as the Scotland’s Rural Past Project, and in a more curatorial role, with landscape and seascape characterisation. Candidates for this approach include the major river systems and Firths around Scotland, a good example being the River Tay,Tay Estuary and North Sea interface. Opportunities exist for research into the role of the Tay as a main artery for human exploitation in our distant and more recent past. The extension of the riverine and lacustrine study into the marine environment would provide a seamless study of the human relationship with the natural environment since the habitation of Scotland by humans after the last ice age.


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