Case Study: Landscape archaeologies of Modern Scotland

Archaeologists have approached the study of the modern Scottish landscape from all three of the stances outlined above, see Dalglish 2009 for a review. 

Landscape is recognised in national and international public policy (e.g. Historic Scotland 2009; Council of Europe 2000) and, in the 1990s, Historic Landuse Assessment (HLA) (see Dyson Bruce et al. 1999 and and – a method for the broad-brush characterisation of the historic environment at landscape scale and – was developed by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland to facilitate consideration of historic characteristics and features in landscape management and planning.  Since the late 1980s, more detailed landscape studies have also been a core part of the survey work of RCAHMS (e.g. Dixon 1993; 1994; 1995; Cowley 1993; 1994; Boyle 1994; 1998; RCAHMS 1990; 1994; 1995; 1997; 2001; 2007).  In parallel, commercial archaeology has extended beyond the individual site or monument to the landscape-scale identification of archaeological features and the assessment and mitigation of landscape-scale development impacts, such as those associated with wind farm, road and pipeline developments and quarrying.  In certain contexts, such as the assessment of impacts on the setting of a monument and its amenity, issues of landscape perception have been introduced to heritage management contexts. 

The modern era has seen the heavy alteration of the Scottish physical landscape through industrialisation, afforestation, clearance and agricultural improvement.  Modern features often predominate in the landscape today and the remains of previous phases of the landscape’s past survive in a patchy way.  As such, the modern past has become a particular focus of enquiry in landscape studies.  The work outlined above has established landscape archaeology as a mainstream concern in Scotland and has done much to raise the profile of the archaeology of the modern landscape.  This work has extended the understanding of the material character and development of Scotland’s modern-era landscapes: their features, structure and evolution and their origins in different land use practices and historical processes  (Dalglish 2009).

Some archaeologists have sought to investigate the perceptual and experiential character of modern landscapes, drawing on wider theoretical developments (e.g. archaeological phenomenology and practice theory).  While it is hard to identify a unified body of work in this field, common characteristics are an emphasis on the importance of human experiences and relationships, and of cultural memories and meanings; an acknowledgement of practices and movements as important entry points for understanding these experiences, relationships and meanings; interest in landscapes as bound up with relationships of power; and a belief that the relationship between people and landscape is a recursive, mutually constitutive one.  Such studies have focused, above all, on the social, cultural and physical transformations associated with the Clearances and with agricultural improvement in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g. Atkinson 2000; Dalglish 2003; Gazin-Schwartz 2001; Given 2004, ch.8; Lelong 2000; Symonds 1999a; 1999b; 2000).  

Adoption of a landscape perspective has extended and transformed the current approach to the archaeology of the recent past.  In this, archaeologists have built on long-standing cross-fertilisations with cognate disciplines such as historical geography and history, and stand to benefit from the recent emergence of environmental history (e.g. Smout (ed) 2002; 2003; Smout, MacDonald and Watson 2005; Hamilton et al. 2009; Davies and Watson 2007; Davidson et al. 2006; 2007; Davies and Dixon 2007; Hanley et al. 2008; Mather 1993; Tipping 1998; 2000; 2004; Foster and Smout (eds)1994). There is increasing recognition that landscape is a common concern and a meeting ground for many different disciplines.  Collaborative and integrated research is demonstrably powerful as a means of extending and deepening the knowledge and understanding of the landscapes of the modern past and present.

Return to Section 8.1 Introduction