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.