Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy publishes five-year review of ground-breaking work

Scottish archaeology is marking a significant milestone today, Thursday, March 4, with the publication of the Five-Year Review of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy.

The strategy – which was the first national archaeology strategy in Europe when it launched in 2015 – aims to make archaeology matter for everyone in Scotland. Key areas are delivering archaeology, enhancing understanding, caring and protecting, encouraging greater engagement and championing innovation and skills.

Scotland’s Strategic Archaeology Committee (SSAC), which is made up from professionals and interested people from across the heritage sector to lead the strategy, is celebrating five years of world-leading archaeology from Scotland.

Five highlights from the past five years which will demonstrate the values of the strategy are:

  • Significant discoveries of national and international importance, such as the rediscovery of a lost medieval bridge at Ancrum which would have been crossed by Mary Queen of Scots and James V, and the unearthing of Scotland’s largest ever collection of medieval burials in Leith, Edinburgh.
  • The reconstruction, using ancient DNA, of a Neolithic dog from a skull discovered at Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn in Orkney – the first such attempt of its kind.
  • Increased community participation in archaeology as part of the strategy’s commitment to encourage and enable people of all backgrounds and ages to engage with Scotland’s past – on average 100,000 people have participated in over 400 events annually across Scotland as part of Scottish Archaeology Month.
  • Archaeology contributing to addressing long-term issues such as climate change, with the Climate Change Vulnerability Index assessment for the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. This pioneering technique for understanding the impact of climate change on historic sites is now being rolled out in World Heritage Sites across the globe.
  • Responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, from finding new ways of working safely to help support the construction industry deliver projects, to responding to the needs of parents and teachers by making over one hundred free learning resources available online.

Dr Andy Heald, chair of the SSAC and managing director of AOC Archaeology, said: “It has been fantastic to be involved in this sector-wide partnership, with representatives from the commercial, public and third sectors. We are half-way through this journey now and there will be lots more exciting work happening in the coming five years.”

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “I am proud to see how we are increasing the visibility of Scotland’s archaeology on the global stage and showcasing our unique history to international colleagues and friends. The fact that Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy has helped inspire other countries to adopt a similar strategic approach is testament to its strength.

“I look forward to seeing the further achievements we will reach together over the next five years in its continuing delivery.”

As one of the delivery partners in the strategy, Historic Environment Scotland (HES), has invested over £6 million in grant funding to archaeology projects over the five-year period. Dr Rebecca Jones, Head of Archaeology & World Heritage at HES, said: “This five-year review is a great opportunity to reflect on the pioneering and world-class archaeology that has been achieved since the launch of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy.

“HES has been proud to play our part in supporting and enabling the different groups and organisations that make up Scotland’s diverse archaeology sector, whether through our programme of grant funding or through staff expertise and resource.

“Collaboration has been essential to delivering the strategy, and we look forward to continuing to develop new partnerships to empower local communities to get involved and take ownership of their heritage.”

To view Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy Five Year Review and find out more, visit Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy website.

Video: A new set of threads: the production and design of ‘Into the Wildwoods’ and ‘The First Foresters’

A recording of last Friday’s UHI Archaeology Institute monthly seminar.

Matt Ritchie, an archaeologist with Forestry and Land Scotland, outlines the development and production of the Into the Wildwoods (2020) and The First Foresters (2019) booklets followed by an question-and-answer session.

Opportunity for volunteers to get involved in Orkney trade project

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is looking for volunteers interested in a new project researching early trade in Orkney.

The research is part of the international Looking in from the Edge (LIFTE) project, which is looking at the Northern Isles’ place in European trade networks of the 15th to 18th centuries. The Hanseatic League — an organisation of German merchants that expanded into the North Atlantic in the 15th century – was at the forefront of these networks and although its influence in Shetland has been extensively documented, less is known about the league’s interests in Orkney. And this is where the volunteer researchers come in.

A major element of LIFTE is involving local communities and training those interested in research methods from archaeology and history. So, from March until the end of May, the Archaeology Institute is running a virtual volunteer group that can be joined by anyone with access to a computer and the internet.

Each volunteer will be allocated an online resource to search for references to anything trade-related, e.g. Orkney merchants, shipping, trade, cargoes, burgesses, storehouses etc, and a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet template to record their findings.

Fortnightly group meetings online will allow the researchers to discuss their findings in an informal “show-and-tell”. Co-ordinators Anne Mitchell and Sarah Jane Gibbon will also be on-hand to answer questions and to see what nuggets of information have been unearthed.

At the end of the research period, the volunteers’ data will be collated to provide an overview of Orkney trading operations, which will then be incorporated into the project’s publications and exhibitions.

Anyone interested should contact Anne Mitchell, at, by Friday, March 12, 2021.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the German Research Council, LIFTE is a three-year programme involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, the University of Lincoln and the German Maritime Museum, in Bremerhaven.

The UK team is led by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, based at Orkney College UHI, who is working collaboratively with Dr Natascha Mehler from the German Maritime Museum.

‘More opportunities to grow and learn’ at UHI Archaeology Institute

Fredrik and UHI Archaeology Institute students extending Trench X at the Ness of Brodgar in 2019. (Jo Bourne)

Time for another “student story” – this time from Fredrik Fongen, who relocated to Orkney, from Norway, to study at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. Here he explains why…

Fredrik Fongen

I came to Orkney College UHI on an Erasmus exchange from Norway and decided to stay. I did excavation skills and was part of the dig at the Ness of Brodgar in the summer before the semester started as part of my exchange. I was already then sold on coming here for a year.

It didn’t take long before I saw it as a perfect opportunity to transfer and maybe rather go back to Norway for a Masters.

I thought the flexibility and difference in what I could study, and the experience and expertise in the archaeology department in Orkney, as a wonderful opportunity.

I feel that a four-year degree gives me more opportunities to grow and learn from the many great teachers on staff in the UHI Archaeology Institute compared to the Norwegian three-year BA program.

I’m very happy with my choice so far and looking forward to Covid ending and getting back in the field.

Ness of Brodgar dig director among the speakers at 2021 Current Archaeology Live

Nick Card, of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, is one of the speakers at this year’s Current Archaeology Live event.

The annual conference, which is taking place online this year, brings together leading archaeological experts from across the UK to share their latest thinking on all aspects of the past.

Nick is the site director at the Ness of Brodgar, one of the UHI Archaeology Institute’s flagship excavations. His talk is entitled The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands.

This year’s talks have been pre-recorded and will be uploaded to the Current Archaeology YouTube channel from March 5-7.