Neil Ackerman (32), a PhD researcher at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has been awarded the Robertson Medal from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for academic year 2019-20.
The silver medal is awarded each year to the scholarship candidate judged to be the most outstanding for that year’s competition.
Neil becomes the university’s first postgraduate student to receive this honour. He was selected from 18 awards made in this year’s Carnegie postgraduate scholarship competition.
His research, entitled Scotland’s earliest built environment: halls, houses and big houses, looks at the earliest buildings of Neolithic Scotland.
This period reveals a settled farming architecture for the first time, and also a growth in the size of public meeting halls. Studying the Neolithic period from the perspective of both monumental halls and domestic architecture will uncover a new understanding of the earliest Scottish Neolithic period.
Developing an insight into this varied architecture across Scotland, as well as producing a precise chronology, will also revolutionise the knowledge of the Neolithic in Scotland and wider contacts at the time.
Originally from Edinburgh, Neil graduated with a first-class degree in BA (Hons) in archaeology, based at Orkney College UHI in 2016, before working at Aberdeenshire Council’s archaeological historic environment team for nearly three years.
He moved back to Orkney in 2019 to set up his own company, Ackerman Archaeology Limited, and continue with his academic studies. He is undertaking his postgraduate degree through the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute with the aid of the Carnegie scholarship funding.
Professor Jane Downes, director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, said: “I am delighted that Neil has been recognised for his exceptional work. His undergraduate research supported by a Carnegie Trust vacation scholarship has contributed to our understanding of roofing technology from the Neolithic period. His original thinking has advanced understandings of the extraordinary site of the Ness of Brodgar on Orkney and has had international recognition.”
Talking about the award, Neil said: “This means so much to me. I have not always had a straightforward path to get to this stage. I left school at 16 with few qualifications and worked in various service jobs, before returning to education. I never thought I would go to a university, far less study at this level. “
“To have received a Carnegie Trust scholarship was a massive achievement and to now be awarded the Robertson Medal on top is a huge honour. It helps to confirm all the decisions made to be where I am now. I have a highly supportive supervisory team and together we have put a lot of work into developing a subject that we feel is very important. It is heartening to see our efforts rewarded.”
Neil was presented with his award on Thursday, January 23, 2020, at Orkney College UHI, by Chair of the Carnegie Trust for Universities of Scotland Professor Dame Anne Glover and its chief executive chair Professor Andy Walker, Professor Neil Simco, vice-principal (research and impact) at the University of the Highlands and Islands with Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin, principal of Orkney College UHI.
The Carnegie Trust also operates a vacation scholarship scheme for students undertaking a degree course at a Scottish university. In 2019, four students from the University of the Highlands and Islands were successful in receiving awards.