A team from the University of the Highlands and Islands, led by the UHI Archaeology Institute’s Dan Lee, have been working with Cateran Ecomuseum to complete a Cultural Heritage Assessment for this “museum without walls”.
Located in a 1,000-square-kilometre area of north-east Perthshire and Cairngorms National Park, in Scotland, the Cateran Ecomuseum covers a changing landscape from the broad straths around the River Tay, to the uplands and glens either side of Strathardle and Glen Shee, and the high Cairngorms.
It contains some of the most remarkable prehistoric landscapes in Scotland, prehistoric rock art, Pictish sculpture, built heritage, industrial remains and renewable energy sites.
The UHI team comprised Dan Lee and Crane Begg, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA); and Alex Sanmark and Steven Timoney of the UHI Institute for Northern Studies.
Working with the Ecomuseum Board, they have been quantifying the sites and monuments in the ecomuseum area, assessing heritage interpretation provision and compiling recommendations for future activities. With over 3,500 archaeological sites listed in the Perth and Kinross Heritage Environment Record and Canmore there is no shortage of areas to explore in more detail.
The project is now complete, with a report containing archaeological desk-based LiDAR and interpretation assessments, case studies and key topics. This aims to underpin a programme of archaeology and heritage activities in the ecomuseum.
Ecomuseum director Clare Cooper said: “Working with the UHI team on this initial cultural heritage assessment has been immensely rewarding. We knew this part of Scotland had a lot of sites but having them brought together so comprehensively has made us realise just how much opportunity there is to share what we have more widely with local people and visitors and to begin a programme of work with UHI that can interpret our past in new ways.”
The UHI team visited the Ecomuseum during a snowy December 2021.
Standing at the Keillor Pictish stone, at the foot of the Sidlaw Hills, looking north into the Ecomuseum, the landscape suddenly made sense. From lowland Strathmore, the land rises in steps; up to the Forest of Alyth with the Drumderg wind turbines visible above the ridge, the uplands around Spital of Glen Shee, with the white high peaks of the Cairngorms in the far distance.
The electricity lines which run near to the Pictish stone, despite their apparent jarring with the landscape aesthetic, tell an important story; connecting the more distant past with the region’s energy solutions for the future: hydro schemes and wind turbines.
The ecomuseum has recently secured investment for the first phase of its innovative Museum of Rapid Transition programme, which launched in 2021. The first of its kind in the world, this aims to mobilise heritage for climate action and biodiversity restoration.
This included a major piece of work increasing the number of “Regenerative Tourism” experiences offered, together with a ground-breaking community engagement programme curating new heritage resources designed to motivate a rapid switch to more sustainable ways of living.
The UHI Archaeology Institute’s Dan Lee added: “The cultural heritage assessment is an important first step in supporting the Ecomuseum to develop an archaeological activities programme, enhancing interpretation and helping underpin the aims for regenerative tourism.
Enabling climate action through greater understandings of the past and how heritage can mobilise in the present is a great starting point for future activities.”
The next steps for the partnership will be to develop a pilot project, undertake public consultation and develop an activities programme.
- For more information about the project, visit the Cateran Ecomuseum website.
- The project was funded with a grant from the UHI Knowledge Exchange Innovation fund.