National Trust Scotland: Archaeologists celebrate 30 years of research

Led by Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeology, and Dr. Daniel Rhodes, Trust Archaeologist, and a dedicated team of volunteers, the team’s work covers over 76,000 hectares of land, including around 12,000 archaeological features, including 100 planned monuments.

Over three decades, the Trust has completed over 650 field works on 80 different properties, ranging from small test pits to large research digs.

So what did it reveal?

1. The Ben Lawers Historic Landscape Project, set up to study the rich diversity of post-medieval settlement remains on the north side of Loch Tay, has unearthed new insights into the use of the land going back thousands of years.

2. The Pioneering Spirit Project, in partnership with The Glenlivet, explores the mysteries of the country’s whiskey distillery past. Last year, excavations at the Glenlivet Distillery’s original site have uncovered the building’s floor plans, as well as artifacts and features related to whiskey production.


3. Research on Scotland’s islands has included surveying and excavation work on the uninhabited island of Staffa and the identification of Bronze Age settlement remains to collaborative excavations of prehistoric sites on Unst where the team found an Iron Age settlement and metalworking site, including one rare Shetland pen shape.

4. At Newhailes House, Musselburgh, a series of surveys, geophysics and excavation work have helped the Trust to understand the 18th century designed landscape, including its fascinating Shell Grotto, and how it was related to a larger artistic and scientific explosion across Europe. Similar investigations were carried out around the castles of Culzean, Brodie and Crathes.

5. At the House of the Binns, near Linlithgow, excavation of an Iron Age burial found in a quarry has uncovered two skeletons dating to around 2,000 years ago, one of which is a rare but well-preserved brooch from the Iron Age wore. Other Iron Age discoveries include the Loch Thurnaig Roundhouse in Inverewe. At the House of Dun in Angus, an excavation with 16 and 17 year olds engaged in archaeological and conservational experience has uncovered the remains of what is believed to be a medieval 14th century castle and chapel, providing further insight into the House of Dun estate Dun delivered

6. On the battlefield of Culloden the Trust located the position of the enclosures of Culwhiniac and Leanach which formed the anchor point for the Jacobite right wing. Subsequent metal detection work unearthed a collection of artifacts that pinpointed the site of the fiercest fighting.

7. At Iona, a large-scale archaeological geophysical survey of the fields north and south of the abbey has revealed the lines of several ditches that have enabled a better understanding of early Christian settlement.

8. Research and excavations in the long-lost townships of Achtriachtan and Achnacon in the heart of Glencoe have provided insight into the lives of those who lived there before the Glencoe Massacre of 1962. They contributed to the complex construction of the Glencoe Turf House.

9. At St Kilda archaeological work has uncovered traces of Iron Age settlement on the island over 2,000 years ago. A shard of what may have been an Early Bronze Age cup and two shards of medieval pottery were found alongside large amounts of Iron Age pottery. .

10. Remains of a medieval entrance leading into the caves below Culzean Castle have been found, suggesting that they were inhabited in the Iron Age. The famous castle is built over a maze of caves – one below the stables which is open to the public and one below the castle which has a stone facade but is not. The results of the excavation allow a deeper insight into Culzean and human activity in the caves.

Grace Reader

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