1 Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP)
Scotland’s Rock Art Project was the first major research project focusing on prehistoric rock art in Scotland.
It was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and run in collaboration with The University of Edinburgh and The Glasgow School of Art. Our project aimed to work with local communities throughout Scotland to record prehistoric carvings, some over 5,000 years old and carved onto boulders and rock outcrops in the open landscape.
Often called cup and ring markings, these mysterious motifs are found in parts of Britain, Ireland and Western Europe but we know very little about why they were carved and what they meant to the people who created them. Several of these carvings are managed as Properties in Care of Scottish Ministers, such as those in Kilmartin Glen.
Our overarching aim was to enhance understanding and awareness of these sites. To do this, we recruited and trained local communities across the country to identify and record the rock art and generate a comprehensive database for Scotland.
Data gathered includes quantitative and descriptive detail, drawings, photography and photogrammetry (3D modelling). This work formed the basis of our research. It enabled us to analyse rock art and its contexts, compare carvings from different locations across Scotland and investigate how the carvings have been reused through time.
The project, which ended in December 2021, was successful in improving national and international awareness of this important aspect of our cultural heritage. It has significantly enhanced understanding and added a vast amount of information to our National Record of the Historic Environment that will enable future research, conservation and management of Scotland’s enigmatic rock art.
2 Islands of Stone: Neolithic Crannogs in the Outer Hebrides
Crannogs – artificial islands constructed in lochs – are found across Scotland and are commonly thought to date from the Early Iron Age onwards (around 2,700 years ago).
There are over 550 crannogs known in the National Record of the Historic Environment and 170 of these are found in the Outer Hebrides.
Since 2012, discoveries made here have yielded compelling evidence that some crannogs are much earlier in date – perhaps even 2,500 years or more older than previously thought – meaning they would belong to the first farming communities of the Neolithic period.
These new discoveries have revealed amazingly well-preserved ceramic pots and waterlogged worked timbers. Together these sites tell a different, richer story about the life of the earliest farmers on these islands.
Building on a pilot survey and excavations undertaken in 2016 and 2017, a research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council awarded funding to explore this further.
Called Islands of Stone: Neolithic Crannogs in the Outer Hebrides, this research project began in April 2020 and set out to investigate the character and extent of these artificial islands that appear so commonplace up and down the Outer Hebrides.
Over the past three years, the project has involved desk-based research, fieldwork and excavation, and work has taken place on land as well as underwater. Local community archaeology groups have assisted and taken up the opportunity to visit and record potential new sites.
A pop-up exhibition, in both English and Gaelic, toured the islands publicising the project and incorporated information on a heritage app which was developed for visitors and anyone interested in prehistory.
The project is now in its final stages and the focus is on assessing the results and how these can be communicated more widely. A workshop is planned for April 2024 and several publications are in preparation.
3 Collaborative PhD: Dounreay and society
When you think of the history of the Highlands and Islands you rarely think of Britain’s nuclear energy industry. But, away from the oft-told tale of unemployment and depopulation, the 20th century history of the region is one of a vibrant, growing, and quickly modernising society.
To reflect this, a research project by PhD student Linda Ross looked at the impact of the Dounreay Experimental Research Establishment on Caithness in the mid-20th century. The PhD was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in a collaborative doctoral partnership between ourselves and the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Although not without its problems in the long run, the construction of Britain’s first fast breeder nuclear reactor by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) was largely welcomed by the local population, which embraced the benefits of more jobs and greater economic prosperity.
At the heart of Linda’s research was whether and how a new type of society was created to support new nuclear industry in Caithness.
Our archival collection from Sinclair Macdonald & Son formed the basis of her exploration of the town planning of Thurso during the period. This local architectural firm oversaw the construction of 1,007 houses and other facilities designed to accommodate the large number of nuclear workers who moved to the county, tripling the town’s population.
By the end of the building programme in May 1963, four recognised estates of UKAEA houses had been built in Thurso by Alexander Hall & Son of Aberdeen:
- Mount Vernon
UKAEA housing consisted of A, B and C types, with A being the largest for higher grade staff. It was believed that such staff required accommodation of high standard to both attract and retain them. If a staff member was promoted or their family increased, they became eligible for a larger house.
Accommodating this population stands as an example of quick, complex change, triggered by a technical experiment with enduring social consequences. The UKAEA built houses are now owned privately or by Pentland Housing Association.
To record this heritage, Linda also participated in the photography of Thurso’s built environment; a body of work which is now available on Canmore. Her project shows how in-depth research adds value to distinct architectural collections, and to the records that we hold.
By moving the study of architectural drawings away from the visual towards the social and cultural, Linda offered us a model on which other studies can be based in future.
Shortly after Dounreay was announced as the site of the fast breeder reactor establishment, the UKAEA bought two neighbouring farms due to their proximity to the site. One of these was at Isauld, 10 miles west of Thurso.
As part of the deal, the UKAEA built a new house for the farm’s owner, and six cottages for displaced farm workers. The cottages were built to the same design as the timber houses erected as part of the first phase of the UKAEA’s construction scheme for Dounreay workers in Thurso.
These were considered ‘non-traditional’ buildings, meaning they were constructed using materials such as concrete or timber and employed elements of pre-fabrication so they could be erected quickly and cheaply; something which appealed to the budget-conscious UKAEA with its requirement to accommodate employees as soon as possible.
The Mount Vernon estate was planned with social integration in mind – part of the estate was occupied by UKAEA employees, with the reminder occupied by tenants in houses built by the local authority. The UKAEA houses at Mount Vernon are surrounded by ample green space, following dominant Modernist principles of the period. A ring-road around the estate provides vehicular access to the rear of properties, with the fronts reserved for pedestrian access.
With three-bedrooms, this house would have originally been occupied by a Dounreay employee at or above executive officer or engineer level. With the exception of the timber housing built quickly at the beginning of the housing programme, it shows the type of construction which the UKAEA settled on for the majority of its scheme, built by Alexander Hall & Son of Aberdeen. It was believed that housing of this quality helped the UKAEA encourage employees to move to the far north of Scotland.
These three-bedroomed ‘C-type’ houses would have originally been allocated to either industrial or non-industrial staff graded lower than executive officer. These semi-traditional houses, which incorporated a prefabricated timber frame, brickwork and exterior harling, feature partial timber cladding to add visual contrast to the scheme.