An appeal

6 September 2017

Howburn Core Sample

Howburn Core sampling

The writer has consistently stated throughout his voluntary archaeological endeavours, which now span four decades, that he has no specialisation regarding finds analyses, and that includes many different periods of Scottish archaeology which he has been involved with. Rather the hope has been that such specialist input to the work of BAG would be imported through generous voluntary contributions and through his efforts to secure such work through grant funding.

To some extent both have been successful, and all assistance has been acknowledged in BAG reports, mostly necessarily Interim reports, but all faithfully published here, on the website, for the benefit of the world. However, the shear scope and volume of the work by BAG over the years has meant that neither method of securing specialist contributions, has been possible to deal with all the work accomplished by the Group. Indeed, it may be argued the time has come for the professional and more expert synthesis of all of BAG’s work, period by period, if a genuinely successful outcome to their contribution to Scottish and indeed, British archaeology is to be achieved.

Unfortunately, it has been perceived by the writer and further elucidated by a general lack of references to BAG work in academic journals and other publications, although there are a few exceptions, that much of BAG work apparently goes unnoticed! Indeed, he has been told on several occasions that the BAG web site is not considered as publication by many in the profession! It therefore is obvious that much important factual work, is escaping the attention of those who read the publications by professional archaeologists and historians.

In mitigating, the voluntary sector (the writer avoids the use of the word ‘amateur’ because of possible innuendo) can only do so much, because archaeology must play a secondary role in those participants lives, and be accomplished in whatever spare time they may have. If nothing else, BAG have clearly demonstrated not only the need for such voluntary groups in the face of heritage erosion, since much of BAG work has been on threatened sites, but the fact that they can contribute significantly to the national database of archaeological knowledge in Scotland.

It may seem hopeless to appeal for more support or interest from the profession in Scottish archaeology for the voluntary sector, since the profession itself is under resourced by state funding. The obvious case of diminishing curatorial archaeological staff in the National Museums need only be cited to demonstrate that, and the merging of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, and their ‘rebranding’, presumably for financial expediency and efficiency, but in effect reducing staff and resources and the obvious ability to deliver to those who do want to know about their past, care about it, and need advice and help with it.

Regardless of what progress the writer may make regarding the proper synthesis of BAG work and more full publication of it, the entire record of their work, which includes many thousands of photographs and video tape, and of course finds and samples remains preserved in Biggar Museum under the best curatorial conditions.

Most of their findings have now a permanent home in Biggar Museum, where much is displayed to the public, also under the best professional standards, the material having been disposed through the former Finds Disposal Panel and through the Treasure Trove Directorate. By 2018 the entire collections recovered by BAG should have been legalised under Scottish TT, wherever they are disposed. Copies of all records and images are intended for deposition with Historic Environment by that time.

The legacy of BAG will therefore be assured for posterity, the BAG web site will be maintained as far as may be envisaged, but in the event of its demise, all the work of BAG will still be available to the public at large from both Biggar Museum and Historic Environment in Edinburgh.

The problem envisaged by the writer is that much of that work, although in the public domain through the BAG web site, and ultimately in the Historic Environment records, appears to be disregarded.

BAG have produced what may only be described as an astounding series of discoveries in some aspects of Scotland’s story, perhaps the most important being the finding of the Later Upper Palaeolithic site at Howburn Farm, pushing human history in Scotland back by some 3000 years. This site is currently being written up professionally and therefore will be well referenced, but hardly any other work by BAG! Most of the work of BAG has been written to a standard which is admitted being below academic quality, nevertheless, it is believed the factual aspects of the work are presented in a a way to allow for understanding and possible re-interpretation. Particular use is made of colour photographs of sites and objects to relay those facts, and in all interim reports the use of any data, in any form it is presented in is freely given.

The writer who has been almost solely responsible for the organisation of projects and the public dissemination of BAG work has endeavoured over the years to ensure access to it in as many ways as possible, this includesmuseum displays, lectures, events, heritage trails and of course the production of reports.

BAG believe they have made major contributions towards the better understanding of the Scottish Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Post Medieval periods in particular. Major comprehensive landscape surveys have also played an important part of their work in the areas of the upper Clyde and Tweed rivers, presenting hitherto unknown sites and monuments to the records, many with measured plans and photographs.

This paper bemoans the fact that little of the work accomplished by BAG volunteers appears to reach the public domain through any other channels than their own.

A few aspects of their work, a great deal of it in response to archaeology under threat of imminent or forthcoming destruction, is briefly outlined to make the point of BAG’s perceived importance of those efforts.

BAG projects in chronological order:

Late Upper Palaeolithic:

Howburn Farm, site dating to the Hamburgian period of hunter gatherers and dating to c14,000 BP. The site is unique in Britain and may truly be described as international archaeology.

Numerous sites dating to the Mesolithic, the principal ones are:

Weston, Brownsbank, Melbourne, Cornhill and Nether Hangingshaw (PDF) (all farms) and the almost incredulous range of sites in the Daer valley. All where a series of C14 dates are available and a wide range of lithic assemblages, some with unique components of lithic geology and some with possible links to the Neolithic.

Several sites dating to the Early Neolithic:

Weston, Brownsbank (PDF), Melbourne, Nether Hangingshaw (PDF), Carwood (PDF) (all farms), Biggar Common West and Biggar Common East(pdf), Daer Valley.

The two largest Scottish assemblages of Early Neolithic pottery have been retrieved (both Biggar Common sites), pitchstone and ceramics have been C14 dated together in pits on these sites.

Several sites dating to the Late Neolithic:

Melbourne, Biggar Common East(pdf), where assemblages of Grooved and Impressed Ware pottery has been found.

Several sites dating to the Bronze Age:

Melbourne (beaker burial), Camps Reservoir (Enclosed cremation cemeteries 2of), Fruid Reservoir (Unenclosed platform settlement houses 2of), have been discovered and excavated. Several burntmounds have been investigated and C14 dated in both Peeblesshire and Lanarkshire, BAG are responsible for the discovery and recording of over 300 examples of such sites in the area.

Sites dating to c1000 cal BP: [unpublished]

A series of lead smelting sites in Peeblesshire and Lanarkshire are uniquely C14 dated to c 899 – 1170 cal AD, and may be the earliest C14 dated lead smelting sites in Scotland.

Sites dating to the Post Medieval and later periods

Uniquely in British archaeology are the excavations of the following bastle house sites (pdf) in Lanarkshire; Glenochar, Wintercleuch (pdf), Smithwood, Windgate House (pdf) and research into the period. Other sites of comparable date are Logan and Chaplegill, both in Peeblesshire, one aspect of the work is the only archaeological evidence of the ‘Lowland Clearances (pdf)’.

Upland surveys

Extensive upland surveys in both Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire have considerably enhanced the data base, principally of pre-historic and post medieval sites of many types. Of particular note is the Wildshaw Burn Stone Circle which has now been thoroughly researched and shows numerous significant alignments over pairs of stones to the rising and setting sun at cardinal points of the year.

Other significant findings

The largest collection of archaeological pitchstone has been recovered from accurately plotted find spots and excavations during various projects, allowing for a better re-evaluation of this distinctive lithic from Arran; its date of use and function. BAG was the first to organise a ‘Pitchstone Seminar’ in 2000 to promote the study of Arran pitchstone.

From all of the prehistoric and early Medieval sites given above have come environmental samples of charcoal, many of which have been analysed and are C14 dated, giving an unusually large data set for environmental studies within a compact geographical area. These studies alone would now form the basis of a specialist report for the area.

Surely the research potential of the above work and other lesser projects must be enormous and each site has been presented on BAG web site as factual information, however, hypothesis is also offered in various reports on a variety of subjects. Yet it remains a fact thatwe've received very little interestfrom those employedby or study in archaeology. This does not seem conducive to a scientific approach to studies of the past.

The purpose of this piece is to appeal to the professional world of archaeology to consider taking some interest in the work of BAG, and the writer feels confident if that were to happen, then many more aspects of important Scottish archaeology would reach a wider audience and also make some difference to the general debate on Scotland’s past.

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