Ancient settlements revisited

21st September 2007 at 01:00
THINK OF your family and count back the generations to when they worked the land for a living. Two or three generations, perhaps?

Everyone has a link with the land and this may lie behind the exceptional popularity of the Scot-land's Rural Past Project, which is training adult volunteers across Scotland in how to understand, record and interpret the remains of rural settlements, ranging from in-dividual buildings to entire glens.

Launched by the Royal Com-mission on the Ancient and His-torical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) last October, the project already has more than 200 volunteers on its database, 80 of whom have so far been trained in archaeological fieldwork. By the end of its five-year extent, it is hoped there will be 2,000 volunteers.

"Some 80 per cent of Scotland's population were in small farms until the early 20th century and we have thousands of rural settlements which have never been recorded or reported on," says Tertia Barnett, archaeologist and Rural Scotland project manager.

"We want to involve local people to take ownership of the research and to raise awareness of this vital part of our history."

So far, projects have ranged geographically from Assynt, Mull and Braemar to Angus, Midlothian, Lanarkshire and Dumfries, and from individual buildings such as barns, lime kilns and mills to farmsteads, glens and straths.

The RCAHMS, in association with other bodies such as the National Archives of Scotland and the National Library, is providing training in the access and use of maps, aerial photographs, news-papers, statistical accounts, valuation rolls, estate papers and so on, so that volunteers will be able to look at a landscape, identify settlements from the Middle Ages up to the early 20th century and then produce a measured plan.

"This would involve a record of change and the causes of change, looking at how the landscape has been altered through different farming methods, including the impact of mechanisation, what people were producing and eating, their lifestyle, and community in-teraction, including population movement and relations between tenants and landowners," she says.

"Hopefully, the volunteers might produce a booklet or leaflet, a heritage trail, illustrated talks, exhibitions or a website."

The project involves cascading the training, training volunteers to teach others. RCAHMS offers training to groups who have already identified a site to explore.

"We train them as groups over a few days and then follow up after three and six months, to develop new techniques and stop bad habits creeping in," says Dr Barnett.

T 0131 662 1456 E srp@rcahms.gov.uk l www.scotlandsruralpast.org.uk

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