Scotland’s largest conservation charity, the National Trust for Scotland is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its in-house archaeology team.

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

Over three decades, the Trust has undertaken over 650 pieces of fieldwork across 80 different properties - from small test pits through to large research excavations.

So what has it uncovered?

1.      The Ben Lawers Historic Landscape Project, set up to investigate the rich array of post-medieval settlement remains on the northern side of Loch Tay, uncovered new understanding of how the land was used, stretching back thousands of years.

2.      The Pioneering Spirit Project, a partnership with The Glenlivet, is exploring the secrets of the country’s whisky distilling past. Last year, excavations on the original The Glenlivet Distillery site uncovered the footprint of the building, along with artefacts and features connected to whisky production. 

The Herald:

3.      Research on Scotland’s islands has included survey and excavation work on the uninhabited island of Staffa and identifying Bronze Age settlement remains, through to community excavation of prehistoric sites on Unst where the team found an Iron Age settlement and metal working site, including a rare Shetland pin mould. 

4.      At Newhailes House, Musselburgh, a range of surveys, geophysics and excavation has helped the Trust understand the 18th-century designed landscape, including its fascinating shell grotto, and how it links to a bigger artistic and scientific explosion across Europe.  Similar investigations have been carried out around the castles of Culzean, Brodie and Crathes.

5.      At House of the Binns, near Linlithgow, excavation of an Iron Age burial found eroding from a quarry revealed two skeletons from around 2,000 years ago, one wearing a rare, but well-preserved iron-age brooch. Other Iron Age discoveries include the Loch Thurnaig roundhouse at Inverewe. At House of Dun in Angus, an excavation carried out alongside 16 and 17 year olds gaining archaeological and conservation experience uncovered the remains of what is thought to be a medieval, 14th century, castle and chapel, further revealing more about the House of Dun Estate

6.      At the battlefield at Culloden, the Trust located the position of the Culwhiniac and Leanach enclosures which formed the anchor point for the Jacobite right wing. Later metal detecting work located a concentration of artefacts that pinpointed the position of the heaviest fighting.

7.      On Iona, a large area archaeological geophysical survey of the fields to the north and south of the Abbey revealed the lines of multiple ditches enabling better understanding of the early Christian settlement.

8.      Research and excavations at long lost townships at Achtriachtan and Achnacon in the heart of Glencoe provided insight into the lives of those who once lived there prior to the Glencoe Massacre in 1962. It helped inform the complex build of Glencoe Turf House.

9.      At St Kilda, archaeological work revealed traces of Iron Age inhabitation on the island over 2,000 years ago. Along with large quantities of Iron Age pottery was a sherd of a possible early Bronze Age beaker and two sherds of medieval pottery. .

10.   Remains of a medieval doorway leading into the caves underneath Culzean Castle were found, indicating they were occupied in the Iron Age. The famous castle is built over a warren of caves – one below the stables, which is open to the public, and one below the castle, which has a stone frontage and is not. Findings from the excavation allow for a deeper insight into Culzean and the human activity in the caves.