September is Scottish Archaeology Month (SAM), an annual initiative co-ordinated by Archaeology Scotland. The National Museums Scotland Archaeology Department have been supporting SAM since its inception and this year was no exception. From Eday to Carsphairn and from Lewis to Dornoch, Archaeology curators have been sharing their expertise with the public in this nationwide celebration of Scotland’s archaeology. The whole initiative is driven by local groups, who send in requests for events and speakers. The Archaeology curators proved to be a popular choice!
The whole sweep of Scotland’s past was covered in the baker’s dozen of presentations by Alan Saville, Alison Sheridan, Trevor Cowie, Fraser Hunter, Alice Blackwell, Martin Goldberg and David Caldwell, with an additional guest appearance by ancient DNA expert Dr Oliver Craig of York University. From Mesolithic microliths to Jacobite muskets, and from Iron Age chariots to the latest in forensic archaeology, there was something for everyone, and the audiences were delighted!
To give just one example of how popular the events turned out to be, Trevor Cowie’s talk, ‘Dead Interesting: Bog Bodies from Scotland and beyond’, held at a community centre in Stornoway on 27 September, was a real success. Here, in Trevor’s words, is what happened:
“The organisers – Bostadh Archaeological Group – were expecting their usual turnout of around 12-15 and had arranged for their customary small meeting room. However just as the clock approached the 7.30pm start, the audience swelled to around 40-50 – a telling reflection of the enduring fascination with human remains among the public at large, even if it meant that conditions in the packed room became increasingly sauna-like as the evening went on.
“National Museums Scotland holds exceptionally well preserved clothing and other artefacts dating from c 1700 which were found with the remains of a male body on Arnish Moor near Stornoway in 1964 (currently in storage in the National Museums Collection Centre). As it is always nice to meet members of the public with a direct connection to significant discoveries, it was particularly pleasing afterwards to meet several members of the audience who were descendents of the two brothers who had found the body while peat cutting nearly half a century ago!”
Other audiences elsewhere were equally enthusiastic. Feedback sent to Archaeology Scotland’s Dr Mags McCartney includes the following:
“John and I just wanted to tell you how much David Caldwell’s talk was enjoyed by a small, but well-informed, audience last night. Discussions continued long after he had left and particular interest was in Mons Meg, which was tested in Armadale in 1980…Thanks again for your help in organising the event.”
Rosie and John Wells, The History of Armadale Association, West Lothian
“We had a fascinating and informative lecture from Martin [Goldberg] on Thursday evening; everyone I spoke to said how much they had enjoyed it and been interested. I think we would all be glad to hear in two or three years’ time how far he gets.”
Helma Reynolds, Cromarty History Society
Such ringing endorsements underline the vital outreach role played by National Museums Scotland Archaeology curators in disseminating the results of their research to the wider public. We’re already looking forward to doing it all over again in 2012!