Archaeology in the margins - RCAHMS emergency survey in the 1950s

George Geddes (Author)

Earthworks, Brochs Forts Palisaded Settlements, Timber
Prehistoric, Iron Age


In the years following the Second World War, the British government made a number of changes aimed at improving our self-sufficiency, whether in foodstuffs, timber or energy. The combination of schemes of subsidy and improvements in technology brought with it an increasing threat to monuments that had survived by virtue of the fact that they were sited in marginal land. In response, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) halted its national programme of County Inventories to undertake a rescue project that used newly available aerial photographs to identify threatened unrecorded prehistoric monuments, such as brochs, forts, palisaded settlements and earthworks. After eight years, the two archaeologists, with some help from other professionals and volunteers, had recorded more that 700 sites and prepared 190 measured surveys. While rescue was initially achieved through record, excavation and communication with the Ordnance Survey (OS), a small number are now protected by Scheduling. The results of the project went further, helping to underpin Stuart Piggott's development of a regional Iron Age synthesis in the 1960s. Now online for the first time, the information that was produced is the most detailed that exists for more than 90% of the sites, and, as with any documentary source, it is incumbent upon us to understand its strengths and weaknesses when we use it to understand, manage or protect the sites we care for and value.


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How to Cite
Geddes, G. (2014). Archaeology in the margins - RCAHMS emergency survey in the 1950s. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 143, 363-392.