Aeolian archaeology: the archaeology of sand landscapes in Scotland

Author(s): Patrick Ashmore, David Griffiths

Contributor(s): Susan Dawson, Alastair Dawson, Jason T Jordan, Mike Parker-Pearson, Jacqui Mulville, Niall Sharples, Helen Smith, Tom Dawson, Olivia Lelong, Ingrid Shearer, John Berber

Summary: Landscapes characterised by a substantial presence of aeolian (wind-blown) sand are predominantly coastal, and range from active dunefields with high and unstable relief, to smoother and more stable grassed surfaces which may be subject to some degree of agricultural use. Some are remote and inaccessible, but others exist in closer proximity to conurbations and tourist areas, and the impact of visitors is therefore comparatively great. In addition to the ever-present scouring and redistributing forces of sea and wind, other pressures on the stability of these landscapes include aggregates quarrying, development and the ubiquitous presence of wild burrowing fauna, most obviously the rabbit. Sand creates dynamic 'soft' landforms which are subject to continuing change, to the extent that photographs or maps of just 100 years ago often present very different topographies from those visible today. The encroachment of the sea and continual process of wind-induced change can transform a sand landscape almost overnight. In depositional strata, long periods of stasis may be represented by comparatively shallow soil horizons, which are frequently separated by much deeper bands of sand which may result from wind-blow episodes of far shorter timescale. Dune systems frequently occupy zones of extensive past settlement attraction with numerous environmental advantages, and therefore occur in areas of generally high archaeological potential. Yet their complexity and extreme vulnerability present us with serious problems in terms of balancing an understanding of the archaeology with conservation strategies.

Keyword(s): Aeolian Windblown Sand, Aggregates Quarrying Development, Settlement

Period(s): Medieval

Location(s): NGR: 2361 1960;

ISBN: 0 903903 68 4

Published: 01-01-2011

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