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RCAHMS Marginal Land Survey

Date 1950 - 1958

Event ID 918872

Category Project

Type Project


In the years following the Second World War, the British government wrought 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 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 photography 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 than 678 sites and prepared 190 measured surveys. While rescue was initially achieved though record, excavation and communication with the Ordnance Survey (OS), about 50% 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 value.

[Abstract from Geddes 2013, Proc Soc Antiq Scot v143, pp363-391]

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