This week I have another Episode for you, this time in Gaelic! Don’t worry though, there are subtitles and much of it is in English anyway. ‘Talamh Trocair’ or ‘Revealing Scotland’s Past’ is a series currently showing on BBC Alba, also available on iPlayer, all about the archaeology of Scotland.
The main focus of the first part of the programme is a burial ground which is believed to be near the palace of the first King of Scotland, Kenneth McAlpin, who unlike the last King of Scotland was half Gaeilc half Pict, not Ugandan. Born around 800 AD, and often supposed to be the son of a Pictish princess, McAlpin was crowned in 843 AD after a four way war of succession in the area. In this cemetery archaeologists have found a bronze age round barrow, Roman Iron Age remains, a henge monument and the first log burial in this part of Scotland.
During the description of the site one of the archaeologists states that because the land has been ploughed preservation of artefacts and especially bone is poor. This is quite simply nonsense! Whilst ploughing certainly has a major effect on archaeological remains, smashing finds and destroying features, it obviously only has an effect on the archaeology that the plough blade actually reaches. Any artefacts and bones in features that are still intact, of which there evidently are some, will be completely unaffected. It is in fact the soil type that has an effect on the preservation of artefacts and bones, with different levels of acidity preserving and destroying varying materials. Thankfully later in the programme someone gets this right, but this is just going to serve to confuse people! Quite how this mistake got through to the final edit I don’t know.
One particularly interesting part of this programme is the description of Scotland’s Treasure Trove programme, which I have to say is something which I did not know about. A medieval law stated that any item of value which was found and for which an owner could not be found was the property of the King. This law was never repealed and is now used to protect the countries archaeological heritage. Any artefact found, no matter what it is, is the property of the crown and must be sent to the National Museum of Scotland to be assessed and catalogued. If the item is considered to be of particular significance then it is put into the museum system. This system means that even relatively plain items are studied and they can in fact tell us a great deal, simply from the type of find and the location it was found.
The final part of the programme investigates the origins of Eilean Donan Castle, of Monty Python and the Holy Grail fame. This castle was in fact built in its current form in the early 21st century, the original structure having been destroyed during the Jacobite risings, in 1719. This part of the programme is considerably better than the first half, with good insights into how field archaeology works in practice.
All in all this programme isn’t fantastic, but if you have half an hour to kill it’s not terrible. There are more to come in this series, and it may be that these are better. We’ll have to see! Next week I will be away, so no guarantees as to whether I will get a chance to write a post. I will try to fit it in though so watch this space.