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Historians lay siege to secrets of hill forts and sheilings

Archaeologists are turning their attention to one of Scotland's most historically overlooked areas by scheduling scores of ancient and modern sites dating from 4000BC to the cold war era. Hill forts, castles, sheilings, standing stones, hut circles, churches, lime kilns and pillboxes were the focus of the first major scheduling drive in the north of Scotland by heritage experts from Historic Scotland. The teams of historians and ancient monument inspectors are keen to shed light on the historical richness of Aberdeenshire, an area previously overlooked during efforts to protect important sites.

Dr Gordon Barclay, principal inspector of ancient monuments with Historic Scotland, said the new scheduling campaign was a productive way of mapping the nation's past. He said: "This is the first time we have tried out this area-based approach to scheduling. We take a group of parishes and look at everything within it of historical interest. Previously, it has been up to the efforts of individual inspectors and was not very co-ordinated, with areas getting more scheduling than others." He added: "This is a more consistent approach looking at one area after another. We have around 200 candidate sites in the area and about one half or two-thirds of these will eventually be scheduled."

Inspectors have been in Strathdon and Alford carrying out the scheduling assessments on a large number of archaeological sites. Historic Scotland said the mammoth exercise was an essential part of protecting and understanding the past. If the sites visited are judged to be of national importance, they will then be scheduled as ancient monuments and will be protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
The teams will schedule a number of important sites including Asloun Castle, near Alford, a sixteenth-century towerhouse, following their visit. They are also likely to schedule a prehistoric site on Deskrey Hill, east of Strathdon, which has hut circles and contains evidence of some of the earliest farming in Scotland. A second world war pillbox near Huntly and a deserted medieval township, near Upperton, will also be scheduled.

Generations of hunters, herdsmen, farmers and foresters helped shape the landscape in the north-east. Traces of their houses, farms, religious sites or burial monuments litter the landscape beside more recent features such as castles, industrial sites, churches or military installations. The first farmers in the area also introduced pottery and polished stone axes. Their descendants made use of the deposits of flint near the coast at Boddam, south of Peterhead.

An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said there were a great number of historical sites that they were keen to protect. "We welcome this week's visit by Historic Scotland to view nearly 200 sites as part of the organisation's scheduling assessments," he said, "These are done on an ongoing basis, but this week's programme involves a major concentration of Aberdeenshire sites. We have highlighted a number of locations which we feel are unique to the area. Our archaeology team is guiding the visitors around sites ranging from the neolithic age, right up to the last world war."

Dr Barclay said the project had already been a resounding success and would be taken to other parts of the country. "We will be up in the area around Inverness next," he said, "We will look at everything which is legally able to be scheduled. Six teams of two inspectors look at the sites to get an idea of what is left there."

Scheduled ancient monuments are sites, buildings and other features of artificial construction protected by the Scottish ministers under the terms of the 1979 act. There are more than 7500 in Scotland. They include an extraordinary range of monuments including prehistoric chambered tombs, stone circles, Roman forts and ruined castles.
nickbrand Posted by nickbrand
21st April 2005ce
Edited 21st April 2005ce

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