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30 March 2022 - 30 March 2022

4:00PM - 5:00PM


  • Free

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Vanessa Reid seeks to understand the threat to buried heritage now and in the future

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A buried floor and hearth near an active erosion face at Dunnicaer promontory fort, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

The video of this talk will be made available on the IMEMS YouTube channel at the given time.

About the talk

The introduction of the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (the ‘Valletta Treaty’) in 1992 sparked a new wave of interest in the preservation of archaeological remains. The Treaty, of which the UK is a signatory, requires states to make provisions ‘for the conservation and maintenance of the archaeological heritage, preferably in situ’ (article 4ii). The result has been a range of research into the degradation processes that occur within the burial environment, as well as how these processes can be monitored and how decisions about heritage management should be made. It has now been thirty years since the initial signing of the Treaty and the widely held assumption that archaeological material is best preserved in situ is becoming increasingly challenged by researchers and heritage bodies. The shift in this narrative appears to be driven, at least in part, by climate change predictions. 

Within Scotland, recent guidance on climate change impacts have explored the need for heritage managers to adapt their approach and follow either a resistance (actively seeking to halt/reverse the impact) or acceptance (ensuring successful management before loss occurs) response. In order to plan the most appropriate action, it is therefore imperative to have a firm understanding of the scale and nature of the issue, and the challenges posed by future changes. Yet much of the research and risk evaluation into climate change impacts have typically concentrated on visible and upstanding heritage remains, with considerably less attention being afforded to buried material.  There is still very limited information on both the rates of degradation in particular burial environments, and the impacts that are occurring at individual sites. Rarer still are studies which focus on the impacts of this degradation on soil features such as pits, ditches and floor surfaces, or anthropogenic soils and soil horizons. Moreover, there exist a number of policies which not only enforce the idea of statis in the burial environment but actually play a passive role in the degradation of these sites and deposits. 

Using evidence from early medieval settlement sites in Scotland, this presentation looks at some of the major threats to buried archaeology and discusses how their preservation potentials are likely to alter as a result of climate change. The presentation will consider how monitoring efforts may help (or hinder) our evaluation of these sites and discuss the role that geoarchaeological evaluations could play in securing more accurate information over site conditions. It is hoped that by improving our understanding of the burial environment, we can inform not only the current discourse but also our interpretation of past and future climate change events. 

About the speaker

'My current research consists of a collaborative IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership between Durham University and the University of Stirling, alongside a CASE partnership with Historic Environment Scotland. My research is kindly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and supervised by Dr Karen Milek (Department of Archaeology, Durham University), Dr Paul Adderley (Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling) and Dr Lisa Brown (Historic Environment Scotland). Additional collaboration outwith IAPETUS includes Dr Gordon Noble (Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen) and David Strachan (Director at the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust)'.

Click here for Vanessa Reid’s full biography: Mrs Vanessa Reid - Durham University