8.6 Approaches to artefacts

For a long time finds were valued primarily for what light they could cast on a site's date, with other potential information a long way behind. Although this is gradually changing, the publication of excavation assemblages still lags behind best practice south of the Border (e.g. Crummy 1983; Cool and Baxter 1999; 2002; Cool 2004), although Swan's work on the ethnic analysis of pottery is an example of international quality which demonstrates the potential of the material (Swan 1999). A particular benefit of the Scottish material is how tightly dated much of it is, and this feature merits more attention, for it makes the Scottish material of considerable international importance.

Current trends to synthetic or summary reporting, with data relegated to archive, make the detailed study of finds increasingly difficult - ironically, just at the moment when techniques (such as correspondence analysis; Cool and Baxter 2002) are becoming available to analyse them, and web-based databases offer a means for wide access to data.

New work does not need to wait for new excavations; there are assemblages excavated to a good standard which have never been analysed beyond basic consideration of chronology and unit represented. Strageath is a case in point, where the stratigraphic and spatial control provides a most valuable resource untapped at the time of excavation.

More adventurous approaches are required in finds analysis, following and developing best practice elsewhere (e.g. Cool and Baxter 2002)

Synthetic work on groups of finds (pottery, brooches etc),should developed, taking advantage of the good dating framework.

Full study (to recognised guidelines where available; eg Roman Pottery Group, for ceramics) and publication of artefact assemblages, whether in print or on-line (preferably through the Archaeology Data Service) should be standard practice.


8.5 Specialists

There is a UK-wide problem in developing artefact specialists, with many specialisms dependent on a small number of specialists. This is not a problem which can or should be solved on a Scottish basis. It is, however, an area where there is a great desirability to having specialists familiar with the frontier zone, both Scottish and northern English. The issues are particularly acute with pottery and coinage. In recent years, AHRC collaborative doctoral awards and IfA workplace bursaries have proved valuable initiatives nationally to develop material culture skills.

The Roman Northern Frontiers Seminar provides a valuable forum for discussion.

Material culture and its analysis should receive greater emphasis within University archaeology courses.

The AHRC and IfA initiatives are worthy of further development, and attempts should be made to ensure that Roman material is included in such projects.

The continued application and publication of interesting approaches to material culture is perhaps the best advertisement for specialist work.