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Geoarchaeological Approaches to Pictish Settlement Sites: Assessing Heritage at Risk

REID, VANESSA,MAY,ALICE (2023) Geoarchaeological Approaches to Pictish Settlement Sites: Assessing Heritage at Risk. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (PhD Thesis) - Accepted Version


Due to the poor preservation of Pictish period buildings and the occupation deposits within them, very little is known of daily life in early medieval Scotland. In lowland and coastal areas, Pictish buildings are generally truncated by deep ploughing, coastal erosion, or urban development, while those uncovered in upland areas seem to have no preserved floor deposits for reasons that remain poorly understood. Geoarchaeological techniques are particularly effective in clarifying site formation processes and understanding post-depositional transformations. They are also a powerful research tool for identifying floor deposits, distinguishing their composition, and linking this to daily activities. However, archaeologists are often reluctant to apply geoarchaeological methods if they suspect preservation is poor or stratigraphy is not visible in the field.

This study therefore employs an innovative suite of geoarchaeological techniques to evaluate the preservation of Pictish period buildings and the potential that fragmentary buildings have to reconstruct daily life in early medieval Scotland. Alongside literature analysis and a desk-based comparison with national soil datasets, over 400 sediment samples from three key settlement sites were subjected to integrated soil micromorphology, x-ray fluorescence, magnetic susceptibility, loss-on-ignition, pH, electrical conductivity and microrefuse analysis. The combined data were successful in generating new information about the depositional and post-depositional history of the sites, preservation conditions of the occupation deposits, and activity areas within domestic dwellings. Most significantly, the integrated approach demonstrated that ephemeral and fragmented occupation surfaces retain surviving characteristics of the use of space, even if floors are not preserved well enough to be clearly defined in the field or in thin-section. A partnership with Historic Environment Scotland has channelled this work into research-led guidelines aimed at communicating geoarchaeological methods and principles to a wider audience.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Geoarchaeology, preservation, settlement, early medieval, occupation deposits
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2023
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:17 Apr 2023 09:59

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