Scotland's Rural Past (SRP) was a five-year, nationwide project, which supported local communities across Scotland to investigate deserted rural settlements dating from the medieval and post-medieval periods. The project, which was launched in October 2006, was hosted by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Trust for Scotland, Historic Scotland, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Through the work of the Historic Rural Settlement Trust these organisations recognised the need to improve our understanding of these rural sites and encourage their conservation by involving local people.
Until recently, the majority of Scottish people lived and worked in the countryside. This rural way of life, which was the backbone of Scottish economy and culture, for hundreds of years has changed dramatically. Most of the settlements have now been abandoned, leaving only the crumbling remains of villages and farms dotting the landscape. There are literally thousands of these derelict settlements across Scotland, many of which have not been documented in any detail, if at all. These remains represent an invaluable record of Scottish rural life during a fascinating period of change that spans both the agricultural and industrial revolutions and the Clearances. They form a vital part of Scotland's history, yet we know so little about them or the way of life for the people that lived in them. There is much work to be done if we are to record and understand them before they fade from the landscape.
Scotland's Rural Past helped to raise awareness of this fascinating archaeological resource by working with local communities throughout Scotland to develop locally-based projects. SRP encouraged members of the public to discover more about historic rural settlements in their area through researching, recording, interpreting, and promoting them to a wider audience. In the longer term the data collected will help the future preservation and conservation of these rural sites.
Over the 5 year duration of SRP, 65 projects and 22 schools projects were initiated as a result of the SRP team working in partnership with communities, organisations and individuals across Scotland.
Local groups and individuals have benefitted from the wealth of expertise that RCAHMS can offer: the SRP team worked closely with highly experienced archaeologists and other specialists from RCAHMS to provide expert training and advice in archaeological field survey and recording techniques and documentary research.
Together with RCAHMS staff, the SRP team ran over 40 two-day training courses across Scotland. These courses provided people with the skills and techniques necessary to survey and record rural settlement remains, and to undertake historical document research. The training and subsequent support from the SRP team enabled people of all ages to become more aware of their historic environment and its relevance to Scottish history.
Although SRP completed in September 2011, there are many ways in which you can still get involved in recording the historic environment. You may wish to get out and about in the countryside to discover, survey and record historic rural settlement remains, or other types of archaeological site, or you may prefer to engage in desk-based research on historic documents, maps or photographs. SRP project participants submitted the results of their survey work and research to Canmore, the RCAHMS database, where it became part of the National Monuments Record. RCAHMS curates this material, preserves it for future generations and makes it publicly accessible.
RCAHMS is committed to continuing to support community groups in projects to record archaeological and built heritage, and encourages groups to contribute their findings to Canmore. Community projects are having a real, sustainable impact on recording and preserve elements of the historic landscape, many of which would all too soon have become forgotten and lost forever. Detailed information on numerous new sites is being amassed, local knowledge is being captured and imaginations are being stimulated.
All the information you may need to help you undertake your own fieldwork or documentary research project can be found on this website, and useful guidance is available through one of the legacies of Scotland's Rural Past, A Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites. You may also find that there are continuing SRP projects near where you live which you could get involved with. Participants of exisiting projects will be able to pass on their skills and experience to you. Further support and advice is available from the RCAHMS Community Archaeology Team.