Highland Archaeology Festival Conference 10th-11th October- #2015HAF

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On the weekend of the 10th and 11th of October, I was lucky enough to be in Inverness for the Highland Archaeology Festival’s Conference- Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Research (RADAR). The Highland Archaeology Festival is well established now, organised by the Highland Council’s Historic Environment Record team and every year offers a packed schedule of events, walks, lectures and workshops all over the Highland region for anyone interested in its rich archaeological and historic environment. The 2015 conference programme is viewable here.

So one misty morning in Inverness, I made my way to the Highland Council buildings (armed with secret empire biscuits) for the 2015 Conference. I have attended the conference in previous years, and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the hard work that commercial companies, national bodies, community groups and the extremely knowledgeable ‘amateur’ archaeologists of the Highlands have completed to contribute to our understanding of the Highlands (I think amateur is too weak a word to attribute to the folk involved- especially the North of Scotland Archaeological Society, NOSAS, who constantly impress with their passion, enthusiasm and above all knowledge and expertise). The conference is a great round up of the years activities, with a crammed and varied two day schedule and busy poster and stand area.

The problem with such an amazing, packed schedule over two days is that it makes it near-on impossible to summarise every talk or you’d be reading for absolute days- so I have included the programme for you to have a wee look at and see what was being discussed. It was difficult to choose which ones to talk about- however naturally some resonated with me more than others, dependant on my interests, excavation experience and because some of my very clever, talented friends were also presenting. I have also created a Storify, of the live tweets of the day which you can see here.

It was great to hear all about the joint project of Nevis Landscape Partnership, AOC Archaeology and the Forestry Commission up at Dun Deardail. This was the first excavation to take place at the Iron Age Fort in Glen Nevis- so a great opportunity for all of the volunteers who made this excavation possible. I remember enviously looking at photographs of the most beautiful morning tea break spots, and of volunteers learning many new skills in a wonderful location- however fear not as this project is to last for three years so there is always chance to volunteer at this dig over the coming years. Do check out the latest FCS blog on this project, as Matt Richie (Forestry Commission Archaeologist) does a much better job of summarising this project than I ever could! I think we have some very exciting things to come for this project so do watch this space!

Dr. Rebecca Jones (Head of Archaeology Strategy at Historic Environment Scotland) also presented on the new Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy, which I was eager to hear about after attending a consultation on the strategy in May in Inverness and submitting an individual response. A new streamlined version of the strategy was presented, which you can read through here. I think anyone vaguely interested in our heritage and archaeology should have a read- it is a well presented strategy, full of fantastic images. It is easy to read and informs you of the direction and focus of our discipline. I think they have emphasised on the right things, making sure we are recording and protecting our archaeology, ensuring we enable this through an appropriately and well skilled workforce and ultimately enabling us to celebrate our heritage.

I should also give a mention to a good friend, but more importantly a mint freelance archaeologist, Maya Hoole (@MayaHoole) who presented her research project on the Achavanich Beaker Burial. Whilst working as a Graduate Intern at the Highland Council’s Historic Environment Record, Maya came upon this site which ignited an interest due to the incompletion of the date in the record, and inspired her to find out more for herself. Maya visited the site, Caithness Horizons Museum and utlised her skills in illustration, photography and those skills gained through her work with the HER to piece together this burial to try and offer a more complete picture for the record.

Maya Hoole: The Achavanich Beaker Burial
Maya Hoole: The Achavanich Beaker Burial

In addition to these talks, many groups, projects and companies were exhibiting at the conference during the breaks. The displays highlighted how many motivated, skilled and enthusiastic folk give up their time and share their knowledge to increase our understanding of our past. The Inverness Field Club were exhibiting- who I have been lucky enough to attend an excursion to Abriachan Forest Trust with- showcasing the diversity of experts and of interests in the Highlands, displaying pictures from a variety of field trips, each with a different focus. Also, the very active ARCH Highland (Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands) were present; run by Project Officer Susan Kruse they have a great programme of lectures across the highlands as well as a comprehensive calendar of archaeology events, talks, trips and workshops all across the Highlands. Susan also runs the local Young Archaeologists’ Club which offers young people a chance to experience excavations and and the opportunity to learn more about our past. I also got to meet some of the Scotland’s Urban Past Team which was great as I have just begun to volunteer with their Youth Forum (am currently in St. Andrews eagerly awaiting our first meeting!), and I got to catch up with Jeff from the DigIt! 2015 (in glorious pink, of course) and caught up with their upcoming events which are all visible on the website.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to advise students and aspiring archaeologists, historians, heritage professionals or just interested bystanders to try and attend conferences such as this. I left the conference feeling inspired, included and motivated, when I know sometimes this enthusiasm and passion can be lost. It has also given me the opportunity to meet a range of new people, who have been friendly, generous in offering advice and opportunities, as well as knowledgeable in their field. Sometimes the idea of having to ‘network’ can be scary, and I often find it intimidating and difficult, but I no longer stress about that and just sit back, relax and enjoy the results of hard work invested by some great people. Usually whilst eating a lot of biscuits.

Some upcoming events that I am attending with tickets still on sale are Scotland’s Community Heritage Conference (14th November, Pitlochry) and Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders Archaeology Conference (21st November, Queen Margaret University, Musselburgh). If anyone reading this is interested to attend any of these, but feels unsure or has never been to a conference before- please don’t be afraid to get in touch!

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