A look back at Scottish Archaeology Month 2021

Maria Gundestrup of Archaeology Scotland reflects on this year’s events.

Scottish Archaeology Month (SAM) takes place every September. It has run for over 30 years and is Scotland’s biggest celebration of heritage, history, and archaeology. It happens alongside Doors Open Days, and both are part of the European Heritage Days led by the Council of Europe.

Every year, organisations, communities, local societies, and heritage groups participate in SAM by organising a range of in-person events, running social media campaigns or other digital activities. This year, the programme offered a great variety of events, online and offline, throughout the whole month and with a broad geographical scope.

Bringing together local archaeology

First of all, SAM encompasses independent archaeology and heritage festivals that take place during September, including the well-established East Lothian Archaeology and Heritage Fortnight led by East Lothian Council’s archaeology department and the Highland Archaeology Festival run by the Highland Council. Three years ago, the Badenoch Heritage Festival was added as part of the Badenoch Great Place Project and is now organised by local heritage groups. These all provide a greatly varied programme in their local areas.

Another regular feature is Stirling Archaeology Month, and the area was as always bustling with events. The programme was dominated by guided walks around historical sites, including Stirling’s old cemetery, the Old Bridge, the town centre and the Wallace Monument. Other events included an Open Day at the Old Kilmadock graveyard near Doune and a guided walk around the site. Furthermore, the village of Gargunnock hosted a heritage walk, an Open Day of the local kirk and a 19th century service!

In-person activity at The Big Dig

The biggest event this year was The Big Dig in Falkirk, organised by the Great Place Project at Falkirk Community Trust. The event ran throughout September and featured a week-long dig and three weekends alternating between a full-day activity hub and The Big Garden Dig. The activity hubs offered family and children’s activities and re-enactments in a new park each week, making it possible for more people to attend. The Big Garden Dig encouraged people to dig in their gardens and explore the story of their house through the finds.

Another region that was busy this year was Dumfries and Galloway. As a region that actively participates in Doors Open Days, this year saw a lot of focus on archaeology as well as built heritage. The many events included a variety of guided walks, including a dendrochronology-themed woodland tour, test-pitting and trial excavations, museum open days and even a Viking encampment!

Digital events widened participation

Aside from all the in-person action, online events were still very popular. Throughout the month, there were several well-attended online talks on topics as varied as Columba’s Iona, the Viking Age in the Borders, and Iron Age architectural traditions in the Outer Hebrides, among others. Together with the Council for British Archaeology, Archaeology Scotland hosted an online mini-tour of Scotland for the youngest aspiring archaeologists to promote the Young Archaeologists Clubs, which completely sold out. A different way of engaging in SAM through digital media was the National Museum of Scotland’s creation of a website dedicated to their digital resources concerning the archaeological collections.

As with all other events, Scottish Archaeology Month has had to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic and ran mainly online as a social media campaign in 2020, developing into a hybrid festival in 2021. Most events were back to being in-person this year, as event organisers and audiences alike seemed keen to get out. However, the digital aspect appears to be here to stay. Online activities make a specific country or area’s heritage more accessible to a broader audience and can benefit participation across demographic and geographical borders.

Image: The Big Dig, Denny Hub by Vass Media (copyright)