The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

Hon fellows
Courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland: 2018 new Honorary Fellows, Caroline Wickham-Jones, Diana Murray, Lisbeth Thoms, and Jane Ryder.

I am honoured to have been elected an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

The Society was founded in 1780 and since then it has played an active role in promoting the heritage of Scotland. It is an impressive record. Clearly, over the years, it has had to change: matters that were considered significant 50 years ago would not necessarily be recognised as such today, while there are concerns (and opportunities) today that would never have occurred in the past.

For me, the Society has played an active role throughout my archaeological career. I was elected to the Fellowship in 1976, at the point when my archaeological studies at the University of Edinburgh had progressed to the stage which suggested that I might actually become an archaeologist. Though I should stress that Fellowship is not confined to professionals, it is open to anyone who is passionate about the past. Society lectures and conferences have helped to keep me informed of recent research and projects – especially outside my own narrow specialisations. The publications are diverse and rarely a week passes in which I do not need to turn to one of them for wisdom. Many are now freely available online. Of course, I have also made much use of them to publish my own work.

Between 1988 and 1993 I served as Secretary to the Society. In those days the Secretary operated in the old-fashioned, executive sense. It was a varied role, from advising on policy papers to stuffing envelopes. When I look at the list of Society staff today, I don’t feel nostalgic, it is a much bigger body and the work is much more complex.

One major development has been the birth of ScARF, the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework. This was a massive undertaking, requiring the co-ordination of a wide variety of different voices across Scotland. It was published online in 2012, and I am happy to say that it continues to enjoy an active afterlife as regional frameworks, highlighting local detail, are created.  Another creation is Dig It!, an ongoing celebration of Scottish Archaeology that provides a diverse range of ways in which to engage in all things related to the past. Dig It! is as at home in a museum or out in a muddy field as it is within a virtual reality.

The Society is based in Edinburgh and, living in Orkney, I don’t attend meetings as often as I once did. That is perhaps less of a hindrance today than it might have been. It is certainly possible to remain active. I was very surprised to receive the letter from the current Director, Simon Gilmour, regarding my Fellowship – somehow when asked to consider the nature of one’s own work it is all just mundane. I like to think that other people find it interesting and that I have made a contribution to the general pot of learning and enthusiasm regarding the past. But, really, I’m only doing it because it is fun (and intellectually stimulating). I never quite got myself organised into one of those five-year career plan things.

So, I have been lucky. And there is one more benefit to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland that I have not mentioned. It is a great place to network with some amazing people, many of whom have become friends over the years. When I do get to meetings, it is a wonderful chance to catch up with old friends. I’m looking forward to many years of future engagement.