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Coastal erosion


Excavation of Baleshare, North Uist, 1984.
Scotland’s long, varied and beautiful coastline offers us a powerful insight into past human life. From the very start of human settlement in Scotland, people have tended to live along the coast. As a source of survival from food to fuel, the shoreline was a key focus for daily life. As society developed, historic activity has resulted in a rich array of physical remains along our coastline from coastal fortifications to medieval salt-pans and harbours.

Coastline under threat

Along much of Scotland’s coast, this rich array of archaeological and historic sites is under threat from erosion. In some areas, coastal development for industrial or housing needs is also a concern. Because it is impractical to protect the whole length of Scotland’s coastline, archaeologists need to identify key sites along the coast and respond when these are at threat.

Our role in coastal archaeology

Historic Scotland supports a range of projects which respond to coastal change, including a programme of systematic survey of the coastline which has now covered well over a quarter of Scotland’s long and varied coast. Our role includes identifying sites:
  • where major excavations may be needed
  • where recording the gradual process of erosion may produce useful archaeological info.
Sometimes large excavations may be the only answer to recording valuable information before the inevitable power of the sea sweeps sites away. The survey work allows Historic Scotland to be sure that when we chose to conduct large-scale digs we are targeting the most important sites. Neolithic tombs, Iron Age brochs, medieval potteries, wartime defences have all been investigated and recorded in recent years.


Who we work with

Much of this work is done in collaboration with the SCAPE Trust based at St Andrews. We also work with many other partners – universities, commercial excavation units, voluntary groups and independent researchers.

Our commitment to coastal archaeology aims to maximise understanding of the long history of human life along Scotland’s long, varied and usually beautiful coastline.



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