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Cabinet Secretary speech at opening of IfA Conference - Wednesday 9th April 2014


I am delighted to be able to give this opening address at your conference and to welcome you here.

Glasgow is an apt choice for an archaeology conference.

Everywhere you look, you can see the layers of Glasgow’s history and get tantalising glimpses of its rich archaeology.

It sits astride the Antonine Wall, part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site.

Nearby Govan, close to the River Clyde, was the principal church of the kingdom of Strathclyde. I have seen the fantastic collection of early historic sculpture housed there.  It is a key part of that local community’s very strong identity. You may be aware that one of the Govan hogback stones is currently forming a centrepiece of the British Museum’s Vikings exhibition.

In medieval times,Glasgow was very much a tale of two burghs, with initial development around the Cathedral, the finest church to survive our Reformation intact. The spiritual and economic demands of the great cathedral meant that it was surrounded by fine houses for senior clerics. The Bishop’s Castle is now re-imagined in the shape of the award-winning St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life.

Meanwhile an important trading centre grew up on the Clyde, and eventually the two were connected by the High Street, where the University was first established in 1451.

In the 18th century, the Delftfield Pottery, nearto where we are today, providedearthen-wares to the prosperous middle classes. James Watt was a partner in this company, living for a time nearby, and performing the role of technical advisor for the rest of his life. This venture provided Watt with a regular income and gave him the financial grounding from which he could develop the steam engine. In the 19th century Glasgow became the workshop of the World, leading the way in engineering and shipbuilding on the Clyde, along with innumerable other trades.

So I am delighted that you have chosen Glasgow as the venue for your conference in what is a momentous year for Scotland.

2014 is our Year of Homecoming. We are welcoming the world, hosting two major international sporting events, and celebrating all the splendour that Scotland has to offer. I trust that you will be enjoying some of this splendour over the next few days here in Glasgow.

We are also commemorating in 2014 the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn which changed the path of Scotland’s history forever. I am thrilled by the new interactive visitor centre which makes that story so accessible: it is already bringing our historic environment to life in an exhilarating way which would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

As you know, in September we will decide on Scotland’s future in the independence Referendum. The Scottish Government has demonstrated its commitment to the historic environment. As most aspects of heritage are already devolved we can be confident that it will continue to be treasured and valued. Independence will provide a range of new opportunities, bringing new powers over the economy, UK heritage funding in Scotland and international representation.

Yesterday, I was pleased to welcome the publication of Creative Scotland's new 10 year plan. This plan sets out a vision for the arts, screen and creative industries. It is a vision in which arts and creativity are valued as the heartbeat of our lives in Scotland, where we continually extend our imaginations and ways of doing things, and where arts and culture continue to thrive.

Importantly, this plan and this vision were not developed in isolation: nearly 1,000 people and organisations from across Scotland and from across the arts, screen and creative industries have contributed to its development through open consultation and dialogue.

Alongside the plan, I am also pleased to note the continued roll out of Creative Scotland's new funding approach with the launch of the Regular funding Programme which will provide stable, 3-year funding for more arts and culture organisations across Scotland, supporting a thriving and rich tapestry of cultural provision.

Today, I would like to set out the key areas which underpin this Government’s approach to heritage in Scotland.

I would like to talk about the importance of the historic environment and the value that I, this government and this nation places on our heritage. Why? Because it binds and connects our past, our present and our future, belonging to us all. You, as archaeologists, help us to explore the past and use the evidence collected to tell the stories about where we’ve come from, who we are and help us reflect on who we could be.

I will talk about how the historic environment provides a platform in the present and future in areas such as education and enjoyment, encouraging exploration of our shared past, and so enabling communities to really engage with their local heritage. We value heritage for its own sake but it also important in securing economic benefits, promoting skills development and in driving innovation.

Heritage also helps us to build bridges with other countries. We don’t just want Scotland’s communities to benefit from our great heritage – it belongs to Scotland and to the World.

Finally, I will highlight this Government’s continued support for archaeology and the historic environment this year as we look forward to a bright future.

Historic Environment strategy and New Body

I want Scotland to be recognised for its modern and innovative creative industries. We want to be an independent nation where it is known that our historic environment enriches our lives, enhances our learning, promotes well-being, and strengthens both our society and our economy.

Our commitment is evident in Scotland’s first ever Strategy for our Historic Environment which was published last month. “Our Place in Time” sets out a common vision and ambition towards which we can all work together to produce positive benefits for this precious resource. Together we want to ensure that it is even better understood, protected and celebrated.

We worked hard with many partners here today, including the IFA, to develop the Strategy. I would like to thank all of you for your contributions.

Last month Ialso published the Bill to set up Historic Environment Scotland. This will be a brand new organisation to be created in 2015 as a non-departmental public body, bringing together the functions of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The new body will play a lead role in delivering the Strategywhile ensuring that the core functions of both organisations continue.

Institute for Archaeologists

Both Historic Scotland and RCAHMS have been active supporters of the work of the IFA. RCAHMS is a Registered Organisation with the Institute; Historic Scotland has provided grants to enable the Institute to undertake a wide variety of activities in Scotland, from targeted Continuing Professional Development courses through to your involvement in one of the Strategy’s working groups on undesignated historic environment assets, and of course hosting this conference. I believe that you may have heard a little about these activities before I arrived.

I am sure that Historic Environment Scotland will be an equally strong ally and supporter of the IFA. It will continue to be a keyfunder of archaeology in Scotland.

Your recent stakeholder survey highlighted the great strides that you have made in strengthening recognition for the archaeological profession.I would like to congratulate the IFA on the recent Order of Grant by Her Majesty the Queen for a Royal Charter of Incorporation.  It is a real accolade for the work of the Institute and its members, Council and Staff and will lead to the eventual creation of a Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.


This accolade demonstrates state recognition for a profession that works tirelessly in the public interest.

Your profession is highly valued in Scotland because as archaeologists you play a key role in identifying and investigating, preserving and promoting our heritage which in turn informs our concept of national identity.

Heritage is a term which is used widely and sometimes loosely.

It means different things to different people. To some extent that must be right: we each carry within us our own individual stories, ancestry and perspectives.

According to the dictionary, heritage is “valued objects and qualities that have been passed down from previous generations”.

Too often though `heritage’ can conjure up images of either dry and dusty cabinets, or an experience which is neatly packaged and sanitised and explained, or an elitist view of our past.

This Government has a broad, inclusive view of heritage. It is the living, continuing, dynamic and democratic story of our nation: past, present and future. It belongs to us all.

All that we know and continue to learn about our past – from objects, images, records, buildings, monuments, landscapes, family history, excavations – helps to explain why the places we inhabit are as they are, and how our ancestors who lived in them interacted with other people and places.

In the past decade, outreach initiatives have allowed far greater direct community participation in heritage conservation and investigation. I am keen to see this grow further.  It is the most effective means of ensuring broad support for the sustainable protection of Scotland’s unique historic environment.

That participation and knowledge helps to foster a sense of belonging and nationhood, a sense of shared identity in the present.

Whether we have lived in a place for decades or only a few months, its tangible and intangible heritage helps to shape a common culture – from local jokes to pride in the local castle.
Our heritage in turn provides a platform for the future:for education, further exploration and research, enjoyment, sustainable management and use, increased employment opportunities, and engagement with people from across the world.

Exploring the Past

I want to come back later to how heritage is influencing our present and our future.  

Let us remind ourselves now of the way in which archaeology in particular helps us to explore the past.

What we can see in surviving buildings and read in archives is a vital part of our heritage. We are blessed in Scotland with a wealth of visible evidence of the aspirations of our forefathers: heritage we can observe, touch, feel and live in.

But what we can see only takes us so far. So much of our distant past and our more recent history is hidden underground or underwater, or hidden within the fabric of our historic buildings.

That’s where archaeology comes into its own. Can I say it’s the Heineken of heritage – reaching the parts that other heritage disciplines can’t reach?! I know that some of you will be old enough to remember those adverts.

I have huge admiration for the diversity of skills and attributes you possess: you are detectives, piecing together fragments of evidence; scientists and historians; diggers and writers; information and technology experts; many of you need the patience of saints and the fortitude of arctic explorers to be out recovering clues in all weathers.

The rewards are great: I know that many people are excited by the concept of unearthing items which have not seen the light of day for decades, centuries or even millennia. It is equally important to engage your expertise to recognise and interpret evidence for the first time and to be able to share that knowledge.

My experience of archaeologists is that you are all passionate about your subject.You are increasingly skilled in communicating excitement and in sharing your expertise with others. That makes the subject appealing to millions of people.

Last summer I had the privilege of going to Shetland to attend part of the Viking Congress, held in Scotland for the first time in more than 20 years. I have visited a number of fantastic sites in the Northern Isles, from the Norse and other periods. We value the cultural DNA that we share with Scandinavian people which is still celebrated in song and verse, customs and festivals.  Up-Helly-Aais, of course, the most obvious example – the party to end all parties!

Archaeological discoveries have progressively transformed our understanding of how people lived as well as establishing Scotland’s place in the British Isles and the wider world. I was particularly struck when the remains of the earliest stringed instrument ever found in western Europe were discovered in a cave on Skye. I held the small wooden fragment in my hand, believed to be the bridge from a 2,300 year old lyre. This was used by music archaeologists to recreate the actual instrument, demonstrating the sophistication of the music and providing a tantalising glimpse into an ancient world of music and song.

That it was found on Skye also shows the importance of waterways in the past, and that our coastal waters were the motorways of our ancestors.

I was also delighted by the discovery of a Neolithic figurine on Orkney – affectionately known as the Westray Wife or Orkney Venus – the earliest artistic representation of a human form in Scotland. The level of artistry, workmanship and skill demonstrated in the figures found at Links of Noltland shows that our ancestors were as cultured and complex as ourselves. These small artefacts from Skye and Orkney have told us so much about the way that music, ritual and art were part of the lives of our ancestors. I am delighted that our system of Treasure Trove in Scotland will ensure that significant objects like these are preserved in museums for public benefit.

Finds and research can be complemented by exploration of our intangible heritage. Work on St Kilda by the National Trust for Scotland, RCAHMS, Historic Scotland and others has pieced together the tangible and intangible elements of that amazing island. It is a story that has inspired many around the world and even been the subject of an opera!

We love our myths and legends; and Scotland has many – including some very lucrative ones. Even Hollywood productions encourage visitors to discover the beauty and heritage of Scotland. I value the way that your work can help us to put the myths and legends in context, while highlighting authentic stories which archaeology identifies and brings to life.

Investigating, recording, understanding and interpreting our past are all part of the everyday work of archaeologists. Building successfully on previous knowledge requires the evidence base - the record of sites and activities - to be readily accessible. This knowledge base also informs efforts in the present and future to protect our heritage.

I am delighted to hear that the latest edition of The Archaeologist magazine showcases 20 years of planning-led archaeology in Scotland and also some of the vital work undertaken by archaeologists in our local authorities. Work undertaken by commercial archaeologists as a result of local authority planning conditions forms the backbone of new archaeological knowledge and I commend you all for the high quality of information and research that you produce.

I was also delighted to see the excellent work over several years at Links of Noltland in Westray, Orkney, recognised through the award of ‘UK Rescue Dig of the Year’ at the Current Archaeology magazine awards last month.  

This unique grouping of Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements and their field systems has been excavated by Historic Scotland and EASE in response to the collapse of the protective dune system as a result of increased storminess.  Many ancient and historic sites are being affected by climate change today and this project will provide valuable lessons for others across the world.

The theme of this conference, Research in Practice, has been stimulated by the creation of Scotland’s first Archaeological Research Framework which I was very pleased to launch last year, together with Telling Scotland’s Story, a graphic-novel style booklet highlighting some of the surprising and exciting stories explored through the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework. ScARF emphasises that all archaeological knowledge is built on a strong research foundation, whether that knowledge is uncovered as part of a targeted piece of academic research or in response to development changing our town, land and sea-scapes.

It is not possible to tell the stories of our past in a credible and accessible way unless we have the research to underpin them.  

This is why I take great pleasure today in launching the first Scottish Historic Environment Data or SHED Strategy of which you have a glimpse in your conference pack.

This strategy aims to create a collaborative national public information resource for the historic environment. It is a joint venture between local and national bodies comprising shared and linked digital records. It will be professionally managed, continually updated, and accessible to all, ensuring the greatest economic, social and cultural benefits for the people of Scotland and beyond.  

Over the next ten years I hope that the `SHED’ will become a `pavilion’ of knowledge: inspiring, welcoming and integrating research of all kinds for a greater celebration and understanding of the Historic Environment.

Education and Enjoyment

That takes me back to the way in which our heritage is continuing to shape our present and our future.

Heritage is playing a very useful role in education, formal and informal, while bringing enjoyment to millions of people. There is scope to do even more.

Effective partnership working across different sectors, especially with specialists in education and those who support volunteers, is enabling inspirational and innovative learning experiences and the best use of our resources – people and records as well as places.

The M74 dig in Glasgow a few years ago explored a range of public archaeology programmes through pop-up exhibitions, local museums, experimental archaeology, oral histories and schools projects.

Scotland’s new Curriculum for Excellence provides an opportunity for archaeology to be utilised in the classroom because of its multi-disciplinary nature and its relevance to local contexts.

I know that this is an area where online resources can play a big part.  One example is Scran, our online educational service from multiple contributors, which supplies information about our history and heritage.

Another is Scottish Archives for Schools, which provides information on our history and heritage in support of Curriculum for Excellence and National Qualifications in addition to providing specific workshops for schools throughout Scotland.

I want to applaud archaeologists and other heritage professionals who are exploring innovative ways of disseminating information in a variety of ways to different audiences. Let me cite two examples:

First, the Forestry Commission recently produced Wolf Brother’s Wildwoods, an education resource around Mesolithic life in Scotland’s forests and woodlands, designed to link in with the Curriculum.

Second, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and Archaeology Scotland are collaborating with others in the sector to create a fun programme of archaeological events in 2015 entitled ‘Dig It!’

Community Heritage

More and more people, in urban and rural communities, are looking for ways to learn about and celebrate their past and contribute their own expertise. As a result, training schemes and locally-led projects designed to give people the tools that they need to record and understand their local sites, buildings and landscapes are springing up across the country.  Many of these initiatives have come out of the very successful Adopt-a-Monument and Scotland’s Rural Past programmes.

They have strengthened the community heritage movement as well as providing fascinating lifelong learning and volunteering opportunities.

Economic Benefits

When I gave a speech to the friends of the Talbot Rice Museum last year I emphasised that the Scottish Government – and, I believe, the Scottish people – value culture for its own sake because it is so crucial to understanding ourselves and our places and our national story.  

As I made clear then, and repeat now, our archaeological heritage is very much a crucial part of that culture.

I also said that while the primary benefit of culture and heritage is for its own sake, there is no reason to neglect its secondary benefits. It is a tremendous bonus that our legacy from the past brings economic benefits today through employment and tourism.

History, heritage and archaeology are major factors in our tourism economy, bringing people from across the globe as well as locally to visit our sites, monuments, buildings, landscapes, museums and archives.

Let me give you a few statistics.

Over 28% of adults living in Scotland as well as some 14 million tourists visited a historic or archaeological site last year.

One in five school visits are to heritage attractions.

The National Museum in Edinburgh is the most visited attraction outside London.

Edinburgh Castle has been voted the best UK heritage attraction at the British Travel Awards for three years running, as well as being Scotland’s top paid-for attraction with a record 1.4 million visitors last year.

The National Trust for Scotland has over 316,000 members and Historic Scotland over 140,000. Both have seen increases in membership in recent years.

Investment by Historic Scotland in improved interpretation at Iona Abbey to mark the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of St Columba from Ireland last year led to a 5% increase in visitors to almost 60,000.

Over one million registered users start their research on Scottish ancestry using ScotlandsPeople, and an estimated 213,000 trips to Scotland are made every year by visitors who take part in ancestral research.

Sony Pictures are currently making a major television drama series in Scotland, called Outlander, by far the biggest inward investment in screen production we have ever had.  It is set in Jacobite Scotland and they were drawn by the opportunity to use authentic, splendidly preserved locations like Doune Castle and to work with specialist suppliers like Anthony Haines textiles in Selkirk to source realistic eighteenth century style tartan fabrics in heather dyes.

But our heritage is not just generating income from tourists, trippers and TV tycoons, vital for the economy as this is. We are investing money in sensitive schemes to ensure that many old buildings can make a productive contribution to the modern economy. In my own constituency, Linlithgow Burgh Hall has been magnificently restored, having benefited from various grants and is now making a return on that investment as an important community resource. It is only one example of many heritage-led regeneration projects.

Working with the architectural profession and conservation and traditiorenal skills bodies, we are seeking to develop a culture of respect for our hundreds of thousands of older houses: I want them to be seen as the asset they are, not a burden.

The heritage sector is also a big employer. I know that there has been a downturn in the numbers employed in archaeology, as in many other sectors in this country and further afield; yet archaeology’s continued progression as a vibrant and dynamic discipline has been driven in part by the commitment to skills development – for professionals and for volunteers.

I am grateful to the IFA for your excellent work in this area through your recent workplace learning bursary schemes, regular training courses, the lead role that you play in the Archaeology Training Forum, and your exploration of NVQs as a non-degree led route into archaeological employment and skills development.


The thirst for knowledge about our past and for finding ways of sharing it is also driving innovation. I can see that across the heritage sector, people are utilising creativity, innovation and science to help better understand, explore and disseminate knowledge about Scotland’s past.

Some of the greatest leaps forward in our understanding of how people lived and died in the past have come from the application of scientific techniques - from the radiocarbon revolution more than half a century ago through to the more recent techniques of stable isotopic analysis and DNA.

Innovative techniques are helping us understand more about the people who lived in the past, their diets and mobility, helping us better appreciate many of the dynamic identities and relationships that we have today. They help us to understand our place in the world.

Modern technological innovations also enable us to maximise the potential for disseminating information about our past to people all around the World. Archaeology has been at the forefront of encouraging digital preservation and data sharing.

Many of you will be aware of the Scottish Ten project, a partnership between Historic Scotland, the Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio and CyArk.  It aims to document Scotland’s five UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Sites and five international heritage sites, using cutting-edge laser survey technology. This digital innovation is now being expanded to include all 345 monuments in the care of Scottish Ministers.

Mobile apps are being developed at various sites to look at the ways in which we can provide information on portable devices. Museums regularly employ innovative methods to make their collections more accessible. 3D technology opens up a world of possibilities to the visitor, information that we can disseminate globally.

This brings me back to the wonderful displays that I have seen at Bannockburn, where cutting-edge motion capture technology is used to immerse visitors in a 3D medieval battle, as well as giving visitors the opportunity to take part in an interactive battle game, based on up-to-date evidence and research. I have had a go and can certainly recommend it!

Outward looking

Our heritage helps us to understand our own past; it also provides a platform from which we can engage in the wider world and build bridges in many directions.

This conference is just one example of how networks of heritage professionals and volunteers across the British Isles and globally are working together to compare, contrast and grow their knowledge and understanding.

This can be particularly valuable when there are obvious connections in our heritage work.  That is why the Scottish Government is working closely with the Irish Government to foster links between our archaeology communities.

I will be visiting Ireland next month and look forward to visiting one or two archaeological sites with similar architecture and heritage to sites here in Scotland. Further archaeological collaboration with Irish colleagues will be explored in a seminar in Edinburgh in October hosted by Historic Scotland.

I am also looking forward to welcoming the European Association of Archaeologists annual conference to Scotland for the first time in 2015 - also here in Glasgow. I recently met the President of the EAA and Professor Stephen Driscoll, Chair of the National Organising Committee, to hear about their developing plans for the conference and to confirm support for it through Historic Scotland and its successor body.  

Government support

I have said already that this Government values Scotland’s heritage.

The main role of government is to create the conditions in which our historic environment and heritage communities can flourish.  That is why we work with and through our national public bodies and local government to enable, inspire and empower people throughout the country to value and enjoy our heritage; to create a framework within which our heritage can flourish.

Carefully targeted public funding is a key although by no means the only way in which we enable and empower.

The vast majority of heritage assets are in private ownership and are looked after without the need for public funding.  Some projects do, however, need public funding and, in spite of the tough public expenditure climate, the Scottish Government is providing substantial funding across the heritage landscape.

We will continue to do so, supporting excellence, innovation, widening access, and nurturing the grass roots.

As an example, I am today announcing that in 2014-15, Historic Scotland’s Archaeology Programme and other grant schemes are investing over £1.5 million in archaeological activities.

These include:

  • projects which investigate and record our past, such as the forthcoming publication of Howburn Farm near Biggar,producing evidence for the earliest human occupation in Scotland, 14,000 years ago
  • projects which help care for and protect our sites, such as Archaeology Scotland’s Adopt-a-Monument scheme
  • those which aim to share and celebrate our past with as wide an audience as possible, such as the forthcoming Dig It! activities in 2015.

I am grateful to the many voluntary trusts and businesses which also support our heritage in so many ways and to other funders such as the HLF. The National Trust for Scotland, for example, plays a vital role in caring for our historic environment, as do thousands of volunteers who participate in activities aimed at widening access, such as the Doors Open Days and Scottish Archaeology Month.


Let me sum up.

I want to continue to support the archaeological community in its widest sense as you continue to tell our nation’s ancient and unfolding story.

I want to encourage more and more joint working across disciplines so that Scotland’sstory can betold and understood holistically, not compartmentalised by professional disciplines.

Archaeology exemplifies in many ways the journey of heritage. It has developed from its origins as a marginal pursuit of a small privately-funded elite, through to the dynamic, inclusive activity that we encourage today.

Archaeology is now firmly established as a profession, with strong representation in the academic and public sectors, a healthy private, commercial sector, a growing army of volunteers supported by organisations such as Archaeology Scotland, and a high media profile.

Excellent progress is being made in developing the first ever Archaeology Strategy for Scotland through collaboration between a wide range of players led by Historic Scotland.

The archaeology strategy will nest within Our Place in Time,helping to deliver its priorities and themes.

Indeed, looking beyond the next 18 months there will be a focus year on History, Heritage and Archaeology in 2017; that will be a year-long opportunity to revel in the wealth of Scotland’s historic environment.

We have a rich heritage handed down from the past; going forward we will continue to cherish and celebrate it.

I wish you well for the rest of your conference and congratulate you again on your Charter.

Thank you

Urquhart Castle

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