Minister's Opening Address at the Scottish Community Archaeology Conference
18 May 2009
Michael Russell, Culture Minister
Opening address at the Scottish Community Archaeology Conference, Queen Margaret University 16/5/09
First let me thank Archaeology Scotland and East Lothian Council for inviting me, and say how disappointed I am not to be able to join you today at Queen Margaret University this weekend. Your topic is one in which I have been interested for a long time – certainly long before taking over this present portfolio.
We all agree that archaeology has a huge amount to contribute to investigating, understanding and celebrating Scotland. In the Scottish Government, we talk a lot about “Scotland the nation”, but of course nations are built by local actions. It is the communities, past and present, which are the building blocks of society in which we live.
Community archaeology is one of Scotland’s historic environment success stories, and over the coming weekend you will have the chance to share in a rich variety of very different experiences.
It is particularly appropriate that this meeting is being held here in East Lothian, which offers several fine examples of what can be achieved when a local community bringing its skills, knowledge and indeed its enthusiasm into a willing partnership with the local authority, the national heritage bodies and the so-called “community of experts” moves issues forward.
Across the country, similar partnerships are at work – only last month, we saw national media coverage for the Biggar Museum Group’s discovery of evidence for the earliest human presence in Scotland. You will hear more about this tomorrow. But locally inspired and owned, with access when required to national experts and the opportunity to obtain targeted funding – surely that is everything that community archaeology should be and should aspire to?
What I find particularly striking is not the widespread existence of community archaeology – after all, it’s fair to say such projects have been around for a long time – but the changed relationship that now exists between the groups who create and run such projects and the national heritage bodies, such as Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission. Now I welcome the change in tone which reflects something very important: a willingness on both sides to trust and share, a willingness which was rare even a few years ago. I think that the traditional “professional versus amateur” divide is being steadily replaced by something much more positive – a recognition that, paid or unpaid, everyone who does worthwhile archaeological work deserves respect as part of the Scottish archaeological community.
I know the staff of Historic Scotland recognise the importance of this profound culture change, and I was pleased to note that they have supported many – in fact most – of the projects you will hear about, as well as supporting this conference itself. For them, addressing a question such as “We are going to do something, how will Historic Scotland help us?” must be, and is, much more encouraging than dealing with the old expectation that “Historic Scotland should do something about it.”
Of course, there are times when national and local perspectives and priorities don’t mesh perfectly. It would be a boring world if they always did! Likewise, none of us may ever have all the resources we would wish for - the Royal Commission have found, for example, with the overwhelming demand for places in the Scotland’s Rural Past project is difficult to manage. But enthusiasm and energy can achieve much, even when cash is scarce.
Communities getting out there, doing their stuff, roping in any experts they need, making their own case for funding and then telling the world what they have done and what they are doing – that’s the best way of winning converts, as well as keeping the importance of Scotland’s amazing archaeological heritage high up on the agenda.
I know you’ll enjoy this weekend, but I’d ask you to take inspiration from each other and the work you’re doing, and I wish you more power to your excavating elbows.