Archaeology project wins ‘Oscar’

Thursday 7 October 2004

A project aimed at recording crumbling archaeological sites in Scotland has been awarded a coveted prize for being the ‘greatest initiative in British archaeology’.

The Shorewatch project – jointly managed by the University of St Andrews and the SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion) Trust – is an initiative that trains and encourages members of local communities to record eroding archaeological sites around the coast of Scotland.

The project received the top prize at the prestigious British Archaeological Awards – the ‘Oscars’ of British Archaeology – at a ceremony in Belfast today.

Co-ordinated by Tom Dawson of the University of St Andrews, Shorewatch is a collaborative venture involving volunteers and individuals, both adults and children from schools and youth groups. Their work monitors the state of the archaeological remains along the Scottish coast with a view to aiding decisions to be taken on where to undertake more detailed work, such as a survey or excavation.

The coveted ‘Silver Trowel’ award is awarded every 2 years to a person or institution which has shown the greatest initiative in archaeology. The Scottish project was declared the unanimous winner, beating off competition from 6 other UK projects. The judges said that they ‘were impressed by the inclusivity of the project as well as the practical approach to an urgent and enormous problem’.

The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland, who have estimated that up to 12000 sites may be threatened around the coast of Scotland.

Tom explained: “There are so many sites, it would be impossible to protect them all without building a wall that encircled the entire coast. For this reason, the work of the Shorewatch groups is particularly valuable, they are literally rescuing information and artefacts that would otherwise be totally lost.”

Tom, who collected the prize on behalf of the project, paid tribute to the group members who worked hard on locating the sites before they disappear under the waves.

“I have been amazed by the dedication shown by the group members, braving gales and driving rain to record fragile remains,” he continued.

As well as locating sites, some Shorewatch groups have been doing more detailed survey projects. In Brora, Sutherland, a group have been uncovering a substantial wall belonging to the early saltpans, buried by drifting sand and now crumbling under the waves at high tide.

In August, Shorewatch volunteers were involved in a major project to record an Iron Age settlement on the island of Unst, Shetland – Britain’s most northerly-inhabited island. The project brought together locals from across Shetland with professional archaeologists from SCAPE and Glasgow University’s Archaeological Research Division. They used a range of techniques to survey the site, including instruments to see below the soil. The team are hoping to return next year to excavate the site, provided enough of it survives the winter’s storms.

** A national conference, which will look at the problems facing Scotland’s archaeological sites, will be held in St Andrews next week (October 12th). Featuring experts from a host of natural and cultural heritage organisations, it will include a talk, given by the director of the Scottish Council for Archaeology, on community archaeology at the coast and the Shorewatch Project.


Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected] Ref: Silver Trowel 081004.doc View the latest University news at

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