History of Archaeology Scotland- Its Creation

This potted history of how Archaeology Scotland was set up was presented in the 50th Anniversary edition of our newsletter in 1994: We used to be called The Council for Scottish Archaeology…

Urquhart Castle, Inverness-shire; Temple Wood, Argyll; Bronze flat axe found on Carnethy Hill, in the Pentlands.
Norrie Macleod; Jill Harden; the Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland.

A look back in time

The Council for Scottish Archaeology (CSA) has been in existence, in one form or another, for 50 years now. This edition of the newsletter sets CSA in its historical context and also takes the opportunity to look forward into the new millennium.

The Congress of Archaeological Societies

Early in 1943 it was thought that the 2nd World War had reached a turning point; invasion lines were being held and counter-offensives were about to be launched. People were beginning to think of the future, of a time of peace. Re-building many of Britain’s cities, restructuring Britain’s manufacturing base, and producing enough food for us all, were on their minds. For archaeologists concerned about the evidence of the past, the implications were considerable. So, the Society of Antiquaries of London felt that it was a suitable time to call people together to consider post-war policy on archaeology.

Ten Scottish representatives attended the two conferences, known as the Congress of Archaeological Societies. They included people from Edinburgh University, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Falkirk, Perthshire and Stirlingshire local societies. That they did so was no mean feat, for the representatives had to find the means to travel and the willingness so to do at a time of considerable difficulty. Other societies were not present, in part because some had suspended operations for the duration of the hostilities – for there was the black-out, petrol rationing, reduced rail services and members’ involvement in the services.

These meetings of the Congress decided that a Council should be formed to consider the future of archaeology throughout the country. Means of establishing contacts with the authorities who would be responsible for re-constructing the country’s social and economic structure were discussed. It was suggested that the best way of achieving such involvement would be through the establishment of 13 regional groups representing archaeological opinion in different parts of the country. It was proposed that they should be formed under an umbrella body which should be known as the Council for British Archaeology.

The Congress in Scotland

The organisation of the Scottish Regional Group was promoted by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and invitations were sent out for a preliminary meeting which was held on 6th January 1944.

Many of the societies which are still active today were involved from the outset of the establishment of the Scottish Group: Berwickshire Naturalists Club, Bute Natural History Society, Falkirk Archaeological Society, Elgin & Morayshire Literary and Scientific Association (now the Moray Society), Glasgow Archaeological Society, East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalists Society, Perthshire Society of Natural Sciences and the Hawick Archaeological Society, to name but a few. Others are no longer CSA members, such as the Third Spalding Club, the Old Edinburgh Club and the Scottish History Society.

The first meeting

This first Scottish meeting appointed an executive, which was chaired by Professor V G Childe and included Miss Dorothy Marshall, Dr W D Simpson, Mr J M Davidson and Mrs Hunter.

Professor Childe in pensive mood. © Miss Marion Jennings

The meeting also nominated 9 representatives who would attend the first meeting of the Council for British Archaeology, held on 8th March 1944.

Dr Simpson suggested that the remit of the Scottish Group should be:

  1. to preserve the Scottish heritage in the form of ancient buildings, antiquities and relics of past art;
  2. to preserve ancient country houses and secure that they are still inhabited;
  3. to make a stronger approach to the Ministry of Works to ensure that where castles or abbeys are handed to them and excavation is necessary, excavation shall be carried out under proper archaeological conditions and reported in a proper archaeological manner.

This wide remit was approved and the committee was asked to draft a constitution with these ideals in mind. Preliminary constitutions were put forward each year, but it was not until 1949 that a final version was agreed.

The Council for British Archaeology

Meanwhile, it had been decided that CBA’s aims should be:

  1. To convince government of the need for large state grants to deal with archaeological problems which were so vast and urgent that no learned society or regional committee would be able to find adequate resources to address
  2. To press government to strengthen existing measures for the care and preservation of historic monuments and
  3. To formulate and further measures to enlighten the public concerning the records and monuments of the past.
  4. To work for the- adequate recognition of archaeology, not only in the Universities and Schools, but also in the wider field of Adult Education.
  5. To co-operate with any parallel organisation that may work to foster the progress of Museum activities.

The Scottish Regional Group of CBA

In 1949 the constitution of the Scottish Regional Group of CBA outlined their objectives thus:

  1. to encourage the affiliation to it of all kindred bodies in Scotland, having for their object the advancement of the cause of archaeology in all its aspects, from prehistoric times to the middle of the nineteenth century;
  2. to enlighten public opinion in Scotland concerning the records and monuments of the past;
  3. to strengthen existing measures for the care and preservation of ancient monuments in Scotland;
  4. to work for the adequate recognition of archaeology, not only in the Scottish Universities, but also in the wide field of adult education;
  5. to co-operate with any parallel organisation that may seek to foster the progress of museum activities and the establishment of Scottish Folk Museums;
  6. to hold a watching brief in dealing with Scottish archaeological problems, in co-operation with CBA;
  7. to stimulate public interest in Scottish archaeology and to work for the adequate training and equipment of personnel to carry through and record schemes of practical field-work.


J C Wallace, past President of the Scottish Group of CBA. © The Commissioners of the RCAHMS

From these beginnings the Scottish Group of CBA developed. It was a self-financing autonomous body, run on a completely, voluntary basis by its membership of local societies and institutions, through its Executive Committee. It worked hard to try to ensure that Scotland was included in the government’s commitment to archaeological work, in areas such as survey, excavation, museums, interpretation and education.

And that effort continues.

Past Presidents

1944-46 Professor V G Childe

1947-50 J M Davidson

1951-53 Lt Col R L Hunter

1954-56 C Carter

1957-59 Mrs M E C Stewart

1960-62 D B Taylor

1963-65 H Fairhurst

1966-68 B R S Megaw

1969-71 J C Wallace

1972  Dr J X WP Corcoran

1973-75 A E Truckell

1976-78 J G Scott

1979-81 H B Millar

1982-88 Mrs E V W Proudfoot