Dating, construction and function of cultivation terraces at Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

Funded by The British Academy.

Collaboration with Independent and University of St Andrews.

The proposal is to fund the salary of a graduate soil technician to generate sedimentological data on man-made soils, already excavated and sampled, in three terraces in the best-preserved cultivation terrace in northern Britain, to allow us to to establish their origins, parent materials and sources, deposition and super-imposition, degrees of anthropogenic disturbance, cultivation and improvement. In parallel with OSL dating and soil micromorphology, the aim is to understand for the first time the age of excavated terraces, their construction, longevity, modification and dis-use, and correlate with already-completed palynological and sedimentological analyses from a nearby loch. This work will then lead directly to a larger programme of excavation, dating and geo-archaeological analysis to understand the terrace system in its entirety.

Cultivation terraces represent one of the great unknowns of northern British archaeology. They are barely researched (for instance, their cultivation has not been demonstrated) yet almost 400 are recorded in Scotland alone. They are poorly defined and range morphologically from rig-&-furrow to contour ploughing, lynchets and revetted terraces and together are undoubtedly of several periods. Only the last are true terraces but revetting is hard to demonstrate without excavation and this is almost non-existent. Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (EBA) 14C assays on charcoal came from the only modern excavation of revetted terraces, in the Cheviots, but from insecure contexts, though later prehistoric ages are demonstrated from archaeological survey. Given how terracing, a response to a need to work on steep agriculturally marginal slopes, is often seen to imply both population pressure or environmental stress, our ignorance of them is startling.

Total award value £9,985.04

People (2)


Dr Clare Wilson

Dr Clare Wilson

Senior Lecturer, BES

Dr Eileen Tisdall

Dr Eileen Tisdall

Senior Lecturer, Biological and Environmental Sciences