Previous studies have demonstrated the vast range of physical, chemical and biological processes that influence the preservation of archaeological sites, yet characterisation at the site-level remains largely unexplored. National datasets on soil type, land use and erosion modelling have the potential to predict localised impacts but remain an untapped resource in the evaluation of heritage at risk. Using early medieval Scotland as a case study, this paper explores in detail some of the primary factors which have impacted the archaeological record and the degree to which site-based evidence contained in excavation reports compares with national datasets (Land Cover Map 2015, Soil Information for Scottish Soils and Soils of Scotland Topsoil pH) and coastal erosion models (Dynamic Coast National Coastal Change Assessment and Coastal Erosion Susceptibility Model). This provides valuable information on the preservation of Scotland’s early medieval settlement, as well as a methodology for using national datasets in the remote assessment of post-depositional factors across the broader archaeological landscape. Results indicate that agriculture, bioturbation and aggressive soil conditions are among the most significant factors impacting Scotland’s archaeological remains. Whilst the national datasets examined have the potential to inform heritage management strategies on these processes, their use is limited by a number of theoretical and methodological issues. Moving forward, site-specific studies that characterise the preservation environment will be crucial in developing baseline assessments that will advance both local and global understanding of destructive factors and soil-mediated decay.
Reid, V., & Milek, K. (2021). Risk and resources: an evaluation of the ability of national soil datasets to predict post-depositional processes in archaeological sites and heritage at risk. Heritage, 4(2), 725-758. https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage4020041