Although the Institute covers a wide range of periods, regions, and research themes, the Archaeology Institute functions in research-groups within four core themes :
Scotland is justifiably famous for the quality of its surviving archaeological remains, and the Scottish archaeological resource continues to be a source of inspiration and research enquiry in modern fieldwork and in new interpretations. The work of the Institute explores the contribution that Scottish archaeology has made, and continues to make, to the global study of archaeology, and provides a survey of the relationship between interpretations of the past and the historical and intellectual background, the national cultural and political threads and imperatives that have run through the study of archaeology. Several Institute members have strengths in Scottish archaeology, particularly in the period stretching from the 4th millennium BC to the early modern period – encompassing the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish and Viking and post-mediaeval periods.
Monuments, artefacts and cultural identity
Stretching from the Neolithic monuments at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney to the megalithic moai of Easter Island or the Buddhist stupas of South Asia, members of the UHI Archaeology Institute are involved in ground-breaking research into monumental and artefactual cultural landscapes, cultural identity, and the links between art, archaeology and identity.
Landscape and environment
The study of landscapes is seen as a fundamental part of archaeological research and practice. The importance of archaeological landscapes, primarily with regard to the ways in which archaeologists have considered the wider context of archaeological sites, and also the affects that contemporary issues and perceptions have had upon the interpretation and management of these landscapes are parts of this area of research. A significant focus of study is the range of different factors, both human and natural, which have formed the landscapes we see today as well as to appreciate the ways in which these landscapes have influenced the identity, culture and social structure of the people who dwelt within them. Landscape studies are approached in a variety of different ways by research staff, through geophysical and topographic survey, environmental archaeology, phenomenology, current perceptions, and through management.
World Heritage Management
Institute archaeologists have been closely involved in research, conservation and management projects at UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland, Sri Lanka and Nepal, and indeed a key area of modern archaeological research concerns historic environment policy and practice at local, national and global levels. Contributions to policy development as well as to methodological developments for the assessment, monitoring and implementation of strategies of heritage management are one area of this research. Further aspects concern designations and definitions of understanding and attributing values are an element of this. Interpretation is studied through the role of museums and heritage centres, and community outreach.
Archaeology and sustainability
Sustainability is best understood through long-term perspectives on the interactions of people and environment. This reflexive relationship is crucial to inform future practice and research in sustainable development and cultural environment management, and for promoting cultural diversity, sustainability literacy and education. Heritage is embedded in place and forms a strong link between humans and local landscapes. Heritage thus provides an important avenue to place based learning, education for sustainability, and developing a genuine sense of stewardship and management for the long term future. With ever diminishing resources, especially with respect to the impacts of climate change, there is now a real need for innovation in methods of assessing, monitoring, and valuing heritage, for developing new approaches to education and heritage and, moreover, for critically appraising what the past can contribute to the future sustainability of society.
Sustainability is a strength that is critically important to the UHI Archaeology Institute, and there is a core sustainability component in the archaeology undergraduate and masters programmes. Likewise, Sustainability of communities, societies and practice in the past and the present is an underlying theme of the Dept. research activities and includes a specific focus on Education for Sustainable Development, Heritage Management and on societal resilience to environmental change in island and coastal regions, with active research projects in Orkney, the Hebrides, Easter Island, Sri Lanka, Iceland and East Africa.