Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk

The special heritage of the coast

Iron Age saddle quern on a beach, North Uist
Iron Age saddle quern on a beach, North Uist

Layers of shell and bone glimpsed in coastal sections; tumbled walls, enigmatic arrangements of wooden posts; sea-smoothed fragments of pottery and glass: these familiar remains, found on any beach, are an intrinsic part of the pleasure and discovery of a visit to the coast. They have been revealed by the action of the sea and will continue to be scoured, transformed and ultimately destroyed by the power of wave and wind in the constantly shifting coastal zone.

Scurdie Ness East Beacon
Scurdie Ness East Beacon

And yet what stories could these objects tell? What information do they hold about our past? The first people in Scotland arrived at the coast where they exploited the rich resources of the shore, farmed the fertile coastal plains and built their homes. This pattern of settlement has continued to the present day. Think about the location of most of Scotland’s major cities. Many activities of great importance to the lives of Scots and the history of Scotland owe their existence to the sea and the seashore. The archaeology of fishing; maritime transport; early coal mining; early industry, such as the chemical and salt industries; and the seaside leisure industry are all particular to the coast. The archaeology of coastal defences stretches over a millennium - from Iron Age brochs to medieval castles, and the military structures of the World Wars.

Montrose
Montrose

The coastal zone is also a place of rapid change. Natural coastal processes continuously move sediment which can cover up or reveal archaeological remains from any period. Many are extremely well-preserved because they have been buried and so saved from the ravages of agriculture or the destruction of development.