Donald Adamson

Dreaming in black and white

Archaeology PhD thesis

Commercialisation, change and continuity: an archaeological study of rural commercial practice in the Scottish Highlands


This is a study of the movement of cattle and grain out of the Scottish Highlands in the period before and during Improvement.

It uses the combined approach of historical archaeology (archaeological, documentary and cartographic research) to focus on the growth and implications of commercial practice in a predominately rural region.

The growth of the cattle trade is evidenced in archaeological terms by drove roads and associated structures such as cattle stances, enclosures, bothies and inns. The thesis studies two droving routes. One is through central Sutherland, and the other in Cowal and west Loch Lomondside. The case-studies trace the route of cattle towards distant markets outside of the Highlands, and record and analyse overnight stopping places along the way.

The development of a trade in grain from certain low lying fertile areas of the Highlands is evidenced by the building of grain storehouses or ‘girnals’ which were related to jetties, anchorages and harbours from which the grain was exported. The thesis considers the archaeology of the grain trade in Easter Ross, and also in the southern Highlands.

Practice is central to everyday life, and the practices associated with moving cattle and grain have embedded themselves into the archaeology of the landscapes through which they passed. The seasonal routines by which drovers moved herds of black cattle or estate tenants brought grain to the girnals, and thence onto ships, were indicative of a mesh of social relationships. The material culture of the cattle and grain trades both structured and was structured by that routine practice. Thus the archaeology gives evidence of past social relationships and how they changed over time.

This thesis considers for the first time the archaeological evidence for cattle and grain export from Highland Scotland. Therefore it gives a new understanding of the increasing impact of markets and market forces on social relations, as well as the tension between change and continuity in those relationships. It does not deny political or cultural drivers of change in the Scottish Highlands, but does emphasise what might be termed economic factors. It has something to say about the rise of the individual over community, and how individuals dealt with change in the light of asymmetrical power relationships. These issues still resonate in contemporary Scotland.

Ultimately this study is about how people, mostly unnamed in documentary records, dealt with change, and it is about the archaeological legacy of their actions.

A PDF of the thesis, which comes with a host of photographs and maps, is available freely from the University of Glasgow Library theses collection VISIT AT :

This article was posted in Academic Study Archive, PhD. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are closed.