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Proposed Caithness Archaeological  Trust

Notes Of The meeting Held On 15 November 2001

At a well-attended meeting at Thrumster school last night, the formation of a Trust to deal with current archaeology and related developments, was set in motion.  Mr. Cameron Taylor who was employed as an advisor to the Orkney Archaeology Trust, addressed the meeting, and showed a similar example of the small community on the island of Westray, who formed a group which works together extremely effectively, to use their heritage resources as a whole community benefit, and have largely succeeded in reversing the decline which is evident in many rural areas, with lack of opportunities for young people in employment and education, and consequent ageing of the local population.

It was good to see several of the younger generation, taking such an interest, as well as from the crofting and farming community.  There was discussion about possible problems around issues such as access, beaurocratic interference with farming activities and local life in general, and on the choice of a name. It was suggested that Yarrows, although perhaps only the focus for a wider area of East Caithness, is already a well-known name, through past publicity and academic work, and has a resonance which can easily catch public attention.

There was also some very positive input from the Forestry Commission who hold large areas of land between the Yarrows and Camster monuments.  Support has been pledged by our MP, John Thurso, who also has land within the area, our MSP, Jamie Stone, and Lord MacLennan.  Both our councillors, Billy Mowat and Jim Oag attended, and Mr. Mowat pointed out the considerable work and funding already provided by Highland Council, and the support provided by John Wood, the Highland Council archaeologist.  The Trust would hope to build on these advantages, and look forward to working closely with the Council as we go ahead. We are fortunate to have two councillors resident in the immediate area, both of whom are farmers, and understand the archaeological implications in local land use.

The early beginnings of the Caithness Archaeology Trust was touched on, as this is likely to act as an umbrella group which will support satellite groups such as Yarrows with general funding and publicity work.  The idea was floated of holding a local conference, World Heritage for an area around the general Yarrows concentration of monuments, and the news that the Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments is expressing interest in carrying out a full survey of the area around Yarrows, to identify monuments and remains in areas which were missed out in the last one, done about 20 years ago.

The need for this was illustrated by the fact that a wag was discovered on the Swartigill Burn in the summer, which had gone unreported, and which is now a National Scheduled Monument. There must be many more.

Nan Bethune, chairman of the Dunbeath Preservation Trust, pointed out the considerable work that goes on in Dunbeath, with local schools, and the enormous interest shown by local children in their own surroundings. This is another local Trust which is now almost at the end of the process of gaining registered museum status. This will give the opportunity to keep local artefacts discovered in the course of any work in Caithness, within the County, instead of sending it south to be kept in cupboards in various universities, collections and museums.

Rather than looking for ideas to get hold of, the Yarrows Trust will have the immediate task of handling the major project, part environmental, part excavation, which is already under way, and which received large grants from Historic Scotland, the two Universities involved, Stirling and Cardiff, and from CASE, to cover this year's excavation and post-excavation studies.

The academic members of the project are currently putting together a draft funding application for future work, and the expectation is, that the Trust will be able to match this to gain many local benefits both in tourism and employment.  Initial findings suggest that Yarrows is not only a world-class area for archaeological periods ranging from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age, but that the paleo-environmental record is preserved there to an extent unknown anywhere in the country. The implications for studies of climate change, man's impact on the landscape, and vegetation changes are enormous, and will attract students of many different disciplines to Yarrows for many years to come.

Prepared by Islay MacLeod