At Durham I developed a practical interest in archaeological air-photography, and for more than twenty years have maintained a current private pilot's licence, surveying early settlements in the Borders and further afield.
Hownam Law Hillfort, Roxburghshire, with hut-platforms showing under snow
Woden Law East; palisaded enclosure, roundhouses and cord-rig agriculture under snow
From early in my career I have been actively involved in hillfort researches, in 1976 editing a volume on Hillforts: Later Prehistoric Earthworks in Britain and Ireland, which contains the only published accounts of several key excavations.
On my appointment to Edinburgh in 1977, my research interests focused first on borders prehistory (v. Later Prehistoric Settlement in South-East Scotland, ed. 1982) and since 1985 on the archaeology of the Hebrides and the Atlantic seaways.
Major Research Interests:
Research since graduation has been within the field of later prehistoric (late Bronze Age and Iron Age) archaeology of Britain and Europe, with a particular concern for settlement evidence and material culture. Fieldwork, including excavation, air-photographic survey and experimental archaeology, has been fundamental to my research interests. The geographical focus of my research was initially Southern Britain; since my appointment in Edinburgh, I have been progressively more involved in studies of later prehistoric and early historic settlement patterns in Northern Britain and Ireland, culminating in the publication of The Iron Age in Northern Britain, 2004. From 1985 this included a long-term programme of fieldwork in the Outer Hebrides, based upon the Department’s Archaeological Research Centre at Calanais, Lewis.
ii) Hillforts and Settlements
I have had a long-standing research interest in later prehistoric hillforts and non-fortified settlements, initially associated with excavations in the 1960s at Blewburton Hill, Berkshire (1976c), at Pimperne Down, Dorset (1963;1993), and on two sites in the upper Thames region where Iron Age occupation preceded the construction of Romano-Celtic temples (1987). The 1960s and early 70s saw significant advances in the scale and techniques of hillfort excavation, and in their interpretation, which were reflected in the collection of essays, Hillforts: Later Prehistoric Earthworks in Britain and Ireland (1976a), and in my Edinburgh Inaugural Lecture, Celts in Conflict: Hillfort Studies, 1927-77(1980). Since my appointment in Edinburgh, I have taken an active interest both in ground and air-survey (q.v.infra) of later prehistoric settlement in the Borders, editing Later Prehistoric Settlement in South-East Scotland (1982), and since 1985 in the later prehistoric and early historic settlement of Atlantic Scotland (q.v.infra).
iii) The Archaeology of Atlantic Scotland.
By contrast with the Northern Isles, the archaeological potential of the Outer Hebrides had been largely neglected until at my initiative the University of Edinburgh established its Research Centre at Calanais in 1984. The programme of excavation focussed on the Bhaltos peninsula in west Lewis at three related sites, the island dun in Loch Bharabhat (2000b), the broch with later (Pictish) occupation at the Loch na Beirgh (2000a), and the wheelhouse at Cnip (1990b, directed by I. Armit). It is hoped that the full publication of this closely-related series of sites will serve as a model for later prehistoric and early historic settlement in the region. The excavation at Loch Bharabhat was unique in combining land-based and underwater investigations to the enhancement of understanding of the site as a whole. In addition to excavation, ground, air and underwater surveys have also been carried out, and colleagues have since also undertaken a fuller programme of survey, excavation and environmental research in west Lewis.
iv) Experimental Archaeology.
In 1975 I became involved in a consultative capacity in the reconstruction of an Iron Age house at the Butser Hill, Hampshire, experimental farm, based exactly upon the ground-plan of the Pimperne house. This exercise not only suggested explanations for elements in the ground-plan that had been recorded in excavation but not properly understood, but it also highlighted the crucial distinction between structural and constructional elements in the plan, and those that result from maintenance over a period of years. This long-term programme of research led to the publication An Iron Age Settlement in Dorset: Excavation and Reconstruction (1993, with I. M. Blake and P. J. Reynolds).
My interest in experimental archaeology extends to other forms of building experiment. As a Trustee of the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology I have taken an active interest in the reconstruction of a crannog in Loch Tay. Agricultural experiments took place at Calanais (1986), where it was hoped to develop these in connection with experimental reconstruction of stone structures typical of the Atlantic Iron Age.
v) Air-Photographic Survey.
For twenty-five years I maintained a current Private Pilot's License, in connection with my on-going interest in archaeological air-photography. This involved regional flying programmes in the north-east of England (1979a), the Borders and the Northern and Western Isles, as well as contributing to methodological debate (1983). For many years I served as a member of the Council for British Archaeology’s Aerial Photography Committee, and regional air-photographic committees.
vi) Celtic Art.
Though I have published only incidentally in this field hitherto, I have been closely involved in Celtic Art studies since postgraduate years and during my period in the Ashmolean Museum, when I worked closely with the late Professor Martyn Jope, himself a close colleague of Paul Jacobsthal. This became one of my specialist Honours teaching options, and a major research interest culminating in the publication of The Archaeology of Celtic Art in 2007.
vii) Calanais Heritage Centre.
Since 1985 I actively campaigned for the creation of an archaeological heritage centre at Calanais as a flagship development in the Department’s archaeological research programme for the Western Isles. This resulted in the establishment of a Trust (Urras nan Tursachan) representing the University of Edinburgh, the Western Isles Islands Council, Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Western Isles Enterprise and the Calanais community, which successfully raised £700,000 for the building of a new centre that opened in July, 1995. Laterly, the active archaeology fieldwork programme was suspended through lack of funding, and in 2009 the University of Edinburgh disposed of its estate at Calanais, returning the estate to the local community.
viii) Wetland and Underwater Archaeology.
Though I have never qualified as an underwater archaeologist, I was a Trustee of the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology since 1988, and have taken a close interest in the Loch Tay excavations and Crannog Centre over the past twenty years. I invited Dr T. N. Dixon to undertake the underwater excavation as a unique counterpart to my land-based programme at Loch Bharabhat in west Lewis (published as Harding and Dixon, 2000b). The relationship between island duns and crannogs is discussed in Harding, 2000d, and the results of aerial survey of crannogs was presented to the International Conference on Wetland Archaeology in 2005 (Harding, 2007b).