Scotland’s first female archaeologist honoured for pioneering work

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A woman known as Scotland’s first female archaeologist is to be honoured with a plaque recognising her contribution to the field.

Christian Maclagan, (1811 to 1901), was known for her scholarship on brochs and for her meticulous collection of rubbings of Pictish era stones, which include some of the earliest at Wemyss Caves in Fife.

Christian Maclagan, (1811 to 1901), was known for her scholarship on brochs, such as this one on the Isle of Lewis. Picture: James Gardener

Christian Maclagan, (1811 to 1901), was known for her scholarship on brochs, such as this one on the Isle of Lewis. Picture: James Gardener

She also devoted much of her life to philanthropic activities, establishing a Sunday school and devoting money and time to the removal of slums in Stirling.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said the plaque will be put up on the house where Maclagan lived in Stirling, 19 Clarendon Place, as part its Commemorative Plaque Scheme.

Caroline Clark, grants operations manager at HES, said: “The beauty of our Commemorative Plaque Scheme is that it both highlights notable historic figures and brings attention to properties that were key to their stories.

“Christian Maclagan’s plaque is a worthy addition to our list of historic figures commemorated over the last six years.

“Christian was Scotland’s first female archaeologist and her dedication to recording and preserving antiquities and archaeological research into prehistoric Scotland remain important to this day.”

Maclagan was a suffragist who pushed for female inclusion but was herself a victim of the institutionalised sexism of the times when she was denied full membership of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland because of her gender.

This rejection of full membership, and the fact she could still not formally publish with the Society - requiring a man to publish her work under his name - prompted her to send all her rubbings from stones to the British Museum in London.

Ursula Martin, professor of computer science at Oxford University, nominated Maclagan for recognition through the HES Commemorative Plaque Scheme to bring attention to her story and the pioneering role she played in the field of archaeology.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Christian Maclagan was a remarkable Scottish pioneer in her field and is a fitting recipient of a Historic Environment Scotland commemorative plaque.

“Her ground-breaking talent and life-long commitment to archaeology stand alongside her fight for women’s empowerment and gender equality to make her an iconic figure for many to this day.

“Now in its sixth year, Historic Environment Scotland’s Commemorative Plaque Scheme has cast a new light on some of the most outstanding figures in Scottish history, from all backgrounds and walks of life.

“I commend Historic Environment Scotland for their success in developing and leading this initiative and I look forward to discovering the next round of plaque recipients.”

The HES Commemorative Plaque scheme, which has been running since 2012, celebrates significant people by erecting plaques on the buildings where they lived or worked.