New archaeology dig honours victim of historic '˜sexism'

A Scottish archeologist whose research was ignored by the academic establishment because she was a woman is being honoured in a new project to rediscover one of her key finds.

Christian Maclagans model of a broch in the Smith Museum, Stirling. Picture: Contributed
Christian Maclagans model of a broch in the Smith Museum, Stirling. Picture: Contributed

Christian Maclagan (1811-1901) investigated the remains of an Iron Age roundhouse in her home town of Stirling in the 1870s.

However, attitudes towards women at that time meant Maclagan’s academic paper on the 2,000-year-old broch structure was only regarded as acceptable after it had been transcribed by a man.

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Now a small team of enthusiasts led by Dr Murray Cook from the University of Stirling will start searching next month for what they have dubbed “the broch sexism lost”. Maclagan’s discovery is significance because the broch is the only known example of an Iron Age roundhouse in an urban setting.

The stone-built towers are more commonly found in rural and remote parts of the north of Scotland, including Caithness, Glenelg on the west Highland coast and Orkney.

Dr Cook, who is also Stirling Council’s archeologist, was aware of Maclagan’s work and identified the most likely location for the broch – in the grounds of a care home – while looking over 19th century mapping in connection with a planning application.

Dr Cook and his team consisting of students Ross Greenshields from the University of Stirling and Therese McCormick from the University of the Highlands and Islands have started the Lost Broch 2016 crowdfunding campaign to raise £2,500 for the private project to investigate and excavate the suspected site of the broch.

“My area of study is Iron Age structures and hill forts and I was looking at the mapping and something caught my eye. Maclagan wrote that the broch was in “Livilands” but didn’t specify if this was Wester or Easter Livilands. But I noticed that there was a house with a 19th century garden which takes the promontory behind it and turned the garden into something which has the look of an Iron Age hill fort. It seemed to me it was a very conscious design.

“The garden is quite big at around one-acre and is at Westlands care home. There is a wild bit and the owners are quite happy for us to dig there.”

Dr Cook who described Maclagan as “arguably the UK’s first female archaeologist” said she was refused full membership to Scotland’s leading and oldest archaeological institution, the Society of Antiquaries in Scotland because she was female. Instead she was merely allowed to be a Lady Associate.

“In effect, she could not become a Fellow because she was not a fellow.

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“Thankfully times have changed and now the society is a warm and welcoming place to all those who are interested in Scotland’s past.”

Dr Cook added that Maclagan had largely been forgotten because she donated important pieces of her research to the British Museum in London, rather than to the Scottish society in Edinburgh, a sign of how angry and frustrated she was with the Scottish organisation.