Early Medieval Carved Stones And Landscape: Rhynie Environs Archaeological Project (REAP)
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Chester
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Curatorial and Related Studies, Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Building on Dr Meggen Gondek's expertise in Pictish stone sculpture, the
Rhynie Environs Archaeological Project (REAP) has transformed popular
understandings of early medieval stone monuments in northern Britain by:
(i) creating a network of outreach activities engaging the public during
successive seasons of archaeological fieldwork at a unique collection of
fifth- to seventh-century early medieval inscribed stone monuments, (ii)
disseminating the research discoveries and results to a range of audiences
via traditional and new media, (iii) instigated strategies for the
heritage management and conservation of the prehistoric and early historic
landscape of Rhynie.
REAP has impacted on local, national and international understandings of
the origins of modern Scotland through field-based investigations of place
and stone. Co-directed by Gondek (Reader, University of Chester, 2006 —
present) with Dr Gordon Noble (Aberdeen), REAP investigates, for the first
time using modern methods, a famous cluster of eight Class I Pictish
carved stones (traditionally dated to the 6th to 7th
centuries AD) at Rhynie, Aberdeenshire. REAP's success stems from its
discoveries but also from its various collaborations, including with Dr
Ewan Campbell (University of Glasgow), Neil Curtis (Marischal Museum),
Martin Brann (Aberdeen Archaeology Services), Historic Scotland and
REAP investigates the landscape context of Rhynie, focusing on the only
demonstrably in situ stone — The Craw Stane — and a series of
cropmarks centred on it. As such, REAP is the first modern research
excavation targeting an in situ Class I Pictish symbol stone.
Phase 1 of REAP (2005-2010) undertook landscape and geophysical
investigation in the Craw Stane field to clarify the archaeology visible
in aerial photographs. Phase 2 (2011-present) is developing our landscape
approach and targeting sites for excavation. Large-scale evaluative
excavations of the Craw Stane enclosures in 2011 and 2012 showed the Craw
Stane is part of a high-status fortified settlement complex dating to the
5th-6th centuries AD, currently unparalleled in
Northern Europe, and an assemblage of artefacts equally unparalleled in
quality and quantity from northern Britain. Evaluation of other cropmarks
near the village in 2013 confirmed a mortuary aspect of the Rhynie
landscape when two Pictish period burial monuments were revealed.
Inscribed and sculpted stone monuments of the early Middle Ages (c. AD
400-1100) are among the most important and significant (yet much-neglected
and frequently misconceived) traces of the societies that emerged
following the end of Roman rule in these islands. REAP's primary objective
was to investigate, for the first time using modern methods, a famous
cluster of eight Class I Pictish carved stones (traditionally dated to the
6th to 7th centuries AD) at Rhynie, Aberdeenshire.
REAP is informed and directed by Dr Gondek's expertise in the study of the
archaeology of early medieval stone monuments.
The research has led to a series of interim publications in key and
high-profile venues, including peer-reviewed book chapters and a
high-profile journal article (see section 3.)
References to the research
Peer-reviewed high-profile publications demonstrate Gondek's active
international profile researching early medieval archaeology and
commemorative practice in the early Middle Ages:
1. Gondek, M. 2007. Pictish symbol stones: caught between prehistory and
history, in A. Mazel, G. Nash, & C. Waddington (eds) Art as
Metaphor: The Prehistoric Rock-art of Britain, Archaeopress, Oxford,
2. Gondek, M. & Noble, G. 2010. Together as one: the landscape of the
symbol stones at Rhynie, Aberdeenshire, in S. Driscoll, J. Geddes & M.
Hall (eds) Pictish Progress: Pictish Studies for the 21st Century,
Leiden: Brill, pp. 281-306.
3. Noble, G. and Gondek, M. 2011. Symbol Stones in Context: Excavations
at Rhynie, an undocumented Pictish Power Centre of the 6th-7th
centuries AD? Medieval Archaeology 55, 317- 321.
4. Noble, G., Gondek, M. Campbell, E. & Cook, M. in press. Between
prehistory and history: the archaeological detection of social change
among the Picts. Antiquity (Dec 2013).
Key Research Grants (2011 - 2012 Phase 2 only)
5. Research Grant, Carnegie Grant (Noble) 2011-2012, £2,100
6. Research Grant, Society of Antiquaries of London (Gondek) 2011, £1,000
7. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (Gondek & Noble) 2011-2012,
8. British Academy (Noble with Gondek co-applicant) 2012, £8,877.00
9. University of Chester Research Grant 2011-2012 (Gondek), £1,915.90
Evidence of Quality of the Research
10. Carver, M. 2011. Lost, found, repossessed or argued away — the case
of the Picts (Review Article). Antiquity 85(330): 1479-1483. On p.
1481, Professor Carver notes specifically the work at Rhynie as one of the
leading contributions to new Pictish research saying that it stood as an
example of research that was `undeniable progress.'
Details of the impact
REAP has undeniably contributed significantly to the understanding of the
archaeology and history of Northern Britain in the early medieval period,
the wider impact of the research has been on popular knowledge and
appreciation of this crucial period for understanding the origins of the
kingdoms of medieval Britain. The impact took place during and between the
fieldwork and the beneficiaries are multifarious; local communities,
regional audiences, and national and international communities interested
in the medieval world and those defining themselves in relation to
northern British, specifically Scottish, ancestry worldwide. For all
groups, the impact has involved an enhanced understanding of post-Roman
society in northern Britain.
Integrated Fieldwork Outreach
REAP adopted an explicit philosophy and methodology for the generation of
academic and popular knowledge and debate through the engagement of the
public with early medieval histories in stone during fieldwork.
Key aspects of the project includes:
- opportunities for local volunteers to participate in the fieldwork
- training undergraduate students in archaeological fieldwork techniques
linked to the study of the context of early medieval monuments
- open door policies giving tours to visitors on a daily basis
- open days attracting a wide range of visitors
- primary school groups site tours and school visits
- youth club sites tours
- The REAP website: http://www.reaparch.blogspot.co.uk/
started in June 2012. As of 02/09/2013 the page had been viewed 8,350
times from all over the work from Europe to Australia and Fiji.
Between field seasons, REAP has disseminated results of the fieldwork
through a variety of media:
- As well as international peer-reviewed publications and open access
online publications (see section 3.), popular magazine articles published
include Noble, G. and Gondek, M. 2011. `A Dark Age Power Centre at
Rhynie', British Archaeology 120 (Sept-Oct 2011), 36-41; and Gondek, M.
and Noble, G. 2006. `Landscape with Symbols', British Archaeology, 87
(Mar-Apr 2006), 16-17.
- Regional radio and television and widely disseminated news articles:
e.g. Past Horizons, http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/09/2013/pictish-burials-found-at-royal-rhynie-site
- In addition to presentations at academic discipline-specific
conferences and seminars including international conferences
(Internationales Sachsensymposion, Durham, Sept 2012 and Scotland in Early
Medieval Europe, Edinburgh, Feb 2013), public talks by Gondek have been
delivered at Queens University, Belfast (Nov 2011), Chester Archaeological
Society (Oct 2012), University of Cardiff (Nov 2012), University of
Central Lancashire (Dec 2012).
On-Site Heritage Management and Interpretation
- REAP is working with Historic Scotland to update and improve the
current signs and the display of the carved stone monuments from Rhynie
incorporating the results of our work; this includes a bid to laser scan
all of the existing carved stone monuments at Rhynie to provide more
detailed illustration options and web-based visualisations.
- REAP, in conjunction with Aberdeen Archaeology Services, has laser
scanned the Rhynie Man (currently housed in Aberdeen Council Offices) in
Nov/Dec 2012. This will form the basis of new in-depth research, new
media outlets (e.g. web based visualisations) for dissemination and
hopefully a reconstruction of the monument itself to be put back into
the village at Rhynie.
Community and Museum Engagement
- 2013 saw major investment and interest from the local Rhynie community
resulting in a pop-up café/visitor centre in the village linked to the
- REAP is working with Marischal Museum, University of Aberdeen are
planning a new Pictish exhibit based largely on new material from Rhynie
Sources to corroborate the impact
Corroboration of coverage by popular magazine articles: Noble, G. and
Gondek, M. 2011. `A Dark Age Power Centre at Rhynie'. British Archaeology
120 (Sept-Oct 2011), 36-41