In 1998 eleven students who had just finished the Certificate in Field Archaeology with Aberdeen University’s Department of Continuing Education decided to continue developing their skills and understanding of archaeology. They formed themselves into a club called the North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS). Over the next few years more students joined the first group and interest spread to other enthusiastic amateurs and some professional archaeologists. The society was put on a more formal footing with a constitution and a committee to oversee activities and in 2014 it became a charity. Now with over 100 members NOSAS covers the Highlands and liaises with other heritage organisations in the area.
From these early days the activities of the society have embraced many aspects of the subject. Members participate in field-walking, surveying and recording sites, and excavations and these activities have resulted in hundreds of new sites being added to the HER. Some of these projects have spanned several years. The survey of the area of Loch Hourn took annual visits over 7 years between 2002 and 2009 and recorded evidence of the fishing industry and other activities on the shores of both the inner and outer loch. A major survey of the archaeological remains in Strathconon between 2006 and 2009 made a valuable contribution to the Scotland’s Rural Past project, run country-wide by the RCAHMS, and resulted in a very interesting book published by NOSAS – Strathconon: The History and Archaeology of a Highland Glen – bringing together both written and archaeological sources.
NOSAS members also contributed to the on-line database of hillforts in the British Isles, visiting many sites in the Highlands between 2012 and 2016 and providing up-to-date records and photographs. Excavations organised by NOSAS include Glen Feshie in 2005-2006 and Mulchaich on the Black Isle in 2012-2013. Field-walking at Tarradale on the Black Isle has been taking place over recent years and that has developed into the Tarradale Through Time project which aims to uncover over the next 3 years evidence of very early settlers and follow the story to the end of subsistence farming in the area around Tarradale House (see the Tarradale Through Time website). The Rosemarkie Caves Project, formed in 2006, was behind the Rosemarkie Man Pictish age skeleton discovery in 2016. Another current project involves participation in the Scottish Rock Art Project (ScRAP) which is due to run for 5 years and builds on the work already done on the rock art in Ross-shire. Visits to places as far apart as Tiree and Bettyhill have been popular with members and in the winter there are MAD (Monthly Archaeological Discussion) evenings at Strathpeffer Community Centre.
When these first 11 students established the society, they can’t have envisaged the changes in archaeology which have taken place over 20 years. Photographs are now recorded digitally, photogrammetry allows for a 3D view of sites and drones have replaced the need for ladders, climbing trees or a long pole in order to get an aerial view. NOSAS has a website where reports and publications reflecting the huge amount of activity undertaken by the membership are available, a blog and a facebook page. And NOSAS has achieved through the enthusiasm, energy and skills of its membership a national reputation in archaeological circles. For further details of its work over the last 20 years, see the NOSAS newsletters and archives.
To celebrate its twentieth birthday, NOSAS has organised a weekend, 23rd-25th March 2018, which will look back at what has been achieved, and forward at what is to come. This weekend includes a Friday evening presentation by Fraser Hunter of the National Museums of Scotland, a conference followed by a dinner on the 24th and two archaeological walks on the 23rd and 25th . For full information see www.nosas.co.uk/20years.asp. #nosas20.