Reading the Ephemera of Caithness

Dimitra Ntzani, John Barber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In the northeastern Scottish county of Caithness, local volunteers are taught to read the landscape. [1] During a public engagement program led by AOC archaeologists, [2] members of the local community are introduced to archaeological practices and are asked to unravel the time depth of slight but extensive archaeological remains, also known as ephemera. The reading metaphor, frequently present in archaeological discourse, is employed by the designers of the workshop to inspire the participants’ creative interaction with the ephemera. [3] The metaphor has also been employed to interpret the function of recollection in memory literature; [4] it presupposed the interpretation of memory as a form of writing/inscribing upon a soft or waxed surfaced. The paper examines how the writing and reading metaphors influence people’s engagement with landscape elements of their cultural heritage.

During the AOC workshops, the memory metaphor supports two kinds of reading, the distanced reading of the expert and the embedded sensory-rich reading of the expert + apprentice team. Archaeologists look for shapes of interest upon LiDAR topographies [5] that resemble archaeological formations. These are later parsed in the field by teams of archaeologists and local participants. While the use of the reading metaphor exposes the archaeological intention for non-invasive interaction with archaeological elements, it also triggers the inscription of new traces. AOC workshops forge new connections between the local population and the fragmented remains and inspire new cultural practices embedded in the moorlands of Caithness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-33
Number of pages12
JournalMAS Context
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2013

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