News, stories and reports from Forestry Commission Scotland and the National Forest Estate

Painting a picture of the past

Scotland’s forests are home to a range of historic sites from ancient hillforts and medieval tower-houses to abandoned townships and coastal tank traps. We have been developing our knowledge of archaeological sites, historic structures and cultural landscapes so that we can know how best to protect, conserve and present them. Part of our work also involves helping young people learn about these sites as part of the curriculum.

torr dhuin aerial shot

Children from the Inverness Young Archaeologists Club recently climbed to the hill fort of Torr Dhuin above Fort Augustus. After exploring the ramparts, they learned about life within the main hall, now long gone. They heard the epic Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf and imagined similar tales being told around the hearth of the hall. Using the new interpretation panel on site, they then created a fantastic pop-up exhibition of their own reconstruction drawings.

Susan Kruse, Club Leader at Inverness Young Archaeologists Club, said:  “Archaeological reconstruction drawings are often used to help people imagine what life was like in the past. They are based on archaeological evidence, aerial photography and measured surveys – and they can be found in guide books, on site interpretation panels, illustrating books and in classroom learning resources. Using Torr Dhuin as an example, we explained how to plan and create a reconstruction drawing.”

Some archaeological reconstruction drawings focus on life inside a site, or on the clothes that people wore. Some focus on the walls and structures – and some try to set the site within its landscape. Others illustrate a historical event or an archaeological idea or process. The common thread running through good reconstruction drawings is the use of a theme to explain what is special about the site.

Matt Ritchie, Archaeologist at Forestry Commission Scotland said: “Torr Dhuin was once the seat of an Iron Age or Pictish chief. It has never been properly excavated, so we know very little about it – but it is a site with real character, perched high on rocky cliffs above the river far below. This is a site to let your imagination go wild! The hall must have been home to many feasts and celebrations, momentous decisions and everyday family dramas.”

The children (aged 8 – 16) decided on their own themes and techniques. Some of the children’s drawings can be seen here, alongside the reconstruction by artist Chris Mitchell that was commissioned for the new interpretation panel.

 yac at torr dhuin

Clockwise from top left: practicing perspective (by Alexander); using the cut-away technique to ‘see inside’ the main hall (by Keiran); showing the strong stone walls (by Gabby); inside and outside the fort using annotations (by Sophie); colour and perspective (by Emily); a lookout tower (by Georgina); and the rock cut ditch (by Anna).   

The pop-up exhibition was then displayed as the culmination of a public guided walk to the fort, an event hosted by Forestry Commission Scotland. You can find out more about Torr Dhuin and archaeological reconstruction drawings in The Picts: a learning resource, recently announced as Highly Commended in the Best Public Presentation of Archaeology category of the British Archaeology Awards 2016!

yac at torr dhuin 2016