Macaulay Land Use Research Institute Homepage
Scottish Environment LINK - The voice of Scotland's environment movement




There are 3 arms of the curatorial services for the historic environment: the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), Historic Scotland and the Local Authority Archaeology Services. An ancient monument is any of a wide range of sites, ruins, or other evidence of past human action. This definition extends from the obvious relict buildings, to crop marks in fields indicating the outline of former structures.

RCAHMS was established in 1908 by Royal Warrant to list the surviving heritage from the earliest times. Since then, the scope and range of duties has widened considerably. Data, including aerial photographs, are now available through a number of online databases (e.g. The main database, CANMORE, lists details of 250,000 archaeological sites in Scotland , including monuments, buildings and maritime sites. RCAHMS work also includes surveys into native woodlands, farm buildings and an assessment of historic land use (RCAHMS, 2005).

Historic Scotland is the government agency responsible for administering legislation relating to Scotland ’s ancient monuments and historic buildings, looking after and presenting monuments in state care, and funding archaeological projects. Their primary duties relate to dealing with Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) and Listed Buildings. SAMs have been given legal protection under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979). By law, ancient monuments must be considered to be of national importance before they can be scheduled. The scheduled status of a monument extends from the structure or artifact of interest to the surrounding land. Designation of monuments for scheduling is the responsibility of Scottish Ministers, administered through Historic Scotland. Scotland now has more than 7,800 scheduled monuments. Table 7.1 shows numbers and extent of sites in intensively used agricultural land (and therefore under a high risk of being damaged or altered in any way).

Local Authorities are responsible for the curation of archaeological sites in their areas, primarily through the planning system (eg NPPG 5 Archaeology & Planning) and the majority hold their own Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) database. A Concordat has recently been signed with the RCAHMS to integrate these with the national database so that they can be accessed through a single portal. The majority is still recorded as point-based information and for adequate identification for land managers these need to be presented in areal format. Local authority archaeologists have a significant role in supplying desk-based archaeological information to support environmental audits under the agri-environment programme.

Table 7.1: Scheduled monuments and other archaeological sites on agricultural land in Scotland ( after Wordsworth 2005)

Scheduled sites in arable land


Scheduled sites in improved pasture


Percentage of arable land now Scheduled


Extent of Scheduled areas in arable land

5,306 ha

Extent of total SAM area


Total archaeological sites in arable land


Total archaeological sites in improved pasture


No of Scheduled sites identified as cropmarks


Scotland has more than 250,000 known archaeological sites. 7,800 of these are SAMs and therefore protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979).