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The Power of Pineapples

As the Historic Environment Skills Investment Plan is launched today, it’s worth reflecting on what can be achieved by bringing partners together with supportive leadership.

Copyright C. MackinnonAs part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 celebrations, a consortium* of organisations came together to tackle a tricky problem in the heritage and construction worlds – how best to train the next generation in such a way that prepares them to work together in the future.

The result was Building History, a pilot initiative with archaeologists teaching construction students, and construction professionals teaching archaeology students. In addition to learning new skills, it also provided the opportunity for young people from different backgrounds to meet, get a sense of working in both sectors and explore a construction site and Stirling’s new conservation hub, the Engine Shed.

Why Pineapples?

In the 18th century, pineapples were rare and a status symbol. One would set you back £4,000 in today’s money - or you could rent one for the night from £300-£400. In 1761, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, created a building in the form of a giant painted stone pineapple. A walled garden was subsequently added, with a hypocaust system of tile flues allowing hot air from a series of furnaces to circulate and heat the walls. Chimneys, capped with ornate Grecian urns, would have let out the smoke.

The site would have been covered in glasshouses growing all manner of exotic plants. Now cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, the Pineapple is full of stories which are buried in the landscape and hidden in the walls; a perfect opportunity to put the skills of archaeology students, stonemason apprentices and construction students to the test with an excavation and survey.

Copyright C. Mackinnon
The Pineapple in Airth played host to an excavation as
part of Building History, and was the subject of an STV report.

Digging the Pineapple

As well as a training initiative, this was an actual archaeological dig and survey - and it raised some interesting questions. The team was attempting to understand more of the garden landscaping, the development of the heated walls, and the use and construction of one of the glasshouses. It turns out that the walls underwent serious change and the landscaping was much deeper than previously thought (with a drainage system), while the glasshouse seemed to have been rebuilt over time. Alas, no pineapples were discovered, but plenty of pottery and clay pipes were found, indicating both the use of the garden, and a pastime of the gardeners. In addition to training on building survey, excavation and topographic survey delivered by Archaeology Scotland, the students learned from each other’s skills and expertise.

Copyright C. Mackinnon
The excavation helped participants develop a range of skills,
as well as helping to tell the story of The Pineapple.

Where Next?

Building History’s innovative approach to addressing a key challenge within the heritage and construction sectors built a network and stimulated a broader discussion across the sector. This is now bearing fruit (though sadly, still no pineapples) in the form of the industry-led development of Modern Apprenticeships and a set of vocational college modules, driven forward by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.

Through Dig It! the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is also now exploring an Innovation Voucher application for a project with Robert Gordon University. Similarly it is also drawing on SFC contacts as it formulates a research project to explore issues of equality, diversity and inclusion.

Building History highlighted the opportunities to revolutionise the archaeology sector by opening up the profession to a broader range of potential employees and the support for this change among the archaeological employers in Scotland. It forms a case study in the Historic Environment Skills Investment Plan and provides a great example of what can be achieved by bringing partners together with supportive leadership.

It would not have been possible without the support of SFC and now it’s up to all of us to take things forward.

Fore more information, please see the Historic Environment Skills Investment Plan.

*Forth Valley College; the University of Stirling; the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre; Dig It! 2017 (co-ordinated by Archaeology Scotland and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland); Historic Environment Scotland; the British Archaeological Jobs Resource; the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists; the Scottish Funding Council; and the National Trust for Scotland.

Dr Jeff Sanders, Dig It! Project Manager - 25 Mar 2019