PhD Candidate John Barber – New date! Tuesday the 2nd February

Poster design, Kostas Avramadis

Poster design, Kostas Avramadis

Statics and Dynamics in the Conservation of Drystone Buildings
John Barber

5pm, 2.13, Evolution House

ALL WELCOME !! with our usual drinks reception


With over forty years’ experience across the heritage industry ranging from field excavation to the presentation of archaeological sites and monuments, John has spent the last two decades working in Scottish monumental remains. Moving to Scotland in 1977, he worked in Historic Scotland for fourteen years, latterly as the Senior Field Archaeologist, managing their Archaeological Operations and Conservation (AOC) Unit. He left in 1991 to form AOC Archaeology Group, of which he remains Chairman. He has extensive experience of archaeology and heritage in the planning process. John is a specialist in the field of Cultural Resource Management and acts as archaeological consultant to a wide client portfolio, on projects ranging from commercial developments to community-led and Heritage Lottery Fund supported projects. John is currently a PhD candidate at University of Edinburgh’s ESALA, focussing on the drystone engineering and architecture of Scottish Iron Age brochs, several of which he has excavated.


Stated in caricature, my theme is that archaeologists, who predominantly focus on the preservation of ancient monuments, and architects, who mainly focus on their capacity for reuse, both undertake conservation as snapshots of the past that inadequately represent the dynamics of the biographies of structures. This formulation is examined and a way forward is proposed. My test cases are drystone-built monuments; structures whose structural integrity mainly relies on the management of static compressive loads. The monument in each case, it is argued, comprises its fabric, its enclosed spaces and its interactive landscape context. One case study is a Neolithic chambered cairn (4000 BC to 2000 BC), at Warehouse South, in Caithness, which is currently undergoing conservation and other examples are drawn from the writer’s PhD study of Scottish Iron Age broch towers (300 BC to AD 400). Widely separated in time, these monument-types share a common building technology and complex, if different use-histories. The monuments, once built, became dynamic foci in living landscapes and were modified over time to meet new social needs; these modifications sometimes being separated by natural deposits formed in periods of abandonment. Evidence for their dynamics is embedded in the remains albeit that existing paradigms seem to block its observation.  Representing developing monumental forms, these dynamics characterise a sequence of people/place relationships that present a challenge to conservation. Many charters argue, in terms, that the yardstick by which a monument’s cultural value is measured lies in its ability to inform this and future generations about the human condition. Conserving cultural value is the nominal objective of conservation. However, the end-use intention of the Conservator has emerged as a strong influence on the way in which cultural value is perceived and measured. The speaker will assert that Conservator intent is a potent factor determining the position on the contemporary preservation/reuse spectrum at which the conservation programme will sit; archaeologists more generally find themselves at one terminus of this spectrum with architects more commonly at the other, although both may work along the full range of the spectrum. Finally, the dynamics of monumental development interleaved with natural deposition converts large complex monuments to cultural landscapes and in this may lie our best guide to the most appropriate conservation-theory context for them. The language surrounding Historic Urban Landscapes in particular seems apt for our treatment of Large Complex Monuments and the methodologies of Cultural Landscape studies seem applicable to both.