Dr Kenny Brophy
- Senior Lecturer (Archaeology)
My current research and practice largely focus on the following areas:
The contemporary archaeology of prehistory
I am increasingly interested in the contemporary relevance of prehistory, and how prehistoric sites, ideas, and things are consumed and utilised in our contemporary society. In other words, my research focuses on the ways that prehistory matters to people today, and how we can use prehistory to explore better futures. In turn this can help with our narratives about the past because all our encounters with prehistory happen in the contemporary, and so we need to make sense of this context to help us to make sense of prehistoric things. So, for instance I am keen to explore the 20th and 21st century biographies of prehistoric sites and monuments. This research has included the development of a range of innovate methodologies using psychogeography, performance and other creative practices.
Since 2012 much of my research has come under the label urban prehistory. This and my Urban Prehistorian blog have allowed me to develop a range of practices, ideas and projects that focus on the different ways that prehistory presents itself today. The presence of prehistoric sites, traces, or things in urban places offers a powerful juxtaposition that is a starting point for conversations about the value and utility of the ancient past in the present. Working with communities who have prehistoric sites in their midst is the most obvious example, with my ongoing work around the Cochno Stone rock-art site, Faifley, West Dunbartonshire, an example of this. The traces of prehistory are all around us and open opportunities for public engagement wherever we find them.
However, prehistory also presents itself in different ways, and in recent years there has been a resurgence of prehistoric sites, ideas, and theories being co-opted into public and political discourse. This has been fuelled by the instability of Brexit, independence claims in Scotland, and the general political environment post the 2008-9 financial crash. Ideas about migration, borders, boundaries, nationalities, and identity have become increasingly bound up in prehistoric sites like Stonehenge and datasets such as ancient DNA with troubling implications. My work on the Brexit Hypothesis, and critiquing Stonehenge narratives are examples of my ongoing research in these areas, which call for archaeologists to become more vocal calling out, and pushing back against, political and archaeological arguments that use and abuse prehistory.
Yet there is clearly a more positive side to prehistory, with increasing trends in the construction of prehistoric style monuments evident. There are over 80 replica Stonehenges across the world for instance. In the UK there are more modern stone circles in roundabouts than were built in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, while since 2014 half a dozen long barrow columbaria have been constructed in England. My research in increasingly focused on researching these neo-Neolithic megalithic developments to explore what this resurgence in monumentality can tell us about society in the UK today, and explore the resilience of visions of prehistory.
My research into the contemporary archaeology of prehistory has led to other collaborations, for instance through a series of RSE funded workshops and an ongoing Network with the #3M_DO contemporary archaeology in Scotland collective for which I am co-investigator.
A strong principal of all my research is that it should have a strong public engagement element and where possible ideas and activities should be co-produced with communities in whatever form they take. To this end, for instance, I will no longer carry out research excavations just for the sake of excavating something. Furthermore, I am committed to research and practice that allows us to demonstrate and deliver public benefit in all we do as archaeologists, as argued in this 2019 think piece.
I have an increasing engagement with schools, where I run classroom sessions and workshops, especially in relation to prehistoric rock-art. I am passionate about getting archaeology into schools in Scotland by working with teachers, not just providing resources, although I have done the latter as part of a Broad Education @University of Glasgow project. I have been working with schools across central Scotland to develop curriculum resources and teaching sessions, leading fieldtrips, and meeting lots of teachers and pupils in the classroom.
Other activities include the development of Build N Burn, a series of free to the public prehistoric fire festivals delivered with Gavin MacGregor of Northlight Heritage. These offer opportunities to work with community groups to explore prehistoric skills and crafts, and timber monument construction, culminating in a fiery conflagration at dusk. Four events of this type have been carried out to date and in each case, we have been able to mix soft experimental archaeology with engaging with the public, using a mix of hand-on skills sessions, and performance. Increasingly, these events have drawn on performance theory and practice, and we have built collaborations with a team of musicians, historians, and performers. This has more broadly led to activities exploring prehistoric Arran, including working with community groups and members.
Neolithic and early Bronze Age Scotland
I have over a quarter of a century of experience of researching, excavating, and writing about Scotland’s Neolithic and early Bronze Age. My main focus is mainland Scotland between 4000BC and 2000BC, and I have directed or supervised over 20 excavations relevant to this research strand since 1994.
The bulk of my fieldwork has taken place in Perth and Kinross. Since 2006 I have co-directed (with Stephen Driscoll, Ewan Campbell, Tessa Poller, Dene Wright and Gordon Noble) the Historic Environment Scotland funded Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) Project in Perth and Kinross. This internationally renowned project has a landscape and multi-period scale, and for my part work has focused on the massive prehistoric monument complexes of Forteviot and Leadketty, as well as a cairn at Millhaugh. These excavations made significant discoveries, such as a Bronze Age cist found at Forteviot Henge 1 in 2009 that contained the first direct evidence for flowers in a burial of this age in Britain, and the most complete Bronze Age fire-making kit found in Europe to date. Publications associated with the ongoing writing up include the Prehistoric Forteviot monograph (CBA, 2020) by Gordon Noble and I.
More generally I have an interest in Neolithic settlement traces, and sites revealed by cropmarks, and so I have written about pits, houses and settlement patterns, timber and earthwork cursus monuments, henge monuments, enclosures, and round barrows of Neolithic date in Scotland. This has included the publication of my book Reading between the lines: the Neolithic cursus monuments of Scotland (Routledge, 2015) and an edited volume The Neolithic of Mainland Scotland (EUP, 2016). Important excavations in this respect include at Claish timber hall (with Barclay and MacGregor) in 2000, Carsie Mains timber monuments (with Barclay) in 2001, and Brownsbank hengiform enclosure (with Noble in 2005-6). I have also, since the early 2000s, taken an interest in the multiple stone rows of northern Scotland, including excavations at Battle Moss in 2003 (with Pannett and Baines) although in a departure for me these are probably Bronze Age sites.
Since 2015, I have been conducting a series of excavations around rock-art panels at Faifley, including uncovering the Cochno Stone in 2015-16 and excavations at Auchnacraig and Whitehill in 2019. During this period, I have been on the Advisory Board of Scotland’s Rock-art Project.
I continue to work and research the Neolithic of Scotland, with ongoing writing up of excavations at some of the sites discussed above, research into the formation of the Neolithic record in Scotland, and ongoing work with cropmark archaeology.
My interest in the development of archaeology in Scotland has led me to work with and research the archives of a series of researchers who have made significant contributions to archaeology in Scotland but are often regarded as being on the fringe of the discipline. This is because of the nature of their research, or the fact they were ‘amateurs’. Extensive archives of characters such as Ludovic McLellan Mann, Alexander Thom and Ronald Morris have all been helpful in my research into urban prehistory, multiple stone rows and rock-art respectively.
Each of these men has left a considerable archive of material which I have been working with over the past few years. In particular I have done a lot of work on the career and legacy of Ludovic Mann, most recently through the organisation of a conference in October 2019, The Mann the Myth, and the subsequent publication of a special edition of the Scottish Archaeological Journal in December 2020 with papers focusing on various aspects of Mann’s eclectic career. The cataloguing and use of these considerable archives will be a key focus of my research for the next few years.
2006-present: This longterm landscape fieldwork project has received grant support from a wide range of organisations since its inception in 2006, with major funders including Historic Scotland, the British Academy and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. I am co-PI for this project with my colleagues Steve Driscoll and Ewan Campbell, and between 2006-2012 with Gordon Noble (University of Glasgow). Grant capture for this project has to date amounted to some £325,000.
CLE (Sustainable Integration of the Rural Cultural Landscapes of Europe)
2012: AHRC European Proposal Support Fund grant (£9,510) to support development of a proposal for submission for European Commission FP7 funding. Development of the SIRCLE project was led by Chris Dalglish and I (University of Glasgow), Alan Leslie and Gavin MacGregor (Northlight Heritage) and Aphrodite Sorotou (Med-INA, Greece), and involved a further 12 partners in the UK, Greece, Spain, Italy and Malta.
Transforming Practice: inter-disciplinary research into the philosophies, methods and impacts of the ways in which we value landscape
2010-11: Research workshop series funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (£8,250), the Landscape Research Group (£1,530) and the University of Glasgow College of Arts Strategic Research Allocation (£800). This inter-disciplinary workshop series brought together some 60 participants from universities, professional practice, NGOs, government agencies and other public bodies to evaluate trends in landscape research, practice and policy. I co-organised the project with Chris Dalglish (University of Glasgow) and Alan Leslie and Gavin MacGregor of Northlight Heritage.
European Network for Archaeology & Integrated Landscape Research: Knowledge Exchange & Project Development Workshop
2013-14: funding from the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts Strategic Research Allocation and College of Arts Business Development Fund (total: £1,927) to support a three-day workshop. I am co-organising this workshop with Chris Dalglish (University of Glasgow) and Alan Leslie and Gavin MacGregor (Northlight Heritage), on behalf of the European Network for Archaeology & Integrated Landscape Research – a network of archaeologists and others from 11 countries, working in universities, research institutes, SMEs, NGOs, government agencies and other public bodies.
Reading between the lines: the Neolithic cursus monuments of Scotland
2010: A period of funded research leave in 2010, supported by the AHRC to match institutional study leave (PI, £27840), the outcome of this project was the culmination of over a decade of research into Scotland’s early Neolithic cursus monuments, with publication pending.
I welcome proposals for postgraduate research in the following areas:
- Scotland’s Neolithic and early Bronze Age
- The contemporary archaeology / politics of prehistory
- Public and engaged archaeology
- Ludovic McLellan Mann
- Cropmark archaeology
- Level 1: Archaeology of Scotland
Level 2: Archaeology in Theory and Practice (convenor)
Level 2: 20 Things that changed the world
I convene two Honours courses:
- The British Neolithic
- Contemporary and Future Archaeologies (convenor)
I also contribute teaching to the following Honours courses: Public Archaeology, Reflexive Archaeological Practice, and Theory and Interpretation in Archaeology
- Experiencing landscape heritage (convenor)
Committee or working group involvement
- 2018 (Concluded): Working group meeting to discuss future community benefits of the rock art around Faifley.
- 2017 (Concluded): Workshop on the future of the Cochno Stone.
Engagement with schools
- 2016 (Concluded): Excavation fieldwork, with student volunteers and open to public with school visits.
- 2017 (Concluded): Exhibition about Ludovic Mann and the Cochno Stone.
- 2015 (Concluded): The mysteries of prehistories (Caithness)
- 2014 (Concluded): Walk with the Shaman (Arran)
- 2013 (Concluded): Burning the Circle (Arran)
- 2017 (Concluded): Excavation project was the subject of a documentary for the History Channel
- Head of Archaeology subject area
- Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries
- Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
- Advisory Board member for Scotland’s Rock-art Project
- Vice-president of the Glasgow Archaeology Society
- Co-organiser of the Neolithic Studies Group
- Member of the Archaeology and Learning Working Group for Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy
- Editorial board member of the Scottish Archaeological Journal
- Editorial board member of the Journal of Skyscape Archaeology
- Keeper of Hookland’s Stones