Professor Stephen Driscoll
- Professor of Historical Archaeology (Archaeology)
Driscoll is a leading archaeologist of Scotland’s historic period. He has excavated nationally significant sites dating from Roman times to the present (including Edinburgh Castle and Glasgow Cathedral) and his excavation monographs are benchmarks for the publication of medieval sites. His interdisciplinary practice integrates archaeological techniques with historical evidence to explore places and social developments of significance to Scotland’s history. His particular expertise lies in the formative early medieval period (AD 400-1100). He co-directed the and recently co-authored the monographs on Royal Forteviot (2020). For nearly three decades he has conducted fieldwork at Govan, power centre of the kings of Strathclyde and supported the repurposing of the old church. Collectively these archaeological investigations represent a career-long effort to transform our understanding of the developments underpinning medieval Scotland by exploring the materiality of its key social institutions – church, monarchy, law and state.
Beyond Driscoll’s contribution to medieval archaeology, he has worked to inform and influence public policy for the benefit of both the discipline and the public, most notably as inaugural Chair of the Scottish Strategic Archaeology Committee (2013-19). This cross-sector group of professionals, academics and representatives of the public, was tasked by the Scottish Government to articulate a shared national vision of how Scotland's archaeology can benefit everyone. The resulting document, Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy, was launched in 2015 by the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. Not only has the Strategy proved a most valuable tool within Scotland, it has formed a model which others (e.g. Ireland) are now emulating. The success of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy inspired medieval archaeologists from across Europe (under the aegis of the European Archaeological Association (EAA) Medieval Europe Research Community, MERC) to issue Europe’s Medieval Past: a Manifesto in 2020.
Driscoll was responsible for organising the 2015 EAA Annual Meeting in Glasgow, the largest archaeological conference ever held in Britain. This gathering, which attracted over 2000 delegates from more than 70 countries, projected a positive and ambitious vision for the cultural heritage sector in Scotland to an influential international audience and significantly enhanced Scotland’s reputation for innovative, socially engaged archaeology. Through the EAA Glasgow and the MERC Manifesto Driscoll has embodied Scotland’s international leadership in socially-engaged heritage practice.
A significant facet of Driscoll’s professional practice is his focus on using archaeology to enrich civic life and deliver community-based social benefits. His Govan work was singled out for praise in the British Academy’s 2016 review of the social value of archaeology (Reflections on Archaeology, p38) and is considered a national exemplar for Heritage-led Regeneration. His involvement with Govan, one of Scotland’s most deprived urban areas, began with excavations in the 1990s and, through sustained activity, has evolved into a major voluntary commitment to raise awareness of its internationally important collection of early medieval sculpture. Driscoll helped to set up the Govan Heritage Trust, providing academic leadership to a small team which has raised over £5M to preserve and redevelop the site. He co-directed an HLF-funded re-interpretation programme which was opened by the First Minister in 2012, and has lead to a huge increase in public awareness and visitor numbers (to the extent that Govan Old topped a 2017 nation-wide poll to find Scotland’s favourite archaeological site).
Driscoll’s career-long commitment to public-facing archaeological research has allowed him to engage with contemporary cultural and economic issues. He has used film, TV and museum exhibitions to engage public attention and ensured that his contributions are visible and accessible beyond the academic sphere. The documentary film ‘Govan Young’ by Dr David Archibald (UofG Film & TV Studies) was inspired by Driscoll’s research and focuses on his work. It has been screened at over 30 film festivals internationally and has won 4 jury prizes. It provides an inspiring example of how the historical consciousness of school children can be raised through engagement with archaeology.
My primary interests revolve around the Early Medieval Celtic world, with a particular focus on the Early Historic period in Scotland. This has drawn me into exploring long-term cultural and political trajectories in northern Britain from the Iron Age to modern times. Intellectually these studies share a natural affinity with the cultural history of Ireland and western Britain, as well as with Scotland’s northern European neighbours, the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings.
In addition to having undertaken excavations at Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow Cathedral, Forteviot, Govan Old church and elsewhere, I follow my interests through the monumental sculpture, medieval architecture and places of assembly.
SERF (Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot)
Since 2006, my colleagues and I have been exploring the remarkable concentration of prehistoric ritual monuments, burials and Pictish royal palace site at Forteviot in its regional setting. The majority of the fieldwork is conducted as part of our annual field school which attracts students from around the world. The results can be viewed on the SERF webpage:
Govan Archaeological project: Govan Old Church and the Govan Stones
Situated on the south bank of the Clyde, Govan is synonymous with shipbuilding, but its origins lie in in the Early Medieval period, when its church was the principal church of the kingdom of Strathclyde. Excavations in the 1990s established that Govan Old predates Glasgow Cathedral and show that the existing churchyard was established by the time the famous Govan Stones were brought to the site. This collection of sculpture is one of the largest in the British Isles and the largest body of Viking Age sculpture in Britain. These unique cultural assets are central to efforts to use the cultural heritage to promote urban regeneration in Govan, the most prominent element of which is the Govan Stones, a project to redisplay and widen access to the sculpture and the Old Church.
These completed PhDs indicate that my interests range across Scottish historical archaeology:
- Chris Dalglish (2000) Rural settlement in the age of reason: an archaeology of the southern Scottish Highlands from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries A.D.
- Caroline Hale (2006) "A perfect Elysium and the residence of a divinity": a social analysis of country houses and policies in late seventeenth and eighteenth century Scotland
- Oliver O’Grady (2008) The setting and practice of open-air judicial assemblies in medieval Scotland: a multidisciplinary study
- Sarah Thomas (2008) From Rome to 'the ends of the habitable world': the provision of clergy and church buildings in the Hebrides, circa 1266 to circa 1472
- Mharie-Claire Semple (2009) An archaeology of Scotland's early Romanesque churches: the towers of Alba
- Adrián D. Maldonado Ramírez (2011) Christianity and burial in late Iron Age Scotland, AD 400-650
Current research students:
- Hay, Michelle
Development of a novel ancient pathogen DNA protocol to aid in identifying and understanding the impact of vector-borne diseases in relation to Viking movements and migrations circa 800 – 1000 AD
The majority of my teaching is research based and, at Honours level, is interdisciplinary with colleagues from Scottish History and Celtic & Gaelic. These courses include:
- The Picts and the Formation of Alba
- Northern Britons 5th century to 12th century
- Founding of Scotland: 11th – 13th centuries
At Postgraduate level I contribute to the M.Litt. in Celtic and Viking Archaeology core and various options, including the Early Christian Monuments of Scotland.
- Advisory Committee for Historic Scotland since 2012, Chair of the Scottish Strategic Archaeology Committee
- Director, Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studies, School of Humanities, University of Glasgow
- Trustee of the York Archaeological Trust, since 2013
- Chair of Organising Committee for the 2015 annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Glasgow