West Road Park.

West Road Park.

Park/Recreation AreaArchaeological Site

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The Archaeology of Saline’s Public Park

Hidden away in the uneven ground surface of Saline’s Public Park are possibly the oldest traces of human activity in the village.

Whatever its origins, agriculture has, until the present century, been the lifeblood of the village; and it is faint vestiges of this most ancient and important activity that can still be seen in Saline’s Public Park today. Appearing as a series of long linear ridges separated by troughs or furrows, and running in a roughly east-west direction, faint strips of raised ground can be observed running roughly parallel to one another, in some places for almost the entire length of the park (see plate 8).

These traces are known as ridge-and-furrow, and they represent an ancient method of agriculture which has been practised in Scotland for much of the past 2,000 years. Essentially, the idea was to imitate nature by ploughing in such a manner as to produce a series of long miniature hills, or ridges, separated by a series of miniature valleys or furrows. The result of this activity was the creation of a series of suitably well-drained ridges upon which crops could be grown.

In our present age of modern underground drainage systems, it is all too easy to forget that until the agricultural improvements of the nineteenth century, much of the flatter land in Scotland was too wet to grow crops. This was certainly the case around Saline, as the parish minister made clear in 1793: “There is much need of draining and summer ploughing [around Saline]. Even near the village and heart of the parish, there is much wet and waste ground, which though capable of being fertilised and beautified by skill and industry, is likely to excite in the traveller the idea of poverty and indolence” 18

These comments can still be clearly understood today by anyone visiting the park after a period of wet weather. The ground, composed of a heavy clayey soil, is very poorly drained, as the soggy moss-covered ground surface makes clear. But look to the tops of the ridges and see how much drier and more freely drained these areas are. Indeed, you can still see the ridge-and-furrow doing exactly what it was designed to do; and at the west end of the park, in between the drier ridges, you will notice that the furrows still act as channels for the water to flow down and in consequence, have become choked in places with reeds and other water-loving plants.

But dating the faint agricultural traces in the park is difficult. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, the use and form of ridge-and-furrow has changed little since at least the medieval period and secondly, continuous agricultural activity in any one area inevitably leads to the destruction of earlier agricultural traces. This is clearly the case at the Public Park but nevertheless, the agricultural traces there clearly represent an archaeological site of considerable time-depth; that is, a site spanning a considerable length of time.

It is likely that the relatively straight and narrow ridges which appear most prominently in the park represent a late form of ridge-and-furrow, probably being produced by a horse-drawn swing plough during the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Indeed, it is clear from mid-nineteenth century maps that the park was then still under some form of cultivation. But from careful examination of the park, there are a number of signs which point to a much earlier start date for agriculture on this site and the use of the earlier, ox-drawn mouldboard plough. Indeed, both recent limited excavations and aerial photographs of the park have revealed traces of much earlier ridge-and-furrow than those visible to the naked eye, and on balance it is likely that the collective evidence in this park represents several hundred years of continuous agricultural exploitation.

So, whilst Saline’s Public Park may not represent one of the best surfaces upon which to run or play football, it does represent one of the most characterful recreational grounds in Scotland, preserving as it does part of an important archaeological landscape and, possibly, evidence of Saline’s earliest period of settlement.

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