Christian Maclagan

Biography

Christian Maclagan (1811–1901), arguably Scotland’s first female archaeologist, was born at Underwood, near Denny, Stirlingshire, in 1811. She was the daughter of George Maclagan (d. 1818), distiller and chemist, and his wife Christian, herself the daughter of Thomas Colville, printer, of Dundee.

Her family’s wealth ensured she had independent means to pursue her own interests and transcend society’s barriers. She spent much of her life engaged in researching and recording the prehistoric archaeology of Scotland. In later life she resided at Ravenscroft, near Denny, and devoted much time and money to the removal of slums in Stirling, providing houses for the working-classes outside the burgh.

Her archaeological researches into prehistoric Scotland remain important to this day, although she tended to over-domesticise sites. For example, arguing that stone circles were robbed out brochs.

AquhorthiesCM stitched
Maclagan’s 1875 drawing of Easter Aquhorthies stone circle and her depiction of the site reconstructed as a broch.

However, she was amongst the first archaeologists to consider archaeological stratigraphy, with her section drawings of Coldoch broch being published five years before Pitt Rivers – generally credited with the introduction of this field method to British archaeology – began his excavations at Cranborne Chase.

coldoch section (2)
Maclagan’s 1875 section of Coldoch broch.

She was also amongst the first to argue for a domestic, native origin for brochs. However, her chief claim to fame was to develop new methods for recording sculptured stones.

Despite these accomplishments, she failed get due recognition. For example, her role in the excavation of Coldoch broch was ignored and she lamented that:

“He* is chronicled by the Society as the discoverer, while the writer of these notes was completely ignored.” (Maclagan 1884, 22).

*It is not clear whether she means Sir James Young Simpson or John Stuart

In what seems an incredible act of discrimination, she was denied full membership of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and complained with bitter sarcasm that she was:

” … a woman, and therefore unworthy of being a member of any Antiquarian Society …”, (Maclagan 1894, 38).

As a result of her dispute with the Scottish archaeological establishment she sent all her rubbings from stones to the British Museum rather than Edinburgh.

This may be, in part, why she is so little known today. However, this is beginning to change and there is a small permanent exhibition to her in the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum as well as plans for a carving dedicated to her in Stirling’s Back Walk sculpture trail.

It should of course be stressed that times are very different now and MacLagan undoubtedly pushed for female inclusion in the Society of Antiquaries as full Fellows – which started in 1901 and all are currently welcome to join a Society of which I am proud to be a member. For more information on how to join  http://www.socantscot.org/join-us/

Select Bibliography

Maclagan, C. 1872. On round castles and ancient dwellings of the Valley of the Forth, and its tributary the Teith,as communicated by John Stuart, Esq, L.L.D. Sec. S.A Scot, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 9: 29-44. http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/psas/contents.cfm?vol=9&CFID=1785744&CFTOKEN=213A4995-C15F-489B-837FB00D61960C2B

Maclagan, C. 1875 The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and Other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland. Edmonston and Douglas, Edinburgh.

Maclagan, C. 1881 Chips from Old Stones. Privately Published, printed by G.Waterston, Edinburgh.

Maclagan, C. 1884 Notices of the Fortresses and Dwellings of the Ancient Peoples who Inhabited the Valley of the Forth and its Tributary the Teith. Transactions of the Stirling Natural History & Antiquarian Society 5: 13-25.

Maclagan, C. 1886 Neighbouring Forts. Transactions of the Stirling Natural History & Antiquarian Society 7: 68-70.

Maclagan, C. 1894 What Mean These Stones? David Douglas, Edinburgh.

Books and Articles About MacLagan

Anonymous. 1901. Miss Christian Maclagan (Obituary). The Athenaeum (3838): 634-635

Davies, M. H. 2006. An archaeological analysis of later prehistoric settlement and society in Perthshire and Stirlingshire, Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/2662/

Davies, M. H. 2015 The Invisible Women Fellow http://www.socantscot.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SoAoS-Newsletter-Spring-2015.pdf

Elsdon, S. M. 2004. Christian Maclagan: Stirling’s formidable lady antiquary, Balgavies: Pinkfoot Press

Millar, A. H. 1912 Maclagan, Christian (1811-1901). In Dictionary of National Biography: Twentieth Century 1901-1911, pp. 531-532. Oxford University Press, Oxford