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In the latest installment of our series looking at ancient monuments around the UK, Katherine (Cait) Range takes us to the wilds of the Peak District, Derbyshire, to look at the enigmatic site of Arbor Low.
Arbor Low, near Bakewell in Derbyshire, is often referred to as the “Stonehenge of the North”, and like that famous monument, Arbor Low has been a place of reverence for many generations. Situated on a hill with magnificent views over the Derbyshire countryside, the site cannot fail to impart some of the power and mysticism our ancestors must have felt when looking out from where we stand. And people looking up at the limestone ridge upon which the henge sits, couldn’t fail to be awed by the place of the gods, looking down on them.
Dating from the Neolithic/Bronze Age, the oval bank and ditch, with causewayed entrances at both the northwest and southeast, were constructed first, during the 3rd millennium B.C. The stones being added later, by about 2000 B.C. There are 46 large stones of locally quarried limestone, within the bank and ditch, along with 13 smaller stones arranged as a grouping in the middle (a feature called a “cove” and found only in major sacred sites). But the most striking and unexpected feature is that all of the stones are recumbent and there is no evidence to tell whether the site had been constructed with the stones laid flat or whether they had all been toppled at a later date. Archaeologists have not, as yet, found any evidence of post holes to provide a solid conclusion. One theory suggests that the stones were knocked down by early Christians, in order to drive out the sacred nature of the site. But there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever for this.
The Bronze Age long barrow of Gib Hill lays a mere 200 meters from Arbor Low. Gib Hill’s original construction was roughly contemporary with Arbor Low. It is thought to be a Neolithic oval barrow with an Early Bronze Age round barrow superimposed at one end, and was most likely the original worship focus, with the later, 1st phase of Arbor Low being the “new” ritual site for the surrounding community. There is some evidence that the 2 sites might have once been connected by an earthen bank. However, this may be a much later and more mundane field boundary. Around Arbor Low are dozens of barrows constructed in the Late Bronze age, about 1000 years after the Arbor Low circle. One of these was even built into the bank near the southeast entrance. It was excavated by Thomas Bateman in 1845 and found to contain several burials. Bateman also found a large burial cist at Gib Hill in 1848. In 1901-02, a human burial was found near the “cove” of stones in the middle of the henge.
To take a more mystical view, Arbor Low is purported to have many ley lines running through it. This is a nice, romantic thought but a line can be drawn between pretty much anything, depending on the angle. And while there may very well be fissures of energy around the site, the area is too dense with archaeological features and too many lines would be pure chance. This huge complex of burial and worship sites was in use for at least 1000 years. Clearly the successive generations saw and felt the power of their ancestors and their original choice of the site. To build these massive and magnificent structures, these had to be a people who lived with a great sense of community, co-operation, and spirituality.
For more information about Arbor Low, see the Arbor Low Environs Project website.
Check back soon for the next site in our A-Z.
So, you’ve done the planning, taken your Go-Bag and had a wonderful time out and about exploring some ancient sites. If you’re anything like me, you take plenty of digital photos when visiting our ancient heritage sites. But what do you do with those images once you get home?
After a trip, a large majority of people will just hand around their camera, tablet or phone and let people view the pictures that way. Some selected pictures may get uploaded to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr. Most people will download the photos to their PC (often into the ‘My Pictures’ folder on Windows) and look through them that way. Many will take the camera card into a shop and print off selected pictures – the larger supermarkets offer this service these days.
But what if you want to review the pictures a month, six months or a year or more down the line? Could you easily find the relevant batch of photos? Could you identify a shot of e.g. a particular cairn, barrow, megalith or dolmen from all the others? With a little post-trip preparation you can organise the images from your visits, making them simple to identify and review.
First of all, a warning for the unwary: There are a plethora of applications available to organise a digital image library, for Windows, Mac and Linux systems at various pricing levels, which provide facilities for import, renaming, tagging, geotagging and other facilities, including full EXIF data editing. Some of these systems are aimed at the professional end of the market, with pricing and complexity to match. Others are free, but with a hidden ‘price’. I personally like Picasa from Google, but be aware that the licensing means that any images uploaded to their online web libraries will become available for Google’s use as they see fit. See section 11 of the Picasa EULA as an example. Other services such as Flickr have similar terms, so if control of your image content is commercially important to you, be aware of what you’re signing up for!
But assuming you have no immediate need of an online image library or cloud backup services, let’s go through what you can do to get minimally organised.
Location – First of all, decide where to keep the photos on your system. If your default ‘My Pictures’ folder is not too untidy already, this is as good a place as any to get started, but be aware that an image library can grow large, particularly if you take lots of pictures over a long period (I personally have digital images going back to 1995, nearly 20 years worth!)
Folders – there are lots of ways to organise the folders for your photos. I tend to a ‘tree’ approach. A folder for each year, then sub folders for each trip I take. The sub folders are named by yymm and dd if necessary, followed by an indicator for the trip – in my case the main county. Multi-day trips may be split by further sub folders for each day, or each site if it’s an image-heavy trip!
Downloading – transfer the photos from your camera/tablet/phone to the PC as soon as you can. There are various ways of achieving this depending upon your device, but one rule of thumb: Once the photos have been transferred, clear them off the device! There’s nothing worse than after the next trip having to sort out which photos belong to which trip, or downloading duplicates. So drop them from the camera once you’re sure they’ve been copied safely.
Image Re-Naming – Most photos are downloaded from the camera with meaningless numeric names – DSCNnnnn, or IMGnnnn or similar nonsense. A handy trick is to multi-select the files you wish to rename (Tile view is useful for identifying simlar photos) and rename them en-masse. Doing this, the files will all have the same name, but with a sequential number appended. A word on naming conventions – I like at all times to have the date that the image was taken in the file name. So for instance, three pictures of Stonehenge taken at midsummer may be named ’130621 Stonehenge (1)’, ’130621 Stonehenge (2)’ and ’130621 Stonehenge (3)’. If you’re working on older images, and aren’t sure where/when they were taken, the EXIF data held within each image will hold clues, and may even have the geotagging information to give you a precise location.
Tidying up – Finally, remove (read DELETE!) any photos that aren’t up to snuff. Out of focus, poor composition, or even just ‘uninteresting’ photos should be removed from your library unless there are *very* good reasons for retaining them. When showing your photos, or organising them into a photo-book as a permanent record to show people, you want them to think kindly of your photographic skills, so dump the rubbish shots!
Backup! – Now you’re organised, the final step is to make sure you have backups of your photos. Whilst cloud-based storage is currently flavour of the month, don’t forget to check the terms and conditions and make sure you’re not giving away any rights to your images that you’re not happy about. Also, be aware that online companies may withdraw services at any time, or change their conditions with very little warning, so make sure you have an offline back too if you go the online route. I like the Western Digital Passport USB drives. They’re small, draw power from the USB lead (so no mains lead needed), come in various capacities and are relatively inexpensive.
I hope this brief guide has been useful. If you have a different strategy for organising your own digital images, let us know in the comments.
So the clocks have changed, Spring/Summer is here, and thoughts inevitably turn to trips out to savour and enjoy our ancient heritage. Nearly two years ago now, we featured an article, ‘6 ways to enhance your visit to a prehistoric monument‘ which listed essential equipment to assist and enhance understanding of any monument visited.
As an avid reader of technical computing blogs, a common theme I’ve noticed on such blogs is the concept of a ‘Go-Bag’ – an easily packed pre-prepared bag containing all the goodies which may be required at very short notice for whatever reason. There are several variants on this theme, the EDC or Every Day Carry bag, the Go-Bag and at the top-end, the Survival Kit. Many proponents of these bags are looking at them from the ‘survivalist’ viewpoint, see the 10 C’s of Survival, but the concept can easily be adapted for day trips spent visiting our heritage sites.
The contents of my own Go-Bag change from time to time, as better/different options become available or kit becomes outdated. Indeed, I have a great deal of redundancy built into my bag, with both technical and ‘old-school’ versions of several of the essentials. So what exactly is in my bag a) as standard, and b) included dependent upon context? Let’s get the all-in-one technology out of the way first.
- Mobile Phone – my current weapon of choice is the Samsung Galaxy S3, an Android-based phone.
- Tablet Computer – I double up here. I have the Asus Nexus running Android, and an iPad Mini Retina for iOS. Why both? Quite simply, there are apps I use which are available only on Android, and others which are only available on iOS. I may go through the apps I use in a future post.
- Camera – a now aging Nikon Coolpix s3000, but I also have the phone and iPad for photography, so I’m well covered there. The S3000 is particularly useful for ‘timer’ shots. (I also have a Nikon DS3200 DSLR and an old Canon eOS DSLR, but you can have too much of a good thing!)
- Device Charger and cables – I got mine from Proporta a couple of years ago. It can recharge any one of my devices almost fully – or give a boost to a couple at a pinch. I should probably consider an upgrade.
All the above are usually packed as ‘last minute’ items, due to pre-charging needs. Items which always sit in the bag ready to go are as follows:
- A5 Sketchbook – I’m no great artist, but it can be useful to make a quick sketch of a site or feature sometimes.
- Pencils and Pen – a box of sketching pencils of various weights, 4H to 4B is usually sufficient.
- Binoculars – a small set of Nikon Sport Lite 10×25 bins, which is sufficient for most general uses.
- Gorillapod mini tripod – used when taking those ‘timer’ shots mentioned above.
- Compass – a basic compass from Millets or similar should suffice, just check its accuracy from time to time!
- Babywipes – useful for getting grass/mud stains off equipment, clothing and body parts.
- Torch and spare batteries – I quite like the Rolson 9 LED torches – small and very bright.
And finally, obviously dependent upon the location of the planned trip:
- Maps – OS Pathfinder 1:25000 are the bees knees. There are mobile apps which can replace these to an extent, but don’t be reliant on batteries – carry a paper copy, particularly if travelling any distance ‘off-road’.
- Guidebook/Gazetteer – or your reference material of choice for the intended location/site – I have a variety of e-books on my tablets which helps keep the weight down.
Remarkably, this all currently fits in a small shoulder bag, but I’m considering swapping to a rucksack, if only to make room for a bottle of water and some snacky bites. I’m also considering getting a collapsible ranging pole, to provide some scale in my pictures, but that would take even more room, so I may need to review the contents again in future.
But after charging batteries the night before a trip, I can currently be ready to go in minutes with all of the above. So what have I forgotten? What’s unneccessary? And better still, what’s in your bag? Why not share your preparations for at trip with us?
During a recent holiday in Cornwall, I took the opportunity to revisit Carwynnen Quoit, to see what progress had been made since my previous visit during the recent excavations. Seeing one of the uprights back in place has prompted me to put together this brief overview of the history of the quoit.
Built some time between 3500-2600 BC, this Cornish dolmen had (presumably) stood for millenia before its collapse and reinstatement in the early 1840′s. The recorded history of the quoit begins in the early 18th century, mentioned by Edward Lhuyd during his Cornish travels. It was later drawn by Dr Borlase, and this illustration was included in W.C. Borlase’s ‘Naenia Cornubia’in 1872. J.T. Blight’s ‘Ancient Crosses of West Cornwall’, published in 1858 also includes an illustration of the quoit, somewhat different from that drawn by Borlase.
A section of the capstone broke off when the monument fell in 1842, and during its reconstruction “by workers on the Pendarves Estate and local people, galvanised by Mrs Pendarves”, one of the supporting stones was reduced in height and the arrangement of the uprights was thus changed. Comparing this reconstruction to the original, W.C. Borlase noted:
The two supporters at the south-eastern end seem to have retained their original positions. They were, formerly, respectively 5 feet 1 inch, and 5 feet 2 inches above ground, and are still nearly the same height. The single pillar at the other side has been moved nearer the edge of the covering stone than in the above sketch; it measured 4 feet 11 inches high, but is now shorter. The covering slab, which, like the other stones, is granite, measures twelve feet by nine; one side, however, seems to have been broken in its fall.
The monument seems to have remained in this state for around 124 years, until in 1966 it collapsed again, reputedly due to an earth tremor. With thanks to Paul Phillips and the folks at the Sustainable Trust, we have photographs of the quoit taken a short time prior to it’s later collapse.
After the collapse, the Pendarves estate declined, and what were once the landscaped gardens of the estate were returned to agriculture. The collapsed stones were piled in a heap, and with repeated ploughing more stones came to the surface, to be added to the pile of ‘field clearance’.
My own first view of Carwynnen came in May 2007, whilst trying to ‘tick off’ all the Cornish quoits. There was actually very little to see – a field of scrub, with a few stones almost hidden amongst the weeds. But the site was purchased in 2009 by the Sustainable Trust and their partners, and plans were immediately put in place to once again restore the quoit to it’s former glory.
I returned in 2012, to find on the surface very little had apparently changed, the pile of stones was still there, looking much as before.
But now there was a noticeboard at the entrance to the field, indicating that the plans were very much under way. Later that year, two excavations were held in the field. The first was a preliminary investigation via a series of test pits. The stones were then moved using a crane, from the place where they had been left after the 1966 collapse, in preparation for the ‘Big Dig’ in the autumn.
In April 2013 I returned again, to attend ‘Quest for the Quoit’ a neolithic exhibition of crafts and an archaeological test pit dig. This was just one of a series of events and exhibitions both at the Quoit and around various parts of Cornwall to advertise what was going on, and to get the community involved. The day was a great success with a lot of local interest and involvement. And of course, the ‘Big Dig’ had provided the perfect surprise with the discovery of the original footprint of the monument, and the stone ‘pavement’, the original chamber floor. A year after the excavation of the original socketholes, in October 2013, the first of the uprights was put back up into place.
Although it looks quite forlorn, locked away inside it’s protective fencing, the other two uprights are scheduled to be raised to join it in May this year, followed by the placing of the capstone at Midsummer. I hope to be there to witness that.
Further details about the history, excavation and events at Carwynnen can be found on the project website at http://www.giantsquoit.org
Unless otherwise stated, all photos © Alan S.
Carwynnen Quoit is situated a short distance south of Camborne, in Cornwall. OS Grid Ref: SW650372, Sheet 203.
Welcome to our occasional series, looking through an A-Z of ancient sites in the UK. Some will be well-known, others much less so, but we hope that each site featured will show an aspect of our ancient heritage that inspires people to get out and visit.
Katherine (Cait) Range has once again provided us with an interesting article, this time looking at a well known site in Wiltshire, Adam’s Grave.
High up on the summit of Walker’s Hill, near the Wiltshire town of Alton Barnes, Old Adam, the sarsen stone, looks out upon the surrounding countryside of Pewsey Vale.
Old Adam and his companion sarsen, Little Eve, once flanked the entrance to the massive Neolithic chambered long barrow called Adam’s Grave. The chamber system inside, was most likely similar to that seen at West Kennet Long Barrow. And Adam’s Grave is also part of the greater prehistoric, ritual landscape surrounding the Avebury/Silbury/Windmill hill complex. Even in its collapsed state, it commands panoramic views and in turn can it be seen from miles around. The prominence of this barrow was surely to honor its occupants.
This long barrow is quite substantial in size being 60m long and 6m high. The ditches on either side are still 6m wide and .09m deep. At one end there appears to be a sarsen stone burial chamber in which, in 1860, were found 3 or 4 incomplete skeletons and a leaf-shaped arrowhead. There is evidence that originally, there was a retaining wall of sarsens and dry stone around the barrow.
Adam’s Grave is one of those places that feel like a “thin place” in the veil between our reality and the supernatural. It isn’t too difficult to imagine faeries, goblins and heroes in this beautiful place. As one would expect, there are several legends attached to the place. One such is that Adam’s Grave is thought to be the final resting place of a giant and if you dare to run seven times around this huge tumulus, then you will risk waking him. To date, no one has disturbed him and when one looks at the size if the place, it’s easy to see why.
There is an account also, of a Miss Cobern who, sometime in the mid-1960′s, had a very disturbing experience there. She states that she was walking back from the barrow to where she had parked her car. All of a sudden, she felt very anxious and uneasy. It was cold and cloudy and there was no other person there from what she could see. She began to hear the sound of many horses coming at a full gallop. So many that it seemed as if an army were near, but of course there was nothing, certainly no horses. Once she walked fully past the barrow, the sound of horses stopped abruptly. There are plenty of other accounts of the sound of galloping horses, animals taking fright for no apparent reason, ghostly shades, and many reports of baying hounds said to be the guardians of the barrow. True or not, the story does bring to mind the two very real battles that occurred in this place, both of which are recorded in the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicles”.
In the 6th century, the place was known as Wodnesbeorg, and in AD592 a battle was fought here. The Chronicle states “Her micel wælfill wæs æt Woddes beorge, 7 Ceawlin wæs ut adrifen. (There was great slaughter at Woden’s Hill, and Ceawlin was driven out).” Caewlin was king of Anglo-Saxon Wessex but in most versions of the Chronicle, the name of his opponent is not listed. It is assumed they were British. However, in one or two versions of the Chronicle, the opponent is listed as Coel. Could this be the “Old King Cole” of nursery rhyme? A romantic and intriguing thought.
The other battle fought here and recorded in the Chronicle, occurred in AD715. “Her Ine 7 Ceolred fuhton æt Woddes beorge. (There Ine and Ceolred fought at Woden’s Hill).” Ine was king of Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Ceolred was king of Anglo-Saxon Mercia. Several Anglo-Saxon battles took place near Adam’s Grave as the area was of strategic importance and is near to the passage of Wansdyke where the ancient Ridgeway interconnects. This passage was named “read geat” (red gate or gap), and the Saxons most likely considered it worth defending.
Adam’s Grave and the surrounding area contain enough history and legend to fill a book, never mind this small article. And as part of the greater Avebury/Silsbury ritual landscape, it has clearly been a place of mystery, reverence and legend to people, our ancestors, since before recorded history.
Many thanks once again to Katharine for an interesting and informative article. If you have a favourite site and you’d like to submit an article for this series, please contact us.
Another month, and another question in the blogging carnival being run by Doug’s Archaeology. The carnival allows archaeology-related blogs to participate in answering various questions about why and how the blogs are composed, and what experiences can be gained from running an archaeology blog. Whilst we’re not strictly an ‘archaeology’ blog we’ve been invited to participate thus far. Our earlier responses can be found here, here, and here.
So, the last question of the festival has been set by Doug, as follows:
The last question is where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go? I leave it up to you to choose between reflecting on you and your blog personally or all of archaeology blogging/bloggers or both. Tell us your goals for blogging. Or if you have none why that is? Tell us the direction that you hope blogging takes in archaeology. Short and simple and I hope a good question to finish off #BlogArch with.
Ok, a short and sweet introspective answer:
There is no conscious plan for world domination! The Heritage Journal has grown organically, improving in content and visitors year on year, but we feel it has remained largely true to our original guiding principles. That is, to be a voice for the ordinary person concerned about damage to prehistory. We believe we fill a gap in the market in that respect, and have been quite successful in doing so to date.
Campaigns highlighted by us but largely orchestrated by others (Thornborough Henges and Silbury in the early days, Oswestry and Mynydd y Betws more recently) are what we envisaged early on, alongside our own crusades, and this has worked out well so far. Of course, we always welcome more articles from grass-roots contributors on topics within our remit, and within the current UK climate of budget cuts and more budget cuts to (mainly) line the pockets of the rich at the expense of our heritage, we shall continue to encourage and facilitate locally based campaigns to combat those threats where we feel we can have some measure of influence.
That is all. It’s been a pleasure taking part in the carnival Doug, and thanks for inviting us to participate. To read other blogs participating in the carnival, search Twitter for the hashtag #blogarch, or see Doug’s web site.
A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review has been posted in several parts, of which this is the last for this year’s conference.
And so, suitably refreshed after lunch on the Saturday, the seventh and penultimate session of the conference, ‘Early Medieval England‘ kicked off the afternoon proceedings, introduced by Karly Hilts, Assitant Editor of Current Archaeology. The talks in this session were slightly shuffled from the published program, in order to better present them in chronological order, so first up was Dr Catherine Hills, talking about ‘Spong Hill and the Adventus Saxonum‘, the coming of the Anglo Saxons.
So, was there a violent invasion, a mass migration or a takeover by a ruling elite? We began by looking at weapons deposited in lakes in Denmark, such as Illerup which held a large number of sophisticated weapons, far too intricate for supposed ‘savage’ Angles, Jutes and Saxons to have produced. This suggests large groups of organised people, rather than small primitive bands. Looking at Spong Hill, over 2000 cremations have been found so far, many more than would have been expected for the size of settlement. Many artefacts found are typical of those found in northern Germany, the chronology of these is imprecise, but being refined. Pots and bone combs provide clues as to a possible sequencing – pots with similar designs and stamps are being grouped and plotted. Could these denote family groups? Many of the grave goods have been typologically dated to the early 5th Century. The conclusion (so far)? The invasion was not a single event. There is evidence of connections with N Germany and Jutland over a long period.
Next to take the podium was Prof Martin Carver, who gave us a glimpse of ‘Sutton Hoo: a slice of England‘. The famous Anglo Saxon features at Sutton Hoo overlie a Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age landscape, with many of the prehistoric finds sitting on the 300’ contour. These include Neolithic pit burials, a Beaker settlement, late Bronze Age enclosures and Iron Age field systems. Commonly, Anglo Saxon mounds are placed on earlier Iron Age banks, and that is the case at Sutton Hoo. There are three cemeteries there, and Martn ran through the chronologies. A 6th century family burial ground contained cremations and inhumations. The 7th Century ‘princely’ ship burial and a later cemetery of executions, dated to the 8th-10th Centuries. This latter contained 39 bodies, grouped around a gallows site. All had been decapitated or garotted, one still had the rope around it’s neck. Pictures of some of the now famous grave goods were shown, and it was explained that the chronology suggests a political sequence for the site. From family cemetery, to chiefdom, to a Christian kingdom where dissidents were punished.
Finally to round off the session, Prof Julian Richards, on ‘The Viking Great Army at Torksey‘. There has been very little hard archaeological evidence for Viking raids, but Torksey was mentioned in the AS Chronicles, in 872, as somewhere the raiding army camped over winter, but until recently the actual camp site had not been identified. Metal detectorists reported finding Viking artefacts near Torksey, which identified the site, and the project to investigate the site began. Its aims: to identify the nature and extent of the camp, and whether the camp contributed to Torksey’s subsequent industrial growth.
Seventy detectorists have been working on the 20 hectare site at Torksey for some years, not all have reported finds to the PAS, but over 1500 finds have been logged to date, mostly early Medieval.
Over 300 Anglo Saxoncoins included some Northumbrian small change – stycas – as well as some dirhams from as far as Arabia. This is the largest number of Aracbic dirhams found in Britain to date. Also, lots of bullion and scrap metal was being processed; hack silver, hack gold and some forgery (gold plated copper alloys). Evidence of metalworking whilst camped? Also some lead gaming pieces have been found. The landscape is constantly changing; deep ploughing and blown sand are bringing more finds to the surface. The Winter Camp is north of the current village, a later Burgh is near the current village, where some 15 kilns have been excavated – a sizable Burgh. The lack of pottery at the camp site indicates that it pre-dates the Burgh.
And all too soon it was time for a last tea break before the final session, entitled ‘Time Team and Geophysics‘. Dr John Gater regaled us with anecdotes from Time Team, ‘Geofizz, what have we learned after 20 years?‘
There’s no doubt he got off to a good start, with “In 1993, Archaeology became sexy overnight”, accompanied by some hilarious shots of the various team members. John then explained about the early use of ‘geofizz’, the creation of a new word to explain the use of science to understand archaeology, at the Athelney Abbey dig. Time Team was unusual in that geofizz usually was used on development sites anything up to a year before the excavations began. With Time Team, feedback was almost instantaneous, and exciting! Even Ribchester was exciting, although the early interpretation was completely incorrect. Roman road? field boundaries? No – modern football pitch markings!
After the laughter died down, John explained the different types of survey; Resistance Survey, Magnetometry, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) etc. Although the 3 day format didn’t allow time for experimentation, GPR Was a great leap forward, useful on greenfield sites and allowing a not just a plan, but a 3D model with depth information to be created. The plan of Brancaster was compared to the early plan of Athelney. One a 2D plan, the other a full 3D model, showing the improvements made over time. John’s one regret, was making it all look too easy. A very entertaining and educational talk to finish the conference.
And that was it. Editor in Chief Andrew Selkirk provided the closing remarks, reminding us all of what we’d seen and heard over the last couple of days, and it all too soon it was time to pack up and head home.
Was it all worth it? Certainly! And with any luck and a prevaling wind, I’ll be back next year to report it all again..
A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review is being be posted in several parts.
The second day started out with a session sponsored by Current Archaeology’s sister magazine, Military History Monthly looking at ‘The Archaeology of World War One‘. The first talk in this session was a harrowing tale of a hidden war, as Matt Leonard told us about ‘Digging in the dark: modern conflict archaeology beneath the Western Front‘.
Although most people know of the trench warfare, not so well known is the hidden aspect of the battlefield, and Matt brought this to life be describing the ‘sense-scape’ that the troops would have encountered in the tunnels and caves below the ground – “Ordinary soldiers saw very little of the war, but tasted, smelled and felt all of it.”
Matt described three key areas of the battlefield: trenches, subways and fighting tunnels. Each had a different sensory environment. He graphically described breaking through into enemy tunnels and having to fight in the pitch black, by touch – German uniforms had epaulettes, Allied uniforms didn’t. So if you felt an epaulette, you stabbed! Within this hidden world, some tunnels were as much as 100m below ground, or as close as 1m to the surface. Troops could hear the enemy through the tunnel walls. This was all very powerful, emotional stuff!
Dr Stephen Miles then brought us to the present day, talking about ‘Seeing the Western Front: archaeology, history and battlefield tourism‘. With over 6 milllion dead, along 416 miles of the Western Front, ‘grief tourism’ is now big business. There are over 1000 military, and 200 civilian cemeteries spread along the Front. In the Westhoek area of Belgium some 326,000 people a year visit, 52% are British. People want to see where the big battles happened, and also to visit family members. This tourism started as soon as the war finished. In contrast to the previous talk, the point was made that most visitors are ‘sight-seers’, other senses are very secondary to the experience. The way that the military cemeteries are laid out is in stark contrast to the confusion of the trenches. There are many reconstructed trenches – an important aspect of Western Front heritage – very little of the original trench systems are extant today. There are many unexploded shells still in/on the ground, but fieldwalking tours damage context and provenance. This makes it difficult to interpret the landscape. This is important because this interpretation allows the memories to live on. The conclusion? Tourism is a cultural vehicle for reinscribing memory.
To wrap up the session before coffee, Dr Nick Saunders told us about the history of ‘The scarlet flower: the remembrance poppy from Flanders Fields to Afghanistan‘. He explained that the remembrance poppy (a hybrid of the opium and corn poppy) began in 1915, but associations of this flower with memory, death, and pain go back thousands of years, based upon use of the opium poppy to dull the senses. There are references in the Trojan Wars, Classical Greece, and after the American Civil War veterans homes were full of opium dependents. John McCrae’s poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’ was one of the first literary images to really connect the poppy to WWI – the poppy no longer being associated with forgetting/dulling pain & grief, but rememberance. Moina Michael in New York was the first person to start handing out poppies for donations to help war veterans. Anna Guerin in France set up a factory to make silk poppies, extending the idea internationally. By 1922, the British set up their own factories, staffed by disabled veterans. The point was made that the poppy as material culture is now political and full of power and meaning. “The lightest of petals carries the heaviest of burdens.”
A welcome coffee break, and a chance to look once more at the stalls comprising the Archaeology Fair. Burdened with purchases, we took our seats for the next session, sponsored by another title from the Current Publishing stable - World Archaeology magazine, and introduced by Editor Caitlin McCall. The session was entitled ‘Back to the Beginning‘.
Prof Thomas Higham first told us about ‘Modern Humans, Neanderthals and Denisovians‘, looking at some of our earliest human ancestors. After talking through some of the anatomical differences between Neanderthals and modern humans, the science of radio carbon dating was discussed. With very old samples (30,000 years for neanderthals?) Decay and contamination is a problem. The best material for dating is bone collagen, but this only comprises 20% of the bone, and is relatively quick to decay. As reliable dates are important for understanding how and when humans and Neanderthals interacted, some cutting edge techniques are beng used – such as Ultrafiltration are being used to help remove contaminants and provide more accurate dates from samples. Using these techniques and revisiting previous samples suggests that Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago, nevertheless there was an overlap between the them and us of around 2000 years. DNA analysis suggests that interbreeding did occur – modern human DNA overlaps anywhere between 1-3% with Neanderthal’s. A relatively newly discovered hominid, Denisovans has been identified via DNA from a molar and fingerbone of a 9 year old girl, in Russia. Although remains from this time are very small and scarce, preservation has allowed up to 70% survival of their DNA, and the genome has been sequenced. An exhibition about these species is currently on at the Natural History Museum.
Next, Prof Klaus Schmidt explained about ‘Göbekli Tepe: the first human holy site?‘. At 11,000 years old, this is considered to be one of the world’s oldest temples, situated in modern day Turkey. The project has been running for 20 years, but literally has only just ‘scratched the surface’ so far. A fascinating slideshow of the excavations was displayed, with wonderful carvings, depictions of figures and animals througout the complex, which is divided into a series of rooms or courtyards.
The site rises to a height of 15m, across an aree 300x300m, and dates to the pre-pottery era Neolithic – so almost Hunter-Gatherer stage. The layout and extent of the statuary and carvings shows this is not a settlement – some of the pillars are anthropomorphic – the first deity figures? Quarries for the pillars have been identified less than 200 m from the main site. The number of animal depictions suggest a story is being told, but sadly there was no time for questions, but just time for one more talk in the session before we broke for lunch.
Prof Brian Fagan from California spoke eloquently and entertainingly about ‘The Intimate Bond: Animals and Humans over 15000 years‘, concentrating on the Donkey! Described as the ‘pickup truck of the world for 5000 years’, donkeys as we know them today were first domesticated in NE Africa some 5000 years ago. Donkey burials were found at Abydos, dating from 3000 BC. They were respected, working animals, noted for their ability to dehydrate slowly but rehydrate quickly, and to travel 15-20 miles a day, easily. Although respected, bone analysis shows that they were worked hard and often overloaded. We were told how they were used extensively in caravans across the Eastern Sahara. Some of these trade routes have been documented on cunieform tablets. Donkeys also appear on many murals in Pompeii, showing their ongoing use as beasts of burden. Fun fact: there are 40 million donkeys in the world today!
But all too soon it was time for lunch and a chance to grab some fresh air. Come back tomorrow to read about the final sessions of the conference…
A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review is being be posted in several parts.
During lunch in the Friday, there was a minor incursion when a small group of protestors gained access to the building, despite the best efforts of security. They walked up and down the corridors, yelling through a megaphone which was so distorted in that their message was somewhat lost. This disturbance delayed the afternoon session by 10-15 minutes when the protestors eventually dissipated.
And so the afternoon session, entitled ‘Rescuing the Past‘ began. Much to my delight, this session coninued the morning’s theme of covering the prehistoric and Roman periods, looking at some specific rescue archaeology projects and their results.
The first talk in the session returned to the early Mesolithic with Fraser Brown telling us about ‘Settling Man: an Early Mesolithic house and Bronze Age vilage, Ronaldsway Airport, Isle of Man‘. The planned expansion of the airport, as well as creating land where once was sea, involved the largest archaeological investigation on the island to date. The area around the airport was found to be archaeologically rich – “like building on Salisbury Plain” was how Fraser described it. Two of the major finds were a Bronze Age linear settlement almost 1km in extent, and a Neolithic house which produced many wonderful finds of stone axes, pottery etc. These sites were originally discovered in the 1940′s when the airport was originally constructed, but have now been revisited using today’s techniques. In addition, Mesolithic pits and scatter were found to the east, eroding out of the cliffs. Some 1700 ten-litre buckets of spoil were excavated to be processed, allowing for a full 3D reconstruction of the finds. Analysis of the finds has shown a Mesolithic structure to be 10000 years old, where carbon deposits suggest the house burned down. Returning to the Bronze Age settlement, ceramic distribution maps suggested a centralised midden between three houses. This has been interpreted as a possible foundry.
Next, Alistair Barclay told us about ‘Kingsmead Quarry, Horton: early Neolithic houses and other discoveries‘. I had previously attended an Open Day at Horton but this time round the focus was very much put on the four (possibly five, count ‘em!) Neolithic houses discovered at the site, rather than the gold bling. Four million pounds has been spent on Rescue Archaeology at Horton to date, and it’s quite rare to find one neolithic house, let alone multiple houses. The houses were of two types, gulley and post constructions. The earlier gulley houses had some finds, but no hearth material. However, they were much deeper at one end, suggesting that the structures were possibly load-bearing. Could they have had a second storey? Or at least an upstairs sleeping/storage area? Intruiging. The later post houses were much less interesting finds-wise, but the houses bear an uncanny resemblance to some found hundreds of miles away (at Lismore Field). Evidence of travel/contact between the two groups possibly? Radio Carbon dating has proved problematic, but a date of some 3700BC (Early Neolithic) has been put forward. Of course, it’s not possible to talk about Horton wihout mentioning the later Beaker burial – inhumation from this period is rare in the Thames Valley, inclusion of gold grave goods is rarer – and the Beaker lady managed a bit more time in the spotlight.
Finally in this session, Sadie Watson from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) told us about ‘The Walbrook: recent discoveries from the banks of Roman London’s river‘. Comparisons with Pompeii (see Current Archaeology issue 280) will naturally tend to dull the shine of any discoveries, but the excavations at the Bloomberg site on the banks of the Walbrook have produced a stunning amount of Roman finds. In fact, less than 1% of all the finds there to date are non-Roman! The river banks have provided a good state of presevation, whilst 50 yards away, the gravel offers no chance of preservation at all. the finds included a huge military assemblage: shoes and boots, armour, cavalry gear etc. along with large numbers of fist and phallus amulets. A slideshow showed the breadth of some of the finds to be analysed in full, including a curious decorated leather panel. But the star finds were some wooden writing tablets, including a rare inked tablet, which are very slowly being deciphered. The project has a web site at walbrookdiscovery.wordpress.com.
All too soon it was time for a tea break, before the keynote speech, ‘Archaeology, a very dry field‘ given this year by Dr Francis Pryor, and dedicated to his colleague Mick Aston.
Francis’ talk featured his two favourite subjects; Farming and Flag Fen (and a lot more besides!) He firstly took us quickly through his sheep farming year, then applied what he knew about these farming techniques to interpretation of Bronze Age field systems at Flag Fen. There was a remarkable fit between the two, but he pointed out that you also have to take into account ancient belief systems in order to be able to interpret the site correctly. He believes that intensive farming (up 1000 sheep) went on at Flag Fen, and outlined the possible economic impact on trade this would have led to, with metalwork from very disparate areas having been found there. All in all, a very entertaining talk to round of the first day of the conference – and he even managed to get in a huge plug for his latest venture, an archaeological detective novel!
Following the Keynote speech we moved across the corridor once again for a drinks reception, entertainment by a brass quintet of HM Guards musicians playing a selection of pieces with a WW1 theme, and the awards ceremony. The Current Archaeology Awards are special in that all the winners are voted for by the readership, from a shortlist of possible candidates in each category.
This year’s winners (with hearty congratulations to them all) were announced by Julian Richards, as follows:
- Book of the year: Julian Bowsher, Shakespeare’s London Theatreland
- Research Project of the Year: Return to Star Carr
- Rescue Dig of the Year: Sands of Time: Links of Notland
- Archaeologist of the Year: Richard Buckley
And so ended the first day, though many stayed for more drinks, and I believe a restaurant meal was arranged for the more hardy souls. But I had a commute to face in order to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed for the following day.
More to come…
A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Arcaheology Live!, at Senate House, in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review will be posted in several parts.
The conference is an opportunity to both look back over the previous 12 months, and to look ahead. As editor Matt Symonds mentioned in his introductory piece for the conference program, interest in World War One is running high in advance of the centenary of its outbreak, and 75 years ago, as World War Two was on the horizon, the Sutton Hoo ship burial was excavated. Both these events were to be covered in the conference, as well as the annual Current Archaeology Awards, voted for by the magazine readership.
But first things first. As usual, the conference talks were split into themed sessions on a roughly chronological timescale, and so Friday morning’s session was entitled ‘In Search of the Prehistoric‘, overseen and introduced by Julian Richards (of Meet the Ancesteors fame, a label he’ll never be rid of!) The session comprised of three talks, the first, by Dr Chantal Conneller, telling us about ‘Star Carr: throwing new light on early mesolithic settlement‘.
She described the work being done at Lake Fixton (location of Starr Carr), where the ‘lake’ is filled with peat, giving excellent preservation conditions. We heard how a hewn aspen log platform was uncovered in the 80′s and how the current excavations are hoping to answer some of the many outstanding questions before the site is lost as the peat dries out. Although Flixton is known as a mesolithic centre, it’s only the site at Star Carr itself that has so far produced such unique finds – the antler frontlets possibly being the best known. It’s now thought that these were possibly deposited in the lake, as a sign of respect or thanks to their prey. Feildwalking and test pitting has significantly extended the Starr Carr site, with evidence of occupation appearing well beyond the bounds of the original excavations. More antler frontlets have been found, along with a concentration of bone and lithic fragments, thought to be within a post built hut – possibly the earliest ‘house’ known in Britain! This leads to the idea that the site was used for much longer than first thought, possibly for (that word!) ritual use – a place people returned to again and again. Open days will be held throughout August this year at Flixton island, as Star Carr is on private land, and not accessible to the public at any time. It sounds like the Open Days will be well worth a visit. More information can be found on the project web site at www.starcarr.com and the excavation was covered in issue 282 of Current Archaeology magazine.
Professor Julian Thomas then told us about the ‘Halls and barrows on Dorstone Hill, Herefordshire‘, where early Neolithic enclosures and sites were identified from aerial photography. Excavations in the 90′s found a possible enclosure, but this latest dig showed burnt clay sealed under the turf, surrounded by a collapsed stone bank. On investigation, the bank had been revetted by a timber palisade. The mound was not defensive in nature, and the burnt clay (now found to be daub), suggested a a building burnt in situ. Further structural elements such as post holes flanking a central aisle were then found, suggesting a long hall. What seems to have been found was a hall, deliberately burnt, transforming a house of the living into a house of the dead. The resulting mound was then capped with turves, pined into place with stakes, the fabric of the previous building thus being incorporated into the long mound. A series of later stone cists were found on the north side suggesting later use of the earlier monument. Various stone tools; a stone arrowhead with impact damage, a stone axe head and flint tools have been found at various points on the site. It was evident that the site had been used, from the early Neolithic through to at least the early Bronze Age. More details of the excavation can be found in issue 285 of Current Archaeology magaine. Digging recommences in July, Open Days will be announced nearer the time.
To close off the prehistoric session, Dr Vicki Cummings then gave a fascinating talk about a personal favourite subject of mine: ‘Building the great dolmens of Britain and Ireland‘. Vicki’s talk focussed upon Portal Dolmens, very few of which have been excavated. Those which have have been dated to 4000-3000 BC, some of the first British monuments. Garn Turne was the focus of a case study, looking at how the dolmens would have been constructed, as this example is though to be incomplete, having collapsed during construction. See Current Archaeology issue 286 for details of the Garn Turne dig. The presentation included an impressive photo collection of portal dolmens. Many are found in Cornwall and Wales but by far the majority are in Ireland. The point was made that excavations of such monuments usually focus upon the chamber, and not so much on the portal entrance. Common points from all the examples: the capstones are important, in general, the smaller the capstone, the greater the angle. The capstones (anything up to 160 tons) are usually finely balanced upon no more than 3 uprights, the point of contact often being as small as 1 square cm. The question was asked about functionality. Are dolmens more about ‘ostentatious displays of large stones’ rather than creating chambers that can be used? Garn Turne suggested a quick guide to building a dolmen:
- Find an outcrop.
- Dig a pit around it. That’s the capstone!
- Shape the capstone (flatten the underside by tilting it to work the stone)
- Lift the capstone, using chocks.
- Replace supports with uprights.
Apart from a short announcement from Julian Richards about the upcoming Wessex Archaeological Field Academy (see the website coming soon), that was it for the first session of the day, a lot to take in, and time for a cup of tea.
The tea break was used to take a first look at this year’s ‘Archaeology Fair’, a selection of stalls from various archaeolgical suppliers. The bookstalls in particular proved very popular during all the breaks, and I spent far more than I had budgeted for across the two days.
The morning continued with the second session entitled ‘Researching Roman Britain‘, introduced by Matt Symonds. Neil Holbrook kicked off the session, with ‘Developer archaeology and the Romano-British countryside: a revolution in understanding‘. This talk looked at the breadth of Romano-British sites across the UK, pointing out that life c=should not be judged just by some 2000 Roman villas excavated so far – mainly concentrated in the south of the country. There were also over 100,000 farms across the length and breadth of the country populated by the other 98% of the population. The point was made that excavating a Roman site isn’t always a case of ‘remove the turf, find a mosaic’. Everyday life was much harsher than villa life. In the last 20 years there have been around 9000 rescue digs which have turned up something Roman, but there is often no time/resource to analyse these finds. The Roman Rural Settlement Project is now looking at the data from these rescue digs, with over 2100 sites recorded by the project to date. The project aim is to remap Roman Britain, showing the success of the Empire’s ‘British Project’, and making all information available on the Internet. LINK (Google ‘Roman Rural Settlement Project’)
Dr Miles Russell then took the stand to update us all about ‘The Durotriges Project: tribe and prejudice in later Iron Age Britain‘. The Durotriges were an archaeologically distinctive tribe, good for study with their unique coins, pottery and the fact that on the whole they buried their dead, rather than cremate. Mortimer Wheeler’s “war cemetery” with evidence of hasty interments got a mention, along with quotes from his archaeological report which read more like something from an adventure novel with their picturesque accounts of Roman attacks against Maiden Castle. With Niall Sharples suggesting (1991) that Maiden Castle may not have been a viable settlement when the Romans arrived, the project aims to re-evaluate and reassess the transition from a Durotrigan to Roman lifestyle, and was featured in Current Archaeology issue 281.
Finally, before breaking for lunch, Operation Nightingale discussed their work at Caerwent, ‘Romans, Rifles and recovery: Operation Nightingale excavations at Caerwent military training area‘. As with their previous presentations here, the talk was split, with Sgt Dairmaid Walshe outlining the Operation Nightingale’s importance as a recovery process for injured soldiers. The major project is based at Caerwent, and Phil Abramson told us a little about the site (which includes a scheduled monument) and how during the work the Process is as important as the Finds. The Process includes all aspects of the project, from planning through excavation to finds processing and post-ex documentation. Soldiers and civilian volunteers can be involved at all stages, which raised the thorny question: Community Archaeology, or cheap labour? There is no single answer to this, unfortunately, but the pendulum is swinging toward the former rather than the latter. Dave Hart, a former Lt Corporal then told us how he was wounded in Afghanistan, but also came to love archaeology in Kabul, and has been involved in 10 Operation Nightingale projects to date. You can read more about the project in Current Archaeology issue 282.
And so then we broke for lunch. Stay tuned for the next installment!