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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!
In the final part of our review of the past year here on the Heritage Journal, we look at some of the stories we covered from September through to December this year.
We continued our ‘Fascinating Facts’ series throughout the month, looking at dog kennels, four-posters, the folklore of the Stanton Drew area and asked “what is a henge?” One of our members also wrote about the Modern Megaliths of North Wales, following his recent trip there.
The plight of Oswestry was further discussed as we asked, “why build there?“, and published a guest blog from a local campaigner. Further south, Stonehenge continued to be in the news as the building of the Visitor Centre gathered pace toward the December opening.
Much the same stories continued throughout October. On the planning front, Owen Patterson displayed a remarkable amount of ‘front’, by suggesting a kind of ‘Heritage Offset‘ scheme for builders and planners. This prompted a guest article from another of our readers. Even the Chairman of the National Trust got into the act! And this in a month when hundreds of ancient sites were rediscovered, thanks to LIDAR. Of course, we couldn’t mention planning without returning to the Oswestry Hillfort story once again.
In terms of Community involvement, statistics showed the true impact of the budget cuts, and we commented on English Heritage’s volunteer recruitment plans and the HLF award to the CBA for Community Archaeology Training Placements.
meanwhile, on one of our regular trips to Cornwall, we reported on three ‘on the ground’ projects there. Firstly, the work being done to reinstate a fallen monument at Carwynnen, then attempts by volunteers to clear up a lesser known site, the Mulfra Courtyard Houses. Finally, we drew attention to some serious neglect issues at the Men an Tol and nearby sites, which are being tracked in detail by the Save Penwith Moors group.
With the (food) harvest safely gathered, it was time for another harvest to begin in earnest, with metal detectorists out in force. We pointed out another ‘Embarrassing Inconsistency‘, showed that our own Artefact Erosion Counter is wrong, and pointed out why we think artefact hunting is so wrong.
The month started off with our most read post ever. Indeed, on the day it was briefly the most read WordPress.com posting in Britain, which apparently upset one of our webmaster colleagues. We can’t think why!
Over in Wales, we returned again to the Mynydd y Betws story, and whilst a lot of media fuss was made of a new Archwilio Android App, we pointed out some deficiencies which should really have been addressed before its release.
And so to December. The Oswestry planning issue was still looming large so a local author took to our pages with an important question to start the month, and our own Sue Brooke gave an indication of what the future may hold for Oswestry. We could only await the outcome with bated breath.
With English Heritage’s fate seemingly sealed by a new funding deal, we tried to summarise and interpret what those closest to the deal were saying.
The Stonehenge opening went well by all accounts, though the impending ‘advance booking’ requirements drew some adverse comments. We were concerned for some regular inhabitants of the stones, and also about the ongoing suggestion that EH want to continue to press for a tunnel.
In an attempt to look forward rather than back as the year draws to it’s final end, as far as metal detecting is concerned, there appears to be a faint chink of light in the far distance. What will the future bring I wonder, for those of us with an interest in, and concern for, the distant past?
That’s it for another year. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the variety of news that we’ve covered during the year, and that you’ll stick with us for another year of news and views on heritage matters. If there’s a particular subject you’d like to see covered, or if you’d like to contribute to the Heritage Journal in any way, please feel free to get in touch with us – the link is there on the menu bar. We look forward to hearing from you.
If you’re out celebrating tonight, enjoy yourself but stay safe: don’t drink and drive!
We continue our look at the past year here on the Heritage Journal, highlighting some of the stories we’ve covered.
We started the month examining the looming crisis of storage of archaeological finds, and some of the less pleasant aspects of being a Finds Liaison Officer. On a lighter note, we exposed some of the absurd and sometimes hilarious spam comments we’ve received on the site.
We hit the road this month and took drives around the Home Counties and looked at some Wessex Hillforts, the latter inspired by our earlier ‘Guess the Hillfort‘ competition. We also suggested 5 Ideas for School Trips.
This month was a cause for some celebration here at the Heritage Journal, as it was our 10th birthday, and as (mostly) unqualified amateurs, we gave a consumer’s view of the value of public engagement. Some aspects of that engagement were highlighted through the month: An opportunity to take part in a geofizz survey in Hertfordshire, visit a dig at Avebury, and to provide feedback to English Heritage about some experimental archaeology at Sarum.
In Ireland, we heard of damage to a ring fort, and the failure of the commercial archaeology model over there. Elsewhere, we once again implored people not to climb on Silbury Hill and pointed out a Russian initiative to increase fines for heritage damage.
We started the month looking at the relative punishments for heritage crime, and the reasons for them, before reviewing a couple of particular aspects of the new Planning Guidance for Renewable Energy.
Out and about, we revisited Mynydd y Betws once more, and paid visits to the Norton Henge dig and to the site of the Staffordshire Hoard. Our new occasional series of ‘Fascinating Facts‘ also began this month, with a look at Zennor Quoit.
To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.
In attempting to establish something of a December tradition here on the Heritage Journal, we once again take a look back at the past year. Once again, the year has had it’s ebbs and flows in what has been a very bad year generally for the heritage sector, with budget cuts very much the order of the day, and seemingly still ongoing.
So what did we highlight, month by month?
It wouldn’t be a new year without resolutions, so we listed some of ours which others may have liked to follow. But we began the year by discussing two prominent threats to buried archaeology: deep-seeking detectors (a theme we were to return to throughout the year) and bracken control.
A holiday in Cornwall allowed us to catch up with goings on down there, with updates on an archaeology experiment, and the need for education. We also started a series which was to continue throughout the year, of ‘Postcards from a World Heritage Site‘, focussing on stories from Stonehenge and Avebury.
Our popular ‘Inside the Mind‘ features continued sporadically throughout the year, but an attempt at a similar series showing the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officers sadly came to naught.
We began celebrating the birthdays of various antiquarians throughout the year, starting with William Borlase. We also gave a (very brief) history of archaeology in Britain, and a guest post showed how one county is tackling the regular inspection of its ancient monuments.
The damage caused by metal detectorists is never far from our thoughts, and a TV series glorifying finds was particularly upsetting. Another guest post showed the desecration of a wedge tomb in Ireland being used as an outhouse!
Meanwhile in Wales, the ongoing story of the archaeological issues at the Mynydd y Betws windfarm continued. And we began a look at the Caerau hillfort, subject of a Time Team program, from the viewpoint of one of our newer members, Sue Brooke.
Many of the stories above continued throughout March, with bracken control, Caerau hillfort and Mynydd y Betws all receiving ongoing updates. Referring to the situation at Mynydd y Betws, we reflected on similar monumental settings on Dartmoor and showed that the battle for preservation of ‘setting’ is far from over.
Who says we don’t have an effect, no matter how small? April started by pointing out an outrageous rule on a metal detecting club’s website, a rule that was suddenly changed (for the better) the very next day!
We finished off the month with a peek ‘Inside the Mind’ of Sue Greaney, of English Heritage.
To be continued in Part 2, tomorrow…
And so we come to the last part of our review of the Current Archaeology Live conference, held earlier this month in London’s Senate House.
The after-lunch session is usually regarded as a bit of a ‘graveyard shift’ (a wrong choice of words possibly, given the subject matter of many of this year’s talks), but everyone was attentive on return from lunch on the second day for what was possibly the most keenly anticipated talk by many of the whole conference.
Session 7. From Medieval to Early Modern
Richard Buckley, fresh from having been presented the award for Research Project of the Year the previous evening, took a spellbound audience through “Leicester’s Greyfriars and the Search for Richard III“, a subject that by now doubtless needs little introduction or review, having been the subject of several TV and radio programs, and multitudinous magazine and web articles. Richard’s now famous quote at the start of the dig, “I’ll eat my hat if we find Richard III” symbolised the fact that the actual hope of finding him was a very long shot. The initial appeal of the opportunity to dig at Greyfriars was the chance to survey the lost friary. To set context, Richard gave a timeline of Richard III’s movements, leading up to the Battle of Bosworth and discussed the sources of detail about his grisly end. Looking at maps of the Greyfriars area, only 14% of the site was undeveloped and potentially available for excavation, and two overlapping trenches were decided upon. Bones were uncovered within the first 5m of trench 1, but covered over again until the location and orientation of the church could be identified. A third trench identified the choir, and the bones were further investigated. Curvature of the spine was a strong clue, and RC14 dating was close to the required date. Skeletal details showed a slight build, of immediately indeterminate gender, but wounds (fatal and non-fatal) which matched the historical sources. Due process was followed, and DNA matching with two identified descendants took identification to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ level. Cue hat-eating activities!
You had to feel a little sorry for Heather Knight, up next to tell us about the Curtain Playhouse in London, having to follow such a stunning tale. But she started by comparing today’s Shoreditch, a hotbed of art and creativity, with the same area in Shakespeare’s time. All performance was banned in the City of London in the 16th century, and as ever, space was at a premium within the walls hence the theatres on the outskirts: “the original ‘fringe theatres’”. Heather gave some background to the style of Elizabethan theatres and their construction and usage. It’s possible that the Curtain, sister/overflow venue for the nearby The Theatre, saw the first performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V in 1599 – the “wooden ‘O’” mentioned in the Prologue. Whilst the rough location of the Curtain was known – even today the road is called Curtain Road – all physical traces were thought to have vanished. But when the area was marked for development, the archaeologists moved in. The first discovery was 19C cobbles – a good sign as this meant no 19C basements! They then found asymmetric load bearing walls, indicating a round building some 22m across – typical Playhouse style. Also uncovered within the narrow trench was a floor made of sheep bones. Apparently common and hard-wearing. Much of the archaeology is 2.5m below current ground level, so it is hoped more is preserved in situ below the Horse and Groom pub for future archaeologists to investigate further.
To close off this session, Pieta Greaves told us a little about her role as a Conservator on the Staffordshire Hoard, with some stunning closeup photographs of the intricate designs. Sadly, as the hoard was discovered by a Metal Detectorist, there were absolutely no clues as to it’s context, just some 205 bags of gold, silver and glass pieces. Many of the pieces were so brittle that thorns were used to clean them, rather than the more usual cocktail sticks or scalpels, to avoid damaging the fragile surfaces of the gold. It is hoped that chemical analysis of the alloys and adhesives may help identify a workshop for some of the pieces, and thus provide some context but there are too many outstanding questions, and of course, pieces are still being illegally removed up from the original site, (as we highlighted recently) which police are aware of and are investigating.
After a short question time for the session, a tea break was more than welcome before the final session of the conference.
Session 8. Operation Nightingale: Injured soldiers on the road to recovery.
Surgeon Commodore Peter Buxton introduced a short film about Operation Nightingale (ON) excavations at Caerwent and explained that the project uses archaeological fieldwork to help the recovery of wounded servicemen returning from Afghanistan. Phil Harding (CA Archaeologist of the Year) is Honorary President but Peter explained with a smile that “rumours I told the soldiers to vote for him are untrue!” He went on to explain that many MOD sites (10 World heritage Sites, 800 listed buildings, 734 Scheduled Ancient Monuments in their care) are so well protected that they contain some amazing archaeology. Many of the soldiers involved in ON have moved on to study archaeology on a full-time basis as a result of the project. The first dig for the project was Chissenbury Midden, a 3m deep Bronze Age deposit threatened by badgers. Examining the throw resulted in up to 25kg of pottery sherds, without any excavation (“the post-ex costs would have bankrupted us!”). The success of the project was summed up in the example of a soldier, mute for 4 months following injury, who started speaking whilst sorting pottery on the project. It was explained that many soldiers’ injuries, mental or physical, may not necessarily be ‘visible’ injuries but all must be rehabilitated in their own ways. Whilst the focus is on the healing process, some good archaeological work is also being done by the unit; Caerwent Roman villa and Barrow Clump Saxon cemetery (featured in a Time Team Special) were honorable mentions here. One questioner asked “are results published, or is it a military secret?” The reply was that work will be published as it’s all part of the archaeology.
But all too soon, it was time for closing comments from both Matthew Symonds, CA editor and Andrew Selkirk, editor in chief and founder of the magazine. And that was it for another year.
There were some trips organised to visit the St Mary Spital Charnel House and also the Billingsgate Bathhouse on the Sunday, but I didn’t attend these, so cannot report on them here.
Was the conference a success? Judging from the increase in attendance figures from last year, and the reactions on Twitter and Facebook I’d have to say positively yes, and I personally am already looking forward to next year’s event, although whether the Senate House will be large enough is open to debate. Book early to avoid disappointment, as they say…
Current Archaeology Live is an event hosted annually by Current Archaeology magazine since 2008, and incorporating the Current Archaeology Awards. Again, as last year, I attended and live-tweeted the event.
After a full first day, attendees arriving at Senate House found the entrance they had been told to use for Day Two was off limits – the Muppets were filming in the building for the day! So a quick leg stretch was required to circumnavigate the building to an alternate entrance. Despite this, the conference timetable was adhered to – kudos to the organisers.
Session 5. The Making of Medieval England
After a recap of last year’s award winners, Duncan Sayer started the day, taking us through Anglo-Saxon Oakington, northernmost of a cluster of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in Cambridgeshire. Analysis of the graves showed no patterning according to age or gender, but there were lots of children interred. One couple buried together were shown – she was much the taller of the two, so much so that her knees were bent to fit her into the grave cut. However, analysis of finds showed a pattern of clusters of long and round brooches, suggesting two separate plots. Amusingly, two horse burials were uncovered, until one was found to have horns! A woman buried with a cow was a first.
Alexandra Knox then took us through the recent excavations at Lyminge in Kent, site of an Anglo-Saxon Timber Hall. A monastic abbey site, previous excavations have identified two distinct phases of occupation in the area, with no overlap. Evidence from excavated Sunken Floored Buildings (SFBs) shows that the area was important prior to the estalishment of the abbey there. The big find of the 2012 season though was the Great Hall, of double plank in trench construction and preliminarily dated to around AD600. Christianisation of the area is reflected in both the settlement shift and the diet – from mostly pigs to mainly sheep/goat, though over 10000 fish bones have been uncovered, some 10 miles from the (then) coast. Other finds have identified Middle Saxon Lyminge as a centre of production. Textiles, metalworking, bone working etc.
Finally for this session, Neil Faulkner returned to the stage, taking as his subject ‘Monarchy, Church and Great Estate, the making and remaking of an Anglo-Saxon village’ – Sedgeford. Neil made the point that while with Roman sites it’s easy to identify their function: town, fort, villa etc., no such typology exists for Anglo-Saxon sites. What is a monastery, what does a manor look like? He then discussed how far the social structures described in Anglo-Saxon written sources can be seen in archaeology. Sedgeford is a long term investigation of settlement and land use, for instance: Middle A-S Sedgeford is mainly located south of the river, with Medieval Sedgford to the north. Why the move? Many questions still unanswered, though the impact of the creation of petty kingdoms etc. needs to be considered – dynamism of society reflected in the archaeology?
After such a thoughtful talk to close the session, it was time for a coffee break and more browsing round the Fair stalls looking for some bargains.
Session 6. A Tale of Two Cities: Pompeii and Herculaneum
The World Archaeology session returned to Roman matters with three talks covering “two ordinary towns with a spectacular end”. Paul Roberts of the British Museum was up first to introduce the upcoming exhibition on the two cities, “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”, which promises to ‘provide vivid insights into ordinary Roman life’. Pompeii had a population of between 12-15000, Herculaneum was smaller. Up to 50% of the population of Herculaneum were of slave origin. The exhibition focuses on the home; for instance, a fresco of a baker and his wife was shown where she holds a stylus and tablet appears to show her doing the accounts for the family business. Many other images were shown in a slide show, including how a large mosaic had to be tilted to fit through the doors of the museum for the exhibition, and a bronze statue of Empress Livia squeezed through with just 2cm to spare. Tricky stuff. The exhibition reminds us that the artefacts aren’t just objects, they were someone’s possessions, like the carbonised baby’s wooden cradle, and the carbonised table that also appears in a wall fresco.
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill then guided us through Herculaneum, where just 5 hectares have been excavated to date, about a tenth of the area dug so far at Pompeii. Although both cities were wiped out by the volcanic eruption, there were doomed in different ways. Pompeii was suffocated by the initial ash, but Herculaneum was covered by the pyroclastic flows. Different ends, different effects (the organic material was preserved much better in Herculaneum), and different excavation methods are required for a total of ’450 million truckloads’ of material covering the two cities. In Pompeii, pumice pebbles can be excavated, but Herculaneum is covered in solid rock. Much more difficult to excavate! But Herculaneum is in decline through neglect – hence the Herculaneum Conservation Project, but water management is a big problem, with regular flooding so reconstructing the drains is important as the Romans knew how to keep their city dry.
Sarah Court then took to the stage, all the way from Italy, to tell us more about the outreach aspects of the Conservation Project. The excavations initially created generations of local employment, but the area around Herculaneum is now very poor with high unemployment and very little tourism so far. The Project is involving the local community again, giving them a sense of pride and ownership in an area that could again be engulfed by another eruption at any time! Many locals feel that tourism is the only hope for their town, and local schoolchildren are being used as ‘ambassadors’, in a ‘peer learning’ scheme.
The session was closed with a Q&A section, where debate centred around the possible ‘Disneyfication’ of the area and moves to prevent this happening whilst still providing a sustainable future for the region. After which, the conference broke off for lunch before the final sessions of the two day event…
To Be Continued.
We continue our review of this year’s Current Archaeology Live conference, held on March 1-2 at Senate House, in London.
After a pleasant lunch in the cafe in the park at Russell Square, I returned to the melee at the Archaeology Fair. The second-hand bookstall was proving popular, as were all the other stalls ranged around the room. But all too soon the bell summoned us back to the lecture room for the afternoon sessions.
Session 3. Researching Roman Britain
Now, I’m far from being a Romanist – it’s all far too modern for me! – but I found much of interest in this session. Are those damn Romans assimilating me into their empire? Matt Symonds was certainly in raptures during this session!
First up was Keith Parfitt, from Canterbury Archaeology Trust, to tell us about a Rescue Dig at Folkestone Villa. The villa was first excavated by Winbolt in the 1920′s and last dug in 1957 when it was backfilled. The site is now in danger from coastal erosion – where it was recorded as far as 200 feet from the cliff edge, parts are no more than 8 feet from the edge! As Keith said, “cliffs don’t crumble, they go in chunks”, so the next collapse will likely take some of the villa with it. It’s possible the villa may once have been a trading post, as much as half-a mile inland. There have been some fascinating finds, both at the site and at the bottom of the cliff on the shoreline below, including a beautiful Iron Age gold coin – a photo of which drew gasps from the audience, and a lovely signet ring gem, found trodden into the gravel in the yard of the villa.
Andrew Birley then attempted to summarise 5 years work at Vindolanda in 25 minutes… Vindolanda contains a long sequence of forts on a single site – as many as 11 – with other forts nearby too, so an impossible task to fit it all in, but he made a brave attempt. The last 5 years have concentrated on the 3rd century site, where two pieces of painted glass, excavated in different areas of the site were found to fit together perfectly. Amazing stuff. Many of the finds at Vindolanda are so well preserved because of its isolation – there were no medieval settlements here to rob out the stone, although some Saxon strap ends built into the fabric of the wall indicate the length of the occupation. One sombre find was the grave of a murdered Roman child, born in North Africa and buried under the garrison floor. Among other finds have been some pieces matching parts of the Crosby Garrett helmet – suggesting mass-production of components?
To finish the session, Ian Haynes told us about recent work at Maryport, Cumbria. In particular looking at new ideas about the largest collection of Roman altars in Britain and a reappraisal of the 1870 pit discoveries. It is now felt that the altars were not ritually buried as originally thought, but may have been used to support the timber posts of later buildings.
Session 4. Keynote Speaker
After a tea break, Neil Faulkner introduced the Keynote Speaker, Martin Carver (who has previously featured in our Inside the Mind series). Martin’s talk, entitled ‘Around the World with a Pointed Trowel’ took us on a whirlwind tour of archaeological digs in different countries: Turkey, Senegal, Sweden, Iceland, Cambodia, Japan etc. showing that different terrains can’t be excavated by standard means and techniques. Each site has unique problems to overcome, such as the comparison of excavation techniques used for permafrost versus a jungle terrain or the use of ‘CSI archaeology’ to analyse chemical properties of soil to identify the usage of different parts of a site. Moving on to talk about the social context and problems of looting, local communities need to feel important to value their heritage and stop looting. Closing thoughts from Martin Carver: every site has its own personality. ‘Design, not dogma, is what makes archaeology happen,’ and ‘Local archaeological societies are local experts and must be included in archaeology design’.
After a short break, during which everyone decanted into the Fair hall, it was time for the awards. Firstly the World Archaeology Photo of the Year winner was announced: Sophie Hay was the worthy winner.
Then a special award, The Royal Archaeological Institute presented a special award for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, for the best report on archaeological achievements in the last 60 years. The worthy winners were Cornwall Archaeological Society, for their work at Carn Brea.
The Current Archaeology Awards, voted for by the magazine readership were then presented. The winners were as follows:
- Book of the Year: Roman Camps in Britain, by Rebecca Jones
- Rescue Dig of the Year: Folkstone: Roman Villa or Iron Age oppidum?
- Research Project of the year: Richard III: The search for the last Plantagenet king.
- Archaeologist of the Year: Phil Harding
The awards were in the form of flint arrowheads, which particularly pleased that well known knapper, Phil Harding
And that was that. Drinks and nibbles were accompanied by some wonderful medieval music by Duo Parva Antiqua as the first day of the conference came to a close. Back tomorrow for more!
To Be Continued.