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We continue our review of Current Archaeology magazine’s annual ‘CALive!’ conference held recently in Senate House in London, picking up the action after lunch on the first day.

CALive2014

The afternoon session on Friday was dedicated to Current Archaeology’s sister magazine, World Archaeology, and was introduced by Caitlin McCall, editor of the magazine. The session was titled ‘Around the Ancient World’, and looked at how the movement of people in three areas at different times affected three very different civilisations.

Prof. Sir Barry Cunliffe first told us of ‘The Birth of Eurasia’, pointing out that humans are acquisitive, items can instil power, and explaining how acquisition of items is motivation to travel. His talk took us from the spread of Neolithic settled culture from the Fertile Crescent, through to seeing horses being milked in Mongolia! The tectonics and ecology of Eurasia encourage E-W mobility, but early eastern civilisations were constrained by ecology, leading to the quote “Domestication of horses on the Steppe was more important than man walking on the moon!” This eventually led to a predatory nomad culture (viz. Ghenghis Khan) and the development of the Silk Road for trade.

Professor Ray Laurence then spoke about ‘Roman Roads: Movement, Migration and Mobility’, and how one of his students attempted to walk from Canterbury to Rome, finding that the Alps are a major obstacle! Any mobility in Roman times required the appropriate infrastructure; roads, bridges, milestones etc. We heard about the huge increase in the population of Rome between 200BC and 50BC, with Livy reporting huge numbers of migrants in 186BC. Roman roads were famed from the earliest times, and material culture and ideas can be traced expanding along their routes, with many roads showing signs (e.g. Milestone inscriptions) of having been ‘restored’ rather than ‘built’ – a strong indicator of their great age. The roads were as important to the Roman State as money, temples etc, in controlling who could go where, with many stopping places reserved for use by high ranking officials only.

Andrew Robinson then highlighted one of the great ‘lost’ civilisations, that of the Indus Valley. We learned that the civilisation flourished from 3000BC and started to decline around 1900BC. Alexander the Great was not aware of the civilisation, and it was not really known to archaeology until the 1920s, despite covering an area equivalent to 25% of Western Europe. The site at Mohenjo-Daro was shown, including pictures of the ‘Great Bath’ – a huge public water tank over 2 metres deep. The culture was very different from Egypt and Mesopotamia, there were no pyramids or statues, but many spectacular buildings survive. They were mainly a water-borne trading people, with connections to Mesopotamia. Climate change is one possibility for their decline, and flooding in the area is still a problem today. Salination is slowly destroying the brickwork on many sites.

During the coffee break we had time to take another look around the Archaeology Fair which included bookstalls and other archaeology related companies. Oxbow Books had arranged a display which included the nominations for the Current Archaeology Book of the Year award (of which more tomorrow).

BookoftheYear

It was then time for the Keynote speech from Prof. Mike Fulford of Reading University, ‘Silchester after the Town Life project: chasing the Iron Age, chasing Nero’, which began by taking a look at the Iron Age town discovered below Insula IX at Silchester. The town is situated in a rural setting, but as we were told, it had far reaching trade connections as a home of the Atrebates, who originated in NW Gaul. We then saw some of the finds from the area, including some stunning imported glassware, and were told about the ongoing research in the area. Gravel pits associated with the town’s construction have been found to the west, and we heard about excavations last year at nearby Pond Farm. Nero was next, and his connection with the town is due to discovery of his name on some bricks. The only other known ‘Nero bricks’ are in Northern Italy – the bricks at Silchester are unique in Britain. Returning to Silchester, plans are afoot to excavate part of Insula III – previous excavations there did not match the plans drawn up by Victorian diggers at all, so many questions remain.

There was a brief Q&A session for Mike, but time caught us all up, and it was soon time to move across the hallway for the Reception and Awards ceremony. Check back tomorrow to read about the winners.

Current Archaeology magazine’s annual ‘CALive!’ conference recently returned to Senate House in London and the Heritage Journal was there throughout, assisting in live Tweeting the event once again.

CALive

As in previous years, the two days of the conference were split into 3 sessions each, with a Keynote speech and the Awards ceremony on the Friday. Traditionally, the conference opens with a specifically prehistoric flavour and this year’s ‘In Search of the Prehistoric’, introduced as usual by Julian Richards did not disappoint, although there was a slight hiccough when the first scheduled speaker of the session, Dr Francis Pryor, was held up due to transportation issues.

Last minute preparations!

Last minute preparations!

A minor reshuffle of the schedule saw Dr Lindsey Büster from the University of Bradford open by telling us about her work with ‘Ancestral Homes: the Late Iron Age Roundhouses at Broxmouth, SE Scotland’. An intriguing site, covering almost 800 years of occupation, with stone-built roundhouses which pre-date the Roman era by some time. Indeed, we were told that at Broxmouth, “roundhouses come in all shapes and sizes”. Looking at one house in particular, it seems to have been built in 5 separate stages, each stage being built on (and inside?) the last, reducing living space at each stage. Interestingly, it seems that similar artefacts were deposited in the same relative locations throughout the life of the house, providing continuity of curated items and imbuing the houses with their own biographies.

Mark Knight, from the Cambridge Archaeology Unit then regaled us with a series of images from the treasure that is unfolding at Must Farm. He began by giving an idea of the depth of stratigraphy there – the river course is a *long* way beneath current ground level, with over 2 metres of sediment being removed before finds began to become apparent. The finds were accidental, as the site is being quarried for clay for a brickworks, and is downstream of the log boats found a few years ago. An entire settlement burned, and was buried in the river, almost intact. ‘The Pompeii of the Fens’ as it’s been tagged. The current jewel in the crown is a recently uncovered wheel, almost complete, with axle. As Mark stated, “The more we dig, the more we look, the more we find” – there’s obviously much more to come from this enticing site.

Francis Pryor having arrived, he began his talk, ‘Flag Fen: Pegging down the enigma of ritual’ by stating that “Must Farm is the most important excavation in this century and the last”. A bold claim! He then made an impassioned plea for scheduled protection to be given not only to monuments, but to the landscape they sit in. Monuments are only part of the story! He told us how his practical experience of farming helped to understand the landscape of the Fens, and how the conventional view that as the fens were inundated the people retreated to dry land is now coming into question with the ‘post alignments’ at Flag Fen and Must Farm showing that navigation was possible across the flooded landscape, and probably organised by a central ‘committee’ who controlled timber supply etc.

After coffee and a quick first look around the Archaeology Fair, the second session kicked off with Neil Holbrook  of Cotswold Archaeology entertaining us with the story of how he invited a live BBC crew to the lifting of a ‘lump of stone’ found in a Roman cemetery under excavation in Cirencester. The stone turned out to be an inscribed memorial to ‘Bodicacia’, a possibly ‘celtic’/ British name. Other similar examples exist across Europe, but this was a somewhat unique find in Britain. The carving was poorly laid out and possibly incomplete. A depiction of Oceanus on the tombstone had the face deliberately damaged. The tombstone covered the body of a 45 year old man. This prompted Neil to speculate that it may have been a later burial which didn’t want to be associated with a pagan god’s face? It was a fascinating story.

Ben Ford was next, to tell us about ‘Excavating an Urban Friary at Westgate, Oxford‘. After setting the scene with the topology of Oxford, we were shown the footings of some massive walls, almost 2 metres thick. Surprisingly, below this were found oak timbers – an earlier timber framed structure – so much timber if fact that it could not all be stored. It was all recorded on site though, and a sample amount retained for further study. A quantity of lovely Romanesque Norman carvings were also found, but most of this stonework had been robbed away. There were some nicely preserved ovens in the kitchen area though, and some finds included a crucifix and a pilgrim’s badge. This was a popular dig, with a 6-hour Open Day attracting more than 200 visitors! A free exhibition about the dig is currently on in the Oxford Town Hall until 23rd April.

More timbers next, but of a different kind as Dan Atkinson  explained ‘The Investigation of Re-used Ship Timbers in the Wheelwright’s Shop in Chatham Historic Dockyard‘. This project has been running on and off for over 20 years now. In 1995 the building at the dockyard was due to be reused for another purpose and the floor layers were recorded – 169 timbers reused from a large ship were found. Many marks were found on the timbers, including numbers that might represent hammock stations, raising many questions which only now are being answered. A large proportion of the marks identified the timbers’ management, stock checking, and use, providing an insight into life in the dockyard. Painstaking checking of naval records and comparison with recorded evidence of repairs to the wheelwright’s shop strongly points to the timbers coming from HMS Namur, built and eventually broken up at Chatham, and Dan took us through some of the historical associations of the ship. For instance, HMS Namur fought in the 7 Years and Napoleonic Wars, and was captained by Jane Austen’s brother. Full details of the discovery of the timbers can be found in Current Archaeology issue 273 .

Finally, taking us up to lunch, Ronan Toolis told us about ‘A Dark Age Legacy Rescued from Obscurity: Excavating Trusty’s Hill, Galloway’. Trusty’s Hill is a fort, and a high status secular site – with an enigmatic rock cut basin containing some intriguing Pictish carvings found way outside their usual catchment area, and also an outcrop with a footprint cut into it. Along with a series of finds including clay moulds, Continental pottery and high status metalwork, all the evidence suggests this was a high status early medieval royal site. An excavation report will be published later in 2016 by Oxbow Books.

Browsing one of the bookstalls during lunch at CALive!16

Browsing one of the bookstalls during lunch at CALive!16

We’ll take a break ourselves now, and continue in the next part of this report, later today.

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