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.

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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).

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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.