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We conclude our look at Current Archaeology magazine’s recent annual ‘CALive!’ conference at Senate House in London, with a review of the final sessions on Saturday.

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After lunch, there were just two sessions left of this year’s conference, and it had gone all too quickly. The next session was entitled ‘Experiments in Archaeology’ and was presented by Karly Hilts, Deputy Editor of Current Archaeology magazine.

Ryan Watts from Butser Ancient Farm was first up, talking about ‘Past, Present, Future: 40 Years of Experimental Archaeology’, and gave us a quick run down of Butser’s 42 year history. Initially set up by Peter Reynolds to aid research in archaeological interpretation of earthworks and other constructions, the first Open Day was held in 1974, and was so successful that the entire site had to move to a new, larger location. As funding for experimental projects can be scarce, Butser worked to become self sustaining, largely through an education program which now sees around 30,000 schoolchildren pass through its gates each year. Visiting groups from schools, universities, U3A, WI etc all help to fund the research, which is as much about destruction as it is construction. The way in which buildings deteriorate and collapse over time can be extremely informative. The original prehistoric scope of the project has now extended to include construction of a Roman villa, and a new Saxon Hall was completed just the day before the conference. This joins the existing Neolithic houses, based upon excavated building footprints from Durrington and elsewhere. Education and Research remain the main principles behind the site, and public visitors are welcome during the summer months.

Pieta Greaves and Eleanor Blakelock then gave an update on their latest findings in ‘Secrets of the Anglo-Saxon Goldsmith: Conservation and Scientific Research of the Staffordshire Hoard’. Pieta showed us some stunning pictures of some of the more than 4000 pieces representing a few hundred objects. The use of many of the fragments remains a mystery. “Reconstructing a helmet from its foils is like reconstructing a house when you only have its wallpaper”. Eleanor then gave an in-depth insight into the scientific analysis of the gold in the objects. Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths added copper and silver to their gold to create alloys – to change its working properties and colour, and these alloys corrode at different rates. Copper in particular will be lost in the ground, but surface analysis showed that much silver was lost too – up to 40% in some cases, where 1% is more usual in a burial environment. Looking below this surface loss, the core composition of some pieces showed a similar depletion, so obviously not something that happened in the ground. Investigation into the ways that silver can be removed from gold alloys in this way led to just 4 possible techiniques for enrichment and depletion. It seems that the A-S goldsmiths were more highly skilled that previously thought, using the different alloy combinations not for the cost factor, but to produce contrast in an artistic manner.

Zena Kamash was next on the agenda, with a talk entitled ‘Digesting the Romans’. no, this wasn’t about Roman menus, but about 3D printing and a project to help people experience museum exhibitions in different ways – through poetry and through 3D models!  The 3D process involves first laser-scanning an object to build up a digital model which can then be ‘printed’ using a variety of materials. This prompted a question of whether 3D models belong in museum display cases at all – there are several famous replica objects in museums already, but the team recently 3D printed the Roman cockerel found in a child grave at Cirencester – the ‘Corinium Cockerel‘  with mixed results – the final model is quite ‘sticky’ and malleable in places, and brittle in others. 3D printing is not yet a perfect process – dirt on a laser scan resulted in several imperfect models being produced., and several of these aborted attempts were available during the following teabreak for people to handle for themselves. To go along with the images of the cockerel and the models, a poem composed by poet Dan Simpson was played to the audience, and the talk finished with another of Dan’s poems, ‘The Museum of Replicas‘, which caused some amusement, and took us into the final tea break and a last chance to spend money on books in the Archaeology Fair.

coriniumcockerel

Following the teabreak, Julian Richards, Neil Faulkner and Ray Baldry briefly took to the stage to announce that the impromptu collection for the Sedgeford project, to allow for isotope analysis of some of the remains to determine if they were local, settlers or invaders had raised (including Gift Aid) a sum approaching £1000, which was duly presented to Ray Baldy who expressed his extreme gratitude to everyone who had contributed. A very successful crowdfunding effort, and we look forward to reading about the results of the analysis in a future issue of Current Archaeology magazine!

crowdfunding

The last session of the day finally arrived, and David Breeze told us about ‘Hadrian’s Wall – 40 years of research on the Roman frontier’. David began with a quick rundown of early research of Hadrian’s Wall, through the 1800s and early 1900’s. The first chronology for the wall was proposed in 1909, and refined twenty years later.  These early chronologies suggested that the wall was rebuilt in it’s entirety several times during its active life. Showing several illustrations of the wall, David questioned why it was so ‘tidy’, and why was there a walkway on top when other frontiers walls didn’t have this feature? Looking at modern frontiers and barriers, the Berlin Wall, the West Bank etc., these are all much simpler in construction and designed to control people, not soldiers. Documented evidence suggests people could only move within the  Roman frontier zones with permits. Identification of obstacle pits between the wall and ditch (also seen at the Antonine Wall) brings into question whether a wall walk was needed at all, and looking at the wall’s place in the landscape, it’s not always best placed for visibility or defence. Looking at the forts along the wall, many are earlier than the wall itself which was then built in front of the older forts, with new forts incorporated into it. Discovery of large civil settlements on either side of the wall also suggest that the wall was not a definitive barrier, leaving – as always – many questions still to investigate and answer.

Ending the conference, Andrew Selkirk, Editor in Chief regaled us with a brief summary of the previous two days in his own inimitable style. Then it was all over, for another year. However, for the Romanists there will be another 3-day conference in September at Durham University, following up on David’s talk and focusing upon ‘Hadrian’s Wall: 40 Years of Frontier Research’.

But I’ll hope to be back again at Senate House next year, for another enthralling conference, CALive! 2017

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We continue our look at Current Archaeology magazine’s recent annual ‘CALive!’ conference at Senate House in London, with a review of the Saturday sessions.

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We reconvened at Senate House once again on Saturday morning for the first session of the day, ‘The Osteology of Trauma’, introduced by Neil Faulkner, editor of Military History Monthly magazine.

First up was Ray Baldry with ‘Sedgeford’s Anglo-Saxon skeletons – That Fateful Day’.  Only around 30% of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Sedgeford has been excavated so far, with over 400 skeletons found. Eight of these – all tall, strong men – show signs of ‘severe hit trauma’ and wounds associated with armed combat – sharp weapon trauma to arms bones and skull. One poor victim had lost the left half of his face, which had been cleaved off – horrific, brutal injuries. Looking at a second group of three men, it was interesting to hear how trauma fractures can be traced to specific defensive actions (identified by some experimental archaeology: “when I tried this on my son…”) For instance, forearm trauma associated with a partial skull cut shows a successful defence of an axe attack, but only partially – a second axe cut pierced the skull. But some of the skeletons showed no sign of defence – executions? If so, which came first, the conflict or the executions? Trying to analyse trading routes and possible Viking raiding parties as an explanation requires more precise dating evidence, but as a charity the SHARP project is financially constrained (however, see below).

Louise Loe then told us about the Ridgeway Hill Vikings in ‘Death on the Ridgeway: Analysis of a Viking Age Mass Grave discovered near Weymouth’.  The grave was uncovered in 2009 during construction work for a relief road built for the 2012 Olympics. The burials were all male, mostly young, dating to the 10th-11th centuries. All had been decapitated and thrown into a disused Roman quarry, the heads being tossed to one side. Splinters of bone found in the soil suggest graveside executions. Isotope analysis shows they were from Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland and the Baltic states, and hadn’t been in England long when they died. Study of the bones showed an average of four wounds per execution victim, most beheadings having been ‘hacked off’, rather than taken cleanly. There was some thought given to the idea that the cleaner executions in  the group were either done earlier when the blade was sharp, or later when the executioner had had more practice and had ‘got into his swing’. Many of the men had put up a defence, with sword trauma on hands and arms, and many of the victims had disabilities or some form of  physical impairment. Despite their Scandinavian origins, it is unlikely the victims were Viking warriors. So more questions to be answered with further analysis.

Dr Martin Smith then described ‘The Children of Cain, Making sense of Neolithic violence’. He explained that the Neolithic is generally considered a peaceful time, with few obvious weapons. However, a pattern is appearing in prehistoric skulls of ‘healed trauma’, skull depression injuries often explained as prehistoric people ‘banging their heads on caves’! But we also were shown some unhealed trauma injuries, and Martin compared living bone fractures to chocolate, and dead bone fracture to biscuits – an interesting image. Moving on to projectile injuries there was an interesting comparison between shotgun wound trauma and arrow or slingshot injuries. Flint arrowheads shot into cattle and pig scapulas showed nice clean holes.  Turning to look at various sites across Europe, several show signs of mass attack where occupants were violently killed, often from behind (running away?) Many Neolithic mass graves across Europe include men, women, and children, but no young adult females; perhaps kidnapped as they were of childbearing age? Statistics suggest 1 in 8 Neolithic people suffered violent trauma to the head. Some possible reasons for such violence were discussed: Neolithic people were herders and farmers, so could support bigger families. This could have led to greater rivalry for resources/wives. Inequality often leads to violence – the haves and have-nots.

Just before we broke for a refreshment break, during which the Archaeology Fair was once again packed out, Julian Richards grabbed the microphone and suggested that as there was so much interest in Ray Baldry’s talk, and there was no money for dating analysis, that a voluntary collection should be made from the conference delegates. To this end, a makeshift collection box was set up, and donations poured in…

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Back to the talks, and the late morning session leading up to lunch described ‘Warfare in Roman Britain’, and was introduced by Matt Symonds, editor of Current Archaeology.

Mike Bishop, editor of the Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies  ushered into the hall a couple of members of the Ermine Street Guard for his talk, ‘The Detritus of War or Peace?’ – a wonderful piece of one-upmanship in the visual aids area!

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Mike explained that Roman military equipment is rare, and only found in specific circumstances. This affects what we can say about the Roman army in battle. Classicists and military historians have to largely rely on written sources for evidence on battle. Sculptures can also be useful for interpretation. Looking at physical evidence for Roman equipment, it seems that hobnails were commonly lost, and can sometimes provide evidence for ‘lost’ Roman roads. The various parts of the Roman armour/dress were explained – the army adopted and adapted equipment and techniques. Lorica segmentata armour sheds parts “like a Mk 3 Land Rover, and has the same corrosive issues”, leather straps linking the metal strips of the armour seem not to have been tanned and are not found except via traces of mineralisation. Roman law stated that soldiers mustn’t lose their sword, shield, or helmet (upon pain of death), and intact helmets are rarely found, except as votive offerings in rivers though helmet components are sometimes found due to re-use and repair. There is little evidence for Roman battle in Britain – the famous Maiden Hill skeleton with a ‘ballista bolt’ was in fact shot with a javelin head (it has the wrong profile for a ballista bolt).

Phillip Crummy then told us about ‘Boudicca, Colchester and Buried Treasure’, talking about Boudicca’s legacy in the Roman town, which is clearly delineated by the burnt area. Archaeology confirms that Colchester’s defensive ditches had been filled in and its town wall post-dates the Boudiccan attack so the town would have been essentially defenceless against the Iceni. After comparison of different descriptions of Boudicca and the Gauls, focus changed to the Fenwick Hoard which included Gold earrings, bracelets and silver cuffs. Three large silver arm bands were armilla – military awards – but there was also gold female jewellery present, as well as a bulla – an amulet given to a baby boy and worn throughout childhood. Many of the male items included panther imagery, a possible link to the owner’s nickname perhaps? It is thought that the hoard was hurriedly buried as the Iceni were about to attack the town, in the hopes of later retrieval, but the finds are now just a sign of human catastrophe, as Phillip drew comparisons with modern Syria “will we ever learn?”

Finishing off the morning session, John Reid told us of ‘The Roman Siege of Burnswark Hill‘ in Dumfriesshire, about a day’s march north of Hadrian’s Wall. Two Roman camps have been discovered north and south of the hill. The hillfort is covered in projectiles, many lead slingshots, stone ballista bolts and arrowheads, and the topology of the camp entrances would allow fast movement of troops from the camps. The standard interpretation is of a siege, but could it have been an artillery range? Analysis of the projectile scatter provided some clues and experimental archaeology showed that whilst a ‘lobbing’ method allows projectiles to travel up to 300m, a lower, horizontal action allows much greater accuracy at the expense of range (circa 100m), and can be as powerful as a .45 Magnum! Three types of shot were recovered, a lemon shape, an acorn shape (much rarer) and a third type which was pierced. Experimenting again, there was little difference in accuracy for the first two, but the third was less accurate, and whistled. Could this have been to terrify the enemy? Metal detectors have been used to locate used slingshot a Burnswark – but not excavated as the stratigraphy there is very delicate, with deposits just 3″ deep in most places. Of over 2600 targets, based on trial trenching nearly 700 are almost certainly lead sling bullets. Their distribution suggests a line of attack from the south, and the use of ‘live’ ammo i.e. lead, suggests a true attack rather than a practice run. A fascinating piece of research, which continues.

With a reminder that Current Archaeology will be holding a conference focussing on Hadrian’s Wall, in Durham in September, Matt brought the session to a close for lunch.

Once again, lunchtime seems a reasonable time to take a break here, and we’ll finish off this conference review in Part 4, later today.

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