You are currently browsing Alan S.’s articles.
A guest post by Dr Sandy Gerrard.
When studying the past one normally tries to collect and examine all the known evidence before reaching a conclusion. Sometimes there is not much to go on and any conclusions are therefore inevitably provisional. On other occasions there is loads of evidence though this does not necessary make it any easier to work out what is going on. In Wales some archaeologists have come up with a solution to this age old problem.
Sites with little or no evidence can be lumped into whatever category takes their fancy on the day. The solution for sites with loads of evidence is even more ingenious. You disregard all the evidence that does not suit your conclusion and hey presto the required result. Magic!
An example of this ground breaking approach to archaeological interpretation is provided by the Archwilio entry for the Bancbryn stone alignment which somehow manages to ignore the archaeological excavations carried out by Cotswold Archaeology, a survey conducted by Cadw and the analysis presented in the Heritage Journal over the past few years. Instead it relies solely on carefully selected sections of a report prepared by Cadw and skilfully manages to present an interpretation that the same Cadw report dismisses as unsubstantiated.
This would be amusing if our heritage was not in these people’s hands.
Once again, the Day of Archaeology is being held next month. This year, it falls on the 24th July.
If you’ve ever wondered what archaeologists around the world get up to on a ‘normal’ working day, then the Day of Archaeology was designed just for you! All around the world on the designated day, people working, studying or volunteering in archaeology are invited to submit photographs, videos and written blog posts covering the work they’ve been involved in during the day. The various submissions are then added to the Day of Archaeology web site, producing a varied record of the vast range of work being undertaken across the world in all fields of archaeology.
The project was founded by Matt Law and Lorna Richardson in March 2011, and has been held every year since, although the specific date varies from year to year. Run entirely by volunteers, participation in the project is completely free and past entries have encompassed the full gamut of archaeological activities. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement, and contributions, no matter how large or small are always welcomed. The idea behind the project is to raise public awareness of the archaeological profession and it’s relevance and importance to societies around the globe.
If you are involved in an archaeological project in any capacity – working, studying or volunteering – please consider taking part this year and help make the project a success. It’s simple to register as a participant and contributions can be as long or as short as you want.
If you’re not involved in archaeology, think it’s just about the digging, but are intrigued to know what else goes on during an archaeologist’s ‘typical’ day, why not expand your horizons by keeping an eye on the project web site and Twitter feed? You might just learn something interesting!
It’s been a while coming, but their website has finally been given a bit of a makeover, and looks fresher and cleaner, making it easier to read and to find the articles of interest. But the big news is that they now also have an e-commerce component to the site (known to you and me as ‘a shop’), to be known as eRescue.
It’s now possible to sign up for membership online, and to purchase hardcopy books, PDF downloads of the ‘Rescue News’ newsletter, and other products, or to just make a donation to the cause. And as a special bonus, registered members get a discount on everything they buy via the online shop!
There is also a special Members’ Area, called ‘Rescue Premium’. This is a bit bare at the moment, containing only a video of a talk from this year’s AGM, but I’m advised that more content will be coming soon.
As a charitable trust Rescue do not receive any state support. They are entirely reliant on the contributions of members to support their work as advocates of the historic environment, at a time of unprecedented threat. So if you care about our heritage, please stop by their website and consider joining (only £15 a year for individuals), making a donation no matter how small, or purchasing one or more items from eRescue.
Just received, a Press release from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign:
Shropshire residents fighting planned housing by Old Oswestry hillfort say they are encouraged after meeting MP Owen Paterson to discuss the issues.
Campaign group HOOOH met recently with the North Shropshire MP to voice their concerns over the controversial site for 117 houses (OSW004) in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.
“We had a very constructive discussion with Mr Paterson, impressing on him that this is an issue not just of local but of national interest,” said campaigner and archaeologist Dr George Nash.
Mr Paterson agreed to write to Shropshire Council about residents’ contentions that inclusion of OSW004 in SAMDev has not complied with due process or planning guidelines, and their belief that the Council has misunderstood national planning policy. He will also be writing to Communities Secretary, Greg Clark, over the issues that Old Oswestry raises given its scheduled status regarding the interpretation of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework).
Campaign advisor and heritage planning expert, Tim Malim, said: “If the Council’s decision to allocate housing in the setting of a heritage asset as significant as Old Oswestry is implemented, then it sets a dangerous precedent for protected monuments across the country which the NPPF is meant to safeguard.”
Local campaigners have been waging a bitter three-year fight against ‘masterplanning’ for the north of Oswestry which formerly included land within 85m of the hillfort.
Despite making a strong appeal to SAMDev examining Inspector Claire Sherratt at a public hearing last December, OSW004 (off Whittington Road) remains in Shropshire’s development blueprint.
HOOOH claims that the site promoter has never submitted a justification for OSW004 as a standalone development, and that it has only ever been put forward as part of a coordinated scheme with sites at Jasmine Gardens and Oldport Farm. These were removed from the plan at an earlier stage.
Campaigners say that delivery of houses on OSW004 is predicated on a now obsolete planning bid and would be dependent on planning applications for sites that are not in SAMDev.
The Inspector’s plan modifications are out for consultation until Monday 13 July, 2015.
A recent press release from the University of Reading:
Our knowledge of the people who worshipped at Stonehenge and worked on its construction is set to be transformed through a new project led by the University of Reading.
This summer, in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Wiltshire Museum, archaeologists are embarking on an exciting three-year excavation in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.
Situated between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the Vale of Pewsey is a barely explored archaeological region of huge international importance. The project will investigate Marden Henge. Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden’ is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain’s most important but least understood prehistoric monuments.
Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.
Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology and Director of the Archaeology Field School, said: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.
“Why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. How the giant stones were transported almost defy belief. It must have been an astonishing, perhaps frightening, sight. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction.
“Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out.”
The Vale of Pewsey is not only rich in Neolithic archaeology. It is home to a variety of other fascinating historical monuments from various periods in history, including Roman settlements, a deserted medieval village and post-medieval water meadows. A suite of other investigations along the River Avon will explore the vital role of the Vale’s environment throughout history.
Dr Leary continued: “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there – a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved – from prehistory to history.”
Duncan Wilson, Historic England Chief Executive, added: “Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment.”
The Vale of Pewsey excavation also marks the start of the new University of Reading Archaeology Field School. Previously run at the world-famous Roman town site of Silchester, the Field School will see archaeology students and enthusiasts from Reading and across the globe join the excavation.
The six week dig runs from 15th June to 25th July. Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance.
There will also be a chance for the public to visit the site at two exciting Open Days on Saturday 4th July and Saturday 18th July. To visit the excavation follow Sat Nav SN10 3RH.
Situated 160m above sea level, the Castle Canyke hillfort to the southeast of Bodmin in Cornwall, is not an imposing hillfort. Certainly not as imposing as, say, Old Oswestry Hillfort. And yet they have something in common – both are currently threatened by developers.
Although it is Cornwall’s largest Iron Age hill fort, Castle Canyke is certainly not as large as Oswestry – there is a small modern farm building at the centre of the fort, and walls/hedges running from this building split the fort into four roughly equal fields. The southwest quandrant boundary is the best preserved, with a large bank and small ditch. In the northwest (which provides public access via a kissing gate) the ditch is more substantial, but there is no bank remaining. To the south there are a couple of large industrial estates, to the east, the junctions of the A38 and A30 trunk roads dominate. Brown Willy & Roughtor are visible on the horizon just east of north on a clear day.
So nothing too remarkable, and not a lot to see on site itself, And yet there is a possible Arthurian connection, and a later historical connection which make this site important for the Cornish nation.
- The site is a possible candidate for Kelliwic (Celliwig), Arthur’s court in “Culhwch and Olwen” and the Welsh Triads. Callywith Wood is located about a mile to the Northeast.
- The fort is also the site where Cornish forces mustered for the Anglo-Cornish War of 1549. Nine hundred Cornishmen were subsequently executed in what has been described as “a bloodbath and the most heinous crime ever committed on British soil”
So what of the development threat here? According to the “It’s Our Cornwall” Facebook page:
Last week the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee voted by 17 votes to 2 to give Hawkstone Ltd of Surrey permission to build 750 houses at Bodmin (And a hotel, pub, shops, community building, allotments and public open space). This was despite only 1 in 4 of the houses being ‘affordable’ and calls for rejection from English Heritage.
According to one press report, “due to the steep topography of the site, it would not be financially viable for developers to adhere to the normal demand that 40 per cent of the homes should be in the affordable bracket. Instead, a compromise figure of 25 per cent, which amounts to 187 affordable homes, was reached”.
Apparently a ‘green buffer’ has also been suggested between the development and the hillfort (basically the three fields to the southeast on the plan below), but there is some discussion as to whether the buffer should consist of open space, sports fields, or be left as agricultural land. The full text of the Strategic Planning Committee’s Report can be found on the Council website (PDF link)
And there’s the question of the extent of the development. 750 homes in one of the most economically depressed areas in Europe sounds like a good idea to stimulate ‘growth’, but as only 1 in 4 will be designated ‘affordable’ – how I hate that word – who will be able to afford the non-affordable homes in such an area? The usual answer to such a question is larger corporations. But in order to get a return on their investment, they’ll either sell them on (who to?) or let them out at inflated rents. With very low employment and pay levels in the area, it’s difficult to see how local people will be able to live in the homes, however pleasant they may be.
Once again, it seems the only people to benefit will be the developers themselves, and to hell with the heritage!
Ok, so this one has snuck up on us as it passed under our radar, but this coming weekend 13th June, the Institute of Archaeology are holding their ‘World Festival of Archaeology: Passport to the Past’ event as a precursor to the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of British Archaeology to be held in July (of which more later).
The festival will involve lots of activities taking place in Gordon Square, London and in the Institute of Archaeology building for families and all members of the public, on Saturday 13 June from 12pm-5pm.
Tours of the Institute’s world-renowned collections and object handling-sessions will be available while archaeologically-related activities for adults and children alike will also be on offer as well as displays of experimental archaeological techniques.
All activities are drop-in, there is no need to book (but see below re tours) and all are welcome!
Activities in Gordon Square Gardens should include:
- Sandpit Archaeology: Learn how to excavate and unearth the past
- From Skin to Leather: See how animal hides are transformed into leather
- Meat: the Ancestors: see how our ancestors processed meat
- Make it in Stone: See how to work flint into tools (flint knapping)
- Conservator for a day: Be a conservator for the day: take part in aspects of conservation
- Pace Yourself: Learn some basic archaeological surveying techniques
- Tinder and Steel: Making fire in the Middle Ages
- Fragmented Frescoes: Create a wall painting and help create a story from the past
- Lighting up the Past: make a lamp: Make a working Roman/Greek lamp just like they did 2,000 years ago
- Lets do the Time Warp: Learn an ancient weaving technique
- Cave creations: Try making paints and see what kind of cave art you can create. Help make an art work for the Institute
- Connect four stratigraphy: Connect the layers of time and race the other team
- Meet the Alchemist: Turn your copper into gold
- Fish mummification: Make your own mummified fish just like the Egyptians did
- Underwater Archaeology-DSI-Deep Sea Investigation: Dive into the world of ancient shipwrecks
- Whose Poo: Find out what people in the past had to eat by dissecting their poo
Indoor activities will include:
- Conservation Laboratory – piecing together the past: See what’s involved in conserving objects for display in museums. Find out what we discover during conservation
- When Bad Things Happen to Good Books: Come and see how damage and decay affect our books. Learn book mending and basic conservation techniques
- Egyptian Rituals: Make your own servant to work for you in the Egyptian afterlife. Wax modelling and painting of Shabtis
- Maya you have a Happy Birthday: Discover the Maya calendar and your birthday secrets
- Scenes from the Past: Be inspired by archaeologists’ travels. Make your own greetings cards inspired by your archaeological expedition at the Institute
- Sherds through Time: Create a timeline using Ancient Egyptian material from the Institute’s collections
- What’s my Stuff: Use the Institute’s X-ray flourescent equipment to find out what your jewellery is made of
- Petrie Museum: Try making your own pot inspired by the Petrie Museum’s collections
- Film screening: View archival films from the archaeological record
In addition there will be tours and children’s trails throughout the afternoon – some booking may be required as tour spaces are limited.
For full details, see the Institute’s web page.
Our friends at campaign group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOH) have today issued the following press release:
Campaigners say new doubts hang over Shropshire Council’s handling of proposed housing by Old Oswestry hillfort as planners come under fire for alleged misuse of delegated powers (Shropshire Star report 30 May 2015).
The backlash comes as government-appointed Inspector, Claire Sherratt, revealed her findings (1 June 2015) on Shropshire’s development blueprint SAMDev. Despite overwhelming public opposition during three years of consultation, a large housing site (OSW004) in the shadow of the 3,000 year old Iron Age hillfort remains on the plan.
Meanwhile, Shropshire planners face claims that they are misusing delegated powers by rubber stamping contentious schemes where objections have been raised that should be referred to planning committee. The latest involves a legal challenge over the demolition of a 200-year-old Thomas Telford tollhouse in Oswestry to make way for an ALDI supermarket.
Campaign group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH) says this new revelation must call into question the integrity of decision-making in other areas, most significantly SAMDev. And scrutiny should go back to the very start to ask how development by the hillfort was ever included as a ‘preferred option’, challenge campaigners.
HOOOH member Maggie Rowlands said: “The latest crisis simply reinforces our grave concerns over the cavalier planning culture within Shropshire Council. It has virtually cast itself loose of the opinion of elected councillors and the public in order to fast-track insensitive development on heritage landscape and prime greenfield land.”
Campaigners suggest that hard steers by Shropshire planners and Cabinet, including the imperative of meeting five-year housing supply, may have fettered the discretion of councillors to motion for removal of OSW004 from the plan. This was despite being circulated with alternative heritage reports by HOOOH, produced to industry standards, calculating that development would have major impacts on the setting of the hillfort and views to and from it.
Heritage setting is recognised in national planning and Historic England (formerly English Heritage) guidance and protected in law according to the significance of the heritage asset. This should provide major weight against the approval of development affecting a monument of the national significance of Old Oswestry, whose landscape setting is an integral part of its heritage value and archaeology.
In spite of repeated requests, Shropshire planners refused to post HOOOH’s reports on the SAMDev website alongside the site promoter’s original heritage impact assessment. The latter was strongly criticised for being flawed by experts at RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust) and was subsequently revised.
And while failing to answer HOOOH’s challenge that OSW004 did not meet five-year supply criteria due to ‘unresolved issues’, planners later revealed it was not part of five-year figures for that very reason.
“We are not surprised that Shropshire planners find themselves at the centre of these accusations of undemocratic conduct and calls for restraint,” said campaigner Dr George Nash.
“Based on recent media reports, it is clear that councillors at all levels and across the political spectrum are extremely disappointed in the way Shropshire Council’s planning department exercise their decision-making.”
He added: “This now gives us additional teeth to challenge what we believe has been a calculated bias towards keeping OSW004 in SAMDev. We believe that the original heritage assessment that carried the site through several stages of the process must be the subject of a formal independent review. Oswestry Town Council asked for this over a year ago and was completely disregarded.“
Commenting on the Inspector’s decision, HOOOH says it is extremely disappointed that the Inspector has rejected the scale of public opposition to OSWOO4 and the strong heritage case against it. This included a petition with almost 6,000 signatures and objections by twelve leading British academics of archaeology in an open letter.
Campaigner Neil Phillips said: “The planning plight to develop 117 houses within the shadow of Old Oswestry Hillfort is the thin end of the wedge.
“The use of the NPPF to sanction development over the preservation of such significant heritage landscape was surely not the government’s intention. However, the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is propping up greedy bids to build high profit housing with postcard views of hillforts, meres and parkland.
“Whitehall needs to intervene now before the Best of Britain disappears under brick and concrete in the present rush to build houses.”
Another instalment of our ‘Inside the Mind‘ series brings responses to our now familiar questions from Steve Hartgroves.
After an initially unsuccessful time at college, followed by a short career with British European Airways (BEA) operating their fledgling computerised reservations system, Steve set off for the almost obligatory ‘trip to India’, which was abandoned before completion due to various conflicts causing a change of plans en route. After a variety of jobs on his return, in 1976 at the age of 27, he discovered archaeology, volunteering for a dig on a Roman villa site in Bradford on Avon, being conducted by Roy Canham of the Wiltshire County Archaeological Service.
Based upon his computer experience with BEA, Roy then employed him to computerise the Wiltshire SMR – a radical idea in 1976 – and he also got involved in all the other routine work of the Archaeological Service. Having decided that this was his vocation Steve applied to Cardiff and studied for a degree in Archaeology (under Professors Richard Atkinson and Mike Jarret).
After obtaining his degree in Archaeology at Cardiff in 1979-82, Steve had various archaeological jobs, including excavations at a glassworks at Nailsea South of Bristol, which had been demolished with explosives. Interesting stratigraphy!
He was appointed Sites and Monuments Officer for Cornwall Archaeological Unit in 1983 and worked with this organisation until his early retirement in 2012. His main claim to fame must be the Cornwall Aerial Survey Project (CASP) which he inaugurated in 1984 with funding from the RCHM, then, following their merger, from EH. The funding continued every year after that and altogether he did 100 flights (which works out at almost four flights a year). This resulted in an important archive of 7,348 B/W prints and 5,711 colour slides and, from 2004, 5,995 digital images – a grand total of almost 20,000 aerial images of every aspect of the historic landscape of Cornwall and Scilly.
He was also involved in four or five episodes of Time Team, mostly head-down in a trench, not usually a speaking part. His ‘big break’ came when they did the programme about a multi-period settlement he had photographed as cropmarks at Lellizzick on the Camel estuary near Padstow (“From Constantinople to Cornwall”), but unfortunately he was struck down with laryngitis and after the initial setting of the scene at the start of day one, was completely unable to speak for the rest of the weekend.
The Ten Questions
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
As a teenager, I read a book called Patterns of the Past by Guy Underwood and was impressed with his account of dowsing the energy patterns of prehistoric sites. I also liked Alfred Watkins’ The Old Straight Track. When I lived in Plymouth I would go up to Dartmoor and cut a hazel or willow wand and dowse the stone rows and so on. I decided that I needed to know more about the people that made these sites but it wasn’t until several years later that I was able to follow this up.
How did you get started?
It’s a long story….I had a checkered academic career and after leaving college with little sense of vocation, I passed an aptitude test and was employed by BEA (remember them) operating the online seat reservations computer in West London; this was in the late 60’s, when there were very few commercial computers in use, and ‘my one’ had a console like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and occupied a site the size of several tennis courts. This lasted a few years, then, like many of my generation, I dropped everything and headed off overland to India – I learned more in those 6 months than I had learned in all my time in school. I tried lots of jobs after that – landscape gardener, portrait photographer, builder, astrologer, etc, etc, but none seemed to suit me. Then one day I read in my local paper about an excavation on a Roman bathouse discovered beneath the turf of the playing field of the local school – just a few fields from where I was living in Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire. I went along and volunteered; it was the summer of 1976, every day was hot and sunny and the site was impressively well preserved and full of finds. Chatting during a coffee break with the site director, Roy Canham (Wiltshire’s County Archaeologist) I learned that he was looking for someone with computer experience to help digitise the county Sites and Monuments Record…
Who has most influenced your career?
Roy Canham (see above), my first archaeological employer, my mentor and role model. I worked for Roy on various projects over the next few years; excavating, fieldwalking and surveying. I also infiltrated his aerial survey project, first by offering to develop and print the films from his flights overnight, so that he had the results the following day (the alternative being to send the films off to get developed and printed and returned a week or two later), then I sat in as navigator when no-one else was available, then I finally got my hands on the cameras.
When I realised that an archaeologist could get paid to play with computers, walk over fields picking up interesting stuff, and flying around taking photos I sensed that I had found my vocation at last. With Roy’s encouragement, I signed up to do a degree in Archaeology at Cardiff.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
Undoubtedly the Cornwall Aerial Survey Project, which I inaugurated in 1984 when I got the job as Sites and Monuments Officer with Cornwalll Archaeological Unit in Truro. One hundred flights (from 1984-2010) produced 7,348 B/W prints, 5,711 colour slides and, latterly, 5,995 digital images – a grand total of almost 20,000 aerial images of every aspect of the historic landscape of Cornwall and Scilly.
Possibly more significant in archaeological terms though, and no less exciting, was my work computerising the Cornwall and Scilly Sites and Monuments Record, and overseeing its transformation, via GIS, into the Historic Environment Record, thereby linking the sites database, with a few clicks of the mouse, to historic maps of various dates, modern maps at various scales, ground and air photos, project reports (Grey Literature), digital terrain models, and much much more.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
I would rather not let on because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to go there – I like to be quiet and enjoy it alone. Suffice to say it’s a stone circle.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
I would have liked to work abroad – in the Middle East and Africa, but I struggled, as a humble archaeologist on low pay, just to find the rent and provide for my family.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
The current system seems pretty good and is a huge improvement on how things were when I first started out. However, I’d like to see it properly enforced by people who understand what the point of it all is.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
I don’t think that I would have much to say to them; I don’t think that they have as much influence over events as they seem to think they have. They don’t seem to understand what’s important and what’s trivial. Overpopulation and climate change need to be addressed urgently; compared to these threats archaeology can take a back seat.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
I have absolutely no idea – I’d have liked to have been an astronaut.
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
I like gardening and building dry stone walls – that is, Cornish Hedges; I like cycling (I have renovated my father’s racing bike – a Raleigh Record Ace from 1936), and I still take lots of photos.
As always, we’d like to express our thanks to Steve for his participation.
Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.
If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.
The annual Heritage Journal Megameet – for members, friends and supporters of the journal – will return once again this year to the Avebury WHS.
As in previous years, the rendezvous point will be located near to the Cove in the NE quadrant (or the Red Lion if inclement) but attendees will be encouraged to perambulate among the various components of the WHS and tell of their discoveries on their return to the main group. There should be plenty of experienced people present to provide some guidance and advice for those new to the area.
So mark Sunday July 26th in your diary – we’ll be congregating for the usual chat and banter from midday onwards – and don’t forget to bring a book or two along for the bookswap!
We look forward to meeting lots of new friends on the day.