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It seems to come around so quickly, but next month will see the 10th annual Pathways to the Past event, a weekend of walks & talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall, organised by CASPN. And by pure chance(!), I’ve managed to book my next holiday to the area to coincide with the event once again.
This is what the weekend will involve:
Saturday May 28th
- Vounder Gogglas: an ancient traders’ track
- A guided walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis following part of a long-distance trading route from Sancreed Beacon to Caer Bran and Chapel Euny wells.
- Round and about the Little Lookout Tor
- An unusual guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the Nine Maidens circle and cairns, Little Galva view point and propped stone, and Bosporthennis beehive hut.
- The power of place: reconstructing Cornwall’s prehistoric environment
- An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington based on findings from environmental archaeology about the placing of sites in the landscape.
Sunday May 29th
- Mining in Cornwall
- An illustrated talk by Adam Sharpe.
- In the footsteps of giants
- A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda around Chûn Downs.
- The geomantic network in West Penwith
To round off the weekend, Palden Jenkins shares his ideas about why the prehistoric sites are located where they are.
Whilst I’m unlikely to be able to attend all the events personally, I’ll certainly try to get along to one or two of them, and will report back later.
Fuller details of each event, including timings, location and cost can be found on the CASPN Events page.
Neil gained a first class degree in archaeology from Newcastle University in 1984 before starting work in professional archaeology. He went straight from University to direct excavations on Hadrian’s Wall for English Heritage for a number of years beforemoving on to Exeter Museum where he worked on Roman finds. He was appointed Archaeological Manager at Cotswold Archaeology in 1991, and is is now head of the salaried staff as Chief Executive, responsible for ensuring that Cotswold Archaeology remains a successful and innovative company delivering high quality work. He sits on a number of Committees, including the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (formally SCAUM); the Archaeology Committee of the Roman Society and the Publications Committee of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at Reading University.
The Ten Questions
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
I became interested in the Romans as a kid, and remember that walking along a stretch of Roman road near Cambridge with my father made quite an impression on me. It was pretty much just the Romans then, although my interests have broadened considerably since. I thought Hadrian’s Wall was incredibly evocative as a child, and still do today.
How did you get started?
I decided to study archaeology at Newcastle University (because it was near Hadrian’s Wall) , but as I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like as a subject. I hedged my bets and opted for a really strange mixed degree in my first year: ancient history; archaeology and chemistry. I was told that no-one had ever done such a combination before (and probably hasn’t since!). At the end of my first year I was sure that archaeology was what I wanted to do, but I thought I would benefit from learning some more about digging. So I took a year out and went on excavations over the winter in St Albans (really cold), and then Germany and then Israel (really hot). It was great fun. I went back to Newcastle, finished my degree, and then by a couple of lucky breaks quickly ended up running digs on Hadrian’s Wall. After a spell in Exeter I ended up in Cirencester, and for the last 25 years I’ve run Cotswold Archaeology. From very small beginnings we now have a staff of over 180 archaeologists working out of offices in Andover; Cirencester; Exeter and Milton Keynes. I am very proud of what my colleagues have achieved.
Who has most influenced your career?
I owe a lot to a number of people who helped me along when I was young, and indulged some of the arrogance of youth. Charles Daniels fired my interest in archaeology at University with his infectious enthusiasm. Paul Bidwell gave me first big break, and working with him taught me an incredible amount about not only how to excavate, but equally how to interpret the findings. His approach has influenced me ever since. When I came to the Cotswolds I was lucky that Alan McWhirr, who had worked for over 30 years in Cirencester, was so welcoming and encouraged me to collaborate with him on bringing his work to publication.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
It is very hard to pick one – but the recent discovery in Cirencester of a Roman tombstone dedicated to a lady called Bodicacia is a moment I’ll never forget. I’ve also really enjoyed leading the Roman Rural Settlement Project over the last 10 years – a great opportunity to gather together all that has been found in commercial archaeological investigations since 1990 and ask the simple question: what does this tell us about Roman Britain that we didn’t know before?
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
Hadrian’s Wall. It is where my serious interest in the Past begun – and somewhere that I’d like to renew my interest in some day.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
That so many really well conducted archaeological digs on the 1960s, 70s and 80s are unpublished. All the blood, sweat and tears expended on projects that no one now knows next to nothing about. This is particularly true of many major historic towns and cities – places like Bristol and Winchester, for example. The knowledge loss is huge. It is for that reason that I am really pleased to be starting out on a project with Professor Stephen Rippon at Exeter University called Exeter: A Place in Time. This project combines delving back in to unpublished archives of digs done in the 1970s and 80s, along with with the application of cutting edge science. We are hoping that we will be able to use the information gathered to write a new archaeology of Roman and medieval Exeter. I’m excited by the prospect.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
I’d like to raise the standard of field archaeology in the UK. There are some excellent organisations which produce consistently high quality work – but some fall below this standard. Even now too many reports are unpublished within a reasonable period of time. The current system of managing archaeology within the planning process works reasonably well, but it is fragile. To be successful it requires people to not only do the work, but also to stipulate it within local authorities. And the latter are under real pressure at the moment from Government cuts. What I would really like to see is some incentives for investigating organisations to turn out really top quality work rather than just a base minimum standard – and that doesn’t have to mean simply more money – sometimes better value could be obtained by thinking more flexibly and trying new approaches.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
Don’t underestimate how much interest there is local history and archaeology – it is crucial to a sense of community cohesion and shared experience. And we only get one go at it – once it’s gone, it’s gone.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
I guess I would be a manager somewhere dull, but with archaeology as my hobby (which it still is now).
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
One of the disadvantages of moving in to management is that you become a desk jockey, so I relish any opportunity at the weekend to get outside – in the garden or a tramp across the Gloucestershire countryside with my wife. I also like cricket and follow Gloucestershire – a sunny day at the Cheltenham cricket festival with a drink in hand is a great thing to look forward to every summer.
As always, we’d like to express our thanks to Neil for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
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 and willing subject, please contact us.
By Alan S and Sandy Gerrard
In the first part of this series, we briefly examined the pre-excavation activities of a typical archaeology project. We now continue our overview of the different types of archaeological practice, and their predilection to cause damage to the archaeological record, by examining various aspects of excavation technique.
But first, what do we actually mean by the term ‘damage’? The archaeological resource is a limited and dwindling asset. Excavation is always destructive and it is therefore crucial that it is carried out as carefully and efficiently as possible. Any deposits removed during the course of an excavation are destroyed together with the information they held. It is therefore the duty of the archaeologist to ensure that as much accurate information as possible is collected. If an excavation is not recorded correctly, any information from that excavation is lost forever. Therefore it is of prime importance that accurate records are kept of what has been excavated, and where. That includes any and all finds, features and samples, from all contexts. If records are not kept, knowledge is lost, and the damage to the archaeological record is total.
This is where the most damage is done! Let’s start by saying yes, all excavation is damaging. However the difference between a good excavation and a bad excavation is simple. A good excavation enhances our knowledge and appreciation of the past whilst a bad one adds nothing or at best very little and at worst may provide fallacious results which might seriously impair and even distort our understanding.
‘Excavation’ undertaken by metal detectorists can be without doubt one of the most damaging activities. Although there may have been some desk-based research prior to hitting the site, there will rarely be a formal methodology to the excavation other than ‘ping’/dig! Some detectorists may advise the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) of any significant (read metallic) finds but often the valuable context of the finds will have been trashed together with associated items (pottery, flints, fibres, animal bone etc) which are often discarded as irrelevant by the detectorist. Recording may comprise at best of a photo (or video) or two of the finds, and a GPS reference which may point to no more than a particular field, or parish. The loss of knowledge in these situations will be immense and of course in the long run means that many of the questions of future generations will go unanswered as a result.
An Open Area Excavation can be the most informative and destructive in equal measures. The technique involves stripping away all of the layers in reverse to how they were formed. So off comes the turf and topsoil first and then each layer, feature and structure until nothing but subsoil or bedrock remains. Carried out properly by competent archaeologists this technique can provide more information than any other but the price can be the total destruction of the site being examined. Sometimes structures encountered are left in place but sometimes these too are removed in order to look for information below them.
Test pitting, Sampling and Trenching techniques are used by many projects as a way of mitigating the limits of any damage. Using these methods, the extent of excavation is reduced to the bare minimum needed to meet the project’s objectives. Test pits are usually 1m square excavations, whilst trenches can be any length or width and dependent upon the documented project objectives, both may be taken down as far as the ‘natural’ or bedrock level, in separate layers or ‘contexts’ to ensure nothing is missed. Section drawings and photographs are taken of the stratigraphy and any features uncovered. With larger excavations, and particularly in Rescue Archaeology situations, test pits may be extended, or repeated across an area to provide an agreed sampled percentage coverage of the site. In all cases, careful recording of each context is undertaken, and where necessary soil samples may be taken for laboratory analysis of pollen grains, snail shells, bone and insect remains etc. before the pit is backfilled at the end of the excavation. This strategy of course has the huge advantage of allowing some or even most of the archaeology to survive for future ‘better informed’ excavations in the future, but the limited nature of the work means that the results themselves will be incomplete and therefore possibly misleading.
Next time, we’ll finish off by looking at the post excavation activities.
Dr Sandy Gerrard’s ongoing series of posts concerning stone row alignments, and their associated landscape tricks and treats have been generally well received here on the Heritage Journal.
Such has been the reaction that a decision was made to give his articles and associated research a more permanent, focused home. To this end we are delighted to announce the creation of a sister site for the Journal, and new web resource: ‘The Stone Rows of Great Britain‘ which goes live today.
The site includes a gazetteer of known and accepted prehistoric stone rows, along with a list of those rows whose antiquity or veracity is in doubt. Many of the gazetteer entries show not just basic information such as location, characteristics and so on, but many are accompanied by links to other web resources, photographs, and each region can be investigated via an interactive map.
The ‘Research’ area of the site will be of interest to many people, and many of Dr Gerrard’s articles which have appeared on the Heritage Journal to date, and more, are included here.
There will still be a great deal of information to be added as further research sheds light on possible uses of the enigmatic monuments, so please pay ‘The Stone Rows of Great Britain‘ a visit, and leave us your comments.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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…
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!
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.
Once again, the first day of the Current Archaeology Live conference this year was concluded with a short Awards ceremony. These awards are especially important as they are voted for by the readership of the magazine, and thus reflect their interests. The awards were sponsored by Historic England, Oxbow Books, Oxford University Press and Export and General Insurance Services Ltd.
The first award, ‘Photo of the Year’ , was sponsored by Andante Travel, and judged by Adam Stanford, of Aerial-Cam. It was won by Shuo Huang, for a stunning photograph of the Easter Island statues.
As in previous years, there were several categories to vote for:
- Research Project of the Year
- Rescue Dig of the Year
- Book of the Year
- Archaeologist of the Year
The nominations for each award were as follows, the winner of each is indicated in Bold Type:
Research Project of the Year
- Digging Sedgeford: A people’s Archaeology
- Burrough Hill: Signs of Life in a Midlands hillfort
- Vindolanda: Revelations from the Roman frontier
- Bannockburn: Scotland’s seminal battlefield rediscovered
- Recapturing Berkeley Castle: One trench, 1,500 years of English history
- Rewriting the origin of the broch builders: Exploring fortifications and farming at Old Scatness
Rescue Dig of the Year
- The Drumclay crannog-dwellers: revealing 1,000 years of lakeside living
- Death on Ridgeway Hill: how science unlocked the secrets of a mass grave
- Excavating Barrow Clump: soldier archaeologists and warrior graves
- Coast to coast: recording England’s vanishing heritage
- The London’s burning: a 17th century warship sunk in the Thames
- The Fenwick Treasure: Colchester during the Boudiccan War of Independence
Book of the Year
- Celtic Art in Europe: Making Connections
- Thinking Big
- The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland
- Caithness Archaeology: aspects of prehistory
- Hadrian’s Wall, a history of archaeological thought
- Objects and Identities: Roman Britain and the North-Western Provinces
Archaeologist of the Year
- Philip Crummy
- Vincent Gaffney
- Roberta Gilchrist
Information and articles on all the above nominees can be found on the Current Archaeology web site. Our hearty congratulations go out to all the winners!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
We’ll take a break ourselves now, and continue in the next part of this report, later today.
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In AD635, King Oswald founded a monastery on Lindisfarne and it quickly became beating the heart of Northumbria – one of the great Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. This is where the Lindisfarne gospels were illuminated, where the treasures that decorated the altars of Europe were made, and where thousands of miracle-seeking pilgrims came to seek salvation at the shrine of Saint Cuthbert.
But it didn’t end well. Raided by the Vikings in AD793, and with their brothers left for dead, Lindisfarne’s monks picked up their holy relics and fled.
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