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Today is Plough Monday, traditionally the start of the agricultural year and the day when ploughs are taken back to the fields after the winter break.

In many parishes in the Midlands and East of England, a plough blessed in the church on the preceding Sunday would be paraded through the streets, collecting donations from householders. Those who refused would find their gardens ploughed over!

The Whittlesey Plough – Wikimedia Commons by Simon Garbutt

Sadly these days, the occasion is probably more celebrated by metal detectorists, keen to hoover up the shinies from the freshly ploughed fields.

The first example of Roman crucifixion in Great Britain has been unearthed in Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire.

Working ahead of a housing development near the small village of Fenstanton a team from Bedford based ‘Albion Archaeology’, members of which have been on site since 2017, have uncovered a previously unknown Roman settlement.

Five small cemeteries have been identified and the skeletal remains of 40 adults and five children buried identified with evidence that some were from the same families. The cemeteries have been dated to the third to fourth centuries CE.

In one of the graves, the skeleton of a man with a nail through his right heel bone was discovered. Further examination suggested that the man had suffered before he died with his legs bearing signs of infection or inflammation caused by either a systemic disorder or by being bound or shackled.

Nail found embedded in ankle bone Credit ‘Albion Archaeology’

Archaeologist Kasia Gdaniec, speaking on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Historic Environment Team, said: “These cemeteries and the settlement that developed along the Roman road at Fenstanton are breaking ground in archaeological research.

“Burial practices are many and varied in the Roman period and evidence of ante- or post-mortem mutilation is occasionally seen, but never crucifixion.”

Cambridge University osteologist (bone specialist) of the university’s Wolfson College, Corinne Duhig said it was an “almost unique” find at what was a previously unknown Roman settlement.

She continued, “The lucky combination of good preservation and the nail being left in the bone has allowed me to examine this unique example when so many thousands have been lost. This shows that the inhabitants of even this small settlement at the edge of empire could not avoid Rome’s most barbaric punishment.”

Cambridgeshire Council said Corinne Duhig’s research into evidence of crucifixion from this period around the world revealed only three other possible examples, one from La Larda in Gavello, Italy, one from Mendes in Egypt and one from a burial found at Giv’at ha-Mivtar in north Jerusalem found during building work in 1968.

She found only the Jerusalem example to be a likely crucifixion because the right heel bone retained a nail which was in exactly the same position as the Fenstanton burial.

The county council said it was usual to remove any nails after crucifixion for re-use or disposal but in the Fenstanton case the nail had bent and become fixed in the bone.

During the excavation, a number of other items were unearthed including enamelled brooches, coins, decorated pottery and animal bones. Amongst the finds was an enamelled copper-alloy horse and rider brooch.

A large building and a formal yard or road surfaces indicated the presence of an organised Roman settlement with signs of trade and wealth, the council said. It said it hoped to be able to display the finds eventually.

Fenstanton’s High Street follows the route of the Via Devana, a road that linked the Roman towns of Cambridge and Godmanchester.

Links:

Cambridge University article dated 8th December 2021: https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/romancrucifixion

Cambridgeshire County Council article dated 8th December 2021: https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/news/the-first-example-of-a-roman-crucifixion-in-the-uk-has-been-found-in-a-cambridgeshire-village

Albion Archaeology: https://www.albionarchaeology.co.uk

Prior to Queen Elizabeth II ascending the throne in 1953, commemorative issue stamps were few and far between. Until then, such issues were limited to major events such as royal or postal anniversaries. This was to remain the case until the early 1960s, when the scope for commemoratives was widened somewhat to include other anniversaries, art festivals and major international business conferences or trade treaties. The first ‘non-event’ commemorative stamps were issued in 1966, with artistic views of British Landscapes, including views of Hassocks in Sussex, Antrim NI, Harlech Castle in Wales and the Caingorm mountains in Scotland. 

On the 29th April 1968, a set of four stamps was released, depicting British Bridges, including the first ancient site to appear on a British stamp, Tarr Steps in Exmoor.

Although the frequency of commemorative sets increased, it was to be 22 years before another ancient site appeared. Strangely placed in a set released on 16th October 1990 celebrating Astronomy, Stonehenge made its first appearance.

The following year sets of definitive stamps were issued in a set of four archaeology-themed booklets, depicting Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos, Howard Carter at Tutankhamen’s Tomb,  Sir Austen Layard in Assyria and Flinders Petrie at Giza.

June 1993 saw the first Roman-themed stamps issued, with portraits depicting Claudius, Hadrian, the Goddess Roma and a mosaic of Christ.

Ten years later, for the 250th anniversary of the British Museum in 2003, another set of portraits were issued which included the Sutton Hoo helmet.

April 2005 saw the release of the World Heritage set of stamps, which included three ancient British sites; Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge and neolithic Orkney.

In 2011 and 2012, two sets were issued featuring a UK A-Z which included Glastonbury Tor and Roman Bath.

Tarr Steps made a re-appearance in the March 2015 Bridges set.

The Ancient Britain set released in January 2017 included not only objects such as the Starr Carr antlers and the Battersea Shield, but also sites including Skara Brae, Maiden Castle and Avebury.

In June of last year, another set depicting Roman Britain was issued, the most recent release within our sphere of interest. This time the sites of Dover Lighthouse, Caerleon amphitheatre and Hadrian’s Wall (again) were included.

So over the years, it can be seen that Ancient Britain has been well represented on the stamps of Great Britain, with Tarr Steps, Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge all appearing more than once. Sadly, there are no stamps within our interest scheduled for this year, although folklorists have an Arthurian-themed set to look forward to.

Who, or what would you like to see on a British Archaeology set of stamps, if one were to be produced in future? Have you seen any examples of British sites on stamps from elsewhere in the world? Please leave a comment and let us know!

By Alan S.

The final video for now from our tour of Cornish antiquities visits the Carn Euny courtyard house settlement.

Continually occupied for over 800 years, the final phase of the settlement consisted of three large courtyard houses, several smaller oval buildings and a fogou. The fogou was discovered in 1857, and excavated in the 1860s by William Copeland Borlase.

Further information:

Carn Euny – Cornwall Heritage Trust
Carn Euny – Historic Cornwall
Carn Euny – Wikipedia

We hope you’ve enjoyed these videos as much as we enjoyed making them. Previous articles in the series can be found here. If there are other Cornish ancient sites you’d like to see featured, please leave a comment.

From a distance, British Camp is just one of many peaks comprising the Malvern Hills and tends to go unnoticed amongst the others.

malverns

Closer up it becomes clear that it’s a monument to be reckoned with, a series of two thousand year old ramparts surmounted by a Norman motte and commanding extraordinary views to Wales in one direction and the Cotswolds in the other, described by 17th Century diarist John Evelyn as “one of the godliest vistas in England”.

British Camp1

According to folklore it was the place where the ancient British chieftan Caractacus made his last stand against the Romans – although historians think it more likely to have been a few miles away on Caradoc in Shropshire. Still, it was probably built by him and was an auspicious location and home to thousands of people for a number of centuries.

A ringwork and bailey castle was built within the camp, possibly by the last Anglo Saxon monarch, the future King Harold II a few years before he met his end at Hastings. 200 years later the Earl of Gloucester (prompted by a boundary dispute with the Bishop of Hereford) built the Shire Ditch to the North and South of British Camp (possible on the line of a prehistoric trackway).

In modern times composer Elgar became closely associated with the Malverns and was inspired by the folklore to compose his cantata Caractacus. The status of Malvern as a spa town and literary centre and particularly Elgar’s friendships have meant that a host of famous figures have visited the hills and British Camp, including JRR Tolkein (who may have based the White Mountains of Gondor on the hills) and CS Lewis (who is said to have been inspired by a Malvern lampost he saw while walking back from the pub with Tolkein to write about the lampost in Narnia!) So if you want to experience “one of the godliest vistas in England” and follow in the footsteps of many famous people you’d better get up there!

We haven’t had a Quote of the Week for ages, but something in the Yorkshire Times prompted us to start it again.

It’s from an article that poses the question “Are there too many wind farms in East Yorkshire?”. If you’re worried about global warming, you’d probably say no. If you’re a windfarm developer you’d probably say no. If you’re a farmer wanting to make oodles you’d probably say no. And if you are a local who wants cheap local electricity and increased employment opportunities you’d probably say no.

But what if, actually, you think some (though not all) heritage sites and their settings need preserving or treating with respect so that some (but not all) can be passed to the future unscathed, what then? What if you think the pendulum has swung a bit too far in favour of people who want to make gazillions and against those who want to preserve some (but not all) such heritage assets? What if you feel that since  East Yorkshire has the highest density of wind turbines in England (226 turbines over 50 metres high have been built, approved or are pending a decision), enough is now enough?

______________________________________

Dr Peter Halkon, an archaeologist and a lecturer at the University of Hull, has spoken for them:

“The landscape of East Yorkshire is varied and subtle. It possesses a beauty of its own. There are very few parts of our region which have not been shaped by human activity since the first farmers some 6,000 years ago. Most of these changes however were in keeping with a landscape created by centuries of settlement and agriculture. Despite intensive use many monuments still survive making this one of the most important archaeological regions in the UK, a heritage which includes the Rudston monolith, Britain’s tallest standing stone, great prehistoric burial grounds and the network of massive linear earthworks.”

He said one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the region is between Market Weighton and Sancton, containing long barrows built five and a half thousand years ago and now home to one of the area’s largest windfarms.

“The views down valleys like this are very important. Now all one sees looking down them towards the Humber are the massive blades of wind turbines. No amount of predevelopment archaeological prospection or excavation can make up for the loss of the visual and symbolic connection between the wider landscape and these significant monuments to past human activities.”

He said he has no objection to small scale, carefully sited single turbines on farms, but said any more large developments “will wreck this beautiful historic landscape”.

by Katharine Range

A Google search among the interwebs won’t yield much on this site (trust me), and truth be told, there is barely anything to see at the site. You may wonder why I even bothered. Well. I think that even sites like these, that are difficult to access and difficult to discern, are still worth noting and acknowledging. Britain is chock full of archaeology and history that is unknown to most people and largely taken for granted. Under every garden shed and cookie-cutter home; under every Tesco and village pub, lies the prospect of evidence of millennia of history. It’s a tantalizing image.

© Bing Maps

© Bing Maps

Billingborough is a small village located just south of the A52 midway between Grantham and Boston in Lincolnshire. The first record of the village, so named, is in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is recorded as Billingeburg. It had a mill and half a church. The name is taken from the Old English group name “Billingas” which means the family and followers of Billa, and “burh” which means the stronghold of the Billingas. But Billingborough has a much more lengthy history than the early Middle Ages.

© Ordnance Survey

© Ordnance Survey

Excavated in 1975-78 minimal evidence was found of activity at Billingborough Fen, which is just south of the town’s Cow Gate, from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age. However, substantial remains of a Middle Bronze Age (2nd half of the 2nd millenium B.C.) ditch and bank enclosure were found dating to about 1500 BC. A number of postholes seem to indicate structures, though what type is difficult to determine due to extensive Medieval ploughing. Ditches and pottery were also found. The enclosure is the most extensively and completely excavated site of its type in the area. The settlement was later abandoned, most likely due to marine flooding.

   © Copyright Kate Jewell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Billingborough Fen.   © Copyright Kate Jewell and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

After about 500 years, the site was again occupied in the late Bronze/Early Iron Age and was used extensively for salt-making. This site is one of the earliest known salt-making sites in the country and a number of features associated with this industry were identified.

“There were four pits containing ashy deposits and briquetage fragments as well as several hearths. These were some gullies which may have been surviving evidence from structures, perhaps temporary shelters or windbreaks. One of the pits appeared, during excavation, to contain an in situ clay structure which disintegrated on excavation. Several scatters of salt-making debris were found across the site. The pottery that was found was not distinctive in form or fabric and was present in only small amounts. It is of a style that dates it probably, to the Bronze Age to early Iron Age. The analysis of the small amount of animal bone (cow, sheep/goat and pig) showed that most of the animals present were exploited for their meat. The development of salt marsh to the east of the site at this period would have provided ideal grazing for sheep, in particular, and meat may have been salted and perhaps traded with settlements in the region”. ( Chowne, Peter; Cheal, Rosamund; and Fitzpatrick, A. P., 2001, Excavations at Billingborough, Lincolnshire, 1975-78: a Bronze-Iron Age settlement and saltern site).

Other sources also identify traces of iron-working and bronze smelting.

Occupation grew more intense toward the last centuries of the 1st millenium B.C. as evidenced by two other enclosures associated with the settlement. During the 1st century A.D., a Romano-British field system was superimposed over the old enclosures. Well-preserved artefacts, including large amounts of pottery, were found representing all phases of occupation. Because of sequence of occupation and the quantities of pottery found, Billingborough Fen has become essential as it generated a recognized pottery sequence for Bronze/Iron Age pottery types and has been used extensively by other conservation and archaeological entities in the area and further afield.

Human bones were also unearthed, comprising one nearly complete female skeleton and one partially complete. One more interesting tidbit. There were also a number of skull fragments. Some had been cut and polished into bowl shapes and are all associated with the Iron Age phase of occupation. They come from several different people and would seem to indicate some type of ritual use. There are comparable examples of this phenomena at All Cannings Cross in Wiltshire and, closer to home, from the Iron Age site at nearby Helpringham. (1st Annual Report of the Trust for Lincolshire Archaeology – October 1985)

This last is quite tantalizing, but in fact all of the wealth of information and artefacts found at this site show the importance of conserving and recording even the most visually insignificant site. Under this flat, unassuming fen, lay layer upon layer of occupation covering about 3500 years, the artefacts of which were used to set a pottery sequence standard used by other archaeologists. Obvious and enigmatic sites are dramatic and visually pleasing, but sometimes I find these unassuming places more intriguing because they are shrouded in so much more mystery and so plentiful while yet unknown. quietly waiting to yield up their story.

recent article in the Oxford Mail about a new Heritage Trail based upon archaeological finds during development of a new housing estate caught our eye. With so much ‘developer-led rescue archaeology’ being undertaken, often with the ‘preservation by record’ caveat attached, it seems to us that such Heritage Trails could be a good idea going forward for many new housing estates across the country. Not only would such trails be educational, sparking the imagination of the people living in those communities, and connecting tehm to the area’s history, but they would be a constant nagging reminder of what has been lost forever (Oswestry, anyone?)

And of course, involvement with sites doesn’t just have to be about information boards. Although written from an Ireland perspective, the Bored of Boards‘ document available for free download from the Heritage Council of Ireland gives many alternative ways of providing interpretation for heritage sites, particularly in an urban environment. One of the alternatives listed in that document we’ve discussed here on the Heritage Journal in the past: the use of QR codes, such as that provided by the iBeaken system.

Many town centres and villages of course already have Heritage Trails set up. One town relatively local to me that has a trail (actually 7 of them!) is Wheathampstead, in Hertfordshire. There is a town centre trail, marked by mini-plaques on historical buildings, with a map and interpretation board outside the church, and a further six trails through the surrounding countryside detailed on their web site, ranging in length from 4-8 miles and covering the Iron Age, through Roman and Saxon times, to relatively recent historical sites. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area!

Wheathampstead Heritage Trail

Wheathampstead Heritage Trail

Further north, the University of York, in partnership with the grand sounding ‘Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP)’ has created a fine Roman Trail as well as other trails in the area (a Viking one is under development) but it would be wonderful from our point of view to see a similar trail somewhere that didn’t rely purely upon historical/preserved buildings but concentrated solely on sites from prehistory, i.e. discovered purely via excavated archaeology rather than above ground remains, which would otherwise be lost forever, and preserved only in a Heritage Environment Record somewhere.

If you know of any such trails, please let us know so that we can highlight them here and spread the word.

Now that the December hullabaloo has died down, (what? You’re still celebrating??) January is traditionally a time for the holiday brochures to make an appearance, and cold evenings huddled around a fire are spent dreaming of the sunnier, warmer days of summer ahead, and how to spend them. If you’re not one of those who go flying off to foreign climes, but prefer to explore the ancient heritage of the British Isles in a so-called ‘Staycation’, you may well be looking for some ideas.

planes

Luckily, our friends over at the Heritage Daily have recently been putting together a few ‘Top Ten’ lists which may inspire you.

Firstly to set the scene, a list of the Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries in 2013.  Not so much here on places to visit, though my personal favourite ‘local’ henge at Norton in Hertfordshire is included here. Whilst there’s not that much to see on the ground at Norton, taking in the wider landscape of the ‘Baldock Bowl’ can reap some rewards, whilst a few miles away is the largest longbarrow in Hertfordshire, just outside Royston.

If stone circles are your ‘thing’, a list of the Top Ten Circles in Britain  should provide plenty of inspiration. From Brodgar in the north, to Stanton Drew and Stonehenge in the south, all the major circles are here.

Hillforts seem to be coming under attack from developers lately (see our recent stories on Oswestry), so why not get out and see a few while they’re still relatively free of housing? The Top Ten Iron Age Hillforts list features some spectacular forts, from East Lothian in Scotland, down to the South Coast.

If your tastes verge toward the more ‘modern’ side of ancient heritage, the Top Ten Roman Forts  list should do for you, though we’re straying outside our ‘mainly Pre-Roman’ remit here 🙂 As you’d expect, Hadrian’s Wall features prominently – if you’re a Romanist and haven’t walked it yet, I’m assured you’re missing out! But there are also shore forts from around the coast, so whichever part of the country takes your fancy, there should be something there for you.

So plenty there to get your travel plans under way, whether it be for a day trip, long weekend, or something a little longer. Why not tell us your plans for this year? Which sites are you hoping to see for the first time? Which old friends will you be revisiting? Let us know via the Comments.

A couple of months ago, we drove down to Salisbury to take a look at the experimental Neolithic houses being built by English Heritage in preparation for the new Stonehenge visitor’s centre.

Neolithic Houses

Sadly, the buildings at Old Sarum were only ever designed as a temporary exhibit, to try out various ideas and techniques, and have now been demolished.  The volunteers who worked so hard on the houses had kept a blog of the process,  including covering the demolition and future possibilities, which is well worth reading.

A house at Old Sarum in the process of being demolished.

A house at Old Sarum in the process of being demolished.

Visitors to the experimental houses exhibit were encouraged to leave an email address where they could be contacted for a ‘later survey and feedback’, and it appears that time has now arrived. If you visited the houses at Old Sarum, but didn’t leave an email address, no matter. You can still take part in the survey, and as a thank you for your time you will be entered into a prize draw with the chance to win one of two cash prizes of £100.

All feedback will apparently be taken into consideration when the ‘real’ houses are reconstructed nearer to Stonehenge later this year. English Heritage have a page which explains the entire Neolithic Houses Project in detail.

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