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by Alan S.
We conclude our review of 2015 on the Heritage Journal, through Autumn and bringing us right up to date.
Sadly, there seems to be a need amongst certain visitors to ancient sites to proclaim their presence to others in the worst way possible. We highlighted two sites where this was the case this month, with both the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor in the Peak Disctrict, and the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney being targeted by vandals.
We held a short survey of our readership this month, and the results showed a pleasing balance of both professional and amateur archaeologists and others interested in heritage.
In our stone rows series we examined the Sharpitor NW single row, and introduced a new occasional series looking at the ‘Neolithic M1’, whilst in Parliament some incisive questions were being asked about Stonehenge.
Two very opposing threads appeared this month. The first, that of damage and desecration was highlighted by a story from Ireland, and our mood was not improved by two stories of ‘Brandalism’ in Cardiff and Wilmington.
Oh, and we answered some useful constructive criticism of our views of archaeology and archaeologists.
As the Stonehenge tunnel saga rumbled on, we tried to unravel some of the doublespeak being used, and pointed out several holes in the case for the short tunnel and the National Trust’s double standards. As for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, we made a suggestion to improve their funding and pointed out the problems with the Emperor’s new clothes.
This month the focus has largely been on Oswestry, with a demonstration at the Shropshire County headquarters followed by the devastating decision to retain OS004 within the SAMDEV plan. But this is not the end, the fight goes on.
Firstly we’d like to give hearty thanks to all our contributors, commenters and other participants, as well as all our readers. Without any of you, there would be no Heritage Journal. As the news in general for heritage has been particularly grim this year, we’ve posted nearly 250 articles, well over our target of around 180 for the year.
Of necessity, this review has been just a brief overview of some of the stories we’ve presented, but we’d urge everyone to browse through our archives (see link on the left) to catch up on any stories you may have missed. We’d like to close by wishing all our readers a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Personal Note: Once again, for the second year running, family health issues have truncated my opportunities to get out amongst our ancient sites. But as ever, I’m hoping a more normal service of providing visit reports and Bank Holiday drives will present itself in 2016.
Be assured we’ll continue in the New Year, making the establishment as uncomfortable as we can by discussing the embarrassing issues in Bonkers Britain as usual. So don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter or here on WordPress/RSS to make sure you don’t miss anything. And if you’d like to contribute, either a one-off or on a more regular basis, please get in touch!
by Alan S.
We continue our review of 2015, looking back through the Spring and Summer months.
A month of change with the split of English Heritage, and a new Chief Executive about to take the reins, a new Culture Secretary who seemed to have a grasp on things. And a recent Historic Environment (Wales) Bill.
Meanwhile, in London, the Council for British Archaeology’s Local Heritage Engagement Network held a workshop for heritage advocates. Unfortunately we were unable to attend, but by all accounts the event was well received, and has since been successfully repeated in other parts of the country.
With a change of management structure at the Portable Antiquities Scheme, we suggested 10 truths the PAS must make public. RESCUE meanwhile, unveiled a new look and the annual Day of Archaeology gave us an insight into how varied the life of an archaeologist can be.
We looked at several ancient sites this month, including the Newport Leper Stone, Tinkinswood burial chamber and British Camp. We reminisced about the first HA Megameet and took a look at the Sharpitor NW stone row in our ongoing series.
Two views of ‘consultation’ were taken, one from Wales, the other from Shropshire. And we highlighted three early tests for the new PAS structure. Unsurprisingly, they failed, as evidenced by our ‘myth-peddlers’ piece.
The year concludes in tomorrow’s installment.
by Alan S.
It seems to have come round far too quickly, but once again it’s time for our traditional Review of the Heritage Journal Year.
This year seems to have been dominated by just a few main stories: the battle to save Old Oswestry Hillfort, the ongoing saga of the Stonehenge Tunnel and our continuing campaign against non-recording metal detectorists. But aside from these main stories, each of which featured in just about every month throughout the year, there was also plenty more to report upon and bring to your attention.
We began the year with our customary Resolutions, but sadly reading back it seems that once again, none were met. We pointed out that when it comes to some sites, interpretations come and go, and when it comes to hoards being discovered we suggested ways in which it wouldn’t be necessary to immediately ‘hoik’ them out.
Our look at Stone Rows continued by featuring Burford Down and Brent Fore Hill, and we continued to point out the scheduling administrative inconsistencies at Mynydd y Betws, a story which is still ongoing.
Oswestry launched their ‘Hug a Hillfort‘ campaign, which was very successful, resulting in the ramparts being encircled by campaigners all holding hands on St Valentines Day.
Continuing the theme of damage to Stonehenge, King Arthur Pendragon had a word to say about our views, but we also had a comment from someone in the emergency services about the mess and damage caused at the Solstice gatherings.
We looked at more stone rows at Drizzlecombe and documented another trip to Cornwall’s ancient monuments, including Tregonning Hill, Tregeseal, Chun and Boskednan Downs, and the Three Brothers of Grugwith on the Lizard.
Our Cornwall holiday concluded with trips to Carwynnen Quoit, St Columb and Minions. Speaking of St Columb, plans to build a wind farm by the Nine Maidens stone row were mooted – and recommended by Historic England! Luckily, the plans have so far been rejected.
We were very pleased to be able to serialise a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction.
Leedon Tor was our featured stone row this month.
We continue our look back tomorrow in the second part of our 2015 review!
by Alan S
Our Review of the Heritage Journal Year concludes with a look at some of our stories from the final part of the year.
Some better news from Wales involved the rejection of an application for a wind farm at Bedlinog. A similar application in the Forest of Dean was approved, but highlighted the community bribes which are included in such applications, but often never seen through to their conclusion.
Following a favourable Scottish report into the economic impact of the historic environment, we asked again for heritage to be given the protection it so deserves to allow us all to prosper.
Meanwhile in Oxfordshire, several members and friends of Heritage Action got together for their annual ‘Megameet‘, which was held for the first time at The Rollright Stones.
Following the rally at Weyhill Fair, we made a last ditch attempt to get the area scheduled, before any further damage could be done.
Our Prehistoric A-Z looked at the Coldrum Stones in Kent, and we pleaded with the National Trust (yet again) not to allow use of ancient monuments and heritage sites to be damaged or used in advertising stunts.
More details emerged about the plans for a short tunnel at Stonehenge, with very little concern being expressed by the major players about the archaeological damage that would result. Apart from ICOMOS-UK and UNESCO that is!
With so much heritage and archaeology at risk, we felt it would be timely to provide a reminder of how to report Heritage Crime – something which we intend to repeat on a regular basis from now on.
And speaking of crime, the question or ‘brandalism or art‘ just won’t go away it seems.
This month, we turned our attention to look at prehistoric Stone Rows. Dr Sandy Gerrard has provided an (ongoing) series of articles looking to find some commonality of structure and purpose behind these enigmatic prehistoric monuments.
The Carwynnen Quoit project finally completed, with the publication of a booklet detailing all aspects of this community project, which was about so much more than just raising the stones. I’ve got my copy, have you got yours yet?
When is conservation not protection? When ‘conservation’ is defined by English Heritage! Luckily, their definition was rejected when part of Offa’s Dyke was saved from a potential housing development, thanks to a local campaign group.
Whilst we’re accused of harping on about some issues, Greenpeace proved our often-made point about copycat brandalism.
And as the public hearing into the development plans for Old Oswestry Hillfort opened, we published an open letter by senior academics, in defense of the hillfort. We await the outcome.
And finally, metal detecting. It’s been a bad year for depletion of the archaeological resource, with several major hoards coming to light, almost always in poor circumstances, with ill-disciplined excavation and greed at the forefront. We end the year with a plea to all archaeologists to finally speak up.
Of necessity, this review has been a brief overview of some of the stories we’ve presented, so we’ll wrap it up there, wishing all our readers a healthy and prosperous New Year.
No doubt 2015 will have a few surprises up it’s sleeve, and we’ll be here, making the establishment as uncomfortable as we can by discussing the embarrassing issues in Bonkers Britain as usual. So don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter or here on WordPress/RSS to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Personal Note: This year has been a difficult one personally, having lost my step-son unexpectedly in January and the family having been beset by various serious (and ongoing) medical issues throughout the year, which has somewhat curtailed my opportunities to get out and among the stones this year. I’m hopeful that I’ll personally be able to return to a (closer to) normal service of providing visit reports and Bank Holiday drives in 2015.
Our Review of the Heritage Journal Year continues with a look back at the summer months.
Our look at our ancient sites continued this month, with a view of the Bleasdale Circle and Billingborough Fen, and we took a road trip to visit West Stow, in Suffolk. Following this visit, we touched upon the exclusivity of some sites which are, often of necessity, not as welcoming to handicapped visitors as they might be.
Meanwhile, with the news that Heritage Tourism is booming, we suggested a way in which
funding for heritage could be increased. Despite this increased interest in Heritage, RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust, are crying out for new members and supporters, a theme which was covered at their AGM this year.
With Prehistory now included in the national curriculum, we highlighted a couple of examples of teaching resources from different parts of the country. And speaking of prehistory, we delved into our own archives, travelling back nine years to our participation in a major piece of experimental archaeology – the theory and practice of ‘stone-rowing‘.
Vandalism at Tara and developer damage at Offa’s Dyke reared their head early in the month. Elsewhere, Carwynnen Quoit awaited its capstone, which was successfully raised at Midsummer, whilst at nearby Boscawen-Un an offering left in a dug hole was the subject of some debate in the comments section. How much damage is’acceptable’?
And speaking of Stonehenge, we asked ‘Is The National Trust still opposed to a “short tunnel” at Stonehenge?‘ – from later events, it seems the answer was a resounding No!
Continuing with the Stonehenge tunnel theme, we stated: “a tunnel that is slightly longer than a short one is still a short one, and is still massively damaging”. And of other campaigners, we suggested “It would be nice if they all started (complaining) about (the short tunnel) NOW, and didn’t wait until December when the die is cast and the chances of changing anything will have all but disappeared.” Sadly prophetic words.
Out and about, we visited some heritage within a Cornish hillfort, looked at a tale of a moving mediaeval cross, and featured Castlerigg in our continuing A-Z of prehistoric sites. Pigwn stone alignment was also featured, which led into a series of posts asking some serious questions of the scheduling process in Wales.
With the archaeological digging season in full swing, we suggested some sites worth a
visit. Our ‘Inside the Mind‘ series, which had been on hiatus also reappeared, via an interview with Professor Niall Sharples.
Sadly, the subject of monuments being used to advertise various causes, via so-called ‘brandalism’ returned yet again, and the Friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS stated “Sooner or later a monument is going to be damaged beyond repair“.
Our second most read post of the year highlighted some unwelcome shenanigans at Stonehenge during the Solstice celebrations. This occurred despite English Heritage making the position about criminality at Stonehenge very clear. And this.
The economic cuts that are causing the loss of many County Archaeologists and their services was highlighted by a story involving the Director of the CBA finding Roman bones in a utility company’s road digging! And Sandy Gerrard provided another thought-provoking piece asking ‘Is destruction of heritage ever a good thing?‘
Our much-maligned Artefact Erosion Counter passed another milestone this month – 12 million recordable finds! Much-maligned, yet still no-one has proposed a better model for measuring the loss… and some people still wonder why we continue with the metal detectorist stories. But we will continue to ask, ‘How much loss is acceptable?’
Our review concludes tomorrow, so come back then!
Ok, so as the saying goes: “Once is an accident, twice is a habit, three times is a tradition”. So with no further ado, we present our now traditional (!) Review of the Heritage Journal Year.
2014 started much the way the previous year had finished, with stories of potential environmental and heritage landscape damage due to development. We introduced our Events Diary, a new page listing various walks, talks and other events that catch our eye (don’t forget, if you have an event you’d like listed, drop us a line to bring it to our attention!) And as holiday planning is a traditional January activity, we pointed out some Top 10 lists for ‘staycationers’ to consider.
We have been quite scathing toward Cadw (and will continue to be) for their handling of the Myndd Y Betws affair, but in fairness we have to point out the good side of their work too, in this case teaching schoolchildren about what may have gone on at our ancient sites.
The Oswestry Hillfort story continued with a Protest Meeting at the end of the month, we tried to clear some of the fog surrounding the Stonehenge road saga and our continuing general campaign against depletion of the archaeological resource provided a handy infographic for other countries considering setting up a PAS-like scheme.
Oh yes, and we faced down some critics of our stance towards the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Our (now infamous) Artefact Erosion Counter clicked over 5 million recordable finds since the start of the PAS (which had recorded just shy of 1 million objects in the same period). By an unhappy coincidence, our story about the Medway Finders Club dig which unearthed Anglo-Saxon artefacts was, by a long chalk, our most read story of the year.
Following the damage caused at Mynydd Y Betws following the construction of a wind turbine, Dr Sandy Gerrard provided a solid case over five days for a prehistoric interpretation of the Bancbryn stone alignment.
We provided a full report of the Current Archaeology Live conference, which we hope to attend once again in 2015, and gave an update on the restoration works at Carwynnen Quoit, where the first upright had been re-erected.
We started the Spring month with a look at essentials for a heritage trip ‘go-bag’, with some good additional suggestions in the comments. We followed up with some suggestions for organising photos from your trips. Fully prepared, we grabbed our bag and took a drive around Early Hertfordshire.
Sadly, April marks the start of the silly season for some, and this year it was the turn of the Alton Barnes white horse to suffer from the April Fools. Elsewehere, illegal off-roader activity caused damage in the Mendips. Meanwhile at Stonehenge, the debate rumbled on and we made some predictions. We also provided a timely reminder that “Heritage ONLY survives because “someone” has stopped its destruction”.
Tune in tomorrow for more nostalgic links in the second part of our 2014 review!
Today we start a brief series of mobile app reviews, looking at those with a heritage or prehistoric remit. First up is the Heritage app, by Little Polar Apps, available for iOS devices only.
The Heritage app is essentially a gazetteer of around 2000 heritage sites across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Directions to a site can be obtained via the native Apple maps app, and registered users can leave a review of their visit to a site for others to read.
The app had it’s origins in a Cornish holiday when the developer, who struggled with the official English Heritage Member’s Guide, was trying to get a grip on how the sites related geographically to each other. Developed in less than 8 weeks, with over 1000 man-hours spent on collating information about the included sites, the app is a real labour of love. Sadly, although some National Trust properties were included, they later requested that they not be included – an odd decision, given that property listings are free, and effectively provide free advertising for the Trust. But English Heritage properties, the Churches Conservation Trust properties and many independent sites are included and another 500 properties are in the pipeline to be added soon.
So what do you get once the app is installed on your device? Opening up the app for the first time displays your current location (if available) on a map, and a column on the left shows the nearest sites.
Each site consists of a thumbnail picture and the approximate distance to the site from your current location, along with a series of icons.
Clicking on the right-arrow ‘>’ leads to a screen that displays information about the selected site. The same icons are displayed on this screen, and work in the same way. A back-arrow at top left returns to the original map view.
What do the icons do? The first, a Speech Bubble, displays contact details for the site, where available. This wasn’t working on my version, but the developer has been made aware of this and is investigating the issue.
Next, the Star icon allows a site to be added to a Favourites list. On the map view, the list of nearby sites can be switched to display any Favourites that have been saved, allowing quick access to those sites. The ‘Swirly Arrow’ icon provides access to directions via the standard Maps app. I found this only works if the site is within a reasonable distance from your current location – this distance can be set in the App Settings. Finally the Pen icon allows input and submission of a short review of the selected site for others to read. To use this facility you must be a registered user, and logged in – a simple enough process.
This last item is where the app could really prove very useful, given enough take up by the user base. At present, the app has not yet gained enough ‘traction’ with users within the marketplace.
Back on the map view as previously stated, a list of nearby sites is displayed by default. There is a search box, but this seemingly only searches on place names, and then in a somewhat eccentric way. A search for ‘Chipping’ (expecting to be asked to select between ..Norton, ..Sodbury, ..Campden, ..Barnet etc.) apparently centred results upon Stevenage in Hertfordshire! A similar search for ‘Burton’ centred on a small village in North Devon rather than offering the much better served (heritage-wise) Burton upon Trent as an alternative.
When results are returned, there seems to be no way to filter the list. Although there appears to be a good selection of sites listed, there is currently no control to, for instance, filter out the churches, or to look just at castles, or sites from a particular period (Pre-history/Roman/Medieval etc.) Sadly due to lack of development resource, this is not currently on the development plan (but if things change…)
Looking in the iPad Notification Centre, there are options to receive notifications from the app, of events at participating sites within a set distance of your current location. This feature is still under development and will only improve.
In conclusion, despite it’s obvious shortcomings, I still feel this is a useful weapon in my heritage searching armoury, as it appears to have a good range of sites (there are plans to include some sites in France next) and the ‘near me’ feature is useful. Yes, the info on individual sites is minimal – info about opening times, prices etc is very patchy and often missing completely but this is largely due to the lack of input from the various site management companies rather than lack of effort by the developers. Yes, the search facility is eccentric – but this could be a result of using the Apple Maps app, which has had it’s fair share of problems.
Whilst it will never earn the developer his fortune, it’s a laudable effort that deserves better user participation, and at just 69p this could turn out to be a very useful tool indeed for those days out where you say “I wonder what else around here is worth seeing?” I would strongly recommend as many people as possible to start using it, register and submit your reviews. And maybe contact the developer to say thanks!
Heritage App, by Little Polar Apps Ltd is currently available on iOS devices only (69p), via iTunes or the Apple store, and was tested by us on a 64Gb Apple iPad Mini with retina display.
A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review has been posted in several parts, of which this is the last for this year’s conference.
And so, suitably refreshed after lunch on the Saturday, the seventh and penultimate session of the conference, ‘Early Medieval England‘ kicked off the afternoon proceedings, introduced by Karly Hilts, Assitant Editor of Current Archaeology. The talks in this session were slightly shuffled from the published program, in order to better present them in chronological order, so first up was Dr Catherine Hills, talking about ‘Spong Hill and the Adventus Saxonum‘, the coming of the Anglo Saxons.
So, was there a violent invasion, a mass migration or a takeover by a ruling elite? We began by looking at weapons deposited in lakes in Denmark, such as Illerup which held a large number of sophisticated weapons, far too intricate for supposed ‘savage’ Angles, Jutes and Saxons to have produced. This suggests large groups of organised people, rather than small primitive bands. Looking at Spong Hill, over 2000 cremations have been found so far, many more than would have been expected for the size of settlement. Many artefacts found are typical of those found in northern Germany, the chronology of these is imprecise, but being refined. Pots and bone combs provide clues as to a possible sequencing – pots with similar designs and stamps are being grouped and plotted. Could these denote family groups? Many of the grave goods have been typologically dated to the early 5th Century. The conclusion (so far)? The invasion was not a single event. There is evidence of connections with N Germany and Jutland over a long period.
Next to take the podium was Prof Martin Carver, who gave us a glimpse of ‘Sutton Hoo: a slice of England‘. The famous Anglo Saxon features at Sutton Hoo overlie a Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age landscape, with many of the prehistoric finds sitting on the 300’ contour. These include Neolithic pit burials, a Beaker settlement, late Bronze Age enclosures and Iron Age field systems. Commonly, Anglo Saxon mounds are placed on earlier Iron Age banks, and that is the case at Sutton Hoo. There are three cemeteries there, and Martn ran through the chronologies. A 6th century family burial ground contained cremations and inhumations. The 7th Century ‘princely’ ship burial and a later cemetery of executions, dated to the 8th-10th Centuries. This latter contained 39 bodies, grouped around a gallows site. All had been decapitated or garotted, one still had the rope around it’s neck. Pictures of some of the now famous grave goods were shown, and it was explained that the chronology suggests a political sequence for the site. From family cemetery, to chiefdom, to a Christian kingdom where dissidents were punished.
Finally to round off the session, Prof Julian Richards, on ‘The Viking Great Army at Torksey‘. There has been very little hard archaeological evidence for Viking raids, but Torksey was mentioned in the AS Chronicles, in 872, as somewhere the raiding army camped over winter, but until recently the actual camp site had not been identified. Metal detectorists reported finding Viking artefacts near Torksey, which identified the site, and the project to investigate the site began. Its aims: to identify the nature and extent of the camp, and whether the camp contributed to Torksey’s subsequent industrial growth.
Seventy detectorists have been working on the 20 hectare site at Torksey for some years, not all have reported finds to the PAS, but over 1500 finds have been logged to date, mostly early Medieval.
Over 300 Anglo Saxoncoins included some Northumbrian small change – stycas – as well as some dirhams from as far as Arabia. This is the largest number of Aracbic dirhams found in Britain to date. Also, lots of bullion and scrap metal was being processed; hack silver, hack gold and some forgery (gold plated copper alloys). Evidence of metalworking whilst camped? Also some lead gaming pieces have been found. The landscape is constantly changing; deep ploughing and blown sand are bringing more finds to the surface. The Winter Camp is north of the current village, a later Burgh is near the current village, where some 15 kilns have been excavated – a sizable Burgh. The lack of pottery at the camp site indicates that it pre-dates the Burgh.
And all too soon it was time for a last tea break before the final session, entitled ‘Time Team and Geophysics‘. Dr John Gater regaled us with anecdotes from Time Team, ‘Geofizz, what have we learned after 20 years?‘
There’s no doubt he got off to a good start, with “In 1993, Archaeology became sexy overnight”, accompanied by some hilarious shots of the various team members. John then explained about the early use of ‘geofizz’, the creation of a new word to explain the use of science to understand archaeology, at the Athelney Abbey dig. Time Team was unusual in that geofizz usually was used on development sites anything up to a year before the excavations began. With Time Team, feedback was almost instantaneous, and exciting! Even Ribchester was exciting, although the early interpretation was completely incorrect. Roman road? field boundaries? No – modern football pitch markings!
After the laughter died down, John explained the different types of survey; Resistance Survey, Magnetometry, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) etc. Although the 3 day format didn’t allow time for experimentation, GPR Was a great leap forward, useful on greenfield sites and allowing a not just a plan, but a 3D model with depth information to be created. The plan of Brancaster was compared to the early plan of Athelney. One a 2D plan, the other a full 3D model, showing the improvements made over time. John’s one regret, was making it all look too easy. A very entertaining and educational talk to finish the conference.
And that was it. Editor in Chief Andrew Selkirk provided the closing remarks, reminding us all of what we’d seen and heard over the last couple of days, and it all too soon it was time to pack up and head home.
Was it all worth it? Certainly! And with any luck and a prevaling wind, I’ll be back next year to report it all again..
A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review is being be posted in several parts.
The second day started out with a session sponsored by Current Archaeology’s sister magazine, Military History Monthly looking at ‘The Archaeology of World War One‘. The first talk in this session was a harrowing tale of a hidden war, as Matt Leonard told us about ‘Digging in the dark: modern conflict archaeology beneath the Western Front‘.
Although most people know of the trench warfare, not so well known is the hidden aspect of the battlefield, and Matt brought this to life be describing the ‘sense-scape’ that the troops would have encountered in the tunnels and caves below the ground – “Ordinary soldiers saw very little of the war, but tasted, smelled and felt all of it.”
Matt described three key areas of the battlefield: trenches, subways and fighting tunnels. Each had a different sensory environment. He graphically described breaking through into enemy tunnels and having to fight in the pitch black, by touch – German uniforms had epaulettes, Allied uniforms didn’t. So if you felt an epaulette, you stabbed! Within this hidden world, some tunnels were as much as 100m below ground, or as close as 1m to the surface. Troops could hear the enemy through the tunnel walls. This was all very powerful, emotional stuff!
Dr Stephen Miles then brought us to the present day, talking about ‘Seeing the Western Front: archaeology, history and battlefield tourism‘. With over 6 milllion dead, along 416 miles of the Western Front, ‘grief tourism’ is now big business. There are over 1000 military, and 200 civilian cemeteries spread along the Front. In the Westhoek area of Belgium some 326,000 people a year visit, 52% are British. People want to see where the big battles happened, and also to visit family members. This tourism started as soon as the war finished. In contrast to the previous talk, the point was made that most visitors are ‘sight-seers’, other senses are very secondary to the experience. The way that the military cemeteries are laid out is in stark contrast to the confusion of the trenches. There are many reconstructed trenches – an important aspect of Western Front heritage – very little of the original trench systems are extant today. There are many unexploded shells still in/on the ground, but fieldwalking tours damage context and provenance. This makes it difficult to interpret the landscape. This is important because this interpretation allows the memories to live on. The conclusion? Tourism is a cultural vehicle for reinscribing memory.
To wrap up the session before coffee, Dr Nick Saunders told us about the history of ‘The scarlet flower: the remembrance poppy from Flanders Fields to Afghanistan‘. He explained that the remembrance poppy (a hybrid of the opium and corn poppy) began in 1915, but associations of this flower with memory, death, and pain go back thousands of years, based upon use of the opium poppy to dull the senses. There are references in the Trojan Wars, Classical Greece, and after the American Civil War veterans homes were full of opium dependents. John McCrae’s poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’ was one of the first literary images to really connect the poppy to WWI – the poppy no longer being associated with forgetting/dulling pain & grief, but rememberance. Moina Michael in New York was the first person to start handing out poppies for donations to help war veterans. Anna Guerin in France set up a factory to make silk poppies, extending the idea internationally. By 1922, the British set up their own factories, staffed by disabled veterans. The point was made that the poppy as material culture is now political and full of power and meaning. “The lightest of petals carries the heaviest of burdens.”
A welcome coffee break, and a chance to look once more at the stalls comprising the Archaeology Fair. Burdened with purchases, we took our seats for the next session, sponsored by another title from the Current Publishing stable – World Archaeology magazine, and introduced by Editor Caitlin McCall. The session was entitled ‘Back to the Beginning‘.
Prof Thomas Higham first told us about ‘Modern Humans, Neanderthals and Denisovians‘, looking at some of our earliest human ancestors. After talking through some of the anatomical differences between Neanderthals and modern humans, the science of radio carbon dating was discussed. With very old samples (30,000 years for neanderthals?) Decay and contamination is a problem. The best material for dating is bone collagen, but this only comprises 20% of the bone, and is relatively quick to decay. As reliable dates are important for understanding how and when humans and Neanderthals interacted, some cutting edge techniques are beng used – such as Ultrafiltration are being used to help remove contaminants and provide more accurate dates from samples. Using these techniques and revisiting previous samples suggests that Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago, nevertheless there was an overlap between the them and us of around 2000 years. DNA analysis suggests that interbreeding did occur – modern human DNA overlaps anywhere between 1-3% with Neanderthal’s. A relatively newly discovered hominid, Denisovans has been identified via DNA from a molar and fingerbone of a 9 year old girl, in Russia. Although remains from this time are very small and scarce, preservation has allowed up to 70% survival of their DNA, and the genome has been sequenced. An exhibition about these species is currently on at the Natural History Museum.
Next, Prof Klaus Schmidt explained about ‘Göbekli Tepe: the first human holy site?‘. At 11,000 years old, this is considered to be one of the world’s oldest temples, situated in modern day Turkey. The project has been running for 20 years, but literally has only just ‘scratched the surface’ so far. A fascinating slideshow of the excavations was displayed, with wonderful carvings, depictions of figures and animals througout the complex, which is divided into a series of rooms or courtyards.
The site rises to a height of 15m, across an aree 300x300m, and dates to the pre-pottery era Neolithic – so almost Hunter-Gatherer stage. The layout and extent of the statuary and carvings shows this is not a settlement – some of the pillars are anthropomorphic – the first deity figures? Quarries for the pillars have been identified less than 200 m from the main site. The number of animal depictions suggest a story is being told, but sadly there was no time for questions, but just time for one more talk in the session before we broke for lunch.
Prof Brian Fagan from California spoke eloquently and entertainingly about ‘The Intimate Bond: Animals and Humans over 15000 years‘, concentrating on the Donkey! Described as the ‘pickup truck of the world for 5000 years’, donkeys as we know them today were first domesticated in NE Africa some 5000 years ago. Donkey burials were found at Abydos, dating from 3000 BC. They were respected, working animals, noted for their ability to dehydrate slowly but rehydrate quickly, and to travel 15-20 miles a day, easily. Although respected, bone analysis shows that they were worked hard and often overloaded. We were told how they were used extensively in caravans across the Eastern Sahara. Some of these trade routes have been documented on cunieform tablets. Donkeys also appear on many murals in Pompeii, showing their ongoing use as beasts of burden. Fun fact: there are 40 million donkeys in the world today!
But all too soon it was time for lunch and a chance to grab some fresh air. Come back tomorrow to read about the final sessions of the conference…
A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review is being be posted in several parts.
During lunch in the Friday, there was a minor incursion when a small group of protestors gained access to the building, despite the best efforts of security. They walked up and down the corridors, yelling through a megaphone which was so distorted in that their message was somewhat lost. This disturbance delayed the afternoon session by 10-15 minutes when the protestors eventually dissipated.
And so the afternoon session, entitled ‘Rescuing the Past‘ began. Much to my delight, this session coninued the morning’s theme of covering the prehistoric and Roman periods, looking at some specific rescue archaeology projects and their results.
The first talk in the session returned to the early Mesolithic with Fraser Brown telling us about ‘Settling Man: an Early Mesolithic house and Bronze Age vilage, Ronaldsway Airport, Isle of Man‘. The planned expansion of the airport, as well as creating land where once was sea, involved the largest archaeological investigation on the island to date. The area around the airport was found to be archaeologically rich – “like building on Salisbury Plain” was how Fraser described it. Two of the major finds were a Bronze Age linear settlement almost 1km in extent, and a Neolithic house which produced many wonderful finds of stone axes, pottery etc. These sites were originally discovered in the 1940’s when the airport was originally constructed, but have now been revisited using today’s techniques. In addition, Mesolithic pits and scatter were found to the east, eroding out of the cliffs. Some 1700 ten-litre buckets of spoil were excavated to be processed, allowing for a full 3D reconstruction of the finds. Analysis of the finds has shown a Mesolithic structure to be 10000 years old, where carbon deposits suggest the house burned down. Returning to the Bronze Age settlement, ceramic distribution maps suggested a centralised midden between three houses. This has been interpreted as a possible foundry.
Next, Alistair Barclay told us about ‘Kingsmead Quarry, Horton: early Neolithic houses and other discoveries‘. I had previously attended an Open Day at Horton but this time round the focus was very much put on the four (possibly five, count ’em!) Neolithic houses discovered at the site, rather than the gold bling. Four million pounds has been spent on Rescue Archaeology at Horton to date, and it’s quite rare to find one neolithic house, let alone multiple houses. The houses were of two types, gulley and post constructions. The earlier gulley houses had some finds, but no hearth material. However, they were much deeper at one end, suggesting that the structures were possibly load-bearing. Could they have had a second storey? Or at least an upstairs sleeping/storage area? Intruiging. The later post houses were much less interesting finds-wise, but the houses bear an uncanny resemblance to some found hundreds of miles away (at Lismore Field). Evidence of travel/contact between the two groups possibly? Radio Carbon dating has proved problematic, but a date of some 3700BC (Early Neolithic) has been put forward. Of course, it’s not possible to talk about Horton wihout mentioning the later Beaker burial – inhumation from this period is rare in the Thames Valley, inclusion of gold grave goods is rarer – and the Beaker lady managed a bit more time in the spotlight.
Finally in this session, Sadie Watson from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) told us about ‘The Walbrook: recent discoveries from the banks of Roman London’s river‘. Comparisons with Pompeii (see Current Archaeology issue 280) will naturally tend to dull the shine of any discoveries, but the excavations at the Bloomberg site on the banks of the Walbrook have produced a stunning amount of Roman finds. In fact, less than 1% of all the finds there to date are non-Roman! The river banks have provided a good state of presevation, whilst 50 yards away, the gravel offers no chance of preservation at all. the finds included a huge military assemblage: shoes and boots, armour, cavalry gear etc. along with large numbers of fist and phallus amulets. A slideshow showed the breadth of some of the finds to be analysed in full, including a curious decorated leather panel. But the star finds were some wooden writing tablets, including a rare inked tablet, which are very slowly being deciphered. The project has a web site at walbrookdiscovery.wordpress.com.
All too soon it was time for a tea break, before the keynote speech, ‘Archaeology, a very dry field‘ given this year by Dr Francis Pryor, and dedicated to his colleague Mick Aston.
Francis’ talk featured his two favourite subjects; Farming and Flag Fen (and a lot more besides!) He firstly took us quickly through his sheep farming year, then applied what he knew about these farming techniques to interpretation of Bronze Age field systems at Flag Fen. There was a remarkable fit between the two, but he pointed out that you also have to take into account ancient belief systems in order to be able to interpret the site correctly. He believes that intensive farming (up 1000 sheep) went on at Flag Fen, and outlined the possible economic impact on trade this would have led to, with metalwork from very disparate areas having been found there. All in all, a very entertaining talk to round of the first day of the conference – and he even managed to get in a huge plug for his latest venture, an archaeological detective novel!
Following the Keynote speech we moved across the corridor once again for a drinks reception, entertainment by a brass quintet of HM Guards musicians playing a selection of pieces with a WW1 theme, and the awards ceremony. The Current Archaeology Awards are special in that all the winners are voted for by the readership, from a shortlist of possible candidates in each category.
This year’s winners (with hearty congratulations to them all) were announced by Julian Richards, as follows:
- Book of the year: Julian Bowsher, Shakespeare’s London Theatreland
- Research Project of the Year: Return to Star Carr
- Rescue Dig of the Year: Sands of Time: Links of Notland
- Archaeologist of the Year: Richard Buckley
And so ended the first day, though many stayed for more drinks, and I believe a restaurant meal was arranged for the more hardy souls. But I had a commute to face in order to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed for the following day.
More to come…