Salon Archive

Issue: 132

Forthcoming meetings

19 January: Roman Mosaics in Southern Britain, by Stephen Cosh, FSA, and David Neal, FSA, accompanied by an exhibition of paintings of Roman mosaics.

This paper, linked to the imminent publication by the Society of the second volume of Roman Mosaics of Britain, contrasts the mosaics of south-west Britain with those of the south east. In the former the demand for mosaics in the fourth century sustained several groups of craftsmen and artists, laying the majority in villas. These pavements include a number of mythological scenes, evidence of the villa owners’ sophistication and literary tastes. By contrast, the second century was the golden age for mosaics in south-east Britain, particularly in towns. Figured scenes are rare indeed. An exhibition of the authors’ mosaic paintings accompanies the paper.

26 January: Ballot.

2 February: The Manor Court in Westmorland 1589—1693: an opportunity for antiquarian play-acting or a source of local justice? by Philip Holdsworth, FSA.

There has been much disagreement about the practical function of post-medieval manor courts. The records of five manor courts in the former county of Westmorland have been analysed to investigate their procedures and the character and range of business they dealt with. Evidence will be presented for the composition of manor court juries, the appointment and responsibilities of constables and other officials, the protection of manorial resources and the resolution of conflict. It will be shown that the manor court was increasingly a vehicle for manorial tenants to regulate society in their own interests rather than to safeguard the privileges of the lord of the manor. While the Civil War was a watershed for the powers of early modern manor courts they continued to be a forum for obtaining justice and resolving issues of common concern throughout the seventeenth century.

New Year Honours

Salon apologises to both Jeffrey Keith West, FSA, and to Jeffrey (James) West for fusing their identities in the last issue: it was Jeff West, formerly Policy Director at English Heritage, who was created an OBE in the New Year Honours List, having left English Heritage to train for the Anglican ministry last autumn, and who is not a Fellow, though he is married to our Fellow Juliet E West.

Eagle-eyed Mike Pitts, FSA, has spotted several other names in the list of people honoured for services to heritage. They are OBEs: Trevor John Knight (Executive Head, Library, Heritage and Registration Services, Sutton) Professor Norbert Casper Lynton (Chair of the Charleston Trust) and Alan Francis Pegler (President of the Ffestiniog Railway); and MBEs: David Christopher Bryant (Smethwick Heritage Centre) and Paul Frederick Scriven (for services to heritage in Suffolk).

Jeremy Warren, FSA, Head of Collections at the Wallace Collection, also points out that John Ritblat, Chair of the British Land Company and of the Wallace Collection Trustees, was awarded a well-deserved knighthood for services to the arts and is, in terms of his gifts to museums and libraries, by any standards a ‘heritage hero’!

Ballot on 26 January 2005

Jayne Phenton, the Society’s Head of Communications, has asked Salon to draw Fellows’ attention to an error in the ballot sheet that was distributed with the recent mailing: Candidate No. 7 should be Cecilia Powell and not Celia. All the Blue Papers for this and the 16 February ballot can be viewed on the Society’s website.

John Goodall, FSA (1930—2005), Funeral and Memorial Symposium

The funeral of the late John Goodall will take place on Friday 27 January 2006, at 11am, in the West Norwood Crematorium, Norwood Road, West Norwood, London SE 27 9JU (near West Norwood Station). Lunch at Burlington House can be arranged afterwards for those who wish to attend (please contact Nina de Groote, tel: 020 7479 7080). Donations (in lieu of flowers) may be made to the Society of Antiquaries of London, and will be used to support heraldic publications.

The funeral will be followed by a Memorial Symposium from 2 to 4pm at Burlington House. The Meeting is not restricted to Fellows, but is open to anyone who wishes to come — Fellows reading this are encouraged to inform anyone they know who knew John and who might be interested in attending.

The programme for the afternoon is as follows:

Professor Eric Fernie, President: Welcome
Claude Blair, FSA: Publishing with John
Thomas Woodcock, FSA: John and English heraldry
Cecil Humphery-Smith, FSA: John and foreign heraldry
Paul Harvey, FSA: John and the visit of the Committee on Sigillography
John Cherry, FSA: John and eighteenth-century seal engravings
Simon Bendall, FSA: John and the first official seal of the Barber Surgeons’ Company
Sally Badham, FSA: John’s interest in monumental brasses
Philip Lankester, FSA: John and a fragment of a military effigy found in Oxford
Any other contributions
Tea

Obituaries

Adding his personal tribute to Salon’s recent obituary for the late Tahsin Ozguc, Honorary Fellow, Peter Kuniholm, FSA, recalls that he ‘aided and abetted two or three generations (or at any rate fifty years' worth) of foreign scholars, especially American and British (and particularly graduate students or beginning scholars with no clout of their own) so that they got the research permissions, residence permits, etc, that they needed when the Turkish bureaucracy was being difficult. When he was Rector of Ankara University he even arranged for hospitalization (gratis) for some of us who were stricken in the field. He will be very hard to replace’.

And from Vincent Megaw, FSA, comes this further tribute to Isobel Smith: ‘Alan Saville's comments (Salon 131) prompt me to add a few of my own reminiscences of Isobel Smith. It is indeed a shame that Isobel’s festschrift lacks even a biographical essay because there is certainly much which should be written about her. Isobel, who like other distinguished prehistorians of Britain, never lost her Canadian burr, belonged to that small but international group of students of European prehistory of Vere Gordon Childe from his time as Director of the London Institute of Archaeology. Others include Jay Butler, American but not Canadian and resident in the Netherlands for as long as Isobel was in England, and the two — not related — Thomases, Nicholas and Charles.

‘It was through the latter that I first met Isobel during the barrow excavations at Snail Down 1953, 1955 and 1957, where I had my first experience of archaeology in the field (mainly consisting of pushing contractors' barrows full of chalk rubble). Later, Isobel was a visitor to the Edinburgh University excavations at Stonehenge, West Kennet and Weyland’s Smithy; discussions between Stuart Piggott, Richard Atkinson and Isobel were splendid impromptu seminars for us students.

‘Isobel also had a welcome for anyone who visited her during her tenancy of the Avebury Museum cottage and then and later would once more offer advice and quiet but firm opinions on Neolithic pottery and related matters which Derek Simpson and I were able to make use of in our contributions to the Introduction to British Prehistory

Christopher Dobson, FSA, CBE, House of Lords Librarian from 1956 to 1977, died on 22 December 2005, aged 89. In an obituary published in The Times on 13 January 2006, he was credited with acquiring rare volumes for the House of Lords during the twenty-one years of his stewardship.

‘The grandson of Austin Dobson, the poet and essayist, he was a lover of books and an early task at the House of Lords Library was to sort out the interesting collection of seventeenth-century pamphlets, largely collected for the library by Edmund Gosse but neglected since his day. Another interest was the “special fund of £40” which he deployed to great effect over the years to acquire rare and interesting volumes. The library owns a fine set of black-letter Acts from the eighteenth century, and Dobson was keen to build up a similar set for the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He was able to acquire a number of the relevant volumes for each reign from Henry VIII to William and Mary; and he reported proudly to the library committee in 1962 that he had acquired a volume of the Sessional Acts for 1554 and another for 1628 which contained the first printing of the Petition of Right.

‘Dobson was an assiduous collector of books for his private collection. He was an early enthusiast for Victorian bindings and built up a large collection, much of it obtained cheaply, second-hand and from market book-barrows.

‘A bespectacled figure, with an air of gentle inquiry, Dobson always maintained the tradition that the Librarian should sit at a desk in the library rather than retreat to the office provided for his use. He was an old-fashioned bibliophile, and a number of books in the library contain his inscriptions explaining why and where he bought the work and for how much. He had a genuine kindness and was much liked by all who knew him — members and colleagues alike.’

Tributes to the late Maurice Beresford continue to appear in the press, with an obituary contributed by our Fellow Robin Glasscock being published in The Independent on 14 January 2006. Robin reveals several new aspects of Maurice Beresford’s life, recording, for example, the influence that John Saltmarsh, Fellow of King's and an economic historian, had upon Beresford. Saltmarsh was one of the few historians at the time (1939) interested not only in documentary sources but in visible remains in the landscape. As a reward for gaining a first class in Prelims, Saltmarsh took Beresford on a walk to Grantchester and showed him the remains of medieval cultivation in the irregular surface of a field above the water meadows — this was to be a defining moment, central to Beresford’s early research.

The obituary also recalls that Beresford stumbled across the earthworks of Wharram Percy on a weekend walk from the youth hostel at Malton in 1948. He wanted to examine the remains to see what lay below the bumps but was conscious of his lack of archaeological training. Established British archaeologists had yet to become seriously interested in the potential of medieval sites. It was only with the arrival at Wharram in June 1952 of John Hurst, recently graduated in archaeology from Cambridge, that the research potential of the site began to be fully realised. For the next forty years, Beresford was, in his own words, ‘the excavation's recruiting sergeant, its catering manager, its public relations man and its sanitary engineer’. Over the years, hundreds of volunteers, young and old — gathered from universities, adult education centres, schools and, at Beresford’s instigation, Borstal institutions — helped on the summer excavations. Beresford became the central figure of a ‘Wharram network’; many men and women who worked there became his lifelong friends.

Robin Glasscock also records that ‘Maurice Beresford was a big man with a strong, penetrating voice. He enjoyed teaching and was a very good, witty and entertaining lecturer (almost always using slides) but, on account of many digressions, usually found it difficult to keep to time. As he reflected later, one was lucky to get away with under two hours.

‘A bachelor, without any social pretensions, he owned two adjacent terraced houses in the centre of Leeds. Not for him good restaurants and fine wines; baked beans, sausages, fish and chips were his staples — he was not the easiest person to have as a house guest, not least because he was no respecter of furniture. Many chairs failed to survive his abrupt and weighty arrival. Fortunately, the Chair of Economic History at Leeds (which he occupied for twenty-five years from 1959) was not one of them and it gave him the greatest pleasure when the university recently recognised his distinguished contribution by the award of an honorary degree to add to those of Loughborough, Leicester and Hull.’

Select Committee Inquiry to look at ‘Science and Heritage’

The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology has set up a Sub-Committee to examine the role of science, engineering and technology (SET) in the conservation of the United Kingdom’s cultural heritage (defined as ‘buildings, works of art, books, manuscripts, records and archaeological relics — both on land and in water — but not townscapes or landscapes’).

The Chairman of the Sub-Committee, Baroness Sharp of Guildford, said: ‘Britain is endowed with a rich cultural heritage. Science, engineering and technology (SET) can play an important role in both deepening our knowledge and understanding of that heritage while at the same time helping preserve it for future generations. The purpose of our inquiry will be to examine whether we are making the best possible use of SET. In particular, we want to look at the funding of conservation science in the UK and the EU, at examples of best practice in applying new research to practical conservation, and at the ways in which IT can improve public access to and understanding of cultural objects.’

Amongst other topics, the inquiry will look at the use of science in monitoring the condition of buildings and objects of cultural importance, at the application of scientific and engineering techniques to conservation, and at the ways science and technology can enhance public understanding of and access to cultural objects. In particular, the Committee invites written evidence addressing the following questions:

How is conservation science, in the UK and internationally, co-ordinated between museums, universities and other organisations?

Is conservation research adequately funded, and is it directed at the right areas? Does the UK possess the capacity and skill base to maintain its cultural heritage for future generations?

How does the UK compare with other countries in the application of cutting-edge science and technology to monitor the condition of our cultural heritage, and to assist in its conservation?

Is there a satisfactory process to develop practical applications of conservation research for the market?

Could better use be made of conservation science to improve public engagement with and understanding of science and technology, and the part they play in our cultural heritage?

In what ways can IT contribute to enhancing public engagement with objects of cultural importance, without compromising their conservation?

Is there scope for improving the use that UK galleries, museums and others make of such technology?

What, in the UK and internationally, are the best examples of the use of IT to improve access to and understanding of cultural objects?

The deadline for submitting written evidence is Monday 13 February 2006. Submissions (which will be acknowledged) should be emailed to Christopher Johnson, Clerk of the Science and Technology Committee. The Committee aims to complete the inquiry in summer 2006, and to publish its report by early July. For further details, including guidance on submitting written evidence, see the UK Parliamentary website.

Historic Scotland promotes heritage volunteering

Historic Scotland has published a draft operational policy paper inviting views on the broad principles by which the agency promotes, manages and recognises the involvement and contribution of volunteers. The policy paper says that volunteering is one of the most important things that people can do to ensure the future of the historic environment, which depends on the commitment of people to places for its well being. Historic Scotland therefore commits itself to working in active partnerships with individuals and groups who wish to contribute voluntarily to the agency’s work, or to wider work in the historic environment.

Research carried out in 2003 looking at the role and potential of volunteers in the historic environment (see www.heritagelink.org.uk/publications.asp#other) concluded that the heritage sector was heavily dependent on skilled volunteers, but that few heritage organisations have an explicit strategy for volunteer recruitment and deployment, and few are aware of best practice within the voluntary sector. Historic Scotland’s move is therefore a very positive one, as is the agency’s commitment to using its influence to encourage those heritage bodies that it funds to adopt the same positive approach to volunteering.

The policy paper, called Valuing Volunteers, can be downloaded from Historic Scotland’s website. The deadline for responses is 3 March 2006.

Save our archives

In a letter to The Times published on 3 January 2006, members of the National Council on Archives (including our Fellows David Robinson of the British Records Association and Christopher Kitching of the Royal Historical Society) drew attention to the financial difficulties facing UK archives and called on members of the public to sign a petition calling for more central Government support. The letter read as follows:

‘There are more than 2,000 archives across the UK, many of which struggle to find adequate resources to provide the most basic access to, and care of, their collections.

‘A survey carried out in the North West of England in 2003 found that 29 per cent of archival holdings are un-catalogued. As long as backlogs like this exist, these collections will remain inaccessible to the public: a great waste of archives’ huge untapped potential.

‘For some, the word “archive” still brings to mind dusty boxes, but this perception is shifting as public interest in history, especially community and family history, continues to grow.

‘Archives provide essential information about people and places, relevant to the whole population, as well as an understanding of the workings of government. More and more archives are involved in outreach and education services, playing a central role in formal and community learning.

‘Many archives currently survive with one-off project funding, often from the Heritage Lottery Fund, but this is not enough to maintain the country’s heritage. The publication of Giving Value, the National Council on Archives’ report on funding, highlights specific funding blackspots. In the absence of sufficient all-round funding, the archive sector must focus on such areas as online access and engaging new audiences, such as minority ethnic groups and those under 24.

‘The National Council on Archives is calling for public support. A petition is available at www.ncaonline.org.uk for those wishing to protect the nation’s memory.’

Australia’s Productivity Commission recommends scrapping state designation

Australia’s reputation for progressive and innovative conservation policies could soon be turned on its head if the recommendations contained in a report published by the Productivity Commission (the Australian Federal Government's principal review and advisory body on microeconomic policy and regulation) are implemented. The report, called Conservation of Historic Heritage Places, results from an eighteen-month inquiry into the policy framework and incentives for the conservation of Australia’s historic built heritage places. Published in December 2005, the report advocates a free market approach to heritage whereby heritage assets are only listed with the consent of the owner and in return for financial support.

The report focuses on the costs of designation rather than the benefits and characterises state designation as ‘poorly prioritised, prescriptive, ineffective, inefficient and inequitable … [it] restricts development and use [and] inappropriately and unnecessarily erodes property rights and values.’ Not surprisingly, the Commission says that such views are ‘shared by many inquiry participants’.

In place of designation, it argues for the use of ‘negotiated agreements’, under which privately owned properties would be listed only with the consent of the owner, who could expect to be compensated by the state for the additional financial burden imposed on owners in terms of extra conservation and maintenance costs and in usage restrictions. The report makes it clear that it sees far fewer designations than at present, and that local communities (rather than conservation experts) should decide what, if anything, should be conserved — with that community also bearing the costs.

It will be a sad day indeed for Australian heritage if these retrogressive recommendations are implemented (and worse still if other nation states decide to follow suit), but Vincent Megaw, who is encouraging Fellows based in Australia to express their opposition to the proposal, notes ominously that ‘the Productivity Commission is used to getting its way’.

The draft recommendations can be seen on the Commission’s website.

Tara motorway route to be tested in court

The issue of the state’s responsibilities towards the historic environment is to be tested in the High Court in Dublin this week, where plans to build a motorway alongside the Hill of Tara are being challenged by archaeologists, historians and conservationists who are fighting to save a monument described by W B Yeats as the ‘most consecrated spot in Ireland’. The hearing, which is scheduled to last for five days, is the culmination of a two-year campaign to stop the thirty-mile M3 motorway being constructed through the Tara landscape, within a mile of the Hill.

The Irish government’s determination to build the road is being challenged by Vincent Salafia, an environmentalist, who will argue that the environment minister acted unconstitutionally in granting permission for the road. Mr Salafia says that it is the state's constitutional duty to protect monuments and that the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 2004 requires the minister to use his discretionary powers to preserve the country’s heritage on the basis of the public interest and archaeological considerations. Archaeologists support Mr Salafia’s contention that a wider zone around the hill should be considered part of the existing national monument.

Pat Wallace, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, has already given evidence to the Court saying that the Hill of Tara is a potent symbol of Ireland's nationhood as the coronation site of scores of Irish High Kings, and that thirty-eight major archaeological sites have been identified along the M3's proposed route, the earliest being the Mound of the Hostages, which dates from the third millennium BC to 4000 BC.

England's ‘icons’

Anyone who looks to politicians for consistency must be very confused by the latest New Labour enthusiasm for ‘Britishness’. The same Government that has spent its years in office dismantling or deriding the institutions that give England its special character (top-flight universities, the House of Lords, the BBC and civil liberties, to name but a few) has now decided to encourage us all in US-style flag-worshipping patriotism (needless to say, the irony of emphasising one’s identity by copying the practices of another nation is lost on New Labour speechwriters).

A vacuous speech on the meaning of ‘Britishness’ from the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered this weekend has been accompanied by the launch of a website inviting people to nominate the icons that they regard as potent symbols of ‘Englishness’ (note the extra levels of confusion here: because he is Scottish, the Chancellor has to talk about ‘Britishness’, whereas the Department for Culture, Media and Sport isn’t by any means as inclusive in its hunt for ‘the nation’s treasures’ — saying only that sites might also be set up for Wales, Scotland and Ireland in the future ‘if the money can be found’).

Even more puzzling is the initial list of English icons presented by Culture Minister David Lammy at the Icons website launch. ‘Who hasn't ached for a proper cup of tea when they've been on an overseas holiday?’ he asked (thus dismissing as inferior everyone who lives beyond these shores on the grounds that they have not mastered the ‘English’ way of making tea, whilst also erroneously claiming for England what is surely a cultural institution imported and perfected in Asia). The DCMS press release also listed as quintessentially English the Punch and Judy show (surely a Neapolitan invention) and the London Routemaster bus (how strange to nominate this exactly one month after the last Routemaster in regular service was pensioned off in favour of buses built on the Continent).

Then there is the famous portrait of Henry VIII … painted by the Bavarian artist, Hans Holbein. Stonehenge is on the list (but might well have been built by the Welsh if Wessex Archaeology is to be believed), as is Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North (though Gormley says his work is inspired by the Buddha figures of India and Sri Lanka). Next on the list is the SS Empire Windrush, the ship that brought the first Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948 — built in the German shipyard of Blohm & Voss in 1930 — and the King James Bible — commissioned by a Scottish king. That leaves only the FA Cup, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, William Blake's Jerusalem and the Spitfire aeroplane as possible icons that might be described as ‘purely’ English.

This exercise proves only two things: that the quintessential English characteristic is the ability to assimilate from other people and cultures; and that the Government seems to prefer gimmicky versions of heritage to the real thing.

World Heritage bid for Darwin's home

And yet, from the same department comes the eminently sensible nomination of Down House as the UK's 2006 nomination for World Heritage Site (WHS) status. Down House is where Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of the Species and where he developed and demonstrated his theory of evolution through experiments with plants in the walled garden.

To be nominated for WHS status, sites have to be ‘of universal application [and] outstanding value to humanity’: how many of the sites inscribed on the list genuinely meet these criteria (as distinct from being there to create a sense of equity and balance between nations) is open to doubt, but Down House surely fulfils the brief admirably: On the Origin of Species is one of those works that has permanently transformed the world’s understanding of biodiversity and the evolution of life on earth and radically changed the mind set of every thinking person on the planet.

Down House, to which Darwin and his family moved in 1842, is now managed by English Heritage, which backed the World Heritage Site bid. Our Fellow Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage, said: ‘It is very exciting to think this area could be a World Heritage Site in time for Darwin's bicentenary in 2009’. The nomination will now be assessed by expert advisers to the World Heritage Committee and a final decision will be made by the World Heritage Committee at its annual meeting in the summer of 2007.

Roman Catholic church in Stanmore proposed for listing

English Heritage has proposed the listing of the church of St William of York, Du Cross Drive, Stanmore, built in 1959—60 to the designs of Hector Corfiato, a French architect noted for teaching in the classical Beaux Arts tradition as Professor of Architecture at the Bartlett School, London, in succession to Sir Albert Richardson. St William of York is described as ‘a particularly refined and exceptionally complete example of a 1950s church in which every element has a consistency of approach, and every detail is carefully crafted'.

Announcing a six-week consultation period in which the public and other interested parties are invited to submit their views to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Culture Minister David Lammy said: ‘It is rare to find a Roman Catholic Church retaining so many fine fittings and working so successfully and harmoniously as a single piece of creative design.’

Mystery disease strikes horse chestnut trees

Horse chestnut trees are falling victim to an aggressive disease that has already killed more than 40,000 trees, according to English Heritage estimates. Avenues of chestnuts, planted in historic parks and historic gardens, are especially at risk as the disease is quickly transmitted from tree to tree. The symptoms consist of dark sores where trees have shed their bark and bled a glutinous resin. The tissue beneath dies, and if the sores form a ring all the way around the trunk, the sap is no longer able to reach the upper part of the tree, which then withers and dies.

Tree pathologists at first assumed it to be the work of a species of Phytophthora fungus related to a disease commonly called sudden oak death, but Professor Clive Brasier, of the Forestry Commission, now says: ‘We don’t know what it is. It’s more aggressive and it’s being found all over the country.’

Chris Prior, head of horticultural sciences at the Royal Horticultural Society, said that research was being hampered by lack of funds, saying that: ‘horse chestnut is not a commercially important tree, so it is difficult to obtain funding, especially when Forestry Commission is already occupied with sudden oak death’. Dutch scientists are also trying to isolate the cause of the disease and applying to their government for emergency funding.

Alan Cathersides, a senior landscape manager for English Heritage, has been receiving reports of dying trees from historic site managers across England: ‘I’ve had reports from Audley End in Essex, and at Hailes Abbey,’ Mr Cathersides said. ‘With the other disease, trees would often recover; with this trees get struck down far more quickly. There will be a hint of yellow in the leaves one summer and the whole tree will be dead the next.’ Several colossal trees have been killed outright at Marble Hill Park in Twickenham and half of the trees in the colonnade leading to the stone circle at Avebury have also been hit.

The State of Education in Wales — Blue Books published online

The National Library of Wales has published online the notorious Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, commonly known as the Blue Books of 1847, whose derogatory comments about the Welsh and the Welsh language marked the nadir in relations between the Welsh and the English in recent history.

The three commissioners, who wrote their reports after a ‘fact-finding’ tour of Wales reported to Parliament that Welsh towns and villages were knee-high in stinking dung heaps, that the ‘filthy’ natives slept in one-room hovels alongside their pigs and poultry and that ‘petty thefts, lying, cozening, every species of chicanery, drunkenness and idleness prevailed’. Worst of all, the locals spoke Welsh, didn't go to school and refused to pray in Anglican churches.

The report was actually the brainchild of Welshman, William Williams, MP for Coventry, who believed that the lack of an English-based education was the cause of Wales’s problems: ‘teach English and bigotry shall be banished’, the report concluded. The result was an educational system that punished children for speaking their own language, and left many of its victims feeling that to be Welsh was an inferior state of being.

Lyn Lewis Dafis, curator at the Library, says that modern historians now judge the report’s methodology to be flawed: ‘the commissioners took most of their information from Anglican clergymen based in Wales. The non-conformist majority were the opposition, they were the enemy.’

The Blue Books can be found on the website of the National Library of Wales, in the section called The Digital Mirror.

Bronze Age hunting site discovered in Somerset

Archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of Bronze Age tools at the Silk Mills Bridge construction site in Somerset, where work is under way to construct a new road bridge over a busy railway crossing on the outskirts of Taunton. According to the BBC website about 800 items have been found, including flint arrow heads, scrapers and blades on what is being interpreted as a hunting site. Steven Membery, archaeologist for Somerset County Council, describes the Bronze Age topography as ‘an island in a large river used seasonally; probably for hunting ducks and fish. It's rare to find hunter gathering communities like this anywhere so this is an important discovery.’

New villa at Withington

Cue drums and an excitable Tony Robinson running across a field in search of Mick, Phil, Brigid and Stewart: ‘Time Team’ is back next Sunday with another thirteen episodes of TV archaeology. Advance publicity for the programme has focused on the discovery of a new villa complex at Withington, found because the landowner kept finding tesserae in molehills in the field at the end of his garden.

Our Fellow Neil Holbrook, Director of Cotswold Archaeology, led the team that investigated the find, aided by Fellows David Neal and Richard Reece. It was initially thought that the tesserae could have come from a bath house attached to the Withington Villa complex discovered by Samuel Lysons in 1811 (source of the Neptune mosaic now in the British Museum), which lies in the next-door field.

The new buildings include a room with a vaulted plastered and painted ceiling, geometric mosaic floor and hypocaust heating system. Alongside, sitting on a terrace above the River Coln, was a very large and deep clay-lined tank, which could have been a swimming pool. The find has gone further to confirming that the parish of Withington is a surviving Roman estate, a theory first explored by H P R Finberg in 1957.

‘Time Team’ is broadcast on Sundays on Channel 4 at around 5pm, starting on 22 January. ‘Villas out of Molehills’, the second of the 2006 ‘Time Team’ series, goes out at 5.45pm on 29 January.

National Museum of Ireland Bog Bodies Project

Another documentary that promises to be compulsive viewing is ‘The Bog Bodies’, to be broadcast at 9pm on 20 January in the BBC 2 ‘Timewatch’ series. The programme features the work of Isabella Mulhall and her colleagues at the National Museum of Ireland’s Bog Bodies Project as they examine two recently discovered Iron Age ‘bog bodies’. The advance publicity says that the bodies are both male and probably belong to the victims of a ritual sacrifice, both showing signs of having been tortured before their deaths. Radiocarbon dating shows that both had died around 2,300 years ago.

The first body was retrieved from off a peat-cutting machine in February 2003 in Clonycavan, near Dublin, but not before the forearms, hands and lower abdomen had been destroyed by the machine. Clonycavan Man was a young male, no more than 5ft 2in tall (1.6m). Analysis of his unusual hairstyle hair shows that he had stiffened and raised his hair, in punk or mohican style, by using vegetable oil mixed with resin; beneath his hair was the massive wound caused by an axe that smashed open his skull before he was disembowelled.

The second body was found by workmen clearing a drainage ditch through a peat bog in May 2003 in Croghan, 25 miles (40km) from Clonycavan. Old Croghan Man, as he has become known, had been dismembered at the time of his burial and was missing his head and lower limbs. He was very tall — around 6ft 6in tall (2m) and probably died in his early to mid-20s. Before his death his nipples had been cut and he had been stabbed in the ribs. A cut on his arm suggested he had tried to defend himself during the attack that ended his life.

Ned Kelly, Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, has noticed that most bog bodies are found at tribal boundaries or at the limits of royal estates, and he believes that ritual murder and liminal burial has something to do with rulers trying to ensure a successful reign.

Graveyard yields ancient secrets

The decision to tidy up a church graveyard in Nobber, north Meath, in the Republic of Ireland has paid rich archaeological dividends; residents of the village have found previously unrecorded monuments dating from the tenth century after twelve men spent the best part of two years clearing the overgrown graveyard of weeds and briars. Our Fellow George Eogan has visited the site, which he described to the BBC as ‘an outstanding place around the tenth century’ and ‘one of the leading monastic sites in Ireland at that period’. Local people also discovered evidence of a twelfth century church and medieval tomb stones. The people of the one-street agricultural village of Nobber are now hoping to capitalise on the discovery and make their village a major tourist attraction.

Redating the latest Neanderthals in Europe

An article in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), published on 5 January 2006, says that two Neanderthal fossils excavated from Vindija Cave in Croatia in 1998, believed to be among the last surviving Neanderthals, may be 4,000 years older than originally thought. The resultant ages are between 32,000 and 33,000 years ago, and perhaps slightly older. In 1998, the fossils had been radiocarbon dated to between 28,000 and 29,000 years old.

The article explains that sample purification techniques for the radiocarbon dating of bone and teeth have been refined since 1998, to provide more accurate dates for important fossil specimens. In particular, new techniques have suggested that important homind samples from central and eastern Europe are older than previously thought but that early modern human fossils are more recent. These new fossil ages still demonstrate a substantial chronological overlap between Neanderthals and modern humans in Europe, though the authors of the report warn that their work ‘highlights the currently tenuous nature of scenarios of modern human dispersals in Europe based on small numbers of direct radiocarbon dates in this time range’.

Further information can be found on the Washington University in St Louis website.

Viking smiles reveal the hard man within

New Scientist magazine reports this week that Viking warriors filed deep grooves into their teeth to indicate their indifference to pain. Caroline Arcini, of Sweden's National Heritage Board, has analysed 557 skeletons from four major Viking-Age Swedish cemeteries and discovered that 10 per cent of the men, but none of the women, bore horizontal grooves across the upper front teeth. The marks were cut deep into the enamel and are found in precise pairs or triplets. In the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Ms Arcini argues that the grooves marked out certain men as members of warrior gang, who used the marks to signify their ability to withstand pain. Most of the men bearing the grooves were young, but none bore evidence of battle injuries.

3.5 million Ashkenazi Jews are descended from four ancestors

Israeli geneticists have concluded that nearly half of all Ashkenazi Jews of Europe are descended from just four ‘founding mothers’ who migrated to Europe from the Middle East at least 1,000 years ago and that a significant portion of the rest are ultimately descended from Jews who migrated to Italy in the first and second centuries AD.

The Ashkenazi population is being studied by geneticists as part of the international human genome project because of some twenty recessive hereditary disorders that are found within the group. This latest research, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, shows that some 40 per cent of Europe’s eight million Ashkenazi European Jews (3.5 million) share certain mitochondrial (maternal) DNA sequences that indicate shared ancestry from four women, who ‘lived somewhere in Europe, but not necessarily in the same place or even the same century’. All shared sequences that are virtually unknown among non-Jews but that are found in a minority of non-European, or Sephardic Jews, which the study team says is ‘evidence of shared maternal ancestry of Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jews’.

Supervising the research team was Professor Karl Skorecki of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Research Institute at the Haifa-based Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who is famous for his 1997 discovery of genetic evidence that most latter-day Kohanim, Jewish priests entitled to give blessings and whose office is handed down from generation to generation, are descendants of a single male.

New archaeological discovery rewrites Hong Kong's history of human activity

The English-language website of Xinhua (the People's Daily newspaper) reports that archaeologists have discovered a Palaeolithic site in Sai Kung, Hong Kong. More than 6,000 artifacts have been unearthed at the site, which is located at Wong Tei Tung, on the Sai Kung peninsula, and covers an area 8,000 square metres in extent. Zhang Shenshui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua that the important discovery ‘rewrites the history when Hong Kong began having human activity’. The traditional view is that Hong Kong had no human activity until the Neolithic era. Mr Zhang also said that it was the first new archaeological discovery in China's coastal region to have been made in recent years. The site was found at the end of 2004 by a joint team from the Hong Hong Archaeological Society and Sun Yet-Sen University. ‘Experts from the mainland and Hong Kong will continue to make further investigation on this site,’ Mr Zhang added.

Conferences and courses

IFA Annual Conference 2006
Edinburgh will be the venue for the 2006 Annual Conference of the Institute of Archaeologists, to be held from 11 to 13 April. The overall theme is ‘Identity’, and the provisional programme has been posted on the IFA’s website, along with booking details (the deadline for early-bird bookings is 11 March 2006). As usual the conference will also have a number of social events, which include wine receptions, a conference dinner, party and excursions, including walking tours of the Old and New Towns, linked to a joint session being hosted by the Institute for Historic Buildings Conservation and the IFA Buildings Archaeology Group.

Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology’s fortieth anniversary conference
Hugo Blake, FSA, reminds us that the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology is holding its fortieth anniversary conference from 25 to 27 May 2006 in the Tuscan port town of Livorno, in association with the Italian journal Archeologia Postmedievale and the Medieval Pottery Research Group. The conference will be held in the Magazzino dei Bottini dell’Olio, which was the public olive oil warehouse in the eighteenth century. The conference theme is relations between Britain and Italy AD 1500—2000, focusing on the material aspects of foreign merchant culture, ethnic identity and acculturation, shipping, port infrastructure, trade, defence and naval warfare, and on Livorno, Britain’s principal commercial base in the Mediterranean.

For information about Livorno (or ‘Leghorn’, as the English called it) and its significance to Britain in the early modern period, look at the ‘Why Livorno?’ link on the Events page of the SPMA website. A link to the provisional programme, conference registration form and information on travel and accommodation has now been posted on the same page under 'Livorno conference programme'.

John Evelyn: the Renaissance Man and his Gardens
To commemorate the tercentenary of John Evelyn's death, the Surrey Gardens Trust, in association with the Garden History Society, is hosting a conference on 'John Evelyn: the Renaissance Man and his Gardens', on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 April 2006 at the Hayley Conference Centre, Wotton House (Evelyn's family home), Dorking, Surrey. Full details can be found on the website of the Surrey Gardens Trust.

Ironbridge Institute Historic Environment Courses for 2006
The Ironbridge Institute has announced its list of practical workshops in historic environment conservation skills for 2006, with courses on everything from recording techniques and coppicing to the use of lime and the conservation of constructional stone, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, timber brick, terracotta and tiles. Beginning in October 2006, the wide-ranging lecture series covers such topics as landscape characterisation, buildings reuse, urban regeneration, conservation ethics and philosophy, conservation financing and project management. Further details from Harriet Devlin.

Glass of the Roman Empire and Elsewhere
The Association for the History of Glass is hosting a two-day celebration of the contribution of Jennifer Price to the study of archaeological glass on 14 and 15 March 2006 at the Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, London W1. The meeting will include contributions from David Whitehouse, FSA, Yael Israeli, Marie-Dominique Nenna, Marianne Stern, Hilary Cool, FSA, and Ian Freestone, FSA, as well as many other speakers. Offers of papers to fill the few remaining spaces in the programme should be sent as soon as possible to Ian Freestone. Further details will be available later in January from the AHG Meetings Secretary, Martine Newby.

Reviving Lidos
Some Fellows might have heard Duncan Goodhew (Gold medal winner in the 1980 Olympics 100 metres swimming race) tell Sports Minister Richard Caborn on the Today programme recently that the Government’s record of allowing the closure of so many swimming pools in the UK for redevelopment was disgraceful. Duncan Goodhew’s views are widely supported and the many groups who are actively campaigning for the restoration of the UK’s rich stock of historic pools and lidos will get together on 16 March for a conference called ‘Reviving Lidos: the future of Britain’s lidos and open air swimming pools’. The idea is to share experience in funding, conservation and campaigning methods. Further information can be found on the Institute for Historic Buildings Conservation website.

The Victorian Society is also mounting a campaign to turn back the tide of neglect affecting England’s seventy-nine listed swimming pools in England. Ian Dungavell, Director of the Victorian Society, says: ‘It is scandalous that Local Authorities are letting these buildings crumble. Baths bind local communities together and connect them to their past. For many people these buildings offer their only opportunity to interact with historic architecture on a regular basis.’

For further information on the VicSoc campaign, contact Ann Morgan.

Cultural Heritage and the Historic Environment: call for papers
English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund are sponsoring a session on cultural heritage and the historic environment at the annual conference of the UK Network of Environmental Economists (UKNEE), which will take place on 24 March 2006, at The Royal Society in London. This one-day conference brings together environmental economists from public and private sectors, academia and consultancy to share the results of recent research and to discuss issues relevant to the practical application of environmental economics in the UK and elsewhere. The EH/HLF session is intended to demonstrate the application of techniques used in environmental economics in the closely related fields of cultural heritage and the historic environment. Papers are invited under the general heading ‘the tools of environmental economics’ that display both academic rigour and evidence of practical application. Abstracts should be submitted via email by 16 January 2006 to Allan Provins at UKNEE.

Library donations

Gifts of new books received by the Society’s Library in December 2005 were as follows:

From the editor, Bernard Morris, FSA, Historic Swansea, by W C Rogers (2005) (see Salon 131 for further details); from the editor, Roderick O’Donnell, FSA, A Treatise on chancel screens and rood lofts, by A W Pugin (1851, reprinted 2005); from the author, Timothy Insoll, FSA, The Land of Enki in the Islamic Era (2005); from English Heritage, Stonehenge World Heritage Site: an archaeological research framework (2005), edited by Tim Darvill, FSA; from the author, Neil Stratford, FSA, Le Pilier Roman de Souvigny (2005) and other works on Souvigny.