Salon Archive

Issue: 139

Forthcoming meetings

11 May: The Rock-cut Churches at Lalibela, Ethiopia: continuity and innovation, by David Phillipson, FSA.

The Aksumite civilisation, which flourished during the first seven centuries AD in the highlands now divided between northern Ethiopia and southern Eritrea, has been the subject of archaeological research. The later ‘medieval’ civilisation of Christian Ethiopia has, in contrast, been studied mainly by art historians and by specialists in traditional and written Ethiopian history. In this lecture, Professor David Phillipson (a former Treasurer of the Society, and recipient of the Frend Medal in 2005) describes a detailed examination and re-evaluation of the remarkable rock-hewn churches at Lalibela, argues that some of them date from a significantly earlier period than has generally been believed, and demonstrates the strong chronological and cultural continuity between ancient Aksum and ‘medieval’ Ethiopia.

18 May: Ballot. Brian Taylor, FSA, will exhibit Two likenesses of John Henry Newman, and Silke Ackermann, FSA, will present Maths and memory ─ early filofaxes in the British Museum.

25 May: The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme Eight Years On: a review and their potential for research, by Roger Bland, FSA.

Feedback

Salon’s report on National Parks in the last issue said that the Government had failed in its attempt to amend the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill in such a way as to make it clear that the definition of National Parks included designed and managed landscapes as well as ‘wilderness’. In fact, Salon’s information was out of date: David Coleman, who is Head of Sponsorship, Landscape and Recreation at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has contacted Salon to say that the Government has now succeeded in amending the legislation, and that the relevant changes now form Sections 59 and 99 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, which received Royal Assent on 30 March 2006.

The effect is specifically to include ‘cultural heritage’ within the scope of the national park designation, so that landowners can no longer seek exclusion from the boundaries of national parks on the grounds that their estates consist of designed landscapes. Specifically the Act says that the fact that land is managed and used for agriculture, as woodland, or as a park, or whose flora, fauna or physiographical features are partly the product of human intervention in the landscape, does not prevent it from being treated as ‘natural’ for the purposes of designation.

The same Act includes a number of other welcome measures: not least, the new power given to National Park Authorities to ‘curtail the inappropriate use of byways by motor vehicles by putting an end to claims for motor vehicle access on the basis of historical use by horse-drawn vehicles’.

Further to York’s Constantine the Great exhibition, Martin Henig, FSA, writes to say that one of the most spectacular items in the exhibition is the large silver mirror from Wroxeter, which normally forms part of one of the finest collections of Roman and medieval antiquities in the country, namely Rowley’s House Museum, in Shrewsbury. The bad news is that the museum is about to fall victim to local authority spending cuts: Martin says that the museum is to close and the late sixteenth-century timber-framed building will be sold at the end of this year, with no immediate plans for a replacement. Documents posted on the Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council website confirm that Rowley’s House is to close, and that a new home for the museum is planned for ‘a fully integrated Cultural and Tourism Centre’ at the former Music Hall, to open at some time in 2008 or 2009, until when it is possible that the museum’s collections will not be accessible.

Adam Wilkinson, Secretary of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, writes to say that Northamptonshire is not the only county to have made deep cuts in its historic environment services: apparently similar cuts are planned for Hampshire which, Adam says, was once proud to be a pioneer of heritage, as the first county to compile a Buildings at Risk register, following SAVE’s lead in the late 1980s.

Andrew Pike, FSA, writes with further evidence of the malign effect on our musical heritage of the 2003 Licensing Act. Andrew says: ‘Not only is the licensing of live music events proving to be a minefield; once one has the licence, obtaining another one in order that a glass of wine may be served to members of the audience is bureaucracy gone mad. One has to fill in vast numbers of forms, pay £24 for each occasion a licence is required (previously it cost £10 for the whole year) and ensure that the person dispensing the drinks has been on a course to acquire the great skill to remove a cork from a bottle and pour its contents into wine glasses. Our local Music Society has decided that coffee is a less exciting but easier option ─ provided, of course, that it is served in disposable cups, so as not to infringe health and safety legislation’. Andrew adds that, as he also plays the organ in his local church, he now lives in terror every Sunday of being struck down by lead poisoning from all those organ pipes that the Department of Trade and Industry now says are illegal.

On the subject of organ pipes, Jeremy Montagu, FSA, says that he hopes to publish an article soon on his own (very interesting) website on the oldest organ pipes he is aware of: from Bethlehem, they probably date back to the Latin Kingdom (AD 1099─1291) and are made from bronze (95.6 per cent copper, with nickel <0.1 per cent, zinc 0.3 per cent, arsenic <0.1 per cent, lead 1.2 per cent, silver 0.2 per cent, tin 2.3 per cent and antimony 0.3 per cent).

Obituary: Ronald Crossland, FSA

Professor Ronald Crossland, FSA, was the subject of an obituary published in the Independent on 2 May 2006 contributed by Derek Mosley. Described as an ‘unconventional Hittite scholar’, Ronald Crossland died in Cambridge on 29 January 2006, at the age of eighty-five. As Professor of Greek at Sheffield University from 1958 to 1982, he was an international authority on Hittite philology and linguistics, and played an important role in encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to studies on the prehistory of Greece and its eastern Mediterranean neighbours.

Derek Mosley writes: ‘Approaching maturity at a particularly exciting time for a classical linguist, with the decipherment of the Linear B script and (unfulfilled) hopes for the decipherment of Linear A, Crossland made his mark at the Mycenaean Studies seminars in London, which were regularly attended by leading international scholars. There he was noticed by the great Hellenist T B L Webster of University College London (and, later, Stanford). Webster ─ apprehensive that with the unexpected death of Jonathan Tate the chair in Greek at Sheffield might lapse ─ went north to argue that it should be filled, and moreover that an exceptionally gifted young scholar, shortlisted elsewhere, was just the right person for the appointment.

‘There was, however, a slight hiccup on the way. On the eve of his interview, Crossland's progress was interrupted by the long arm of the law as he scaled a drainpipe to retrieve his bags from the upper floor of the locked Department of Classics in Newcastle, before catching the train to Sheffield. Unfazed, and without sleep, he arrived just in time to sail through his interview.

‘Breaking the traditional boundaries, he embraced a circle that went beyond classicists to Egyptologists, archaeologists, Near Eastern specialists, Slavic scholars, linguistic experts, sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists. Unconventionally starting his working day when others were homeward-bound, he surrounded himself with diverse groups of scholars, ranging from neophyte undergraduates to world-renowned authorities. Often, too, at around two or three o'clock in the morning, a hush would fall on the animated gathering, seated on the floor and refreshed with copious supplies of claret, as students listened attentively to the discourse of luminaries.

‘Irked by any obstacles to research and scholarship, Crossland strove energetically to remove them. In a Europe acquiescing in the Brezhnev doctrine, and before the Helskinki Accords were concluded, he threw a lifeline for many scholars beyond the Iron Curtain ─ even in Albania. His gestures were readily reciprocated. He was assisted by the generous hospitality of Sheffield's city fathers, ever ready in those days to reach out to their confrères beyond the divide of Europe.

‘Crossland concluded that in the wake of the decipherment of Linear B, and of other significant linguistic and archaeological discoveries in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, the time had come to ensure a broad interdisciplinary approach in investigating the prehistory and the proto-history of the area. Widening the range of scholars involved to the whole of Europe, and ensuring that leading American scholars could engage with them, Crossland drew together all the threads in a series of well-attended international colloquia in Sheffield during the 1970s.

‘He was supported by the three Sheffield departments of Greek, Latin and Ancient History, as well as the nascent Department of Archaeology and Prehistory. Particularly memorable was the 1970 colloquium “Bronze Age Migrations in the Aegean: archaeological and linguistic problems in Greek prehistory”, the proceedings of which Crossland edited jointly with Ann Birchall, FSA.’

Metal detecting code of practice

The National Council of Metal Detecting and the Federation of Independent Detectorists have signed up to a code of practice which ‘defines responsible metal detecting’ (available online). The code has also been signed by two organisations representing landowners (the Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers Union) and by a group archaeological bodies, museums and government agencies (the Council for British Archaeology, English Heritage, the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, the British Museum, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the Society of Museum Archaeologists and the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales).

The agreement is voluntary but has the full endorsement of the signatories and all parties are committed to ensuring its members abide by the advice set out in the document. Steve Critchley, Chairman of the National Council for Metal-Detecting, said that adherence to the Code would become a condition of membership.

The code is a major step forward in terms of setting out the legal responsibilities of metal detectorists, though archaeologists who remain unhappy about metal detecting said they were disappointed that the code was not more definitive. ‘Instead of saying “wherever possible work on ground that has already been disturbed (such as ploughed land or that which has formerly been ploughed)” and “endeavour not to damage stratified archaeological deposits”, one archaeologist said, the code should have said ‘only work in plough soil and never dig stratified deposits’.

Roger Bland, FSA, of the Portable Antiquities Scheme optimistically claimed that ‘this is the end of the war between the archaeologists and the detectorists’, but a straw poll of archaeologists conducted by Salon’s editor last week suggested that those who want metal detecting to be licensed or better controlled fear the code will only be observed by those who are already responsible metal-detector users. Summing up their views, our Treasurer, Geoff Wainwright, told the Guardian last week that ‘Whichever way you code it, what people are actually doing is removing objects from their archaeological context, losing the priceless information which would be gained from proper excavation.’

English Heritage and the National Trust differ over Stonehenge

Last week the two organisations who have most of a stake in the Stonehenge landscape ─ the National Trust, which owns much of the land, and English Heritage, the guardian and manager of the Stonehenge monument ─ published very different responses to the Highways Agency consultation on the management of roads and traffic through the World Heritage Site landscape.

English Heritage has concluded that the published scheme (which involves the building of a 2.1-km bored tunnel) is the only acceptable option. In a concise two-page letter (see the English Heritage website) Sir Neil Cossons, FSA, says: ‘All other options are unacceptable because they either damage archaeology and the World Heritage Site (WHS) or fail to deliver the aims of the WHS Management Plan.’

By contrast, the National Trust has refused to countenance any of the five options, while admitting it doesn’t have an alternative solution. The Trust has published a map showing what it defines as a ‘Possible route corridor for consideration’. This passes through a landscape dense with archaeological monuments immediately to the north of the World Heritage Site boundary, and the accompanying commentary says that it is by no means certain that this does offer an acceptable alternative. ‘The National Trust’, the text says, ‘wants to be clear that we are only asking that this [corridor] be examined ─ we have not formed a view as to whether an acceptable alignment can be found’.

The Trust’s statement also concedes that its corridor, which would involve relocating the southern half of Larkhill army camp, ‘would require considerable co-operation from, and co-ordination with, the Ministry of Defence’, and ‘would still present considerable challenges in terms of minimising impact on residents, avoiding stone curlew nesting sites and resolving potential impacts on the settings of some key monuments’.

Burying the ancient impasse: Stonehenge article in The Times

Norman Hammond, FSA, the Archaeology Correspondent of The Times, featured the Society of Antiquaries’ response to the Stonehenge consultation in his fortnightly column in The Times, published on 8 May 2006. His article is reproduced below.

‘The Society of Antiquaries of London, the world’s oldest learned society devoted to the human past, has written to the Government endorsing a short-bored tunnel as the best available answer to the Stonehenge roads problem. In a letter to the Highways Agency, Professor Eric Fernie, President, said that the Society “appeals to the Government to end the current inertia surrounding the future of Stonehenge and its immediate environment so that the dignity and quality of visitor experience at this country’s greatest prehistoric monument can be restored within a reasonable timescale”.

‘Many of the 2,300 Fellows of the Society, which was founded in 1707, have long been engaged in vigorous debate over how to save Stonehenge: some, led by Professor Geoffrey Wainwright, the former Chief Archaeologist with English Heritage, wanted a much longer tunnel for the A303 than the 2.1-kilometre scheme that the society is now backing. Others felt that a short “cut- and-cover” tunnel past the immediate vicinity of the stones, perhaps with the dual carriageways stacked above each other to minimise the surface damage, would be more economically feasible, and thus stand the best chance of getting done.

‘The Society of Antiquaries has now rejected both ideas, the long tunnel because of “the disproportionate cost and the engineering challenges involved” and the cut-and-cover tunnel because it “would result in a permanent artificial alternation to the Stonehenge landform” as well as short-term effects during construction.

‘The short-bored tunnel, now known as the “Published Scheme”, falls between the two in terms of cost and impact: first proposed more than a decade ago, it has emerged as the least-worst solution to an intractable problem, in which the demands of modern traffic are set against the survival of an iconic monument in its landscape.

‘The roads past Stonehenge, notably the A344, which skims the edge of the monument and cuts across the ancient avenue linking it to the River Avon, are themselves of considerable age: closing the A344, seen as a vital part of every plan, would change a pattern of access between Shrewton and Amesbury going back at least to the Middle Ages. The United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO has also endorsed the short-bored tunnel, while urging the Government to fulfil its commitment to the 1972 UNESCO convention concerning the protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites, which Britain ratified in 1984.

‘“The actions of the UK over the management of its own cultural heritage of ‘outstanding universal value’ will be closely scrutinised by the international community,” the commission has told the Highways Agency.

‘The Published Scheme, the Society of Antiquaries says, is the only solution that can be completed within this decade and the best chance for completing work in time for the 2012 Olympics. “Many Fellows hold the view that 2012 presents a unique opportunity to maximise the economic value of this nation’s heritage through improvements to Stonehenge and other key monuments,” Professor Fernie concludes.’

English Heritage peer review: the full team

The names of the seven people who will undertake a ‘peer review’ of English Heritage (in place of the former quinquennial review) have now been announced, and they include our former President, Professor Rosemary Cramp, of Durham University. The other six members of the review team are: Dame Mavis McDonald (Chair), former Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; Gill Taylor, Chief Executive, Academy of Sustainable Communities; Irene Lucas, Chief Executive, South Teesside; Tom Wright, Chief Executive, Visit Britain; Jonathan Falkingham, Chief Executive and Co- Founder, Urban Splash; Linda Boort, Municipality Chief Executive and formerly Chief Executive of Dutch Heritage.

The review will take place in late June and early July 2006, when the team will meet people representing the heritage sector, developers, and national and local government to assess the effectiveness and performance of English Heritage.

End of the line for Swan Hellenic?

Fellows with fond memories of Swan Hellenic cruises (taken as a paying passenger, a guest speaker or even as an impecunious student on one of the free cruises that the company once generously donated to help archaeologists with their future careers) will perhaps be saddened to learn that the company is facing an uncertain future. Established by Ken Swan in 1954 and once the byword for quality cultural tours, the company now belongs to the US-based Carnival Corporation, which has decided that Swan Hellenic’s cruise ship, Minerva II, would be more profitably deployed in the general cruise market.

The company is now taking bookings for what Swan Hellenic’s Managing Director, Tony Dyson, describes as its ‘final two voyages’; these depart in April 2007 and go to the Caribbean and to Barbados, the Azores, Madeira, Gibraltar and Spain. In a press release, Dyson says that Minerva II will ‘cease to operate as a Swan Hellenic vessel in April 2007, after the winter 2006─7 programme has been completed. No replacement vessel has been identified at this stage, and the company is pursuing various alternatives for the continued operation of the brand’. One of the four guest lecturers on the historic final cruise will be our Fellow, Dr Alan Borg.

Milestone preservation branded ‘a curiously English obsession’

No sooner had Salon reported on the efforts of the Milestone Preservation Society to trace stolen milestone plates than an article in the Independent (published on 24 April 2006) picked out the same society as a typical example of the English love of forming societies to preserve ‘the old, decrepit and obsolete’, and anything that ‘requires inordinate amounts of tinkering to keep it going’ ─ by contrast with many nations around the world who value ‘innovation and modernity’.

Milestone preservation was lumped together with societies dedicated to helping or conserving hedgehogs, greasy spoon cafés, lighthouses, beer, tall ships and ‘glossy, panting steam locomotives smelling of hot brass and coal-smoke’ and even computers, software and old computer games. Other societies mentioned in the Independent’s list are dedicated to the preservation of cinema, church, fairground and barrel organs, public clocks, ‘The Goon Show’, television programmes in general, old films, the Great British Breakfast and windmills.

The article quotes Charles de Gaulle’s famous observation about the difficulty of governing a country that makes 246 varieties of cheese (surely a gross underestimate Ed) and asks how much harder it might be to govern a people who are never happier than when ‘grinding gudgeon-pins, hand-punching new paper player-rolls for Gavioli fairground organs, painting nineteenth-century narrowboats and generally gilding the lily of a very ungilded past’.

The author of the article congratulates milestone enthusiasts on their ‘magnificently formal objectives’ (‘to represent the historical significance and national importance of milestones in appropriate forums… to establish regional groups through which to delegate and devolve the Society's business’) and concludes that ‘The Milestone Preservation Society is not only a magnificent exemplar of preservation because of its “unique collection of over 2,000 photographs of milestones taken by the late Ken Diamond during his travels in the UK”, but also because milestones ─ sessile, inaccurate, superceded and often indistinguishable from pointless random rocks ─ are such a splendidly improbable thing to preserve’ (clearly the article’s author has yet to encounter the genuinely pointless Traffic Cone Preservation Society: Ed).

Kew Palace restored

Described by several newspapers as the ‘forgotten royal palace’, the four-storey gem of Kew Palace, built in 1631 as a merchant's house but later converted to a royal residence at the foundation of the Royal Botanic Gardens, has reopened to the public after a ten-year restoration. The palace is decorated and furnished as it might have been in 1804 when it was one of the favourite country retreats of George III and Queen Charlotte. It was here that Queen Charlotte died, in 1818, after which the palace was virtually abandoned until it was opened to the public by Queen Victoria in 1899. Increasingly neglected and attracting few visitors, Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) decided to close the building in 1996 to allow a complete restoration. Bedrooms, boudoirs, the king's library and reception rooms have been fitted out with furniture of the period or with replicas, although rooms on the upper floors and attics have been left bare to show how the house was constructed.

Hawksmoor’s masterpiece approaches completion

The Daily Telegraph reported on 4 May 2006 that four new stone heraldic beasts were unveiled last week at the base of the Hawksmoor’s idiosyncratic steeple surmounting the church of St George in Bloomsbury. Set almost 150 feet above the ground, the original beasts ─ two lions and two unicorns ─ were removed in 1871 when it was feared that the ten-foot tall sculptures had become unstable. The originals are long lost but the sculptor, Tim Crawley, has recreated them, working from Hawksmoor's original drawings. The steeple itself ─ stepped like a pyramid ─ was inspired by Pliny's description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and is topped by a statue of George I in Roman dress posing as St George.

The statues all form part of Hawksmoor’s commentary on contemporary Hanoverian politics. The Revd Perry Butler, rector of St George’s, said the symbolism was fairly evident: ‘It’s the 1720s, Queen Anne has died, Protestantism isn't yet assured, we have just had the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 and the Hanoverians have just arrived and do not feel secure. We have also had the Act on Union and here we see the lions [of England] and unicorns [of Scotland] fighting for the crown.’

The authorities who commissioned Hawksmoor thought that the beasts and the steeple were so frivolous that they initially refused to pay him for what they regarded as the superfluous detail. Yet the steeple became so famous that William Hogarth used it as the background to one of his best-known engravings, Gin Lane.

The unveiling of the heraldic lions and unicorns marks a major stage in the three-year-long restoration of St George’s, which has been funded in large measure by funds bequeathed by Paul Mellon, who died in 1999, aged 91, having left most of his fortune to various charities, including the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies of British Art. In the case of St George’s, the money came from a discretionary gift of £14 million made by Paul Mellon’s executors to the World Monuments Fund to spend on fitting commemorations to Mr Mellon in America and England. The Heritage Lottery Fund also gave a grant of £2.5 million and other smaller donations have allowed the church to spend a total of £8 million.

The restoration is expected to be completed in October 2006, and includes the reinstatement of Hawksmoor's two original galleries and the relocation of the altar back to the eastern wall where Hawksmoor placed it before it was moved thirty years later to the northern side.

British Architectural Library acquires the Codex Stosch

The British Architectural Library has purchased the Codex Stosch, a significant sixteenth-century collection of architectural drawings by Giovanni Battista da Sangallo (1496─1548). The Codex contains fifty drawings in pen and ink of sixteen ancient buildings in and near Rome and is named after Baron Philipp von Stosch (1691─1757), in whose collection it was found after his death.

Made around 1520, the drawings reflect the new approach to accurate and detailed depiction advocated by Raphael. The buildings are all drawn to the same scale for easy comparison and represented in plan, elevation and section.

BAL Trustee, Sir Colin St John Watson, said that: ‘The Codex Stosch offers us a striking witness to the passionate pursuit, by the early Renaissance architects and scholars, of evidence of a classical architectural method.’

The Library purchased the Codex at a price of £274,417 after a temporary export bar was placed on the manuscript in October 2005. The purchase was made possible thanks to funding from the British Architectural Library Trust (£150,000), The Art Fund (previously the National Art Collectors Fund) (£100,000) and the Library’s Drawings Endowment Fund.

The Codex will now be housed in the Royal Institute of British Architects Library of Drawings and Archive at the V&A Museum, joining Andrea Palladio’s drawings, also of Roman buildings, acquired in 1894.

Recalibrating the Aegean Bronze Age

Two studies published in the journal Science last week helped to pin down more accurately the date of the volcanic eruption of Santorini (Thera), in Greece, which is held responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilisation on nearby Crete. The first study dates the Santorini catastrophe to between 1627 and 1600 BC, based on carbon-14 and tree-ring data from an olive tree branch buried alive by ash and pumice at the time of the eruption. The new date places the eruption a century earlier than the date previously used by archaeologists.

A second separate study by Professor Sturt Manning of Cornell University in New York uses radiocarbon dates from 127 seeds and wood fragments recovered from the Theran town of Akrotiri (which was buried by the eruption) to support the other team’s findings and to establish a revised chronology for the initial Aegean Late Bronze Age cultural phases (Late Minoan IA, IB, and II).

Walter Friedrich, of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, one of the authors of the first study, explained the importance of the Santorini eruption for world archaeology: ‘It is important to have a very precise date for the explosion because this eruption is a global time marker. If we can date it precisely we have an important tool to correlate the times of different cultures,’ he said. Ash from the explosion has been found in Greenland, the Black Sea and Egypt; by blocking sunlight, ash from the eruption caused successive crop failures in the Aegean, and frost damage caused by the volcano has been detected in excavated plant material in Ireland and California.

Sturt Manning said that the findings concern a critical time for the development of Late Bronze Age cultures in the Aegean, Cyprus and Anatolia and could change how cultural relations are viewed in the period. Researchers previously thought that the civilisations of Crete, Cyprus and Greece had many ties to New Kingdom Egypt. The new timeline indicates that these civilisations were more tightly linked with the middle-eastern cultures of the Levant, and were contemporary with Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period, when northern Egypt was controlled by a Canaanite dynasty, also with links to the Levant. The new dating also stretches the duration of the New Palace culture of Crete, which now seems to have existed for more than 250 years and brings the Shaft Grave period on the Greek mainland, and the middle to late Cypriot period on Cyprus to before about 1600 BCE.

Study aims to understand source of Cycladic art

Our Fellow Colin Renfrew is also conducting research in the Aegean at the moment as part of a joint Greek and British team working on the island of Keros, source of numerous examples of Cycladic sculpture.

Peggy Sotirakopoulou, curator at Athens' Museum of Cycladic Art, said the aim of the fieldwork was ‘to find the answers to questions that have [provoked] a lot of study, a lot of debate: nowhere in the Cyclades have the remains of so many marble figurines been found; figurines that were intentionally broken in antiquity, in quite peculiar places, like the pelvis and chest.’

One theory being tested is the idea that Keros served as a cemetery for neighbouring islands, and that Kavos Daskaleio, a cave where many figurines have been found, was regarded as a gateway to the underworld.

‘It's still unclear whether it was an exceptionally rich cemetery or ritual site’, Lord Renfrew told the Guardian last week, adding that: ‘We hope to clarify the real nature of the island by finding a settlement. It is possible, but not yet certain, that [the breaking of the figurines] were ritual actions relating to ceremonies in honour of the dead.’

Cycladic art was regarded as primitive until Picasso expressed an admiration for the characteristic elongated figures typical of early Bronze Age sites in the area. Sudden popularity led to widespread looting; thousands of fragments of marble vases and figures flooded the international antiquities market in the 1950s and 1960s, and the trail of destruction it left behind on Keros made the task of unravelling Cycladic culture all the more difficult.

This time, however, the archaeologists will be exploring virgin ground, which they hope will both illuminate the island's role and explain why it has so much art than its bigger, less rugged neighbours.

Bosnian ‘sun pyramids’

Salon readers are very likely to have seen stories in the press over the last few weeks concerning the activities of Semir (Sam) Osmanagic, a Houston-based Bosnian-American who believes he has found a series of five ‘pyramids of the sun’ in Bosnia, which he claims are related in some way to the 1,800-year-old pyramids at Teotihuacan, just north of Mexico City, though Osmanagic maintains that his pyramids date from 10,000 BC. He is now digging the largest of them and plans to continue the work through November in order to prove his claim that the pyramids were built by extra terrestrials from the Pleiades who created an advanced civilization in Atlantis and built the Bosnian ‘pyramids’ to bring the earth’s frequency into accordance with the vibrations of the sun.

Our Fellow Curtis Runnels, a specialist in the prehistory of Greece and the Balkans at Boston University, has spoken out to disprove Osmanagic’s theories, pointing out that the Balkans were gripped by ice-age temperatures at the time when it is claimed the pyramids were built and that the region’s only occupants were Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers whose only traces are simple stone tools, hearths and the remains of animals and plants that were consumed for food found at open-air camp sites and occupied caves. ‘These people did not have the tools or skills to engage in the construction of monumental architecture’, Runnels told the US-published Archaeology Magazine.

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Osmanagic’s project is that he is being backed by the federal Bosnian government and the Sarejevo city government. Our Fellow Anthony Harding, president of the European Association of Archaeologists, has written to the government to complain, saying: ‘The situation of professional heritage management in Bosnia-Herzegovina is in a poor state, with a tiny number of people trying to do what they can to protect their rich heritage from looting and unmonitored or unauthorised development. It adds insult to injury when rich outsiders can come in and spend large sums pursuing their absurd theories, in ways that most other countries would never countenance, instead of devoting their cash to the preservation of the endangered genuine sites and monuments in which Bosnia-Herzegovina abounds.’

Despite Government support, there is no appetite for Osmanagic's project amongst the Bosnian public; an online petition has been set up seeking to close the project down.

Gulbenkian Prize 2006 shortlist

The shortlist has been announced for the 2006 Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries, and though the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, whose Director is our Fellow Steph Mastoris, failed to make it from the long list of ten to the shortlist of four, archaeology is nevertheless represented by Lincoln’s new combined archaeology museum and art gallery, called The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire. Also on the shortlist are Brunel’s SS Great Britain (Bristol), The Hunterian Museum (Royal College of Surgeons, London) and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (Wakefield, Yorkshire). The winner will be announced on 25 May at the RIBA. Further details are on the Gulbenkian Prize website.

George Jack (1855&#9472;1931) at the William Morris Gallery

An exhibition devoted to the life and work of George Jack ─ the architect and designer-craftsman who carved the relief panel set into the front of the Memorial Cottages at Kelmscott showing William Morris in a reverie seated beneath a tree ─ has opened at London’s William Morris Gallery (29 April to 29 July 2006; for location and opening times see www.lbwf.gov.uk/wmg/news.htm).

Jack was one of the most talented and prolific members of the Arts and Crafts movement. He began his career in architecture as Philip Webb’s chief assistant, and it was Webb who introduced Jack to William Morris. With mentors like Webb and Morris, it is not surprising that Jack applied his talents to a range of handicrafts ─ including woodcarving, plaster modelling, furniture design and others ─ as well as architecture. As Morris & Company’s chief furniture designer, he produced some of the firm’s most elegant pieces, often richly decorated with inlaid pattern-work. Having worked with W R Lethaby to provide furnishings for All Saints’ Church at Brockhampton, Herefordshire, Jack wrote Wood Carving: design and workmanship (1903), which became the standard craft manual for several generations and remains an invaluable introduction to the techniques and aesthetics of carving.

Conferences and seminars

Finds Research Group 700─1700 conference: Finds from Meols: too much of a good thing? Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, on 15 May 2006
As erosion by the sea advanced during the nineteenth century, Meols produced an extremely large and varied assemblage of everyday medieval items ─ mainly of metalwork and the antiquarian collections from the site, now in several different museums, together comprise a collection second in range and scope only to that from London for the later medieval period and embracing everything from dress accessories to fish hooks, candlesticks to closing rings. Finds from the site will be discussed and an attempt will be made to answer the central conundrum concerning Meols: why a small rural settlement without even a parish church, and of which the authorities never took much notice in documentation, came to produce such significant material. Further information and booking forms can be obtained from Geoff Egan, FSA.

New and Recent Initiatives in Museum Archaeology: towards a strategy for the curation of archaeological archives; Museum of London Lecture Theatre, 7 June 2006, 11am to 4.10pm
As a follow-up to the successful meeting held in October 2004 the Archaeological Archives Forum (AAF) and Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA) is holding a one-day meeting to highlight new, recent and on-going initiatives in museum archaeology, including the HEFCE Archive Archaeology Project, which aims to encourage the teaching of archives and archive use to archaeology undergraduates at English universities, the Subject Specialist Network for Archaeology, an initiative from the MLA that makes project funds available to support cross-organisational subject specialist networks, and the English Archaeology Collecting Areas Project, which aims to map museum collecting areas for archaeology. No charge is made for attendance, but those wishing to come should inform Hedley Swain.

The Stained Glass Museum’s Annual Lecture: Albrecht Durer and the Apocalypse, 6.30 pm on 14 July 2006, at the Artworker's Guild, 6 Queen Square, London WC1
Professor Jean-Michel Massing, a Trustee of the Stained Glass Museum and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, will give this year’s Stained Glass Museum’s Annual Lecture on the themes of Durer’s influence on stained glass. Further details on the museum’s website. Tickets cost £6 (including wine) and can be obtained from the museum’s curator, Susan Mathews.

Books by Fellows

School of Genius, by our recently elected Fellow, James Fenton, is a history of the Royal Academy, which, according to the RA’s own website tells the story of an institution that, since its foundation in 1768, has been ‘the theatre on whose broad stage the triumphs, tragedies, sensations and scandals of the British art would have been enacted’. Given such a spicy billing, readers might be disappointed to find that the last twenty years of the RA’s somewhat controversial history do not form part of the narrative. Instead, the book is ‘a scholarly yet accessible history of those who have played a part in the institution's development from its inception to the present day’.

Vacancies

Rochester Cathedral, Cathedral Archaeologist
Salary/fee not specified; closing date 25 May 2006

The Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral are looking for an Archaeological Consultant who is in sympathy with the mission and values of the cathedral. Medway is on the verge of major regeneration and the Cathedral intends to play a central role in this. Rochester is also one of the three Heritage Protection Reform Pilots working closely with English Heritage, the Cathedrals Fabric Commission and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Further information can be obtained from Dr Edwina E Bell, Director of Operations.