Salon Archive

Issue: 148

Forthcoming meetings

5 October: Beyond Stonehenge: Carn Meini and the Preseli bluestones, by Timothy Darvill, FSA, and Geoff Wainwright, FSA (see also ‘Books by Fellows’ below)

12 October: Industrial Archaeology: the challenge of the evidence, by Sir Neil Cossons, FSA

19 October: Ballot

Those who are not Fellows are welcome to attend ordinary meetings (excluding ballots) as a guest of a Fellow. If you would like to attend a meeting but do not know any Fellows, please contact the Society for help (tel: 020 7479 7080).

New on the Society’s website

The Blue Papers for the ballot to be held on 19 October 2006 are now online on the balloting page of the Society’s website. Contact Christopher Catling if you would like a password or have forgotten your existing password.

The text of the President’s Anniversary Address for 2006 and the Society’s latest business plan have both been posted on the Fellows’ side of the website.

Don’t forget that if you ever wish to refer to a back number of Salon, issues 17 onwards can be read on the Fellows’ side of the website, and articles can be located swiftly using the Search facility.


Mike Pitts, FSA, Editor of British Archaeology, has pointed out some errors in Salon’s reporting of his review of the Time Team Big Royal Dig, which appeared in the Guardian on 29 August 2006. First, it was Mick Aston and Tony Robinson who were described as not being fans of royalty, not Phil Harding. Secondly, Mike says he did not ‘chastise them for betraying their anti-Royal sympathies’. His actual words were: ‘Tony Robinson and Mick Aston, the lead archaeologist, are known not to be fans of royalty. Their sympathies should have been trusted.’

Mike’s complete article ('Sorry, ma'am, we don't dig it') can be read on the Guardian website, as can the reply (‘An unfair dig at Time Team’) written by Philip Clarke, Time Team’s Executive Producer, published in the next day’s paper.

Salon’s editor has been corresponding with Paul Cockerham, FSA, over the article on the use of microchips on Cornish crosses as a means of identification and security. Paul, who is a full-time veterinary surgeon, regularly inserts chips into cats, dogs and horses as a means of permanent identification and quite rightly points out that Salon was wrong to call them ‘microscopic’. ‘If they were’, says Paul, ‘both I and my patients would be eternally grateful! In fact, the chips are about the size of a grain of rice and hence easily visible to the naked eye.’

Which then begs the question whether they would act as a theft deterrent: would not a thief be able to see and remove the microchip? The answer came in an article published in the Daily Telegraph on 10 September, which quoted Ann Preston-Jones, an archaeologist who works for Cornwall County Council, who explained that the microchips are glued on to the crosses and smeared with dirt to disguise them.

Ann went on to say that there was a ‘voracious market’ for the artefacts: ‘There is a lot of interest in Cornish nationalism nowadays and these crosses have got a value. You see a lot of replica crosses for sale in garden centres across Cornwall, so to have the real thing is highly desirable to some people. But they are a very characteristic piece of the Cornish countryside, so we want to keep them where they are. If any are stolen and then later turn up in someone's garden, we will be able to prove it was stolen and they won't be able to say it has been there for hundreds of years.’

Kevin Leahy FSA wins award for Cleatham Anglo-Saxon cemetery

Congratulations are due to our Fellow Dr Kevin Leahy whose presentation on the Cleatham Anglo-Saxon cemetery won top prize for the presentation of heritage research at last week’s Festival of Science hosted by the Conference of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at the University of East Anglia. Sponsored by the Royal Archaeological Institute, English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland, The Environment and Heritage Service (an agency within DOE (NI)) and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Republic of Ireland), the aim of the presentation awards is to promote the results of research in ways that engage a wider audience.

Cleatham is a very difficult site to present to a lay audience, and Kevin overcame this problem through the use of computer graphics and distribution maps to show how the Cleatham assemblage could be analysed using information on the size and decoration of the urns, the fabrics in which they were made, the associated finds and stratigraphic relationships. The result was the creation of a chronological sequence for more than 1,200 decorated urns of mid-fifth-century to later seventh-century date.

The sequencing was made possible by the large number of urns that were buried in pits dug through earlier urns that must, therefore, be of later date. There were also groups of urns buried together that must have been of the same date. By combining these sequences and relationships it was possible to construct a matrix showing that the decoration on the urns could be divided into five phases. This in turn enabled the grave goods found within the urns to be put in order, providing a key to the early Anglo-Saxon period.

The audience was thus given an insight into archaeological method and an idea of the information that it is possible to extract from an early Anglo-Saxon burial site; the site was dug by volunteers under the direction of Scunthorpe Museum between 1984 and 1989.

The Cleatham cemetery is now fully written up and is to be published by the Council for British Archaeology under the title Interpreting the Pots: the Excavation of the Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery with a hard copy, printed synopsis of around 86,000 words and a main catalogue that will be published electronically and will be made available online.

‘Having spent many years on this project it is good to see it getting some recognition’, Kevin said after being awarded the £1,500 first prize (there is a second prize of £500 and a prize for young researchers, the under-30 prize of £500).

Memorial service for Noel Mander, MBE, FSA

A service of thanksgiving for the life of Noel Mander, Fellow and founder of Mander Organs (see obituary in Salon 125, or on the Mander Organs website) will be held on 28 September 2006 at 11am in St Giles’s Church, Cripplegate, London Wall.

Tribute day for Aileen Fox, FSA

The Devon Archaeological Society is organising a tribute day in memory of the late Aileen Fox (see obituary in Salon 130), to be held at the University of Exeter on 18 November 2006. The theme of the day will be ‘The Roman Period in Wales and South West Britain’, this being one of the areas which most engaged Aileen Fox’s interests, though the conference will also look at her contributions to archaeology in Britain as a whole and in New Zealand. Speakers will include our Fellows John Allan, FSA, Richard Brewer, FSA, Mark Corney, Peter Gathercole, Heather James, FSA, William Manning, FSA, Valerie Maxfield, FSA, Henrietta Quinnell, FSA, Charles Thomas, FSA, and Malcolm Todd. For the full programme and a booking form, contact Jill Cobley.

Obituary: Dr Levi Fox

Our Fellow Dr Levi Fox, OBE, died on 3 September 2006, at the age of 92. His obituary in The Times, summarised below, described him as a Shakespeare historian and an administrator who turned the rundown remains of Shakespeare's buildings in and around Stratford-on-Avon into a national monument. Our Fellow Alan McWhirr adds that Dr Fox was a much-valued member of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, which he joined in 1936, remaining a member until his dying day. Alan writes: ‘Between 1936 and 1939 he published three papers in the Society’s Transactions on the Honor of Leicester. He may well have done the research for these papers when he was Bryce Research Student in the University of Oxford. In 1938 he wrote a leaflet for Leicester City Council on Leicester Abbey and later in 1944─5 he wrote a paper on Leicester Castle. Both of these have stood the test of time and are frequently referred to by researchers today.’

Turning to the obituary in The Times, this said that, as a young Coventry archivist, ‘Fox found in the strongroom of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-on-Avon the ideal wartime haven for Warwickshire’s county records. Three years later, as he was supervising their return, he learnt that the Trust was looking for a new director, so he applied, and stayed for the next forty-four years.

‘On becoming Director, he found a group of buildings — Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Mary Arden’s Cottage — struggling to survive in the devoted but untutored care of volunteers and amateur historians. He got the birthplace itself reopened in 1950 and the gradual restoration of the other buildings was accomplished, often by the precarious ploy of borrowing against future income in which his judgment turned out to be justified. He also acquired and restored Hall’s Croft, the house of Shakespeare’s daughter Susannah, which he opened in 1951.

‘The trust’s mission had been outlined in an Act of Parliament in 1891, amended in 1930, and in 1961 Fox pushed through a new Act to bring its aims up to date. Meanwhile, he continued to pursue research, and the growing historical record, which became enhanced by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s archive, badly needed a purpose-built centre and library. This was duly opened behind the birthplace on the eve of the quartercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1964, when Fox was appointed OBE.

‘The anniversary also demonstrated his flare for effective but dignified publicity. He persuaded the authorities to issue the first non-royal stamp to commemorate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

‘A greater challenge came on the night of November 22, 1969, when Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was badly damaged by fire. Fox insisted that the house should be restored exactly as it had been and that only correct materials should be used in the reparation. Within 24 hours of the fire he had identified the properly seasoned wood he needed and also found the right craftsmen to do the work.

‘Fox used artists as well as craftsmen in enhancing the trust’s displays, including the painter John Piper, the letterist John Skelton and the sculptor Paul Vincze who designed the 1964 memorial medallion.

‘In 1989 he fulfilled a long-held ambition of creating both a conservation centre for the trust’s work and a museum of country crafts when he opened the Shakespeare Countryside Museum in a farm next to the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.

‘That also was the year he retired, at the age of 75, to be made Director Emeritus. He continued to teach until recently, and wrote and spoke widely on the history of the town, the region and the trust. He was popular among American audiences, and had honorary doctorates from George Washington University and the University of Birmingham. “Shakespeare and the trust had completely taken over my life”, he wrote in his 1997 memoir.’

Jeffrey May’s last Current Archaeology

The latest issue of Current Archaeology is out ─ this being the last issue that our late Fellow Jeffrey May edited. Paying tribute to his old friend from National Service days, our Fellow Andrew Selkirk, the magazine’s Editor in Chief, writes: ‘It is always difficult, in Current Archaeology, to tread the narrow path between being popular and being meaty, to seek out the projects that move our subject forward and which may genuinely have something new to say. Jeffrey soon proved to be a master in this, and in the delicate art of taking a perhaps over-complex paper and dragging out the real substance from it, and serving it up with wit and relish. He edited ten issues in all, and was always prepared to go for the big stories (see Lichfield and Tarbat in this issue) and was always pressing us to maintain the highest standards.’

The stories to which Andrew refers are indeed very meaty: in the Lichfield article, our Fellow Warwick Rodwell describes his search for the missing shrine of St Chad and the discovery of a stunning new Saxon sculpture of the Archangel Gabriel from an Annunciation scene, while the Tarbat article, by our Fellow Professor Martin Carver, describes the excavation of a Pictish monastery and his discovery of a vellum manufactory, as well as some very interesting Pictish carved stones.

Elsewhere in the magazine, our Fellow Professor Anthony Birley explains exactly how the recent TV programme on the headless Romans found in York came to be made, and how he inadvertently found himself giving what appeared to be a definitive historical explanation to what in reality remains a deeply puzzling archaeological mystery. Finally, Andrew Selkirk himself gives his opinion (not complimentary) of the recent ‘History Matters’ campaign and serves up another ripe slice of academic jargon in his ‘Gobbledegook Corner’.

For those of you who do not already subscribe, details of Current Archaeology magazine can be found at the magazine’s website (see also Vacancies below for details of Current Archaeology’s search for a new editor).

Radio 4’s ‘The Old Bill’ looks at the history to be extracted from financial accounts

Gripping historical narratives can be stimulated by the most unlikely material, as our Fellow Dick Foster demonstrated in his acclaimed Radio 4 series, ‘The Old Bill’ (the broadcasts can be heard on the BBC’s ‘Listen Again’ facility by going to the BBC website). The programmes examine old bills and accounts to see what they reveal of the life and times of those who kept them.

The programme broadcast on 11 September looked at the expenses of eighteenth-century painter and engraver, Arthur Pond (who was a Fellow). Pond specialised in painting portraits of British colonists retiring to their country houses and wanting a portrait to hang on their walls: Pond was happy to oblige, and priced his portraits according to how much flesh he had to paint, requiring 10 guineas for head and shoulders alone and an extra 12 guineas if you wanted hands as well.

Other bills under scrutiny in this entertaining series were Georgiana Spencer's wedding trousseau expenses, Chippendale's bill for the furnishing of David Garrick's house in Adelphi Terrace, the accounts of an Ipswich cloth merchant, Roger Cutler, in 1623—4, and the accounts of the Philharmonic Society's orchestra in the 1830s.

More on Neanderthals

Archaeologists believe that they have found one of the last refuges of Neanderthal Man in Gorham's Cave on Gibraltar. In a paper published in Nature, Professor Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum, Gibraltar, describes a group of Neanderthals who survived extinction in this part of southern Iberia until at least 28,000 years ago, perhaps even 24,000 years ago. Previously uncovered remains have suggested that most Neanderthals died out some 35,000 years ago.

Neanderthal stone tools were first discovered in the cave more than fifty years ago, but recent re-excavation has uncovered a sequence of hearths, all created at the same location within the cave, leaving charcoal remains whose dating now shows just how long lasting the Neanderthal settlement was.

Professor Finlayson argues that Neanderthals living in the cave were able to survive because of the stabilising influence of the Atlantic on the local climate, when glaciation elsewhere in Europe was turning once-fertile pastures into barren wastelands. At Gorham's Cave, and along the nearby coast, the climate would have been calmer and the environment richer.

Animal remains found at Gorham's Cave were brought from the surrounding area and butchered inside the cave. That finding ties in with the story told in the latest issue of Current Archaeology (No 205, September 2006), in which James O’Donoghue writes about Neanderthal finds from Lynford Quarry in Norfolk; 60,000 years ago, this was a watering hole where large mammals were trapped and butchered by Neanderthals, who left behind some fifty stone hand axes.

Danielle Schreve, of Royal Holloway College, has now sifted through some 25,000 bone fragments from the site, representing the remains of mammoths, bison, horses and reindeer. She has found evidence that some bones were fractured in situ ─ probably to extract marrow. But she has also noted the absence of leg bones from the site, an absence that is echoed at sites in south-western France, such as La Borde and Mauran, where there are abundant head and teeth remains from reindeer, red deer and horses, but little from the rest of the body. Danielle Schreve concludes that the prime meat-bearing bones were removed for consumption elsewhere. Research by Michael Richards and others into carbon, nitrogen and oxygen isotopes in Neanderthal bone samples confirms that ‘almost all of their dietary protein came from animal sources’.

The Current Archaeology article goes on to make the point that Lynford and other Neanderthal butchery sites tell us something of the sophistication of Neanderthals: capturing and killing a mammoth requires co-operative behaviour, as well as planning and a flexible response to changing events, with all that that implies for language use, theoretical and practical knowledge, teaching, memory, tradition and social cohesion.

The nature of relations between modern humans and Neanderthals remains a fascinating topic: did they ever meet, did they interbreed and did Homo sapiens drive Homo neanderthalis to extinction through competition for resources or by deliberate genocide? The Gibraltar evidence provides no clues: according to Professor Finlayson, modern humans did not occupy Gorham’s Cave until some time after the last Neanderthals so they were not the immediate cause of Neanderthal extinction. Evidence from elsewhere in Europe suggests that Neanderthals were already extinct before modern humans moved into the region. If our current model of human evolution is correct, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens are too far apart biologically for interbreeding to be possible.

And yet there are serious academics who argue that interbreeding did take place, implying that our current evolutionary model must be wrong. The latest challenge to traditional thinking is published in the August 2006 issue of the journal Current Anthropology where Erik Trinkaus, Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St Louis, suggests that modern humans are genetically the odd ones in the evolutionary tree, and that instead of looking for a straight evolutionary line from chimps to humans (via several ‘missing links’) the fossil record suggests that the straight line should be from the common ancestor to the Neanderthals, with modern humans as a side branch.

Trinkaus says that he set out to see to what extent Neanderthals and modern humans share genetic markers and physical characteristics with earlier species and concluded that ‘modern humans have about twice as many uniquely derived traits than do the Neanderthals’. He concludes: ‘If we want to better understand human evolution, we should be asking why modern humans are so unusual, not why the Neanderthals are divergent. Modern humans, for example, are the only people who lack brow ridges. We are the only ones who have seriously shortened faces. We are the only ones with very reduced internal nasal cavities. We also have a number of detailed features of the limb skeleton that are unique.’

Trinkhaus’s current work does not, of course, directly address the interbreeding question, but it does reinforce the idea that the differences between Neanderthals and humans are so great as to preclude hybridisation. In the past he has argued that the Lagar Velho child, found in Portugal in 1999 by Joao Zilhao, Portugal's former director of antiquities, now professor at the Bristol University School of Archaeology and Anthropology, was a hybrid between Neanderthals and modern humans. To sustain this interpretation would require a model showing that Neanderthals and modern humans are biologically much closer than we currently think.

Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London, who contributed to the Gibraltar study, says he believes that the evidence for hybridisation is slight. ‘Population densities of both species were so low that they wouldn’t have encountered each other much.’

As for what brought about the Neanderthal extinction, he believes they suffered as the climate cooled, as does Professor Finlayson, who says: ‘As forest turned into tundra, the Neanderthal lifestyle would have become more untenable, while modern humans were better adapted. They would have become confined to smaller and smaller groups, which, as we know from tigers and pandas, are vulnerable to human influence and disease.’

Humans 'tried and failed to colonise Britain seven times'

Professor Chris Stringer was in the news again last week for a different but related reason ─ this time giving the Daily Telegraph a preview of his book, Homo Britannicus, to be published in October 2006, drawing together the findings from the project that he has led at the Natural History Museum for the last five years. The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, draws to a close this month and its major finding is that humans and their ancient forebears tried and failed seven times to colonise Britain over a 700,000-year period before the ancestors of today's population were finally established some 12,000 years ago.

The evidence for early occupation comes from Pakefield, Boxgrove, Swanscombe, Pontnewydd, Kent's Cavern, Paviland and Gough's Cave. From thirty-two flint tools found in sediments exposed by erosion at the bottom of a cliff in Pakefield, near the Suffolk seaside town of Lowestoft, we know that there were tool-using hominids in East Anglia 700,000 years ago, but Professor Stringer believes a model based on continuity of occupation from that time on is mistaken, and that there were periods of 100,000 years or more when nobody lived here. ‘We have to remember that Britain was at the edge of the inhabited world. It was always at the edge of human capabilities and at times people could not survive here. Early humans reaching Britain overcame great challenges to survive here at all. At least seven times they apparently failed to do so and died out completely.’

The ultimate challenge to traditional thinking is his suggestion that Australia and the Americas have a much longer, unbroken record of human occupation than Britain: the British people of today are new arrivals, he says, and the products of only the last 12,000 years.

Body art began 300,000 years ago

We now have ample evidence that Neanderthals used ochre in burial rituals, but Lawrence Barham, an archaeologist at the University of Liverpool, says he has found evidence in Zambia that Homo heidelbergensis, the common ancestor of Homo neanderthalis and Homo sapiens, also used coloured pigments ─ possibly for body painting ─ as early as 300,000 years ago.

Dr Barham told the British Association for the Advancement of Science at its Festival of Science at the University of East Anglia last week that analysis of coloured stains found on rock tools from the Twin Rivers hilltop cave near Lusaka in Zambia indicates that early humans were grinding ochre pigments 100,000 years before coloured pigments were known to be in use in cave art.

Dr Barham argues that the sheer range of colours found at the site ─ including red, yellow, brown, black and ‘sparkling purple’ ─ points to the deliberate search for pigments in the landscape. He interprets this as implying that H heidelbergensis had a complex language, ‘which allows the planning that you see in the artefacts but also the planning to take something out of the environment and to change its meaning by putting it on your body’.

Open day at Stonehenge

The Salisbury Journal reported this week that some 2,000 people had visited sites being excavated as part of the Riverside Project at open days over the August bank holiday weekend and again on 9 and 10 September. The Riverside Project is led by our Fellow Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of Archaeology at Sheffield University, and involves a team of one hundred archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology and from various universities around Britain, who are studying the relationships between the various monuments in the Stonehenge landscape to each other and to the River Avon.

Speaking to the Salisbury Journal, Mike said: ‘I think our most exciting discovery is the ceremonial avenue which leads from Durrington Walls to the river. We excavated some of it last year, but we've finally uncovered it and it's much bigger than we thought; the avenue is 30 metres across ─ about as big as a modern dual carriageway.’ Mike believes that the avenue is part of a ceremonial or funerary route from Durrington Walls and Woodhenge via avenue and river to Stonehenge ─ with Durrington Walls as the site of feasting and partying and Stonehenge as the ‘home’ of the ancestors. This season, the team has found remains of five Neolithic houses at Durrington Walls, one of which is the first ever seen with a well-preserved floor.

Gristhorpe Man was a Bronze Age warrior chieftain

In another paper presented at last week’s Festival of Science at the University of East Anglia, members of the team based at the Department of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford announced the preliminary results of their collective study of Gristhorpe Man, whose remains were discovered in 1834 by William Beswick, a local landowner, in an ancient burial mound near Gristhorpe and excavated under the gaze of members of the Scarborough Philosophical Society. Gristhorpe Man is the best-preserved example of a burial in a scooped-out oak tree: other examples have been found in Scotland and East Anglia and are relatively common in Denmark.

Sadly, the Victorian museum curators who then displayed Gristhorpe Man at the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough boiled his bones in horse glue in a laundry copper as a conservation measure, thus ruling out DNA study. Even so, various specialists on the study team have established that he was six foot tall, enjoyed a good diet and has a full set of teeth in remarkable condition. The body was wrapped in a skin cloak, and buried with a bronze dagger, a sealed bark vessel, flint tools and a wicker basket containing food. He died, aged 40, of natural causes, but had many healed bone fractures, consistent with the interpretation that Gristhorpe Man was a high-status warrior. Metallurgical analysis of the ceremonial bronze dagger helped confirm a Bronze Age date. Peter Northover, of Oxford University, said: ‘The bulk of the metal probably originated in south-west Ireland and the tin in south-west England. But by the time it was made into the dagger it had probably been recycled several times.’

The archaeology of the banana trade

Reporting in last week’s Times, our Fellow Norman Hammond said that bananas, one of our favourite foods, are being used as an indicator of the origins and extent of Indian Ocean trade. Though bananas themselves do not preserve well in the archaeological record, it is possible to detect their presence through the study of phytoliths. These microscopic, inorganic mineral particles produced by plants are extremely durable and their shape is species-specific, enabling palaeobotanists to identify the species from which the phytoliths originated.

Summarising banana history in the current issue of Archaeology, Peter Robertshaw, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, San Bernardino, says that cultivated bananas are known from at least the fifth millennium BC in New Guinea, their botanical place of origin. They had reached India and Pakistan by the third millennium BC, probably via Vietnam and Thailand. Historians and archaeologists theorised that bananas were probably introduced to Africa via Madagascar, which was colonised by people from south-east Asia in the first millennium AD, but banana phytoliths dating to 500 BC were then found in the Cameroon a couple of years ago, pushing the date back by 1,000 years.

Now, soil analysis has led to the discovery of even earlier bananas in Uganda, dated by carbon dating to 3000 BC, at the site of Munsa, in the Rukiga Highlands near the border with Rwanda. The Munsa material comes from a papyrus swamp, where Julius Lejiu, of Mbarara University in Uganda, has collected several long cores of swamp sediments and analysed the plant remains. Professor Robertshaw says the implications for trade are considerable: ‘whoever brought the bananas presumably did not carry bananas and nothing else across the Indian Ocean’. African crops are known to have spread in the opposite direction — sorghum millet had made its way as far east as Korea by 1400 BC.

Oldest writing in the New World discovered in Veracruz, Mexico

Research published this week in Science magazine details the discovery of a serpentine stone block in Veracruz, Mexico, engraved with a previously unknown system of writing. The members of an international team of archaeologists who have studied the ‘Cascajal block’ say that it dates from the early first millennium BC and that its ancient script ‘reveals a new complexity to the Olmec civilization’. The incised text consists of sixty-two different signs, some of which are repeated up to four times. Because of its distinct elements, patterns of sequencing and consistent reading order, the team says the text ‘conforms to all expectations of writing’. Several paired sequences of signs also lead the researchers to believe the text contains poetic couplets which would be the earliest known examples of poetry in Mesoamerica.

The Cascajal block was discovered in the late 1990s by road builders in a pile of debris being used for road building in Veracruz, Mexico, near the former capital of the Olmec civilisation. Ceramic sherds, clay figurine fragments and other artefacts found with the stone have led the team to date the block and its text to the San Lorenzo phase of Olmec culture, ending about 900 BC ─ approximately four centuries before writing was thought to have first appeared in the Western hemisphere.

Professor Stephen Houston, of Brown University, Rhode Island, one of those studying the block, commented: ‘It's a tantalising discovery. I think it could be the beginning of a new era of focus on Olmec civilisation. If we can decode their content, these earliest voices of Mesoamerican civilisation will speak to us today.’ Some of the signs on the block are similar to later Olmec and Aztec symbols, including references to a throne and to maize, molluscs, insects and flowers. Five sides on the block are convex, while the remaining surface containing the text appears concave; hence the team believes the block has been carved repeatedly. ‘The erasable nature of the block suggests a record that needs frequent updating and opens up the possibility of accounting,’ says Professor Houston.

Anthropologist Mary Pohl of Florida State University in Tallahassee commented that some scholars, while being happy that the signs represent true script, are less happy about the security of the block’s dating, depending as it does on artefacts that were found out of context.

Spectacular results of Carleon geophysical survey used to launch new website

The Caerleon Research Committee (CRC) has launched its new website by publishing the initial results of the geophysical survey that Cardiff University undertook in spring 2006 on Priory Field in the south-western corner of the fortress. Our Fellow Dr Peter Guest, Lecturer in Roman Archaeology at Cardiff, says that: ‘As a result of this work, we can see the layout of buildings in this part of the fortress for the first time; the site includes eight barrack blocks, one side of a possible hospital or workshop, and three very large buildings that could well be stone granaries (the first from a permanent fortress in Wales).’ The well-illustrated website also has sections on the historical and archaeological background to Roman Caerleon, links to the Cadw-sponsored research framework document and a full bibliographic survey, including ‘grey-literature’.

The Caerleon Research Committee ─ formed in 2005 under the Chairmanship of our Fellow Professor Bill Manning ─ was set up to encourage and co-ordinate archaeological research at Caerleon (Roman Isca), Britain's best-preserved permanent legionary fortress. Peter Guest explains that ‘the fortress has been investigated on a number of occasions in the past, notably by Mortimer and Tessa Wheeler, Victor Nash-Williams, George Boon and David Zienkiewicz, although the last twenty years or so have seen a lull in archaeological activity at this internationally important site. The CRC was formed to turn this situation around and I'm pleased to say that there seems to be some gathering of momentum again’.

As evidence of that new momentum, the Caerleon Research Committee and the Monmouthshire Antiquarian Association are organising a day school on 7 October 2006 at the University of Wales, Newport, to review past and present work at Caerleon and to highlight areas for future study. Perhaps not surprisingly, all the speakers (Richard Brewer, Bill Manning, Rick Turner, Jeremy Knight, Roger Tomlin, Peter Guest and Peter Webster) are Fellows. Further details can be downloaded from the CRC website.

Unusual Roman bathhouse found in Kent

Dr Paul Wilkinson, Director of the Kent Archaeological Field School, has uncovered the substantial remains of an unusual fifth-century Roman bathhouse in a field in Faversham during excavations for Swale Borough Council. The octagonal bathhouse is about 10m (32.8ft) wide, with a central cold plunge pool five metres (16ft) across. Dr Wilkinson believes the bathhouse originally had a domed roof and a central fountain. ‘This really is very exotic and sophisticated architecture,’ he said.

Lebanon's heritage damaged by war

Responding to expressions of concern made by Sir Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, and our Fellow John Curtis, the British Museum's expert on Middle Eastern archaeology, Unesco is undertaking a survey of Lebanese archaeological sites to assess the damage to the country’s heritage as a result of the recent conflict. The head of the Unesco mission, Mounir Bouchenaki, told journalists last week that the most severe damage had been seen at the World Heritage Sites of Tyre and Byblos. At Tyre some of ‘the finest examples of imperial Roman architecture in the world’ have suffered direct damage and at Byblos, Venetian-period and Crusader remains have been stained by oil spilling from a bombed depot in Jiyeh, 15 miles south of Beirut. Two other historical sites, at Bint Jbeil and Chamaa, have also been extensively damaged.

Evidence of Roman trade with India found in Mumbai harbour

The marine branch of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has reported the discovery of Roman fifth- and sixth-century amphorae, pot sherds and stone anchors from the inter-tidal zone around Elephanta Island (also called Gharapuri Island, or Place of Caves) in Mumbai Harbour, east of Mumbai, India. The discovery indicates that trade contacts between India and Rome flourished well into the late Roman era. Alok Tripathi, ASI’s head of underwater archaeology, said: ‘The entire Maharashtra coast has evidence of Roman contact on a large scale. We are particularly interested in Elephanta, Sindhudurg, Malvan and Vijaydurg. The Roman artefacts that we have found in Elephanta include some that have survived in excellent condition. The find points to robust trading contact in the late Roman period. This is a first-of-its-kind find on the West Coast.’ The ASI underwater unit plans to carry out excavations with the help of the Indian navy in November 2006.

Revival of Latin in schools thanks to online learning

The organisation called Friends of Latin has reported a quiet revival in the number of students studying Latin at GCSE and A level in Britain’s secondary schools. Jeannie Cohen, founder of the Friends of Classics, a charity that gives money to schools to teach Latin, said that: ‘We’ve noticed a three or four-fold increase in schools writing to us for grants to teach Latin.’

The organisation estimates that about 40,000 students are learning Latin, compared with 16,000 pupils who took GCSE Latin in 1988, the first full year of GCSEs, and just 9,743 who took the exam last year. The decline has partly been explained by the lack of teachers, hence the development of the Cambridge School Classics Project (CSCP), whose scheme to teach Latin online is designed for schools without Latin teachers. Instead, it uses interactive technology and ‘e-tutors’, who answer pupils’ questions and mark work by e-mail.

English Heritage digs Carisbrooke Castle

Excavations that began on 11 September at the Isle of Wight’s Carisbrooke Castle are aimed at confirming whether the Privy Garden overlies a Saxon cemetery. The Norman motte-and-bailey is known to have been built on a natural chalk hill which had been used as a burial ground in the sixth century. The dig also hopes to identify late Saxon and early Norman fortifications that pre-date the present building, which became the official residence first of the Captains and later of the Governors of the Isle of Wight from the sixteenth century.

The Privy Garden became a garden in the 1700s and a preliminary survey has revealed parch marks and uneven areas which could be evidence of pathways and flower beds. The results of the excavation will influence the design for a new garden which is planned as part of a larger scheme to enhance visitor facilities.

Canterbury Cathedral threatened by pollution and fungus

Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of the Anglican communion, is suffering ‘serious damage’ from pollution which threatens its long-term existence, according to the cathedral's chief executive, Brigadier David Innes, who says that details of the threats will be made public when an appeal is formally launched on 3 October. The appeal will seek to raise funds for repairs to a building that is (with Durham) one of only two cathedrals in Britain classified as a World Heritage Site. Apparently, the fabric of the cathedral, built of Caen limestone shipped from Normandy, is being eroded by atmospheric pollution at an accelerated rate and the twelfth-century stained glass is being eroded by pollutants at a rate that will see ‘their total ruin within our generation’.

International Measurement of the Economic and Social Importance of Culture

A new report published by the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) makes a brave attempt to measure the economic and social importance of culture to various western economies. Measurement and comparison are fraught with difficulty because of the many different and often subjective definitions of ‘culture’ and because of differences between the ways that statistics are compiled by national statistical agencies.

This report seeks to overcome such problems by comparing like-for-like data from Australia, Canada, France, the UK and the US, even though that leaves gaps: there are no figures in the report, for example, for the economic contribution of heritage, archives, libraries or museums. This is a deficiency which the authors of the report hope to resolve in future analyses. The current report measures employment, revenues and value added in film, music, the visual and performing arts, architecture, publishing, computer games, software, electronic publishing, radio and TV, advertising, designer fashion and the art and antiques trade.

Perhaps the single most important finding is the relative value of the creative industries to different economies. In terms of absolute earnings, the US is the giant, with £341 billion in revenues ─ ten times greater than any of the other countries ─ but expressed as a percentage of the total economy, it is the UK that earns most from cultural enterprise: £42 billion, or 5.8 per cent of GDP, compared with 3.5 per cent in Canada, 3.3 per cent in the US, 3.1 in Australia and only 2.8 in France (perhaps reflecting the smaller scale of the global Francophone economy compared with that of the Anglophone world).

Betjeman on Kelmscott

Candida Lycett Green has inherited a flair for publicity from her father, John Betjeman, and nobody in England in the last few weeks can have missed the memorable campaign she has orchestrated to mark the centenary of his birth. One result has been the re-publication of Betjeman’s radio broadcasts, brought together in a volume called Trains and Buttered Scones by the editor, Stephen Games. This volume includes the talk on Kelmscott Manor that he gave on the Home Service on Sunday 4 May 1952 in a series of three programmes called ‘Landscapes with houses’ (the other two programmes concerned Padstow and Cardiff Castle).

At the time he wrote the radio piece, Kelmscott was still in the hands of the University of Oxford. Betjeman describes ‘the aerodrome and the pylons and wire of electric light, and the noisome dredging of the upper Thames by the Thames Conservancy’ and says that, because of these things, May Morris and her companion Miss Lobb ‘liked being alive less and less’, and soon faded out of life. Yet he says ‘the place is haunting and haunted’, and that it has been ‘loved as only an old house can be loved’, and in a typical piece of poetic prose that was perfect for radio he describes it as follows:

‘There is no other place which is kept as it was and yet so clearly is not a museum but a house. Come up to the first floor and look out of the windows over the tops of the yews and the flowering trees, through the great elms and into the upper-Thames meadows. Winter and summer for three centuries while the Turner family lived here this stone grew lichened and from those water spouts the heavy rain fell on to the deep green grass of the garden from between the gables. Never did you hear such a noise of English wet as when the rain pours off Kelmscott Manor roof and splashes on the grass and garden paths.’

Fellows who would like to enjoy this view for themselves (sadly, minus the long-dead elms) might like to know that Fellows’ Day at Kelmscott Manor next year will be on 14 July 2007, when we hope the water spouts will not be in action. Copies will also be available of William Morris’s Kelmscott: landscape and history, being the results of the work of the Society’s Kelmscott Landscape Project, which Windgather Press is currently preparing for publication.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage is campaigning to save ‘Bath’s most beautiful factory’

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has called for the Newark Works, on Lower Bristol Road in Bath, to be spot listed, and for plans for its demolition and replacement with a city academy to be shelved. Michael Forsyth, in the Pevsner Architectural Guide to the city, describes the Newark Works as dating from 1857, designed by Thomas Fuller with a neoclassical, ashlar façade, with thirteen bays of paired windows framed by Tuscan pillars. The Italian inspiration is even clearer in the three-bay office section, with its rusticated Gibbs surrounds and its ‘Venetian’ tri-partite lancet windows. SAVE says the building is ‘an imposing and handsome edifice’, and all the more significant in being a work by an architect who went on to become Chief Architect to the Dominion of Canada, with major works to his credit that include the New York State Capitol in Albany, NY, and the Ottawa Parliament Buildings.

The Newark Works was home to Stothert and Pitt, an ironmongers’ firm started in the late eighteenth century supplying castings to Abraham Derby II’s Coalbrookdale iron foundry. Steam engines and cranes became their main business: their engines powered the pumps used during the construction of the Box Tunnel, their trains plied the GWR route and their cranes can be found in most ports around the world.

Adam Wilkinson, Secretary of SAVE, said: ‘This is Fuller’s best work in the UK and, with its massive windows and careful detailing, it is easily the most beautiful factory in Bath. It is shameful that it is threatened with demolition. The main façade could easily be incorporated into any new plans for the site. Its demolition is entirely unjustified ─ if this was in North America it would almost certainly be protected.’ He called on those involved in planning the new Academy to use their imagination and ‘come up with a solution of which Bath would be proud, rather than one which will damage its record as a world heritage site’.

Liverpool’s Casbah Club to be listed for its Beatles connection

The Casbah Club in Liverpool is to be given Grade-II listed building status in recognition of the club’s special historic interest as the place where the Beatles played their first live performance. The club also has murals and paintings by John and Cynthia Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best, the Beatles’s original drummer, and it was the place where the group signed their first contract with their manager, Brian Epstein.

Built around 1860 by an unknown architect, the building which housed the Casbah was bought by Pete Best’s mother, Mona Best, in 1957, with the proceeds of a winning bet on the Derby. Two years later Mrs Best saw a TV programme about London’s coffee bars, and converted the basement and coal cellar into Liverpool’s first ‘beat’ bar. Taking its name from the film Tangiers, the Casbah opened on 29 August 1959 with music from the Quarrymen, whose members included John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Shortly afterwards, Pete Best joined the group, which was renamed the Silver Beatles and finally the Beatles. The group’s first ever and many subsequent performances took place there. The Beatles also performed on the Casbah’s closing night in 1962, in front of 1,500 people. Remarkably, the Casbah has remained unaltered ever since, with wall and ceiling paintings of spiders, dragons, rainbows and stars by the original band members, along with 1960s musical equipment, amplifiers and original chairs. Sir Paul McCartney commented: ‘I think it’s a good idea to let people know about the Casbah. They know about the Cavern … but the Casbah was the place where all that started. We helped paint it … we looked upon it as our personal club.’

Fears for ancient treasures with Shia radical in charge in Baghdad

The last issue of Salon reported on Donny George’s resignation from his post as President of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. Since then further reports have appeared in the press substantiating Dr George’s concerns that Iraq’s archaeological riches face a new threat following the appointment of a minister from the radical Islamic Sadrist party to run the department responsible for antiquities.

Dr George accused the new minister of being interested only in Islamic sites and not in Iraq’s earlier heritage and said he had come under pressure in his job to cut the Baghdad National Museum’s ties with museums and cultural institutions around the world, and to sever its links with the coalition forces — relations deemed essential to help to protect sites and prevent troops from going to areas where they could destroy artefacts.

Writing in the Independent last week, the Baghdad-based journalist Ned Parker added substance to these claims by reporting that qualified staff were being purged from key posts and being replaced by religious fundamentalists ─ something that the Iraqi government itself denies. Even so, Abdul-Amir Hamdani, the director for antiquities in Dhiqar province, was cited as an example of someone who was harried out of office. The highly regarded Hamdani was arrested on charges of corruption, before being acquitted and released three months later, but not before being replaced by someone whom, according to an unnamed American diplomat, ‘knows nothing and isn’t up to the job’.

Elizabeth Stone, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University, New York, who trained Iraqi archaeologists in 2004, was also quoted as saying that the Ministry of Tourism is not doing enough to protect sites in the south from looters. ‘What is striking is that the Islamic parts are left alone, whereas the immediate pre-Islamic sites are not,’ she said. Dr Stone said there were rumours that Islamic militant groups were even digging up archaeological sites to sell artefacts to fund their activities.

Donny George to speak at conference on ‘Archaeology in Conflict’

There will be an opportunity to hear Donny George’s own account of the situation in Iraq next month, when he is expected to speak at a conference being organised by Sjoerd van der Linde and our Fellow Dominic Perring on the ethics and practicalities of archaeological site management in conflict and post-conflict states.

The conference is entitled ‘Archaeology in Conflict ─ Cultural Heritage, Site Management and Sustainable Development in Conflict and Post-Conflict States in the Middle East’. It takes place on 10 to 12 November 2006 and is being organised by the Centre for Applied Archaeology at University College London, supported by the British Academy. Special focus will be given to the experience of scholars, experts and government representatives from Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. For further details and a booking form please see the Centre for Applied Archaeology’s website.

Independents’ Day Conference

Wittily alluding to the title of the Oscar-winning 1996 sci-fi movie, the Council for Independent Archaeology is hosting a conference on 23 September 2006 that will showcase the work of a local group of independent archaeologists excavating the Whitehall Roman Villa in Northamptonshire (just off the M1). The morning session, held at the Begbrooke Village Hall, will be devoted to the background to the work at Whitehall, and a discussion about independent and community archaeology. Speakers include Neil Faulkner and Andrew Selkirk, FSA, who will debate what community archaeology means, and whether it is a good thing or not. The afternoon will be spent visiting the excavations under the guidance of the Director, Steve Young. Full details can be obtained from the Council for Independent Archaeology’s website. The cost of £25 will include lectures, discussions, a visit to the site and what is promised to be ‘a mouthwatering lunch’.

‘Archaeology for All’ conference

The theory and practice of community archaeology is also the theme of a national conference to be held at the University of Manchester on 3 to 4 November 2006. Speakers will address the questions: what is community archaeology, what are the challenges and opportunities, what makes an archaeological project special and meaningful to particular communities, and what future is there for the concept of ‘archaeology for all’. The conference will hear about community archaeology projects in Australia, the US state of Virginia, Norway and Quseir, in Egypt, as well as closer to home in Scotland, Newport, Manchester, Chester, Northants, Leics and the north west of England. Further details and a booking form can be found at the conference website.

Managing the Marine Cultural Heritage

The last call has gone out for the Second Maritime Archaeology Group International Conference, which takes place on 27 and 28 September 2006 when world experts in marine heritage issues will convene at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to present details of their approaches to, and experiences with, managing archaeology underwater around the globe. For the conference programme and other information, see the conference website.

Archaeological networking event

The newly launched Archpeople Recruitment Agency is hosting an open day and archaeological networking event on 18 November 2006 at the Hilton Hotel in Bradford, West Yorkshire, from 10am to 6pm. Called ‘The Big A’, the idea is to bring together archaeologists from the commercial, academic, amateur and public sectors. Managing Director Natalie Kershaw says that the event provides an opportunity for building up future networking contacts and discussing employment needs. The event is also intended to help those looking for offering advice on working in archaeology. Further information:

IFA Finds Group: ‘Brick and Tile Recording Day’

The IFA Finds Group and the Architectural Ceramic Building Materials Group are organising a Brick and Tile Recording Day, to be held on 15 November 2006 from 10am to 4.30pm at the Yorkshire Museum, York. As there are only ten places on the course, early registration is vital. Further details from Dr Phil Mills.

Books by Fellows

Autumn is traditionally the time of year when publishers launch new popular books (just in time for the Christmas trade) so we can probably expect a good crop of new books by Fellows over the coming weeks. First off the mark this autumn is Tim Darvill, with a timely book called Stonehenge: the biography of a landscape (Tempus Publishing).

Tim’s book argues for an understanding of the entirety of the landscape around the World Heritage Site rather than an exclusive focus on the stone circle. Long before Stonehenge was built, he says, people were erecting posts, digging pits to contain sacred objects, and constructing long mounds to house their dead. Around 2600 BC local communities transformed this existing sanctuary into a cult centre, which developed a reputation as an oracular and healing place. For centuries people visited Stonehenge from near and far; even after activities at the site began to decline, the memory lived on and people chose to be buried within sight of the stones. By this time, the area around Stonehenge was heavily occupied, with daily life focused along the River Avon. Later, farms and hamlets were established, Roman villas came and went, and from about AD 1000 the pattern of villages dotted along the valleys and the town of Amesbury came to prominence. Bringing the story right up to date, Tim ends by charting the establishment of army training grounds and camps in the last one hundred years, and describing the battles that have been fought in recent years over the use and future of the Stonehenge landscape.

Perhaps Tim’s book will be one of the titles shortlisted for next year’s British Archaeological Awards. This year’s shortlists have just been announced and one does not envy the task of the panel of judges (chaired by our General Secretary, David Gaimster) in having to pick just one winner from each category.

For the Archaeological Book Award, sponsored by the Ancient and Medieval History Book Club, to recognise the most outstanding book that brings British archaeology to the widest audience, the shortlisted titles are:

Gold and Gilt by David Hinton, FSA
Tomb Builders in Wales by Steve Burrow
The Human Past edited by Chris Scarre, FSA
The Great Warbow by Matthew Strickland and Robert Hardy, FSA
Hedgerow History by Gerry Barnes and Tom Williamson
Medieval Town Walls by Oliver Creighton and Robert Higham.

For the Scholarly Publication Award, sponsored by a consortium of national archaeological societies, to celebrate excellence in archaeological publications (both conventional and electronic) for the specialist audience, the shortlisted titles are:

Greater Medieval Houses by Anthony Emery, FSA
British Iron Age Swords by Ian Stead, FSA
Sutton Hoo by Martin Carver, FSA
The Dover Boat by Peter Clark
Britannica by John Creighton, FSA
Requiem by Roberta Gilchrist, FSA, and Barney Sloane, FSA.

The winners will be announced and the awards presented in Birmingham on 6 November 2006.

David Gaimster has a new book out himself this week, which also happens to be the launch volume in a new series from Archaeopress called ‘Studies in Contemporary and Historical Archaeology’. David’s book kicks the series off with a volume on The Historical Archaeology of Pottery, subtitled: Supply and Demand in the Lower Rhineland AD 1400─1800: an archaeological study of ceramic production, distribution and use in the city of Duisburg and its hinterland. The book is a study of the extensive sequence of pottery from ninety-five individual assemblages that have been recovered from large-scale urban excavations in the Lower Rhineland during the 1980s, particularly from the town of Duisburg; David uses these to re-examine traditional chronologies, attributions and socio-economic interpretations. Anyone interested in buying a copy can do so at a 35 per cent discount (£22.05 instead of £35), using a Special Author’s Offer order form available from David.

From the American Fellowship comes news of the publication of Pottery and Society: the impact of recent studies in Minoan Pottery (see Oxbow Books website). Published by the Archaeological Institute of America in co-operation with the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, this consists of a series of papers given in honour of our Fellow Professor Philip Betancourt when he received the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement from the Archaeological Institute of America.

The essays present the results of recent studies in Minoan pottery using techniques and methodologies pioneered by Betancourt. Fellow Malcolm H Weiner edited the volume and wrote the lead article on ‘Pots and Polities’. The other contributors are Peter M Day, Maria Relaki and Edward W Faber (‘Pottery Making and Social Reproduction in the Bronze Age Mesara’); Aleydis Van de Moortel (‘A Re-examination of the Pottery from the Kamares Cave’); Eleni S Banou and Eleni Tsivilika (‘Provincial Middle Minoan Pottery: the case of Pera Galenoi’); Kostandinos S Christakis (‘Traditions and Trends in the Production and Consumption of Storage Containers in Protopalatial and Neopalatial Crete’); and Jeremy B Rutter (‘Southwestern Anatolian Pottery from Late Minoan Crete: evidence for direct contacts between Arzawa and Keftiu?’).

Finally, the Nautical Archaeology Society has just announced the publication (on behalf of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee) of the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage: proceedings of the Burlington House seminar October 2005 (further details of the seminar can be found at the bottom of the home page on the Society’s website.


Historic Scotland: North-East Team Leader (Band F)
Salary range £38,267 to £46,475. Closing date 27 September 2006; interviews in Edinburgh on 12 and 13 October 2006

This principal inspector-level post will direct and lead the North-East area’s ten-member team, working closely with the Director of Casework and the other area team leaders to ensure that a consistent and high-quality advice-giving service on the historic environment is provided for Scotland. Candidates must have proven management skills, with broad experience of leading and managing public service delivery in the historic environment. Highly developed interpersonal skills and political sensitivity are also essential. You should have detailed knowledge of heritage management, Scottish archaeology and architectural history and wide experience of urban and rural development, planning and working with local authorities and others. Experience of running complex multi-functional teams, financial and/or commercial experience and organisational and cultural change management is also desirable.

For further details and an application form, send an email to, quoting reference HSC/06/104.

Norfolk Landscape Archaeology, Head of Archaeological Planning (Ref: CSC06/321)
Salary range £25,437 to £26,928. Closing date 29 September 2006; interviews 16 October 2006

As the head of a small team of planning archaeologists and a member of Norfolk’s Historic Environment Management Team, you will be responsible for the delivery of a highly effective archaeological planning service to eight LPAs and a wide range of stakeholders, and for the management of the historic environment of the county’s post-Roman and urban historic environment. For an informal chat contact David Gurney. To apply online go to

Current Archaeology, Editor
Salary not stated; closing date 29 September 2006

Current Archaeology is looking for a new full-time editor to work alongside Neil Faulkner and the Editor-in-Chief, our Fellow Andrew Selkirk. Full details are given on the Current Publishing website.