Salon Archive

Issue: 151

Forthcoming meetings

2 November: The Chester Amphitheatre Project, by Tony Wilmott, FSA, and Dan Garner

3 November: Annual Meeting of the American Fellowship at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Building in Stone at the Boundaries of the Latin Church, 950─1250, by Eric Fernie, President

9 November: The Cult of St Zita of Lucca in Medieval England: the visual evidence, by Caroline Barron, FSA, and Rupert Webber

16 November: Ballot

23 November: The Archaeology of Shrines and Sacrifice in Northern Ghana, by Tim Insoll, FSA

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).

William Frend Memorial Day

The Reverend Professor William Frend, FSA, who died last year at the age of eighty-nine, had a long and distinguished career that encompassed roles as an Early Christian historian, archaeologist and theologian. To celebrate his life and work, the Society of Antiquaries of London will be hosting a day of papers at Burlington House on 24 November 2006, focussed on his most celebrated work on the Donatist Church and North African Christianity. Speakers include Professor Brent Shaw of Princeton University, Dr Heimo Dolenz of the Department of Roman Archaeology and Field-Research at the Regional Museum of Carinthia and Dr Richard Miles, FSA, of the University of Cambridge. Tickets cost £7, to include refreshments, a sandwich lunch and wine reception afterwards. If you would like to attend or would like further details of the programme, please contact Jasvinder Kaur at the Society.

Online ballot: 16 November 2006

The Blue Papers for the ballot to be held on 16 November 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.

Ballot results: 19 October

The Society is very pleased to welcome the following new Fellows who were all elected in the ballot held on 19 October 2006:

Melanie Hall, Eurydice Georganteli, Christopher Wright, Daniel William Henry Miles, Jari Tapip Pakkanen, Sally Roberta Jeffery, Roderick Butler, Christopher Paul Green, Martine Sarah Newby, Dorian Gerhold, The Revd Michael John Fisher (see ‘Books by Fellows’ below), Clyve Jones, Michael Trevillian Wright, Richard Wendorf, Christopher Maurice Green, James F King, Arthur Freeman, Janet Ing Freeman, William James White, The Hon Jane Lady Roberts, Barrie John Cook, David Anthony Edge, Christine McKee Stevenson, Peta Motture and Rosemary Jean Baird (Mrs Andreae).

British Archaeological Awards

A complete list of all the finalists in this year’s British Archaeological Awards can be seen on the home page of the Society’s website. The winners and runners-up will be announced at this year's Awards Ceremony, to be held at the Custard Factory, Birmingham, on Monday, 6 November 2006, starting at 1.30 pm. If you are a shortlisted entrant but have not yet received an invitation to the Awards Ceremony and would like one, please contact the Honorary Secretary, Caroline Raison, as soon as possible.


Salon 150 gave the wrong email address for Paul Buckland, who is involved in the campaign to save the ancient diolkos of Corinth: having moved from Sheffield to teach at Bournemouth, he can now be contacted at:

Our Treasurer Geoff Wainwright was quoted in Salon 150 as saying that the question of how the bluestones were conveyed from the quarry at Carn Meini in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, to Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, was ‘a blue collar’ question. Our Fellow Norman Hammond has supplied one possible answer in the form of a link to a six-minute video that can be viewed (preferably using a broadband connection) on the youtube website. Norman writes: ‘The video concerns a man from Flint, Michigan, who has worked out how to use the simplest of implements ─ pebbles and timber ─ to move huge blocks of stone and even whole barns all by himself. He thinks these techniques were used to build Stonehenge, and he may be right: it’s a truly astounding video’.

Pamela Jane Smith, who organised the recent Department of Archaeology Cambridge seminar on the history of the ‘New Archaeology’, reports that it was a tremendous success with some 250 people attending. Pamela is now looking for feedback from any Fellows who attended: she would be grateful for ideas for topics for next year suitable for recording for an oral-historical archive at the Society of Antiquaries of London on the development of archaeology in recent decades, and she would be grateful for reactions to this year’s seminar in order to make next year run more smoothly.

Our Fellow Lisa Barber writes from her home in France to ask whether the good news that the Portable Antiquities Scheme has reached an agreement with the online auction site eBay to monitor antiquity sales applies only to the UK or whether it is an international agreement. Lisa is worried that dealers can easily get round laws designed to prevent the trade in illicit antiquities by operating from overseas. Her hope is that eBay might institute a global rule requiring all sellers of antiquities to provide reliable proof of provenance for the antiquities that they are seeking to sell.

Our Fellow Roger Bland, Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, has responded to say: ‘I could not agree more with Lisa Barber that all antiquities that appear on the eBay website should be monitored, not just those from the UK. However, the remit of the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum is limited to objects from England and Wales and it is hard enough for our small staff to check eBay for antiquities from this country. This is not a role which we have been funded to carry out, but we are doing so because we became aware that the number of finds that should be reported under the Treasure Act being offered for sale on eBay was so high that it was threatening to undermine the credibility of the Act. We hope that by monitoring the site on a regular basis for a period of time, those who see the site as an easy way of selling unreported Treasure finds will be deterred from doing so.

‘To monitor all antiquities on eBay would require significant effort on the part of whoever carried out this task. Since objects can be up on eBay for as little as two days, the site needs to be visited daily and to illustrate the scale of the problem, on 26 October there were 4,138 items listed as antiquities on . We would be delighted to co-operate with other bodies in the UK or elsewhere who would like to share in this work.’

For its part, eBay has said that it is committed to working with national law enforcement agencies to prevent fraudulent or illegal trading, and it recommends anyone wishing to buy and sell antiquities legally on its site to consult the guidance that is given on its UK site, to be found at .

The Sevso treasure and the illicit antiquities trade

Following on from that theme, several Fellows have been active in the public eye over the last fortnight highlighting the case of the Sevso treasure, which Bonhams, the London- based auctioneer, has placed on public display, but which the Hungarian government believes was found on Hungarian soil and illegally exported from the country.

The background to the story was given by our Fellow Maev Kennedy in an article in the Guardian published on 17 October 2006, in which she wrote that: ‘One of the most beautiful and infamous treasure hoards of the twentieth century, fourteen pieces of Roman-era silver of staggering quality, will resurface today on display in London, to the consternation of leading archaeologists who regard it as archaeological loot. Although Bonhams auction house, which will display the Sevso Hoard, insists no sale is planned, the Marquess of Northampton who bought the silver for an undisclosed sum in the 1980s recently said he “hopes” the silver will be sold, and that it has “cursed” his family. It now belongs to a trust he founded. The Sevso Treasure, with a notional value of more than £100m, is believed by many archaeologists to have been illicitly excavated in Hungary and smuggled out of the country in the late 1970s. It was last seen in public in 1990, when a planned Sotheby's auction was abandoned after Hungary, Yugoslavia and Lebanon all claimed but failed to prove ownership through the US courts, which found that the marquess was the legal owner.

‘The fourteen pieces of fabulous silver include four enormous platters, the size of bin lids, each containing up to a stone of pure silver. They may have been made in a Greek workshop for a staggeringly wealthy Roman client, possibly the Sevso who gave the hoard its name in the inscription: “May these, O Sevso, yours for many ages be, small vessels fit to serve your offspring worthily.” The pieces resemble those found near Lake Balaton in the 19th century, now in the national museum in Budapest, and one is engraved Pelso, the Roman name for the lake.

‘Bonhams will show the silver at private viewings in London. The glossy invitations, sent to collectors, academics and archaeologists, describe it as “the finest surviving collection of ancient silver known to exist”. A spokesman for Bonhams said: “There is enormous academic interest in this silver, but it has been locked in a vault for the last 16 years. It seems better to us to put it on display than to have it locked away, and we are thrilled and privileged to be given the opportunity to do that.”

‘Roger Bland, Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme for recording archaeological finds, was astounded when his invitation arrived. “It is very difficult to see what Bonhams hope to achieve through this private viewing. Under [government] guidelines for museums no UK museum could ever acquire or even borrow it. I think the circumstantial evidence points strongly to its having come from Hungary, and I hope that it goes back there and is put on show for public benefit.”’

The exhibition of the Sevso Treasure then prompted our Fellow Professor Lord Renfrew to write a letter to The Times, published on 19 October, in which he said: ‘A decade ago the antiquities market in London was, in effect, unregulated — one former minister described it as a “thieves’ kitchen”. Since then the UK has ratified the 1970 Unesco Convention on Illicit Antiquities, and Parliament has passed the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, and one hoped that matters had significantly improved. However, Bonhams the auctioneer has this week put on display at its galleries in Bond Street the Sevso Treasure, one of the most notorious assemblages of antiquities without known provenance to surface in recent years. Had these fourteen pieces of late Roman silver been dug up after 2003, to offer such antiquities for sale would possibly be an offence under the Act, at any rate if the present owner knew from what country they had been exported.

‘In the mid-1990s a court in New York awarded possession to the current owner, the Marquess of Northampton. However, this was because the claimants, the governments of Hungary, Lebanon and Croatia, whose land was part of the Roman Empire, had not made a sufficient case for the silver. Therefore, I believe that the matter of rightful ownership is still fully to be clarified. The Hungarian Government still claims the Sevso Silver and is pursuing the matter. Is it not now time that the marquess tried to determine from which country it was originally exported, apparently without legal export permit, and took steps to return it to its land of origin?’

A week later, on 24 October, our Fellow Lord Redesdale, Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group, then contributed a further article to the Guardian arguing that the case of the Sevso hoard was illustrative of the wider difficulties governments all over the world are experiencing in attempting to stem the illicit trade in cultural objects. ‘There is’, he concluded, ‘an urgent need for a full examination of the origins and ownership of this treasure before determining its ultimate destination. While the treasure remains here with its status unresolved, it represents a standing challenge to the effectiveness of the measures in force in this country to combat the trade in illicit antiquities.’

The National Trust: three buses at once

After a prolonged period during which the National Trust has produced few policy papers, it has rewarded those of us standing patiently at the bus stop of life by producing three major campaigning reports in a single week.

First, on 23 October 2006, immediately following the excellent Apple Day events that Common Ground organises in the UK every year, the Trust called for traditional orchards to be brought within the scope of the UK Habitat Action Plan. David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, explained: ‘a Habitat Action Plan for traditional orchards is urgently needed as a clear recognition of orchards’ wildlife value and cultural importance and as a means of enabling them to become a priority for agri-environment funding and Lottery money. It would also provide traditional orchards with extra protection in the planning process, as house building can be a common cause for their loss.’ He went on to say that: ‘Traditional orchards and their associated meadows, hedges, walls, ponds and streams provide a wonderful network of habitats within the wider landscape for all sorts of common and rare wildlife. There is a need for a formal recognition from all Government agencies that traditional orchards matter and we hope that a UK Habitat Action Plan will be set up to make them a priority habitat where a wide range of wildlife flourishes.’

The following day, 24 October 2006, the Trust published a report called Museums: Policy from Practice in which, speaking as the nation’s largest accredited museums provider, with over a million objects in its care, it makes a series of recommendations on how museums can address the diverse challenges they face in promoting scholarship, inspire an interest in different cultures, bring history to life, provide a vital educational resource and contribute to urban and rural regeneration.

Sarah Staniforth, the National Trust’s Historic Properties Director, commented: ‘Across the sector, museums are facing growing challenges in the form of mounting costs, growing liabilities, increasingly high visitor expectations and threats to funding and resources’. The report argues that the future lies with ‘long term commitment and partnering between national and local government, regional agencies and museum bodies’, starting with central government, where the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) needs to ‘develop a new museums strategy that recognises the very wide range of public benefits that Britain’s diverse museums are capable of delivering’. The report also calls on Government to implement more fully the recommendations of the Goodison Review in order to provide tax incentives to ‘retain collections and support the gifting of works of art and collections to the nation’. Sarah Staniforth again explained that: ‘some safeguards exist to address the loss of single prestigious objects to overseas markets, [but] there is little to address the loss and dispersal of collections from their local and historical context. Without positive action and support, the integrity of a number of collections is at risk’.

Finally, at the end of a busy week for policy announcements, the Trust published a report charting the impact of the sale of heritage assets by public bodies, arguing that pressure on central and local governments to raise revenue or reduce expenditure is leading them to dispose of property assets with too little regard for their heritage value. The report is based on a survey of central government departments and 222 local authorities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The study found that the Treasury’s drive to sell £30 billion of public assets between 2004 and 2010 is harming the historic environment in a number of ways: historic properties that have already been neglected by local authorities because of funding shortages are then sold without conditions being imposed on how the heritage value of a property should be sustained under new ownership, and to owners who are often unwilling to invest in conservation.

The report also points to the private finance initiative as another cause for concern, because the typical twenty-five-year life of a PFI contract ‘pits the short term cash flow interests of the private sector against the long term funding requirements of heritage’.

The Trust report calls for national and local governments to give more notice when disposals are planned, to publicise sales more widely and to look more favourably on heritage charities who might be able and willing to take on the care of historic buildings given the time needed to put funding in place. The report also makes the point that ‘many property managers, especially in local authorities, are not familiar with Government guidance on the sound management and disposal of heritage property’ ─ a point that is in part being addressed by the English Heritage HELM scheme, designed to increase awareness of local authority staff and elected members of their duties and best practice in respect of the historic environment.

For a copy of the ‘Disposal of Heritage Assets by Public Bodies’ report see the National Trust website.

HLF announces new plans to help museum collections

As if in response to the National Trust’s call for more investment in museums, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has announced that it plans to set aside £3 million to be allocated in 2007─8 to support acquisitions, the development of curatorial skills, research and outreach activity. Grants will be available from £50,000 up to a maximum of £200,000. It is envisaged that some twenty projects around the UK will be funded through this initiative.

Announcing the allocation at the Museums Association Conference in Bournemouth, Carole Souter, Director of HLF, said: ‘Collections and collecting are fundamental to the future of our museums and galleries. HLF has been aware of funding challenges in this area for some time and we have now developed this exciting, new initiative through listening to the sector’s needs.’

The funding will encourage individual museums and galleries, or small consortia, such as local museums and galleries or those with a shared collecting interest, to apply for support to develop their collections. While applications must include plans for acquiring objects within a chosen field, museums and galleries will not need to identify individual items in advance. This gives museums and galleries the flexibility to use HLF money pro-actively to buy material for their collections. Organisations will also be asked to show how they will increase public involvement and enjoyment of their collections. HLF will consult on detailed proposals for this initiative from November 2006 to February 2007 and the scheme is likely to be launched in April 2007.

Government response to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Report on ‘Protecting and Preserving Our Heritage’

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published the government’s response to the report of the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport on ‘Protecting and Preserving Our Heritage’, which was published on 20 July 2006 (see Salon 145). The report can be downloaded from the DCMS website.

The general thrust of the response is to suggest that local authorities, rather than central Government, will play a much bigger role in the protection and enhancement of the historic environment in future. This foreshadows the White Paper expected soon on Heritage Protection, and it raises the question of whether, given all the other demands that are made on local authority resources ─ from health, policing and housing to tackling obesity and teenage pregnancy and promoting interfaith understanding ─ heritage will get the resources and commitment it deserves.

The DCMS response tackles this issue by saying that ‘DCMS is working with English Heritage and local authority partners to develop a regular and systematic survey of historic environment services within individual local authorities. It is planned that these surveys will provide information on the numbers of staff in the service, what they do in terms of casework, advice, grant applications and other activities together with an identification of the workload of the service. Results will be publicly available, with the headline findings included in Heritage Counts.’

The report goes on to say that ‘new statutory duties are being considered as part of the Heritage Protection Review’, and that ‘a new PPS (Public Policy Statement) on the historic environment will be published that will set clear policy, priorities and expectations’, based on the present public policy guidance documents, PPG15 and PPG16.

The report also says that DCMS is fully committed to the Heritage Gateway portal that is being developed by English Heritage, ALGAO and IHBC to provide online access to the wealth of information held in Historic Environment Records. It says ‘we expect local authorities to continue to take forward the e-enablement of HERs as an integral part of their corporate information management and e-government strategies, with the priority being to ensure that they hold digital records relating to all designated historic assets in their area by 2010, and that their digital content is made available through the Heritage Gateway. This will ensure that local HERs add value to the national Register, which we also propose to make accessible through the Gateway.’

The report supports the view that archaeological sites need better protection from the damaging effects of ploughing, and says that the whole question of class consents is being looked at as part of the Heritage Protection Review, but it warns that the Government does not intend to prohibit ploughing on all scheduled ancient monuments ─ only in high risk cases ─ and it suggests that a way forward might lie in using agri-environment schemes to offer incentives to farmers not to plough.

On VAT relief for historic buildings maintenance, the report says that the policy in general is to target relief at specific schemes (such as the refund scheme for Listed Places of Worship), but that DCMS sees merit in a scheme that also helps private owners and has ‘passed a proposal to the Treasury for their consideration’. On the vexed issue of the Shimizu decision (the legal precedent that allows partial demolition of a listed building on the grounds that it is ‘alteration’ not ‘demolition’), DCMS says that it would like to see ‘analysis or evidence’ that this is a problem of such urgency that it needs to be addressed immediately ─ disappointing news for conservationists who know that gathering such evidence is extremely difficult.

More positive perhaps is the acknowledgement that there is a need for proper resourcing at the local level for the management and enhancement of World Heritage Sites. The report says that such sites are currently funded from the ‘normal budgets’ and don’t have any specific funding. DCMS ‘proposes to conduct research to look more closely into the costs and benefits associated with World Heritage status’ before coming to any further decision.

Finally, there is little succour for those who would like to see more central Government spending on the heritage. Answering criticism that a raft of conservation bodies ─ from English Heritage to the Historic Chapels Trust ─ struggle with flat funding and inadequate resources, DCMS takes the Spartan view that starvation is good for you because it leads to increased efficiency and reduced costs; great confidence is expressed in everyone’s ability to survive on lean rations and ‘meet future challenges’.

Search for Chair of English Heritage held up by ‘cash for honours’ enquiry

Interviews for the post of Chair of English Heritage have been suspended temporarily because police investigating so-called ‘cash for honours’ allegations have asked for a further two months (to the end of 2007) to complete their work and report their findings. It is possible that Lord (Jonathan) Marland of Odstock, the Conservative Party Treasurer ─ who is one of the two shortlisted candidates for the EH Chair ─ might be interviewed by the police. DCMS has therefore written to both candidates to halt the process.

As well as being Conservative Party Treasurer, responsible for raising funds for the party, Lord Marland’s background is in business, finance and insurance broking. He is Chairman and founder of The Sport Nexus, Chairman of Harnham Water Meadows Trust, Director of CChange, Treasurer & Trustee of Atlantic Partnership and a member of the Advisory Board of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice.

The other shortlisted candidate is Lady (Penny) Cobham, chairman of the trustees of the Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries and a member of the Council of the National Trust. She is also Chairman of the British Casino Association and is spearheading the industry’s involvement in the Gambling Bill as it moves through Parliament. Penny is Deputy Chairman of VisitBritain and a long-serving member of the Finance and Policy Committee of the Historic Houses Association. She has also served on the boards of English Heritage, British Waterways, Historic Royal Palaces and the V&A.

Reporting on the recruitment process, the Guardian also said that the Government plans to cut the salary for the part-time EH job from the advertised figure of £68,000 to £30,000 a year.

Culture Minister unveils the UK's next three nominations for World Heritage status

The Antonine Wall, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Wearmouth─Jarrow twin monastery are to be the UK’s next three nominations as World Heritage Sites, Culture Minister David Lammy has announced.

The Antonine Wall was added to the UK Tentative List this year and would form an extension to the Frontiers of the Roman Empire Transnational World Heritage Site presently consisting of Hadrian’s Wall and the Upper Raetian─German Limes. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest canal aqueduct ever built and as such is considered to be one of the most heroic of the monuments that symbolise the world’s first Industrial Revolution.

The Anglo-Saxon monastery of Wearmouth─Jarrow needs little introduction to Fellows: created by Benedict Biscop, who returned from his travels in Continental Europe in the 650s determined to build a monastery 'in the Roman manner', it was home to the Venerable Bede, the first historian of the English people, who became a member of Benedict Biscop’s community at the age of seven, around AD 680.

Our Fellow, Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage, said: ‘The nomination for Wearmouth─Jarrow recognises the unique international contribution the site and its greatest inhabitant, the Anglo-Saxon scholar Bede, made to the development of European learning and culture. The inscription of the Antonine Wall will complement the recent joining of the Upper German─Raetian Limes and Hadrian's Wall to form the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site and will strengthen international cooperation on conservation.’

At 125ft high, Thomas Telford and William Jessop's Pontcysyllte aqueduct takes the Llangollen canal across the River Dee valley. It is formed from a 1,000ft-long iron trough laid on stone arches. The first stone of the aqueduct, which connected the Rivers Severn, Mersey and Dee at the height of the Industrial Revolution, was laid in 1795. It took a decade to complete. Alun Pugh, Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport in Wales, said: ‘We have a wonderful built historic environment in Wales and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a jewel in the crown.’

Metalwork and manuscripts accepted in lieu of inheritance tax

MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Commission, has just announced details of eleven collections that it has accepted on behalf of the nation in lieu of inheritance tax under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which MLA administers. They include sixteenth-century documents relating to Robert Henley’s acquisition of former monastic lands in Somerset, which will join other Henley family papers in the Somerset Record Office, and a collection of metalwork, including two thirteenth-century swords, one of Viking type and the other with Romanesque decoration, and a silver-gilt altar cruet from the fifteenth century ─ one of only two pre-Reformation cruets to have survived the Reformation. Full details can be found on the MLA website.

Export stop on rare eighteenth-century court mantua

A temporary export bar has been placed on a rare and lavish court mantua and petticoat of silver-brocaded ivory silk, believed to date from the mid-1760s. This Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the mantua is of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for the study of costume, in particular the history of the mantua and its function at the English court. The Committee awarded a starred rating to the mantua, meaning that every possible effort should be made to raise enough money to keep it in the country.

Few mantuas survive, as Britain was unique in its adoption of the mantua for court dress and its wear was specific to a very limited number of occasions and locations. This particular mantua is made of a rich ivory silk woven with silver thread and trimmed with silver lace. The glittering splendour of court dress in the 1760s is preserved due to its pristine condition: not only is it virtually untarnished, but no other surviving mantua bears so much silver thread. It was unknown until its recent auction and its discovery fills an important gap in the history of the mantua as it was previously believed that the long draped train that it features did not appear before the 1770s.

The decision on the export licence application for the mantua and petticoat will be deferred for a period ending on 18 December 2006. This period may be extended until 18 March 2007 if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the mantua and petticoat at the recommended price of £80,275 (excluding VAT) is expressed. Full details can be found on the DCMS website.

Explorers who forge new links between communities

As a schoolboy learning about the voyages of Magellan and Columbus, Salon’s editor could never quite reconcile the notion of the ‘discovery’ of Africa, Australia or the Americas with the blindingly obvious fact that there were people already living there ─ nor how northern European explorers could claim to have ‘navigated for the first time’ routes that local traders and sailors had been using since time immemorial.

Now in a book, called Pathfinders: a global history of exploration (published by OUP), our Fellow Felipe Fernández-Armesto has squared that circle by making a useful distinction between ‘exploration’ and mere ‘movement’. True explorers, in Fernández-Armesto’s definition, are strangers from afar who create new links between communities that have not been in contact before. These ‘pathfinders’ lay down ‘gangways of cultural convergence’ ─ though the author admits that where Europeans were involved, and especially during the so-called ‘golden age of exploration’, this inter-cultural contact has too often ‘begun with embraces, continued in abuse and ended in bloodshed’.

Through meticulous research married to a gift for storytelling, Fernández-Armesto chronicles some 4,000 years of global exploration, which he dates back to the ancient Egyptians who sent an expedition to central Africa in the late third millennium BC. As he charts the process by which the globe has been mapped (not systematically but by means of a meandering and haphazard process) he ends by asking: is exploration now obsolete?

In the sense in which he has defined it, the answer has to be ‘yes’ ─ globalisation, powered by consumerism and digital media, have penetrated so widely that you now have to work very hard to escape from those ‘gangways of cultural convergence’ laid down by developed western economies. But if exploration means following your curiosity into the unknown, then there are vast realms still to be discovered, as every antiquary surely knows: was it Gilbert White who said he learned more from studying a square foot of soil in his back garden than others learned by travelling the world?

Was Columbus Portuguese?

Another puzzle to torment schoolboy historians is the question of why Christopher Columbus spoke fluent Portuguese, but not Italian, though claiming to be Genoese, how he came to marry the aristocratic daughter of the Portuguese Governor of Porto Santo island, in the Madeiran archipelago, and why on his return from his first voyage across the Atlantic he spent a week in Lisbon in audience with ‘his’ king, before reporting back to the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, who had sponsored his voyage.

Two scholars who have pursued these questions ─ the Portuguese historian Mascarenas Barreto and the US historian Manuel Luciano da Silva ─ have now concluded that Columbus was in fact the illegitimate son of Isabel Goncalves Zarco, daughter of João Goncalves Zarco, the Portuguese navigator credited with the discovery of Madeira. Columbus’ father was the Duque de Beja, and Isabel gave birth at the Duke’s palace in Cuba, the town 12km north of Beja, after which Columbus later named the island of Cuba. Why did Columbus not reveal his true identity? Because his father, the Duke of Beja, and the king of Portugal, João II, were rival claimants to the Portuguese throne and sworn enemies.

The people of Cuba (Portugal) certainly believe this theory and have just unveiled a 7-ft bronze statue of the explorer in their main square to commemorate the 514th anniversary of Columbus's landfall on the Caribbean island of Cuba. And Dom Duarte de Braganza, direct descendant of Columbus’s supposed father has agreed to donate a blood sample to the Spanish and Portuguese governments in the hope his DNA can be matched with that of Columbus or his descendants.

Humble shoelace tag carried more currency than gold on Columbus's travels

Here is an entirely different story about Columbus and Cuba, reported in the November issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. Researchers at the UCL Institute of Archaeology have discovered that a humble device that prevents shoelaces from fraying was deemed to be worth more than gold by the indigenous Cubans who traded with Columbus's fleet. The Institute team, led by Dr Marcos Martinón-Torres, analysed jewellery material excavated from El Chorro de Maíta, one of the largest burial sites in north-east Cuba, which dates from a few decades after the Spanish conquest of the island. Despite (or because of) its relative abundance in the region, very little gold was discovered. Instead, the indigenous people of the Caribbean ─ the Taíno ─ preferred small metal tubes made of brass that they threaded into necklaces.

Using microstructural and chemical analysis, the researchers were able to prove the brass originated in Germany, and a review of relevant literature and paintings from European sources revealed that the tubes were lacetags, or aglets, from European clothing, used from the fifteenth century onwards to prevent the ends of laces from fraying. Laces were commonly used to fasten clothes, such as doublets and hose, as well as shoes. Examples of such usage include a 1636 portrait of William Style of Langley (Tate Gallery, London), which depicts the use of aglets in his waist to secure his trousers through his jacket. Original lacetags excavated from across London that date back to the thirteenth century can also be found in the Museum of London's Archaeological Archive.

Dr Martinón-Torres, of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who led the research, explained: ‘Early chroniclers report that pure gold, or caona, was considered the least valuable metal amongst indigenous Cubans, significantly less esteemed and less sacred than copper-based alloys … functional European brass was thus conceptually transformed into an ornament’.

First humans in Tibet

The explorers whose lives and deeds are chronicled by Felipe Fernández-Armesto might get the posthumous biographies, but Salon’s editor is just as interested in the anonymous humans whose slow journeys in pursuit of basic necessities of life led to the peopling of the globe. While it is easy to understand the motivation of lotus eaters following plentiful food and warmth around the shores of Africa and Asia, one wonders what drove people to explore harsher regions of the globe, such as Tibet. Again published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, recent research suggests that humans penetrated the region between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago, and may have been there ten millennia before that, despite the fact that the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau is the largest continuous high-elevation ecosystem on the planet, characterised by extremes of climate.

Archaeologists surveying the shores of the Qinghai lake, in the north-eastern corner of the plateau at an elevation of 3,200m (10,500ft), have found hearths, consisting of charcoal dating from 13,000 and 12,800 years ago along with burnt cobbles used for boiling and degreasing, and debris from toolmaking and the bones of a gazelle-sized animals. David Madsen notes in his report in the Journal that camps such as this are critical to understanding the capacities of early humans for the movement into other extreme environments such as Siberia and Beringia — the Ice Age land bridge that led into the Americas.

Rapid sea level rise might alter views of human migration

Another perspective on the peopling of America comes in the form of a paper presenting new evidence that the Bering Strait near Alaska flooded into the Arctic Ocean about 11,000 years ago, about 1,000 years earlier than previously believed, closing off the land bridge thought to be the major route for human migration from Asia to the Americas.

In a paper in the October issue of Geology magazine, researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) report results from three new core sites north and west of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, where the continental shelf was exposed when the sea level fell during the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago. Their analysis shows a consistent pattern of rising sea levels that flooded the Bering Strait about 12,000 years ago. The implication is that people arrived in the Americas sooner than many US archaeologists believe, or that the current migration dates are accurate, but that people arrived by boat rather than by land.

Delving into Britain's deep past

Salon 148 reported the publication of Professor Chris Stringer’s book ─ Homo Britannicus ─ drawing together the results of five years’ work as Director of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project, based at the Natural History Museum. Soon after the book was published, Professor Stringer was able to announce that the Leverhulme Trust has agreed to fund a second five-year phase of the project to the tune of £1m.

AHOB2 will, according to Chris Stringer, compare the animals and plants of Britain with those of nearby continental Europe to establish similarities and differences to determine how distinctive British wildlife was in the distant past. Existing studies suggest that a filtering mechanism allowed some animals in from mainland Europe, but not others. These filters may have been physical barriers such as the English Channel, or the narrowness of a land bridge that once connected Britain to Europe, or they may include climatic factors. The new project will also investigate the absence of humans in Britain between 180,000 and 60,000 years ago and test the idea that this was due to the creation of the English Channel just prior to this time.

Phase 1 of AHOB coincided with the finding of some thirty or so flint tools at Pakefield, near Lowestoft, representing the oldest, unequivocal evidence of humans in northern Europe and dating back some 700,000 years. Chris Stringer now wants to look for even older evidence, arguing that ‘the conditions that brought people to Pakefield were Mediterranean; there were warm summers and mild winters. Those conditions were there even earlier than Pakefield’. With coastal erosion in some parts of East Anglia exposing buried landscapes that are over half a million years old, the potential for uncovering fossils and artefacts will ensure the region is a major focus for AHOB's next phase of field research, he said. AHOB2 also plans to foster closer relations with the aggregates industry, since sand and gravel laid down by ancient rivers are a prime place to find bones and stones together.

The origins of the British

Salon 148 also reported the publication by Brian Sykes, Professor of Human Genetics at Oxford University, on the work of The Oxford Genetic Atlas Project, which concludes that the most common genetic fingerprint in modern Britons is almost identical to the genetic fingerprint of the inhabitants of coastal regions of northern and western Spain. Now a second study, by Stephen Oppenheimer, called The Origins of the British: a genetic detective story (published by Constable) has reached broadly similar conclusions.

Oppenheimer’s book is more soberly academic than the avowedly popular Sykes, and he consistently uses archaeological evidence to support his arguments, so that his book comes across as more rigorous. He too notes the genetic similarity between Basques and Brits but doesn’t believe this means that Britain was populated by migrants from northern Spain sailing up the Atlantic; instead he simply believes that Basques and British people all share a common origin in the people who settled Europe as hunter-gatherers, between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago. Oppenheimer believes that another small wave of immigration arrived during the Neolithic period, when farming developed about 6,500 years ago.

Like Sykes, he finds that the English, Irish, Welsh and Scots derive most of their current gene pool from the same source. Oppenheimer says that ‘these figures are at odds with the modern perceptions of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon ethnicity based on more recent invasions. There were many later invasions, as well as less violent immigrations, and each left a genetic signal, but no individual event contributed much more than 5 per cent to our modern genetic mix.’

Oppenheimer’s book is full of interesting thoughts on the true origins of the Celts, for example, and whether they really are a definable cultural, genetic and linguistic group. But one of his most startling conclusions is that the language that we know as ‘English’ is pre-Roman rather than post-Roman in origin. He argues in detail and at length that there was no post-Roman invasion of Britain from the Germanic-speaking near Continent. How then did we all end up speaking a dialect of German? Because, says Oppenheimer, we always did ─ that was the language we spoke before the Roman conquest.

In support of this inference, he considers Tacitus’ report that ‘between Britain and Gaul the language differs but little’ and argues that the language of Gaul was Germanic. He also cites recent lexical evidence analysed by Cambridge geneticist Peter Forster and continental colleagues who found that the date of the split between Old English and continental Germanic languages goes much further back than the ‘Dark Ages’, and that English might well have been a separate, fourth branch of the Germanic language before the Roman invasion.

These challenging ideas, along with much else (including a clear explanation of how genetic tracking works), are summarised in a special report that Stephen Oppenheimer wrote for the October issue of Prospect magazine, called ‘Myths of British ancestry’.

Goats might have been the first domesticated farm animals

Goats, rather than cows, sheep or pigs, might have been the first animals to be domesticated by Neolithic farmers, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences based on DNA analysis of goat bones from a cave in Baume d'Oullen in south-western France. The authors of the report say they have tracked two goat lineages stemming from the Near East around 7,500 years ago.

Goats would have been ideally suited companions for early farmers, being hardy animals that can survive on minimal food, cope with extremes of temperature, and travel long distances. Goats would have provided clothing, meat, and milk as well as bone, sinew nd dung for consumption and trade. The researchers also found that once domesticated, the farming of goats spread very quickly from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, rather than taking many goat generations.

Commenting on the results, archaeologist Marek Zvelebil, from the University of Sheffield, said that caution was needed in interpreting the results of research based on a small sample of bones from a single site but added that: ‘this site is strategically located along one of the major routes for the dispersal of farming into Europe’, and that the study backed other archaeological evidence that indicates that once Neolithic culture reached modern-day Italy, it spread rapidly through the western Mediterranean region.

The dark earth mystery

To many archaeologists, dark earth (the 2- to 3-foot-deep layer of soil that is found in many urban contexts in post-Roman stratigraphy) is as mysterious as the intricacies of DNA. In an attempt to foster discussion and debate about its origins and significance, Pete Clark has compiled a bibliography on the subject which he posted on the Britarch bulletin board on 13 October 2006. The jury is still out on whether it results from the decay of weeds and organic rubbish, representing evidence of urban decline from the second to the ninth centuries or whether it consists of structural timbers and earth floors reworked by worm action.

The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE)

Ortrun Peyn, the Society’s Head of Library Cataloguing, recently came across an article in the Times Literary Supplement (No. 5402, 13 October 2006), which explains the work of The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE). That splendid word ‘prosopography’ refers to a relational database comprising ─ in principle ─ all known information about individuals who lived in, or were closely connected with, Anglo-Saxon England from 597 to 1042. The database is being compiled under the co-direction of our Fellow Simon Keynes (Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge University) and Janet Nelson (Department of History, King’s College, London), while our Fellow David Pelteret (of King’s College, Cambridge) is one of several researchers involved with the five-year AHRC-funded project. Further information can be found on the PASE website.

How old is Gloucestershire?

Simon Keynes’s name cropped up again this week, along with that of our Fellow David Smith, President of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. Both are due to appear shortly before the High Sheriff of Gloucester, and a Grand Jury comprising the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, the Lord Lieutenant of the County and the Queen’s Remembrancer. Not that Simon and David are accused of some heinous crime ─ instead, they are serving as expert witnesses in a judicial inquiry into ‘The Circumstances of the Birth of the Shire of Gloucester’. Their job will be to provide evidence to support the probability that the county of Gloucestershire was created in 1007, by Eadric Streona, Eoldorman of Mercia. Hanging on the outcome is the question of whether Gloucestershire can legitimately celebrate its millennium next year.

Royalist Refugees: William and Margaret Cavendish in the Rubens House 1648─60

Our Fellow Karen Hearn, Curator of Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-century British Art at the Tate, is a member of the international team of curators who have mounted this new exhibition at the Rubenshuis in Antwerp (1 October to 31 December 2006). The exhibition illustrates the life in exile of two English royalists ─ William and Margaret Cavendish (subsequently first Duke and Duchess of Newcastle) ─ who lived in the Rubenshuis (the grand house in Antwerp that had been the home of the renowned Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens) from 1648 to 1660, entertaining the intellectuals and artists of the day ─ including René Descartes, John Dowland, Thomas Hobbes, Ben Jonson and Anthony van Dyck ─ as well as other members of the exiled royalist community ─ including Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York.

The exhibition brings together paintings, miniatures, books, manuscripts, jewellery and objects associated with the royalist exiles, including items never previously exhibited from the Royal Collection, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the British Museum, the Tate, the Mauritshuis, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland. A handsome and lavishly illustrated full-colour English-language catalogue is published by BAI, Schoten (ISBN: 90 85860148), full of new research by the curators and other scholars.

The Wallace Collection Seminars in the History of Collecting

The next seminar in this series takes place on 29 November 2006 at 4.30 pm when our Fellow Dr Dora Thornton, of the British Museum, will introduce one of the most intriguing figures of the Renaissance, Fra Sabba da Castiglione (c 1480─1554), collector and critic who became a Knight of the Order of St John in his 20s, and spent some time in Rhodes, where he pursued his antiquarian interests, scouting out ancient Greek sculptures of the illustrious collector, Isabella d’Este. After a period studying ancient and modern art in Rome, he retired to Faenza. There he restored buildings, founded a school for local children, and constructed a library and a study for his highly select art collection, and published a book of moral precepts in which he appraised the artists of his own time. Dr Thornton aims to bring us closer to Sabba’s private world as a member of the intellectual and urban elite who did so much to shape the nature of Renaissance art-collecting. It is essential that you inform Sophie Carr, Assistant Curator at the Wallace Collection, if you will be attending.

Getting the Measure of Antiquity: the Annual Soane Lecture by Frank Salmon, FSA

This year’s Annual Soane Lecture, sponsored by Sir John Soane’s Museum, will be given by our Fellow Frank Salmon on 7 December 2006, at the LSE’s Hong Kong Lecture Theatre, Clement House, Aldwych, London WC2. Frank’s topic will be ‘Getting the Measure of Antiquity’, and the lecture will chart British involvement in attempts to gain accurate measurements of ancient Greek and Roman buildings from the pioneering work around 1750 of Robert Wood and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart to the remarkably high standards achieved by Frances Cranmer Penrose a hundred years later. Further details are on the museum’s website.

The perfect Christmas present for poetry-loving antiquaries

Some Salon readers might remember the meeting of the Society held on 10 February 2005 at which our Fellow Anthony Thwaite read a number of poems concerned with antiquities and archaeology ─ including extracts from his own fourteen books of poetry, but also selections of verse from the work of Spenser, Shelley, Wordsworth, Housman, Larkin and Seamus Heaney, to name but a few. Our Fellow Robert Irwin, who attended the reading, felt this would make a perfect anthology, and by good fortune another of the Fellows in the audience ─ Barnaby Rogerson ─ took up the publishing challenge.

The result is a delightful volume of poetry called The Ruins of Time, selected by one Fellow and published by another at the instigation of a third. Costing a mere £5, and available from Eland Books, this is a perfect Christmas present, the sort of book to slip into a handbag or pocket and dip into on train journeys or any other moment of enforced idleness. Each poem is accompanied by a short introductory paragraph written by Anthony Thwaite, which is especially illuminating in the case of his own poetry, and the anthology ends with a short Postscript explaining how and why he got bitten by the archaeology bug.

Searching for a short poem to quote in Salon, your editor found the following ─ an anonymous poem which was a favourite of Stuart Piggott (no mean versifier himself ─ three of his poems are reprinted in this anthology):

For ‘tis not verse and ‘tis not prose
But earthenware alone
It is that ultimately shows
What man has thought and done.

More books by Fellows

Fellows are invited to take advantage of a pre-publication subscription offer on the forthcoming volume of papers on the archaeology of Colchester and Late Iron Age-Roman Britain prepared to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of our Fellow Philip Crummy, and to mark thirty-six years in the post of director of archaeology in Colchester (he is not retiring, by the way ─ just celebrating).

Published by the Friends of Colchester Archaeological Trust, the volume is edited by our Fellow Patrick Ottaway, is entitled A Victory Celebration and, as might be expected, features a long list of Fellows amongst the contributors: Paul Sealey describes ‘Two decorated Iron Age mirrors finds from Essex’, Rosalind Niblett charts ‘From Verlamion to Verulamium’, Eberhard Sauer reviews ‘Fortress annexes’, Nina Crummy writes about ‘Worshipping Mercury on Balkerne Hill’, Hilary Cool considers ‘Sustenance in a strange land’, Geoff Dannell charts the work of ‘The samian pottery mould-makers Lupus II, Sabinus III, and their connections’, Ralph Jackson looks at ‘Colchester, cosmetic sets and context’, and John Wilkes, former Chairman of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, intrigues us with thoughts on ‘The Russian Revolution in Roman Britain’.

All this is packed into a 160-page hardback available for the sum of £30 (includes p&p) until 10 November 2006 (£35 thereafter), cheques to be made payable to ‘Friends of Colchester Archaeological Trust’ and sent to Maureen Jones, 5 Ashwin Avenue, Copford, Colchester CO6 1BS.

Yale University Press has just published the work of our Fellow Nicholas Orme looking at Medieval Schools: from Roman Britain to Renaissance England. Nicholas asks where the hundreds of schools came from that are known to have been in existence by the end of the Middle Ages, producing that literate society that enjoyed being entertained by Shakespeare and his contemporaries (can you imagine the apprentices of today choosing to go and watch a play?) and that produced the ferment of ideas and debate that fed through to the Protestant Reformation, and the English Civil War. The book traces their history from the late Roman period, showing how schools developed, what they taught, how they were run and who attended them. The author argues convincingly that medieval schools anticipated nearly all the ideas, practices and institutions of schooling today. Their remarkable success in linguistic and literary work, organisational development and teaching large numbers shaped the societies that they served, and only by understanding what these schools achieved can we properly fathom the nature of the Middle Ages.

In the week that he was elected a Fellow of the Society, Father Michael Fisher, vicar of St Chad’s Church in Stafford, also celebrated the publication of his latest book, called Staffordshire and the Gothic Revival (Landmark Press). Already the historian of Alton Towers and the work of A W N Pugin, Father Michael now turns his attention to such remarkable Staffordshire churches as Pugin’s St Giles, Cheadle, Street’s Denstone parish church and Bodley’s church at Hoar Cross. In the author’s own words, the book is a celebration of ‘beauty, truth and light and colour: the uplifting of the human spirit through the soaring lines and breathtaking perspectives of Gothic architecture’.


Kent County Council, Research Frameworks Officer
Salary range £24,240 to £28,610; closing date 7 November 2006; interviews 30 November 2006

A dynamic, highly motivated individual is sought to lead the preparation of a historic environment research framework for East and West Sussex, Kent and Surrey, co-ordinating sub-groups and working with local authorities, universities and archaeological groups. A wide knowledge of British archaeology and history, particularly in south east England, is essential, as is an awareness of current research issues for the historic environment. To apply visit, quoting reference ER/06/080.

British Museum, Keeper of Prehistory & Europe
Salary range £53,701 to £69,469, closing date 10 November 2006

With our Fellow Leslie Webster due to retire shortly, the search is on for a successor in this key job, leading and managing the BM’s Department of Prehistory and Europe. The department’s collection is extensive and very wide ranging, both in geography and time, covering world prehistory, British and European prehistory, Roman Britain and Medieval and Modern Europe (including contemporary material). Candidates need to be an outstanding expert in an aspect of the department’s collections, with proven intellectual achievements, a strong commitment to the civic and scholarly role of the Museum, and good leadership and managerial skills.

The key responsibility is the care of the collection and its interpretation, which involves mounting exhibitions and galleries within the Museum as well as elsewhere in the UK and abroad, leading the research programme for the department, maintaining appropriate institutional and diplomatic links, and engaging relevant community groups in Britain.

An application pack is available from the BM’s website, quoting reference 72523.

University of Cambridge, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum
Salary level not given; closing date 17 November 2006

The Vice-Chancellor of the University invites applications for the office of Director and Marlay Curator of the Fitzwilliam Museum, which will become vacant on 1 September 2007 on the retirement of our Fellow, Duncan Robinson. Further information may be obtained from the Cambridge University website.

The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Director
Salary £25,000 to £30,000; closing date 20 November 2006

The Society is seeking an enthusiastic and experienced Director. The successful candidate will be an able advocate of the Society’s interests, superviser of an events and publications programme, and manager of a small team responsible for the administration of the Society’s affairs and for supporting its Council and Committees. Further information is available from the Society’s website.