Salon Archive

Issue: 152

Forthcoming meetings

16 November: Ballot. John Steane, FSA, will talk about the college gardens at Magdalene, Wadham and Merton in Oxford, and the President, Eric Fernie, FSA, will talk about ‘An A4 Sheet of Paper’.

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

30 November: Land Behind Samarkand: geonomics and settlement archaeology in the Central Asian hub of the Silk Road, by Maurizio Tosi, 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).

The Society’s Tercentenary Festival 2007 to 2008

At 5pm on 5 December 2007, it will have been precisely 300 years since the Society of Antiquaries was founded at the Bear Tavern in the Strand. As the first entry in the Society’s first Minute Book records: ‘Mr Talman, Mr Bagford and Mr Wanley met together, and Agreed to meet together each Friday in the evening by six of the clock upon pain of forfeiture of six pence’ and that ‘the Business of this Society shall be limited to the subject of Antiquities; and more particularly, to such things as may Illustrate or Relate to the History of Great Britain’.

The year-long Tercentenary Festival celebrating the anniversary will begin on 15 September 2007 with an exhibition in the Royal Academy’s Main Galleries, called Making History: antiquaries in Britain 1707─2007. This will feature works of art, antiquities and manuscripts belonging to or connected with the Society, such as the processional cross of King Richard III and his defeated Yorkist army recovered from the battlefield of Bosworth (1485), the earliest known medieval manuscript illustrations of Stonehenge, as well as drawings and records of other buildings and objects now lost, paintings of ancient sites and landscapes by Constable, Turner, Blake and a collection of English royal portraits from Henry VI to Mary Tudor.

Through objects and biographies of leading antiquaries, the exhibition will feature milestones in the discovery, recording, interpretation and communication of the past. The exhibition’s guest curator, David Starkey, FSA, says: ‘For me, history has always been as much about things ─ buildings, paintings, jewels ─ as written documents. So this exhibition won’t simply be a display of the Society’s treasures ─ wonderful though they are: it’s also an opportunity to show how history is made and why it matters’.

Further events planned for the Tercentenary festival include a series of public lectures given by prominent Fellows in London, Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Exeter, Bristol and Boston, USA (and possibly in Australia), children’s events in association with the Young Archaeologists Club, publication of Visions of Antiquity, edited by our Fellow Susan Pearce, consisting of seventeen papers charting the contribution that the Society and its Fellows have made to public life, politics, art, science, archaeology, scholarship and public policy over three centuries, an international colloquium on the role of national antiquarian bodies today, a lecture in association with the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group followed by a reception at the House of Commons, a tour of the Society’s past meeting venues, a celebration of women in heritage in association with the Fawcett Society (possibly with a Blue Plaque unveiling) and a gala dinner for our Royal Patron, Fellows and their guests at the Honorary Artillery Company, in London. The year’s events will conclude at Kelmscott with a special celebratory Fellows’ Day at the Manor.

Grants programme online

Fellows are reminded that the Grants page of the Society’s website has full details of all the grants administered by the Society. The closing date for all funds is Friday 12 January 2007. The Research Committee meets in early March to consider the applications, and applicants are notified of the results by the end of March.

One of the newer grants is the Headley Trust Research Bursary, designed to assist in the synthesis and communication of research or outputs from excavation or field work that will make an important contribution to British archaeology. The total grant available for distribution is £30,000 over the two years 2007 and 2008. See the Society’s website for full details and an application form.


The Society has learned belatedly of the deaths of three of our Honorary Fellows. Asbjørn Herteig is widely credited as having introduced modern urban archaeology to his native Norway with his series of pioneering excavations at Bryggen, which took place during the period 1956 to 1979. Professor Hans Schonberger was the director of Germany’s Saalburg Museum, with its reconstructed Roman fort and archaeological museum located alongside the Limes World Heritage site at Bad Homburg. Teofil Ivanov of the Archaeological Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences was a prolific author of studies relating to the Roman and early Byzantine period in Bulgaria.


Fellow Mary Alexander, Curator of Archaeology at the Guildford Museum, writes to confirm that ‘the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England [featured in Salon 151] is a wonderful thing. You can look up individuals or locations or even hordes of “Anonymi” who rampaged across your area in Saxon times. My jaw is still hanging open as I contemplate the enormous amount of time and energy which must have gone into it, the brilliantly organised information, and the fact that it is free!’.

It was Ortrun Peyn, the Society’s Head of Library Cataloguing, who drew Salon’s attention to the Prosopography, and she has followed that up with information on three potentially useful sites for free digitized books and journals (based on links originally sent to Ortrun by our Fellows Roy and Lesley Adkins). They are: Project Gutenberg, with 19,000 free books in its catalogue; the University of Pennsylvania’s Online Books database; and Google Book Search. Ortrun says that these sites are particularly useful for finding the texts of classic, out-of-print and out-of-copyright works.

Also from Ortrun comes a request for Fellows to let her know if they are experiencing problems accessing the library catalogue at the Archaeology Data Service (whose latest online databases ─ on Medieval Monastic Cemeteries and Roman Amphorae ─ are the subject of a separate story below). Ortrun reports that Fellow Roy Adkins has had a long-running correspondence with the ADS about the problems of gaining access (many firewalls block access to the site because of its initials) and he suspects that he is one of a ‘silent iceberg’ of Fellows suffering the same problems: if so, Ortrun would be grateful if you send her an email. If this is a bigger problem than is currently evident, the Society will forward details and ask the ADS to publish additional advice to that which is already provided on the site.

Quite a number of readers were intrigued by the idea that goats might have been the first domesticated animals. Fellow Mark Milburn pointed out that Ludwig Zöller, Professor of Geomorphology at the University of Bayreuth, had found goat bones on Lanzarote among the earliest evidence of human occupation on the island (see ‘Geoarcheological and chronometrical evidence of early human occupation on Lanzarote’ in the Quaternary Science Review, 22 (2003), pp 1299─1309), though these have yet to be dated firmly.

He also points to an article in the 11 August 2006 edition of Science (vol 313, pp 803─7) by Rudolph Kuper and Stefan Kroepelin on Holocene occupation in the Sahara, where figure 1 dates the first domesticated cattle to be found in the Nabta/Kiseiba region to 8,000 years ago, and the first goats in Egyptian oases ‘well before 6000 BCE’. The same article reports that ‘after 7000 BCE, human settlement became well established all over the Eastern Sahara, fostering the development of cattle pastoralism’. From this evidence one might conclude that the gap between the domestication of one animal species and the next might well be too close to measure: once the idea of domestication takes hold, all species might have been regarded as fair game. As a final thought Mark asks whether anyone has studied datable rock paintings and carvings that depict animals to see what they might tell us about ancient agriculture.

Finally, our Fellow Jeremy Montagu writes to Salon on the subject of Halloween horrors and other forms of inappropriate activity at several important monuments. ‘In the last days of October I took three overseas grandchildren round some archaeological sites’, Jeremy says. ‘On 29 October we found the Cotswold Pagan Society (if I remember their name correctly) desecrating the Rollright Stones with a Samhain ceremony (surely somewhat prematurely). On 31 October we found Avebury suffused with ghost tours, witches' brooms and, in the small café there, menus listing ‘ghost vegetables’. Is this really how we expect the Rollright Trust, English Heritage and the National Trust to treat such major sites of our ancient heritage? And what does it teach the visitors, especially the younger ones to whom Avebury's ghost tours were particularly addressed? That those who built these great circles wore masks of pumpkins and rode on broomsticks? Those responsible are misleading our children, debasing our heritage and abusing our trust in their care for these monuments!’

You say ‘history’; I say ‘heritage’

John Humphries, presenter of the ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4, interviewed Fiona Reynolds, the Director General of the National Trust, on 4 November 2006 (the day of the National Trust’s Annual General Meeting) and their conversation began with the following exchange:

Humphries: So what’s the difference between ‘heritage’ and ‘history’ then?
Reynolds: There isn’t one: ‘heritage’ is the bureaucratic word, if you like.
Humphries: Ah, I thought so: well I think I prefer ‘history’.

It would be interesting to know whether John Humphries’s views are widely shared, and whether there really is a popular antipathy to the word ‘heritage’. And is it really true that ‘history’ and ‘heritage’ are synonyms? Would renaming the Heritage Lottery Fund the History Lottery Fund convey the same set of connotations? Would English Heritage have quite so many members if it were renamed English History?

For people of antiquarian bent, heritage seems a far preferable term for our broad field of study: the term is rooted in the idea of inheritance, and the cultural legacy we inherit as a community from one generation and pass on to the next. There is a very important continuum here: heritage is about yesterday, today and tomorrow, whereas history is, by definition, primarily concerned with interpreting the past. Heritage embraces several other critically important continuities ─ that between culture and nature, for example, which we antiquaries have long championed through the holistic study of landscapes in their entirety ─ and between intangible heritage (oral history, music and the skills to make lace or cider, for example) and tangible heritage (the contents of museums, libraries and archives).

Heritage is thus a very useful term to describe the totality of the field of antiquarian study ─ the material remains of the past in all their diversity ─ as distinct from that very specific study of written records which is correctly called ‘history’. It would be sad indeed to learn that ‘heritage’ really is associated with the badlands of bureaucracy ─ if so, we should take every opportunity to champion the word and its positive connotations.

One opportunity to do this was missed with the current ‘History Matters ─ Pass It On’ campaign, being championed by the National Trust: this might have had more resonance (as well as being more accurately descriptive of the campaign’s objectives) if it had been called ‘Heritage Matters ─ Pass It On’.

Climate change threatens heritage sites

Could climate change so threaten our heritage that there is nothing to pass on to future generations? A report by Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and Tom Downing has highlighted the natural and cultural heritage sites most at risk from rising sea levels, increased temperatures and water shortfalls. They include most of the cities in the world built by the sea, wetland reserves such as the Doñana National Park in southern Spain and coral reefs. The Atlas of Climate Change was released to coincide with the UN Convention on Climate Change, currently being held in Nairobi, and gives several examples of actual damage that have already occurred: in north-eastern Thailand, floods have damaged the 600-year-old ruins of Ayutthaya. Flooding across Europe in 2002 damaged museums and libraries as well as 500,000 books and documents. In Canada, deterioration of the permafrost at a nineteenth-century whalers’ settlement is affecting many historic graves.

200,000 years for all human traces to vanish from the Earth

If we are stupid enough (as seems very likely) to make life on earth impossible for homo sapiens to survive, what will be left as a heritage of our period on this planet? The Times on 12 October 2006 asked a number of scientists to predict what might happen after the death of the last of our species, and the answer is that very little will survive as evidence that we were ever here.

Light pollution would be the first to go as power stations ceased to provide energy within a matter of hours. Any street lights and house lights left on by their former occupants would go out. Fields would be overgrown within months and village streets and rural roads would have vanished under a matting of weeds within twenty years. Urban streets would take a little longer, but plants would have taken over even in huge man-made sprawls in about fifty years.

Every storm, flood and frosty night would gnaw away at abandoned buildings and within a few decades roofs will begin to fall in and buildings collapse. Wooden structures would be gone in a century. Glass and steel tower blocks would fall down within 200 years. Brick, stone and concrete structures would last longer — the pyramids are already 3,000 years old — but by the next millennium there would be little left other than ruins. Within 50,000 years all that would remain would be archaeological traces.

Wildlife would thrive in our absence, and most of the 15,589 threatened species would recover back to their historical populations. Carbon dioxide emissions would continue to cause climate change for another 100 years, but after 1,000 years all would be back to pre-industrial levels, with all man-made traces vanishing in 20,000 years.

Only radioactive materials and a few chemical contaminants would last longer — an invisible legacy. Chemicals, especially perfluorinated types, would not break down for up to 200,000 years. The most radioactive of untreated nuclear waste would not be safe for up to two million years.

So, good news all round really ─ except for the human race. Our extinction would end a mere 150,000 years of Homo sapiens life on the earth. Hominid life, back to our earliest ancestors, will have managed just six million years. By contrast, the dinosaurs populated the planet for 165 million years.

Tudor houses easier to heat and better insulated

When global warming gets a grip, the UK is predicted to get colder rather than warmer, because changes in the temperature, salinity and density of the waters of the Atlantic Ocean will weaken the Gulf Stream, that northward flow of warm water that serves as a storage radiator, bathing these islands in warmth during the winter months when countries at similar latitudes, such as Norway, are gripped by snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures. If and when that happens, we would do well to go back to late medieval construction technology, according to a British Gas report that casts doubt on modern building regulations: apparently timber-framed houses, with wattle-and-daub infill panels, leaked 10 cubic metres of warm air an hour for every square metre of wall compared with 15.1 cubic metres for a modern mock-Tudor home.

The real thing has been found to be warmer, and more energy efficient, than the pastiche ─ a thought to warm the hearts of all conservationists, from Prince Charles down. Hank Dittmar, Chief Executive of the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, commented on the report, saying that: ‘Wind turbines, solar panels and other hi-tech green devices might get the media attention, but the smartest way to save energy may be to live in a Tudor house and insulate the attic and repair the windows’.

Victorian and Edwardian homes, built en masse and at great speed, also did well, though not properties of the 1960s, which were produced in great numbers to meet post-war needs. Interestingly, the much-derided properties of the 1970s, while lacking in aesthetic appeal, score well (11.7 cubic metres an hour), while the least efficient are the buildings of the last two decades, and worst of all are the steel-framed buildings of the last fifteen years typified by out-of-town supermarkets and light industrial estates and distribution depots.

Stuart Little, Managing Director of the consultancy firm that carried out the tests, says the results can also be attributed to a cost-conscious mentality among developers. ‘Corners are often cut to speed up the delivery of buildings. This corner cutting normally happens in areas that we don't see, such as missing insulation in walls and roofs or sealing gaps in the cladding systems’.

Stonehenge ‘lacks magic’

We don’t need to wait for global warming to erode Stonehenge: according to a survey of conditions at World Heritage Sites, Stonehenge is already ‘a mess’. The monument ‘lacks magic’, and is ‘degraded by large numbers of people on the site and the proximity of two busy roads’.

This verdict results from a study by 400 conservation and tourism experts, who ranked Stonehenge seventy-fifth in a list of ninety-four destinations. One judge wrote: ‘What a mess. Massive numbers of tourists cycle through the site on a daily basis, making for a crowded, noisy environment. The condition of the site is protected by fencing … but the visual sightlines are disrupted. Local people appear not to benefit from the site and its aesthetic qualities are compromised by the existing road layout and adjacent development.’ Another wrote: ‘Crowd control is a good thing, but over-regulation has made the visitor’s experience rather disappointing; the charm is gone. Would be good if something is done to surrounding landscape.’

Using a heritage score card, compiled by George Washington University in Washington, DC, Stonehenge got 56 points out of a possible 100. The Taj Mahal also scored 56 points, the Great Wall of China 55 points and the Acropolis 53 points. The Kathmandhu Valley in Nepal, described as polluted and scarred by modern concrete buildings, came bottom, with 39 points. The West Fjords in Norway came top, with 87 points. Two other British sites in the survey fared better: Bath was ranked joint sixth, with 78 points, and Dorset's Jurassic Coast scored 70.

But Stonehenge remains on the world wonder shortlist

A commercial organisation based in Switzerland is asking people to vote for the modern equivalent of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, with Stonehenge among the twenty-one finalists, down from an original shortlist of seventy-seven. Twenty million votes have been cast on the organisation’s website, with India’s Taj Mahal and China’s Great Wall predicted to top the poll, simply on the basis of the number of people in each country likely to vote. Here in the UK, Druids are running a campaign to keep Stonehenge in the top seven.

The organisation behind the poll, the New7Wonders Foundation, was set up in 2001 by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber, with a mission ‘to protect humankind’s heritage across the globe’. It is based at the Heidi-Weber-Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, the last building designed by Le Corbusier. The Foundation says that fifty per cent of all net revenue raised by the project will be used to fund restoration efforts worldwide. The Foundation is advised by a panel of ‘experts’, chaired by Federico Mayor Zaragoza, a former UNESCO Director-General. The Foundation plans to announce the results of the Seven Wonders poll in Lisbon, on 7 July 2007 (07.07.07).

Beyond Stonehenge: Carn Meini and the Preseli Bluestones

Fellows who missed the Carn Meini lecture given by our Fellows Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright at the beginning of October (see Salon 150) now have a second chance to hear them speak on the subject at Bournemouth University, on 30 November 2006, starting at 5.30pm. Prepare to be astonished and entertained as you hear about the results of their work at the hitherto little-researched quarry that served as the source for the Stonehenge bluestones. For more information or to register a place, contact Zoe Monk.

British Archaeological Awards 2006

Glittering prizes were being handed out at the British Archaeological Awards ceremony in Birmingham last week (very ably organised by our Fellow Alison Sheridan) and Fellows were prominent among those called to the rostrum to receive congratulations from our Fellow David Breeze, Chairman of the Awards, and our Fellow Mick Aston (sponsor of the Presentation Award), glamorously assisted by the Society’s Honorary Secretary, Alison Taylor.

In the award for the best book on British archaeology published in the last two years (sponsored by the Ancient and Medieval History Book Club), it was clear that the judging panel (chaired by our General Secretary David Gaimster) had a very difficult time selecting an outright winner from such a strong field: they made two highly commended awards to Medieval Town Walls: an archaeology and social history of urban defence by Oliver Creighton and Robert Higham (about which the judges said: ‘a welcome synthesis of diverse and complex evidence told in an engaging, thematic manner’) and to Gold, Gilt, Pots and Pins: possessions and people in medieval Britain by Fellow David Hinton (‘finally, a cultural context for all those brooches, hat pins and livery badges … and all those finds and references in one place at last’).

Then they awarded a runners-up prize to The Great Warbow: from Hastings to the Mary Rose by Matthew Strickland and Fellow Robert Hardy (‘magnificently illustrated and referenced, this impressive multidisciplinary survey discusses a key medieval artefact in its full historical and archaeological context’), before awarding the main prize to The Tomb Builders in Wales 4000─3000 BC by Fellow Steve Burrow (‘beautifully produced and illustrated in very accessible language, this book uncovers the complex nature of prehistoric burial monuments and forces the reader to go out into the landscape and view the monuments afresh. Unusually, the approach focuses on the people who made the tombs and the environment in which they lived. Tomb Builders is a model of popular publication’).

Stressing that even distinguishing between ‘popular’ and ‘scholarly’ books was a challenge, given that ‘the popular books were also scholarly, and the scholarly books definitely readable’, the judges faced similar challenges in plumping for just one book out of the six that were shortlisted for the best academic publication (monograph, conference proceedings) published in the last two years (sponsored by a consortium of British archaeological societies).

First they made two runners-up awards: to British Iron Age Swords and Scabbards by Fellow Ian Stead (‘a detailed archaeological and technological study of a defining artefact of the British Iron Age and its social culture’) and to Sutton Hoo: a seventh-century princely burial ground and its context by Fellow Martin Carver (‘the exemplary report of an innovative excavation of an iconic site … a model of multidisciplinary site investigation and analysis’). The main prize then went to Requiem: the medieval monastic cemetery in Britain by Fellows Roberta Gilchrist and Barney Sloane, of which the judges said: ‘Requiem squeezes meaning out of 8,000 medieval graves and challenges the historical orthodoxy that burial customs were undifferentiated over 500 years. This groundbreaking piece of synthesis and analysis exemplifies the impact of archaeology where documentary sources are scant, if not silent. This is the work of reference for mortuary studies for many years to come.’ (See also ‘New databases on medieval monastic cemeteries and Roman amphorae’ below.)

Among the many other awards, two are worth highlighting. One was the runners-up award made to Fellow Vince Gaffney in the Current Archaeology-sponsored Developer Funded Archaeology Award. As the citation put it: ‘Using equipment kindly provided by the Hewlett Packard Corporation, British archaeologists are exploring the rivers, streams, lakes and coastlines of an entire European country that has not been seen for 8,000 years. The geological exploration of the North Sea in the search for oil has produced a mass of seismic data. Oil prospectors are only interested in what was happening hundreds of metres down, and the information from the top couple of metres was put aside as being useless. However, to Vince Gaffney, Professor of Archaeology at Birmingham, this scientific rubbish was treasure. “Ask, and it shall be given unto you”, and Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) has donated more than 22,000 square kilometres of marine seismic data collected and analysed over decades which allows the production of detailed maps of a uniquely preserved, but largely unknown, Mesolithic landscape covering an area the size of Wales.’

The other was the joint prize winner in the Press Award, sponsored by Wedgwood, for the best coverage of archaeology in the printed press or on radio. If one function of the British Archaeological Awards is to highlight hitherto unknown good work, then it surely succeeded in telling us all about ‘World Archaeology News’ on BBC Radio Five Live. Presented by Win Scutt, this serves up 15 minutes’ worth of wide-ranging archaeological news every Tuesday, with over fifty hours of archaeological news broadcast over the last five years. Why don’t we know about it? Because it goes out at 3.30am as part of the ‘Up All Night’ programme. Despite this, the programme reaches over 1 million listeners, which surely says something about the popularity of archaeology. The joint prize winner in this category was Treasure your Past, a glossy magazine produced by the Eastern Daily Press in association with Tarmac, the Norfolk Museums Service and the British Museum.

Full details of all the prizes and winners can be found on the British Archaeological Awards website.

Understanding the Future: priorities for England’s museums

Fellows will no doubt give three wry cheers to the statement in the latest Department of Culture consultation document, which says ‘museums are an enormous and often under-used resource for the research and academic community’. Wry because most of us know that a mere twenty years ago museums were vibrant hubs of academic research with keepers and curators whose work embraced primary research, rather than the shopkeeping, cafe managing, childminding job descriptions that so many museum managers have today. In an attempt to turn back the clock, the DCMS document proposes the ‘granting of research analogue status to several national museums [to] tie them more closely into the academic research community and its interests … [our] priority is to build new mechanisms to link museums, especially those with limited research activity, into academic communities’.

Laudable as such ambitions are, they represent only two small paragraphs in a 34-page document setting out the Department’s priorities for museums in England for the next decade, and one wonders whether the aspiration to encourage cross-disciplinary museum research will receive the same level of funding as some of the other resource-intensive priorities set out in the report, such as ‘support for learning among excluded and vulnerable groups such as looked after children [sic], young people in pupil referral units, refugees or people with special educational needs’ or ‘fostering, exploring, celebrating and questioning the identities of diverse communities’.

The purpose of the consultation is to ask ‘whether this is a set of priorities that the museum sector recognises and supports’. Comments are invited by 19 January 2007. Reactions to the priorities will then inform the development of an initial action plan, with concrete proposals developed by means of a series of thematic seminars and presented to the 2007 Museums Association conference.

Full details are available from the DCMS website.

Should museums and galleries be able to invest, sell and trade their assets?

One of the hot topics of debate at this year’s Museums Association conference was the topic of museum and gallery disposals, and the fires of the debate were stoked still further by the decision of Bury Council in Greater Manchester to sell at auction an L S Lowry painting ─ A Riverbank ─ which it bought in 1951 for £175. The current estimated value of the painting is £500,000, and the council said it needed to sell the work to help balance its books.

Mark Taylor, Director of the Museums Association, described the planned sale as ‘deeply irresponsible’ and said that the Bury Museum and Art Gallery could face expulsion from the Association for breach of its professional code, which forbids members to dispose of assets ‘principally for financial reasons’. Derbyshire County Council is the only other council to have been expelled for this reason, and the authority ‘spent a number of years in the wilderness and suffered considerably from a lack of support and funding’ as a consequence, Mark Taylor said.

Our Fellow Simon Jenkins devoted his Guardian column to the subject on 27 October 2006, arguing that the sale itself is not wrong, but rather the use being made of the proceeds, ‘to plug a hole in a current account’. The money, Simon argues, should go into an acquisitions fund, not to finance Bury's £10m deficit. Provincial galleries, he believes, are ‘condemned to atrophy’ if curators cannot buy and sell to update their displays, and he argues that ‘America's provincial museums have blossomed through shrewd dealing’. Instead of punishing museums that do this in the UK, Simon concludes, the Museums Association should draw up protocols by which such sales can be responsibly monitored. This would enable trustees and curators to think constructively about the future of their collections. In the course of his article he also makes trenchant criticism of national, London-based museums and galleries who receive the lion’s share of public funding and whose basements and stores are full of paintings and objects that should be shared with regional museums and galleries, if they are genuinely ‘held for the nation’.

The Guardian published numerous letters of support for Simon and agreement with his views in the two weeks after his article first appeared, most of them focusing on this last issue, rather than on the rights and wrongs of the Lowry sale. Judging by the response, there is clearly a strong feeling among museum and gallery supporters at large that funding should be shared much more equitably across the country and that rarely seen material in reserve collections should be distributed to other institutions willing to display it.

Constable painting export halted

Another painting in the news is Constable’s Flatford Lock from the Mill House, recently sold to an overseas buyer for £2.8 million but subject now to a temporary export bar, to enable a UK buyer to be found. The painting, thought to have been painted in 1814, shows the River Stour near the artist’s father's mill in Suffolk and is considered of ‘outstanding significance’ for the study of Constable's work, and in particular the phase of open-air painting in his early career. In the words of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, this phase in Constable’s career ‘has long been regarded as of major importance in the emerging story of naturalism in Western landscape painting’, adding that ‘the painting is a unique image in Constable's work which records important features of the local landscape and the workings of the lock at Flatford which are documented in no other work by the artist’. The export bar runs until 11 January 2007, but the Department for Culture said it could be extended until 11 May 2007 if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer is expressed.

The Royal Collection discovers a Caravaggio in its Hampton Court store

Fortunately the works of art in the Royal Collection are held in trust for the nation, so there is no danger of The Queen being forced by some over-zealous committee to cash in the value of the painting in the collection that has just shot up in value from a few tens of thousands of pounds to £50 million because it has just been positively identified as a painting by Caravaggio, one of only fifty or so surviving canvases by the Italian master. The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew ─ bought by Charles I in 1637 and re-acquired by Charles II after being sold with most of the Royal Collection during the Commonwealth ─ has been kept in a storeroom at Hampton Court for decades because it was thought to be a copy. Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures, now says the balance of opinion is that it is authentic: ‘I am convinced it is by Caravaggio,’ he said: ‘We are extremely excited; it's the most important discovery in the collection in the last decade.’

Clues to the authorship of the painting included incisions made for the artist's guidance with the handle of a paintbrush in the first layer of paint ─ a characteristic feature of Caravaggio's technique ─ and brushwork revealed by the removal of later overpainting that is stylistically consistent with other Caravaggio pictures. The work will now be shown in Rome at the end of the month in honour of the Italian curator, Professor Maurizio Marini, who first suspected that there might be more to the work. In March, it will take pride of place at an exhibition of the collection's best Italian paintings at Buckingham Palace.

Lady Jane Grey or an 'appallingly bad picture'?

By contrast, a painting bought by the National Portrait Gallery believing it to be a picture of Lady Jane Grey ─ England’s uncrowned queen for nine days in 1553 ─ has been dismissed by our Fellow David Starkey as ‘an appallingly bad picture’. Dr Starkey believes there is ‘absolutely no reason to suppose it's got anything to do with Lady Jane Grey. There is no documentary evidence, no evidence from inventories, jewellery or heraldry … it depends on mere hearsay and tradition, and it is not good enough.’

The work depicts a demure, pious young woman in early 1550s costume. Dendrochronology has established that the panel on which it is painted was cut down around 1593 ─ some forty years after Lady Jane's execution. Tarnya Cooper, of the National Portrait Gallery, believes it is a copy of a lost original. In the top left-hand corner of the picture is an inscription that reads ‘Lady Jayne’, which tests have revealed to be original to the picture. Research to eliminate other ‘Lady Jaynes’ who could have been commemorated thus in the 1590s, wearing the costume of forty years earlier, suggests that there is no other plausible candidate. Since there is no surviving lifetime portrait of Lady Jane Grey, Dr Cooper believes that the work ‘has value as a historical document’, even if it is no great work of art.

Royal Collection to exhibit early wildlife studies

The Royal Collection (whose Director is our Fellow Sir Hugh Roberts) was in the news again this week when The Times published a preview (viewable on the Times Online website) of a forthcoming exhibition featuring paintings from the Age of Discovery, when naturalists recorded thousands of new species of animals and plants previously unknown in Britain and Europe.

Called ‘Amazing Rare Things’, the exhibition opens on 2 March 2007 in the Palace of Holyroodhouse and will move to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace in 2008. Among the ninety pictures to be displayed, eighteen are by Leonardo da Vinci, and the rest of the exhibition includes works commissioned by the seventeenth-century Italian encyclopaedist Cassiano dal Pozzo, and paintings by the German-born Maria Merian (1647─1717), who explored the wildlife of Surinam, Alexander Marshal (c 1620─82), who depicted the plants found in English gardens at a time when tulips, hyacinths and narcissi were recent newcomers, and Mark Catesby (1682─1749), the English naturalist who made the first attempt to survey the entire flora and fauna of North America.

Dr Susan Owens, senior curator at the Royal Collection, said: ‘All the artists were also scientists. They were the first artists to go out and record in detail what they saw. It was a time when travel was opening up and people could discover these extraordinary plants and animals. What they saw must at times have seemed weird and wonderful and almost nightmarish.’ Sir David Attenborough, who has contributed to the exhibition catalogue, says that the paintings exhibit ‘the profound joy felt by all who observe the natural world with a sustained and devoted intensity’.

The fate of rock art in Australia

Our Fellow Mark Milburn wishes to draw the attention of Salon readers to the online petition, whereby campaigners are hoping to persuade the Government of Western Australia to designate and protect the rock art of the Dampier region. The petition should be signed by 28 November 2007.

The preamble to the petition explains that the Dampier Archipelago in the Pilbara region of north-western Australia features the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the world. It also possesses a major corpus of standing stones, similar to megalithic monuments in Europe, the largest such occurrence in Australia. This outstanding body of Aboriginal rock art is considered to be the greatest non-European cultural heritage property in Australia, and is thus one of the major heritage sites in the world.

The rock art is, however, seriously threatened by acid rain which dissolves the dark-brown coating of the rock surfaces into which the petroglyphs were hammered. As a result, some 25 per cent of the rock art has already been destroyed, with a marked deterioration in the rest since the late 1980s. At the present rate of atmospheric pollution, most of the Burrup petroglyphs will disappear during the second half of the twenty-first century. However, proposals to expand substantially the amount of industrial and petrol-chemical plants in the region will treble the rate of pollutants in the region, with the result that the rock art will have all but gone by 2030.

The petition has been drawn up by Professor Robert Bednarik, who has worked for years to save the carvings and whose book on the region is published by the Australian Rock Art Research Association. Professor Bednarik is calling for a conservation plan to be drawn up for the area, and an inventory made of the rock art. He also argues that control over their cultural property be returned to the traditional owners of this rock art, the local Aboriginal people.

Mineral Planning Guidance and Practice Guide

Back in the UK, the Department for Communities and Local Government seeks to ‘balance the needs of the UK’s minerals industry with respect for people and the environment’ in its newly published ‘Mineral Planning Guidance for England’, setting out the Government’s key policies and principles for minerals extraction.

Policy 14 of the Minerals Policy Statement deals with the protection of heritage and the countryside; though it stops short of saying that mineral extraction should not take place at all on or near sites designated for their heritage or biodiversity value, it does say that permission for such activity should only be given ‘in exceptional circumstances’ and if permission is granted, ‘the development and all restoration should be carried out to high environmental standards, through the application of appropriate conditions’.

The guidance looks favourably on small-scale quarrying for conservation work, and argues that important historic quarries that served as sources of building and roofing stone for individual, or groups of, culturally important buildings should be safeguarded from large-scale extraction, and reserved for repair and preservation purposes.

For further information, see the DCLG website.

Hague Convention consultation response

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has published a summary of the responses received to its consultation on the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The six themes highlighted for consultation were: the types of cultural property that should receive general protection under the Convention; whether the protection offered by the Convention should be mandatory or voluntary; who should be responsible for taking the peacetime safeguarding measures illustrated in the Convention and its two Protocols; whether the affixing of a special emblem to protected property should be mandatory or voluntary; whether the UK should make use of the provisions for special protection; and the types of cultural property that should be given enhanced protection under the Second Protocol.

The summary says that the responses to the consultation show a high degree of support for the Government’s proposals, but that particular concerns were expressed about the unequal treatment of libraries and archives compared to museums and immovable cultural property, a concern that the report promises to address.

The question that produced the highest level of dissent is the one that asked: ‘Do you agree that the decision on whether any particular cultural property should be protected by the Convention should be left to the individual choice of the property’s owners, guardians or trustees?’ Most respondents felt strongly that private owners of cultural property should not be allowed to opt out if their property was regarded as being of sufficient importance that it merited protection under the Convention. Again, the Government says it intends to amend its plans to address this concern, but adds a rider to the effect that the Convention’s provisions should not impose an unfair financial burden on private owners.

Full details can be found on the DCMS website.

Accounting Standards Board criticised for ignoring critical feedback

In February 2006, Salon 135 reported that the Accounting Standards Board (ASB) in the UK had published a discussion document called Accounting for Heritage Assets, setting out a new requirement for publicly accountable owners of heritage assets to declare their value in their annual accounts. John Carman, Birmingham University Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Heritage Valuation, now reports that the ASB has decided to go ahead with its recommendations, despite the concern expressed by respondents to the consultation that the proposals are flawed. John cites no less an authority than the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales whose eight-page submission to the ASB concludes that: ‘There are substantial conceptual difficulties that need to be addressed before the proposals in the Discussion Paper can be developed into financial reporting standards … we have serious reservations about the framework within which the proposals in the Discussion Paper have been developed, and some of the practical implications.’

Many of those who responded to the consultation are calling on the ASB to publish an analysis of the responses with the reasons why suggestions have been accepted or rejected, as is normal following any public consultation by a public body. The ASB’s response is to say that ‘copies of the responses not requiring confidentiality can be acquired from the Accounting Standards Board at a small charge’. Understandably, this has not silenced the critics.

More money for war memorials

On the eve of the 2006 Remembrance Weekend, English Heritage and the Wolfson Foundation have announced £100,000 in new grants to repair war memorials in England. The grants are being made under a scheme run jointly with The War Memorials Trust, and will help to pay for large and small conservation and repair projects carried out by parish councils, local authorities, schools and other groups and organisations across the UK.

English Heritage and The War Memorials Trust have also published free guidance with practical advice for custodians and local people on funding and conservation issues: full information is on the War Memorials Trust website.

Online Conservation Register

ICON (The Institute of Conservation) has just launched the latest edition of its online Conservation Register, providing detailed and searchable information on conservation businesses based in the UK and Ireland. The Register is the successor to the one first established by the Conservation Unit of the Museums and Galleries Commission in 1988, and its operation is now overseen by an Advisory Board made up of representatives of many of the major UK heritage and conservation bodies, including English Heritage, Historic Scotland, the National Trust, MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), the National Preservation Office, The Council for the Care of Churches and CyMAL.

The Register is searchable by specialist skill, geographical location and conservator’s name. The information on each business includes referenced examples of recent work and the qualifications and experience of members of staff. Businesses applying to join the Conservation Register must meet its criteria for inclusion which cover both standards (through the requirement for professional accreditation) and client relationships.

Watch out for celadon!

Fellow Charmian Woodfield tells an amusing tale in her recently published article entitled ‘Lobang Kudih: the excavation of a Ming period burial cave, near Beluru, Sarawak, Borneo’ (in the Sarawak Museum Journal, vol LXI for December 2005). This excavation took place in 1964─5 in a remote native burial cave in the swamp forests north east of the great cave of Niah, and is remarkable for the quantity of imported Chinese pottery accompanying the 180 or so burials. The pottery starts in the late Yuan period and runs on into the late Ming period (c 1280 to 1630). The pottery included a number of vessels of derived celedon wares which were widely traded throughout south Asia, even reaching Britain, where some can be mistaken for intrusive Denby breakfast cereal bowls which are consequently discarded.

But not always. Charmian quotes Fellow Philip Rahtz, writing about the excavations on the site of King John's Hunting Lodge at Writtle, Essex, which took place in 1955─7: ‘In the course of this, I made a pottery fabric series representing vessels mostly of medieval date, both British and European. One sherd was rather exotic; rather modern looking, but I kept it as part of the type series to show John Hurst. He thought it was of distant (eastern) provenance. He showed it to four specialists but the final conclusion was his own, that it was of Near Eastern origin, a copy of Eastern celadon ware, probably made in Palestine or Egypt in the fifteenth century AD. John commented that such exotic-looking pottery was often discarded at that time as a post-medieval intrusion. He was clearly pleased that I had kept the sherd, and on a later occasion, at a conference at Bristol, he discussed the need to keep all pottery, and that “Rahtz is good at keeping exotic pieces”. The ensuing titter around the hall rather puzzled John’.

Charmian makes the point that such pottery is indicative of the scale of luxury enjoyed by medieval English kings, and can be contrasted with the lack of such pieces on pre-Conquest royal sites, such as Cheddar. A copy of the Sarawak Museum Journal, containing the 155-page article, has been lodged with the Society.

New databases on medieval monastic cemeteries and Roman amphorae

The Archaeology Data Service (ADS) has launched two new archaeological databases: Medieval Monastic Cemeteries of Britain (1050─1600) and Roman Amphorae.

Created by Fellows Roberta Gilchrist and Barney Sloane with funding from the AHRC, the medieval cemeteries database covers over 8,000 excavated medieval burials from seventy separate cemetery excavations in England, Wales and Scotland. Where the data permitted, digital plans of each cemetery have been compiled, and a relational database constructed to capture all variable attributes of grave cut, skeletal demography, burial container and artefacts associated with the burial. The digital resource is also designed to be used in conjunction with the award-winning book (see ‘British Archaeological Awards’, above) based on the survey (Gilchrist, Roberta and Sloane, Barney 2005. Requiem: the medieval monastic cemetery in Britain, Museum of London Archaeology Service, ISBN 1-901992-59-4).

The Amphora Project (also funded by the AHRC) has been developed by Fellows Simon Keay and David Williams of the Archaeology Group at Southampton University. Building on works published in the 1980s, the resource presents typological information, including photos and drawings, for around 250 amphorae forms. The resource also contains detailed information, text and images on ceramic fabric types. All sections of the archive are fully searchable online, as is the extensive bibliography.

Experimental and ethnographic studies relating to ancient glass

The Association for the History of Glass is holding a study day on 22 November 2006 at The Wallace Collection, in London, whose topics include ‘Experiments in Bronze Age Egyptian glassmaking’, ‘Beads, bangles, mirrors and more in India’, ‘A long-established workshop of Damascus glass blowers’, ‘Glass blowers in Lebanon’ and ‘What gets left behind: the working wastes and residues from the Roman Glassmakers’ Furnace Project’.

If you would like to attend, contact Fellow Justine Bayley at English Heritage.

Roman Amphitheatres Conference, Chester

As part of the Chester Amphitheatre Project, an international conference entitled ‘Roman Amphitheatres and Spectacula: a twenty-first century perspective’ will be held at the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, on 16 to 18 February 2007. This unique conference will range across all aspects of study of Roman amphitheatres and the events that took place in them and promises not only a stimulating and diverse programme of speakers, but also a conference dinner with ‘gladiatorial entertainment’. A keynote public lecture will be given by Professor Kathleen Coleman of Harvard University on The Arena of Conflict: facts, myths and speculation about gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome.

The conference will discuss the discovery of new amphitheatre sites and recent excavation and survey work. It will examine aspects of the architecture and planning of the buildings, functional, religious and social aspects, the organisation of the spectacles and gladiatorial death and burial. The problems encountered in the preservation and display of amphitheatres as monuments in the modern urban environment will also be touched upon.

Further details with an online booking facility can be found on the conference website. Numbers are limited so early booking is advisable.

Books by Fellows

Recently launched at a reception held at Wells Cathedral, attended by the Society’s President, Eric Fernie, and Librarian, Bernard Nurse, is a superb set of Architectural Drawings of Wells by John Carter, FSA (1784─1808), edited by our Fellows Gerard Leighton and Warwick Rodwell, and published as volume 92 in the Somerset Record Society’s series. The drawings (the originals of which are in the Society’s library) were made from a measured survey of Wells Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace and all the other buildings in the ecclesiastical precinct undertaken by John Carter between 1784 and 1794. Intended for publication as part of the Society’s ambitious ‘Cathedrals Series’, Carter prepared the first seven detailed plans and architectural drawings in ink and watercolour, but the project was not completed and the drawings have remained in the Society’s collection ever since.

Instead of reproducing them as engravings, as would have been done in the early nineteenth century, the opportunity has been taken to publish them as colour plates, at full size. The plates are accompanied by an extended commentary and a full catalogue of the many hundreds of preparatory pencil drawings and sketches made by Carter at Wells(now in the British Library). Some examples of these preliminary drawings are also published, as are the sections of draft text prepared by Carter for the intended Wells volume.

Copies are on sale to the public at £33, but are offered to Fellows at a special price of £25, post free, until 31 December 2006: for an order form, contact the Somerset Record Society, c/o Somerset Studies Library, Paul Street, Taunton TA1 3XZ.

Around twenty Fellows have contributed to the magisterial Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland, which is to be launched by Cambridge University Press on 22 November, but which is already on sale at a pre-publication discount price of £275 for three volumes (rising to £300 on publication; see the CUP website for further details.

This ground-breaking survey of 1,500 years of library history is the first detailed scholarly history of libraries in Britain and Ireland. The General Editor is Fellow Peter Hoare, and three of the other volume editors are also Fellows: Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Teresa Webber for volume 1, covering the whole medieval period and the years to the mid-seventeenth century, and Giles Mandelbrote (with Keith Manley) for volume 2, covering the period 1640 to 1850. Peter Hoare has also edited (with Alistair Black) the third volume, covering the last 150 years. Fellow Robin Alston also had strong input in the early years of its development.

The aim has been to produce a standard work of reference, while acknowledging that it is not possible to include the full history of every library that ever existed. The Society of Antiquaries duly makes an appearance in the second and third volumes, and much more of antiquarian importance features in volume 1. Each volume covers a period when libraries went through considerable change, but common threads link changing methodologies and philosophies, even into the electronic era discussed in the final volume.


Historic Scotland, Senior Inspector of Marine Archaeology: Scheduling Team
Salary range £31,168 to £37,880, closing date 29 November 2006

This post will direct and lead the team’s marine work in advising Scottish Ministers on which elements of the historic environment are of national importance and to make the case for their designation, working under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Working closely with the Heads of Scheduling, National Policy and the regional Casework Teams, the task is to ensure that a consistent and high-quality advice-giving service is provided for Scotland, building on the recommendations of an internal review of the Agency’s marine needs.

Candidates should have a detailed knowledge of marine heritage management and Scottish marine archaeology, and wide experience of marine development, planning and working with local authorities and others. It would be helpful to have knowledge of the issues surrounding coastal archaeology. A car user is essential. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Surface Supplied Diving qualification, or equivalent, is a minimum requirement.

For further details and an application form, send an email to, quoting reference number HS/06/127.

Cotswold Archaeology, Head of Fieldwork
Salary range £30,910 to £37,458 plus generous benefits and relocation allowance; closing date 4 December 2006
This post will have primary responsibility for ensuring the quality of Cotswold Archaeology’s fieldwork, and ensuring that it is delivered cost-effectively. As a member of the small senior management team, you will be a key player in determining the future direction and strategy of Cotswold Archaeology. The successful candidate will have a proven record in archaeological project management, and an excellent knowledge of best practice in fieldwork contracting. Further details by email from