Salon Archive

Issue: 156

Forthcoming meetings

18 January: Prehistoric coastal activity in the Severn Estuary, by Martin Bell, FSA

25 January: Bishop Roger, St John Hope and Old Sarum Cathedral, by John McNeill, FSA

1 February: Ballot

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

Online ballot: 1 February 2007

The Blue Papers for the ballot to be held on 1 February 2007 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.

Diary date: White Paper seminar

The long-awaited White Paper on Heritage Protection is now expected to be published towards the end of February, and the Society of Antiquaries will host a day-long seminar on 16 March 2007 in London to debate the contents of this ‘once in a generation’ review of the heritage protection regime in England. The aim of the seminar will be to enable Fellows and others to hear and debate a range of responses to the White Paper’s contents from experts in this field. The seminar will assist the Council of the Society of Antiquaries in framing a response to the White Paper and we hope that it will also be useful to other heritage bodies in formulating their own response. Further news, with a speaker list, will be published in the next issue of Salon.

Obituary: Magnus Magnusson

Magnus Magnusson, who died on 7 January at the age of 77, was elected a Fellow of the Society in 1991, although he resigned when he ‘retired’ some seven years ago. Obituaries this week focused on his best-known work as the inquisitor of BBC1 television's quiz show ‘Mastermind’, which he himself dismissed, when others took it far too seriously, as ‘just a bloody game’. The fact that it was originally broadcast last thing at night explains his other description of ‘Mastermind’ as ‘an undemanding programme for insomniac academics’.

But among archaeologists he will surely be remembered first and foremost as the presenter of ‘Chronicle’ (from 1966 to 1980). Indeed, writing in the Independent on 9 January 2007, Tam Dalyell went as far as to say that ‘like Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Glyn Daniel, Jacob Bronowski and A J Ayer, Magnusson can truthfully be said to be one of a small band who “educated us all”.’ Dalyell went on to say: ‘Teachers of archaeology owe him an immense debt as a shrewd and extremely well-informed populariser of their subject; the public at large has benefited enormously from the skill and imagination that Magnusson showed as a creator and presenter of programmes in this field.’

Despite a magnificent Icelandic name (he was born in Reykjavik on 12 October 1929), Magnusson owed his gentle Scottish accent to the fact that he was brought up from the age of one in Edinburgh, to where his father, Sigursteinn Magnusson, moved originally as European manager of the Iceland Co-op and later as Icelandic Consul General for Scotland, and where his mother, Ingibjorg Sigurdardottir, was a teacher.

Magnusson won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, where he read English. He then spent two years doing postgraduate research into Old Norse literature, but gave it up for journalism, joining the Scottish Daily Express in 1953. It was here, in 1954, that he met the features editor Mamie Baird, who thought that Magnusson was mad, though this did not prevent her entering into a long and happy marriage with him. From the Scottish Daily Express he moved to The Scotsman (1961─68) then to the BBC where he presented ‘Tonight’ (1964─65) and ‘Chronicle’ (1966─80), as well as the twelve-part ‘BC: The Archaeology of the Bible Lands’ (1977) and ‘Vikings!’ (1980), a ten-part homage to his Norse ancestors and ─ of course ─ ‘Mastermind’ (1972─97).

He also found time to edit the Bodley Head Archaeologies series, of which he provided the introductory volume, and to translate some thirty books, including (in collaboration with Herman Palsson) Njál's Saga (1960), Eirik's Saga (1963), The Vinland Sagas (1965), King Harald's Saga (1966) and the Laxdaela Saga (1969) for the Penguin Classics series, and five of the novels of his Nobel prize-winning compatriot, Halldor Laxness (1960─9).

He also proved to be a very patient and skilled conciliator in his various public roles as Rector of Edinburgh University 1975─8, Chairman of the Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust (1978─85), Chairman of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland (1981─9), President of the RSPB (1985─90), Chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, later Scottish Natural Heritage (1991─9) and Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University from 2002 until the time of his death. In 1989, he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the Queen for his services to national heritage.

Tam Dalyell’s obituary concludes with a personal recollection: ‘I saw how he operated at first hand: my wife, Kathleen, was a member of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland, which Magnusson chaired between 1981 and 1989. (She describes him as “a real Viking”.) The board had the civilised habit of taking three days each year for a visit to the sites for which Historic Scotland was responsible in a particular defined region; they had the even more civilised habit of allowing paying spouses, of whom I was one, to go on these visits. Magnusson's scholarship was real and not confined to being well briefed by those who provided television and radio back-up.’


Mark Horton, FSA, has spotted a heritage champion that we missed from the New Year Honours list in Salon 155: Matthew Tanner, director of Brunel’s SS Great Britain, which won ten major awards in 2006, including the Gulbenkian Prize for UK Museum of the Year, got a much-deserved MBE.

One or two errors crept in to Salon 155, despite the proofreader’s best endeavours: Paul Williamson, FSA, points out that Wilhelm von Bode, Francophile though he was, would not have taken kindly to being named Wilhelm de Bode. Paul also says that Salon is correct in stating that the newly restored Bode Museum in Berlin has one of the most important collections of late Antique and Byzantine sculpture in Europe but that this is only part of the museum’s comprehensive collection, which takes in all post-Classical sculpture and is on a par with the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum and the V&A's holdings.

Julian Munby, FSA, pointed out that the Dr William Stuckley referred to in Salon’s story about the exhibition called London: a life in maps, curated by our Fellow Peter Barber at the British Library, is none other than our old friend William Stukeley disguised under an alternative spelling. ‘It was certainly our Stukeley who wrote about the supposed Roman camp at St Pancras (Itinerarium Curiosum II (1776), 1─6, pl 61) ─ a completely bonkers account of field boundaries in Camden!’, says Julian.

Richard Rastall, Emeritus Professor at the School of Music, University of Leeds has contributed further thoughts on the demographic profile of conservation areas. Richard says that ‘impoverished gentility’ would be the best description of the residents in his conservation area, and he adds that the Treasury Council Tax algorithm should surely weight conservation-area status as having a negative effect on value rather than positive: ‘because the restrictions on what a home-owner can do in a conservation area do tend to make such an area unpopular with many people. Those who think conservation-area dwellers are somehow advantaged should realise that we take on a certain stewardship in looking after our properties. Must we be taxed for doing that?’

Blaise Vyner points out that ‘there are marked variations in approaches to conservation area status, both by the local planning authorities and residents. This is not simply a north-south divide (although it may partly be), but also an urban─rural divide! There are some rural communities I know of (I have the scars to show!) which are pathologically and rabidly antagonistic to the possibility of CA status ─ principally on the misguided view that it would infringe that most basic of human rights, the right to replace interesting timber windows and doors with nasty plastic ones. There are also deeply held fears that other human rights, such as that to put ostentatious satellite TV dishes on the front of interesting buildings, and to demolish garden fencing and railings to create parking, might also be compromised.’

Blaise rightly makes the point that these fears are part of popular mythology and have no factual basis, since CA status actually does very little to protect the built fabric without the additional implementation of an Article 4(2) Direction. ‘One has to conclude that CA status does very little to protect the built environment unless there is positive management and review, as well as the availability of information and design advice ─ all too often this is not the case.’

Bob Kindred has kindly supplied a list of existing research reports that examine various aspects of conservation areas, including their historic and demographic character. They include a report by the English Historic Town Forum entitled ‘Townscape in Trouble’ (1992), comprehensive research by Chesterton Consulting and the University of Central England on ‘The Character of Conservation Areas’ (3 vols, 1992) for the Royal Town Planning Institute and more recent research by The Conservation Studio for English Heritage and reported in Heritage Counts 2003 (on page 28, for example).

Finally, Peter Saunders responded concerning Bob Carr’s thoughts in the use of archaeological sites for the disposal of cremated remains. Peter writes: ‘When I scattered the ashes of my late wife Eleanor on the ramparts of Old Sarum, a site of national importance and of course the subject of Society excavations in 1909─15, I am afraid that, despite (or perhaps because of) our mutual love of the site as archaeologists, it never occurred to me that this might distort scientific techniques in the future. I suspect that Fellows may well be more likely to choose archaeological monuments for this purpose than most; it would be interesting to know which is the most popular.’

News of Fellows

A number of Fellows were in America last week to attend the conference to mark the quadricentenary of the founding of Jamestowne, but one hopes they received a warmer welcome in Virginia than our distinguished Fellow, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, did in Atlanta. The London Evening Standard reported that he was beaten up by police on 8 January because they did not like the way that he chose to cross the road from his hotel. After kicking him to the ground, five burly armed policeman pinned Professor Fernandez-Armesto to the pavement, before handcuffing him and locking him in gaol for eight hours on a charge of disorderly conduct. When he appeared in court the next day charged with jaywalking, the case was swiftly dismissed.

Without any sense of irony, Kevin Leonpacher, the policeman who first attacked Professor Fernandez-Armesto claimed ‘I used an excessive amount of discretion’. Leonpacher (who lives in a town called Niceville, by the way) described his victim as ‘a bit of a scofflaw’ (someone who holds the law in contempt). Professor Fernandez-Armesto himself commented that ‘It was the most violence I've ever experienced in my life, and I was mugged once while at Oxford’. His wife told journalists: ‘It's lucky he was not shot’.

Author of Pathfinders: a global history of exploration (2006), Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is Professor of Global Environmental History at Queen Mary College, University of London, and a member of Oxford University's Modern History Faculty, He was in Atlanta to attend the annual conference of the American History Association. The AHA council has lodged a protest with city officials and Shirley Franklin, the mayor of Atlanta, has ordered an internal investigation, saying: ‘We want everyone who visits Atlanta to find Atlanta to be friendly and helpful.’

Though left ‘traumatised and disorientated’, with multiple cuts and bruises, Professor Fernandez-Armesto is putting a brave face on the experience and has declined to sue, saying ‘I feel I've learnt more than I would have, even in important sessions of the Historical Association.’

Violence also features large in Mel Gibson’s new film called Apocalypto, but that wasn’t all that our Fellow Mark Horton found objectionable when he took part in a debate about the film on the ‘Today’ programme, on Radio 4 on 5 January. The film, he said, was ‘a farrago of half truths and colonialist misconceptions’, as well as confusing aspects of Mayan and Inca culture and being anachronistic by some 400 years. ‘So what’, said his debating opponent, the film critic Cosmo Landesman, who added ‘it’s only a film’.

‘If so why not promote it as a fantasy instead of having actors use the Yucatec Maya language’, countered Mark, who also pointed out that the film incorrectly presents the Maya as internecine thugs and makes no mention of their achievements in science and art, their calendric systems and the links between spirituality and their agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Mayan cities. ‘So what?’, repeated Landesmann, beginning to sound a mite monotonous: ‘it’s not an archaeology lecture’, at which point the nine o’clock pips intervened.

Historians and public policy debates

Mark describes the experience of being on the ‘Today’ programme as ‘a bit of fun really and not a little scary, being alone in a room with a large microphone, realising that four million people are listening!’ If that doesn’t deter you, then you might like to consider joining the register of a new organisation called called History and Policy, which aims to provide journalists with access to historians willing to comment on public policy issues in the news. The new matchmaking service has been set up by historians at Cambridge and London, has a full-time External Relations Officer (Mel Porter, tel: 020 7862 8768) and is based at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.

The aim of ‘History and Policy’ is to inject a historical perspective into public policy and to make historians and their research findings more accessible to policy and media audiences. To demonstrate what that means, the site features a series of History and Policy Papers, written by professional historians, on subjects ranging from Iraq to ID cards and pensions to prostitutes.

The term ‘historian’ is interpreted widely to include classicists and archaeologists: one paper, contributed by Peter Heather, author of The Goths (1996) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (2005) looks at parallels between the state of the world today and in the late Roman period. Another article by our Fellow David Cannadine looks at the history of prime ministers who (like Tony Blair) leave office in mid term.

So far, some forty academics have signed up. If you would like to know more, read the paper by Dr Simon Szreter of St John's College, Cambridge, on why it is important for historians to engage with public policy, and then click on the links telling you how to join the database ─ or just to receive regular news.

Middlesex Guildhall

No better demonstration is needed of why antiquaries have got to get involved in the world of realpolitik than the future of the Middlesex Guildhall. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has condemned as ‘state vandalism’ the Government’s plans to strip out the remarkable Gothic Revival interiors of the Grade II* listed Guildhall, on Parliament Square in London, to create a new Supreme Court.

SAVE has published a beautifully illustrated report ─ The Guildhall Testimonial ─ which includes contributions from a number of Fellows, including Simon Jervis, David Walker, Gavin Stamp and Marcus Binney, explaining what makes the building so special. Fellow David Walker says in the report: ‘The Guildhall is the secular equivalent of Giles Gilbert Scott’s Liverpool Cathedral and it should be treated with the same respect. It is quite simply a building of international importance in early twentieth-century Gothic revival work.’

‘No other owner of a listed building’, says the report, ‘would be allowed to remove fittings and fixtures of this calibre, designed by leading artists and craftsmen specifically for the building, to be replaced by anodyne modern furnishings completely at odds with the character of the building.’ SAVE’s President Marcus Binney, FSA, adds: ‘The fact that this vandalism is being carried out in the name of the highest court in the land sets the very worst example to all owners of listed buildings. If the Law Lords ignore all guidance and precedents on the treatment of listed buildings they will be repeatedly cited as justification for damaging proposals to other important listed buildings.’

Copies of the report are available for £5, including postage and packing, from SAVE Britain’s Heritage, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ.

Frank Field, MP, raises Guildhall scandal in Parliament

The Rt Hon Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, has tabled an Early Day Motion (No 607) expressing ‘grave concern about the Government's proposals to destroy the outstanding Edwardian interior of Middlesex Guildhall in order to create a new meeting place for the UK's supreme court.’

Early Day Motions (EDMs) are a means by which MPs can draw attention to issues and canvass support from fellow members. This EDM goes on to say: ‘This house believes that the most challenging task for any body or organisation serious about protecting the very best of the UK's heritage is to ensure the adaptation of existing buildings and furnishings to meet current needs with only the very minimum intervention of the building's historic fabric; recognises that the Middlesex Guildhall was restored and refurbished as recently as 1989; and calls on the Government either to house the supreme court in this building with minimum alterations or bow to the substantial body of informed opinion, both legal and architectural, that believes a new supreme court should be housed in a distinguished new building specifically commissioned for the purpose with the supreme court in the meantime operating in the accommodation used by the law lords.’

Fellows who support Frank Field’s position are urged to contact their MPs, drawing attention to Early Day Motion No 607 and asking them to consider signing it.

Australia says ‘no’ to protection of rock art

Previous issues of Salon have reported on the campaign by conservationists and aboriginal groups to designate and protect more than a million rock carvings on the Dampier Archipelago, a chain of islands off Australia’s Burrup Peninsula. According to a report published by the Australian National Trust the petroglyphs are at risk from acid rain resulting from existing and planned petrochemical plants in the region, and from blasting used to clear land for further development.

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell has now rejected a petition and formal application to designate the rock art, saying that listing would hamper the oil and gas industry. ‘It's important that we protect our heritage but also protect our economy, protect our jobs’, Campbell said. Woodside Petroleum, who wish to develop a natural gas plant on the peninsula, say they will ‘rescue’ 150 of the best examples of the 6,000- to 30,000-year-old petroglyphs, a solution dismissed by Aboriginal groups as wholly inadequate. ‘They are destroying our Bible that's lying on the Burrup’, said Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo elder Wilfred Hicks. Green Party Senator Rachel Siewert said: ‘This is undoubtedly a heritage site, of not only national, but of world significance, and if he can't see his duty is to protect this area — to list it and protect it — he should step down as minister because he's incapable of carrying out his duties.’

Tower of London on Unesco danger list

Unesco is considering adding the Tower of London to its list of endangered World Heritage Sites because of the number of skyscrapers being planned for the surrounding area. If they decide to list the Tower, it will be the only World Heritage Site in the developed world on the endangered list. Press reports say that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been given until the end of January to demonstrate to the Unesco World Heritage Committee why the Tower of London should not be included on the list and give a timetable for ‘corrective action’.

DCMS is expected to say that the correct planning procedures were followed for the proposed developments, which include the 306-metre-high ‘Shard of Glass’ tower planned for London Bridge, the 200-metre Minerva building, the 324-metre-high Bishopsgate tower and the 209-metre building at 20 Fenchurch Street, all of which will affect the Tower of London’s setting and skyline.

The World Heritage Committee says it notes ‘with great concern’ the proposed developments, which fail to respect the significance of the site and they ‘deeply regretted’ that the Government had not examined the impact of such developments on the Tower. It also suggested that the developments would have a wider impact, affecting other World Heritage Sites, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Unesco will make a final decision in June.

Polytunnels must have permission

Salon more often seems to be the purveyor of bad news rather than good, so it is pleasing to be able to report two positive developments in relation to the historic environment. The first is the High Court ruling announced on 15 December 2006 that planning permission is necessary for the construction of polytunnels and that they cannot be classed under the permitted developments that exempt the agricultural use of land from planning permission.

A case testing the planning issue was brought to the High Court by the Hall Hunter Partnership, which owns Tuesley Farm, near Godalming, where it grows fruit for Waitrose. Hall Hunter lodged an appeal with the High Court against an enforcement notice from Waverley Borough Council ordering the removal of polytunnels, windbreaks and caravans for workers, situated in the Green Belt in an area designated as ‘of great landscape value’. The enforcement notice resulted from the decision of a planning inquiry which concluded, in December 2005, that erecting polytunnels constituted ‘development’ under the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act and therefore required planning permission.

Timothy Straker, counsel for the Hall Hunter Partnership, argued that the plastic tunnels were an agricultural use of land and that polytunnels could not be described as buildings under planning rules as they did not have a sufficient degree of permanence. Mr Justice Sullivan rejected all the grounds of challenge, saying the inspector had made no error of law. Technically this ruling applies only to the specific proposed development on Green Belt land in Surrey but many local authorities are expected to use it as a precedent.

The decision sparked an angry outburst from the farming lobby, which claimed this was an unpatriotic decision, putting the UK’s £200 million soft fruit industry at risk. Countryside groups responded by saying that farmers need to think about the environmental damage that they do. Tom Oliver, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, called on the National Farmers’ Union to recognise that the planning process had a legitimate place in the industry. ‘The sooner there is constructive dialogue with the NFU the better’, he said, adding that: ‘This will now ensure that there will be proper representation through the democratic process of the potential conflicts between polytunnels and other interests. We know there are considerable and legitimate commercial opportunities that polytunnel farming represents but there are equally legitimate concerns for landscape protection and the protection of soil and water resources.’

Cathedral camps: future assured

The second piece of good news comes from Cathedral Camps, the charity that involves young people in conservation work at historic places of worship. Despite an impeccable twenty-five-year health and safety record, the charity was threatened with closure because it could not find an insurer willing to underwrite its activities at an affordable premium. Now, however, the future of the organisation is assured thanks to an agreement reached by the trustees with CSV (Community Service Volunteers), the UK’s largest volunteering and training organisation. CSV has agreed to take over the running of Cathedral Camps and develop and extend its future work, by making savings on overheads. Some twenty camps are run at different venues during July and August each year, and this year now looks to be no exception. Further details are available on the Cathedral Camps website.

Is it safe to visit the Holy Sepulchre?

Evidence that health and safety is not a peculiarly English obsession comes from Jerusalem, where the Israeli government has ruled that one of Christianity’s holiest shrines, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, violates health and safety rules because it has only one exit. The government has demanded that an emergency exit be built. Newspapers have hailed this as the first issue to unite the three Christian communities who run the church (Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian Orthodox); putting aside their rivalries, they are unanimous in opposing what Father Athanasius (for the Franciscans) called ‘an unprecedented violation’.

This is not the first time the Israeli government has sought to impose a second exit on the doorway: various plans for an emergency exit were debated for two years in the mid-1990s, to cope with the large surge in pilgrim visitors expected for the millennium. This time, however, the Government is claiming that it has a legal duty to find a solution, and it says it has identified various blocked openings where a second door could be opened up without harming the fabric of the building.

Saxon churches and wall paintings in Sussex and Norfolk

The BBC has reported that St Andrew’s Church, at Bishopstone, near Seaford, is now being dated to the late seventh century after Saxon windows were found hidden underneath wall plaster during restoration work. Last restored in the 1840s, the current work has uncovered three blocked-up windows, a Saxon wall painting and a stone basin. Our Fellow Guy Beresford was quoted as saying that: ‘This was always said to be one of the earliest churches in Sussex, and we have had the opportunity now, by removing wall plaster and finding the windows, to show this church was indeed built in the late seventh or early eighth century.’ Further information can be found on the website of the Sussex Archaeological Society.

At St Mary’s Church, Houghton-on-the-Hill, on the outskirts of North Pickenham, near Swaffham in Norfolk, wall paintings have been uncovered that our Fellow David Park has described as ‘probably the most important discovery in England in recent years’, because they date from about 1090, and are thus some of the earliest wall paintings to survive in England. Tobit Curteis, who is heading the team of conservators working at the church, said: ‘They bridge the gap between the few fragments of Anglo-Saxon paintings we’ve got and quite a few twelfth-century schemes. That’s why everyone’s so excited.’

The paintings include a Last Judgment, on the eastern wall, with a representation of the Trinity in the form of the seated figure of God the Father, the figure of Christ on the Cross and the Holy Ghost, in the form of a haloed dove. Mr Curteis said that this type of Trinity was known in later Romanesque art but ‘unheard of’ at this date. He also said there were iconographic parallels in Danish and Norwegian art of the time. To the left of a figure of Christ are horned red figures — a series of demons holding scrolls. They too are original in Britain, Mr Curteis said, adding that the only known parallel can be found in a twelfth-century church in the south of France. He said: ‘This shows how easily ideas were transferred around Europe in the Middle Ages.

Pictures of the wall paintings can be seen on the St Mary’s Church website.

Archaeologists record Bath stone mines

Combe Down Stone Mines, near Bath, are being stabilised and recorded as part of a long-running programme by Oxford Archaeology. The mines were extensively quarried for fine-grained Bath stone between 1730 and 1860. Working in tandem with Hydrock, the structural engineering company which is stabilising the site, Oxford Archaeology hopes to assess the significance of the deposits and provide advice upon their preservation and recording. Tramways, cart roads and crane bases have been surveyed, and 20 per cent of the site has been recorded, using video photography and laser scanning to capture pick marks and saw marks, as evidence of the 300-year evolution of the stone extraction process.

Charcoal graffiti left by former miners has been carefully recorded and preserved using resin. The doodles throw light on the price of beer in nineteenth-century pubs and the miners’ often uncomplimentary thoughts about their employers.

Cracking the secret recipe for Hessian crucibles

Archaeologists at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology and Cardiff University say they have discovered the formula used to manufacture crucibles in the Hesse region of Germany, sought after by medieval alchemists and modern chemists for their ability to withstand strong reagents and high temperatures.

Previous work by the team has shown that Hessian crucibles are found in archaeological sites in Scandinavia, central Europe, Spain, Portugal, the UK and colonial America. Now, writing in Nature, the researchers reveal the results of petrographic, chemical and X-ray diffraction analysis to examine the materials from which the crucibles were made. Dr Marcos Martinón-Torres, of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who led the study, explains: ‘The secret component in their manufacture is an aluminium silicate known as mullite. Today mullite is used in a wide range of modern conventional and advanced ceramics because it is extremely resistant to thermal, chemical and mechanical stresses. This material was only first described in the twentieth century, though Hessian crucible makers were already taking advantage of this peculiar aluminium silicate 400 years earlier: they synthesised mullite by manufacturing their crucibles with kaolinitic clay and then firing them at temperatures above 1100 degrees.’

Crucible makers were not aware they were using mullite, but they mastered a very successful recipe, and that’s why they kept it secret, for centuries. It has been estimated that millions of Hessian crucibles were imported into Britain alone, and the Royal Society of Arts organised a special meeting in London in 1755 seeking to promote the manufacture of crucibles from British materials, as they couldn’t face the financial burden of importing so many of them. Among other UK archaeological sites, the UCL researchers have identified Hessian crucibles in the archaeological remains of the Ashmolean laboratory in Oxford, the place where chemistry was taught as an experimental science for the first time ever. Hessian crucibles have also been recovered in the archaeological excavations at Jamestown, the first British colony in the US.

Stepping stone to Australia

A cave site in East Timor where people lived more than 42,000 years ago, eating turtles, tuna and giant rats, has been excavated by Sue O’Connor, Head of Archaeology and Natural History at the Australian National University. At the annual conference of the Australian Archaeological Association held in December, Dr O’Connor said her work at the Jerimalai limestone shelter, on the eastern tip of the island, could help answer questions about the routes taken by ancient seafarers from south-east Asia to Australia, strengthening the view that they made a southern passage, via Timor, rather than travelling northwards via Borneo and Sulawesi and down through Papua New Guinea.

Until now, habitation sites found on these ‘stepping stone’ islands all post-date sites in Australia: most earlier coastal sites are now beneath the sea. The Jerimalai site is at least 42,000 years old, and it could be much older, Dr O’Connor said, because this was the detection limit of the radiocarbon dating method used. ‘It is clear that this region warrants a great deal more study’, Dr O’Connor said.

Early migration site found in Russia

Russian and American archaeologists are claiming to have found the earliest known settlement of modern humans in Europe at Kostenki, a site on the banks of the River Don, 250 miles south of Moscow. Artefacts from the site date to 45,000 BC. The Kostenki site is already well known to archaeologists, but new finds, published in Nature this week, push the date for the earliest human occupation back by around 5,000 years. They include the oldest dated bone and ivory needles with eyelets yet found in Europe, probably used for tailoring animal furs to protect the settlers from the harsh climate. An ivory carving from the site appears to show the head of a human being and marks an early attempt at figurative art.

‘The big surprise here is the very early presence of modern humans in one of the coldest, driest places in Europe’, said John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado at Boulder. ‘It is one of the last places we would have expected people from Africa to occupy first’, added Dr Hoffecker, who worked on the site with colleagues from the Russian Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg.

The people who lived at Kostenki might well have been trading with other groups, as most of the stone used for tool-making at the site came from 100 miles away and shells used to make ornaments came from the Black Sea, 300 miles away. ‘It is difficult to know whether it is simply one group of individuals moving over great distances, or whether it is an exchange of materials between two or more groups,’ said Hoffecker.

Bones from the site include hare and Arctic fox and fish, implying the use of snares and nets. The remains of other animals at the site, which were likely to have been hunted and eaten, include reindeer and horses. Among the tools found was a rotary drill, antlers, blades, scrapers and awls. The paper in Science says this is evidence for ‘fully developed Upper Palaeolithic industry on the central East European Plain’ and that the number of artefacts showed that it was a well-used site. They said that the arrival of modern humans in the region appeared to have taken place ‘several thousand years before their spread across Western and Eastern Europe’ and that the finds had ‘implications for both the timing and routes of modern human dispersal’.

Further Neanderthal research

Neanderthal research went into overdrive last year to mark the 150th anniversary of the identification of the type specimen, Neanderthal 1, at a quarry in the Neander Valley, near Düsseldorf, in August 1856 ─ and 2007 began with the announcement of some early results from the two-year project to map Neanderthal DNA.

Two separate teams are analysing material taken from a 38,000-year-old fossil found in Croatia, which is the only one available that has not been contaminated by human and bacterial DNA. One group is led by Svante Pääbo, of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, and a second team is led by Edward Rubin, of the US Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California. Mapping the Neanderthal genome will allow comparisons with humans and chimpanzees to look for the differences that make us human.

With about 0.03 per cent of the entire Neanderthal genome sequenced so far, neither team has found significant differences yet, but Dr Pääbo’s research has dated the evolutionary split between humans and Neanderthals back to between 465,000 and 569,000 years ago, with a best guess of 516,000 years ago, a revision of the current best guess of 400,000 years ago. Edward Rubin says his team has so far failed to find any evidence of genetic mixing (interbreeding) between humans and Neanderthals. ‘We don’t exclude it’, he said, ‘But we see no evidence for it in the last 30,000 or 40,000 years in Europe.’

Meanwhile a separate study has revealed significant physical differences between Neanderthals from northern and southern Europe. Dr Markus Bastir, of Hull York Medical School (HYMS), has compared 43,000-year-old Neanderthal remains from El Sidrón in Spain with Britain’s most substantial Neanderthal fossil ─ discovered at Kent’s Cavern in Torbay in 1926. Publishing the results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Dr Bastir said they: ‘revealed an astonishing North─South morphological gradient and gives us an idea of typically southern-European Neanderthal facial shape’, with southerners having much broader faces with increased lower facial heights.

Gendered division of labour gave modern humans advantage over Neanderthals, according to Steven L Kuhn and Mary C Stiner of the University of Arizona, writing in the December 2006 issue of Current Anthropology. The study argues that ‘the competitive advantage enjoyed by modern humans came not just from new weapons and devices but from the ways in which their economic lives were organized around the advantages of cooperation and complementary subsistence roles for men, women, and children’.

The authors note that food remains from Neanderthal sites suggest their diets depended on large game. They also note the presence of healed fractures on female and juvenile Neanderthal skeletons, suggesting that they participated in the hunt. Upper Palaeolithic sites used by Homo sapiens, by contrast, have small animal and bird remains, bone awls and needles used to make clothes and shelters, and milling stones for grinding nuts and seeds. This is seen as evidence for the emergence of ‘female’ roles and crafts among Homo sapiens, allowing them to exploit the environment more efficiently, with the result that their populations would have outgrown those of the Neanderthals.

Don’t wash those bones!

Another paper in PNAS, published on 8 January, warns that DNA studies will be hampered if archaeologists continue with their standard practice of washing, brushing and even varnishing bones and fossils. Instead, excavators should handle finds with gloves and freeze samples as they are found, dirt and all. Most palaeontologists know this is the best way to increase the odds of extracting good DNA, writes Eva-Maria Geigl of the Jacques Monod Institute in Paris, France, but the information needs to be hammered home to people in the field digging up bones.

Geigl and her colleagues looked at the bones of an auroch, part of which was excavated in 1947 and stored in a museum collection, and the rest of which was excavated in 2004 and conserved in sterile conditions at minus 20 degrees Celsius. The team’s attempts to extract DNA from the 1947 bones all failed. The newly excavated fossils, however, all yielded DNA. Because the bones had been buried for the same amount of time, and in the same conditions, the conservation method had to be to blame says Geigl. ‘As much DNA was degraded in these 57 years as in the 3,200 years before’, she says.

As bones are often washed together on-site in a large bath, water — and contaminants in the form of contemporary DNA — permeate the porous bones, washing authentic DNA out, but letting contamination in. DNA does not survive well in warm environments, and most ancient DNA studies have been done on permafrost samples, such as the woolly mammoth, or on remains sheltered from the elements in cold caves ─ hence the recommendation to freeze samples until they can be investigated in the lab.

Ancient footpaths traced by satellite

Satellite imaging has been used to spot changes in vegetation that indicate the routes of 2,000-year-old pathways invisible to observers on the ground. Professor Payson Sheets, of Colorado Unversity, Boulder, collaborated with NASA-based archaeologist Tom Sever to trace processional footpaths used by people in the Arenal region of present-day Costa Rica.

The repeated use of the paths to navigate rugged terrain between small villages and ancestral cemeteries over several centuries created shallow trenches which act as a sump to collect moisture. The response of vegetation to the extra water can be detected in infrared photography, even in places where thick vegetation has obscured the path, or where the trenches have been filled in by layers of ash from prehistoric volcanic eruptions.

Professor Sheets told the Second International Conference on Remote Sensing in Archaeology held in Rome in December that the same processional routes were used for more than 1,000 years, from roughly 500 BC to AD 600. People returned to them despite abandoning their villages because of eruptions from the nearby Arenal Volcano. Archaeological finds indicate that ritualistic feasting ceremonies took place at the cemeteries, where visitors cooked, ate, drank, slept and ritually smashed pots on the stone slab-covered graves. Sheets has been able to pinpoint sources of stone used for grave construction and to locate springs used during ceremonies.

Smashed figurines on Keros

Further evidence of ritualistic destruction ─ this time of marble figurines ─ has been found by our Fellow Colin Renfrew on the Greek island of Keros, which Lord Renfrew believes is ‘the earliest regional ritual centre in the Aegean, a hugely important religious site where smashed artwork was ceremoniously deposited’.

More than half of all documented Cycladic figurines in museums and collections worldwide were found on Keros and Renfrew’s team have now found many more broken figurines missed by looters who ransacked the islet in the 1950s and 1960s. ‘We’ve got hundreds of marble bowl fragments and many dozens of figurine fragments, which don’t seem to fit together’, Renfrew told the Associated Press. ‘You have a head here, a single foot here, a torso there, some thighs here ─ and all very deliberately broken around 2500 BC, about 1,500 years before the cult of Apollo started on Delos.

There is no evidence that the Cycladic cult was linked to later Greek deities. Instead it is likely that the Keros remains represent a fertility cult tied to the mother-goddess of Neolithic times. Renfrew believes the figurines, which had details painted in bright colours, could have come from sanctuaries throughout the Cyclades, and pottery finds indicate the site attracted worshippers from all over Greece. ‘Maybe at some point in some life cycle, the figurines were ritually smashed and taken to Keros in some ceremony’, he said, ‘though there is little evidence of how they were used in everyday life.’

Did Iron Age Britons speak English?

Gavin Esler hosted a lively debate on the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ programme on 3 January 2007 on the languages spoken in pre-Roman Britain. This took as its starting point the intriguing suggestion made by Stephen Oppenheimer in his book called The Origins of the British that the linguistic divide between eastern Britain (English) and the west (Welsh, Cornish, Gaelic) pre-dates the Roman occupation. This challenges the current model of a native population speaking British, being pushed westwards by waves of Germanic migrants in the late Roman / early medieval period.

That model has been under sustained attack for many years from archaeologists who believe that historical accounts of mass migration and genocidal warfare are probably literary tropes, lacking support in the archaeological record. Fashions in homes, interior décor, metalwork and religious worship can change through cultural diffusion, and don’t imply mass migration or population displacement.

What about language though? What explains the fact that the English speak English not Welsh? And if the Romans and the Normans, who did invade Britain in significant numbers and imported their language and culture, had a minimal effect on our language how can the few migrants who settled in East Anglia in the early mediaeval period have influenced the language spoken today by the majority of Britain’s population?

The answer, according to Oppenheimer’s theory (and supported by genetic evidence) is that post-Ice-Age Britain was settled from two different directions: from the Atlantic by ‘Celts’ and across the Channel and North Sea by ‘Germans’. Both languages were there before the Romans ─ and the reason we have thought otherwise is because we have mislocated the Celtic heartland. By tracing all things Celtic to central Europe, we have assumed that Celtic languages were widespread throughout continental Europe, and that (as in Britain) migratory pressure forced Celtic speakers to the Atlantic fringes late in the Roman period. Thus when Tacitus reports that ‘between Britain and Gaul the language differs but little’, it has been assumed that both spoke ‘British’. But what if the language of Gaul was Germanic?

Oppemheimer cites plenty of lexical evidence to support this hypothesis, and concludes that English might well have been a distinct Germanic language spoken by many inhabitants of Britain before the Roman invasion. It would be interesting to know whether Fellows who specialise in this period think this is a tenable theory.

East Anglian Prehistory: recent research

Fellows are out in force as speakers at this conference on East Anglian prehistory to take place on 31 March 31 2007 at the University of East Anglia in memory of our late Fellow John Wymer. Full details on the conference website.

Books by Fellows

As promised, a bumper list of recently published books: more to follow in the next issue.

Christopher Evans, of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, University of Cambridge, writes to draw Fellows’ attention to the paper by himself and Fellow Mark Edmonds (with Steve Boreham) on ‘“Total archaeology” and model landscapes: excavation of the Great Wilbraham causewayed enclosure, Cambridgeshire, 1975─6’, which has just been published in the 2006 Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society (volume 72). Being the long-overdue publication of David Clarke, John Alexander and Ian Kinnes’s excavation of this monument, this study was funded by a Headley Trust grant and is the first publication to arise from the Society’s administration of this fund.

Fellows Simon Esmonde Cleary and Jason Wood have published an impressive monograph on the late Roman defences of the upper town at Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, in the foothills of the French Pyrenees (Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges III. Le Rempart de l’Antiquité Tardive de la Ville Haute. Etudes d’Archéologie Urbaine, Editions de la Fédération Aquitania, 2006. Available at the very reasonable price of 45 euros (plus 6 euros p&p) by email). Saint-Bertrand is perhaps the best-known Roman town in south-west France, partly because of its spectacular situation and partly through the M R James ghost story, ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’, set in and around the cathedral and upper town. The book details the results of a systematic, analytical survey of the architectural remains (including an exceptionally well-preserved length of crenellated wall top) and a programme of archaeological excavations that places the construction of the defences in the early years of the fifth century. Simon and Jason will be presenting a paper on Saint-Bertrand to the Society in the autumn.

Architects and Building Craftsmen with Work in Wiltshire, Part 2, edited by Fellow Pamela M Slocombe, was published in December 2006 (£8 plus £1.50 p&p from Wiltshire Buildings Record, Libraries and Heritage HQ, Bythesea Road, Trowbridge, Wilts BA14 8BS, or through Hobnob Press). This is a companion reference book to Architects and Building Craftsmen with Work in Wiltshire published in 1996 (and still available, price £6 plus £1 p&p from the Record). The new book includes many entries charting the development of Swindon in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It also includes biographical details from trade directories and elsewhere of building craftsmen of all types living in the county.

Fellow Eamon Duffy’s new work, Marking the Hours: English people and their prayers, is ‘a glorious feast of a book’, according to the Guardian, whose reviewer, the biographer Kathryn Hughes, went on to say that ‘Yale University Press has, as always, devoted extraordinary resources to making it both beautiful and good. Duffy only has to mention a document for it to appear, clearly reproduced, adjacent to the text for easy reference’.

The author has examined the personal prayer books that were used for private devotion for the traces that people left of their personal lives: handwritten prayers, biographical jottings, affectionate messages, autographs, and pious paste-ins often crowd the margins, flyleaves and blank spaces of such books. From these sometimes clumsy jottings, viewed by generations of librarians and art historians as blemishes at best, vandalism at worst, Duffy teases out clues to the private thoughts of their owners against the background of religious, social and political change heralded by the Reformation.

Fellow Stephen Hughes has written a biography of Thomas Thomas 1817─88: the first national architect of Wales (97 pages, £5.00 plus £1.00 p&p) the first in-depth study of the design work of this hugely influential architect, who designed about 1,000 chapels as well as the Brecon Memorial College and sundry schools and houses. A minister as well as a builder, carpenter and skilled architect, Thomas preached at the consecration service of every chapel he designed.

Fellow James Stevens Curl’s Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (paperback £10.99) is the second, fully revised and expanded edition of this classic encyclopedia, brought up to date with new entries including definitions of landscape terms and biographies of modern architects, with suggestions for further reading. Containing over 6,000 entries from Aalto to ziggurat, this is a book written with flair that is as entertaining as it is informative.

Fellow Geoffrey Munn’s Southwold: an earthly Paradise (Antique Collectors’ Club, £29.50) is another book with a distinctive authorial voice. Geoffrey is not the first to fall in love with the charms of this seemingly timeless seaside town, for it was Southwold that inspired William Morris to write his epic poem ‘The Earthly Paradise’, from which the book derives its subtitle. Shakespeare heads an extraordinary list of writers who have visited Southwold, and the author has, for the first time, identified a number of drawings of Southwold by Turner, Whistler, Sickert, Wilson Steer, Spencer and Damien Hirst, all of which feature in this lavishly illustrated work alongside a collection of vividly written essays that take the reader through the evolution of the town from a medieval fishing community to its modern identity as a popular, yet unspoilt, holiday town.

Behind the façade: London House Plans 1660─1840 (Spire Books, £12.95) is the work of Fellow Neil Burton and Peter Guillery (the latter is a Senior Historian for the Survey of London in the Research Department of English Heritage (whose 2004 book, The Small House in Eighteenth-Century London has just been awarded the prestigious Alice Davis Hitchcock medallion by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain). This new book uses specially drawn plans and accompanying photographs to chart the use and arrangement of rooms in the long Georgian period. The studies range from one-room houses in the East End (now almost all demolished as slums) to the more comfortable and familiar arrangements of the grander houses in the West End.


Chair: Twentieth Century Society
Our Fellow Gavin Stamp has decided to step down as Chair of the Twentieth Century Society after twenty years as a trustee, and a successor is sought from May 2007. Expressions of interest with a brief biography should be sent to Simon Wartnaby, Honorary Secretary, Twentieth Century Society, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ.

University of York, Department of Archaeology: The Hamlyn/Feilden Fellowship in Conservation Studies
Salary £31,525 to £33,465; closing date 31 January 2007

Through the generosity of the Helen Hamlyn Trust, a three-year fellowship has been established to honour the lifelong achievement of Sir Bernard Feilden in the field of Conservation Studies. Accordingly the University of York seeks to appoint a fellow to support the delivery of the internationally renowned MA in Conservation Studies and to be responsible for delivering a project, in association with the National Heritage Training Forum, to revive craft building skills in the UK.

The successful candidate, who may hold an initial qualification as an architect, archaeologist, engineer, surveyor or architectural historian, will either hold a further degree in Conservation Studies or have considerable professional experience in the field. He/she will have demonstrable networking skills, be competent to teach the ethics, philosophy and policy of conservation of the historic built environment, and will hold specialist knowledge in practical conservation. He/she will undertake outreach work with the National Heritage Training Forum.

For further particulars and details of how to apply see the University of York website.

Heritage Lottery Fund, Director of Operations
Salary c £85,000, closing date 31 January 2007

Our Fellow Stephen Johnson, who currently occupies this post, will retire later this year and a successor is now sought to lead the teams who deliver the Heritage Lottery Fund’s grant programmes. Candidates must have a proven record of successful strategic leadership and experience of managing significant financial and other resources in a complex, customer-focused environment. For an application pack, send an email to or tel 0207 649 6037.

English Heritage, Characterisation Inspector
Salary £28,000 to £32,000 per annum, based in London or from home; closing date 2 February 2007

The EH Characterisation Team (of which there are nine members) works largely at a strategic level, influencing policy rather than becoming involved in detailed casework. Our main aims include completing the national coverage of county-scale Historic Landscape and Urban and Townscape Characterisation (commissioned from local government and private consultants), developing and publishing guidance on new methods and uses of characterisation, and generally promoting characterisation across the whole sector, which involves giving frequent lectures and seminars at training and university courses and conferences.

Candidates need a good honours degree in archaeology or a related discipline, an understanding of current characterisation practice, a broad historical and archaeological understanding of England’s landscapes/townscapes and a good working knowledge of English planning and conservation processes. Additionally, you will have experience of managing archaeological projects and of the heritage management sector. To request an application pack, please email quoting reference R/01/07 in the subject box.

English Heritage Professional Placements In Conservation (Eppic)
£13,854 per annum, rising to £14,270 from 6 April 2007; closing date 9 February 2007

Six one-year work placements are available through the English Heritage Eppic scheme in archaeological investigation (x 2), aerial survey and investigation, architectural investigation (x 2) and architectural graphics. Applicants should have a relevant degree with six to eighteen months postgraduate work experience in UK historic environment practice. For further details and to download an application pack, please visit the IFA website or that of the IHBC.