Salon Archive

Issue: 161

Forthcoming meetings

19 April: Meeting at Canterbury Christ Church University, North Holmes Road, Canterbury, hosted by the Kent Archaeological Society on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. Mark Houliston and Alison Hicks, of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, will give a lecture entitled The Big Dig on recent excavations within Canterbury’s city walls. The lecture starts at 5pm (with tea beforehand from 4.15pm) and is followed by a wine reception at 6.15pm. Tickets for the reception, costing £7, are available from the Society.

25 April: Anniversary Meeting and Presidential Address, followed by a reception at the Geological Society, Burlington House. Tickets for the reception cost £15 (to include wine and canapés) and can be obtained from the Society.

17 May: Ballot

The Society’s seminar on the Heritage Protection White Paper

The White Paper on Heritage Protection for the 21st Century was published on 8 March 2007 (copies can be downloaded from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's website). Some of the proposals it contains are radical ─ public consultation over listing criteria, for example ─ while others are a welcome response to long-standing heritage sector campaigns ─ to end the ploughing of scheduled monuments, for example, and to place a statutory duty on local authorities to maintain or have access to Historic Environment Records.

The White Paper’s proposals will have major implications for everyone involved in heritage resource management at national and local level, for decades to come, so the Society is hosting a seminar to consider the implications of the measures on Monday 30 April 2007, from 1.30pm to 4.30pm, in the Geological Society Lecture Theatre at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London.

This is an open meeting, and the theatre can seat 150 people, but the seminar is bound to be popular so if you wish to attend, please book early by sending an email to the organiser, Christopher Catling, stating your name(s) and the organisation(s) that you will represent (if any). Booking may seem bureaucratic, but is necessary so that we can organise adequate catering and provide name badges for those who want them.

The seminar will begin with a series of short presentations on key aspects of the White Paper from Harry Reeves, Head of Heritage at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and our Fellow Peter Beacham, Head of Heritage Protection at English Heritage, both of whom have been intimately involved in the drafting and trialling of the proposals for many months. Paul Drury, Fellow, will also speak about the related Conservation Principles document that he has drafted and that underpins much of the thinking behind the White Paper on issues such as the value and significance of heritage assets.

We will then hear from speakers representing the professional and voluntary organisations engaged in delivering heritage services, such as the Institute of Field Archaeologists, the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, the Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation and the Council for British Archaeology. Their short presentations will lead to a debate about the White Paper’s role in assisting us all in the creation of robust, modern, effective historic environment services at national and local level.

The aim is not to achieve unanimity of response or to crystallise people’s views on the White Paper; instead, it is intended to help those who attend the seminar and contribute to the debate to understand the main issues, to hear a range of views and become fully informed of the opportunities represented by this important set of reforms.

Missing Fellows

The Society’s admin section would be grateful for information about the current addresses of Dr Andrew J Shortland, FSA, whose last known address was in Leicester, and Dr Stephen J Hill, FSA, last known to be living in Warwick.

News of Fellows

Our Fellow Neil Holbrook, Chief Executive of Cotswold Archaeology, writes to say that our Fellow Roy Canham retired on 15 February 2007 as County Archaeologist for Wiltshire after no less than thirty-one years in the job. Having previously worked in Brentford and London, Roy came to Wiltshire in 1975 to set up a permanent archaeological presence in the county. Over the years Roy developed a strong team around him, and used his considerable IT skills to set up the Wiltshire SMR single-handedly. He also undertook several excavations, including the important discovery of an Anglo-Saxon house in Swindon where the plaster from the walls had collapsed into the basement. ‘Roy has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the county and a passion for community involvement. He will be a hard act to follow’, says Neil.

Feedback

Avid watchers of University Challenge have alerted Salon to the outstanding performance of James Doeser, archaeologist and a key member of the University College London team that defeated a Durham team in the quarter finals last week. James is in the final months of his postgraduate research into the politics of heritage; he can be seen in action again in the semi-finals on BBC2 on Easter Monday, 9 April 2007.

Reading Matthew Spriggs’s obituary for Aubrey Parke in the last issue of Salon, our Fellow Mike Pitts was struck by the thought that ‘there cannot any longer be many people alive who worked at Maiden Castle with Wheeler’. Mike says: ‘I have just interviewed someone who is still alive and who didn’t dig at Maiden Castle ─ quite a boast, I think! Sheppard Frere told me that he was pleased he dug with Bersu at Little Woodbury, and not with Wheeler down at Maiden Castle, where “he got it all wrong, finding pit dwellings, while Bersu dug up a roundhouse”’. Read all about the interview in the next British Archaeology, out on 9 April.

Our Fellow Vincent Megaw has written to throw light on the portrait used on the new Antiquity site to represent the Editor, our Fellow Martin Carver (see ‘Letters to the Editor’ ()). It comes from a postcard that Antiquity’s Reviews Editor, Dr Madeleine Hummler, sent to Martin some time ago and it depicts Der Gemeindeschreiber (‘The parish clerk’), an 1875 painting by the Swiss painter Albert Anker (1831─1910), now in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Lausanne. Anker also painted some very sentimental archaeological pictures (for example, Pfahlbauerin mit Kind (‘Lake dweller with child’)), now in the Albert Anker-Haus / Maison d'Albert Anker museum in Bienne where most of his paintings are located.

Our Fellow Mike Heyworth, Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group’s Advisory Group, has asked Salon to clarify the issues that got rather confused in the last two issues regarding APPAG’s response to Government funding of the heritage sector. Salon’s report conflated what are seen by the APPAG Advisory Group as two separate (albeit related) issues.

The first is the decision by English Heritage to make cuts in its Historic Environment Enabling Programme, the fund that English Heritage uses to commission strategic research, with many projects relating to archaeology. It was in respect of this decision that the Advisory Group agreed ‘that APPAG should monitor the situation, whilst continuing to support the need for English Heritage to receive additional resources in the 2008─11 Comprehensive Spending Review to allow them to restore the full grant fund in the following years’. APPAG hopes that the reduction in the HEEP budget will be a one-off that can be restored in future years.

The second was the bigger question of Government funding for the heritage, and the widespread concern over cuts in local authority funding which were leading to a reduction in local archaeology and museum services (for example, the closure of Wandsworth Museum and the reduction in services at the William Morris Gallery in Waltham Forest). Added to this was the evidence contained in figures given in answer to a parliamentary question tabled by Paul Holmes, Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture Secretary, which showed that English Heritage’s funding had not kept pace with inflation over the last ten years, whereas Arts Council and Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) funding had risen substantially. In response to these issues, the Advisory Group asked the Archaeology Forum to consider convening a debate on the funding of the heritage sector.

Salon was somewhat premature in announcing that the IFA, IHBC and ALGAO(UK) had just published their Standard and Guidance for Stewardship of the Historic Environment; in fact the current draft is still under discussion ─ Salon will spread the word as soon as it is available for public consultation.

Of jigsaws, mobile phones and Palaeolithic migrations

Salon’s editor took the train to Egham last week to hear our Fellow Professor Clive Gamble give his inaugural lecture as Professor of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. Clive began by asking when and why did we become the only hominid species to achieve global distribution. You might expect that answering such a question might involve lots of references to bones and stones ─ instead we got mobile phones, a jigsaw of the globe and some good jokes (Q: how do you become a successful academic archaeologist? A: grow a beard, dig a site and announce that the results contradict everything that anyone previously thought).

To try and condense Clive’s argument into a single (albeit long) sentence: primates maintain physical contact with the members of their social group through grooming; H sapiens developed language as a form of vocal grooming (that’s what teenagers do on their mobile phones); next we learned to cope with extended absence from our social group by letting objects serve as a form of connection to the absent people we value; those objects are often exotic (the shell beads gathered from distant shores that turn up in graves in central France, for example); they represent places and people beyond the immediate horizon; they are the evidence that H sapiens developed ‘geographical brains’, capable of making imaginary leaps into the worlds beyond vision; our broad-minded social and geographical brains enabled us to break out and travel to all corners of the globe whereas smaller-minded hominids stuck more closely together hemmed in by their localised understanding of the world.

To prove the point about objects connecting people, Clive handed out pieces of jigsaw to every member of his audience as a souvenir of the lecture; that piece of jigsaw as an archaeological find is no more than what it is: but to every member of the audience the jigsaw piece now connects them to a particular occasion and group of people that will be recalled every time the piece is viewed or handled: just such a role was performed by much of the material we find in Palaeolithic graves and rock shelters, Clive argued. Fellows and members of the public will be able to hear Clive on this subject again when he gives the second in the Society’s Tercentenary Festival lecture series ─ on ‘The first humans’ ─ at Trinity College, Dublin, on 22 November 2007.

Consultation on a Marine Bill White Paper: A Sea Change

Clive Gamble forbore to quote E M Forster’s dictum (‘only connect’) as the subtitle for his inaugural lecture ─ thereby avoiding the obvious literary allusion. Not so the authors of the Marine Bill White Paper, published by DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) on 15 March 2007 under the title ‘A Sea Change’. In Scotland, the Department of Dreadful Puns had come up with the title ‘Seas the Opportunity’ for an earlier consultation on the same topic, but sensibly eschewed tricksy titles for its equivalent to DEFRA’s White Paper, also published on 15 March 2007, opting instead for the mundane title, ‘Recommendations of the Advisory Group on Marine and Coastal Strategy’ .

Though neither publication is concerned primarily with the heritage, marine archaeologists are nevertheless anxious that the new UK-wide system of marine planning envisioned by the two bills should recognise that the marine environment includes vast areas of drowned Palaeolithic and Mesolithic landscape, along with the evidence for our ancestors’ place within it, as well as far more recent wrecks and coastal sites.

On first reading, this does indeed seem to be the case, with repeated assurances throughout both papers that marine heritage and the natural environment will be fully protected from developments relating to offshore oil and gas exploitation, mineral extraction, wind farms, fisheries and the like. There is even the promise that Britain could have eight national marine parks within three years and as many as eighty highly protected sea areas.

Responsibility for delivering on this promise will fall to a new Marine Management Organisation to ‘act as a champion for the integrated management of our seas’ by combining the various government departments that currently have responsibility for strategic planning, licensing, fisheries management and enforcement and nature conservation.

Wales takes stock of its heritage

The Welsh Assembly Government published its first stock take of the state of Welsh heritage on 15 March in a report called The Welsh historic environment ─ position statement 2006. Alun Pugh, the Welsh Assembly Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport, said: ‘This is a significant step forward in how we begin to assess the importance of the historic environment to Wales. We have never before attempted to measure the full value, potential and scope of the historic environment in Wales to help inform future decisions and judgements. This information will act as a benchmark to enable the Cymru Hanesyddol/Historic Wales partnership ─ and, in time, wider historic environment partners ─ to begin to assess future trends and to monitor changes and improvements in the protection, conservation and promotion of the historic environment.’

The report focuses on the activity of the historic environment organizations over which the Welsh Assembly Government has responsibility ─ namely Cadw, the Ancient Monuments Board, the Historic Buildings Council and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales — unified for presentational purposes under the Cymru Hanesyddol/Historic Wales banner, so that common themes and objectives are better understood. Copies are available from the Cadw website.

Scotland’s new national heritage policy

Scottish Culture Minister Patricia Ferguson launched a new national heritage policy for Scotland on 9 March 2007, emphasising that the historic environment should be valued as an asset, rather than thought of as a barrier to development. The policies that will guide the management of that asset will be spelled out in a new series of policy papers, called Scottish Historic Environment Policies (SHEPs), the first of which is SHEP 1: Scotland's historic environment, an overarching policy statement that provides the framework for more detailed SHEPs.

Ms Ferguson also announced the publication of SHEP 2 Scheduling: protecting Scotland’s nationally important monuments, setting out Scotland’s policy for the identification and designation of nationally important ancient monuments and SHEP 3: gardens and designed landscapes. SHEPs are planned for the near future covering ‘Scheduled Monument Consent’, ‘Listed Building Consent’, the ‘Listing of Historic Buildings’ and ‘Conservation and Access to Properties in Care’. The SHEP series is intended to sit alongside and complement the Scottish Planning Policy series and other relevant ministerial policy documents.

The SHEP 1 document amounts to a manifesto for the Scottish historic environment: it is very positive about the ‘real and growing interest’ of Scotland’s people in the historic environment and ‘the crucial part it plays in Scotland’s cultural identity’. It also acknowledges that Scotland’s people have ‘cultural entitlements’, one of which is that ‘the people of Scotland are entitled to expect the historic environment to be protected, cared for and used sustainably so that it can be passed on to benefit future generations’.

The document is far from complacent about the threats that face the historic environment, listing a number of challenges, from ‘short-term visions for the development of places’, ‘inappropriate change that reduces the cultural significance, or detracts from the appearance or quality of conservation areas’, ‘lack of knowledge and understanding of how older buildings were constructed and perform and their maintenance needs’ and ‘the lack of traditional skills, suitably-qualified craftsmen and locally available materials for the maintenance and repair of the historic environment’ to ‘changing land-management practices and restructuring in the farming industry’, and ‘the needs of renewable energy generation’.

Despite this, there is a commendable determination at the heart of the report that the historic environment should be cared for, protected and enhanced for the benefit of present and future generations, with increased public appreciation and enjoyment of the historic environment and the harnessing of the historic environment’s full potential as a key asset in Scotland’s economic, social and cultural success.

The Antonine Wall leaps another World Heritage Site hurdle

Our Fellow David Breeze reports that UNESCO has undertaken a desk exercise of the nomination documents presented in relation to the proposal to make the Antonine Wall a World Heritage Site and has agreed that they meet the specifications. The next step is a field evaluation, which will take place this summer. A report is then submitted to ICOMOS, to be considered at its meeting in January 2008, prior to the World Heritage Committee conference in July 2008.

Save our Suburbs

South of the border, English Heritage published a guidance document last week entitled The Heritage of Historic Suburbs, highlighting the changes that can erode the character and distinctiveness of historic suburbs. Taking land for parking, for example, has led to the loss of two-thirds of London’s front gardens, according to Greater London Assembly estimates. The erection of new buildings on suburban gardens, now designated as brownfield land, and the conversion of larger homes into flats and high-density developments also leads to the loss of mature trees, hedges and traditional boundary walls, diminishing the sense of space that private gardens give to an area and creating increasing levels of traffic and congestion.

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: ‘Heritage is not somewhere you visit, like going to a stately home. In England it is all around us, it is where we live. And for very many of us that is a suburb. Change won’t go away but we can work together to drive it towards the values and goals we believe in, enhancing local character and adding to the best of what is already there.’

The guidance calls on planning authorities to understand what makes a particular suburb special historically, architecturally and in terms of its landscaping and layout by carrying out a thorough analysis and involving local residents groups, tenants groups and amenity and local history societies in developing a strategy for the future of their suburb.

Restrictions on photography: reality or urban myth?

Undertaking a historic environment audit of an English suburb could become an almost impossible task in future if a new petition on the Downing Street website is to be believed. This ‘calls on the Prime Minister to stop proposed restrictions regarding photography in public places’. But what exactly are those proposed restrictions? Digging in the depths of the internet reveals that the petition was started by a Farnborough-based photographer called Simon Taylor who says, on his website that ‘I have NOT said that a bill is in preparation, or that legislation is being prepared’.

Instead, his petition (which has attracted 63,000 signatures already) is a protest against the self-appointed vigilantes who think every person with a camera is a pervert. Those of us who undertake conservation area appraisals can sympathise: we have all been verbally assaulted by just such individuals in the course of our work, and we already avoid photographing listed schools or parks if there are children around, as well as trying to be as discreet as possible when photographing private homes.

Clearly this is a grey area where some clarity would be welcome ─ perhaps in the form of guidance from the IFA and IHBC. According to Simon Taylor’s website, ‘there are currently no restrictions in UK law on taking photographs in a public place and there is no right to privacy in a public place’ ─ which is why, one assumes, local authorities and estate managers are able to place video cameras everywhere with impunity.

Arsenal regeneration

A new publication from the European-funded organisation called SHARP (Sustainable Historic Arsenal Regeneration) contains four case studies showing how redundant military arsenals (in Woolwich, Cadiz, Estonia and Malta) have been turned from dereliction, shut off behind fences and barbed wire and potentially facing demolition, into exciting new quarters of their respective cities combining historic interest and contemporary functions. The case studies don’t gloss over the mistakes that were made along the way (‘with hindsight the conservation plan was commissioned too late in the process’ and ‘the conservation plan was thorough, but a shorter punchier document might have been more useful’), and they are all of great relevance to anyone dealing with large historic sites and trying to balance commercial demands with protecting what is significant in the historic landscape. Regeneration through Heritage: understanding the development potential of historic European arsenals is available from SHARP Co-ordinator, Mark Stevenson.

The Archaeologist

The latest issue of the IFA magazine, The Archaeologist, is devoted to archaeological field survey and landscape archaeology (copies are available from the editor, our Hon Sec Alison Taylor. This is an area of activity in which volunteers and community archaeologists can really make a mark, and there are some good case studies in the magazine involving partnerships between professionals and community groups, at Cawood, in Yorkshire, for example, where volunteers have mapped a landscape that combines a lost archbishop’s palace, medieval gardens and orchards, and one surviving medieval pond that was found to contain the rare great crested newt. Children were encouraged to learn about archaeology through examining the contents of molehills, and the group so enjoyed their archaeological research that they are now extending their investigation to the standing buildings of the village and the possible remains of medieval wharfs lining the River Ouse.

Elsewhere in the same magazine there are stories that amply illustrate how much can be learned about buried sites by such non-intrusive means as field walking and field survey ─ in the case of Sempringham in Lincolnshire, a complete Gilbertine priory and a post-suppression Tudor mansion have been plotted and placed in context, with field-walking finds that include a twelfth-century gilt-bronze tap head from the lavatorium shaped like beast head.

The Archaeologist also has good news on the training front. The pace of development in the UK and Ireland has led to a big rise in archaeological projects in the last two years, and units that could once count on hiring experienced field staff are now having to recruit inexperienced diggers and are wrestling with the problems of how to provide training. Just in time, along comes a new Qualification in Archaeological Practice; due to be launched later this year, this will provide a structure for on-the-job learning that will enable those in the early stages of their career to acquire a recognised National Vocational Qualification.

Understanding plough damage

Edward Vaizey (Conservative MP for Wantage) put a parliamentary question to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on 20 March to ask ‘what estimate her Department has made of the number of designated monuments that have been damaged by agricultural cultivation in the last ten years?’. Back, via Culture Minister David Lammy, came the answer: ‘my Department does not hold such information. However, English Heritage is currently undertaking a programme of regional Scheduled Monuments at Risk studies which will help to quantify the number of Scheduled Monuments under continuous or periodic cultivation, and the proportion of these considered to be at risk of damage. The outcomes of this research will be published by English Heritage later this year.’

For once this is no brush-off: The Archaeologist has an article explaining how English Heritage and DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) are working together on research to understand better exactly what happens to monuments under cultivation. These partners have in turn commissioned Oxford Archaeology to construct simulated archaeological features ─ buried walls, pits, ditches and postholes ─ which researchers at Cranfield University’s Soil Science Department are then cultivating using different techniques to understand what happens to sub-surface features and whether changes in farming practice can help.

This is a five-year project, but the results are clearly of great importance given the commitment in the Heritage Protection White Paper to provide better protection for scheduled monuments under cultivation: Fachtna McAvoy of English Heritage will be talking more about this work at the IFA conference session on 3 April organised by Steve Trow (Head of Rural and Environmental Policy at English Heritage) and entitled: ‘Plough damage: just too big to handle?’.

Oxford Archaeology to investigate nighthawking

Oxford Archaeology is also involved in research to assess the impact of illegal digging on scheduled monuments. The project, called ‘Nighthawks and Nighthawking: damage to archaeological sites in the United Kingdom and Crown Dependencies caused by illegal searching and removal of antiquities’, is an eighteenth-month study funded by English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland, the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It will produce baseline data on the extent of damage to the archaeological heritage caused by nighthawking in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.

As well as collecting data, another aim of the project is to foster a climate of opinion that does not tolerate the illegal search, removal and sale of antiquities. At present, it is feared that many authorities see this as a relatively harmless practice ─ some years ago, when nighthawks caught red-handed by the police were brought in front of a magistrate, he dismissed the case, saying that metal detecting was a harmless and fascinating hobby. As a result, nighhawkers have become ever more audacious: at one Roman site in Surrey a team of nighthawkers turned up with a lorry and a mechanical digger, scooping up large quantities of earth for sifting and sorting at another location.

Dr Pete Wilson, of English Heritage, explained: ‘What we are going to do is try to get some reasonably reliable data about the scale of the problem and raise the profile of it with the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, so that when potential prosecutions present themselves they are pursued’. Key organisations will be asked to contribute information to the project by filling in an online questionnaire; interviews and site visits will also be conducted. The project will also collect data on the illicit sale of goods of archaeological material online and elsewhere.

Pig study forces rethink of Pacific colonisation

Pigs are good swimmers, but not good enough to cross oceans unless transported by humans, so studying pig DNA ought to be a reliable guide to human colonization of the Pacific, reasoned Greger Larson of Oxford University, lead author of a paper on ‘Neolithic expansion in island south-east Asia and Oceania’ in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published on 12 March 2007.

Using this insight, Larson and colleagues at the Department of Archaeology at Durham University examined mitochondrial DNA from modern and ancient pigs across East Asia and the Pacific, and demonstrated that most of the region’s pigs share a common ancestry, which can be traced to Vietnam.

This result suggests that the colonists of the remote Pacific ─ including Hawaii and French Polynesia ─ originated in Vietnam. Other sources of evidence, including human genetic and linguistic data, appear to support the traditional model that Pacific colonists first began their journey in Taiwan and the Philippines.

Research project director, Dr Keith Dobney, at Durham University, warns that looking for a single point of origin might be too simplistic: ‘Many archaeologists have assumed that the combined package of domestic animals and cultural artefacts associated with the first Pacific colonizers originated in the same place and was then transported with people as a single unit. Our study shows that different elements of the package probably took different routes through island south-east Asia, before being transported into the Pacific.’

The value of this new research therefore is to ‘inspire geneticists and archaeologists to consider both alternative colonization routes, and more complex, and perhaps more accurate, theories about the nature of human colonization and the animals they carried with them’. The paper results from an ongoing research project based at the University of Durham designed to explore the role of animals in reconstructing ancient human migration, trade and exchange networks. For further details see the Durham University website.

Portuguese maps of Australia that pre-date Cook by 250 years

The discovery in 1976 of a lead fishing sinker, unearthed from a securely stratified site at Fraser Island, off Queensland, Australia, has long puzzled archaeologists: analysis of the lead showed that it came from Portugal and was made around 1500. Now historian Peter Trickett thinks he can explain: in his book Beyond Capricorn, he presents evidence that the Portuguese seafarer, Cristovão Mendonça, sailed from the Portuguese fort at Malacca, in present-day Malaysia, to search for a fabled land of gold alluded to by Marco Polo. His journey took him to Australia, which he mapped in 1522, some 250 years before Captain Cook. The result can be seen in a portfolio of maps making up the Vallard Atlas, a collection of charts representing the known world in the early sixteenth century, now in the Huntington Library in California.

The maps were drawn up by French cartographers who misunderstood the Portuguese charts they were copying from: by rotating the lower half of the Vallard Atlas map, Peter Trickett discovered an accurate representation of the entire east coast of Australia, virtually the entire west coast and a very large part of the south coast, as far as Kangaroo Island and the Great Australian Bight, labelled Golfo Grande in Portuguese. Trickett believes that Mendonça sailed along Australia's north coast, down the eastern seaboard and around the bottom of the continent.

The maps were kept secret because the Portuguese wanted to keep the discovery to themselves. ‘The Portuguese were obsessed with secrecy because of their rivalry with Spain’, Mr Trickett says. ‘They didn't colonise Australia because they didn't have the manpower or the resources, and then their empire started to collapse.’ With Spain and Portugal vying for control of the world's oceans and new territories being discovered all the time, both kingdoms kept maps and charts locked up. Many Portuguese maps were lost when the repository, the Casa da India, in Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.

Mendonça’s exploits remain a footnote in Portugal's rich history of navigation and discovery but Trickett believes his feat warrants him a place alongside Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan.

A New World: England’s first view of America

Curated by our Fellow Kim Sloan, the new exhibition of John White’s paintings of the New World at the British Museum is being hailed as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime show’ because the works are so fragile and sensitive to light that they are only shown once in a generation.

The watercolours, painted by John White, gentleman and amateur artist at the court of Queen Elizabeth, resulted from his participation in the expedition to Sir Walter Raleigh’s Virginia colony in 1585. They show in immense detail the sophisticated villages of Pomeiooc, Aquascogoc and Secotan, with their enclosures, crops and cultivated fields, as well as the festivities, jewellery and body decorations of the Algonquin people. White’s work had an enormous impact and influenced European ideas about the New World for generations, either directly through countless reproductions of his work, or indirectly through works such as Shakespeare’s The Tempest. They certainly played a part in recruiting men and women as future colonists of this ‘brave new world’.

But they are far more than propaganda: painted with great skill, the first surviving records of native Americans are remarkable portraits of real people, just as the records he made of plants, animals, birds and fish contain skilled depictions of delicate translucent membranes, transparent gills or the iridescent crest of a hoopoe. As our Fellow Neil MacGregor says in his introduction to the lavishly illustrated catalogue written by Kim Sloan, ‘by examining and understanding [White’s work] we look at the New World through sixteenth-century European eyes, without the preconceived notions of our own time, and begin to understand what happened when those two worlds met’.

A New World: England’s first view of America is on at the British Museum until 17 June 2007. Further information from the British Museum’s website.

The Great Wall in Melbourne

Our Fellow Patrick Green, Chief Executive Officer of Museum Victoria in Melbourne, hopes that Fellows living in or visiting Australia during the next three months will come and see what is being hailed as the first exhibition ever to tell the story of the Great Wall of China, from its origin as a series of military barriers, first built some 2,500 years ago, to its unique status today as the world’s largest heritage object and one of China’s most visited tourist destinations. The exhibition is based around some 120 historical artefacts drawn primarily from the collections of the National Museum of China, supplemented by objects from the Palace Museum in Beijing, Gansu Provincial Museum, Gansu Provincial Institute of Archaeology, the Municipal Museum of Dunhuang and Shanhaiguan Great Wall Museum. Many of these rare artefacts are classified as Grade 1 national treasures and have never been allowed out of China before.

Themes explored in the exhibition include the origins, construction and military functions of the long walls that constitute The Great Wall and the richness and diversity of the cultures and peoples who lived around them. Contemporary topics that are explored include recent archaeological excavations, remote sensor mapping of the walls, Chinese and international heritage provisions for different sections of the wall and the significance of the Great Wall as a national symbol, cultural heritage object and tourism icon. The Great Wall of China: dynasties, dragons and warriors is at Melbourne Museum from 23 March to 22 July 2007.

James 'Athenian' Stuart 1713 to 1788

Another artist who went abroad and came home with drawings that changed contemporary views of the world was James 'Athenian' Stuart, the subject of a new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (to 24 June; see the V&A’s website).

Subtitled ‘the rediscovery of antiquity’, the exhibition explains the impact of Stuart's landmark publication, Antiquities of Athens (volume 1, published in 1762), whose accurate records of classical Greek architecture served as a source book for architects and designers for a century or more. Stuart was a gifted designer himself, and some 200 artefacts have been assembled for the exhibition, including furniture, metalwork, plasterwork, house designs and paintings, to illustrate the range of commissions that he worked upon in creating some of the earliest neo-classical interiors in Britain. The exhibition also shows examples of his book illustration work, his medal designs and the beautiful and innovative funerary monuments that he designed, introducing to English churches the sarcophagi, portrait medallions, grieving women, putti and obelisks that we now take for granted.

The exhibition notes that Stuart's life was chaotic, that he spent his afternoons drinking and playing skittles rather than attending to business and that his critics accused him of ‘Epicurianism’, perhaps a euphemism for alcoholism. Nevertheless, he continued working on two further volumes of Antiquities of Athens and the exhibition concludes that this was his lasting legacy. The buildings that he designed in London copying Athenian originals played a role in the propagation of the Greek revival style, but it was the books that influenced architects, sculptors and designers in Europe and America for the next two centuries, resulting in buildings as varied as the British Museum in London, the New Admiralty in St Petersburg, Ludwig I of Bavaria’s Walhalla and countless temple-fronted country houses in America.

Swan Hellenic: the story continues

This week’s announcement that the Swan Hellenic name has been bought by Lord Sterling, who once owned the QE2 and ran P&O Cruises, has brought conditional approval from long-standing fans of the Swan Hellenic mix of evening lectures and culture-packed excursions. Lord Stirling has said that he will preserve the ethos of the brand. He also said he would, if possible, employ the same guest lecturers, crew and operational staff to work with the company, and would consider resurrecting river cruises, which the company stopped some years ago. All he has to do now is find a suitable ship.

Salon 158 referred to Minerva I as the original Swan Hellenic ship, which provoked cries of ‘No way!’ from our Fellow John Prag and others who remember with great affection the earlier ships. ‘In the late seventies and eighties, we had a lovely ex-Irish Sea ferry called the Orpheus (née Munster)’, writes John, ‘but we Orpheus hands were made to feel very small beer before those who remembered travelling on the Ankara.’ And why does size matter, other than out of an affection for what John calls ‘real ships of a nice size ─ not floating luxury hotels’? The answer is that smaller ships can go where larger ones cannot ─ one of the highlights of a Swan Hellenic cruise round the Aegean Sea being the journey through the Corinth Canal, with walls of stone towering on either side. The canal was excavated through solid rock between 1881 and 1893 and is a mere 21m wide and 8m deep, too narrow and shallow for modern ocean cruisers.

Museums today: palaces or power stations?

Our Fellow Duncan Robinson, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, will give a paper on this theme at The British Academy, on Wednesday 2 May 2007, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm. The opportunities and challenges facing cultural institutions in Britain today are both intellectual and political, rendered all the more pressing in a multicultural society which is unsure about identity and values. Foolhardy though it would be to exaggerate the extent to which museums can transform society, it is equally unwise to ignore their social and economic impact. At the same time they have a duty of care for the objects they contain, the tangible evidence surviving from the past of that creativity which belongs, in Isaiah Berlin's phrase, to ‘common humanity’. Duncan Robinson will argue that the curator's task is to rise to all these challenges to ensure that the museum operates as both a palace and a power station, preserving the past and generating new ideas.

Admission free; seats are allocated on a strict first-come, first-served basis. The British Academy’s website has further details.

The Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society online

Almost on the anniversary of its founding (on 21 April 1876), the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society has placed all but the last ten years’ worth of its Transactions on to the internet, where everything published between 1876 and 1995 can be searched and downloaded for free. The Society’s Chairman, our Fellow David Smith, is rightly proud of this achievement and wonders whether the B&G is the first county archaeological society of its vintage to achieve this?

Aspects of Listed Monuments in Public and Private Cemeteries

A symposium on this theme will be hosted by the Friends of Brompton Cemetery on Saturday 2 June 2007. It will address the sensitivity surrounding the effect of Faculty Jurisdiction on monuments in consecrated areas of public and private cemeteries, together with issues relating to securing grants for their conservation and good practice for their repair. Further information from Robert Stephenson, South Lodge, Brompton Cemetery, London SW10 9UG, tel: 0207 602 0173.

Enjoy a close encounter with Peterborough Cathedral’s west front

The dire need for conservation of the statues and architectural mouldings on the iconic west front at Peterborough Cathedral means that it is scaffolded for the first time in more than forty years. Thanks to the Paul Mellon Centre, research on the west front is currently being carried out by Jackie Hall and Julian Luxford, but the Chapter is extending an invitation to any archaeologist, art historian or architectural historian who is interested in a look the chance to see the front at close quarters.

The west front will be open on Saturday 19 May, from 10am to 4pm. Jackie Hall, the Cathedral Archaeologist, says she hopes the whole west front will be available (rather than just the south gable and part of the central gable that are currently scaffolded), although this cannot be guaranteed. Jackie adds that the scaffolding is extremely solid (stairs, not ladders!) and that tea and coffee will be available. If you would like to come, please contact Jackie Hall or tel: 01223 890197), so that the Cathedral knows who and how many to expect ─ and please feel free to pass the message on to colleagues who don't receive Salon.

Books by Fellows

Our Fellow Peter Draper, former president of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain and Visiting Professor in Architectural History at Birkbeck College, University of London, has produced a book that explains how a distinctively English style of Gothic architecture developed between 1150 and 1250 following the assimilation of new ideas from France. In The Formation of English Gothic: architecture and identity, Peter explores the great cathedrals of Canterbury, Wells, Salisbury, Lincoln, Ely, York, Durham, and others, as well as numerous parish churches and secular buildings, to examine the complex interrelations between architecture and an emerging sense of national identity. By looking into such topics as the role of patrons, the relationships between patrons and architects, and the wide variety of factors that contributed to the process of creating a building, the book offers new ways of seeing and thinking about some of England’s greatest and best-loved architecture.

Another greatly loved Gothic building, often likened to a cathedral of the steam age, is St Pancras Station, due to be reborn as the gateway to London for train passengers arriving from the Continent when the station reopens as the Eurostar terminal on 14 November 2007. Our Fellow Simon Bradley, Editor of the Pevsner Architectural Guides, has written a brilliant biography of this heroic building, a marriage of medieval style and railway modernity.

As Simon Bradley points, George Gilbert Scott’s neo-Gothic Midland Hotel steals the limelight with its Ruritanian extravagance, but the truly revolutionary building is the train shed designed by William Henry Barlow with its soaring single-span iron and glass roof. Barlow's work will soon be restored to its original condition, its great iron trusses painted sky blue as they would have been in the 1860s. Below the station is a forest of pillars holding up the platforms that let trains arrive and depart on the level (next door Kings Cross has a steep climb out of the station which not all trains could manage). This undercroft will serve as the new Eurostar departure hall.

As for the hotel, threatened with demolition in the 1960s, it was saved largely through the efforts of John Betjeman and the Victorian Society. Soon we will be able to explore it again and even (if we are rich enough) buy one of the million-pound-plus apartments currently being created here by the Manhattan Loft Company. Salon’s impoverished editor will not be able to do more than gawp, guided of course by Simon’s much more modestly priced St Pancras Station (costing a mere £14.99).

Out of Print & Into Profit is the witty title of a book edited by our Fellow Giles Mandelbrote of the British Library. With several Fellows among the contributors, the book takes a scholarly but also very affectionate look at the history of the rare and second-hand book trade in Britain in the twentieth century ─ for those who would like to know more, Salon’s editor commends the review written by our Fellow Hugh Pagan, who is himself a member of the antiquarian book trade, specialising in rare architectural books.

Vacancies

Ashmolean Museum, Curator of the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East
Salary £32,795 to £39,160, closing date 11 April 2007

The Curator will be primarily responsible for the design, development and completion of the new gallery of the Ancient Near East for the opening of the newly transformed Ashmolean Museum in October 2009. The successful applicant will have a relevant postgraduate university degree, with an excellent academic record, and evidence of published research and active research interests. S/He will have recent experience of work in a museum environment, and the ability to deliver a major project to standard and on time. For further details and information about how to apply, please see the 'Vacancies' section of the Ashmolean’s website.