Salon Archive

Issue: 172

Forthcoming events

It is not too late to book tickets for the Society’s Somerset House reception on 4 October or David Starkey’s lecture on 26 September – many tickets have been sold but these are large venues and there is plenty of room for more.

The audience for David Starkey’s lecture on ‘The Antiquarian Endeavour’, at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London, on 26 September 2007 at 6.30pm stands at 350-plus, but the church can accommodate 550, so last-minute bookings are welcome. David’s paper will no doubt be as entertaining as it is informative about the contribution that the Society has made over three hundred years to preserving the material evidence that is crucial to an understanding of history. Following his revelation last week that Henry VIII kept a set of spare wedding rings (see ‘Press coverage’ below), David promises further revelations from Henry VIII’s inventory, including the royal uses of adders’ tongues and unicorn horns. Fellows can book tickets by telephone (free for Fellows; £5 a head for guests: 020 7479 7086) and non-Fellows can book online.

On Thursday 4 October, the Society will be meeting at Somerset House for the first time in 123 years for a very special evening reception to celebrate the birth of Britain’s oldest heritage organisation. The Society’s Royal Patron, HRH The Duke of Gloucester, will launch our Tercentenary celebrations in the unique and atmospheric rooms – now hung with the Courtauld Institute's remarkable art collection – that formed the backdrop to the Society's meetings from 1781 until the move to Burlington House in 1874. This historic occasion will also mark the launch of Visions of Antiquity – the Society’s handsome and fully illustrated special edition of Archaeologia containing essays that trace the Society's contribution to knowledge and culture over 300 years.

Tickets cost £25 (Champagne and canapés included) and can be booked using a credit card by telephone – 020 7479 7086 – or by sending a cheque made payable to the ‘Society of Antiquaries of London’ to Jayne Phenton, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BE, giving your name, postal address and the number of tickets required.

‘Making History: Antiquaries in Britain, 1707—2007’

Royal Academicians, Fellows and distinguished guests from the worlds of heritage and culture thronged the Royal Academy’s exhibition rooms on 11 September for the official launch of the Society’s special Tercentenary exhibition. With numbers in excess of the official exhibition capacity of 400, this was the best attended launch in recent Academy history. The Society’s Royal Patron, HRH The Duke of Gloucester, said that the Society was one of the UK’s great institutions of learning and scholarship and praised its role in ‘transforming history from mush to precision’. Our President, Geoff Wainwright, thanked all those who had contributed to the making of the exhibition and its splendid catalogue, doing full justice, he said, to a collection that was of immense significance in recording milestones in the discovery, interpretation and communication of Britain’s past.

Geoff’s comments were echoed many times throughout the evening by guests astonished at the collection’s richness and diversity, and even those Fellows who could already claim familiarity with some of the paintings and objects saw them in an entirely new light, cleaned, conserved and displayed to great advantage in the splendid setting of the Royal Academy.

Exhibition: media coverage

Critics and reviewers have been very warm in their reception of the ‘Making History’ exhibition, many of them fascinated by the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the Society’s collections, a fact summed up in the Independent’s headline: ‘The classiest flea-market in town’. Awarding the exhibition 4 stars (out of a possible five) the Independent’s reviewer, Michael Glover, said that: ‘This superb show assembles the pick of what it [the Society] has found over three centuries of diligent foraging … of the material evidence that has helped to shape our view of the past … it’s a bit like picking one’s way through a fairly upmarket thrift shop, and coming upon objects of unimaginable fascination to anyone who is interested in the history of the ground we stand on … it’s the most high-toned flea market in town. Regrettably, nothing’s for sale.’

In similar vein, our Fellow Maev Kennedy, writing for the Guardian, picked out some of the odder exhibits: ‘The imposing but eccentric collection includes … a fifteenth-century genealogical scroll prepared for Henry VI, anxious to establish his claim to the English throne, tracing his ancestry back to Adam and Eve; a mummified “finger of a Frenchman” collected as a holiday souvenir by a priest from Canterbury Cathedral who turned down the offer of a mummified baby, and a lock of the hair of Edward IV, collected when his tomb in the chapel at Windsor Castle was opened after 400 years.’

In its review of the exhibition, the ‘24-hour Museum’ website picked out a comment made by our Fellow David Starkey, the exhibition’s guest curator, at the press launch when he referred to an entry in the inventory of Henry VIII’s possessions listing four wedding rings (‘no doubt in case of emergency,’ David Starkey commented). This hook proved irresistible to the tabloid press, including the Daily Express, which ran a double-page feature headlined ‘The Ten Wives of Henry VIII’, with a standfirst that read ‘Astonishing new documents reveal the tyrant king planned to marry even more women and kept a secret emergency wedding kit just in case he happened to meet another “new bride”’. Towards the end of his life, the geriatric king was in a poor state of health but ‘still had boyish fantasies’, according to another of our Fellows, Maria Hayward (whose new book on dress at the court of Henry VIII will be published later this month).

In an extended interview broadcast on Radio 3’s ‘Night Waves’ arts review programme, David Starkey reminded listeners of the context for the Society’s formation: 2007 is, he said, the Tercentenary of the Acts of Union joining the Kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single Kingdom of Great Britain. ‘We have carefully avoided celebrating this anniversary,’ David pointed out, ‘because the chances of it lasting for much longer are at best 50/50.’ In 1707, however, the formation of the Society of Antiquaries was a venture of immense excitement, as scholars asked themselves ‘what is this new state called Britain, and what does its history look like’.

David characterised antiquaries as ‘collectors, arrangers, organisers and comparators’, and said ‘theirs was not the conscious coolness and detachment of the academic historian – rather antiquaries are passionately in love with the past, with a feverish desire to preserve the remains of our culture’, almost despairing in their sense of loss and nostalgia for all that was destroyed by Puritanism, or the massive expansion of Victorian England. He argued that antiquaries were (and are) deeply counter-cultural: ‘antiquaries took the English past seriously when the British Museum and the National Gallery treated England as a minor provincial diversion out of the great cultural highway of Europe.

Commenting on the role of the antiquary today, he said that the Society was an evangelical body, standing up for the study of the past at a time when it was thriving in the real world, but shrivelling in schools and universities under the desiccating process of bureaucratic interference in education. ‘I rejoice,’ he said, ‘in the opportunity to mount this exhibition because it touches on themes that are essentially popular and connect with everyday life – the past that everyone cares so much about today, such as family history, church visiting, antiques – these are exactly what antiquaries have always done.’

In this age of blogs, it is also gratifying to note the unsolicited observations of visitors to the exhibition, including Cristina Petrucci, illustrator and costume designer, whose website records: ‘I spent a big part of today at the Royal Academy of Arts. The “Making History: Antiquaries in Britain 1707–2007” was amazing. One of the best exhibitions I have seen in a long time.’

Exhibition: ‘Spotlight’ talks

If you are planning to visit the Society’s exhibition (and what a bumper autumn it is for history and archaeology, with ‘The First Emperor’ exhibition also on at the British Museum, exploring one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, you might like to coincide with one of the ‘Spotlight’ gallery talks that various Fellows and members of staff are giving every Thursday at 2pm (perfectly timed so that you can tour the exhibition and attend a Society meeting in the late afternoon).

The full list of Spotlight talks is as follows:

• 27 September, Michael Lewis on the Bayeux Tapestry
• 4 October, Ralph Jackson on the Ribchester Helmet
• 11 October, David Gaimster on ‘Rescuing the Past’
• 18 October, Pamela Tudor-Craig on the portrait of Richard III
• 25 October, Thomas Cocke on Girtin’s Ely Cathedral
• 1 November, Bernard Nurse on the copperplate of the Field of Cloth of Gold
• 8 November, Dai Morgan Evans on the tomb of Edward IV in St George's Chapel, Windsor
• 15 November, Pamela Tudor-Craig on the diptych of ‘Old St Paul’s’
• 22 November, Julia Steele on ‘Lost and Found’
• 29 November, Arthur MacGregor on a late seventeenth-century Cabinet of Curiosities.

Forthcoming ballots

At ballots throughout the autumn, the exhibits will also focus on objects in the Royal Academy exhibition. At the ballot on 11 October, our Fellow Ralph Jackson, of the British Museum, will give a paper entitled ‘Ribchester – not just a helmet’, and Julia Steele, the Society’s Collections Officer, will talk about ‘The Cotterdale sword and other chance finds’.

Blue Papers for that ballot can be found on the website: selecting ‘Balloting’ from the green menu on the right will enable you to read Blue Papers and to vote online. Contact Christopher Catling if you have problems accessing the Fellows’ area of the site, or would like to register for a password.

Open House London Weekend

Well over 1,000 people visited the Society’s newly refurbished apartments during Open House London Weekend, on 15 and 16 September 2007. A fact sheet on the rooms and their history, including details of the research that informed the recent refurbishment programme, can be downloaded from the Society’s website. Staff and Fellows who served as room stewards over the weekend report that many visitors combined their tour of the apartments with a visit to the ‘Making History’ exhibition, and were both eager to learn more about the Society’s work and admiring of the new decorative scheme.

Winners of the Awards for the Presentation of Heritage Research 2007

In the annual competition designed to encourage heritage specialists to present the results of their research to a wider public, a panel of judges headed by our Fellow Julian Richards decided to split the award this year and to give prizes of £1,000 each to our Fellows Dominic Powlesland and Vincent Gaffney.

Vincent Gaffney’s paper, entitled ‘Doggerland: mapping a lost European country’, explored submerged landscapes dating from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene by analysing seismic data from the North Sea, while Dominic’s paper, ‘Beneath the Sands of Time: unravelling the hidden past of the Vale of Pickering’, demonstrated the power of geophysical survey to reveal the Vale’s unexpectedly dense pattern of Late Iron Age to early Anglo-Saxon settlement and activity, with new classes of monument, buried beneath blown sand.

A third prize, of £500, for a researcher under the age of thirty, went to Lydia Carr for her paper on ‘Working partners: Tessa Verney Wheeler, Mortimer Wheeler and the Caerleon amphitheatre’, emphasising the important and largely forgotten contribution that Tessa Wheeler made to Mortimer Wheeler’s early excavations.

The winners were judged to be the best of ten papers presented as part of the British Association’s Festival of Science, held in York on 13 September 2007. The awards are sponsored by the Royal Archaeological Institute, English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland, the Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Republic of Ireland).

Nighthawking survey

Leading heritage organisations have come together to conduct an investigation into the problem of nighthawking – the illegal search for and removal of antiquities from the ground using metal detectors without the permission of the landowners. The centrepiece of the survey is an online questionnaire aimed at metal detectorists, archaeologists, landowners, antiquities dealers and members of the public who might have information about nighthawking. The aim of the survey is to provide information that will help the political and law enforcement agencies to consider ways to combat nighthawking.

The survey covers the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey and is being undertaken by Oxford Archaeology. The project is funded by English Heritage, Historic Scotland, Cadw, the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, with support from Guernsey Museums, Jersey Heritage Trust, Manx National Heritage, the National Museum of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service. Enquiries should be directed to

South Downs National Park boundaries

On behalf of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, of which he is the President, Bill Bryson has reacted with dismay to the planning inspector’s recommendation that the boundaries of the proposed South Downs National Park should be redrawn to exclude the western Weald, on the grounds that it is a different type of landscape from the nearby chalk downland, along with the historic market towns of Petersfield in Hampshire and Midhurst, Petworth and part of Arundel in Sussex.

CPRE has been campaigning for a South Downs National Park since 1929, when it first submitted a list of areas deserving protection to the Government’s National Parks Committee. The South Downs was then officially recommended for National Park status by Sir Arthur Hobhouse in his 1947 report to the Government, but the intense farming of the downs during the war years led to its exclusion from designation when all the other parks recommended in the report were established. After victory in the 1997 election, the Labour Government promised to create two new national parks, in the South Downs and the New Forest, as its ‘gift to the nation’. The boundaries were worked out by the Countryside Agency and designated in 2002, and a public inquiry in 2005 found that 94 per cent of those who commented on the proposals supported the designation and the majority asked for even more land to be included.

Instead, after further delay caused by a legal challenge to the New Forest boundary seeking to exclude ‘designed’ as distinct from ‘natural’ landscapes, the planning inspector who presided over the 2005 public inquiry has submitted his recommendations, proposing that the area should be reduced by 23 per cent by excluding large areas of the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Sussex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Speaking last week from the western Weald of Hampshire, Bill Bryson described the area as ‘Lightly wooded and knee-deep in ferns … one of those miraculously peaceful landscapes that seem to have slumbered unnoticed and undisturbed since the dawn of time … like a lost corner of the New Forest but, to many minds, even more scenic thanks to its long views of the steep and comely hills known as the Hampshire Hangers. It is a miracle and joy that such a refuge of perfection survives just fifty miles from Trafalgar Square.’

‘What we want’, said Bryson, ‘is for the Secretary of State to confirm the original wider boundary, including the whole of the western Weald. It is so important for the Government to get it right now and set up a National Park of which we can all be proud.’

Roman bath house for sale at £300,000

In the beautiful East Sussex town of Battle, site of the Battle of Hastings, a Roman bath house has been placed on the market with a guide price of £300,000. Described by the estate agent as ‘one of the best-preserved small Roman buildings in Britain’, the first-century AD baths were excavated in 1970 by Gerald Brodribb, an amateur archaeologist, who found evidence for two steam rooms, three plunge pools and two changing rooms with lockers, as well as painted plaster walls. Paul Roberts, Ancient Monuments Inspector at English Heritage, said: ‘the level of preservation in the baths is particularly high; they were buried by a landslide so, although the building is ruinous, we have all the material in pieces.’

The 5-acre setting of the baths includes the site of a Romano-British bloomery, described by the estate agents as ‘one of the largest ironworks in the Roman Empire’. The whole site is a scheduled monument, so the owner’s development options will be limited. Employing that extraordinarily pompous language that estate agents feel compelled to use in drawing up sales particulars, Freeman Forman says that: ‘It would be feasible for the status quo to be maintained which would merely require keeping the vegetation in check in the immediate vicinity of the Bath House, and occasional reports to English Heritage regarding the condition of the covering structure. However a discerning purchaser may wish (subject to planning permission) to construct some form of open covering in order to display the Bath House for their own satisfaction and interest, but with some limited access for interest groups. Alternatively a new owner may wish to see an educational/archaeological opportunity in building a permanent, bespoke, open or enclosed cover for the Bath House (subject to planning) and enabling public access thereby creating what would in effect be an independent Roman archaeological visitors' centre on the site.’

Sale of books loses Church of England £500,000

Ruth Gledhill and Rajeev Syal of The Times reported last week that hundreds of Bibles and manuscripts from the John Thornton Library, in the Church of England Diocese of Truro, were seriously undervalued when they were sold last year to clear shelf space. The books were sold to a Chelsea expert in theological books for £36,000, a price that astounded antiquarian booksellers at the time, one of whom described it as ‘one of the killings of the century’. The dealer who bought the books has since declared his intention to retire on the proceeds from their resale; it is estimated that auction sales alone have generated £500,000. Jeremy Dowling, spokesman for the Truro diocese and its board of finance, said that ‘Those on the management committee had no idea of the value of the material they were dealing with. The decision was made in principle that the pre-1800 collection be disposed of simply because in the past ten years no one had inquired about any book in it at all.’ The collection was originally formed by Henry Phillpotts, a nineteenth-century Bishop of Exeter, who left 2,000 books to serve the clergy of the diocese.

Save the historic pews of Ambridge!

When Salon 166 reported in June 2007 that our Fellow Sir Roy Strong was advocating a bonfire of ‘kipper-coloured Victorian pews’ to make space in churches for community activities, we predicted the formation of a new ‘Pew Preservation Society’ specifically to save endangered pews. That prediction has turned from fantasy to reality, thanks to the Victorian Society, which last week set up a website urging fans of BBC Radio 4’s long-running soap opera, ‘The Archers’, to vote to save the pews of St Stephen’s Church in Ambridge.

Following the Roy Strong agenda, the fictional vicar of St Stephen’s Church wants to make the church a venue for rock band rehearsals and badminton matches – at the expense of the pews. Members of the parochial council are horrified at the idea, and, says Dr Ian Dungavell, Director of the Victorian Society, the issues they face are ones facing many real congregations. ‘Of course pew removal has to be considered on a case by case basis,’ he said, ‘but it’s very important that people realise the benefits of pews before they are removed. Many pews are solid, practical and beautifully crafted. They require very little maintenance and can accommodate congregations of any size. What’s more, they were frequently installed as part of an internal scheme in which all the fixtures and fittings of the building work to create a unified whole.’

The vote on ‘The Archers’ homepage has closed now, and the result was 39 per cent in favour of removing the pews, 61 per cent for retention. We have yet to discover what happens in that parallel universe that is Ambridge.

SPAB Faith in Maintenance Training Days

Back in the real world, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) is running free one-day training courses throughout England and Wales for people of any faith group who use a historic building for their worship. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and the Council for the Care of Churches, the scheme provides practical training on the routine work needed to keep the fabric of a building in good condition. There are also Maintenance Matters creative workshops for young people, a dedicated telephone technical advice service, and a new website with guidance on maintenance issues and sources of further advice where you can find full details of courses near you, and sign up for an email reminder advising on monthly maintenance tasks.

The history of archaeology as an academic discipline

Pamela Jane Smith, of the Cambridge University McDonald Institute, is following up the very successful seminar she organised last year in which leading academics talked about their role in the development of the New Archaeology, with another seminar, this time devoted to reconstructing the origins of post-processual archaeology.

The seminar will take place on 22 October 2007, between 4pm and 6pm, in the Biffen Lecture Theatre, Genetics Building, Downing Street Site, Cambridge. Homemade teas will be served beforehand by volunteers from the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology from 3pm, and a wine reception will follow.

Four eminent archaeologists – Professor Henrietta Moore from the London School of Economics, Professors Meg Conkey and Ruth Tringham from the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor Alison Wylie from the University of Washington – will recount and analyse their memories and experiences of the inception of ‘post-processual’ archaeology, after which the panellists will answer questions on the transformations in archaeological theory and method that occurred from the late 1970s.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Pamela Jane Smith from whom DVDs of last year’s seminar can also be purchased (further details at

‘Bad Archaeology’

Two enterprising archaeologists have set up a new website dedicated to investigating and exposing ‘pseudo-archaeology, hoaxes and other archaeological aberrations of the modern world’. James Doeser and Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews say they are ‘fed up with the distorted view of the past that passes for knowledge in popular culture’, and that they are ‘unhappy that books written by people with no understanding of real archaeology dominate the shelves at respectable bookstores’.

Keith is a local authority archaeologist working in North Hertfordshire who says he has ‘grown increasingly concerned at the profession’s evident unwillingness to deal with bad archaeology’, while James Doeser is currently finishing his PhD in government and archaeology at the UCL Institute of Archaeology; he is intrigued by the contradictions between rigorously scientific archaeology and the view that ‘everybody has a right to understand the past in whichever way they want’.

Their heroic and selfless labour includes regular features dissecting the distortions and half truths that underlie celebrated examples of bad archaeology – the authors promise new features every week or so, and they intend to show that archaeology simply doesn’t need rhetorical tricks, paranormal explanations, the suppression of contradictory evidence or the wilful misuse of data to make it fascinating.

Consultation on immunity from seizure

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is consulting on proposals that will make it easier for museums and galleries to borrow objects from overseas collections for use in temporary exhibitions. Subject to compliance by museums and galleries with certain conditions detailed in the consultation document, the draft immunity from seizure provisions in Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 will provide lenders with a guarantee that their cultural artefacts will be returned at the end of the exhibition. In the absence of immunity from seizure legislation in the UK, foreign lenders are increasingly reluctant to lend cultural objects to the UK, and it is claimed that the quality of major exhibitions has begun to suffer as a consequence.

Museums will be invited to apply for the status of approved institutions under the Act, by satisfying the Secretary of State that their due diligence procedures are satisfactory. Museums approved under these new provisions will be required to publish information about each protected object in advance of the start of the exhibition to enable anyone who may have a claim against a particular object to raise questions about it before it comes to the UK. The consultation addresses such issues as the security implications of publishing information about forthcoming loans, the use of photographs and potential copyright issues, the level of information that should be provided to someone who may have a claim to an object and the details they should be asked to provide to demonstrate that they may have a genuine claim.

Full details of the consultation can be found on the DCMS website. The deadline for responses is 21 December 2007.

Consultation on non-compliant paints for historic buildings

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is consulting on proposals for a scheme to allow licence-holders to obtain non-compliant paint products in limited quantities for the purposes of restoring and maintaining historic buildings and vintage vehicles. Consultees are being asked whether they agree with limiting the definition of historic buildings to those that are listed, or whether there is a need to include non-listed buildings within conservation areas.

Consultation responses should be received by 12 December 2007. Further details from the DEFRA website.

‘Peer Review’: British Academy report

Peer review forms the very foundation of academic quality, and is the means by which scholarly manuscripts submitted for publication or applications for research funding are independently scrutinised by experts in that field – and yet, according to a new report from the British Academy published on 5 September, the practice and role of peer review is poorly understood, it is practised by people who have never been trained, and who receive little or no incentive or reward, and it militates against originality by upholding conformity with established views and interpretations. In many fields, the expansion in research and the sheer scale of publication means that it is difficult for experts to stay sufficiently on top of their subject to be able to give a balanced view.

In response to these concerns about the peer review process, the Academy recommends that postgraduates and junior postdoctoral researchers receive formal training to equip them to become competent reviewers. Though time-consuming and costly, the importance of peer review is such that institutions should provide resources and recognise this work as an integral part of the academic profession. The Academy also recommends that care should be taken to ensure that metrics – measures of academic performance – reflect the distinctive nature of humanities and social sciences research and are not based on existing forms of citation.

Peer Review: the challenges for the humanities and social sciences is available from the British Academy's website.

Homo erectus remains found in Georgia

This week’s Nature magazine reports that researchers from the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi have found thirty-six fossil bones from four Homo erectus individuals (three adults and an adolescent) at Dmanisi in Georgia, central Asia. A single site with so many bones from so many individuals is rare: such a large data set allows researchers to determine whether skeletal features are typical of the species or just the characteristic of that one individual. The bones are marked by animal teeth, suggesting that these four individuals were prey to carnivores.

Did Homo erectus live in settlements?

Controversially, Professor Helmut Ziegert, of the Institute of Archaeology at Hamburg University, has said that Homo erectus might have lived in settled communities up to 400,000 years ago, He believes that he has identified the remains of stone huts at excavated sites in North and East Africa. He also argues that the thousands of blades, scrapers, hand axes and other tools found at sites such as Budrinna, on the shore of the extinct Lake Fezzan in south-west Libya, and at Melka Konture, along the River Awash in Ethiopia, provide evidence of organised societies of forty or fifty people, with abundant water resources to exploit for constant harvests.

Sean Kingsley, an archaeologist and the managing editor of Minerva magazine, which published the findings, said that: ‘Ziegert is nothing if not scientifically cautious, which makes the current revelation all the more exciting’, but our Fellow Paul Bahn interprets the evidence more cautiously, saying that ‘Homo erectus was quite advanced and capable of building durable structures for shelter, but that doesn’t mean they were permanent settlements’, and Nick Barton, of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: ‘No unequivocal dating evidence is presented except that based on the typology of the artefacts. It is entirely possible that the site represents a palimpsest of material spanning the palaeolithic to the neolithic.’

Professor Ziegert intends to carry out further excavation work at Budrinna and Melka Konture over the next four years.

Ape-like wrists suggest that Homo floresiensis was a distinct species

Palaeontologists led by Matthew Tocheri of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC have made a contribution to the debate on whether Homo floresiensis is a new hominim species, perhaps evolved from Homo erectus, or whether the remains are those of a microcephalic Homo sapiens. They have examined the wrist bones from modern humans, Neanderthals and older hominins and concluded that the wrist bones of H floresiensis are evolutionarily distinct from modern humans and are closer in form to those of apes and primitive human ancestors, lacking the character of ‘modern’ style wrist bones, which allow for greater control when making and manipulating tools.

30,000-year-old site found in Sydney

In what was set up as an excavation to search for signs of convict-era occupation, a site in metropolitan Sydney has turned up charcoal, stone tools and artefacts dating from 30,000 years ago, more than doubling the age of the first evidence for human activity in the region. Dig Director, Dr Jo McDonald, said the previous oldest evidence of human habitation around Sydney had been found in the Blue Mountains (14,700 years), at Kurnell (12,500) and near the old Tempe House on the Cooks River (10,700).

‘We have always thought that humans arrived much earlier in Sydney, having made their way down the coast from northern Australia and moving inland up major rivers like the Hawkesbury and Parramatta rivers. But most of that earlier occupation evidence was drowned on the coastal plain when the sea level rose to its current height around 7000 years ago,’ said Dr McDonald.

The current site, on the corner of George and Charles Streets, may have once been part of a crescent-shaped beach on the Parramatta River. Around 20,000 artefacts have been found, including spear points, axes, anvils and grinding stones, as well as yellow volcanic stone from the Hawkesbury and Grose Rivers, prized for its flaking properties.

Did climate change kill off the Neanderthals?

The theory that an abrupt, catastrophic change in the climate extinguished the last Neanderthals was debated at the recent British Association Festival of Science in York. Professor Katerina Harvati, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, in Germany, argued that the Neanderthals living in Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar, 24,000 years ago enjoyed a temperate Atlantic climate, and that their demise predates the intense cold of the last European Ice Age.

Other palaeoecologists questioned whether the data allows the precise correlation of ancient climate records with the supposed dates of Neanderthal disappearance. Professor Clive Finlayson, Director of the Gibraltar Museum, who believes cold weather did cause Neanderthal extinction, said: ‘They are trying to match this event with a time when Neanderthals were still around and are doing alright, within the limits of being a late population. This [cold] climatic event, which they say is 3,000 years later than our occupation date at 24,000 years ago, coincides perfectly with a period of no Neanderthals and no modern people in Gorham's Cave. That was music to my ears.’

Finlayson also argued that the absence of modern humans in southern Iberia for several thousand years after the last evidence for Neanderthals at Gorham's Cave boosts the cold weather theory and shows that there were no modern humans around to compete with the Neanderthals or commit genocide – two of the alternative theories for Neanderthal extinction.

New research on the origins of cities

Recent research carried out at Tell Brak, located in northern Mesopotamia (today’s north-eastern Syria), suggests that some ancient cities grew from the agglomeration of smaller settlements rather than by the decree of centralised political power.

Analysing the pattern of surface finds in the landscape around the central mound, Joan Oates, of the McDonald Institute, Cambridge, Augusta McMahon and Salam Al Quntar, of the Department of Archaeology, Cambridge, Philip Karsgaard, of the University of Edinburgh, and Jason Ur, of Harvard University, found six distinct settlement clusters. These clusters were separated from one another, indicating social distance between the different groups. The patterns of settlement and distance from the central mound also signified autonomy from the political centre of the city.

The research – published in Antiquity for September 2007 and partly funded by the Society of Antiquaries, along with the British Academy, the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, the Charlotte Bonham-Carter Charitable Trust, the University of Michigan and Harvard University – suggests that the clusters, dating from between 4200 and 3900 BC, probably resulted from migrants coming to the city to settle for economic reasons. The distribution of later ceramics, from the period 3900 to 3400 BC, suggested that the satellite settlements expanded inwards towards the middle rather than the middle expanding out.

Ur suggests there is no single pattern when it comes to city development, and that the study points to diversity in early political structures, though: ‘some of these political structures may have been less autocratic than historians have previously assumed. Urbanism does not always appear to have originated with a single, powerful ruler or political entity. Instead, it was the organic outgrowth of many groups coming together.’

The Antiquity paper also reports on the latest excavations of fifth and fourth-millennium BC levels at Tell Brak, and presents convincing evidence for monumentality, industrial workshops and prestige goods in northern Mesopotamia well before the emergence of large urban centres in the south – turning upside down the idea that cities and civilisation originate at such southern sites as Ur and Uruk. Taken with the evidence from sites like Hamoukar, Tepe Gawra and Qalinj Agha, and at Arslantepe in south-eastern Turkey, the paper argues that the ‘world’s earliest cities’ are as likely to have been located in north-eastern Syria as in southern Iraq, and that the model of a core from the south developing a periphery in the north is now ripe for revision.

Beehives in the Near East

Archaeology students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found an apiary dating from the tenth to early ninth centuries BC at Tel Rehov in Israel’s Beth Shean Valley. Amihai Mazar, Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University, director of the excavation, said it was the earliest apiary to be revealed to date in an archaeological excavation anywhere in the ancient Near East. Three rows of beehives were found in the apiary, containing more than thirty hives, each of which consisted of a cylinder of dried clay and straw, 800mm long and 400mm in diameter with a small hole in one end for the entry and exit of the bees. The opposite end was covered with a clay lid that could be removed for the extraction of honeycombs. Experienced beekeepers and scholars who visited the site estimated that as much as half a ton of honey could be harvested each year from these hives.

Grains of wheat found next to the beehives provided the material for carbon dating. Objects found in the apiary, including a four-horned altar adorned with figures of naked female figures and an elaborately painted chalice, suggest that ritual played a part in honey and beeswax cultivation. Cylindrical clay beehives placed in horizontal rows, similar to those found at Tel Rehov, are still found in Arab villages in Israel and throughout the Mediterranean.

Pig study sheds new light on the colonisation of Europe by early farmers

An international research project, led by archaeologists at Durham University, have found two distinct genetic groups in DNA from the jawbones and teeth of pigs from European sites. The earliest domesticated pigs in Europe are related to 7,000-year-old Middle Eastern pigs that were perhaps imported into Europe as part of the Neolithic ‘farming package’. But within 500 years, a separate strain had emerged that resulted from local domestication of the European wild boar.

Durham University’s Dr Keith Dobney said that the introduction of domesticated pigs from Asia into Europe ‘lit the blue touch-paper for people to domesticate the local indigenous wild boar … we have a secondary domestication which is happening in Europe soon afterwards’. Dr Greger Larson, from Uppsala University, Sweden, who performed the genetic analysis, said: ‘The domestic pigs that were derived from the European wild boar must have been considered vastly superior to those originally from the Middle East, though at this point we have no idea why. In fact, the European domestic pigs were so successful that over the next several thousand years, they spread across the continent and even back into the Middle East where they overtook the indigenous domestic pigs.’

Mammoth found carved on Cheddar cave wall

Following the finding of Palaeolithic cave art at Cresswell Crags (Nottinghamshire) and at Aveline’s Hole and Long Hole (Somerset) members of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society (UBSS) now believe they have found a possible Palaeolithic engraving of a mammoth at Gough’s Cave, in Cheddar Gorge (Somerset). The team, led by Graham Mullan and Linda Wilson, have spent several years studying Cheddar’s caves using light emitting diodes that show up tiny details on irregular surfaces. The engraving consists of humanly engraved lines added to natural rock features to enhance the appearance of a mammoth.

Graham Mullan said: ‘Unlike our previous finds of abstract designs in the caves in this area, this is a clear representation of an animal. We are more confident that at least part of it was humanly made and the subject material places it firmly in the latter part of the last Ice Age.’

The Spelaeological Society’s research into the engravings is being carried out in conjunction with the British Museum's Department of Prehistory and Europe. Our Fellow Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper in the Department, said: ‘Had I been shown this outline of a mammoth during a visit to one of the well-known cave art sites in France or Spain, I would have nodded and been able to accept it in the context of other more obvious pictures. At Gough’s, or anywhere in England, it is not so easy. Cave art is so rare here that we must always question and test to make sure we are getting it right.

‘Opinions on this may differ but we do seem to be looking at an area of ancient rock surface and the lines which appear to form the head and back of the mammoth could have been made by a stone tool. They are certainly different from natural markings on the cave wall. This little cartoon might well represent a moment of quiet reflection by someone using the cave 13,000 years ago. It is yet another aspect of the site which suggests that the cave may have been special to the people who used it at the end of the last Ice Age.’

Listed status for ‘prehistoric’ dinosaurs and human centrifuge

The Victorian dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park have been promoted from their Grade II designation to the elite Grade I status. The 1850s sculptures are significant as reconstructions of dinosaur species that had only recently been discovered when Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built them out of brick and artificial stone on a framework of iron rods. The listing has also been extended to include the surrounding landscape, known as the Dinosaur Court, which includes a reconstruction of the geological strata of the lead mine from which the dinosaur bones derived.

English Heritage describes the sculptures as ‘the first attempt to accurately reconstruct the three dinosaur species known to the scientific world in the 1850s within their geological environment.

Also listed for the first time is a 1950s Centrifuge at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in Hampshire. The ‘Man-Carrying Centrifuge Facility’, as it was originally known, is still in use for testing the effects of acceleration and G-forces on aircraft pilots and equipment and to simulate the launch and re-entry forces experienced by British astronauts, such as Dr Greg Olsen. The centrifuge has been listed Grade II ‘for its form and technology and its role in the development of the nation’s aeronautical industry and defence’.

X-rays used to read ancient manuscripts

Scientists at the University of Cardiff have developed a technique to read scrolls without unrolling them, using x-rays that detect iron in ink, combined with a computer algorithm that can separate out the signals from different layers of parchment. Professor Tim Wess, who led the development team, told the British Association Science Festival last week that the technique could read ‘documents that are too brittle to be opened, or that are beyond the point of conservation’, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, medieval manuscripts and musical scores by Bach. To help with the development of the computer software that untangles the x-ray signals, the National Archives donated some fire-damaged eighteenth-century scrolls that have never been unrolled, due to their condition. Another target of the project is to create images of documents before they become too damaged, and advise on the most appropriate conservation methods, depending on the state of the parchment.

‘Making Waves’: conference on the future of seaside towns

English Heritage will be hosting a two-day conference in Hastings on 16 and 17 October 2007 to explore how the historic character of the country’s seaside resorts can be better protected and play a role in their renaissance, debating what sort of balance needs to be struck between heritage and contemporary experiences. The full programme of speakers and topics, along with booking details, can be found on the English Heritage website.

‘Changing History’: London symposium on British women collectors

On 15 November 2007 the new charity Friends of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, UK, is organising a symposium on British Women Collectors, to be held at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, 8 John Adam Street, London WC2, from 6pm, with a reception to follow from 7.45pm. Melanie Aspey, Director, The Rothschild Archive, will discuss the role of the Rothschilds as artists, collectors and patrons; Ann Sumner, Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, will talk about the artistic education, travel and collecting activities of the Davies sisters of Gregynog, and Dr Susan Owens, Curator, Paintings, The Victoria and Albert Museum, will give a paper entitled ‘“In spite of bombs and broken windows”: Queen Elizabeth and the arts in wartime’. Further details from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, UK.

Mucking post-excavation project: request for information

At the request of the British Museum and funded at this stage by ALSF (Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund; distributed by English Heritage on behalf of DEFRA), the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, led by Fellows Christopher Evans and Sam Lucy, has now begun a programme of post-excavation archival assessment of the vast Mucking excavations project. It is hoped that this will result in the publication of two volumes next year – respectively covering that renowned landscape’s prehistoric and Roman phases – as 2008 will mark thirty years since the end of Mucking’s thirteen-year-long excavation programme. To this end, Christopher and Sam are appealing for any information about the site’s archival holdings or specialist work that did not otherwise come to the British Museum in the 1980s.

Help RCAHMS celebrate its centenary by voting for your Treasured Place!

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) is celebrating 100 years of recording Scotland’s historic landscapes by inviting members of the public to vote for their favourite image from the RCAHMS archive. At the end of October 2007 a shortlist of the top ten images with the most votes will be revealed. These will then compete for votes throughout November and a winner will be announced in early December. The top ten images, with a selection of comments added during the vote, will feature in a major centenary exhibition to be held at the Edinburgh City Art Centre from October 2008 to January 2009. Visitors to the Treasured Places website who cannot find their own treasured place among the images are invited to nominate their own and say why it is special.

Upholding the traditional practice of the English longbow

The Honourable Artillery Company, whose splendid Armoury House, completed in 1735, is to be the venue for the Society’s Tercentenary gala dinner on 5 December 2007, will next month host a longbow shoot in the historic Artillery Garden, the extensive grounds to the south of Armoury House that were open fields until walled in the seventeenth century to create a field for archery practice. The significance of the coming event, in which members of the Fraternity of St George, established under Henry VIII in 1509 who made regular annual payments to the Guild to encourage their practice of the longbow, is that no formal shoot of this kind has been held in the area for some two centuries. Further details of this and other Fraternity of St George events ands activities can be found on their website, which also has information on tuition and bow hire designed to turn you into a novice archer with enough skill to take part in events in less than an hour.


The Society has recently been informed of the deaths of former Fellow Stan Stanford, whose funeral took place on 30 August 2007, known for his fieldwork at Croft Ambrey hillfort in Herefordshire under the aegis of the Birmingham University Extra-Mural Department, and of historian Gerald Hodgett, FSA, who died recently aged ninety and who was a familiar figure at Society meetings if only for his habit of always leaving the meeting at 6pm promptly.

From America comes belated news of the death, on 27 March 2007, of our Fellow Frederick R Matson (1912–2007), the distinguished ceramic archaeologist and Past President of the Archaeological Institute of America. Friend and former colleague Eugene N Borza says that Matson ‘gained his first field experience with the Michigan Expedition at Seleucia-on-Tigris in 1936–7 and was awarded his PhD by the University of Michigan in 1939. After a brief period as assistant curator of ceramics at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropology, Matson entered government service during World War II, serving as a ceramics engineer with the National Bureau of Standards, where he managed production schedules for special optical glasses designed for military use. From 1944 to 1948, he headed the Glass Section of the Research Laboratories of the Armstrong Cork Company.

‘In 1948 he left the private sector for the academy, and was hired as Professor of Ceramics by the then Pennsylvania State College, an institution he served with love and distinction for the next thirty years. In 1953 Matson was appointed Professor of Archaeology, the first person in Penn State’s history to hold that title, and eventually was made Research Professor of Archaeology. He spent the remainder of his academic career in teaching the history and archaeology of the ancient Near East, and in melding his expertise in the ceramic sciences with his devotion to archaeological field work.

‘Matson recognized early on that a key to the understanding of the role of ceramics among ancient peoples lay in the study of modern traditional pottery and brick makers – human activities that were quickly disappearing in the world of twentieth-century technology and materials. He devoted himself to the study of village potters, describing their techniques and materials, which in many places were largely unchanged from antiquity. In the field Matson was part excavator, part ethnographer, part ceramic scientist, and part cultural anthropologist. At home he was a classroom teacher, an advisor to graduate students, a museum curator, a laboratory scientist, and a consultant and lecturer at many academic institutions in the United States. His field work and laboratory analyses resulted in the publication of more than eighty papers and reports.’

Can you help locate the following Fellows?

Post sent by the Society to the following Fellows has been returned marked ‘unknown at this address’. We would be grateful for news (by email) of the current whereabouts of Professor Anthony Mills (last known address, The Barn Above Town, Egloshayle, Wadebridge, Cornwall) and The Hon John Thorneycroft (21 St Peter's Street, London N1).


Used without care, word processor spell checkers can replace a mistyped word with one that is similar in spelling but means something entirely different, but rarely with one so apt as the error that our Fellow Tim Clough spotted in Salon 170, with its description of the efforts to save the Kelmscott collections from the July floods. ‘As a retired museum curator’, Tim writes, ‘I can only admire the ingenuity of all concerned in assembling enough artists with “palettes” [sic] to raise the furniture above the waters’.

Gale Sieveking

Memories of Gale Sieveking continue to come in, including one possibly apocryphal story from Fellow John Collis, who writes: ‘When I was a student studying prehistory, Stuart Piggott’s Neolithic Cultures of the British Isles was a book we were all expected to read. It was commonly known as “Vultures”, due, we were told, to a former student who had decided not to finish his PhD, but then changed his mind at the last minute. The thesis was hastily typed, and full of typographical errors, including various spellings of Piggott's book, such as “Niolotic Vultures”. These were, of course, pre computer and spell-check days! Would it be possible to confirm this apocryphal story and that the student was Gale Sieveking?’

Catherine Johns, who provided the initial impetus for Salon’s series of Sieveking recollections, asks: ‘Did I tell you about the time (in the 1970s) when he was taking an object on loan to a French Museum, typically, left his passport at home, and proceeded to blag his way out of Heathrow, into Paris, and eventually back again? Not many people would even try. Only Gale could actually get away with it!’

Finally from Phil Gibbard, of the Cambridge University Quaternary Palaeoenvironmental Group, comes a tribute to the good humour and enthusiasm that underpinned Gale’s excavations and made them so memorable for the other participants. ‘Recruiting and accommodating diggers for major excavations is always difficult, but one year, at High Lodge, Gale managed to recruit a group of college students from New York, billeting them in a deserted farmhouse isolated in the middle of the Breckland, where the local rabbit population contributed to the menu. This was an experience in itself for these “city kids” and the money saved on shop-bought food increased the funding available for the excavation itself.

‘Another year he rented a large and spooky Regency country mansion near Brandon, complete with mausoleum opposite the front portico. Since the local council was about to demolish the house, there was no electricity and much of the flooring had already been taken out, so going to bed was quite hazardous – such difficulties merely serving to engender a great team spirit in the Cambridge excavation tradition (Gale himself went with Charles McBurney to Libya on one of his rigorous expeditions into the Cyrenaican desert, legendary for hard graft, extreme heat and sparse provisions that almost ran out – an unforgettable introduction to the career of an archaeologist). In fact Gale’s occupation of the building probably saved the mansion from destruction, because, at the last moment, it was spotted by a millionaire who purchased and refurbished it.’

Books by Fellows

Last week’s Post-Medieval Archaeology conference at Exeter was the appropriate venue for the launch of West Country Farms: house-and-estate surveys 1598–1764, by Fellows Nat Alcock and Cary Carson. Nat tells Salon that the book involved a thirty-year transatlantic collaboration (he is Emeritus Reader at the University of Warwick and Cary Carson was Vice-President for Research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation until his retirement last year), which ‘moved ahead only when we could get together!’.

The result is an innovative study centred on a unique source, the ‘house-and-estate’ survey, which adds detail of the village houses, outhouses and farm buildings to the standard evidence of an estate survey. Such surveys survive for twenty West Country communities and are a rich resource for examining the communities, their social structure, their houses (including evidence from standing buildings), farmsteads (again including standing buildings), the relationship of the farms to the regional economies, and contrasts in the exploitation of economic opportunities between neighbouring communities.

Fellow Neil Jackson has recently published a short monograph in Taschen’s Basic Architecture Series (in English- and German-language editions) entitled Koenig, about the Californian architect, Pierre Koenig (1925–2004), who became one of the leading figures of the Modern movement in America. Koenig’s work is perhaps best known from Julius Shulman's iconic night-time photograph of two young women sitting in the projecting, all-glass living room of Case Study House 22 (so named because it was one of two in a series of modern designs promoted by the magazine Arts & Architecture) with the lights of Hollywood spread out below.

Neil’s book is the result of his long friendship with the architect, and it includes photographs, sketches, drawings and floor plans of Koenig’s most important works presented in chronological order, with descriptions of client and/or architect wishes as well as the constructional problems Koenig faced and resolved.

Fellow Kevin Leahy (winner of the 2006 Award for the Presentation of Heritage Research) tells Salon that his book, Interrupting the Pots: the excavation of Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, has just been published as CBA Research Report 155. The book’s analysis of inter-cut urns to create a sequence of five phases for the early Anglo-Saxon period, from the mid-fifth century to the late seventh century provides an insight into the sequence of metalwork, beads and combs over the period.

Kevin points out that his title comes from that seminal study of early medieval pottery, The House at Pooh Corner (for those without a copy to hand, the allusion is to Pooh’s request for silence because ‘“there are twelve pots of honey in my cupboard, and they’ve been calling to me for hours. I couldn't hear them properly before because Rabbit would talk, but if nobody says anything except those twelve pots, I think, Piglet, I shall know where they're coming from.” They walked off together; and for a long time Piglet said nothing, so as not to interrupt the pots.’).

Fellow Bernard Morris has just donated a copy of his new book, George Orleans Delamotte: a South Wales sketch book, c 1816–1835, to the Society's Library. Bernard told Salon that the new book contains a substantial account of the life and illustrates much of the work of George Delamotte (1788–1861), the usually overlooked, but very talented, member of a family of artists active during the first half of the nineteenth century. His sketch book, now held by the West Glamorgan Archive Service, contains many accurate and pleasing views from across south Wales, focused on Swansea, Briton Ferry and the Vale of Neath. In addition to illustrating and describing these landscape sketches, this handsome publication also deals with Delamotte’s work in watercolours and oils, as a painter of miniature portraits, and as an art teacher to families of the gentry.

The price after publication will be £28, but there is a special pre-publication price of £25 (£30 by post); further details from West Glamorgan Archive Service, County Hall, Oystermouth Road, Swansea SA1 3SN; tel: 01792 636589.

Fellow Philippa Glanville will no doubt find an appropriate way to celebrate the publication of her latest book on The Art of Drinking, edited with Sophie Lee and the inspiration for a free exhibition of the same name that opens on 26 September 2007 in the Silver Galleries, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Opening the book is a quotation from a letter written home by the Barbados planter T Walduck, in 1710, that seems especially apt in view of the tavern origins of our own Society: ‘Upon all new settlements, the first thing the English do, be it in the most remote parts of the world, is to set up a tavern or drinking house’, he wrote, and with that fondness for tavern society goes a rich material culture. Wealth and social class, local custom and tradition all have their drinking vessels, from stoneware beer mugs to jade wine cups and silver goblets. This new book, which includes contributions from several V&A curators, including Fellow Robin Hildyard, explores the extraordinary creativity in the decorative arts that drinking has inspired, in advertising and interior design, in objects as varied as decorative punch bowls, corkscrews and cocktail shakers and in art that celebrates Bacchanalian revels, victories, state occasions and drinking games.

Fellow Anthony Emery says that he is perhaps destined to be better known for his latest, slimmest and already best-selling publication, Discovering Medieval Houses (normally £10.99 plus p&p, but currently on special offer at £9.99, post free, from Shire Books), rather than for his magisterial three-volume survey, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales 1300–1500. The Shire book packs much into its 176 lavishly illustrated pages, exemplifying the main themes in the development of houses in England from Norman to Tudor times, and serving as an excellent primer for the bigger study.


Heritage Lottery Fund, Chair and four Trustees
Closing date, 16 October 2007

In 2008 the Prime Minister will appoint a new Chair and four Trustees to the Board of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and its parent body, the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). The Board sets the strategic direction for the two Funds and makes decisions on grant applications. The Chair provides leadership to the Board and represents the Funds to stakeholders. Further details from the Public Appointments website or contact Mark Greenwood tel: 020 7211 2311.

IFA Workplace Learning Bursary: Medieval Pottery Specialist
Salary £14,523, closing date 28 September 2007

Hosted by Southampton City Council and the Medieval Pottery Research Group, this 12-month full-time HLF-funded IFA Workplace Learning Bursary placement offers a superb opportunity to gain experience in working with a large assemblage of medieval pottery from an urban excavation under the supervision of Duncan Brown, medieval pottery expert and Curator of Archaeology at Southampton Museums, and Dr David Williams, of the Department of Archaeology at Southampton University. Further details from, ref Y080.