Salon Archive

Issue: 178

Forthcoming meetings

Tea is served from 4.15pm, and the chair will be taken promptly at 5pm. Non-Fellows are welcome to attend as a guest of a Fellow. Please contact the Society if you need help in finding a Fellow to act as your host.

10 January 2008: The archaeology of attack: investigating battlefields in Britain, by Glenn Foard, FSA.

17 January 2008: The waterfront archaeology of medieval and Tudor London, 1973–2007: interim conclusions after thirty years, by John Schofield, FSA, and Lyn Blackmore, FSA, in association with the City of London Archaeological Trust. This first joint lecture of the Society and the City of London Archaeological Trust (CoLAT) will summarise one of the most important campaigns in European urban archaeology of recent decades. One purpose of the lecture is to raise public awareness of CoLAT’s work in raising funds for archaeological research and education in the London area, and in introducing potential sponsors to the material. Some finds will be displayed at the lecture, and there will be a wine reception afterwards.

Thursday 24 January: Ballot. Blue Papers for the 24 January ballot can be found on the website, where you can read the Blue Papers and vote online. Contact Christopher Catling if you have problems accessing the Fellows’ area of the site, or would like to register for a password.

Antiquaries Journal Volume 87 for 2007

This year’s Antiquaries Journal has now been published and copies are available for collection from the Library by those Fellows who have agreed to collect their own copies rather than having them posted. Fellows are requested to tick their names off the list when they collect their copy of the Journal.

Field trip to Ireland

After the Tercentenary lecture held in Dublin last month, a number of Fellows expressed a wish to get to know Ireland better and the idea has been proposed of a field trip to the Boyne Valley, where the monuments include the passage graves at New Grange, Knowth and Dowth, the well-preserved high crosses at Monasterboice, the first Cistercian abbey in Ireland at Mellifont, the finest Norman castle at Trim and the ‘seven churches’ at Glendalough, the ‘glen of the two lakes’. The week-long tour would take place in June or July 2008, and visits would be led by Fellows with a special knowledge of the area’s history and culture. At this stage we need to gain a sense of the scale of likely interest in such a trip, so you are invited to send an email to Salon’s editor, saying whether, in principle, you would be interested in taking part.

Wine and archaeology: change of date

The meeting that was to have taken place on 28 February 2008, on the Archaeology of wine-growing regions, will now take place on 6 March 2008. A series of short papers, introducing five European regions and the relationship between their wines and their historic landscapes, will be followed by a tasting of the relevant wines, sponsored by Fortnum & Mason. As this is likely to be a popular event, with limited capacity, tickets costing £15 have to be booked in advance.

Tercentenary colloquium in Frankfurt

As part of the Society’s Tercentenary celebrations, the Römisch-Germanische Kommission and the Society are hosting a joint one-day colloquium in Frankfurt am Main on Tuesday 20 February 2008 entitled: Archaeology in central and north-west Europe in the twenty-first century: perspectives and challenges for international co-operation. A series of papers on the megaliths, Iron Age oppida, Roman frontiers and the early medieval period will be followed by a panel discussion. The colloquium will be rounded off by a public lecture, to be given by Professor Lord Renfrew, FSA, and a reception at the Römisch-Germanische Kommission.

The event is also intended to give Fellows from the European continent an additional chance to participate in the Tercentenary, and all attending the event are invited to a celebratory dinner on the evening of 19 February.

Invitations to the dinner and the colloquium will shortly be going out to all continental Fellows at the addresses currently held by the Society. Anyone who does not receive an invitation, including those living outside the continent but interested in attending, should contact David Wigg-Wolf.

Further information, including the detailed programme, will be posted shortly on the websites of the Society and the Römisch-Germanische Kommission.

Tercentenary dinner

Three hundred years to the day, some three hundred Fellows met for dinner on 5 December 2007 at the home of the Honourable Artillery Company in the City of London, celebrating the considerably more modest meeting of the three founders of the Society – John Talman, John Bagford and Humphrey Wanley – which took place at the now-defunct Bear tavern on the Strand. The Society’s President, Geoffrey Wainwright, used the opportunity to outline the Society’s objectives for the future and to set out the fundraising challenge faced by the Society in the months ahead.

Responding, our Fellow Sir Simon Jenkins quoted a leading management guru’s view that any organisation that had not changed much in one hundred years could not be ‘fit for purpose’. ‘My impression’, said Simon, ‘is that you are probably here for keeps; you have remained the Society of Antiquaries for 300 years and I urge you to resist all attempts at modernisation – perhaps to rebrand yourselves as “The Old Uns”, or something ghastly like that.’

Simon went on to say that despite the Society’s longevity, ‘you love an intellectual argument, and when not busy blackballing each other have fought some notable causes with freshness and vigour’, including the great nineteenth-century battles over restoration versus preservation, or the numerous post-war campaigns to save historic buildings from demolition.

An appetite for the fight is as necessary now as it was in the past, Simon said, because ‘we are facing a tsunami of change from the governing classes, who demand our complicity and who are producing draconian planning legislation in order to get their way’. ‘It is a battle we must win’, he said, ‘for the benefit of society and for the sake of our countryside, uplands, coastline and historic urban landscapes’.

Minced pies and mulled wine meeting

Chaired by Vice President Tim Darvill (perhaps the youngest Fellow to have occupied the Presidential high chair for some decades), the final meeting of 2007 began with a message to our President, Geoff Wainwright, wishing him a speedy recovery from his hip replacement operation (or, as one Fellow put it on Geoff’s ‘Get Well Soon’ card: ‘may your new hip soon enable you to hop’).

Three short papers then followed in which our Librarian, Bernard Nurse, FSA, summarised the many favourable and perceptive reviews of the Making History exhibition that had appeared in the national press over the last three months and our General Secretary, David Gaimster, FSA, showed a series of ‘before’ and ‘after’ slides of the refurbishment of our public rooms, proving how quickly one forgets just how degraded, scruffy and sub-standard the 1960s decorative scheme had become, and just how much of an improvement the new scheme is.

Finally, Ian Bristow, FSA, well known to many Fellows as England’s leading expert on traditional paints, gave a paper that revealed the complexity of mid-nineteenth-century colour theory, based on George Field’s book, Chromatography (1835), which influenced the decorative schemes of buildings as diverse as the British Museum and the Crystal Palace, home of the Great Exhibition. Ian explained that the Society’s apartments at Burlington House had been decorated with water-soluble distemper, which had been lost during surface preparation for later paint schemes, but such fragments as had survived suggested that the walls were stone and lilac and the ceilings white. Because of the fragmentary nature of the evidence, the new scheme, he said, could not be an exact reconstruction, nor was it an essay in pastiche, but rather it was based on what a nineteenth-century colourist would have considered correct and appropriate, in the light of Field’s theories, but also one that provides the right ambience for the Society’s collections of paintings and furnishings.

Stonehenge decision

On 6 December 2007 we were given the news that plans to build a road tunnel beneath the Stonehenge landscape have been shelved on the grounds of cost. Instead, the Highways Agency will investigate small-scale improvements to the A303 around Stonehenge.

That evening’s BBC News broadcast an interview with our President, Geoff Wainwright, in which he said this was ‘a disappointing decision; as a result, Britain will not get the Stonehenge it deserves and the World Heritage Site will remain a public disgrace for another generation’.

Since planning permission for the new visitor centre for Stonehenge was conditional on the tunnel going ahead, English Heritage will also now have to rethink its approach to visitor management. The statement put out by the agency said that: ‘‘The decision signals the end of the project championed by the DCMS and English Heritage over the last eight years which sought to improve both the landscape setting of Stonehenge and the visitor experience … However, it is encouraging that the Government recognises that improving the setting of the stones and the visitor facilities is a priority. English Heritage will work closely with other stakeholders to look into alternative ways to achieve this.’

In its statement announcing the decision neither to build a tunnel nor to upgrade the A303 to a dual carriageway, the Department of Transport said that it would examine further the case for closing the junction of the A344 with the A303 as part of the investigation of options for improving the setting of Stonehenge. Any new plans, the Department promised, would be subject to detailed assessment and public consultation.

Our Fellow Robert Key, who has been the MP for Salisbury since 1983, said the failure to make progress on the Stonehenge landscape was ‘a tragedy and a setback’, adding that ‘The Government must still honour its promise to UNESCO to close the A334 past the stones and upgrade the very poor visitor facilities. They must also upgrade the A303 and install electronic traffic management.’ He called on the Government ministers to set up a Stakeholder Task Force to piece together new solutions to the problems of the World Heritage Site and the area’s traffic problems, and said: ‘The Government should consider the option proposed ten years ago of a new visitors centre and car park in the dip in the downs 1km to the west of the stones, accessed from the existing A344 from Airman’s Corner. This semi-permanent solution would allow new strategic consideration of how to upgrade the A303 and remove it from the landscape of Stonehenge.’

The future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme

A large question mark hangs over the future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) after a series of statements from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the Government agency through which the PAS is funded to the tune of £1.3 million a year.

The MLA itself emerged from the recent Comprehensive Spending Review facing cuts of 25 per cent in its budget over the next three years. In response, MLA is proposing to freeze the PAS budget in 2008/9 at its present level of £1.3 million. PAS has confirmed that this will mean the loss of up to five of the current fifty posts.

Beyond 2009, funding will depend on the outcome of a fundamental review of PAS. In announcing the review, Roy Clare, the MLA’s Chief Executive, wrote that ‘our intention [is] to take stock of PAS and in particular to consider whether there is scope to strengthen its day to day relationship with regional museums and further develop its outreach potential’.

British Archaeology reported in its recently published January issue that Roy Clare believes the PAS headquarters team, based at the British Museum, to be ‘inefficient’, and that ‘the taxpayer would benefit if the “headquarters and academic collation” were run in a more “corporate way” within MLA’. Roy Clare has since written to its British Museum partner in the scheme to say that this report is ‘erroneous’, and that ‘A key assumption of the review is that the BM would continue to manage the PAS and retain scholarly leadership of it, setting the professional standards that assure its authority.’

Nevertheless, there are fears that the MLA desires to integrate PAS into its regional framework, with a potential loss of national focus and leadership, and the likelihood that Finds Liaison Officers would be pulled in different ways by the varying priorities of the regional hubs. This is what might be implied in MLA’s desire to ‘further develop [PAS’s] outreach potential’, shifting the primary focus of the scheme from recording archaeological objects found by the public to supporting broader regional outreach priorities.

The MLA promises that full details of the review will be announced shortly and that the report can be expected by summer 2008. It has also said that ‘in principle the review of regional impact will be led jointly by the MLA and BM and will include members of the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group. Consultation will be planned with local authorities, regional museums and partners in the posts funded by the PAS.’

The uncertainty over the future of the PAS has led to concern amongst metal detectorists. The National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD) sent a message to members, saying that the review ‘could produce nine different regional PASs, all with their own agendas and priorities’. The Council called on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ‘get involved and, if necessary, take PAS away from MLA and place it in an organisation that is really committed to the work of PAS – for example, the British Museum’. Asking whether ‘you, as a responsible detectorist, want to return to where we were more than ten years ago’, the NCMD urged members to write to Roy Clare and to their MPs, ‘to urge the DCMS to ensure that PAS continues to be fully funded within an organisation that can give it a secure, stable and sustainable future’.

Salon readers who care about the work of PAS are also encouraged to make their views known by writing to their MPs, some of whom have already signed an Early Day Motion (No. 566), tabled by Tim Loughton, MP, on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group.

The EDM states that: ‘This House recognises the great contribution of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to transforming the archaeological map of Britain by proactively recording archaeological finds made by the public and celebrates the fact that in ten years the Scheme has recorded on its public database more than 300,000 archaeological finds, which would not have otherwise been reported, for the benefit of all; expresses concern at the likely impact of funding cuts proposed for the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council (MLA), following the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, on the PAS; and urges the Government to ensure that the scheme is at least able to maintain its current levels of activity and to consider urgently whether MLA offers the best home for the PAS or whether another body, such as the British Museum, would not be better placed to provide PAS with a long-term sustainable future.’

For the British Museum, our Fellow Andrew Burnett, Deputy Director, said that PAS ‘serves as an example to the rest of the world’, and that ‘the British Museum attaches a great deal of importance to finding a solution to the difficult position regarding funding’. He also emphasised ‘how successful the scheme is in terms of recording information that would otherwise be lost, in generating some fifty academic research projects and in demonstrating its public impact through 0.75 million web users’.

Call for ERIH journal rankings to be abandoned

Salon reported in July that attempts by the European Science Foundation (ESF) to create a ranked list of the most significant archaeological journals in Europe (the so-called European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH)) had caused anger and concern amongst academics; now the same organisation’s history journal rankings have been condemned in robust terms by the UK’s leading academic historians, including our Fellows Professor David Bates, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, and Professor Anne Curry, Co-Convenor of History HE (UK), along with the Presidents of the Royal Historical Society and the Historical Association.

A letter to Professor Philip Esler, Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), calls on the AHRC to ‘disavow immediately and publicly as inadequate the attempt to produce a ranking of history periodicals which has recently been published by the European Science Foundation as part of the European Reference Index for the Humanities’. It goes on to characterise the ERIH criteria as ‘positively harmful to the discipline … crude and oversimplified … [and] manifestly flawed’.

The ranking categories are, the letter says, ‘so imprecise and crude that any attempt to use them to assess, for example, research quality, career progression and funding-distribution will be profoundly flawed and totally indefensible. The AHRC and all involved in defending and improving the quality of research in the humanities must recognise this now and immediately withdraw support for them’.

The letter also says that several organisations are currently engaged in the production of alternative journal assessment schemes, and that any such scheme must command confidence across the humanities disciplines before it is adopted. The ERIH scheme is ‘simply an unnecessary and unwanted diversion from the serious work in which the AHRC and other bodies are engaged’.

Like the archaeological sector, historians have pointed out that ERIH has omitted or ranked as Category C publications that are of central importance internationally in their fields, and that ‘research of the very highest quality is always likely to appear across the range of scholarly journals’, not only in those ranked Category A. The ERIH rankings relate more to ‘distribution and circulation than to quality’, the letter says. This contradicts ERIH’s self-proclaimed aim of achieving better visibility for humanities research in Europe by undermining the status of journals that are regarded as ‘the very best in their fields’, but that appear to be less important because of their B or C grading or their failure to be ranked at all.

Governments need historians, says David Cannadine

Our Fellow David Cannadine, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Professor of British History at the Institute of Historical Research, says that politicians and civil servants make bad policy decisions because they lack historical knowledge. Speaking on 5 December 2007, at an event to launch a new organisation called History and Policy, an organisation that aims to connect historians with policymakers and improve public policy through an understanding of history, he said: ‘I believe Whitehall departments should have historical advisers and the government should have a Chief Historical Adviser. Historians and politicians bring very different perspectives to bear on the contemporary world and greater dialogue between them would be beneficial to the policy process. Historians can suggest, on the basis of past precedents, what might or might not work and counsel against raising public expectations that policies will be instantly effective. This would be particularly valuable in policy areas such as constitutional reform, which have a long and complex history that must be understood to make the right decisions for today.’

The event was co-hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary History Group, whose Chairman, our Fellow Mark Fisher, MP, said: ‘an understanding of history is vital to the making of policy. Most of today’s major problems have their origins in the past and there is much that governments can learn from studying the successes and failures of our predecessors. The past is with us today: in foreign affairs, in education, in social policy, in economics. Only by studying that past will we be able to avoid repeating its mistakes.’

The suggested appointment of a Chief Historical Adviser was one that evoked mixed reactions from newspaper columnists and leader writers: the Independent said that politicians were very likely to appoint ‘a courtier or, worse, a propagandist’, while Peter Riddle, of The Times, thought that the bigger challenge was not just to persuade mandarins and politicians to think historically, but to be open to discussing parallels and precedents and to be willing to be informed by them, which is a much harder challenge for any minister.

Hunter-gatherer toolkit found after 14,000 years

The latest volume of Antiquity reports on the remarkable find of a complete bag of tools abandoned near the wall of a round house and found 14,000 years later during the excavation of Wadi Hammeh 27 in Jordan. The find, which includes twenty-one flint spear tips and a sickle with a bone haft and ten flint ‘teeth’, is being hailed as the most complete and well-preserved of its kind, providing an insight into the daily life of an upper Palaeolithic Natufian hunter in the Near East.

Phillip Edwards, of La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia, who made the find, believes that the tools were originally carried in a bag of hide, wicker or bark. The sickle was designed for reaping edible plants, while the spear tips might have been used to kill gazelles. Food bones from Natufian sites show that aurochs, red deer, hare, stork, partridge, coot owls and tortoise were all consumed, but the most commonly taken species was the gazelle.

Also in the bag were a flint core for making more spearheads, some smooth stones (possibly used as slingshots), a large stone (perhaps for striking flint pieces off the core), a cluster of gazelle toe bones which were used to make beads, and part of a second bone tool.

Ancient Roman superglue

Frank Willer, Chief Restorer at the Rheinischen Landes Museum in Bonn, Germany, has discovered traces of a glue used by Roman armourers to mount silver laurel leaves on to legionnaires’ battle helmets. Preparing exhibits for the museum’s exhibition ‘Behind the Silver Mask’, which runs until 16 February 2008, he found the substance while examining a first-century BC helmet unearthed in 1986 near the German town of Xanten, on what was once the bed of the Rhine. Willer told journalists: ‘I discovered the glue accidentally, while removing a tiny sample of metal from the helmet with a fine saw. The heat from the tool caused the silver laurel leaves on the helmet to peel off, leaving thread-like traces of the glue behind.’

Despite long exposure to water, time and air, the helmet unearthed retained enough material to determine that the adhesive was made from bitumen, bark pitch and animal grease. A similar adhesive made from birch bark was found by researchers at the universities of Bradford and Liverpool in the 1990s used in repairs to ceramic vessels. So far, the German researchers have failed to recreate the Roman superglue. Willer suspects that there is a further elusive ingredient that he has yet to discover.

Deerskin shoes survive in Roman coffin

An unusual find has gone on display at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, consisting of a Roman stone coffin excavated by Wessex Archaeology in 2007. The limestone coffin, weighing three tonnes, was discovered as part of the excavation of a Roman cemetery containing over 200 burials next to a substantial Roman settlement on Boscombe Down. The coffin’s airtight seal had slowed down the processes of decay so that when the coffin was excavated, it was found to contain the well-preserved remains of a woman cradling a young child, both of whom were wearing unusual shoes. The adult’s fur-lined slippers with cork insoles are the best-preserved examples in Britain of this style of luxury shoe, which was imported from the Mediterranean, while the child’s calfskin shoes are unparalleled in Britain. The woman also wore a necklace of Whitby jet round her neck and a bronze bangle on her right ankle.

Our Fellow Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, said that traces of cloth had also survived, preserved through chemical reaction with the metal bangle. Adrian Green, Museum Director, said that ‘of the 200 Roman burials found at the site, this was the only stone coffin found, suggesting that the woman buried within was of some importance’.

Geophysical survey of Caistor

A team from the University of Nottingham has published details of a new geophysical survey of Caistor, the Roman town south of Norwich, which shows an extraordinary level of detail, including evidence for a large semi-circular theatre next to one of the town’s temples. Our Fellow David Gurney, Principal Archaeologist with Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, said: ‘The town is already well established as the most important Roman site in northern East Anglia, but the presence of a theatre is a significant indicator of the town’s status, and of the cultural facilities available to its inhabitants.’

The new survey takes in the whole of the area within the town’s walls, and shows the street plan, water system and a series of public buildings, including the baths, temples and basilicas. Buildings were clustered along the main streets of the town; peripheral areas within the street grid seem to have been empty and were perhaps used for grazing or cultivation.

The director of the research, Dr Will Bowden of the University of Nottingham, who worked with Dr David Bescoby and Dr Neil Chroston of the University of East Anglia, confirmed that the new survey had far exceeded expectations. ‘It’s not an exaggeration to say that the survey has advanced our knowledge of Caistor to the same extent that the first aerial photograph did eighty years ago,’ said Dr Bowden.

The survey also revealed some circular features that appear to pre-date the Roman town, and a large ditched enclosure that cuts the surface of the Roman street in the north-west corner. This, together with earlier discoveries of Middle Saxon coins and metalwork outside the west wall of the site and the presence of two Saxon cemeteries nearby, suggests a period of post-Roman occupation before Caistor was eclipsed by the growth of medieval Norwich.

The survey is part of the Caistor Roman Town Project, sponsored by South Norfolk Council, the British Academy, the University of Nottingham, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies and the John Jarrold Trust. Funding is now being sought to test the results of the survey through excavation. Matthew Martin, Chairman of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, which owns the Caistor site, said: ‘We are very excited not only by what has been discovered so far by the use of this new technology but by the possibilities for more discoveries as further work is done.’ More details of the site and the Caistor Research Project are available on the South Norfolk Council website.

The Viking roots of north-west England

A remarkable degree of Viking ancestry has been found amongst men living in parts of north-west England, according to researchers at the universities of Leicester and Nottingham whose paper, in Molecular Biology and Evolution, reports that 50 per cent of men with family roots in Liverpool, the Wirral and West Lancashire have gene signatures similar to those of men in modern Orkney and Norway. Along with place-name evidence, this suggests that the region was once heavily populated by Scandinavian settlers, perhaps Norse Vikings who arrived in the region after being expelled from Dublin in AD 902.

A challenge for the team was to identify people likely to have family roots in an area that experienced a huge population influx at the Industrial Revolution. To bypass this problem, the research teams searched for people with old surnames distinctive to the region. Their surname list was compiled from local documents, such as one listing men who had promised to contribute to the stipend of the priest of the altar of Our Lady at Ormskirk in 1366 and another recording the names of households paying taxes in Wirral in the reign of Henry VIII. Surnames derived from local place-names were also included.

Professor Mark Jobling said: ‘Surnames are unique cultural labels that link modern people with the past. The method of using old surname lists promises to allow us to travel back in time, sampling from modern populations in a way that reflects pre-industrial ones.’ The team plans further studies of the rest of Lancashire, as well as North Yorkshire and Cumbria, in the hope of mapping the genetic contributions of Vikings in more detail.

Four copies of Magna Carta on display for a day

Oxford’s Bodleian Library put all four of its copies of Magna Carta on display last week for a single day and attracted lengthy queues even before the doors opened. Our Fellow Richard Sharp, interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ news programme, said that only seventeen copies survive of those that were issued to every county in England first by King John in 1215, and subsequently by his son, Henry III, on three separate occasions and finally again by Edward I in 1297. The other surviving copies are in the British Library, in the National Archives, in the House of Lords, in the cathedrals at Lincoln, Salisbury and Durham Cathedral and in the Members’ Hall of Parliament House, Canberra, Australia. The only copy in private hands is to be auctioned on 18 December, when it is expected to make at least US$30 million.

Export bar on fourteenth-century pocket astrolabe quadrant

The Government has placed a temporary export bar on a portable astrolabe quadrant found in July 2005 during an archaeological watching brief beneath the clay floor of the House of Agnes, a seventeenth-century inn on the main road to London just beyond the Westgate of the city of Canterbury. It is one of only seven surviving examples of such instruments in the world, of which four are in museums in France, Germany and the USA and two are in Britain – one at Merton College, Oxford, and one at the British Museum, which is less interesting and lacks the distinctive features of this astrolabe quadrant.

The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest ruled that the astrolabe is of outstanding significance for the study of the history of science and gave it a star rating, meaning that every possible effort should be made to raise enough money to keep it in the country. The astrolabe quadrant was clearly made for use in southern England because of the folded horizon line positioned at 52 degrees north. Its provenance, relationship to the Merton astrolabe quadrant and the non-specialist manufacture all point to its being English made.

Our Fellow, Catherine Johns, Reviewing Committee member, said: ‘This small scientific instrument, with its many unique details, provides us with a vivid insight into the sophisticated mathematical and astronomical knowledge of the fourteenth century, the age of Chaucer.’ An offer to purchase the astrolabe quadrant at the recommended price of £350,000 must be made by 3 February 2008. Further details from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s website.

Michelangelo sketch for St Peter’s dome found

A previously unknown sketch by Michelangelo for the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, possibly his last design, has been found in the basilica’s offices, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has reported. The drawing, for stonecutters working on the dome, was dated 1563, the year before Michelangelo’s death. ‘The sureness in his stroke, the expert hand used to making decisions in front of unfinished stone, leave little doubt the sketch is Michelangelo’s,’ a Vatican spokesman said, adding that many drawings were destroyed by the artist, but this survived because a stonecutter used it to make notes about transporting stone into Rome.

And Leonardo da Vinci may have been an Arab

Researchers at the University of Chieti who are studying a complete fingerprint from the artist’s left index finger found on one of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings say that the central whorl of the fingerprint has a structure found in around 60 per cent of the Middle Eastern population, but rare in Europe. The suggestion that Leonardo might have had Arab genes supports the theory that da Vinci’s mother, Caterina, came from Istanbul to Tuscany as a slave. Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the museum in Leonardo’s hometown of Vinci, said that ‘contemporary documents describe her as “Oriental”. Caterina was also a name commonly given to slaves in Tuscany at the time.’

Da Vinci used his fingers to manipulate paint, and the current study is aimed at finding evidence that could be used to authenticate paintings attributed to him; more than 200 prints have been found after three years of study using spectral scanning technology, but only the one perfect specimen, on a painting called ‘Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine’.

The last days of a French rural tradition

A sad story published in the Guardian last week said that the right of French farmers to turn surplus fruit into eau-de-vie is to be overturned by a new law requiring home distillers – or bouilleurs de cru – to pay excise duty in future. At present, some 300,000 growers take advantage of their right to make up to 10 litres of pure eau-de-vie, or 20 litres of 50 per cent alcohol, tax-free. Expatriate Englishman, Robert David, who lives in the Creuse region of central France, has worked for fifteen years as one of an army of seasonal distillers who travel from village to village with his distilling equipment, helping people turn apples, pears and plums into eau-de-vie. ‘When I’m distilling, you can smell it all over the village,’ he told the Guardian, ‘and after the day’s work, we all go and have dinner; it’s a real party.’

Politicians have debated over these rights for half a century. As a public health measure, the French government abolished the hereditary part of these special rights, so most of the remaining bouilleurs de cru are now well into their 80s, so even without the new law, the practice will die out anyway.

Coal mine is Scotland’s most treasured place

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland has discovered that industrial archaeology is more popular with the Scottish public even than standing stones or Rosslyn Chapel, much visited by fans of the Da Vinci Code. Ahead of its 2008 centennial celebrations, the Royal Commission asked people to vote for the historic places they loved best in Scotland. The Lady Victoria Colliery in Newtongrange, Midlothian, which closed in 1981 and now houses the Scottish Mining Museum, came out top of the Treasured Places poll, beating more famous landmarks, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, which came second in the public vote, and the prehistoric village of Skara Brae, on Orkney, which came in at number eight. Some 200,000 people took part in the vote. In full, the top ten places went to: 1 Lady Victoria Colliery, Midlothian; 2 Glasgow School of Art; 3 King’s College, Aberdeen; 4 St Meddan’s, Troon, Ayrshire; 5 The Falkirk Wheel; 6 Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow; 7 The Standing Stones of Stenness, Orkney; 8 Skara Brae, Orkney; 9 Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian; 10 Cumbernauld Town Centre, North Lanarkshire.

Fergus Waters, director of the Scottish Mining Museum, said: ‘There is a very rich seam of coal-mining heritage just under the skin of Scotland and this result reflects that and is also a tribute to what the Lady Victoria Colliery represents as the last surviving example of a once vast Scottish industry.’

Feedback

Mention in the last Salon of the vexed question of secondary glazing in listed buildings jogged the memory of our Fellow Michael Hill, who remembered that English Heritage issued a useful leaflet on the subject in 1994 called Draughtproofing and secondary glazing, being leaflet No. 1 in the ‘Framing Opinions’ campaign, intended to protect historic glazing and fenestration. As Mike points out, conflict usually arises because of inappropriate detailing or lack of information rather than outright opposition by conservationists to the principle of secondary glazing, and he recommends the leaflet, which can be found In the HELM Guidance Library, where all current EH titles are listed in alphabetical order).

Prize winners

The Wallace Collection has won the prestigious AXA/Art Newspaper Catalogue of the Year Award for Xanto: pottery, painter, poet, man of the Italian Renaissance (Paul Holberton Publishing, ISBN 0 900 785985, £20), produced to accompany the exhibition of the same name held at the Wallace Collection in spring 2007.

The beautifully illustrated catalogue is the work of our Fellow John Mallet, formerly Keeper in the Department of Ceramics and Glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the world authority on Xanto’s work. Presenting the award, the Duke of Devonshire said, on behalf of the panel of judges: ‘This catalogue won for its sheer intellectual ambition; deeply expressing the connection between Italian Renaissance pottery and the related poetry of the time. This book communicates very vividly the aesthetics thoughts and habits of the Renaissance through a scholarly study of one man and his art.’

Lest that make the book sound overly worthy, it is worth bearing in mind that Xanto (full name Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo) was the Grayson Perry of his day, celebrated in his own time as a poet and political satirist, whose narrative and allegorical works dared to comment on contemporary events. He was, for example, virtually the only artist to depict and comment on the Sack of Rome by the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, during the equivalent of a media blackout imposed by the emperor. Again, like Perry, his work includes erotic scenes, based on illustrations by Marcantonio Raimondi of the pornographic sonnets, I Modi, by the notorious satirist Pietro Aretino, considered so obscene that they were banned and burnt by Pope Clement VII.

Salon 176 reported that David Robinson’s book, The Cistercians in Wales, published by the Society, had been awarded the Alice Davis Hitchcock Memorial Medallion by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB). Salon has now obtained a copy of the encomium, in which Fellow Frank Kelsall, in his capacity as SAHGB president, said of the book: ‘it unites archaeological analysis with an acute historically based appreciation of architecture. And though this consideration took no part in our decision it is a particular pleasure now to note that we are able to make this award in the year in which the Society of Antiquaries, its publisher, celebrates its tercentenary year. It is a great example of the way antiquarian studies have progressed in recent years.’

Frank also had the pleasure of conferring Honorary Patron status on Fellows Sir Howard Colvin and Bridget Cherry, in recognition of the lifetime’s contribution made by these two outstanding scholars to architectural history. Of Bridget Cherry, Frank said: ‘She is known for her assumption of the Pevsner mantle as principal editor of the Buildings of England, from which she is only recently retired. She has turned Pevsner’s very personal enterprise into a national institution. She has given that institution a firm base with the establishment of the Buildings Books Trust and the transfer of the enterprise from Penguin Books to Yale University Press. Bridget has also carried the torch of scholarship in architectural history in the field of building conservation. As a Commissioner of English Heritage she made sure that our subject was properly represented in decisions about the national heritage. In particular she took the lead in steering the conservation world towards an understanding of twentieth-century architecture that makes it possible to take decisions about relatively recent buildings on the basis of informed historical judgment.’

Frank said of Sir Howard Colvin that ‘his historian’s scholarship in the careful documentation of buildings brought, with the art-historical approach of Pevsner, a revolution in the study of architectural history. The first edition of his Biographical Dictionary of British Architects appeared in 1954; the fourth is currently being indexed and will be available in the New Year. In reviewing the Dictionary, Joe Crook commented that ‘it is rather like writing a reference for the Archangel Gabriel. One quickly runs out of superlatives. By making Sir Howard Colvin an Honorary Patron of this Society we are recognising not only his dedicated scholarship but also the infectious enthusiasm about buildings which he transmits to all those who come into contact with him.’

Books by Fellows

First, essential Christmas listening: Carola Hicks’s book on the history of King’s College Chapel’s stupendous stained glass – The King’s Glass – has been selected as Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’ for Christmas week (24 to 28 December), to be read at 9.45am and repeated (for night owls) at 12.30am each day. Carola is especially pleased that the book will be read by award-winning actor, Samuel West.

Next, a suggestion for any Fellow looking for the perfect Christmas present for children aged ten or over: the Independent strongly recommends the atmospheric Naxos recording of The Moon of Gomrath (CD £16.99; MP3 £10.12) by our Fellow Alan Garner. The Independent’s reviewer says: ‘The Naxos recording of Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen was one of the highlights of the catalogue a year ago, and now we have the sequel, also unabridged and read by Philip Madoc. This is one of the great fantasy novels of our time. It tells of how Susan’s bracelet gives her powers drawn from the moon, with which she must fight the evil Morrigan and save her brother from being devoured. Its use of Celtic myth and unforgettable descriptions of wintry fires makes it perfect creepy fare for Christmas.’

For grown-ups interested in archaeology, Andrew Lawson’s Chalkland: an archaeology of Stonehenge and its region might be the perfect present, and the introductory offer of free postage and a £2 discount runs until Christmas (discounted price: £23 hardback, £15.95 paperback; to order, send an email to john@hobnobpress.co.uk). The key to what this book adds to those already published this year on Stonehenge lies in the words ‘Chalkland’ and ‘its region’, for while the heart of the book is concerned with what we now know about the immediate Stonehenge landscape, the narrative draws on Andrew’s years of field work in Wessex to describe the place of Stonehenge in the much wider landscape of central southern Britain.

From popular books to the more specialist, Fellows Joyce Reynolds and Charlotte Roueché, along with Gabriel Bodard, have published the Inscriptions of Aphrodisias, which has the distinction of being the first ever online publication of an epigraphic corpus.

The corpus presents nearly all the inscriptions found on the site of Aphrodisias, in Caria, or in its civic territory, known up to the end of 1994, providing a remarkable record of civic and personal life spanning the second century BC to the seventh century AD from a site that is notably rich in inscriptions. A paper on ‘The Inscriptions’, by J M Reynolds and C Roueché, also appears in more conventional book form (pages 147 to 192) in Girlanden-Sarkophage aus Aphrodisiasas, edited by F Isik (Mainz, 2007). Charlotte says that the same team is now working on a similar presentation of the inscriptions that Joyce has recorded from Roman Cyrenaica.

The study of the origins of archaeology as a discipline and as an influence on culture and society is one of the big research themes of our age, with no less than a dozen books on aspects of this topic having been published in the last few months, quite a few of them in the Oxford Studies in the History of Archaeology series. One that tackles the subject on a global theme is A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: nationalism, colonialism and the past, by Margarita Díaz-Andreu. The book tackles the part played by archaeology in some of the really big movements and events in nineteenth-century history, from the French Revolution to western colonialisation of Asia, Africa and southern America, including the creation of national histories, ideas about ‘great civilisations’, the ‘primitive’, race, nationhood, evolution and language.

We tend, naturally enough, to think of archaeology as being concerned with historic landscapes, though recent years have seen an erosion of the point at which the past begins: Graham Fairclough and his characterisation team at English Heritage want us to explore new ways of thinking about the archaeology of England’s contemporary landscapes and to stop thinking of everything modern and new as inferior to the past and instead see it in a more positive light. In Images of Change (largely written by Sefryn Penrose of Atkins Heritage but with the help of numerous contributors, including many Fellows), arresting photographs of motorways, airports, tower blocks, power stations, wind farms, business parks, starter homes and vast shopping and leisure complexes challenge us to celebrate the process of landscape change and see twentieth-century innovations as no less valuable than those of the past.

‘The book,’ says Graham, ‘derives from a sub-programme called “Change and Creation”, a collaboration between EH Characterisation (myself and John Schofield, FSA), Atkins Heritage (Janet Miller, FSA, and others) and the universities of Oxford (Dan Hicks) and UCL (Victor Buchli).’ More on all of this in the latest issue of the Conservation Bulletin, called ‘Modern Times’, and guest edited by John Schofield, FSA (available free from English Heritage).

Vacancies

Heritage Lottery Fund, Policy Department: two posts
Salary range £42,218 to £57,380; closing date 4 January 2008

Head of Conservation
The challenge is to develop HLF’s policy and practice, provide expert advice to HLF grant programmes and be a dynamic advocate for the transformational effect of Lottery funding. You will need a demonstrable record of achievement at a senior level in the conservation of the historic environment, including the development of policy and/or strategy. Interview date: 24 January 2008.

Head of Museums, Libraries and Archives
The challenge is to develop HLF’s policy and practice, direct the Collecting Cultures grants programmes and be a dynamic advocate for the transformational effect of Lottery funding. You will need a demonstrable record of achievement in museums, including the development of policy and/or strategy, together with the ability to work across all three domains. Interview date: 31 January 2008.

For more information see the HLF website, or telephone 020 7649 6037. Minicom users should contact 020 7406 5790.