Salon Archive

Issue: 193

Burlington House summer closure

The Society's library and apartments will be closed from 25 July for the summer break, during which time major work will take place to replace the boiler and heating systems. For health and safety reasons there will be no access to the building during this period (asbestos cladding has to be removed and floorboards taken up). The advertised date for re-opening on 8 September may be subject to change depending on when the work is completed. Fellows will be informed as soon as a re-opening date is known.

Contacting the Library by email

The Library is experiencing problems receiving email, and many are not getting through to us. If you are sending an email to it is advisable to request a ‘delivery receipt’ or ‘read receipt’ message. If you do not receive a receipt, please contact us by other means: tel (0207 479 7084), letter or fax (0207 287 6967).

Access to the other Burlington House courtyard libraries

There is an agreement between the learned societies in the courtyard that Fellows and members may have occasional access to each others’ library. Fellows are reminded that if they wish to use one of the other learned society libraries – the Royal Academy, Astronomical, Chemical, Geological or Linnean – access can be arranged through the Society's Library.

The President’s contact details

With effect from 23 July 2008, Geoff Wainwright will be at March Pres, Pontfaen, Fishguard SA65 9TT, Pembrokeshire, tel 01348 881423, mobile 07899 795 891, fax 01348 881370, email Geoff says that ‘I welcome discussing any questions that Fellows might have regarding Society business if they care to give me a ring – or a visit!’.

Fellows’ Day at Kelmscott

The Society’s Tercentenary Year celebrations were officially brought to an end at Kelmscott Manor on Saturday 12 July 2008 when (even though the Fairford Air Tattoo, due to take place the same weekend a short distance away was cancelled because of waterlogged conditions at RAF Fairford) our event went ahead as planned and Fellows enjoyed a bright (if breezy) day, with a special Tercentenary cake and delicious homemade pastries, including mulberry and apple tarts made from fruit from Kelmscott Manor’s own trees. The Manor Singers sang ‘Happy Birthday’ first for the Society, then again (with audience participation) for our Fellow Tony Rook, whose birthday also fell on that day. As a souvenir of the day, Fellows were given packets of seed from the hollyhocks, irises, sweet peas and other plants from the Manor gardens to take home and sow as a memento of the day, and exhibitions were mounted around the grounds of work created during the Manor’s school study days, art workshops and the teacher training courses in creative approaches to museum interpretation that the Manor hosts.

In his speech summing up the year’s events, our President Geoff Wainwright thanked Kelmscott Manor’s Administrators, Jane Milne and Tristan Molloy, the other Manor staff and the Manor volunteers not only for their work in delivering such a successful Fellows’ Day, but also for their tireless work over a year that had seen the Manor and village flooded, a major disaster recovery programme put in place and the Manor reopened for the 2008 season in very good shape (Fellows were able to see for themselves the newly restored Green Room, which suffered most from the inundation).

He also thanked everyone who had made the Tercentenary such a success, especially Jayne Phenton, who had organised many of the events, and he wished her well for her future when she leaves the Society at the end of September. Geoff said that the Tercentenary celebrations had substantially raised the profile of our Society and that this was the foundation on which we would now build our Tercentenary Development Campaign, which is intended to raise substantial funds for Burlington House and its Library, for Kelmscott Manor and for research and publication. Geoff stressed the importance of contributions from Fellows to the campaign, saying that potential donors always asked whether the Fellowship itself was making a contribution. He thanked all those who had already made generous contributions to the development fund, and urged those who hadn’t to use the appeal form sent out in the recent mailing to do so.

Summing up, Geoff stressed ‘participation’ and ‘contribution’. The Society can only continue to thrive, he said, if Fellows take an active role, participate in the activities and governance of the Society and view the Society as a worthy object of their generosity and philanthropy.

More on Kelmscott

Kelmscott Manor needs more volunteer stewards and Fellows who live within easy travelling distance of the Manor are encouraged to join up or to encourage their friends to do so. Jane and Tristan really know how to make a fuss of volunteers, with trips and evening meetings on a Kelmscott theme, and it need not involve working more than a couple of dates during the open season. If you are willing to serve, contact

Forthcoming events at the Manor include a textile workshop (all ages) in the South Road Barn on 2 August from 2.30pm to 4.30pm, with the excellent Charlbury Morris giving a display of Morris dancing on the tea lawn from 3pm to 4pm; a Teddy Bears’ Picnic on 16 August and a concert by the MorrisLenson Guitar Duo, two very accomplished young musicians from the Royal Academy of Music who regularly perform at prestigious venues in London, on 6 September 2008 at 7.30pm.

Stonehenge consultation

The Society has set up a working group to review the latest Stonehenge proposals and to frame the Society’s response, which will be presented at the Council meeting on 9 October 2008; if any Fellow wishes to offer their own feedback, they should address them to the Society’s General Secretary, David Gaimster.

Full details of the options are contained in the Public Consultation Booklet that can be downloaded from the Stonehenge Consultation website. In essence, what is proposed is that the A344 road (which branches off north west from the main A303 trunk road and that takes traffic to the current Stonehenge Visitor Centre) should be closed, and the highway restored to grassland. Traffic heading north off the A303 would instead continue for another 1.5 miles west and take the current A360; various improvements will be needed to the road junctions along this route to ensure a smooth and safe flow of traffic.

Improving the Stonehenge Visitor Centre is the other major priority and the consultation document includes a number of options for the siting of the centre, including the redevelopment of the present site. The pros and cons of each option are considered, including the distances that visitors will have to walk to reach the stones, the benefits of improving visitor understanding of the wider Stonehenge landscape, and the impact of large car parks on that landscape.

In launching the consultation, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has stressed the desirability of completing the agreed improvements to the monument’s landscape setting and presentation in time for the 2012 Olympics.

England’s new Heritage at Risk register

In publishing the first of its new all-embracing Heritage at Risk registers, English Heritage has come up with the appalling statistic of one in twelve of the nation’s heritage assets being at risk. The figure only refers to officially designated assets – listed buildings, scheduled monuments, historic landscapes, parks and gardens, places of worship, registered battlefields and designated wrecks – so the real scale of the threat to the historic environment, taking into account undesignated heritage of local, rather than of national, significance is probably considerably higher.

In the past English Heritage has perhaps underplayed the scale of the problem in order not to present a picture so bleak as to look beyond resolution, but this year our Fellow Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, seems to have adopted the view that it is better to ‘tell it like it really is’, which includes emphasising that the ability of English Heritage to resolve the problem is not helped by cuts in budget that mean the agency now distributes only £4.4 million a year in grant aid, compared with £6.6 million a decade ago. £400 million is needed to cover the repair costs just of the one in thirty Grade I and II* listed buildings that need urgent maintenance or repair.

Simon also suggested that some owners are reluctant to take up what aid was on offer to them, and that in future years it might be necessary to ‘name and shame’ those who wilfully neglected the nation’s heritage assets.

The threats to which the heritage is prone range from visitor erosion, weathering and animal burrowing to vandalism, metal detecting and development pressures. Archaeology is most at risk – we have lost one archaeological monument a day since the Second World War, and one in five scheduled monuments is currently at risk, many from agricultural activity – but so are historic landscapes and battlefields, which are often viewed as a burden by local authorities because they represent a cost rather than a source of income: golf courses and housing estates have already been built on designated battlefields and historic gardens.

Part of the problem, as those of us who work in heritage protection know only too well, is that local authorities are often unaware of their powers and duties with regard to the historic environment (there is less excuse than ever to be so thanks to English Heritage’s admirable HELM initiative) and simply do not do enforcement. Simon asked them to think again, saying: ‘We urge local authorities to use the powers they have more often to serve Repairs and Urgent Works Notices, and indeed English Heritage will help fund them to do so’. He also called on local authorities to publish their own Heritage at Risk registers, engage owners, local people and other organisations in saving what is locally valued and to use their statutory conservation area powers more effectively.

As for the public, Simon asked them to ‘help us spot what is going on near them, let us know, talk to their local authority Conservation Officer’. It is, he said, in bullish mode: ‘time for action!’

Further information can be found on the Heritage at Risk page of the English Heritage website.

Boris pledges £60m for London’s buildings at risk

As a sign of what can be achieved if only politicians would take more seriously their duty of stewardship towards the historic environment, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, responded to the news that there are 572 at-risk listed buildings in the capital by pledging that £60m out of the £331m housing budget will be used to bring such properties back into use for much-needed housing. Recognising that not all at-risk buildings would be suitable, he nevertheless said that 210 were residential buildings, and that 140 of these (67 per cent) were vacant and 42 (20 per cent) partly vacant. He called on owners to work with their local authority to bid for money to improve the condition and use of these properties for housing.

Residential listed buildings in London which could be refurbished range from a Victorian villa in Enfield and a Gothick country house in Ealing, to the remains of a Wren church in Upper Thames Street in the City. There are also many non-residential listed buildings on the At Risk Register that could be successfully converted into housing, including a nineteenth-century sailmakers and chandlers in West India Dock Road and a former workshop and engineering works in Park Street, Southwark.

In a message to warm the hearts of conservationists everywhere, Boris said: ‘I believe, like English Heritage, that London’s heritage is possibly its greatest asset after its people. Buildings like these must be made to live again, to serve as much needed housing and to give character and dignity to our streets. I am not prepared, as Mayor, to stand by and see history, in the form of buildings like these, hit the skip.’

Heritage Lottery Fund awards

One group that is working hard to rescue a Grade II* listed Arts and Crafts building that is at serious risk is the Friends of the Watts Gallery, who need £10m to secure the financial future of the gallery, to restore the only purpose-built gallery devoted to the work of a single artist in the UK, conserve the collection, extend the education programme and establish the Watts Gallery as a centre for the exploration of Victorian art, social history and craft. Having been runners-up in the BBC’s Restoration Village 2006 competition, they have already raised over £1m in gifts and pledges and have secured a grant of £4.3m from the Heritage Lottery Fund but need to raise at least £2m more for the work to begin. See the Watts Gallery website for further information.

On a smaller scale, Daresbury’s Church of All Saints is to get £371,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help pay for a visitor centre dedicated to the author Lewis Carroll, who was born in the nearby parsonage in 1832, when his father was the vicar. The Grade II* listed church has a stained-glass window which was created in 1935 through public subscription to commemorate the centenary of the author’s birth, as well as the font in which he was baptised and a selection of old photographs of the village which depict the house where Carroll grew up. The new Lewis Carroll Interpretation Centre will house changing displays on an author credited with revolutionising children’s literature with his departure from the Victorian moralistic style.

Italian and Greek heritage at risk

Nothing so formal or as comprehensive exists in Greece or Italy to compare to England’s Heritage at Risk register, but that doesn’t mean that all is well. On the contrary, the Italian government took the unusual step on 4 July 2008 of declaring a state of emergency at the Pompeii archaeological site in order to create special powers to appoint a special commissioner for the UNESCO World Heritage site and try to rescue it from decades of neglect. In Greece meanwhile, the government announced a plan to employ hundreds of additional personnel to staff museums and open-air antiquities in the face of a deluge of complaints about the conditions experienced by visitors to the country’s prime archaeological sites.

Pompeii’s emergency status allows the government to channel funds to the site and intervene in its management. A report in Corriere della Sera pointed to a history of mismanagement, litter and looting, and the pestering of visitors by illicit tour guides, illegal parking attendants and packs of stray dogs. It said most of the 1,500 houses at the site are closed to the public, the frescoes have faded to become almost invisible and restoration work that began in 1978 has yet to be completed. Part of the site is being used as an illegal rubbish dump, and is scattered with tyres, fridges and mattresses.

In Greece, Culture Minister Michalis Liapis conceded that ‘the situation at museums and sites around the country is bad [and] has to be corrected’. National newspapers reported that many of the country’s most popular sites were partially or permanently closed – including Delphi, Mycenae and Akrotiri, while sites more resemble rubbish tips than archaeological monuments: critics point to the graffiti that has infested the historic Plaka district beneath the Acropolis and the litter-filled streets surrounding the National Archaeological Museum. The Shadow Culture Minister, Maria Damanaki, said this was the result of ‘the indifference of a government that simply does not make culture a priority. Every day, less and less funds are allocated to culture with the result that several venerable institutions are closed and the sector has around one tenth of the personnel it needs. It is a very serious problem that is hurting Greece.’

Antonine Wall inscribed as a World Heritage Site

A lifetime’s advocacy on behalf of the Antonine Wall reached an appropriate climax on 7 July 2008 when our Fellow David Breeze, Co-ordinator of the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site project for Historic Scotland, learned that the World Heritage Site Committee had unanimously approved the inscription of the Antonine Wall as a World Heritage Site.

Scotland’s Antonine Wall will join Hadrian’s Wall (whose entire length lies within the English border) and two sections of the Roman Limes in Germany as components of the trans-national "Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site’. In his speech of thanks to the World Heritage Site Committee, David said: ‘This current extension of the “Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site” will give great encouragement to other countries in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East that contain elements of Roman frontiers and who are interested in joining this significant multi-national project. The idea of creating trans-national World Heritage Sites is an excellent way of aiding international understanding and co-operation, of celebrating our shared common heritage and developing linked protection and management frameworks. Although frontiers usually divide, this particular frontier seeks to break down barriers.’

The Antonine Wall has survived remarkably intact given that it was constructed mainly of turf on a stone foundation, and only garrisoned for some twenty years (from AD 140 to 160). Stretching for nearly 40 miles (63km) from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth, about two-thirds of the wall has survived to form one of the most complete examples of Roman heritage in northern Europe. Naturally enough, David Breeze’s own recently published book, Edge of Empire: Rome’s Scottish frontier, is one of the best available accounts of the wall and its surviving features.

Twenty-seven new World Heritage Sites

The World Heritage Site Committee, meeting in Quebec at the start of July, added nineteen new cultural sites and eight new natural heritage sites to the World Heritage Site list, and agreed to the enlargement of four others.

Among the newly inscribed sites are the Archaeological Site of Al-Hijr (Madâin Sâlih), in Saudi Arabia, with its 111 monumental rock-cut tombs and its water wells, bearing testimony to the architectural accomplishments and hydraulic expertise of the first century BC to the first century AD Nabataean culture; thirteen fortified citadels along the western, northern and eastern borders of France designed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633–1707); and the astonishing tulou of China's Fujian province – multi-storey square or circular earthen structures built to house a whole village or clan of up to 800 people, dating back to the twelfth century.

The wooden churches of the Slovak part of the Carpathian mountain area (Slovakia), the city and republic of San Marino, the Rhaetian railway in the Albula and Bernina Alps of Switzerland and the Po Valley cities of Mantova and Sabbioneta, in Italy, are among the new European sites, while new sites in Asia and the Pacific region include the Armenian Monastic Ensembles in Iran, the historic Malacca Straits cities of Melaka and George Town in Malaysia and the Kuk Early Agricultural Site in Papua New Guinea. Seventeen decorated caves were inscribed as an extension to the Altamira Cave World Heritage Site, first inscribed in 1985. The caves will now appear on the list as the ‘Cave of Altamira and Palaeolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain’. Full details can be seen on the UNESCO website.

Early Neolithic house found in Berkshire

A team from Wessex Archaeology, excavating a site at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton, Berkshire, have found a building with internal partition walls that date, on the basis of finds from the gulleys and from nearby pits, to the early Neolithic (3900–3700 BC). This is one of only half a dozen structures of this date so far found in England, and in form and constructional techniques it more closely resembles some of the seventy or so Neolithic houses uncovered in Ireland (such as Newtown, Ballyglass and Tankardstown) than it does English houses of the period.

The Horton building measures 11m x 6m, with a central entrance. Three pairs of massive postholes indicate that the house had a post-built frame and gullies defined the line of the walls that appear to have been constructed from vertically set timber planks. The end walls are inwardly bowed and the long side walls protrude so as to form a sheltered entrance or veranda.

Finds from the building include numerous small fragments of early Neolithic pottery, worked flint blades, splinters of animal bone, a few grains of charred cereal and some hazelnut shells. It is hoped that phosphate analysis of the ground surface will reveal whether animals were kept in the building and that magnetic susceptibility will identify a hearth. Until this analysis has been completed, Dr Alistair Barclay, of Wessex Archaeology, leader of the excavation team, has an open mind about the building’s use, whether ‘house, community or feasting hall or cult house’. Further information, along with a reconstruction of the possible appearance of the Horton house, can be found on the Wessex Archaeology website.

British Academy Fellowships

This is the time of year when the British Academy elects new Fellows in recognition of their high scholarly distinction in some branch of the humanities or social sciences, evidenced by published work. Among thirty-eight new British Academy Fellows elected in 2008 are our own Fellows John Blair, Professor of Medieval History and Archaeology, University of Oxford, Fellow and Praelector, The Queen's College, Oxford, whose research encompasses the society, culture and landscape of early medieval England, especially the Church and parochial organisation, and Roberta Gilchrist, Professor of Archaeology, University of Reading, whose research encompasses medieval and social archaeology, particularly gender and religion; burial, magic and religious communities, including nunneries, monasteries and hospitals; Norwich Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey.

Also elected this year is Tony Wilkinson, Professor of Archaeology, Durham University, who specialises in the archaeology of the Middle East landscape over the past 10,000 years; long-term trends in settlement and population in the Middle East; geoarchaeology; and human impacts on the environment.

News of Fellows

Two other Fellows with reasons to celebrate are Phil Harding and Brian Ayers.

Dr Phil, as we will now have to get used to calling him, has been awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of the University by Southampton University. The award will be conferred at a ceremony at the University on Thursday 24 July and is for outstanding personal achievement in the field of archaeology. Phil said: ‘This is a great honour. I am delighted to have my archaeological achievements recognized by the university. As a man whose heart is in Wessex, I am particularly pleased that it is Southampton that has given this to me.’

Brian is exchanging the (dare we say) grey skies of Norfolk for the sunshine of the Ionian Sea as the new Director of the Butrint Foundation, based at the World Heritage Site in southern Albania. Brian officially leaves his current post of County Archaeologist in Norfolk at the end of August.

Thomas Cocke, FSA: memorial service

Thomas's family have confirmed that a memorial service will be held to commemorate his life and achievements on 6 October 2008, at 12 noon at St Margaret's, Westminster. An obituary for Thomas was published in the Independent on 15 July 2008 and can be read on the ‘Obituaries’ page of the Society’s website.


Antipodean Fellows were much amused by the recent letter from our President to Fellows referring to the growing strength of the Fellowship in New Zeeland; some asked if there really was such a thriving group of Fellows among the islanders of Denmark, or perhaps of Flanders; others asked whether by writing ‘New Zeeland’ Geoff was trying by degrees to hand Aotearoa over to its Dutch ‘discoverers’?

But who am I to speak: thank you to all those many Fellows who pointed out that the account of the Westminster Abbey Chapter House should have referred to Louis IX of France (St Louis, or Louis the Pious) rather than Henry IX. Despite the slip of the typing finger, Peter Bottomley, MP, writes to say that he especially enjoyed the account of the Westminster Abbey Chapter House seminar and asking if he could pose a challenge to the Society’s collective brain regarding the Palace of Westminster: ‘In the series of monarchs’ names to be found in the windows high on the west side of the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords, John and Dick are in reverse order. Does anyone know why and when this happened?’ Peter asks.

Mention of the Saxon door in the antechamber to the Westminster Abbey Chapter House as ‘the world’s oldest door’ set our Fellows Malcolm Wiener, founder with Carolyn Wiener of the eponymous Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology, and Peter Kuniholm, Professor and the Laboratory’s Director Emeritus, wondering what other claimants there might be to that title. They concluded that a much stronger claimant might be the intact Middle Bronze Age door at Acemhuyuk, made of poplar and dating from the eighteenth century BC; but that if the key criterion was that the door should still be in use, then the title might go to the doors at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul: ‘the door to the south-west vestibule of the Esonarthex (cedar logs with a sheathing of bronze) is ninth century’, writes Peter, while ‘the ones from the Esonarthex into the Naos are probably primary (I do not know what the logs inside the bronze sheathing are, but the jambs are elm, and they look pretty good against the oak from the primary phase of the sixth century)’.

What Warwick Rodwell, organiser of the Chapter House seminar, has only revealed now that the event is over, is that he has recently become a full member of the College of St Peter in Westminster (commonly known today as Westminster Abbey). Already Consultant Archaeologist to the Dean and Chapter, Warwick was admitted to the College as ‘Archaeologist’, and installed in his designated seat in the quire of Westminster Abbey in a ceremony conducted by the Dean, the Very Revd Dr John Hall, at evensong on 30 June 2008.

Warwick believes that this is the first time an archaeologist has been formally appointed to a royal foundation in this capacity (John Leland was ‘Royal Antiquary’ in all but name, but he was not officially appointed as such when, in 1533, he was commissioned by Henry VIII to conduct antiquarian research throughout England and Wales).

The College of St Peter, created by Elizabeth I in 1560, is the principal ‘Royal Peculiar’ and its corporate body comprises the Dean and Canons, and a series of lay officers which include the High Steward (Lord Hurd), the High Bailiff (Sir Roy Strong, FSA), the Receiver-General (Sir Stephen Lamport), the Surveyor of the Fabric (John Burton; Dr Donald Buttress, FSA, and Peter Foster, FSA, are both Emeritus Surveyors), the Librarian (Dr Tony Trowles) and the Keeper of the Muniments (Dr Richard Mortimer, FSA).

Fellow John Blatchly wishes to share with us a letter of his that was published in the Athens News earlier this month: ‘Dear Sir: Paleochora, in south-west Crete, was as welcoming as ever for our annual visit. The Byzantine frescoed churches of the area are always a highlight, and Anisaraki, Anydri and Kadros firm favourites. It was disappointing that the finest of all, Moni St Nicholas, north of Sougia, recently splendidly conserved, was firmly barred and bolted to visitors. The elaborate notice detailing the huge (but justifiable) costs was leaning against the churchyard wall, without mention of access. Last year we were delighted to talk to the experts working there; their job is done, but to what purpose if no-one sees it?’ John adds that ‘if many hundreds of thousands of euros were spent in this country on conserving a historic building, access and interpretation would be of the essence’.

Anyone whose interest in the history of archaeology was spurred by the mention in the last issue of Salon of the formation of HARN (the Histories of Archaeology Research Network) should be aware that membership at the moment consists of PhD students and post-doctoral researchers engaged in full-time research, but HARN does hope to establish an email-based community that anyone can join.

As a follow up, our Fellow Margarita Díaz-Andreu writes to say that the Department of Archaeology at Durham University now hosts a dynamic and expanding research cluster that focuses on the history and development of archaeology, with ten academic staff, one post-doctoral researcher and five PhD students all actively researching this area. Current staff projects include the ‘Geographies of Archaeological Knowledge’ and ‘Tales of the Frontier: political representations and practices inspired by Hadrian’s Wall’, whilst PhD research ranges from ‘Imperialism, Nationalism and the History of Archaeology in Iran’ to the ‘History of Mexican Archaeology, Nationalism and Heritage Tourism’. At least two workshops are held annually on aspects of the discipline. If you wish to receive information about them, do send an email to or see the information posted on the group’s website.

Recently spotted by Michael Silverman at Charleston House in Sussex, home of all things Bloomsbury, is a small exhibition of drawings of stone circles by Philip Hughes, which he thought might be of interest to Fellows living in the area or planning a visit before the exhibition closes on 24 August and moves to the Pier Arts Centre in Orkney. The circles portrayed include Stonehenge, Castelrigg and Swinside in Cumbria, Callanish in the Outer Hebrides and the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney. Further details on the Charleston website.

Young Archaeologist of the Year Award

‘Time Team’ illustrator Victor Ambrus has agreed to be the judge of the Young Archaeologist of the Year Award 2008 – appropriately enough, given that the theme of this year’s challenge is to submit an archaeological illustration (photograph or drawing) on the theme of ‘Fabulous Finds’. The competition is organised by the Young Archaeologists' Club (YAC) and is open to young people in the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man in two age groups: 8 to 11 and 12 to 16. In addition, there is a group category, to be judged by our Fellow Roger Bland, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum. The deadline for entries in all categories is 1 September and the winners will be announced on 10 November at the British Archaeological Awards ceremony at the British Museum. Further details are on the YAC website.


Archaeology and Education conference 2008
The Council for British Archaeology hosts its biannual educational conference on 5 to 7 September 2008 in York, beginning with a day of plenary sessions on local, national and international educational projects, followed by a day of workshops based on four themes – working with children and young people; working with the public; formal education workshops; and other initiatives (such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Young Archaeologists’ Club) – and finishing with a day of visits to archaeology and education centres within York and a plenary session of short papers sharing innovative practice and experience. For details see the conference website.

Metals in Musical Instruments
The conference, organised by the Historical Metallurgy Society on 12 to 14 September 2008 in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, promises virtuoso concert performances, academic lectures and visits to museums and collections, all in celebration of the metallurgy of musical instruments. Further information and an application form can be found on the Society’s website.

Conservation and Access
The International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works will hold its 2008 conference from 14 to 19 September at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Details may be found on the IIC’s website. The focus of this twenty-third biennial event will be on the role of conservation in the presentation and protection of the world’s cultural heritage and the many ways that conservation professionals engage in the worldwide sharing of art and heritage, whether through people going to see that heritage or the heritage itself travelling the globe.

An enigma explored: medieval art and architecture at Bristol Cathedral, 19 to 21 September 2008 at Clifton Hill House, Bristol
This conference will address many of the outstanding questions concerning the enigmatic cathedral at Bristol: the question of what (if any) pre-Norman church stood on the site; the question of the form of the twelfth-century church and its relationship to its mother house of St-Victor in Paris; the significance of the famous thirteenth-century letter from the Abbot to the Dean of Wells concerning the construction of a new Lady Chapel; the abbey's late medieval history and that of its conversion to a cathedral at the Reformation.There will be two papers on the extraordinary fourteenth-century east end, including one (from Paul Crossley, FSA) on the question of its international influence and another (from Christopher Wilson, FSA) on its date. Pevsner argued in the 1950s for an early date (1298) and a revolutionary significance; Richard Morris has more recently argued for a date a few decades later, which makes the architecture – while iconographically and formally fascinating – rather more a regional eccentricity. Christopher Wilson has long been known to favour an earlier date and he will use this occasion to outline his argument in full.

Full details are available on the conference website; the special reduced rate that was offered until 1 June has been extended for the benefit of Fellows until 1 August (please tell Debra Blackmore-Squires) that you are a Fellow when making your booking).

Textiles in Art: from the Bronze Age to the Renaissance
The Early Textiles Study Group’s twelfth biannual conference takes place on 5 and 6 December 2008, at the British Academy and Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Fellows Hero Granger-Taylor (on ‘Textiles in early Mesopotamian art’) and Maria Hayward (‘Fact or fiction? An analysis of two portraits of Elizabeth I at Jesus College, Oxford’) are among an international cast of specialist textile historians who will present new research focusing on the representation of textiles in works of art from ancient Mycenae to Renaissance Italy, by way of China, the Andes, India and Scandinavia. For the full programme and a booking form see the Textiles in Art web page.

Of poetry and archaeology

In his biography of William Camden (published by the Boydell Press, 2007), Wyman H Herendeen observes that Camden sought to write history based on documentary evidence stripped free of folklore, religion and rhetoric, but as a pioneer he lacked the data to tell a coherent story; forced to fall back on the mythic, he alternated between poetry and prose in writing his Britannia. That distinction between prosaic fact and poetic speculation was the theme of an article in last week’s Sunday Times by our Fellow James Fenton – who knows something about poetic expression, as a former Oxford Professor of Poetry (1992–9) and recipient of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry (2007) – reviewing our Fellow Barry Cunliffe’s latest book, Europe Between the Oceans 9000 BC to AD 1000.

Barry’s book, James Fenton says, is ‘a trade-off between evidence and the imagination’, and the author’s gift, he says, is to know precisely how far to go with the poetry so that his speculations are ‘if not true, then at least verifiable in principle’ – that is to say useful, and interesting, not based on a wilful distortion of the evidence, crackpot, political or religious. He is popular because he is happy to speculate, the review argues, and consequently this book ‘appeals powerfully to the imagination’ and ‘is pitched beyond the immediate circle of the specialist reader’.

The tale Barry tells is familiar to anyone who has read his earlier books – that our age has not invented long-distance travel: in Europe, human beings have been voyaging immense distances by land, river and by sea since the end of the last Ice Age, and with such travel came the cultural contacts, the exchange of ideas that have fuelled the many diverse forms of human craft and creativity that we find in the archaeological record. True, not everyone was a prehistoric backpacker. Some individuals did indeed travel immense distances, but many simply travelled over and again the short distance between one port and another: ‘cabotage’, says Barry, the transportation of goods from port to port, was the means by which innovative ideas were spread, while the bigger routes were the arteries of migration and conquest, and the means by which an Empire could be ruled and administered.

The archaeology in Barry’s book consists of distribution maps (of Swedish axes or Irish cauldrons and flesh hooks, for example) and working out what they mean in terms of trade routes; the poetry, says Fenton, is in Barry’s understanding of the impact on the human imagination of the strange, the novel and the exotic that people encountered through simple commerce and trade.

A similar theme crops up in a new book called Creating Prehistory (Blackwell Publishing, 2008), by Adam Stout, a young archaeology Research Fellow at the University of Wales, Lampeter, in which he describes the origins of academic archaeology in Britain between the two World Wars. Adam argues that the archaeologists of the day sought to create a distinctive methodology that would distance them from cognate disciplines, but especially to create distance between themselves and historians on the one hand and ‘residual antiquarianism’ on the other, an enterprise that William Boyd Dawkins set down as early as 1874 when he said that ‘Archaeology, by the use of strictly inductive methods [must grow] from a mere antiquarian speculation into a science’.

So much, so familiar, but where this book breaks new ground is in investigating the ways that archaeologists of the time responded to any approach to the past that was not strictly scientific, and in particular to devotees of Alfred Watkins’s enormously successful and influential book, The Old Straight Track. The book that introduced the concept of the ‘ley’ (now more often ‘ley-line’) was the twentieth-century’s best-selling book on ancient history, an enormous influence on popular ideas of prehistory and as such an object of especial loathing among the archaeologists of the day.

The story Adam tells (with many Fellows among the dramatis personae) is fascinating and his conclusion is challenging: life is about rhyme and reason, poetry and prose; archaeologists have gone too far towards scientific objectivity and need to be bolder in their explanations of the data. Those who deny the validity of speculation fail to engage with the wider audience for archaeology – people who then cannot be blamed if they go their own way and make up their own versions of the past – but crucially they also fail to engage with the minds of people whose material past they are studying: people whose lives were not bounded by the sensible, the reasonable, the scientific and for whom mystery, ritual, religion, poetry, drama and storytelling were central.

So we archaeologists should not be afraid to be more inventive in our interpretations, but just how far can we go? Not as far as ‘Bonekickers’, some would argue: the new BBC drama featuring archaeologists at the fictional University of Wessex has captured audiences of 6.8 million but the critics have panned it, taking it too seriously and failing to see that ‘Bonekickers’ is a spoof on the clichés found in po-faced forensic dramas. Our Fellow Mike Pitts stoutly defended the programme on Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’: ‘archaeologists do regularly come across artefacts that make you feel as if you are rewriting the ancient story of humanity’, he said. ‘Wildly preposterous’ said his sparring partner, Professor Boyd Hilton, of Trinity College, Cambridge, singling out as especially unbelievable the ‘borderline demented’ character of Professor Gregory ‘Dolly’ Parton. Obviously Boyd has never encountered our Fellow Mark Horton, advisor to the series and the model for the Parton character: says Mark of the critical panning ‘the critics simply don’t get the jokes or the inherent fun and drama that there is in archaeology’.

‘Bonekickers’ is one way to use archaeology to reflect contemporary concerns; over at the British Museum, the new ‘Hadrian: Empire and Conflict’ exhibition (from 24 July 26 October 2008) is more scholarly, perhaps, but nonetheless a similar exercise in pretending that we are telling a story about the past while really talking about the present, according to Fellow Mary Beard, writing in the Guardian. ‘He pulled his troops out of Iraq, was an avid art collector and had an intriguing, and tragic, sex life’, she says, arguing that he is the ‘one of those rare characters from the Roman world to whom, even now, we can feel quite close … the kind of political leader whose behaviour seems distinctly recognisable, whose ambitions and conflicts we can almost share.’

But, Mary argues, we don’t really know very much about Hadrian at all; there is ‘no detailed, still less reliable, account from the ancient world of what happened in his reign, or of what kind of man he was, or what motivated him’. Instead, we have the material legacy of his reign: the vivid and evocative images that fill this exhibition – a newly discovered head of Hadrian found in Turkey last summer, busts of his beloved Antinous – as well as stunning building schemes (the Pantheon, the Tivoli villa, Hadrian’s Wall). Hadrian seems so approachably modern because that is how the British Museum has chosen to present him, and in doing so they make the British Museum itself, along with history and archaeology generally, seem the more contemporary and relevant. This, argues Mary, is itself a ‘reason to visit this stunning show [and] see how the myth of a Roman emperor has been created – and continues to be created – out of our own imagination’.

The Archaeologist in Europe

The latest issue of The Archaeologist, the magazine of the Institute of Field Archaeologists, edited by the Society’s Honorary Secretary, Alison Taylor, has ‘Archaeology in Europe’ as its theme, and uses this as a hook for a number of fascinating insights into archaeological life across the continent. One article, by our Fellow Kenneth Aitchison, looks at patterns of archaeological employment across Europe and reports that the last ten years has seen a steady growth in the overall number of jobs, with a steady increase in private sector jobs and relative decrease in those working for national heritage agencies. Put crudely, he says ‘where there is private sector archaeology, there are many more jobs and more opportunities to move from country to country; where archaeological practice is heavily state based, there are fewer jobs, but these are better paid’.

Pointing to the huge boom in field archaeology in Ireland as a result of recent road-building programmes, he says that 45 per cent of archaeologists have come from other parts of Europe, including Poland and the Czech Republic; he foresees a similar growth in archaeology in the countries of eastern Europe in years to come as finance for infrastructural projects shifts towards the newer members of the European Union.

World Archaeological Congress calls for stronger protection for Tara

Many of those eastern European archaeologists are toiling at present along the route of Ireland’s controversial M3 motorway, where construction work is due to start shortly. Meeting in Ireland at the beginning of July, the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) called on the Irish Government to guarantee that there will be no further development once the motorway is complete, and that the stretch of motorway that runs through the Tara/Skryne Valley will not become a focus for commercial or residential development. In a statement issued at the end of the conference, WAC’s President, Professor Claire Smith, of Flinders University, said: ‘Tara has significance far beyond Ireland itself; its iconic significance derives from its unique cultural character … The WAC strongly encourages the Irish Government to instigate formal protection measures for this area and to consider nominating Tara for inscription as a World Heritage Site.’

The Congress, attended by over 1,800 archaeologists from seventy-four countries, also called on UNESCO to declare a World Archaeology Day, devoted to appreciation of the worth of archaeology. The motion was proposed by Professor Bayo Folorunso, of Nigeria, WAC’s Vice-President, who said that such a day would ‘enhance public understanding of the value of archaeology as a tool for unearthing our human past [leading] to greater protection of cultural heritage across the globe’.

Maritime finds

WAC also called those nations (including the UK) that had refused to ratify the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001) to ‘reconsider their position’, saying that the Convention sets out reasonable rules to protect underwater cultural heritage.

In the same week, marine archaeologists led by David Parham, Senior Lecturer in Marine Archaeology at Bournemouth University’s School of Conservation Sciences, announced the discovery of a hitherto unknown wreck dating from the seventeenth century, found half a mile from the Sandbanks peninsula during dredging work in Poole Harbour. The 130-ft long oak-timbered ship could be British or Dutch: a 4.5ft wooden figure of a merman has been recovered from the vessel, which lies in 23ft of water, along with seven iron cannon, barrel hoops, pottery fragments, a copper skillet and a silver spoon.

Ominously, though the wreck has been designated and has so far escaped the attention of treasure hunters, it is at risk from blacktip shipworm, a warm-water species more usually found in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean. X-rays of the merman have revealed that the lower half is being eaten away, and marine archaeologists fear this is possible evidence of global warming and is an ominous sign for similar wrecks still lying off England’s south coast.

In Russia, The St Petersburg Times has reported the discovery of the wreck of a battleship designed by Peter the Great in Amsterdam. Andrei Lukoshkov, head of the research team that found the ship, says that it is the 54-gun Portsmouth, which played a key role in the 1719 victory over Sweden in the Baltic Sea but that disappeared with another ship, the London, on the way back to the port of Kronshtadt. The ship lies with another wreck (possibly the London) in the waters off Kotlin Island, near Kronshtadt. ‘We are currently lobbying for an immediate raising of the wrecks to serve both as a museum and as objects for research’, Lukoshkov said.

Not what they seem: Coptic art, the Capitoline Wolf and the Phaistos Disc

New light has been thrown on some prize museum exhibits this month that suggest that not everything is as it seems. In New York, the Brooklyn Museum of Art has admitted that about one-third of its collection of Coptic sculptures and reliefs from ancient Egypt (the second largest collection in North America) are fakes. Brooklyn Museum of Art curator, Dr Edna Russmann, says that the results of the museum’s test will form part of an exhibition next February that will alert other institutions to the possibility that they too have fake pieces in their collections. Chemical testing has shown that ten out of thirty of the museum’s limestone carvings are modern, and that a further ten are of the right date but have been extensively recarved.

Rome’s iconic Capitoline Wolf has also become considerably younger as a result of recent dating. Hailed by pioneering eighteenth-century German art historian, Johann Joachim Winckelmann as a prime example of Etruscan bronze casting, and dated stylistically to the early part of the fifth century BC, it now appears that the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus dates from the thirteenth century AD. Nineteenth-century experts had already cast doubt on Winckelmann's theory and suggested the she-wolf was medieval, but their objections were ignored. It was only in 2007 that an Italian art historian and restorer, Anna Maria Carruba, published a detailed critique of the accepted view, arguing that the bronze had been cast with a method unknown in classical times and was unlikely to have been made prior to 700 AD. Conclusive tests were conducted earlier this year at the University of Salerno.

In Greece, Jerome Eisenberg, a specialist in faked ancient art, has suggested that the celebrated Phaistos Disc, ‘discovered’ in 1908 in the Minoan palace of Phaistos on Crete by Italian archaeologist, Luigi Pernier, is a fake: far from dating from 1700 BC, the clay tablet inscribed with forty-five indecipherable characters set in a spiral was made by Pernier because he was desperate to impress his colleagues with a find to compare with the discoveries of fellow Italian, Federico Halbherr, and Sir Arthur Evans. Dr Eisenberg, who has conducted appraisals for the J Paul Getty Museum, bases his claim on the neatness of the terracotta disc by comparison with other Minoan clay tablets: the edges are too clean cut and it is too well fired, he says. Other clay tablets were ‘not fired purposefully, only accidentally’ and hence display much variability in the degree of firing. His misgivings could be laid to rest by a thermoluminescence test but the Greek authorities have refused permission on the grounds that the disc is to fragile to be moved from its display case.

Finally, archaeologists from St Albans District Council who have been re-excavating Roman structures discovered by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s have been puzzled to find that the mosaic floor they expected to find is not there. The purpose of the excavation was to examine the state of preservation of the remains. Simon West, head of the digging team, now wonders if Sir Mortimer part-funded the excavation by selling tesserae; ‘it does make me worry whether this is a one-off or whether other parts of the old Roman town that were recorded by him are also missing’, he said.

Every town should have one: England’s Past for Everyone

When the Victoria County History was awarded a large Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2005 to enable academics to work on local history projects in partnership with local schools and community groups, nobody was quite sure how successful this collaboration between scholarly precision and amateur passion might be. In fact the result has been a triumph, with a series of excellent and affordable local histories published by Phillimore in paperback under the ‘England’s Past for Everyone’ banner. The latest in the series, Burford: buildings and people in a Cotswold town, was launched on 6 June and is a model of how to write and present the history of a small market town.

The book’s great advantage over the more magisterial VCH volumes is that it is copiously illustrated with maps, engravings and modern photographs. Without dumbing down, it does not assume that readers are familiar with such terms as ‘burgage’; instead, it has features throughout the book that explain the terms used by historians in analysing town morphology, showing exactly how local historians go about the process of matching the plans of buildings in the modern town with the underlying medieval plot boundaries. There are themed features on such topics as medieval shops, sheep farming and the Cotswold wool trade, fulling and finishing, medieval timber framing and the dating of vernacular buildings. The book concludes with an illustrated gazetteer of all Burford’s buildings, including interior and exterior features, dating evidence, structural changes, key occupants and the history of the building’s use.

The book provides the perfect template for any community that wants to go about researching and publishing a record of their own buildings and history. Our Fellow Simon Townley, who leads the Oxfordshire research team and who edited the book, says ‘the people of Burford were fantastically supportive’, and that a second project is now underway, looking at the development of Henley-on-Thames.


IFA Workplace Learning Bursary in Archive Archaeology, hosted by the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, salary: £14,270, closing date 25 July 2008
The post is designed to provide the successful candidate with training in the principles and practice of archive archaeology, including both objects-based and desk-based archaeological research and museums practice. A structured training plan will be managed by our Fellow Dr Dan Hicks (Lecturer-Curator in Archaeology, Pitt Rivers Museum and School of Archaeology), and Jeremy Coote (Head of Collections, Pitt Rivers Museum) and will be supervised by a range of specialists from within the Pitt Rivers Museum. For further details, send an email to

IFA Workplace Learning Bursary in Environmental Archaeology, hosted by: Worcestershire County Council Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, salary: £14,197.00 to £14,492, closing date 1 August 2008
This is an excellent opportunity to gain skills in environmental archaeology, working in a small team of environmental archaeologists who undertake a wide range of professional archaeological projects in Worcestershire and the wider region. The training will be focused on processing and sorting environmental samples, analysing environmental remains and enhancing comparative collections, and compiling mapped data to enhance the Historic Environment Record. The trainee will work under the supervision of Dr Alan Clapham, Environmea ntal Archaeologist, with support from Liz Pearson and Nick Daffern of the environmental archaeology team. Apply on line at