Salon Archive

Issue: 214

Letters to the President

Our President, Geoff Wainwright, writes to say: ‘I have already received several replies to my May letter inviting Fellows to write to me on core issues concerning the future of the Society. I look forward to many more during the summer and will respond by the end of the year. It would help to use my email address, or you can write to me at home: March Pres, Pontfaen, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire SA65 9TT.’

Online Library catalogue

Because of water damage, the Society’s servers were out of use last week and while the email server is now back in business, the library server will be down for another week. Until normal service is resumed, the best way to access our online library catalogue is to go to the COPAC home page, enter your search criteria and then select ‘Society of Antiquaries of London’ from the ‘Library’ menu.

The Society’s Annual Report

In the issue of Fellowship News sent with the recent mailing to Fellows, the wrong web address was given for the full Annual Report of Council and Financial Statement, which contains a detailed record of the year’s activities and a full set of audited financial accounts. To find that report, go to and select ‘Report and Financial Statement 2008 (PDF document, 2.5MB)’.

Stonehenge on TV (again)

Tonight (1 June) at 9pm on Channel 4, the ‘Time Team Special’ is devoted to the six year’s of fieldwork undertaken by partners in the Stonehenge Riverside Project (a team of archaeologists from Sheffield, Manchester, Bournemouth, Bristol, Preston and Birmingham universities). The programme will cover much of the ground that our Fellow Mike Parker Pearson will be addressing in his paper to the Society on 18 June 2009.

Society meetings and events

2 June 2009: ‘The birth of prehistory: commemorating John Evans’s Somme gravels lecture given to the Society on 2 June 1859’; places are still available at this half-day event, which starts at 2pm, so just turn up and pay on arrival if you wish to attend. For the full programme and timings, see the Society’s ‘News and events’ web page web page and see ‘Axe that clove creationism found at museum after 150 years’ and ‘Antiquity celebrates 1859’ below for more of the background to this event.

4 June 2009: Ballot with exhibit. Peter Stone will talk about the forthcoming ‘Catastrophe’ exhibition (see below: 15 June) under the title ‘Who was to blame for the looting of the Iraq Museum and the continuing looting of archaeological sites in Iraq? And what are we doing about it?’ The online ballot is now open for voting. If you would like to register for a password to vote online or need a password reminder, please send an email to Christopher Catling, FSA.

11 June 2009: ‘The Sir Percival David Collection in the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Chinese Ceramics’, by Jessica Harrison-Hall

15 to 26 June, 10am to 5pm: ‘Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past’, a public exhibition to be hosted by the Society of Antiquaries at Burlington House

18 June 2009: ‘The Stonehenge Riverside Project’, by Michael Parker Pearson, FSA

25 June 2009: Summer soirée: presentations on the Society’s recently published books will be given by the authors Stephen Cosh, FSA, and David Neal, FSA, on the Roman Mosaics of Britain. Volume III: South-east Britain and by the authors Paul Drury, FSA, and Richard Simpson, FSA, on Hill Hall: a singular house devised by a Tudor intellectual. Our Director, Maurice Howard, will then outline the Society’s future publishing plans.

2 July 2009: Ballot with exhibits

11 July 2009: Fellows’ Day at Kelmscott Manor, 2pm to 5pm. See the Old Kitchen, open to visitors for the first time in 2009, exhibiting a selection of wood panels from the Society’s collections, including late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century English oak carvings and nineteenth-century Icelandic bed boards. In the Marigold Room will be a small exhibition of items donated to Kelmscott Manor in recent years. Live music will be provided by the Neil Pennock Trio from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Tickets cost £14 (£6 for children aged six to sixteen). Please send a request for the number of tickets you require, a cheque made out to ‘Kelmscott Manor’ and a return address to: Fellows’ Day, Kelmscott Manor, Kelmscott, Lechlade GL7 3HJ. The last date for receipt of bookings is Wednesday 24 June. For further information contact Kelmscott Manor or tel: 01367 253348.

Axe that clove creationism found at museum after 150 years

The following report, by our Fellow Maev Kennedy, first appeared in the Guardian newspaper on 26 May 2009, and gives the background to some of the exhibits (the axe head and photograph) that will be shown at the Society’s Evans Commemoration on 2 June 2009.

‘A lump of flint that challenged creationist history and was dubbed by an eminent archaeologist “the stone that shattered the time barrier” has been tracked down after 150 years in the vast stores of the Natural History Museum in London.

‘On 26 May 1859, six months before Charles Darwin shattered the biblical creation story when he finally plucked up the courage to publish his theory of natural selection, the stone hand axe from the bottom of a French quarry was presented to the world at a lecture at the Royal Society in London.

‘Neither John Evans nor Joseph Prestwich, the businessmen and amateur archaeologist and geologist who found it, nor their distinguished audience, could guess its true age: around 400,000 years. But they did know it came from “a very remote period”, when the woolly mammoth and rhinos, whose bones were mixed up in the same layer, roamed the plains of northern France.

‘There was no way the mammoths and the man-made tool could be fitted into the traditional biblical timescale, calculated by the 17th-century Archbishop Ussher, that God made the world in 4004 BC.

‘The axe then vanished for 150 years, until it was tracked down by another archaeologist and geologist team — Clive Gamble, a professor at Royal Holloway, and Robert Kruszynski of the Natural History Museum — who publish their quest in next month’s Antiquity journal.

‘They hunted it through thousands of prehistoric stone tools in national collections. They tried the collections of the Society of Antiquaries, where the axe was last seen in public at a second lecture on 2 June 1859. Kruszynski found it at the South Kensington museum, with a minute Victorian label recording the date and quarry where it was found at St Acheul outside Amiens. A photograph showed the quarrymen who uncovered the axe, one pointing to it still half-buried in gravel.

‘Gamble and Kruszynski will take their trophy to the Society of Antiquaries next month to mark the anniversary of the 2 June lecture given by Evans to the Society.’

Antiquity celebrates 1859: an annus mirabilis in the history of science

Following on from Maev’s story, the latest issue of Antiquity (Volume 83 Number 320 June 2009) has a special section on the events of 1859 introduced by our Fellow Chris Evans, who teasingly tells us that 1859 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Billy the Kid and the death of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as well as the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, before getting down to an archaeological tribute to the work of Charles Darwin, 150 years after the publication of his On the Origin of Species.

Clive Gamble, VPSA, and Robert Kruszynski, of the Natural History Museum, then reconstruct the momentous lecture that Evans gave to the Society of Antiquaries on 2 June 1859, adding much new detail thanks to their trawl through hitherto untapped archival sources. Their re-discovery of the hand-axe — the one that Evans and Prestwich found in situ amongst the fossilised bones of extinct mammals and photographed on 27 April 1859 — brings back to view a key artefact that is no longer just a flint axe, but that constitutes the proof that underpins the establishment of human antiquity.

Chris Evans then tackles ‘Darwin’s archaeology’. Again drawing widely on unpublished material, his paper considers the range of Darwin’s archaeological connections and knowledge, and particularly the degree to which he was aware of the flint-in-gravels findings. (Darwin’s knowledge of these discoveries came largely from his close friend and protégé, John Lubbock; Darwin specifically referred to them in the 1861 third edition of The Origin when he wrote: ‘Since the recent discoveries of flint tools or celts in the superficial deposits of France and England, few geologists will doubt that man, in a sufficiently civilized state to have manufactured weapons, existed at a period extremely remote as measured by years’.)

Fellow Tim Murray then writes about a newly discovered series of paintings illustrating the ‘savagery’ of prehistoric life, which had apparently been commissioned by John Lubbock for use in his Pre-historic times (1865) and that reflect the impact of Darwinian thinking on contemporary views of early humans.

Finally, Fellow Colin Renfrew reflects on the anniversary, arguing that, ‘in a single year two of the fundamental principles for the study of antiquity were established: chronology and process’, making 1859 a remarkable year and one worthy of celebration. He also looks forward keenly to the contribution of molecular genetics in carrying forward our understanding of the mechanisms that are central to Darwin’s discoveries.

Progress on the Coroners and Justice Bill

In the Second Reading of the Coroners and Justice Bill, in the House of Lords on 18 May 2009, Lord Bach, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, announced that the Government now accepts the case for a separate Coroner for Treasure, an outcome for which our Society and the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group (APPAG) has been lobbying since the bill was published omitting this key measure.

As reported in Salon 207 in February 2009, early drafts of the bill contained provision for a coroner dedicated to dealing with all cases of Treasure from across England and Wales, but this measure was dropped from the final version. A dedicated Treasure coroner is seen as essential to resolving the delays of a year or more in dealing with Treasure inquests (the recommend period is 90 days), caused by Coroners’ heavy workloads and the low priority give to Treasure adjudication.

Introducing the Second Reading of the Bill, Lord Bach said: ‘aside from their heavy responsibilities for the investigation of certain deaths, coroners retain one residual function dating back to their twelfth-century origins; namely, the investigation of treasure finds. Following the debates in the other place, we are persuaded of the case for establishing a national coroner for treasure so that in future local coroners can devote all their time to their core responsibilities. I hope this decision will be particularly welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport and other noble Lords who have played an important role in this field and by their colleagues on the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group.’

Among those welcoming this provision during the debate was our Fellow Lord Howarth of Newport who said that it was a measure for which ‘the all-party group and the Society of Antiquaries, and the British Museum, which has statutory responsibilities for administration on behalf of the DCMS of the regime created by the Treasure Act 1996, had lobbied for’, as had ‘the National Council for Metal Detecting, which represents the vast majority of people who actually make finds of treasure’.

Our Fellow Lord Redesdale was equally grateful, but asked for three further measures that had been in early drafts of the Bill to be restored. Of these, by far the most important is extending the obligation to report Treasure from just the finder to anyone who comes into possession of Treasure. The need for this is illustrated by the British Museum’s experience in monitoring e-Bay; many vendors of finds suspected of being unreported Treasure say that they have no legal obligation to report what they are selling, as they are not the finder. The other two amendments would give the coroner the power to require a finder to hand over a find of Treasure, as opposed to just reporting it, and would extend the time within which a prosecution for non-reporting of Treasure can be brought from the present six months.

Lord Redesdale summed up his request by saying: ‘these would be three small but valuable changes. They would not be very costly but would make the job of the coroner for treasure announced by the Minister far more relevant. I believe that they would make our heritage far safer from that small minority of people among the metal-detecting community who use metal detecting for profit rather than for extending the knowledge of our heritage.’

These amendments have the support of the Conservative and Lib Dem front benches, as well as from Lord Howarth, on the Labour side; all will now be arguing in favour of these amendments when the Bill is debated at the Committee stage, on 9 and 10 June 2009.

Online auction sites reduce demand for looted antiquities

A lively debate has been sparked by an essay published in Archaeology, the magazine of the Archaeological Institute of America, in which the Director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Charles Stanish, points to new trends in antiquities trading on e-Bay. The black market for looted antiquities was, he says, once largely confined to high-end dealers. ‘Transporting an object was a big expense, even for portable artefacts, and the potential for arrest added to the total cost of doing business. In addition, the expense of authentication, conservation, and occasional restoration of the pieces, made buying and selling quality antiquities a wealthy person’s vice.’

Along came e-Bay and the fear was that the internet would democratise antiquities trafficking and lead to widespread looting. In reality, Stanish argues, ‘many of the primary “producers” of the objects have shifted from looting sites to faking antiquities. I’ve been tracking e-Bay antiquities for years now, and from what I can tell, this shift began around 2000, about five years after e-Bay was established. Today, every grade and kind of antiquity is being mass-produced and sold in quantities too large to imagine.’

This phenomenon eliminates middlemen and the forgers / craftsmen ‘can make more money cranking out cheap fakes than they can by spending days or weeks digging around looking for the real thing’. The risk from criminal charges is effectively removed from the sale of antiquities when they are not really antiquities. Even more remarkable, says Stanish, is the effect on the higher-end market, which has been swamped with ‘beautiful pieces that require intensive study by specialists and high-cost tests to authenticate’. As a result, wealthy collectors have stopped buying because they do not want to pay a high price for an ‘authentic’ antiquity that, in five years’ time, when technology enables modern and ancient artefacts to be distinguished, proves to be a copy.

‘For most of us’, Stanish concludes, ‘the Web has forever distorted the antiquities trafficking market in a positive way.’

Library news

Birmingham City Council has announced plans to build a new ‘super library’ in Centenary Square, in the heart of the city, at a cost of £193m. The 31,000 sq m glass and steel building, designed by avant-garde Dutch architects Mecanoo, will be England’s largest lending library (only the non-lending British Library is larger) and has been hailed as a part of a ‘national renaissance’ in the construction of grand civic libraries: striking new city centre libraries have recently opened in Cardiff and Swindon, a £50m library will open in Newcastle upon Tyne in June, and Manchester and Liverpool’s historic central libraries are to undergo renovations costing tens of millions of pounds each.

‘The current period is shaping up to be the equivalent of the great library building boom of the early part of the 20th century,’ said Bob Tolliday, a spokesman for the Museums, Libraries and Archives council (MLA).

Andrew Motion, Chairman of the MLA, had scathing words for local authorities who are cutting back on branch library spending, however: ‘To want to shave a few thousand pounds here and there seems barking mad. Invest in libraries and you will not only please and entertain people, but enrich them too’, he said, in response to news that thirty-four local authorities had made plans to close libraries temporarily or permanently in the last two years and that the overall number of libraries in England has fallen by nineteen in the last twelve months.

Meanwhile Cirencester’s brand new library, which Salon recently compared to a cross between Woolworth’s and a computer games arcade, has attracted further criticism from users unhappy at having to endure pop music as a result of background music designed to ‘boost the appeal of library services to younger users’. Doraine Potts, a former Oxford University languages lecturer, is campaigning for the scheme to be abolished after finding that she could not concentrate on a visit to the library because ‘music’ by the Sugababes was blaring out over its PA system. ‘It’s great to encourage youngsters to read but loud music impedes people from doing that, she said. The Guardian, in reporting on the campaign, said that ‘Shush, I’m trying to read’ might soon be replaced by ‘turn it up, I’m trying to listen to the Sugababes’.

In Oxford itself, top-shelf books in Duke Humfrey’s Library have now been placed out of bounds. The step-ladders previously used to reach the books have been removed on ‘health and safety’ grounds, and anyone requesting books on the top shelf are given a notice by staff that says: ‘Unable to fetch book kept on top shelf in gallery. Due to new health and safety measures, step ladders can no longer be used’. Library users are now complaining that they have to travel to the British Library to read books that they can see on the Bodleian’s shelves but cannot consult because of the new rules. A spokesman for the library said that the material in the books was available digitally and that the library would prefer to keep the books in their original historic location.

Royal Geographical Society votes for status quo

Many Salon readers will be aware that the Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) were recently called to a special general meeting in what was billed in the media as a ‘fight for the soul of the RGS’, viz whether the organisation should return to the ‘clear spirit of its royal charter of incorporation’ by funding large-scale field expeditions to remote parts of the globe (as it did between its foundation in 1830 and its change of policy in 2001), or whether it should devote the £500,000 that it gives in grants annually to numerous small-scale field projects (typically fifty projects a year, spanning sixty-five countries and involving hundreds of researchers).

In the end, those who wanted to restore ‘the spirit of adventure’, as the Blue Nile explorer, Colonel John Blashford-Snell, put it, lost the vote to those like Andrew Goudie, Emeritus Professor of Geography at Oxford University, who said: ‘There is no virtue in sending out lots and lots of people and making a big show of it. It is more effective to work with local field stations.’ Of the 10,500 RGS Fellows, 4,200 votes were cast, and the motion to restore big expeditions was lost by 61.3 per cent to 38.7 per cent.

What brought the debate to life for many of us, however, was the inventiveness of the reporting and the headlines, replete with geographical puns: ‘Explorers told to pack their bags’, was one example, and ‘Royal Geographical Society faces great divide’ another. The Daily Telegraph’s reporter said that ‘mustachioed men in pith helmets, striding through the jungle with a hip flask in their pocket, whistling “Rule Britannia”, have been superseded by pasty-faced dons, more at home on the campus’, while another report said ‘if you see someone posing by the South Pole with a husky, it is more likely to be a television celebrity than someone advancing the sum of human understanding’. (In passing, it is pertinent to note that Michael Palin, ex-Python and now the globetrotting television presenter, has just been elected as the next RGS President.)

But surely the best report on the debate was that of A A Gill in the Sunday Times, himself an RGS Fellow, whose account of the ‘victory for the briefcases over the rucksacks’ came under the inspired headline: ‘Dr Livingroom, I presume?’

Reminding us of Woodrow Wilson’s belief that academic disputes are so vicious because the stakes were so small, Gill concluded his account as follows: ‘At the ballot box, a chap tapped me on the arm and said: “You won’t remember me, but I once showed you round the Map Room.” I do remember, vividly: huge chests full of maps that ranged from Elizabethan guesses to Russian military maps of Mongolia, maps that had been made by men who trained themselves to walk exactly a yard a step to measure the Hindu Kush, and maps that were sewn into Spitfire pilots’ jackets. When Argentina invaded the Falklands, the Admiralty came to the RGS to get a map. The Map Room was our planet’s diary. Well, no longer. The Map Room is now used for corporate functions. The Map Room lost its maps. But the Royal Geographical Society doesn’t need them any more, because it’s not going anywhere.’

Excavating the Haua Fteah cave in north-east Libya

Our own Society includes some intrepid adventurers, not least Fellow Graeme Barker, Director of the McDonald Institute at Cambridge, who has been awarded a prestigious Advanced Investigator Grant (2 million euros over five years) from the European Research Council for the project ‘Cultural transformations and environmental transitions in North African prehistory’. Leading an international team investigating the relationship between environment and human settlement over the past 200,000 years involves re-excavating the famous Haua Fteah cave in Cyrenaica, north-east Libya (excavated by Cambridge archaeologist Charles McBurney in the 1950s), and combining this with geoarchaeological and archaeological survey in the region. The project is addressing three major research questions in African and Mediterranean prehistory: when and how did modern humans reach North Africa; when and how did farming begin in North Africa; and to what extent was climatic change implicated in these processes?

In the 2009 field season, just completed, the project began excavating occupation deposits of ‘Pre-Aurignacian’ Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherers who camped in the Haua Fteah cave perhaps 75,000—100,000 years ago (the levels still have to be dated). The team has also started excavating occupation deposits left by ‘Capsian’ Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in the early Holocene, 8,000—10,000 years ago. They found traces of domestic cereals and other domestic plants in these deposits and in a contemporary coastal cave, suggesting that Libyan hunter-gatherers were in contact with Neolithic farmers elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean.

Beads get older ...

Intrepid too is the Oxford Institute of Archaeology team working in the Grotte des Pigeons at Taforalt, in eastern Morocco. Two years ago the members of the team published a report on the pierced shell beads they found in 82,000-year-old deposits in the cave. Now the same team has announced the finding of more beads in even earlier layers. As they await precise dates, our Fellow and research team leader, Professor Nick Barton, is about to publish a paper in the Journal of Quaternary Science suggesting that bead-making could date from the start of the Aterian culture in Morocco, some 110,000 years ago.

Prior to the Moroccan discoveries, the oldest known perforated Nassarius marine shells, stained with red ochre, came form the Blombos cave in South Africa, dated to 72,000 years ago. ‘These new finds are exciting’, Professor Barton says, ‘because they show that bead manufacturing probably arose independently in different cultures and confirms a long suspected pattern that humans with modern symbolic behaviour were present from a very early stage at both ends of the continent, probably as early as 110,000 years ago.’

... as does figurative art ...

Striking pictures were carried by many newspapers in mid-May of a new find from a cave in the Swabian Jura region of south-western Germany. The 60mm mammoth ivory statuette of a female figure with exaggerated sexual features and a suspension ring in place of the head, suggesting that it was worn as a pendant, came from a context that has been tentatively dated to 35,000 years ago, making it 5,000 years older than any similar so-called ‘Venus’ figurine.

The figurine’s finder, Professor Nicholas Conard, of the University of Tübingen, argues for an even older date in his paper on the figurine in Nature (Vol 459, 14 May 2009), in which he also says that ivory-working debris was recovered from the basal deposits at the Hohle Fels cave, and that the figure could be up to 40,000 years old. In any event, it now stands as the oldest known example of figurative art, overturning the previous theory that representations of animals and therianthropic figures (part man, part beast) pre-date human figures in the development of prehistoric art.

... and China’s Great Wall grows by another 1,000 miles

Already known to stretch for around 4,500 miles (7,300km) through the Chinese countryside, the Great Wall of China has just acquired an additional 1,000 miles (1,600km) as a result of a survey carried out by the Chinese State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. The first modern survey of the entire barrier found that it consisted of 3,889 miles of wall linked by 223 miles of trench and 1,387 miles of natural defences, such as hills and rivers, adding up to a total of 5,488 miles (8,852 km), stretching from Hu Mountain, in northern Liaoning province, to Jiayu Pass, in western Gansu province. Some of the newly mapped parts of the Wall were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368—1644) and had since been disguised by sand dunes, while sections of the wall in Gansu are now eroded to little more than earthen mounds.

The Wall’s best-known sections were built around the Chinese capital during the Ming Dynasty and have been subject to major ‘restoration’. The Badaling section, just north of Beijing, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year; state media say that every brick on this popular section of the Wall has been carved with people’s names or other graffiti.

Popularity pressures on heritage sites

The Great Wall is not alone in suffering from over-popularity. The Friends of Highgate Cemetery in London have recently said that the inclusion of the burial ground in a list of London’s 100 top tourist attractions has led to a huge increase in visitors, as has its use as the setting for a new novel (Her Fearful Symmetry) by the popular American author Audrey Niffenegger. Our Fellow Matthew Slocombe, of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, says that volunteers running historic sites such as Highgate Cemetery face a fine balance between limited conservation funds and the high number of visitors: ‘ancient surfaces are precious and fragile, and with increased usage comes the risk of significant harm’, he said.

Other sites potentially at risk are St Kilda, which has seen a big growth in visiting cruise ships and others inspired to visit by TV documentaries, and Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, where visitor numbers have grown from 40,000 to 175,000 a year after it featured in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. Charles Darwin’s home at Down House has also seen visitor pressure during this 150th anniversary year: over 800 people visited the English Heritage property on Easter Monday, putting strain on what EH describes as ‘a family home with quite intimate rooms’.

America’s most endangered historic places

In America the threat to historic places comes from a combination of development, natural disasters, vandalism and lack of funds for maintenance — a litany familiar to conservationist all over the world. Not all of us, however, can count on such a high-profile personality as the Academy Award-winning actress Diane Keaton as a spokesperson for conservation values: the actress did the honours at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles recently when the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places for 2009.

Keaton cited the fact that Los Angeles itself was full of ‘great modern buildings falling to the wrecking ball’ as she announced a list that includes The Manhattan Project’s Enola Gay Hangar at Wendover Airfield in Utah; Frank Lloyd Wright’s innovative Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois; New Mexico’s Mount Taylor, a sacred site for thirty Native American tribes whose archaeological resources are threatened by uranium-mining activity; the intact nineteenth-century industrial village of Ames, in south-eastern Massachusetts, facing demolition for new development; twelve blocks of nineteenth-century buildings with cast-iron storefronts in Galveston, Texas, damaged by Hurricane Ike; a former school for freed slaves, the Dorchester Academy in Midway, Georgia; the art deco Human Services Center in Yankton, South Dakota; numerous historical buildings in Lana’i City on one of Hawaii’s eight main islands, and the first major lift bridge to be built in the eastern part of the country, Memorial Bridge, connecting Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Kittery, Maine.

‘The 22nd annual list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places reflects the extraordinary diversity and fragility of our shared heritage’, said Richard Moe, the National Trust’s President. ‘These sites highlight many critical issues, including the importance of preserving architectural icons of the recent past and preservation as one of the most effective forms of sustainable development. Places like these help tell all of our stories, and losing them not only erases a piece of our heritage, it also represents a threat to our planet’, he said.

Cambridge views under threat from tree disease

‘Capability’ Brown was commissioned to draw-up plans for the Cambridge Backs in 1779, but his plans were rejected as ‘too ambitious’, since when the view along the western bank of the River Cam has been composed of a mix of trees and sheep-grazed meadows forming the foreground to fine views of the six colleges that back on to the river (Queens’, King’s, Clare, Trinity Hall, Trinity and St John’s).

Now that view is to change, albeit not radically. Those same six colleges, along with Cambridge City Council, have agreed a felling and planting strategy in response to the bleeding canker and leaf miner diseases that have attacked the horse chestnuts that form some 10 per cent of the 1,000 trees lining the Backs. Most of those trees are now between fifty and one hundred years old and in their prime (though one veteran oak within St John’s grounds, believed to be the oldest tree on the Backs, dates from 1750). The trees will not be felled at once, so the change will be gradual: Donald Hearn, Bursar of Clare College, said the chestnuts would be felled ‘as and when they fail’. ‘The Backs’, he added, ‘is a magical landscape and we want to ensure it will stay that way for the next fifty to one-hundred years.’

New DNA research

Two new DNA studies were published in May that throw new light on African and American populations. In the journal Science, Sarah Tishkoff, of the University of Pennsylvania, publishes the results of the most comprehensive genetic-profiling exercise yet to be conducted amongst the 121 distinct populations of modern-day Africa. Among the headline results are the fact that southern Africa has the most genetically diverse group (the San people), who on that basis are judged to be directly descended from the original population of early human ancestors who gave rise to all other groups of humans; it also has the highest levels of mixed ancestry on the globe: the so-called ‘Cape-coloured’ people of South Africa have a blend of African, European, East Asian and South Indian ancestry, Tishkoff said.

The same study identifies the present-day inhabitants of East Africa living near to the Red Sea as the most likely descendants of the people who migrated out of Africa to give rise to modern Asian and European populations, while West Africans speaking the Niger-Kordofanian language were found to share many genetic traits with African-Americans, indicating that they were probably the ancestors of most of the slaves sent to the New World.

The second study, published in Molecular Biology and Evolution by researchers at the University of California, Davis, finds that Native Americans are more closely related to each other than to any other populations, except those that live at the very edge of the Asian side of the Bering Strait. A distinct DNA signature (the ‘9-repeat allele’) was found in all forty-one of the American populations sampled from Alaska to the southern tip of Chile, as well as in the Inuit of Greenland and the Chukchi and Koryak people of the Asian (western) side of the Bering Strait. This same genetic variant was absent in all fifty-four of the Eurasian, African and Oceanian groups sampled by the team. The most straightforward explanation is that all modern Native Americans, Greenlanders and western Beringians descend from a common founding population and that those ancestral founders had been isolated from the rest of Asia for thousands of years before they moved into the New World.

Obituary: Margaret Gelling

Salon would normally publish just one obituary each for late Fellows on the grounds that subsequent obituaries are largely repetitive (and often derivative) of the first (on the other hand, subsequent obituaries are published in full on the Society’s website; but for once this rule is to be broken because the following obituary for Margaret Gelling, beautifully composed by Adrian Midgley for The Economist, is not only different in content to many obituaries, it also vividly conveys a sense of Margaret as a person and of her pioneering methodology in rediscovering the precise topographical descriptions preserved in English place names.

‘At Wivenhoe, in Essex, the low line of the hills has the shape of the heels of a person lying face-down. The name contains the shape: a hoh is a ridge that rises to a point and has a concave end. At Wooller in Northumberland, however, the hilltop is level, with a convex sloping shoulder. The hidden word here is ofer, “a flat-topped ridge”. Early Anglo-Saxon settlers in England, observing, walking and working the landscape, defined its ups and downs with a subtlety largely missing from modern, motorised English. Dozens of words, none of them synonymous, described the look of a hill, the angle of slope and the way trees grew upon it. And after the Anglo-Saxons, no one looked at the landscape in quite that way until Margaret Gelling.

‘She was a neat, keen, merry woman, “prissy” as she described herself, and sensibly shod and clad. The gear was appropriate for slopping through slæp, fenn, myrr and slohtre (the disappointing origin of Upper and Lower Slaughter), or stomping through leah, hurst, holt and græfe, where trees were felled and coppiced and axes rang in the woods. Though she spent much of the time with her nose in one-inch Ordnance Survey maps, tracking the contour lines, she found them a “coarse instrument” for her purpose. When it came to understanding English place names, there was no substitute for donning your wellies and using your eyes.

‘Mrs Gelling worked for the English Place-Name Society, formally and informally, from 1946. From 1986 to 1998 she was its president. She never held an academic post, but lectured widely, wrote a dozen books and produced three of the county surveys of place names. She was devoted to the proposition that names drawn from the landscape were not trivial or accidental, but original and important. All her passion for argument was employed to prove that hamm, a piece of land almost enclosed by water, was as vital a suffix as ham, a man-made enclosure; that an ending in -den might come from denu, a long and sinuous valley, rather than denn, a woodland pig-pasture; and that the hall in Coggeshall came from halh, a nook or a hollow, not some grand building. Cogg’s nook, a little recess tucked into the 150-foot contour line, was perhaps the best place where he could put his hut. With Mrs Gelling, topography always came first.

‘No subtlety escaped her. The suffix fyrhth was not simply wood, but “scrubland at the edge of the forest”. The word wæss was not just swamp, but — she was particularly proud of this — “land by a meandering river which floods and drains quickly”. She had observed this herself at Buildwas, on the winding Severn in Shropshire, where between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon the flooding river drained from the land “as if a plug had been pulled out”. A feld was not necessarily ground broken for arable, but any open country in the almost all-covering fifth-century forest. And an ærn was not merely a house, but a place where something was stored in bulk and worked on: so that Brewerne, in Cambridgeshire, acquired a smell of beer, and Colerne, in Wiltshire, a dusting of charcoal.

‘This “obsession”, as she happily called it, seemed to have begun at St Hilda’s in Oxford, where she found her English course boring, but was encouraged by Dorothy Whitelock to look at place names. They appealed immediately to the socialist, even communist, instincts with which she liked to shock her parents. Most of the place names of England had been bestowed not by officialdom, or in deference to knights, earls or kings, but by ordinary peasants coping with flooded pasture or looking over the hills. That habit had long died out; but as a resident of Birmingham (“village of Beorma’s people”) for most of her life, she liked to think that Spaghetti Junction, the giant intersection of roads just north of the city, was a solitary modern example of the will of the people expressed in a name.

‘She was less egalitarian when it came to the business of sorting out what names meant. There were too many snares and snags involved “to invite general participation in the process of suggesting etymologies”. Who, for example, would catch that Chiswick and Keswick both meant “cheese-farm”, or that the tasty-sounding Fryup, in Yorkshire, meant “Frig’s remote valley”? Who could safely sort out ea, as in Eton, meaning a river, from ey, Old Norse for island? Who would dare to hazard a meaning for Wixhill and Wingfield, if she herself left them as “obscure”?

‘Nonetheless, she was grateful when locals got in touch with her: telling her, for example, that the stream at Winsor in Hampshire was too tiny to carry the meaning, “river-bank where boats are pulled by a windlass”, she had posited for Windsor in Berkshire. She was delighted to think that the public, reading her books, would suddenly learn to read their habitat, and see it with completely different eyes. At Hartside in Cumbria, for example, a white deer would suddenly flash through the woods; at Earley, in Berkshire, white-tailed eagles would fly above a clearing. And better still, in the soulless suburbs of south London, Penge now marked “the wood’s end”, and Croydon became “the valley where wild saffron grows”.’


Proof of the power and collective knowledge of the Fellowship (as if any were needed) came within seconds of Salon 213’s distribution on 18 May 2009, when our Fellow Charles Hind was hit by a flurry of emails identifying the view in the John Sell Cotman watercolour, ‘Interior of a great hall’, which Charles asked for help in identifying (see the painting on the Society’s website. Among those who identified the subject as the now-demolished dormitory of the Ipswich Blackfriars were Fellows Diarmaid MacCulloch and John Blatchly. Dr Blatchly commented: ‘This marvellous image shows the dormitory of the Ipswich Blackfriars which was the home of the ancient town library of Ipswich from 1614 to 1767, when the Grammar School used it for the main schoolroom until 1842.’ Charles Hind says that ‘Dr Blatchly is the school archivist so we could not have a more authoritative source. Salon has yet again proved its immense value! Thank you’.

A recent issue of Salon reported on the demise of the Civic Trust, the fifty-year-old architectural charity that went into administration in April. English Heritage has now announced that it will take back the running of Heritage Open Days, England’s biggest voluntary cultural event, previously managed by the Civic Trust with EH support and funding. This year’s event will see more than 3,500 historic and unusual buildings open their doors to the public for free on 10 to 13 September. No information is yet available about the future of the Civic Trust’s other responsibilities, including the Civic Trust Awards, recognising outstanding architecture, planning and design, nor about the future of the Trust’s important archive.

With English Heritage now a mere three weeks away from announcing the results of its survey into the state of England’s Conservation Areas, the theme of this year’s Heritage at Risk survey, Fellow Eddie Booth, President of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, writes to pay tribute to the late Lord Kennet, who died on 7 May 2009, at the age of eighty-five. ‘Kennet may not have been a Fellow’, says Eddie, ‘but his legacy to the historic environment has been far reaching.’ Indeed it has: many of us have a treasured copy of Lord Kennet’s book Preservation (1972), in which he sets out lucidly the case for the state’s role in heritage conservation (and shows, by the by, how late the UK was to legislate for this — it is a powerful corrective to those who might be tempted to think that we led the field in this area to discover just how many European states were ahead of us); the book also sets out the thinking that went into the Civic Amenities Act 1969, which Kennet championed and steered through parliament as Secretary of State for Housing and Local Government in the first Wilson government, and that led to the creation of Conservation Areas.

Few of the obituaries that have appeared for Lord Kennet have mentioned this critically important act — still one of the few pieces of pro-heritage legislation on the statute book — though several mentioned that he was the minister who presided over the first listing of a London pub, and The Times obituary reminds us that: ‘One of his duties was to authorise conservation orders, preserving among other landmark buildings the Guards’ barracks on Birdcage Walk. A decision now recognised as momentous — but at the time contentious within the department — was his refusal to authorise the destruction of St Pancras Station and Hotel.’ In later years, Lord Kennet was Chairman of the Stonehenge Alliance, which opposed the Government’s now defunct ‘short-tunnel’ scheme for the upgrading of the A303 at Stonehenge.

Mention of the Select Committee Report on the Licensing Act 2003 in the last issue of Salon brought an email from Glosfolk, a Gloucestershire-based organisation ‘Working to keep traditional music alive and kicking in the county’. Like Salon’s editor, Glosfolk fears that, without further pressure, the Select Committee’s sensible proposals for amending the act in favour of live acoustic musical performances will be quietly dropped. They are urging members and supporters to lobby DCMS, MPs and local councillors to bring in the recommendations as soon as possible, and they urge others to do the same.

Current consultations

The Government is asking for views on its proposed new policy on archives. The main proposals in the consultation document, Archives for the 21st century, are fewer, bigger and better archives, based on integration and collaboration, plus a co-ordinated response to managing digital information, and comprehensive online access to archival materials. The consultation will run until 12 August 2009. To take part, see the National Archives website.

In Scotland, views are being sought on the Ancient Monuments and Listed Buildings (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. The Bill is described as ‘an amending piece of legislation’, resulting from the review undertaken by the Historic Environment Advisory Council for Scotland (HEACS) in 2007, when it considered whether there was a need to review heritage protection legislation in Scotland along similar lines to the Heritage Protection Review in England and Wales. That report concluded that there was no need for a comprehensive rewriting of historic environment legislation, but that there were gaps and weaknesses which this bill is designed to remedy. For further details see the Historic Scotland website.

Another appeal for help: the sistrum of Edward Tristram or Tristrum

This week’s challenge comes from Fellow Judith Swaddling, Senior Curator at the BM’s Department of Greece and Rome, who says that the museum has acquired an ivory sistrum (see the Society’s website for images and further information), which was sold as a result of a house clearance in north-east Manchester, Several items in the sale bore old labels stating that that they were from the collection of ‘Tristrum, FSA’. Judith would be very grateful for any further information to help her identify this former Fellow, who is most likely to be an antiquary named Edward Tristram (later changed to Tristrum), formerly of Buxton, a member of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society who published articles on local archaeology and who died in 1919. She would also be grateful for any information that might throw light on the origin of the sistrum, and on how it came to England.


6 June 2009: Hillforts: What are they and how are they conserved? 9.30am to 4.30pm, The Drill Hall, Chepstow. Explore the latest ideas about hillforts and the people who built them with leading experts in the field, including our Fellows John Collis (‘Celts, warrior societies, central places and other myths about hill-forts’), Niall Sharples (‘Hillforts: changing perspectives on a complex phenomenon’) and Ray Howell (‘Silures: Settlement and Society’). There will also be three papers on specific hillforts and the management challenges involved in their conservation, from Dr Neil Rimmington, Countryside Adviser Archaeology, Herefordshire County Council (Little Doward, Herefordshire), Jon Hoyle, Senior Project Officer, Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service (Symonds Yat Hillfort, Gloucestershire), and Samantha Williams, Hillfort Conservation Officer for the Heather & Hillforts project (the Clwydian Range and Llantysilio Mountains). For further information, e-mail the organisers, Chepstow Museum.

Books (mainly by Fellows) and two exhibitions

The results of a long interrupted excavation have at last been published. In this case, the hiatus was caused by the deteriorating political situation in Cyprus, so that excavations initiated in 1950 by two Fellows of the Society — Harry Iliffe and Terence Mitford — of Liverpool Museum and the University of St Andrews, but halted in 1955, were later taken up again by our Fellow Franz Georg Maier under the aegis of the German Archaeological Institute. The results of Franz’s work have now been published as volume 6 in the ‘Ausgrabungen in Alt-Paphos auf Cypern’ series, as Nordost-Tor und persische Belagerungsrampe in Alt-Paphos.III. Grabungsbefund und Baugeschichte, with contributions from our Fellows Hector Catling and Anthony Snodgrass, amongst others. Franz pays generous tribute to his predecessors and collaborators, many of whom are depicted working at the site among the dramatis personae, on page 5, in a volume that is so handsomely and clearly illustrated as to allow even non-German readers to gain an understanding of the site (copies have been donated to the Society’s Library).

A whole new crop of revised Pevsner volumes is coming along this year from Yale University Press, including a new Pevsner City Guide to Newcastle and Gateshead by Fellow Grace McCombie, due in the autumn, and volumes on Yorkshire’s West Riding and on Lancashire North, but first off the mark this year is the chunky (789-page) new Buildings of Wales: Gwynedd volume, being launched today, 1 June, at Plas Mawr, the lovely Tudor town house in the care of Cadw at Conwy that is depicted on the book’s front cover (Yale). Writing about this land of romantic castles, of Telford bridges and viaducts and of Stephenson’s railway, of picturesque Portmeirion, of evocative prehistoric and early Christian sites, Georgian seaside towns, atmospheric medieval churches and numerous nonconformist chapels, was the pleasurable task of main authors Richard Haslam, Fellow, Julian Orbach and Adam Voelcker. There are specialist contributions by four other Fellows: Frances Lynch wrote the entries on prehistoric and Roman sites as well as the introductory chapter on these periods; John Kenyon contributed all the castle entries as well as the relevant introductory chapter; David Gwyn wrote the chapter on industrial archaeology and contributed draft text for the gazetteer, and Judith Alfrey contributed the introductory chapter on vernacular houses and farm buildings.

Not surprisingly, farm buildings feature in the latest book by our Fellow Susanna Wade-Martins, a biography of Coke of Norfolk 1754—1842 (Boydell), the first such biography in 100 years, and one based on access to the extensive archives at the Holkham estate in Norfolk to which Coke added no less than fifty new farmsteads, including those designed by Samual Wyatt. Coke was, says Susanna, as well known for his splendid library, works of art and antiquities as for his agricultural achievements and much loved in America for his outspoken opposition to Britain’s role in the American Revolutionary War of 1775—83.

Posthumously published by Coke’s namesake, our late Fellow Thomas Cocke, is Brighton Churches: the need for action now (SAVE Britain’s Heritage), illustrated with Matthew Andrews’s evocative photographs and designed to ‘win new friends for Brighton’s churches’, which are threatened with closure and conversion to other uses, which effectively privatises them and makes them unavailable to the community. Reviewing the book in the latest newsletter of the Ancient Monuments Society, our Fellow Matthew Saunders says ‘the elegant prose and persuasive rationality of the text shows what a loss we have suffered from the tragic and early death of the author’; a fitting memorial would be for Brighton’s surplus churches to be taken on by an independent trust, the solution for which this book argues.

Overlooked by Salon when it was first published in 2008, but better late than never, is Historic Views of London: photographs from the collection of B E C Howarth-Loomes by our Fellow Ann Saunders (English Heritage). Ann’s authoritative introductory text pays tribute to Bernard Howarth-Loomes, a remarkable collector of early photographs of all sorts, including stereo-cards, copies of which have been lodged with the National Monument Record (NMR) and 200 of which have been selected for this book, showing not only buildings in London between 1852 and 1915, but, just as importantly, people and activities.

Ann’s book is the ideal complement to an exhibition that ends on Saturday 6 June (so see it now or never) at Sir John Soane’s Museum: George Scharf’s London: the growing pains of a metropolis consists of remarkable paintings and lithographs of Regency London in its workaday clothes by the Munich-born artist who made London his home and his principal subject matter from 1816. Scharf’s work includes depictions of building sites — an 1828 watercolour shows the construction of Robert Smirke’s British Museum — and scientific institutions — such as the Zoological and Geological Societies and the Royal College of Surgeons. Following his death in 1860, his wife, Elizabeth, sold over a thousand drawings and watercolours to the British Museum, from whom many of these works are loaned (his son, George, the first director of the National Portrait Gallery, donated further items in 1900).

Newly opened at the V&A+RIBA Architecture Gallery is an exhibition curated by Fellows Roger White and Charles Hind called Europe and the English Baroque: Architecture in England 1660—1715 (to 9 November 2009). Timed to complement the V&A’s major exhibition Baroque 1620—1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence, which runs until 19 July, this display examines work by Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh and shows how these three, and other architects, took inspiration from baroque buildings across Europe, largely from books and engravings. Charles says: ‘It will challenge the usual perception that the English Baroque was derived chiefly from Italy and show how France (and particularly François Mansart) was a key influence.’

The exhibition contains drawings and prints from the RIBA Library collections as well as two major recent acquisitions, a model of Easton Neston (by Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1694) and Charles Robert Cockerell’s ‘A Tribute to Sir Christopher Wren’, of 1837. There are also loans from Sir John Soane’s Museum, All Souls College and the Queen’s College, Oxford, Winchester and Westminster City Councils and from private collections, a number of which have never been shown in public before. All told there are around fifty exhibits by Wren, Hawksmoor, Vanbrugh, William Talman and James Gibbs, as well as studies by such artists and craftsman as Grinling Gibbons, Louis Laguerre and Sir James Thornhill.

A regular reader asks if Salon ever includes notices of books by non-Fellows, to which the answer is that Salon could easily be swamped by such books — but if any Fellow particularly wishes to bring a book to the attention of other Fellows because they feel it would interest them, why not. Thus Lisa Barber commends Le Sanctuaire secret des bisons (Somogy), by the prehistorian Count Robert Bégouën and his team of colleagues, being an exhaustive study of the Tuc d’Audoubert caverns, famous for their 17,000-year-old clay bisons.

Unlike Lascaux, which is even now the subject of increasingly desperate attempts to stem the fusarium fungus that is darkening and obscuring the cave paintings, these caves have never been open to the public. Discovered by Bégouën’s father and uncles on the family’s Pyrenean estate in the years just before World War I, Count Robert continues the family tradition that no one enters either cave without a Bégouën at their side. That is why this publication is all the more welcome: for making available to science what is comparatively little known. The Association Louis Bégouën has also recently launched a website with full texts of a number of important early articles about all the caves discovered by the Bégouen family.

Cave-like too are the Ancient Churches of Ethiopia, the astonishing rock-cut and painted churches dating from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries that are the subject of Fellow David Phillipson’s newly published work (Yale), which David has dedicated to the memory of our late Fellow, David Buxton (1910—2003) whose pioneering research on Ethiopian churches was published in Archaeologia. David’s own recent work was recognised by the award of the Frend Medal in 2005, and the book is a landmark in our understanding of these unique structures, and their place in the Christian civilisation of highland Ethiopia, which still flourishes in the heart of the former Aksum Kingdom to this day. Speaking at the launch at the Ethiopian Embassy in London on 20 May, David said that he hoped the book would contribute to efforts to preserve the churches, which are subject to myriad threats, from uncontrolled tourism and destructive ‘restoration’ to political and religious hostility.

David Phillipson, Emeritus Professor of African Archaeology, is one in a long line of Cambridge professors who have built upon the pioneering work of Grahame Clark, Dorothy Garrod and Miles Burkitt, founders of that transformation in archaeological thinking and method that took place at Cambridge from the 1930s, and that is the subject of ‘A Splendid Idiosyncrasy’: Prehistory at Cambridge 1915—50 by our Fellow Pamela Jane Smith, with a foreword by Colin Renfrew (Archaeopress). Pamela says that the book is intended to serve as an example for other historians of archaeological institutions interested in the way that archaeology became a formalised university degree after decades of ‘amateur’ endeavour, and that it includes extensive biographies of the three key players, based on hundreds of interviews with those who knew them.

Another Cambridge enterprise is the new ‘Wonders of the World’ guidebook series edited by our Fellow Mary Beard that is intended not to repeat the familiar platitudes but to take a radical new look at major monuments. Launching the series, our Fellow David Watkin presents a challenging new view of The Roman Forum (Profile), which he describes as a baffling and unwelcoming place, for all that it has witnessed some of the major events of history and has been captured over and again in romantic paintings and engravings. David blames archaeologists for the mess, and argues that the Forum has been torn apart in the name of research, leaving incomprehensible holes, unsightly preservation-roofs, recent reconstructions (the Temple of Vesta, for example) and an ‘entirely modern and unattractive’ public entrance. While acknowledging that his book makes use of archaeology’s insights, David seeks to convey a sense of what we have lost, making generous use of Piranesi’s engravings.


AHRC-funded PhD Studentship: Medieval Window Lead
Full PhD fees and an annual maintenance payment of £12,923; deadline 26 June 2009

The University of York’s History of Art Department, The Yorkshire Museum and English Heritage invite applications from outstanding applicants for a PhD studentship that will focus on the topic ‘The Lost Dimension: Medieval Window Lead — A Study of Sources, Craft and Conservation’, an interdisciplinary project combining the study of medieval sources with the evidence of archaeological artefacts and extant historic materials, with implications for our understanding of past craft practices and of relevance to current conservation.

For details of awards and student eligibility criteria see the AHRC website. Further information and application forms are available from the University of York’s Graduate School’s Office. Further information can be found on the York University website and informal enquiries may be directed to our Fellow