Salon Archive

Issue: 240

Forthcoming meeting

The complete programme of meetings for the period October to December 2010 can be seen on the Society’s website.

Thursday 7 October: ‘Recent excavations at the “Palazzo Imperiale” at Portus, the port of Imperial Rome’, by Simon Keay FSA

Thursday 14 October: ‘Archaeology and metal-detecting: perspectives from Roman Yorkshire’, by Martin Millett FSA. This meeting will be held in the Huntingdon Room, King’s Manor, Exhibition Square, York.

Recently we have seen two strands of discussion about metal-detecting and archaeology. One represents a pessimistic assessment, focusing on the undoubted problems of night-hawking; the other is optimistic, celebrating the outstanding success of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This lecture will explore an area of middle ground. Since the mid-1980s, long-term research on several Roman sites in East Yorkshire has included a systematic study of the value of metal-detecting within archaeological research. The three aspects of this work will be examined: firstly, the value of collating metal-detector finds from an area and relating them to other aspects of landscape research; secondly, the methodological question of how to analyse such data; and finally how the integration of systematic detecting during excavations changes our understanding of object deposition patterns.

Thursday 21 October: Finds and exhibits meeting, preceded by a ballot. Museum of London staff will present a group of seventeenth-century items from London: a bone harpoon found on the foreshore at Deptford, three Delftware dishes excavated from Southwark and a London stoneware bottle.

Lord Sainsbury donates £25m to the British Museum

Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, former chairman of the Sainsbury supermarket chain, has made a donation of £25m towards the cost of the British Museum’s new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, to be constructed to the north west of the existing building. Reporting the news, the Sunday Times described this as the largest private donation to the arts in Britain since philanthropist Sir Paul Getty pledged £50m to the National Gallery and £40m to the British Film Institute in 1985. In the same year Lord Sainsbury jointly donated some £50m to finance the construction of the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery, which opened in 1991, with his brothers, the late Simon Sainsbury and our Fellow Sir Timothy Sainsbury.

The gift comes at a time when the Government is planning new legislation enabling national museums and galleries to build endowments funds through commercial and private philanthropy. A spokeswoman for the museum described the donation as ‘incredibly generous’ and ‘a vital part of a project that would benefit future generations’. The Government has also awarded a £22.5m grant towards the £125m cost of the new centre.

The Cyrus cylinder returns to Iran

The British Museum was again in the news last week when it announced that the Cyrus cylinder was back in Iran, having been loaned to the National Museum for the special four-month Cyrus the Great exhibition that opened in Tehran on 12 September. The loan reciprocates the generous loans made by the National Museum of Iran to the Forgotten Empire and Shah Abbas exhibitions held at the British Museum in 2005 and 2009. The Tehran exhibition had been planned for January 2010, and the postponement of the loan was described by the Iranian government as ‘politically motivated’ and designed to signal displeasure at Iran’s nuclear programme and the outcome of the June 2009 presidential elections. The British Museum says it has acted in good faith throughout the loan negotiations and that it has a policy of cultural exchanges with other nations independent of political considerations.

Important new discoveries have recently been made about the cylinder, not least the finding of two more clay tablets within the British Museum’s collection inscribed with extracts from the cylinder text, and the announcement that horse bones now in the Palace Museum in Beijing inscribed with extracts from the Cyrus proclamation are likely to be genuinely ancient copies.

Our Fellow Irving Finkel, the British Museum (BM) specialist on the Cyrus cylinder, said that the clay cylinder, excavated in 1879 by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuz Rassam, could no longer be considered a unique object, made for ritual burial and placed in the foundations of the Esagila, ancient Babylon’s main temple, when Cyrus the Great rebuilt it after he conquered the city in 539 BC. Instead, it looks as if the cylinder text, often characterised as the world’s first human rights declaration because of the promise made by Cyrus to restore the city and its temples and improve the lot of its citizens, recognising their rights to liberty and freedom of worship, was widely copied and disseminated, probably during Cyrus the Great’s lifetime (c 600—530 BC).

SAVE Britain’s Heritage in bid to list Beatles houses

At last the heritage sector has woken up to the fact that the bulldozers are closing in on the birthplace and childhood home of Ringo Starr. It almost seems cruel that while the homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney have been lovingly restored by the National Trust, Ringo’s home should be boarded up and condemned, as if his contribution to the band were negligible (even if a popular joke of the 1970s had Ringo down as the Beatles third best drummer, after the band’s original drummer, Pete Best, and Paul McCartney, who played drums in studio recordings in Ringo’s absence in the band’s later period).

And the unlikely white knight in this case is our Fellow Marcus Binney, President of SAVE, whose organisation has joined forces with the Merseyside Civic Society (MCS) to apply for the listing of Ringo Starr’s birthplace at 9 Madryn Street, together with five other buildings in Liverpool with intimate connections to the Beatles; namely 10 Admiral Grove, Ringo’s childhood home from the age of four, 12 Arnold Grove, the birthplace of George Harrison, Mendips, Menlove Avenue, where John Lennon lived from 1945 to 1963, 20 Forthlin Road, childhood home of Paul McCartney, and the ornate iron gates and stone piers of Strawberry Field, all that remains of the Salvation Army house with its woodland garden in which John Lennon played as a child and that inspired one of his most haunting songs.

The call to protect Ringo Starr’s first home is entirely consistent with a campaign that SAVE has now been waging for several years to halt the controversial Housing Market Renewal (Pathfinder) Initiative. Reminiscent of the slum clearance programmes of the 1930s and 1950s, Pathfinder has led to the demolition of large numbers of Victorian and Edwardian houses deemed no longer fit for habitation, their inhabitants re-housed in newly constructed stock. SAVE has long argued that the housing that is being condemned to destruction is of sound quality and it has commissioned leading architects to demonstrate that it can easily and inexpensively be brought up to modern standards.

SAVE argues that the Pathfinder Initiative is expensive, insensitive and wasteful, leading to the ‘entire districts of the well-planned Victorian and Edwardian inner suburbs of Liverpool, a UNESCO World Heritage city, being laid waste, with communities, businesses and urban fabric forced to make way for acre after acre of vacant lots’. The fact that Ringo’s home is one of the affected houses adds impetus to SAVE’s campaign — 9 Madryn Street happens to be in an area zoned for clearance known as the Welsh Street that once had a tight-knit community of Welsh migrants who moved to Liverpool in search of work.

As Marcus Binney said, in calling for a change of heart on the part of Liverpool City Council, ‘from the very start of listing in 1945 the Act provided for listing buildings for their special historic interest as well as their architectural quality. The earliest guidelines for listing specifically mention buildings which are associated in the public mind with famous people. The Liverpool sites associated with the Beatles including their childhood homes are clearly of the strongest interest to the British public as witnessed by the thousands of visitors to the Beatles homes owned by the National Trust.’

William Palin, Secretary of SAVE, said: ‘Liverpool’s celebrated Cavern Club, birthplace of the Beatles, was demolished in 1973 because of a council compulsory purchase order, to make room for a ventilation shaft that was never built. The destruction of Madryn Street would represent another tragic loss and a further assault on the heart and spirit of the city. It is astonishing and distressing that Liverpool City Council retains such a callous disregard for its cultural heritage, and sad that it should fall to organisations such as SAVE and the MCS to protect and promote buildings within the city that have such huge historic and socio-economic importance.’

MCS planner Jonathan Brown said: ‘the international public have an almighty appetite for sites and buildings associated with the band’s early story, a blessing city authorities have been slow to acknowledge. If allowed, demolition of their homes and birthplaces will eclipse the loss of the Cavern Club as an act of crass cultural vandalism. In fact, it would be far less forgivable, because of what we now know about the importance of music and tourism to economic revival. Of course, the listing application is about much more than the birthplaces of four individuals; it is also about protecting the inner city communities of Liverpool from being sold out to narrow developer interests by public officials; demolition of Beatles’ heritage is just a symptom of the scheme’s indifference to social values beyond land assembly.’

The future of the Warburg Institute: a letter from the Chairman of the Advisory Council

In Salon 238 (26 July 2010) we published a letter from Graeme Davies, Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, on the University’s intentions with regard to the Warburg Institute, which said that the University ‘respects, and takes great pride in, the Institute’s unique character’, is ‘very conscious of its obligations as trustee of the Warburg Institute’, and is ‘examining the best way to secure the future of the Institute’. Professor Michael Reeve, FBA, is Chairman of the Warburg Institute’s Advisory Council, on whose behalf he has asked Salon to publish the following reply.

‘In his response to your report on the plight of the Warburg Institute, the Vice-Chancellor of London University denies that its future is threatened. He says that the University has no proposals for “curtailing the Institute's independent governance and administration”. Yet it is proposing to set about replacing the Trust Deed of 1944, which obliges it to maintain the Institute as an independent unit, with a new Deed that contains no mention of independence. The proposed new Deed would also deprive the Institute of any role except an advisory one in the management and development of its research collections.

‘The Vice-Chancellor sums up the present arrangements for the governance of the Institute, but they are not those outlined in the Trust Deed. It has yet to be established whether by maintaining them the University is currently in breach of the Deed. The “full involvement” of the Advisory Council in the deliberations of the University about the future of the Institute consists of its repeated objections to what it regards as wrongful and harmful changes and its repeated experience of seeing those objections ignored or rejected.’

An antipodean future of the City of Adelaide

A decade of uncertainty about the future of the City of Adelaide has been brought to an end by the announcement by Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Minister for Culture and External Affairs, that the clipper is to be taken to Adelaide in South Australia for restoration.

The A-listed ship was built in Sunderland in 1864. Apart from the Cutty Sark, it is the world’s only surviving clipper, and the National Historic Ships Committee (UK) lists it as one of the most important vessels on its list of ships making up the National Historic Fleet. It has a close cultural association with South Australia, many of whose present-day residents can trace their ancestors’ outward voyage from the UK on the vessel.

From 1893 the City of Adelaide served as a hospital ship at Southampton. It came to Irvine in 1924 for conversion to a naval training ship. Renamed HMS Carrick, it was moored at Greenock until 1950 and then in Glasgow at Custom House Quay when it was used as a clubhouse for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). In 1991, the vessel sank in Princes Dock, Glasgow, and lay at the bottom of the River Clyde for a year before it was raised by the Scottish Maritime Museum (SMM) and moved to Irvine, where it was dry-berthed pending a decision about its future.

When proposals for the future of the vessel were invited, offers were received from the Sunderland City of Adelaide Recovery Foundation (SCARF), which would have seen the vessel return to the City of its birth, and from the preferred bidder, Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Ltd (CSCoAL), which will see the ship return to Adelaide in time for the celebration of South Australia’s ‘Jubilee Year’ in 2011, marking the 175th anniversary of the state.

Fiona Hyslop said: ‘The City of Adelaide has an illustrious past shared by two nations — Scotland and Australia. This bid gives us the opportunity to save the ship, build on that link and open up the potential for both countries to recognise shared heritage on an international scale.’

Archaeologists express concern about Libyan oil prospecting

The September issue of the Art Newspaper reports growing concern on the part of the archaeological community at the prospect of BP’s plans to drill five exploratory oil wells in the Gulf of Sirte before the end of 2010. Not only are archaeologists concerned that the technology to be used is the same as that which led to the blowout of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, they are even more concerned that casual leakage from the wells will cause irreparable damage to organic remains in two archaeologically rich areas along the Libyan coast — Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.

Within Cyrenaica lies Apollonia, an ancient harbour submerged five metres under the water and described by Claude Sintes, Director of the sub-aquatic team of the French archaeological mission to Libya and Director of the Museum of Ancient Arles, in France, as ‘a complete town under the sea’, while Tripolitania includes the two World Heritage Sites of Leptis Magna and Sabratha. James Delgado, the President of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University, also notes that thousands of wrecks from various historical periods lie within the Gulf, whose maritime archaeology is still largely unexplored. BP has responded by saying that it has conducted archaeological and seismic surveys off the coast of Libya to ensure that they are not working in sensitive areas, that their oil-spill plans for Libya have been reviewed in light of the Gulf of Mexico incident and that they intend to drill many miles offshore, ‘well beyond any possible ancient sites’.

Wanted: a home for the De Morgan Foundation

The Art Newspaper also reports that the search is still on for a new home for the De Morgan Foundation, after Wandsworth Council terminated its lease in a former library building in July 2009. The Foundation owns more than 1,000 ceramics by William De Morgan, paintings by his wife Evelyn, and some 500 works on paper and sixty paintings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century donated by Evelyn’s sister, Wilhelmina Stirling. Talks on an alternative gallery space have been held with Lambeth Council, the Watts Gallery in Surrey and other venues, but these have fallen through. The De Morgan Foundation is now investigating other options, and curator Claire Longworth says she is confident that an appropriate gallery space will be found, ideally in London. Meanwhile the Foundation’s ceramics are currently touring Japan.

Clem Lister’s Celtic coin collection for sale

Numismatists among the Fellowship will need no introduction to Clem Lister, who died earlier this year, having been elected a member of the British Numismatic Society in 1954, and having served on its Council in 1963—6 and 1969—76. Clem was a rare collector of ‘British Celtic’ coins at a time when they were regarded as crude and inferior; Clem’s obituary noted that he took the view that they were ‘evidence for the diversity and artistic originality of Ancient Britons given a bad press by the Romans who created the image of the woad-painted savage to suit their own sense of superiority’.

It was to Clem Lister that our Fellow Peter Clayton turned in 1962 when looking for coins to photograph for the first edition of his Seaby Standard Catalogue of British Coins, and many of the images used in that book have been reproduced over and again in subsequent editions. Now the coins are to be auctioned at Spink’s on 30 September, a collection that is described as being remarkable for its depth of coin types, rulers, tribes and denominations, with the added appeal that many of them are instantly recognisable from Peter Clayton's catalogue and from R D Van Arsdell’s Celtic Coinage of Britain (Spink 1989).

The Vergina tombs: burial place of Philip II or III?

There is general agreement amongst archaeologists that the tombs at Vergina, in the Greek prefecture of Imathia, excavated in 1977 by Manolis Andronikos, are the royal tombs of the kings of Macedon. Fellow John Prag is a member of the British team that carried out a detailed study of the human remains and identified Philip II, father of Alexander the Great and Philip III, as the occupant of the so-called ‘Royal Tomb II’ on the basis of skeletal evidence for injuries that Philip II is known to have suffered, including damage to the right eye socket caused by an arrow. John and his colleagues even went so far as to reconstruct the face, and they published an account of their work in Making Faces: Using Forensic and Archaeological Evidence (British Museum Press, London 1997).

This apparently settled conclusion was then challenged in the journal Science (21 April 2000), in an article by Antonis Bartsiokas arguing that the real occupant of Tomb II at Vergina is Philip II’s son, Philip III Arrhidaios, and that Philip II was probably buried nearby in a tomb that was robbed in antiquity.

John and his colleagues — an impressive team of anatomists, pathologists, archaeologists and a classicist (Robin Lane Fox) — have now published their detailed response in a special issue of the International Journal of Medical Sciences devoted to the theme of ancient medical practices and modern analytical techniques. Beware: the article is not for the squeamish, but it does show how good online publishing can be in integrating text and pictures in support of detailed technical arguments.

New online bibliography from the National Trust

The National Trust has launched a new online bibliography listing more than 4,000 books and articles about the properties that the Trust owns, including more than 200 articles that have appeared in successive issues of the National Trust’s Historic Houses and Collections Annual, published each April in association with Apollo magazine. The bibliography is arranged by property and then alphabetically by author.

The aim is to keep adding new titles and to update the bibliography every three to six months. Our Fellow David Adshead, the National Trust’s Chief Curator, says that help from Fellows in adding to the bibliography would be very welcome, and that he is aware that the first version includes few references to archaeological literature.

The bibliography covers all aspects of the Trust’s houses, gardens, landscapes and collections, including the lives of the people who lived in or are associated with them. ‘I hope that students, researchers and the general public will all find it a useful and fascinating resource’, David said, adding that ‘the bibliography goes a long way towards providing a single, authoritative resource about the National Trust’s 300-plus historic properties.’

Domesday database launched online

Another online resource has been launched that forms one of the first fruits of the University of Cambridge and King's College, London Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England project (PASE), which aims to capture information relating to all the recorded inhabitants of England from the late sixth to the late eleventh centuries. This new Domesday database approaches the Domesday survey not from the usual basis of place name, but by looking at personal names and mapping out land and estate ownership at the time of the survey in 1086. The database can be searched in a number of ways: to find out who owned land in a particular town or village at the time of the survey, or to find out what lands were held anywhere in England by named individuals.

Searching on the vill of Tottenham, for example, reveals that the land was owned by Earl Waltheof, who was subsequently executed for his part in the 1075 rebellion against King William. His wife, King William’s niece, Countess Judith, ended up with most of Waltheof’s estates as well as her own: selecting the ‘Statistics’ tab on the website reveals that her estates generated about £660 per year in 1086, which is nearly 1 per cent of England’s GDP at the time (£72,000 per annum). Selecting the ‘Map’ tab reveals that much of her land was in the East Midlands.

When the new Domesday database was launched in August, it was described as demonstrating that England was owned by a new breed of super-rich Norman tenants-in-chief twenty years after the Battle of Hastings. Matching Countess Judith in wealth was Earl Hugh, whose 300-plus estates, spread across nineteen counties, generated an income of about £800 a year. Of 500 names listed, only thirteen are identifiably English.

Our Fellow Simon Keynes, of the Cambridge Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, co-director of the PASE project, said that new technology was making it possible to detect patterns and to make informed judgements that would once have taken years of patient analysis.

Feedback

Our Fellow Henry Cleere was pleased to see Salon 239 reprint Peter Fowler’s recent letter to the Guardian on the UK’s policy with regard to future World Heritage Site nominations. ‘We had hoped to start a debate on the subject’, Henry writes, ‘but alas my follow-up letter was not printed and I fear the subject will be ignored from now on.’ The Guardian’s loss is Salon’s gain, so here is Henry’s letter.

‘I read Peter Fowler's letter (World heritage sites: UK should withdraw, 5 August) with considerable concern, having been World Heritage Co-ordinator for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) from 1992 to 2002; because the headline appeared not to reflect what I know to be the views of Professor Fowler, a long-time friend and colleague. He undeniably suggests that it might be “tactful” for the UK to “withdraw gracefully for the time being”, but this in no way implies that he believes that HMG should sever all connections with the Convention, which is what your headline appears to advocate. What he proposes is wise advice and should be heeded not only by the UK but also by other countries in the western, developed, world that persist in exercising their right to nominate at least one property to the List every year. ICOMOS produced a policy document — Filling the Gaps: an Action Plan for the Future — for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2004, which identified the cultural, historical and geographical lacunae in the List, and this has formed the basis for the Committee’s actions since that time. It is regrettable that, despite this project, certain well-represented countries (among them the UK) persist in making new nominations annually. They should set national aspirations to one side for some years and facilitate the work of UNESCO in seeking to extend its protection to a representative sample of the cultural wealth of the entire world.’

Mistakes that crept in to the last issue of Salon included the mis-numbering of the last issue (it was issue 239, not 238), a reference to our scarlet-cassocked Fellows Warwick Rodwell and Richard Mortimer as ‘lay canons’ at Westminster Abbey — they are Lay Officers because, unlike lay canons of cathedrals, who have a seat on Chapter, the governing body, they are members of College, which is an advisory body (Richard adds that ‘the distinction is perhaps not as fine as it may look’). Fellow Toby Driver asks Salon to clarify that his co-director on the Abermagwr Roman villa excavations reported in the last issue was our Fellow Jeffrey Davies.

Fellow Chris Scull, now of the Department of Archaeology and Conservation at Cardiff University, leaps to the defence of English Heritage, his former employer, and writes to say that ‘I enjoyed your review of Martin Carver’s book on excavation, but was slightly disappointed to see you perpetuate the old misapprehension that rigour in project planning, management and execution is somehow bureaucratic and antithetical to creativity. My experience is the opposite: the requirement to think through rigorously and explicitly every aspect of a research design and its delivery supports and stimulates quality (and ensures that resources are properly directed, and that projects are completed and fully disseminated). It is the attitude which resents these responsibilities and treats the discipline as a tick-box exercise which is the problem, not the approach itself — as Martin’s career triumphantly demonstrates!’

Chris Scull’s colleague, Fellow John Hines, was pained not by anything Salon said, but by ‘the utter travesty of an educational documentary “Treasures of the Anglo-Saxons” that was broadcast on BBC 4 TV on 10 August. He wonders, as perhaps we all do, ‘why the BBC has no effective peer-reviewing practice or policy to check the validity and guarantee at least a minimal standard of quality of material that is broadcast as factual documentary’.

Salon’s editor sympathises: the several heritage programmes that were broadcast over the summer were cliché ridden and predictable. They all suffered from too much focus on the presenter rather than on the subject. Good documentaries seek out the views of informed experts, with the presenter playing the role of inquisitor on behalf of the viewer, asking intelligent leading questions and letting the experts speak. Even ‘Digging for Britain’, the best of the summer’s offerings, suffered from the obligatory piece to camera at the end of every report in which Alice Roberts, the presenter, repeated what we had already been said by the archaeologists she had just spoken to, but with empathetic emphasis: ‘I really feel somehow very close to these people and what they were feeling’, or words to that effect. Producers, when called to account, always say they know what the audience wants, but perhaps that’s the problem: perhaps the audience should be challenged, not gratified.

News of Fellows

David Breeze, formerly Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments with Historic Scotland, was awarded the European Archaeological Heritage Prize for 2010 last week by the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) at its annual conference in Den Haag. David received the medal from our Fellows Friedrich Lüth, President of the EAA, and Willem Willems, the conference Chairman. The citation records David’s ‘contribution to the advancement of archaeology, and particularly to standards of archaeological scholarship within the United Kingdom and further afield’ and specifically his role in ‘the field of international co-operation in heritage conservation and management, the acceptance of the Antonine Wall into UNESCO’s list in July 2008, and the invention of a new type of trans-national, multi-centred, World Heritage Site’.

Fellow Paul Belford left the Ironbridge Gorge Museum at the end of August, after more than ten years as the Head of Archaeology there. In that time he directed the field unit in various excavation and building recording projects in the Ironbridge World Heritage Site and further afield (on occasion going as far as Bermuda in pursuit of industrial archaeology), in the process discovering the earliest English steel furnaces at Coalbrookdale. The closure of the field unit by the museum last year marked the end of an era, and we hope that Ironbridge will not abandon archaeology altogether with Paul’s departure. Continuing his academic role at the University of York, Paul will also be bringing his experience and expertise to the historic environment consultancy Nexus Heritage.

Our Fellow Ian Hodder is looking for a new team to work with at Çatalhöyük according to a recent ScienceInsider report, which said that ‘researchers finishing the dig season at the 9,500-year-old site famed for its art and symbolism at the dawn of agriculture-got a big shock last week. Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who has directed excavations since 1993, told the heads of the dig’s specialty labs that they would be asked to step down beginning in 2012, when publication of current work will be completed. Such a mass dismissal is highly unusual at long-running archaeological excavations. But in a 29 August e-mail to the team explaining his decision, Hodder stressed that he was not dissatisfied with anyone's work. Rather, the e-mail said, the project “needs new energy — that is, new questions, new theoretical perspectives … new methods.”’

Ian subsequently told ScienceInsider that he plans to recruit new collaborators for the next phase of excavations, planned for 2012—18, although he has not yet spelled out what new questions he intends to pursue. ‘It has been a really remarkable team’, he said, ‘but I have felt over recent years that the project was getting comfortable with itself and so not challenging each other or me or the assumptions that we were all taking for granted.’

Our Fellow, the actor Robert Hardy, famed for his BAFTA-winning performance as the war-time Prime Minister in the TV drama Winston Churchill: the Wilderness Years (1981), returned to the role once more on 20 August 2010 when he read Churchill’s war-time broadcast ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’ at a ceremony to mark the seventieth anniversary of the speech during the Battle of Britain. The ceremony took place outside the Churchill War Rooms in central London from where the broadcast was made, and it was followed by a fly-past by a Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane, watched by veterans of the 1940 battle, which lasted from 10 July to 31 October 1940. A video of the reading and the flypast can be seen on the website of the Daily Telegraph.

Alan McWhirr: a memorial tribute

A memorial tribute to our late Fellow Alan McWhirr will take place on 23 October, from 1.30pm to 4.30pm (followed by tea) in the Frank and Katherine May Lecture Room, Henry Wellcome Building, University of Leicester. All are welcome, but for catering purposes, please confirm your attendance by emailing your name and contact details to the School of Archaeology and Ancient History. Among the speakers are our Fellows Colin Haselgrove, Marilyn Palmer, Neil Holbrook, David Viner, Tim Darvill, Graeme Barker and Nick Cooper.

Lives Remembered

Our Fellow Sir Peter Gwynn-Jones died on 21 August 2010, at the age of seventy. Sir Peter greatly endeared himself to those he served as Garter Principal King of Arms, the effective head of the College of Arms, from 1995 until his retirement earlier this year. Evidence of the respect in which he was held comes from the fact that peers strongly affirmed their support for his role when the House of Lords debated the question of whether to continue the ceremony whereby he, representing the monarch, introduced new peers to their seats. Indeed, his profile at Westminster was such that, on wishing to show some friends St Mary Undercroft, the parliamentary chapel, during recess, he was told that no one, not even the prime minister, could enter — but Garter King of Arms was a different matter!

To the obituary that appeared in The Times, Norman Hammond contributes the following addendum on ‘the splendid party given on 25 March 2010, at the College of Arms, when the other Kings of Arms and the massed Heralds and Pursuivants, together with many of those for whom he had designed Arms, bade Sir Peter farewell at his retirement. With characteristic generosity, Peter had also made the party a celebration for the retirement of his assistants of many years’ standing — Judith Hardy and Julia Hett.

‘The Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, Peter's boss as formal head of the College, made an eloquent speech of appreciation, not least of Peter’s bringing some financial order to the College’s affairs. Astutely, Peter had arranged for signed copies of his just-published autobiography, The Coati Sable: the Story of a Herald (The Memoir Club, £19.95), to be on sale at a corner table: those will now be of some bibliophilic value, since no more will be signed. The title refers to Peter’s choice of a sable (black) coati-mundi for his own crest, the coati (a pun on the name of his Coaty birthplace) being a tropical rodent of Central America, where he loved to travel and watch wildlife (it was a private joke that the normal pelage of the coati is mid-brown, black mutations being rare). It was the College’s tribute to present him with a large carved example of his crest, on the same scale as those of the Garter Knights over their stalls in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. In his speech replying to the encomia he wondered aloud where he would put it in his bachelor flat: that, alas, is now not a problem.’

Our former Fellow Barry Raftery also passed away on 22 August 2010, and Fellows John and Bryony Coles contributed the following tribute. ‘Barry Raftery was one of the founding members of the Wetland Archaeology Research Project (WARP) in the mid-1980s. He was also the first modern Irish archaeologist to tackle the major wetland peat bogs of central Ireland. His work at Corlea, on a massive Iron Age trackway, led to important developments in the conservation of wood, the preservation of structural remains, the presentation of results through the Corlea Visitor Centre, and the recognition that the Irish peatlands deserved major attention within the wider archaeological community.

‘Barry’s collaboration with Bryony Coles (through their respective universities — Dublin and Exeter — with European Social Fund support) to promote post-graduate training in wetland archaeology came to involve Dutch and Danish archaeologists in collaborative and fruitful training and research. His attendance at conferences at Silkeborg in Denmark and Gainesville in Florida, and his frequent visits to the Somerset Levels, led on to the 1998 WARP conference in Dublin, a major event. His own research led to a fine series of publications on the Irish wetlands. His visit to the wetlands of Japan with Akira Matsui was profitable to the development of wetland archaeology in both countries.

‘Along with John Coles, Barry was on the Directorate of the Discovery Programme in Ireland and this encouraged the emergence of wetland research projects such as that at Loch Kinale. Throughout his long career, Barry lectured widely in Europe and helped in the development of wetland archaeology in many countries. Members of his field and laboratory team are now working to promote wetland studies and we of the Wetland Archaeology Research Project acknowledge the enormous contribution made by our good friend and colleague.’

John Alexander, who died on 17 August 2010, aged eighty-eight, may not have been a Fellow but he taught many of us, either directly, as a Fellow of St John’s, Cambridge, and as lecturer and tutor in the Archaeology and Anthropology faculty, or indirectly, through his textbook on archaeological practice, The Directing of Archaeological Excavations (1970), owned and read by every ambitious young field archaeologist in the 1970s. If John had been elected a Fellow he would never have remembered to pay his subs. He was the living definition of an absent-minded academic, his thoughts on higher things, and his office in Downing Street was famously chaotic, with books and papers everywhere. A story often told about John is that he once turned up to a party clutching an invitation that he had found amongst those papers, to be received graciously by his hosts even though he was exactly a year late.

And yet, as a tutor with the Cambridge Extra-Mural Studies Department from 1958 to 1964 and at the University of London from 1964 to 1974, John had the pertinacity to develop an extremely successful programme of certificate and diploma courses in British and world archaeology for adult learners that have been widely copied around the world. Equally he will be remembered fondly in Africa where — as well as directing major excavations, helping to set up the Sudan Archaeological Research Committee and holding visiting professorships at the universities of Ghana and Ibadan — he was instrumental in helping young African archaeologists bring their work to world attention through the Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology series that he founded. The list of authors whose work he nurtured to publication is a roll call of the brightest and best working in African archaeology today and virtually every African country is represented in the series.

Good homes wanted for two commemorative lecterns

The National Army Museum is trying to find good homes for two brass lecterns which commemorate officers of the Punjab Frontier Force: Lt-Col Robert Hutchinson, Queen’s Own Corps of Guides (d 1886), and Col Edward Martin, 2nd/5th Gurkha Rifles (d 1906). No museums have expressed interest in them and limited attempts to find Anglican churches with a use for them have so far proved unsuccessful. If any Fellow knows of churches (denomination immaterial) that are looking for a lectern we would be delighted to hear from them. Please contact Fellow Peter Boyden or tel: 020 7730 0717 ext 2458) for further details.

And help wanted with a query about potsherds on the island of Nevis

Quetta Kaye has just returned from an excavation on the island of Nevis, in the West Indies, with a query. ‘On the island I was consulted by a local resident who had observed a widely distributed scatter of small pieces of pottery revealed by the recent ploughing up of an expanse of land possibly previously uncultivated for more than a hundred years. He had been collecting small pieces of abraded eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pottery (a picture can be provided on request) and was seeking an explanation for what would seem to be the deliberate scattering of these small pieces. Not working in the colonial period, I hazarded a guess that the pottery could have been introduced as an aerating device or possibly to introduce lime to the soil. But I said I would try to get a definitive explanation for him — to which end I seek the assistance of any Salon reader who may have encountered a similar phenomenon.’

Events

20 to 24 September 2010, the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) is holding its biennial Congress in Istanbul and part of the 2010 ‘European Capital of Culture’ initiative. The Congress is being held in partnership with the Sakıp Sabancı Museum and will focus on the conservation of movable and immovable heritage in or from the eastern Mediterranean. This will include material held in collections around the world, the care and conservation of works of art, artefacts and sites, and the preservation of architecture, all reflecting the influences that have made this region one of the world’s richest centres of heritage.

The conference will bring together the international professional community to present and exchange ideas, to debate conservation practices and cutting-edge research, to consider exciting new developments and thought-provoking challenges, and to make new connections between this region and all corners of the world. More details may be found on the conference website.

25 and 26 September 2010: Nations of the Sea: Maritime Connections in the Archaeology of Wales and Qatar, at the National Museum of Wales, Cathays Park, Cardiff, an international cultural conference with speakers from Qatar and the Arab world, from Wales and from other parts of Europe. In addition to the academic conference there will be a series of talks and films aimed at the interested general public. Further information from Andrew Petersen, Director, Islamic Archaeology Research, University of Wales ().

8 October 2010, ‘Restoring the Acropolis of Athens’, a study day to be held in the BP Lecture Theatre, British Museum, from 9.30am to 5pm. Since its formation in 1975, the Acropolis Restoration Service has studied, conserved, dismantled and restored the world-famous monuments of the ancient Acropolis of Athens. The various stages of this colossal task have been meticulously presented and recorded in a series of conferences in Athens and their accompanying publications. Now that the current phase of restoration is in sight of completion, Professor Charalambos Bouras, President of the Service, and prominent members of his team have kindly agreed to share with a British Museum audience their unique experience and knowledge of the Acropolis buildings. Tickets can be booked through the British Museum Ticket Desk, tel: 0207 323 8181.

21 October 2010: the guest lecture programme at the Centre for Sustainable Heritage kicks off for the year with a paper on the ‘Conservation of China’s Built Heritage’ by Professor Ruan Yisan, Chair of the Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation and Dean of the National Research Centre of Historic Cities at Tongji Univeristy, Shanghai, to be give at 6pm in the lecture theatre at the UCL Institute for Archaeology, in Gordon Square. Future lecturers in the series include our Fellows Nigel Llewellyn, Head of Research, Tate, on the competing tribes within art history (curators, conservators, theoreticians, connoisseurs, historians, critics and practitioners) and Paul Drury. Further details can be found on the centre’s
website.

27 October 2010: ‘Georgia’s Wall Painting Heritage: Significance and Preservation’, a talk to be given by our Fellow David Park, Director, Conservation of Wall Painting Department, The Courtauld Institute of Art, in the Institute’s Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre from 6pm to 7pm, followed by a reception in the front hall generously sponsored by the Embassy of Georgia to the UK. Open to all, free admission.

This illustrated lecture will look at spectacular examples of the wall paintings that have survived in Georgia, especially from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, and will discuss the art-historical and conservation aspects of Georgian wall paintings, celebrating the collaboration between the authorities in Georgia, the British Georgian Society, the Friends of Academic Research in Georgia, and an anonymous US donor that has enabled a student from Tbilisi to study wall-painting conservation at the Courtauld over the next three years.

18 to 21 November 2010: ‘Inca Ushnus: Landscape, Site and Symbol in the Andes’. Full details of this three-day conference have now been posted on the ‘Events’ page of the British Museum website. The last issue of Salon said that the conference would coincide with the opening of the BM’s new South American / Andean Gallery, but our Fellow Colin McEwan, Head of Americas and Curator for Latin American Collections at the BM, says that the gallery is unlikely to be open for at least another four years.

6 December 2010: ‘Roger Fry’s Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1910’, a talk to be given by Dr Anna Gruetzner-Robins from 6.30pm to 8.30pm at the Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BE. Tickets cost £15 and can be booked by calling Holly Wood, Education and Events Manager at the Charleston Trust, tel: 01323 811626. The exhibition ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’ was shown by Roger Fry at the Grafton Galleries, London, one hundred years ago, in 1910. With works by Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, it introduced the modern movement in painting to a shocked English public. Edwardian academicians reacted with horror, even describing the show as ‘dangerous’, but members of the rising generation of young artists were invigorated, with the result that works by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were among those included in Fry’s second Post-Impressionist exhibition in 1912.

The Marsh Archaeology Award 2010: nominations invited

The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and the Marsh Christian Trust invite nominations for the 2010 Marsh Archaeology Award, which will be given to a voluntary group or individual to recognise and promote high-quality voluntary engagement with the stewardship of the archaeological heritage of the UK. The Award winner receives a cash prize of £1,000 from the Marsh Christian Trust. Nominations need to be received by the CBA before noon on 9 October 2010. The winner of the Award will be announced later in 2010. For further details, see the CBA website.

Books by Fellows

Just over a year ago our Fellow Ron Hutton published an enthralling history of Druidism in Britain (Blood and Mistletoe), mainly concerned with the Druidic ‘Renaissance’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, though with an introductory chapter on how little we know about the Druids of prehistory. Yet now our Fellow Miranda Aldhouse-Green has written an equally engrossing 320-page book all about those same ancient Druids: Caesar’s Druids: the Story of an Ancient Priesthood (ISBN 9780300124422; Yale University Press). How has she done it? The answer is by treating the literary accounts of Druids given by Pliny and Caesar not as reliable factual accounts nor yet as ‘picturesque fantasy’ (Nora Chadwick’s words), but rather as the source for concrete clues that can be followed up to see whether archaeological evidence can tell us anything that might round out the story.

For example, Pliny and Caesar make it clear that the moon was important to Gallic Druids, so Miranda looks to see what else in the archaeological record confirms the influence of lunar events on people’s behaviour, coming up, for example, with the fact that the timber causeway at Fiskerton in Lincolnshire, from which ritual deposits were made over many decades into the River Witham, had been renewed at least ten times from 457 BC and that from dendrochronology it was possible to deduce that each sixteen- to eighteen-year rebuilding took place at a time of lunar eclipse. As she follows up the themes of mistletoe, white bulls, oaks, healing, ritual sacrifice, white vestments and golden sickles, Miranda finds much else to support the very brief account that Caesar and Pliny give, and in doing so she gives a solid account of religious ritual and doctrine in first millennium BC in Britain and Gaul.

Miranda’s penultimate chapter deals with the question of the continuity of pre-Roman ritual and belief after the Conquest, and here she suggests that we should question the complacent belief that Roman and native gods elided in a nice multi-cultural mélange because of the Roman state’s policy of ‘tolerance’ and of ‘syncretism’, whereby Roman and native deities with similar characteristics are conflated. Instead, Miranda asks whether the continuity of native religion was not the result of a deliberate, if covert, act of defiance led by a professional priesthood. She is especially keen that we should not dismiss all those strange carvings of triangular hooded figures, often in groups of three, as inept carving measured against the gold standard of classical sculpture, but rather as symbols of britannitas, the expression of a desire for self-determination on the part of people who did not want to see their beliefs absorbed into the Roman pantheon and thereby neutralised.

Some of the objects that are described in Miranda’s book, or illustrated by means of line drawings, leap in stunning full-colour photography from the pages of Roman Britain, by Fellows Richard Hobbs and Ralph Jackson (ISBN 9780714150611; British Museum Press). This is the first all-new look at the subject by the British Museum in nearly twenty years and so amongst the familiar objects there are others that may not be, such as the bronze oil flask in the form of a young slave waiting for his master to emerge from the baths, from London’s Upper Thames Street, or the gorgeous dark-blue leather shoes with gold stitching from a third-/fourth-century Kent sarcophagus.

The text begins with an account of Britain before Rome and ends with the people of Briton after Rome; six further chapters tell the story of the 350 intervening years thematically, looking at the sheer diversity of lifestyles and cultures in town and country, and as it was experienced by soldiers, farmers, traders and makers, not to mention the wealthy owners of such spectacular objects as those making up the Snettisham, Mildenhall or Water Newton hoards.

Even as manufacturers of digital eReaders, such as Kindle and iPad, tell us with confidence that the book is dead and that eBooks are the future, along come two books that demonstrate that printed books still have a key role to play in dealing with visual topics. The Westminster Retable: History, Technique, Conservation, edited by Fellow Paul Binski and Ann Massing (ISBN 9781905375288; Hamilton Kerr Institute and Harvey Miller) is an exhaustive study of one of the most beautiful and enigmatic panel paintings to have survived from the thirteenth century, held in the highest regard in its own time, and a key link in the history of French and English Gothic painting.

In its in-depth study of the entire history of the Retable, the book (whose contributors include Fellows Christopher Wilson, Warwick Rodwell, Neil Stratford and John Cherry) shows you the work in such intimate detail that you could almost be one of the artists involved in the making of this complex work (or its subsequent interventions and recent conservation), which is of enormous interest not just for the painting but also for the carved and gilded architectural frame, set with gems, glass, cameos, tesserae and imitation enamelwork. Digital techniques played a key role in understanding and documenting the work, but in the final chapter’s discussion of the merits of digital over conventional publication, the decision to go for a book seems entirely justified; for this reader, one merit that a book has over an eReader is simply the ability to compare widely separated images by holding two or more pages open at a time and for those images to be as large as a double-page spread — in the case of this book, about six times larger than the typical eReader screen.

The same applies to The Arts of Industry in the Age of Enlightenment, by Fellow Celina Fox (ISBN 9780300160420; Yale). Just handling this well-made and visually appealing book is a pleasure. Yet a book on the same subject written about our own age would probably be filled with digital images, for Celina’s theme is not the depiction of industry in art, but rather the use of art in industry as a tool and as a medium of technical communication, a field that is now dominated by computer-aided design, though some architects still use drawing and model-making for this purpose. Celina finds aesthetic riches as well as practical utility in what were primarily technical drawings, but she argues that this is, in any case, a false and problematic dichotomy: the Romantic movement’s emphasis on individual genius began the transformation of drawing and design as a skill widely dispersed and practised amongst the scientific and technical communities of Europe into a gift possessed mainly by an elevated class of artists.

In her final chapter, ‘The Arts Divided?’, Celina charts the increasing separation between once complementary branches of knowledge — the sciences and the humanities — and the consequent downgrading of the esteem in which people with technical skills were held. Celina ends her story with the Great Exhibition, which she describes as a ‘cultural battlefield’ in which an attempt was made to reconcile the ‘fine arts’ and the ‘arts of industry’. But of course this was not the end of the story — despite Prince Albert, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, the workshop and the artist’s studio are still poles apart and some would say that many of the social and economic ills of our own time can be put down to a system that values academic and ‘creative’ education and achievement over the technical and vocational.

Our Fellow Timothy Taylor would go even further and say that without technology we would not be here. His book, The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution (ISBN 9780230617636; Palgrave Macmillan), has been making waves because Tim argues that Darwin’s theory of natural selection does not work in the case of Homo sapiens sapiens. That is not such a controversial point to make with regard to the modern era: medical technology and human compassion mean that we can and do nurture the weaker members of the community, and our economy is such that we can provide food for the majority, so the chances of breeding successfully are equalised between people with different characteristics that might once have made them more or less successful in passing on their genetic inheritance. But Tim wishes to push this ‘exemption’ from natural selection much further back — to the moment when, two million years ago, we diverged as a species from the other hominids.

Much of what he has to say is uncontroversial: there is a very real sense in which man makes himself after a certain point in human history because our ingenious brains are forever coming up with technologies (including fire and cooking, tools and weapons, houses and clothing) for defending ourselves against the forces in nature that would carry us away. But, like the argument about the Big Bang that has been revived this week by Stephen Hawking’s naive announcement that god is gravity, there is a very real problem in the question of what comes first — and it is not one that Tim solves in asserting that the invention of the baby sling is what enabled humans to develop giant brains. Surely the invention of that sling is a response to a phenomenon that has already occurred. Big brains created the problem to which the sling is one answer, not the other way around: there can be no cause-and-effect link between the invention of a baby-carrying aid and the biological development of babies with bigger heads and brains — that is not how genes work.

This reader is still tempted to believe that big brains are the result of genetic mutation that led to a selective advantage along classic Darwinian lines, but that one disagreement aside, The Artificial Ape is a convincing account of what we did with our brains after the human equivalent of the Big Bang and that has enabled us to become uniquely exempt from natural selection — at least for the time being, and for as long as we use our technology to sustain the planet and not to destroy it.

Roads are the oldest man-made objects still in use today, says Turnpike Roads to Banbury, by Fellow Jeremy Gibson and Alan Rosevear, the latest volume (no. 31) in the Banbury Historical Society monograph series, of which Jeremy is also the series editor (224pp, free to members, otherwise £15 plus £3 p&p; available from Banbury Historical Society, c/o Banbury Museum, Spiceball Park Road, Banbury OX16 2PQ). The book describes the many turnpike roads that lead to and through Banbury, usually as part of much longer routes linking the major towns of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Berkshire. Full descriptions are provided of how each turnpike trust was set up and run, with names of trustees and the acts of parliament by means of which the trusts were established and varied to create the road system that we tend to take for granted today. Also included are sections on coach and wagon services, carriers and traffic types, competition from canals and railways and the surviving evidence in the form of milestones, toll boards, direction posts and toll houses.

Our Fellows Dan Hicks and Mary Beaudry, who first collaborated on the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology in 2006, have produced another jointly edited volume of essays called the Oxford Handbook of Material Culture (ISBN 9780199218714; OUP). The best way to find out what the book is about is to read the ‘Introduction’, which is reproduced in full on Dan Hicks’s ‘We Were Modern’ blog. Here the editors say that the aim of material culture studies is to generate knowledge by studying objects as ‘events and effects’ — that is to say, trying to understand the part that objects play in historical processes and the effects they have upon human lives and socially transmitted behaviours.

Such an approach is represented in popular history by those books with which we are all familiar on the ‘biography’ of ‘things’, such as salt, cod, tea, sugar, opium, chocolate, tobacco, water, coffee, tea, potatoes, silk, paint pigments, silk, ivory and spices — not to mention the recent books and TV programmes on domestic life, houses, households and individual rooms. The book is full of examples of such studies, undertaken from a variety of different disciplinary perspectives — historical, archaeological, ethnographical, museological, anthropological, literary, geographical, sociological, economical, Marxist, feminist and above all philosophical.

But what makes the book even more stimulating is that the editors write as agnostics: they entitle the introduction ‘a reactionary view’ and set out to understand what all these different approaches might have in common and whether ‘material culture studies’ represents a coherent theoretical framework and a set of useful analytical tools. Unusually this is not a proselytising book, propounding the merits of a chosen theoretical approach above all others; it concludes that much has been learned and that there is much to celebrate in material culture studies, but that the approaches represented in the book represent partial knowledge and are but one of the means by which we seek to understand our complex world.

Our Fellow Steven Hobbs, Archivist at Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, has just published Gleanings from Wiltshire Parish Registers (Wiltshire Record Society Volume 63; copies available at £20 plus postage from the Hobnob Press), which is not the analysis of births, marriages and deaths that you would imagine from such a title, but a fascinating account of the memoranda, jottings and annotations made by incumbents and parish clerks in the margins and on the covers and end papers of the registers. These serve as a chronicle of communal memory and experience, providing first-hand evidence of such activities as the repair of the church, rectory or vicarage and the upkeep of churchyard walls, or the administration of the Poor Laws, local charities and tithe customs, but also revealing the writer’s personal responses — for example, to the religious and political upheavals of the English Civil War. This is the first collection of its type to be published that covers a whole county, based on the study of more than 2,000 registers for the period 1538 to 1812.