Salon Archive

Issue: 25

Corrections and additions

Susan La Niece, FSA, has written to comment on the item in SALON 24 reporting on the suggestion that the Government might award the British Museum a �15m emergency grant. Susan says that: ‘DCMS has confirmed there is no foundation to this story. Fellows should not be under any misapprehension that all is well at the British Museum. Funding for the Museum has declined by 30 per cent in real terms over the last decade. Twenty-three galleries (one-third of the total) are already closed for part of each day because of lack of money to staff them, the acquisition budget has been cut to �100,000, and with the imminent axing of 150 staff, research is going to be severely limited in future — indeed much research is already being classified as “aspirational”, and therefore expendable.’

Susan continues: ‘The campaign to raise public support for the BM has been very successful and DCMS has reputedly been deluged with letters. All supporters of the BM are implored to keep up the pressure to save our great national museum. All Fellows who value the British Museum are asked to write in its support to Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, 2—4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH, or e-mail: tessa.jowell@culture.gsi.gov.uk.’

Meanwhile, the BM’s new Director, Neil MacGregor, FSA, wrote a letter to the Independent last week, saying that ‘DCMS has not yet announced any of its allocations to museums for the next few years’, but that when it does ‘the BM will spend every penny that it can afford on ... new galleries and re-invigorated scholarship’.

SALON 24 also reported that the RSA (The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is opening its London home to the public for tours on the first Sunday of every month. The RSA has been in touch to say that the best person to contact for further information on tours is Julie Cranage, whose email address is: julie.cranage@rsa.org.uk.

Finally, SALON 24 committed the cardinal error of describing Fellows as ‘antiquarians’. One Fellow has forcefully made the point that ‘antiquarian’ is adjectival and that the noun is ‘antiquary’. It is, he says, ‘a distinction generally recognized by those of us who are, and all-too-frequently ignored by those who aren't’. SALON will strive in future to qualify for inclusion in the first category.

Library closure

The Library staff at Burlington House have asked Fellows to remember that the Library is officially closed over the summer, and will reopen on Monday 2 September. Fellows continue to arrive at the Library, unaware that it is closed. The summer closure period is a time when essential maintenance and conservation work is undertaken, including the cleaning of books, as well as important cataloguing projects. If access to the collection is urgently required, Fellows are asked to contact the Librarian in advance to make an appointment: email library@sal.org.uk or tel 020 7479 7084.

Fellows’ news

Sadly, Elliott Merriam Viney, FSA, died on 9 August, 2002, aged 88. Fellow John Coales has supplied the following appreciation, assisted by Fellows Gerard Leighton and Martin Stuchfield.

Elliott Merriam Viney, MA, DSO, MBE, FSA, TD, DL, of Quainton in Buckinghamshire, was a printer by profession, having been a director of Hazell Watson & Viney of Aylesbury, and then Deputy Chairman of the British Printing Corporation. He was also at one time a director of Jordan & Sons, the company registration agents. He was a senior Liveryman of The Grocer’s Company, having served in the Court of Assistants. But it is as a Buckinghamshire scholar that he will be remembered, being High Sheriff of the county in 1964. What he did not know about the landed families and about the parish churches of the county was infinitesimal. For many years he held office as Hon Secretary of the Bucks Archaeological Society and subsequently succeeded our late Fellow, E Clive Rouse, as President, only retiring in recent years. He was connected with innumerable organizations in the county, especially the Bucks Historic Churches Trust and the Oxford Diocesan Advisory Committee. Buckinghamshire is all the poorer for his passing.

Missing Fellows

Giselle Pullen, the Society’s Accounts Assistant, requests help in tracing the following Fellows who have not replied to recent letters and may have moved. If anyone has current information on their whereabouts, could they send an email to gpullen@sal.org.uk:

Mr Crispin Gill OBE
Dr Seamus Caulfield
Dr Guy De Boe
Dr Andreas Dikigoropoulos
Professor William Vernon Harris
Dr Andrew Kenneth George Jones
M. Jean Mesqui
Mr Patrick Thomas Russell Palgrave-Moore
Professor Derek Douglas Alexander Simpson
Dr Robin Christopher Nigel Thornes
Mr Halsted Billings Van der Poel
Professor Nicholas Vincent.

State of the Historic Environment Report

Duncan McCullum at English Heritage is in the process of compiling the first ever State of the Historic Environment Report (SHER), which will become an important tool for monitoring change in the historic environment over time, and for highlighting successes and areas for action and concern. SHER is an evolution from the Heritage Monitor, produced for many years by the Tourism Council, and is inspired by the annual State of the Countryside report published by the Countryside Agency.

The aim is to devise a number of key indicators that can be used to monitor the health of the historic environment. The author acknowledges that the first SHER report will be incomplete because of the short time span involved in its creation and the lack of comprehensive or reliable data — nevertheless, it will set down markers for the heritage sector to focus on in the future, identifying the key challenges for the sector.

SHER is being supported and backed by numerous bodies within the heritage sector and beyond, and the final report will be launched — probably by a senior political figure — in late November.

Duncan McCullum is very keen to hear from potential contributors. Further details of the content of SHER can be found on the English Heritage website at: www.english-heritage.org.uk/default.asp?wci=mainframe&URL1=default.asp%3FWCI%3DNode%26WCE%3D108.

National Trust Annual Report 2001/2002

Launching the National Trust’s new Annual Report at the end of July, Chairman Charles Nunneley described 2001 as ‘one of the most testing periods in the Trust’s long history’. Foot and mouth disease had a devastating effect on the Trust’s tenants and their communities, and on the rural economy as a whole, though it did have the positive effect of galvanizing opinion in the UK about what is happening — and about what should happen — in the countryside.

The Chairman made a stout defence of the Power of Place report, saying that it ‘set out the importance of the built and natural environment to the nation, financially, educationally and spiritually ... the report particularly emphasized the need for the Government to show its support by instructing its departments to consider the effect of their policies on the heritage’.

Going on to describe the Government’s own heritage policy statement, A Force for the Future, as ‘long on rhetoric and lamentably short on practical help’, he concluded that ‘it may be a struggle to persuade Government of the national benefit of such supportive measures, but we and our fellow heritage organizations do not intend to give up’.

A copy of the full Annual Report and Accounts will shortly be available in downloadable form from the National Trust website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

New Forum to make archaeological archives more accessible

Twelve leading archaeological bodies are joining forces to create a new Archaeological Archives Forum, which will tackle the job of making archaeological archives easier to access.

The Forum held its inaugural meeting in May, and its Secretary is Kathy Perrin, author of the English Heritage report Archaeological Archives; Access Documentation and Deposition: A Way Forward. The Forum Chair is Hedley Swain, Head of the Department of Early London History and Collections at the Museum of London, and the Vice-Chair is Dai Morgan-Evans, our General Secretary.

The provision of archaeological resource centres, digital access and archiving and training in post-excavation archiving are all high on the Forum’s agenda. The Museum of London has provided a blueprint with the opening in February of its London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) in Mortimer Wheeler House.

Announcing the founding of the Forum, Kathy Perrin Kathy.Perrin@english-heritage.org.uk) said that: ‘Archaeological archives are amongst our greatest assets but their wealth is too often untapped and their potential unexplored. Stuck away in basements or remote storerooms, they can be inaccessible or even thought of as a nuisance. Once written up in academic publications or client reports the mass of material and information they represent seldom sees the light of day. The Forum hopes to change this by creating new standards of access and deposition. We want the archives to be a source of exciting interactive learning and research for everyone, from schoolchildren to professors.’

Further information can be found on the Forum’s web page hosted by the Council for British Archaeology web site at www.britarch.ac.uk/archives/index.html

Fifteenth-century ship found in Newport

Substantial remains of a fifteenth-century ship have been found buried in silt and mud on the banks of the River Usk in Newport, South Wales. The ship was found by the Glamorgan—Gwent Archaeological Trust during excavations in advance of the building of a theatre pit for a new arts centre.

With echoes of the Rose Theatre discovery in 1989 (which led to the drafting of PPG 16), the local authority in Newport has courted controversy by saying that the discovery must not be allowed to stand in the way of construction work, and that excavation must be complete by mid-August.

Local people have responded by forming the ‘Save our Ship’ campaign, while archaeologists have expressed astonishment at the authority’s failure to appreciate the importance of the find. Dai Morgan Evans, our General Secretary, was quoted in the Guardian as saying: ‘This is the Welsh Mary Rose — it is shameful that a ship of such importance is not going to be preserved, and incomprehensible that the Welsh authorities are showing so little interest in their history’.

Leading maritime archaeologists, including Charles Barker, Director of the Mary Rose Trust, and Sean McGrail, FSA, Professor of Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, have called for thorough excavation under controlled conditions, followed by conservation and display.

Nigel Nayling, of the University of Wales, Lampeter, an expert on ancient boats, said that the find was unique in Britain and it was one of a handful of such ships in Europe. The contents include Portuguese pottery, a stone cannonball, textiles (including the hem of a medieval robe), oak barrels, and rarely found remains of the original rigging, sails and upper deck, which are usually washed away in seabed wrecks. For further details, with pictures, see the BBC website at: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/2183191.stm.

Roman villa found in Bradford

Will Fellows David Neal and Stephen Cosh ever finish work on Roman Mosaics Vol II: South-west Britain? The question arises not because of their lack of diligence but because of the number of new discoveries that continue to be made in the region. Following the finds at Lopen, near Ilchester, this spring, another superb mosaic has now been uncovered among the remains of two Roman villas found under a sports pitch at Bradford-on-Avon, in Wiltshire.

The find is being hailed as one of the most significant archaeological discoveries since the early 1960s. The villas, dating from about 350AD, have 40 rooms each. Dr Mark Corney, of Bristol University's archaeology department, who is directing the dig, said that the villa complex was the Blenheim Palace of its day, and features one of the biggest and best-preserved Roman examples ever found in Britain.

‘It is the most significant site since the discovery of a Roman palace at Fishbourne in West Sussex in the early 1960s. The condition of the mosaic is the most incredible feature. The walls of the original building and roof tiles collapsed on top of it, so it has been preserved in mint condition for more than 1,500 years,’ he said.

‘The mosaic is very high quality, made, we think, by the top workshop of the day that was based in Cirencester.’ The mosaic measures 16ft by 30ft, and covered the floor of a large hall which joined the two houses. It features an interlocking design of squares and a vase flanked by dolphins — symbols of rebirth and good fortune.

Free entry leads to rise in museum visitor numbers

Figures published last week show that visits to England’s museums and galleries in the seven months since entry to national museums became free have gone up by 62 per cent compared with the same period last year. The V&A experienced the biggest increase, with numbers up from 480,000 to 1.2 million, an increase of 157 per cent. Mark Jones, FSA, Director of the V&A, said that ‘free admission makes a huge difference and has opened up the museum to many more people’.

Treasure Annual Report

The DCMS has just published its third Treasure Annual Report, which shows that some 221 items of treasure were reported in the year 2000, compared with a mere 24 finds per year on average reported before the 1996 Treasure Act came into force.

Among the items featured in the report are a collection of Iron Age gold jewellery found by metal-detector users in the Winchester area, two Bronze Age gold torcs and three gold bracelets from Milton Keynes (now on display at the British Museum) and an Iron Age silver brooch, bronze mirror with early Celtic design and pottery fragments from Shillington in Bedfordshire.

The downside of the Treasure Act is that museum acquisition funds are being rapidly depleted as finders are entitled to compensation at the full market value. Fellow Roger Bland, co-ordinator of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that: ‘The Government is rightly boasting of the success and the national importance of this scheme, but is trying to run it on a shoestring. The Treasure law, and Portable Antiquities Scheme, deserve proper solid national funding.’

In the same report, Fellow Caroline Malone, the BM’s Keeper of Prehistory, is said to be facing a financial struggle to acquire a 3,000-year-old gold cup of outstanding international importance which was found this year in Kent and has just been declared treasure. ‘It is a real and increasing problem,’ she said. ‘My own department's designated acquisition fund is only a few hundred pounds, which might buy an axe head or a bronze brooch.’

For the full report see Maev Kennedy’s report on the Guardian web site at www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,774633,00.html. Further information on the Portable Antiquities Scheme is available from www.finds.org.uk or from Roger Bland on tel 020 7323 8611 or email rbland@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk.

Kernuak to be an official language

Kernuak, or Kernewek, the almost forgotten Cornish language, is to be declared an official tongue under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, ratified by the UK last year. Making Kernuak an official language means that speakers and teachers have access to EU funds earmarked for fostering minority languages. Kernuak, a member of the Brythonic branch of Celtic languages, developed separately from Welsh from the early medieval period, and the last native speaker died in the 1890s, though some 3,000 people now speak the language (up to 500 fluently). The language is now taught in some Cornish schools, and local authorities are being encouraged to use Cornish names on road and place signs.

Cornish devolutionists are jubilant at the proposal. They believe it supports their campaign for Cornwall to have its own regional assembly, rather than being absorbed into a larger assembly for the whole of the south west. The 150 members of the Northumbrian Language Society are now lobbying for similar status.

Rabbits locate moated manor house

Rabbits — so often the enemy of archaeology — were this week credited by Jonathan Parkhouse, the county archaeologist for Warwickshire, with revealing the site of a fourteenth-century moated manor house. The house came to light when field walkers (who were looking for a suspected Roman site) spotted fragments of rare hand-painted glass, as well as animal bone and medieval pottery, at the entrance to a warren.

More than a hundred glass fragments have been recovered — enough, according to Paul Stamper, FSA, English Heritage’s ancient monuments inspector for the West Midlands, to enable the subject of the window (perhaps a biblical scene or a family coat of arms) to be reconstructed. The glass comes from a house that was demolished in the fifteenth century when a more modern replacement was constructed nearby. By then, large windows of clear glass were coming into fashion, and the old-fashioned painted glass was discarded. None of the lead caning, which could have been melted down and reused, was found.

Digging up the Kremlin

Tatyana Panova, head of archaeology at the Kremlin Museum, is reported by the Sunday Times as having announced that excavations will begin early next year to investigate the site of a monastery demolished under Stalin’s orders in the 1930s. The site lies opposite President Putin’s office, within the Moscow Kremlin, and previous excavations within the vicinity have have uncovered jewellery, chalices, coins and other treasures thought to have been buried hastily during times of turmoil, including the era of Ivan the Terrible and the Napoleonic Wars.

More on sex in ancient times

Also from the Sunday Times comes the report that Fellow David Gaimster is writing a book on the contents of the Secretum at the British Museum, which, like its Vatican counterpart, contains classical works of art and archaeological finds considered by nineteenth-century curators to be ‘abominal monuments to human licentiousness’.

Once hidden from all eyes other than those of ‘mature years and sound morals’, some 400 items from the collection may well now go on public display in a special exhibition provisionally entitled Sex and Sensibility. David describes the contents of the Secretum (which consists largely of a collection built up by Dr George Witt, one-time mayor of Bedford and donated to the Museum in the mid-nineteenth century) as being ‘of great value both for the individual artefacts and as a time capsule of Victorian interest in sexual material’.

Europeans may have come from the Middle East

In the mid-1970s, arguments raged over the question of whether ancient farmers migrated from the Middle East to replace hunter-gatherer populations, or whether hunter-gatherers adopted new agricultural ideas and practices — and the arguments for and against diffusion theory and migration theory filled many a book.

Now scientists at University College London are suggesting that there may be some truth to both theories. An article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that certain rare Y chromosome gene mutations of Middle Eastern origin are present in 85 per cent of all the males they studied in modern populations in Albania, Macedonia and Greece, and in 30 per cent of French and German males, tailing off to 15 per cent further north. This, they conclude, ‘suggests that large movements of people accompanied the introduction of farming to Europe from the Near East’. But, they add, ‘farming practice may also have spread by imitation and cultural transmission. Different processes are likely to have been important at different localities and at different times’.

Arts and Humanities Research Council

A Government steering group report has recommended that the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) should become a formally constituted research council for the arts and humanities. At present the AHRB provides funding and support in three programmes: advanced research; postgraduate research and training; and special funding for museums, galleries and collections. This recommendation paves the way for research in the arts and humanities to achieve parity with other subjects and disciplines.

At present there are seven research councils, covering the sciences, economic and social research, and the natural environment. All seven are established under Royal Charters, and their central role is to define the overall strategic framework for research, training and knowledge transfer within their subject area, as well as providing funding for research and acting collectively as a source of independent scientific policy advice to government. The lack of an equivalent research council for arts and humanities researchers, who constitute 23 per cent of staff in the UK higher education sector, has long been an anomaly.

Ministers at the UK Department of Education and Skills are now considering the various options and a timetable for the AHRB’s move to research council status. Further information is available from the AHRB’s website at www.ahrb.ac.uk/.

Lottery bodies under review

Organizations in the heritage sector are concerned for the future of the Heritage Lottery Fund following publication by the DCMS of a consultation paper on the future of the Lottery. The review is designed to ‘look at how we can enhance and develop its future and make Lottery funding more responsive to the needs and priorities of communities’. Some interpret that as a potential threat to causes such as the heritage that are perceived to be elitist.

One proposal floated in the document is to merge the existing Lottery bodies (the four Sports Councils, the four Arts Councils, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Community Fund, the Millennium Commission, the New Opportunities Fund, the Film Council and Scottish Screen) into a single organization, to provide a simple one-stop shop for project funding with reduced bureaucracy. Such a proposal might lead to heritage projects taking a smaller slice of the Lottery cake than they do at present.

Another proposal is to introduce a National Lottery Day, during which the public would be admitted free to attractions funded by the Lottery, as a way of reminding people where the �12 billion raised for good causes has been spent.

Copies of the consultation document (in English and in Welsh) can be downloaded from the DCMS website at www.culture.gov.uk/lottery/. The deadline for comments is 30 October 2002.

The Vinland Map

Instinctively one has always known that it was a forgery, but only now has historian Kirsten Seaver come up with an explanation for the origins of the Vinland Map, which Fellow Peter Barber, head of map collections at the British Library, has endorsed as ‘persuasive’.

Discovered in 1957, the map purports to be the work of Norse explorers who sailed to the Hudson Bay and the Gulf of St Lawrence in 1440, half a century before Columbus reached the West Indies. The parchment on which the map is drawn is genuinely fifteenth-century, and archaeological discoveries have since confirmed that Viking sailors did indeed travel to North America as early as the tenth century, where they established fur-trading settlements.

Set against this evidence is the fact that the Vinland Map ink contains a mineral called anatase, not used before the 1920s. Kirsten Seaver believes the map was, in fact, created by Fr Joseph Fischer, an Austrian Jesuit, after he discovered a blank piece of parchment in a fifteenth-century manuscript of the Speculum Historiale, which was acquired between 1931 and 1943 by the Stella Matutina Jesuit College in Feldkirch, Austria. Faint traces remain on the map of the College’s faded library stamp. Various other clues point to Fischer as the author, not least the similarity of his handwriting to that on the map, and the fact that Fischer was an authority on fifteenth century maps.

Why did he do it? According to Seaver, Fischer forged the map, which shows New World settlements with names based on those of Christian saints, in the hope of undermining Nazi propaganda, which was anti-Catholic, and sought to associate the Third Reich with ancient Nordic culture. Had the map been found by the German authorities, it would have appealed to their sense of the superiority of Nordic culture, but it would also have confirmed the greater superiority and authority of the Church.

Opposition to Tuscan motorway

Claudio Martini, Tuscany’s regional president, is appealing to the Italian Constitutional Court in an attempt to stop the Italian national highways authority from building a new 75-mile stretch of motorway through the unspoilt Maremma region of southern Tuscany. The Maremma is renowned for its scenery, wildlife and classical remains, many of which escaped robbing in the medieval period because malaria prevented people from settling in the region’s marshy swamps.

Fellows may well remember this as the location of the well-preserved villa at Settefinestre, which was excavated by Professor Andrea Carandini and teams from universities in the UK and Italy in the mid-1970s. Martini says that the new road will ‘rip open’ virgin hills and is ‘totally crazy – like trying to drive a motorway through the Norfolk Broads’.

The origins of European chess

Fellow Richard Hodges, of the University of East Anglia, has discovered an ivory chesspiece in Albania which suggests that Europeans started playing the game during the sixth century AD, considerably earlier than previously thought. Dug from the remains of a Byzantine palace at Butrint, the piece has a small cross on top, and could be a king or queen. The game originated in Asia around the fifth century AD.

The mystery of the rust-free iron pillar

A 7-metre high iron pillar standing next to the Qutub Minaret in Delhi is legendary for showing little sign of corrosion, despite being exposed to the elements since it was erected by King Chandragupta II Vikramaditya around AD 400. This, according to materials engineer Ramamurthy Balasubramaniam, a researcher at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, is because the pillar contains an unusually high level of phosphorus, which prevents the iron from reacting with the oxygen to form rust.

Ancient iron smiths would not have understood the chemistry behind the process, but they might have deliberately picked an ore they knew from experience to be resistant to corrosion, says Balasubramaniam. The way the ore was worked would also have helped the iron to remain rust-free. In modern furnaces, limestone is added to iron ore to help remove phosphorus, but 1,600 years ago Indian metallurgists didn't use limestone, so the phosphorus would have remained.

Iron Age ‘ghost village’

An excavation at Sutton Common near Askern in South Yorkshire is bringing to light remains of an enigmatic marshland fort which, despite all the effort that went into its creation, seems never to have been inhabited.
The fort (which covers the area of two football fields) comprises two large enclosures, one with a grand entrance, linked by what appears to be a ceremonial walkway and dating from about 600 to 400 BC.

Fellow Robert Van de Noort of Exeter University, who is directing the excavation, said: We have uncovered the remains of several round houses ... but no evidence, such as bone or pottery or of the repair of any of the structures, to show that anyone actually lived here. It may mean that Sutton Common was primarily a symbolic or ceremonial place, rather than a political or economic centre’.

Further details from the English Heritage website at: www.english-heritage.org.uk/default.asp?wci=mainframe&URL1=default.asp%3FWCI%3DNode%26WCE%3D101.