Salon Archive

Issue: 58

Meeting report

As is traditional, the final meeting of the academic year consisted of a Miscellany of Papers, reflecting the broad interests of the Society and its Fellows. Christopher Catling spoke on DNA and archaeology to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of the DNA molecule. Bernard Nurse, FSA, reminded everyone that the Society was a major patron of topographical artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and showed some of the outstanding work that these commissions produced. Lord Redesdale, hotfoot from defeating the Government in the House of Lords (see Folk Hero below), explained the origins and objectives of the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group, and the General Secretary rummaged around in the Society�s collections again and this time exhibited a fine nineteenth-century Hindu statuette from Rajasthan.

A full report of the weekly meeting can be found on the Fellows� pages of the Society�s website.

Fellows� news

Before this week�s meeting, the President presented a tankard to our former Librarian, John Hopkins, to commemorate seventy years of association with the Society. The resident reminded Fellows that John had arrived at the Society in 1933 as �the lad around the library�, and said that in various guises he had performed that role ever since; having retired in 1986, he nevertheless continued to play a very important role with the Society, for which many Fellows had good reason to be grateful.

Queen�s Birthday Honours

Tucked away amongst the small print of the Queen�s Birthday honours list was one very worthy recipient who escaped mention in last week�s Salon. Victor Marchant receives an MBE for services to archaeology. By profession an Inspector with Customs & Excise, Victor has devoted his spare time and much of his retirement to the establishment (with Robert Kiln) of the British Archaeological Awards. Andrew Selkirk, FSA, says that �due to is careful husbandry, when he retired from the Awards, he left behind �10,000 in the kitty!� That achievement alone more than merits an MBE.

Invitation to a meeting on Iraq

Fellows are cordially invited to a meeting that is to be held on 27 June, from 10.30am to 1pm, at the British Academy, Carlton House Terrace, London, to discuss Iraq and other antiquities issues. The meeting is being hosted by the Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities in association with ICOMOS-UK, English Heritage and the Historic Environment Forum. Because space is limited, Fellows wishing to attend should contact Alex Hunt at the CBA to reserve a place.

Speakers will include representatives from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the British Museum and the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, as well as Dr Christopher Young, FSA, Head of World Heritage and International Policy, English Heritage, and Susan Denyer, FSA, of ICOMOS UK, and Dr David Gaimster, FSA, of Cultural Property Unit, Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

It is expected that the meeting will result in resolutions being passed relating to the prevention of further damage to antiquities in Iraq, on the UK�s ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention and on the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill.

On runic inscriptions and cruciform brooches

�Do not believe everything you read in the press� is the clear message in response to last week�s Salon story concerning �Britain�s oldest runes�, which was based on an article that appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 7 June. John Hines, FSA, writes to say that the West Heslerton runic inscription � far from being a new discovery � has been known about for years: he himself published a brief report on it in 1990, and it had been known of for several years before that. The cruciform brooch on which it was made is not dated to the mid-seventh century but rather to the middle to late sixth. Even so, he says, it is emphatically not the earliest example of written English: there are Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions � including the famous Undley bracteate with a specifically �Anglo-Frisian� rune-form � from a century or so earlier.

Catherine Hills, FSA, refers us to Professor R I Page�s works on this subject, especially the second edition of his book An Introduction to English Runes where we will find a number of candidates for runic inscriptions earlier than the Heslerton brooch � including an astragalus from Caistor by Norwich, several pots from Spong Hill and the bracteate from Undley, all late fifth to early sixth century in date.

Martin Welch, FSA, adds that the proposed date of AD 650 is improbable for cruciform brooches, which went out of fashion in the early 600s. A date in the sixth century or even in the fifth century is possible, depending on what type of cruciform brooch is meant here. There are, he says, a number of sixth-century metal artefacts with more extensive runic inscriptions than this which are well published, for example, a sword scabbard from Chessell Down and a sword pommel from Gilton.

Progress on the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill

David Gaimster, FSA, has written to keep Fellows informed of progress on the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill. Following discussions with the British Art Market Federation, two minor technical changes are to be made to the wording on the nature of the offence, which do not narrow or weaken the scope of the Bill but offer some greater clarity. The two amendments have already been tabled by Richard Allan, MP, and will be accepted by the Government at the Commons Report and Third Reading stages on 4 July.

If all goes well, the Bill will then go to the Lords where Lord Redesdale, Secretary of APPAG, will manage the Bill�s progress. He has secured an advantageous schedule, which should see the Bill heading back to the Commons for Royal Assent by the end of October. If all goes well, the Bill will become law before the end of the year.

Folk hero

The Government suffered another defeat last week in the long-running battle over the Licensed Premises Bill. It is now looking increasingly unlikely that the bill will pass into law unless ministers back down over a clause forcing a bureaucratic and expensive licensing regime on pubs, clubs, village halls and community centres where live music is performed.

Opposition peers led by Lord Redesdale voted last Thursday by 128 to 113 to exempt small venues where live music is performed to an audience of less than 200 and where the entertainment finishes before 11.30pm. Lord Redesdale, described by The Guardian as �the champion of folk music�, told fellow peers that �We�re being robust about this because there are implications for human rights and for live music all over the country�.

This is the tenth time the Lords have defeated the bill as part of a so-called �ping-pong� battle whereby each chamber seeks to overturn the other's amendments. That battle has to be resolved within the next five weeks � by the summer recess � if the bill is to become law. Since the bill began in the House of Lords, the Government cannot impose the Parliament Act. A spokesman for DCMS says that the Government is now �considering its position�.

Berwick Inquiry

A public inquiry was held last week (17�20 June) to look into a proposal to build a block of forty-four old peoples� dwellings in the garden of Hawksmoor�s Grade II* military Governor�s House in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The site, in the heart of the old town, is about the last of the open spaces in this important medieval Scottish town. It is known that the site had had a succession of important buildings: a royal palace, a thirteenth-century Carmelite Friary, substantial Elizabethan houses, and a seventeenth century Governor�s Palace pre-dating the present 1719 building. Trial trenches undertaken at the request of the County Council, going down to the top archaeological level, only established that a considerable amount of archaeology remained. A mitigation strategy was designed, consisting of 150 sleeved piles, plus some excavation, thus the archaeology would be preserved to the satisfaction of PPG16.

Objectors took a different view, saying that the site would still be mutilated, and that the �preserve for posterity� policy is in actual effect no more than the site being �destroyed for posterity�. This posterity with unlimited resources is a myth, so they claimed, and a site once developed will probably never become available again. This site, properly excavated, could act as a regenerator for the town now largely dependent on the tourist trade, as at South Shields or Segedunum, whilst still permitting thirty or more almshouse-type dwellings of a more appropriate type to be built.

Commenting on the inquiry, Charmian Woodfield, FSA, and Paul Woodfield said it emerged that �the developer�s engineers were not aware of any agreed mitigation scheme, bringing into question the real intentions of those involved�. They went on to say that: �This inquiry raises the serious issues surrounding the �preserve in situ� policy. Yes, all well and good if significant archaeology is present and the development can be moved, but how can a mitigation scheme involving piling and sporadic excavation be effective to this end if the initial investigation has not established what and where the important remains are?�

Ten years at the Petra Great Temple

Writing in the most recent edition of the ACOR Newsletter, published by the American Center for Oriental Research, Fellow Martha Joukowsky reports on her tenth season of excavations at the Great Temple, a vast freestanding structure at the heart of the city of Petra, in Jordan. The site has resulted in 125 publications and three PhDs (to date) and has produced a database of 325,851 individual items of cultural material, all of which will be made available to scholars in the form of a digital archive, but Martha warns that there is currently too little discussion about standards for digital archives within archaeology. An overview of the site can be seen on the Brown University website.

Leaning stones at Avebury

Last April, Salon reported that two megaliths standing near the centre of the henge at Avebury were to be pushed upright using giant jacks because, according to the National Trust, tests showed the stones to be �perilously close to collapse�. Archaeological work completed at the site now shows this only to be half true: one of the stones was moving and has now been set back upright using hydraulic jacks, but the second stone turns out to be bigger and set deeper than anyone imagined, and it may well have been erected at an angle from the start.

The two stones are located in the Cove at the centre of the circle. Whilst one stone extends about a metre into the ground, the other extends about three metres, with as much of the stone below ground as above. The weight of the stone is estimated as 100 tonnes or more, making it one of the biggest standing stones in the UK. Not only is it unlikely to fall, it appears to have been set at an angle when the henge was constructed some 4,000 years ago.

Among finds retrieved from the pits dug to accommodate the stones are insects and cereal grains. The latter will be carbon dated to give a clearer idea of the construction date for the Cove.

National Archaeology Days

The CBA has just published a list of events to celebrate National Archaeology Days 2003, which take place on 19 and 20 July. This year�s programme is characterised by a much larger proportion of live work and hands-on activities, including geophysics at Bignor Roman Villa, fieldwork on the Thames foreshore below the Tower of London, numerous behind the scenes tours of museum stores, and several visits to live excavations. For further details see the CBA�s website.

Y chromosome study of British males

The results of a new survey of Y chromosomes in the British Isles has just been published in Nature magazine, and they suggests that Anglo-Saxons and Danes left their biological mark mainly in central and eastern England, and mainland Scotland, with Norwegian invaders showing up in the northern isles, including Orkney. David Goldstein, of University College London, says that: �Britain�s native inhabitants weren't pushed to the fringes of Scotland and Wales; a lot of them remained in England and central Ireland. This is surprising: the Anglo-Saxons reputedly colonized southern England heavily�.

Previous studies of mitochondrial DNA, inherited from our mothers, found little regional variation, but the Y chromosome, inherited only by males, shows sharper regional differences. Goldstein's team collected DNA samples from 1,700 men living in towns across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They took a further 400 DNA samples from continental Europeans, including Germans and Basques. Only men whose paternal grandfathers had dwelt within twenty miles of their current home were eligible.

The Y chromosomes of men from Wales and Ireland resemble those of the Basques. Some believe that the Basques, from the border of France and Spain, are descended from Europe�s oldest population.

The new survey is being hailed as an example of how archaeologists, prehistorians and geneticists are beginning to collaborate, according to Chris Tyler-Smith of the University of Oxford, who tracks human evolution using the Y chromosome. �It would be nice to see the whole world surveyed in this kind of detail, but it's expensive and there are other priorities�, he said.

Britain's first prehistoric cave art

Salon hesitates to use the word �first� again, but this claim comes from an impeccable source. The latest edition of the journal Antiquity (June 2003) contains a paper by Paul Bahn, FSA, Paul Pettitt, and Sergio Ripoll, their Spanish colleague, reporting the discovery of 12,000-year-old engravings of birds and an ibex carved into the stone walls at Creswell Crags, Derbyshire. This is the first time that prehistoric cave art has been identified in Britain. The Creswell Crags cave was examined because of previous discoveries at the location, including a 12,000-year-old bone needle found in the nineteenth century. Bahn, Pettitt and Ripoll say the engravings are of a style similar to the cave art of France and Spain. Of the two birds carved on the wall of the cave, one might be a crane or swan, the other a bird of prey.

Resource conference on �University collections � are they worth it?

Resource has announced that it is supporting an international conference to be held at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, on 4 and 5 July 2003, to look at the challenges and opportunities facing university collections. Organised by the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, the other supporters include CRASSH (the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and the Humanities), the Fitzwilliam Museum and the University Museums Group

Speakers include: Charles Saumarez Smith, FSA, National Gallery; Jim Bennett, Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford; Nichola Johnson, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia; Marta Lourenco, Museum of Science, University of Lisbon; Arthur MacGregor, FSA, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford; Jochen Br�ning, Humboldt University, Berlin; James Cuno, Courtauld Institute of Art; David; Keith Thomson, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and Irene Winter, Harvard University.

For more conference information, a full programme and booking form please contact Lisa Newble at the Whipple Museum.

Help Country Life in the search for England�s oldest house

Pollyanne Roberts of the Country Life editorial team has laid down a challenge to Fellows to help in the search for England�s oldest house. The leader in last week�s magazine (12 June) made the point that houses are often not as old as they seem, and that apparently ancient features often prove to have been acquired at a demolition sale and fitted into a much later house. �If in doubt, say 1840�, was the advice of one scholar at the Victoria and Albert Museum to a new contributor to the magazine�s country-house articles. Yet guidebooks still speak eloquently of Saxon foundations and Romanesque solars.

If you have a candidate for the oldest continually inhabited house in England, they can be sent by email via the magazine�s website. All published suggestions will be rewarded with a bottle of champagne.


British Academy: Assistant Secretary (Communications and External Relations)
Salary �35,813, closing date 30 July 2003

The Assistant Secretary will be responsible for developing and managing the Academy�s communications strategy and for handling relations with the media and other external bodies, and for developing a programme of activities to communicate the results of research sponsored by the Academy. Further details from the Academy�s website.