Salon Archive

Issue: 68

Weekly meeting report

The similarities between bibliography and archaeology were revealed at this Thursday�s meeting, when Professor Mirjam Foot, VPSA, delivered a paper on the theme of �The Archaeology of the Book�. �Books�, she said, �were not only archaeological objects, bibliographers also use archaeological techniques to analyse the materials from which books are made, and the techniques employed in their construction�. Tracing the first books back to second-century AD Egypt, Mirjam Foot showed that the transition from scroll to codex went hand in hand with the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, and that medieval and Renaissance books provided a fund of evidence for changing fashions influenced by the court, diplomats and travellers, helped by trade and sometimes accelerated by war.

A full report of the meeting held on 30 October is now available on the Fellows� side of the Society�s website .

Forthcoming meetings

6 November: Artistic Propaganda in the Wars of the Roses, by Elizabeth Danbury, FSA
14 November: Meeting to be held in Boston, USA
20 November: Sculptural Traditions in Roman Britain, by Dr Martin Henig, FSA

Fellows� news

Mavis Bimson, FSA, is looking for a home for her collection of Antiquaries Journals and Archaeologias dating back to her election to the Fellowship in 1958. Mavis wonders if some more recently elected Fellow might be interested in having them, adding that �they are available to be collected in North London by a Fellow who was willing and able to help in their removal from rather high shelves!� Mavis can be contacted by email.

Society�s painting to be the star of National Chemistry Week

A painting by the fourteenth-century Bolognese artist, Simone dei Crocefissi will go on display at the Burlington House premises of the Royal Society of Chemistry in mid-November to mark this year�s National Chemistry Week. The painting, which was given to the Society of Antiquaries in 1938, is being used to demonstrate the interplay of chemistry and art, focusing on the chemistry involved in the restoration of the picture and in the original painting materials.

Recent conservation work carried out by staff at the Courtauld Institute has removed the reworking of a later age to reveal the full drama, colour and complexity of Crocefissi�s original work. Hidden beneath a conventional Crucifixion scheme set against a sky of flat monochrome gold, the original work consists of a colourful and complex series of linked events, showing the crucified Saviour suspended on the Tree of Knowledge, which grows from his sleeping mother�s womb, while Adam and Eve are seen being released from Purgatory.

The remarkable painting will be displayed from 1am to 4.30pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 12 to 14 November. Art historian Robert Gibbs, who has studied and written about the painting, will be on hand to explain its history, its conservation, and the uncovering of the original image.

Scotland Yard arrests antique dealers

Three antique dealers were arrested last week in what was described as a �secret police operation to combat the growing trade in artefacts stolen from Iraq�. Officers from the Arts and Antiques Unit at Scotland Yard recovered an Assyrian stone relief looted from the palace of Ashur Nasir-pal II after the 1991 Gulf War. Dr Neil Brodie, who co-ordinates the work of the Illicit Antiques Research centre, set up to combat looting after the Gulf War, said that the UK�s new legislation gave police wider powers to combat the illicit trade in antiquities. Those arrested and released on bail are thought to work for a central London antiques gallery.

BBC highlights threat to Yorkshire�s Stonehenge

The little-known archaeological landscape surrounding the Thornborough Henges, near Ripon, will be described in BBC 2�s popular Time Flyers series at 7.30pm on 4 November. Known as the �Stonehenge of the North�, the three massive henges that survive constitute the largest prehistoric earth-moving operation in Britain. But the henges themselves are only the tip of the iceberg: the surrounding landscape has been claimed as containing the greatest concentration of late Neolithic and early Bronze Age sites in the country, many of them hidden beneath the present land surface.

This is a landscape under threat, however, with open-cast gravel quarrying eating up the area at the rate of 50 hectares a year. Mark Horton, FSA, who presents the Time Flyers series points to the inconsistency of allowing this landscape to be lost, whilst spending �100m to preserve and enhance the landscape around Stonehenge.

Extraction will leave the henges and the village of Nosterfield isolated by water-filled pits, some of which will be used for landfill, while others will be turned into �nature reserves� or leisure parks.

An organisation called the Friends of Thornborough has been set up to try to halt the gravel extraction which, they say, will not only destroy many known sites but also, by lowering the water table, will increase the rate of decay of buried features in the unthreatened areas.

County archaeologist Neil Campling says that the campaign group was exaggerating its case, but admits that �One particular village, Nosterfield, is almost surrounded by quarrying, and that�s a serious issue in itself.�

More information is available at www.friendsofthornborough.org.

Discovery of England's oldest bridge recreated online

Wessex Archaeology�s excellent web site has just been enhanced with a series of photographs and reconstruction drawings of the earliest bridge ever definitely identified in England, dating to the Middle Bronze Age, c 1,500 BC. The 143 wooden stakes that formed the remains of the bridge were discovered during the construction of a reservoir by Southern Water near Testwood, Hampshire, in 1996. The stakes were up to three metres (ten feet) tall and 25 cms (10 inches) wide and formed a bridge 26 metres (85 feet long) across a river which has since changed its course, possibly what is now the River Blackwater. Carbon dating of the stakes, made from oak, alder and ash, dates them to around 1,500 BC, making them the oldest bridge ever found in England (another discovery of slightly older stakes in the River Thames is now thought to be a jetty).

�The bridge near Testwood is fascinating evidence for people�s early use of rivers,� said Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, FSA, who managed the project for Wessex Archaeology. �We can imagine people in 1,500 BC trading with other parts of Britain or the continent using sea-going boats similar to large canoes � the cleat we found was part of one of these. They would have brought their cargoes � including metalwork similar to the rapier we found � as well as pots and people to the Testwood bridge where they either went on by land or went further upstream in smaller boats.�

The website can be seen at www.wessexarch.co.uk/projects/hampshire/testwood/index.html.

Migrants poured into Britain after the Ice Age

The latest edition of the Journal of Quaternary Science contains an article suggesting that the repopulation of Britain after the last Ice Age was not a slow process led by a few pioneering explorers. Instead, people returned very rapidly to what was then the British peninsular (only later did Britain become separated from Europe by the English Channel) as the glaciers retreated.

Radiocarbon-dating evidence for human occupation of Britain during the Late-glacial Interstadial was compared with climate information gathered from ice cores to see how soon people returned after the climate warmed up. Archaeologist Nick Barton, from Oxford Brookes University, who led the study, said: �With the benefit of large numbers of radiocarbon dates corrected against a highly accurate record of global climatic change of the Greenland ice record, we can see that reoccupation was almost an instantaneous event across northern and central Europe.�

Co-author Martin Street, from the Romisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Neuwied, Germany, said: �It seems clear that people were following the herds of large animals, like horse, which expanded to occupy the continent during this period. Humans can be seen as part of that pulse.�

Medieval climate not so hot

In the same week, a group of leading paleoclimatologists published a report in the journal Science questioning whether the Medieval Warm Period was a truly global phenomenon and suggesting that it was more localised in its effects than had once been believed. Their conclusions leave little room for comfort among those who believe that today�s global warming is simply a repeat of that same cyclical process.

Having looked at evidence from written records, tree ring analysis, ice cores and laminated sediments, the authors concluded that average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere �were not exceptional� during the Medieval Warm Period (500 to 1500 AD), and that temperatures during the High Medieval period (1100 to 1200 AD) were almost the same as they were from 1901 to 1970 (which historically has not been an especially warm period). Even though some parts of the hemisphere were undoubtedly warm, others were cool, by contrast with today�s raised temperatures, which are a global phenomenon.

One difference is that the Medieval Warm Period was the result of solar radiation hitting the Earth's atmosphere, altering large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns linked to the Arctic Oscillation, thereby warming some regions but not others. By contrast, the period from 1970 to 2000 has seen a rise in temperatures caused by higher concentrations of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere � the so-called greenhouse effect.

Even if medieval warming was not global in its impact, it nevertheless caused intense and prolonged droughts in several parts of the world, including the western United States, from 900 to 1300 AD. With more than ten times as many people on the Earth now as in High Medieval times, a recurrence, say the authors, could be catastrophic.

Isotopes reveal iceman�s life story

Another article in the same journal reveals that �tzi, the 5,300-year-old frozen man found on a melting glacier between Italy and Austria in 1991, probably spent his childhood in what is now the Italian village of Feldthurns in the Eisack valley, in the southern Tyrol.

Biominerals from the diet are deposited in the body at different times � the teeth, for example, mineralize in the first few years of childhood and remain unchanged through life while bones re-mineralize constantly and their composition indicates the mineralization of the last ten to twenty years of life. By comparing isotopes in �tzi 's teeth and bones with soil and water samples from a wide area of the Alps, archaeologists studying �tzi�s life concluded that he never strayed more than a few days' walk from home.

Evidence that he spent some of his adult life in a different valley further north and above the tree line is consistent with the theory that he might have been a shepherd or hunter, migrating regularly from winter to summer quarters. In any event, he did not travel more than 60 kilometres (37 miles) away from the spot where he met his death at the age of 46, having been shot in the back by an arrow during a violent scuffle with at least two other people.

�The restricted area in which he apparently lived is consistent with a home base within a valley setting,� said Thomas Loy of the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland in Australia. �Most commonly, hunting/village territories are defined by the topography with boundaries along ridges and passes.�

Rome's sea route reopens after 200 years

Riverboats are once again plying the Tiber between Ostia and the Eternal City. For 10 euros (�6.85 ) tourists can now take a glass-covered boat beyond the walls of Rome, passing ploughed fields and olive groves as well as the remains of the ancient warehouses of Rome�s port to the pine-shaded ruins of Ostia Antica.

Anna Gallina Zevi, chief archaeologist of the archaological park surrounding the port, joined the inaugural trip last week and said �This was the great gateway to Rome. Wines, olives, marble for St Peter's, salt from the coast, ceramics from all over the Mediterranean, plundered obelisks from Africa, elephants for the games at the Coliseum all came up this river.�

High banks built in the 1870s to prevent floods have blocked views of the Tiber for many Romans. The city council has now dredged 38 tonnes of tree branches and rubbish from the river and scrubbed kilometres of graffiti off the riverbed walls to bring back to use what Rome�s Mayor, Walter Veltroni, called �a vanished river � more part of literature than reality.�

Restorers find red stucco at Aachen cathedral

Charlemagne's landmark cathedral in Aachen might originally have been covered in bright red stucco, according to architectural historians. The claim is based on finds of plaster mixed with brick dust found during the current restoration of the ninth-century cathedral. �We have been able for the first time to come up with definitive proof of what a dazzling red spectacle the cathedral must have presented when the emperor had it built,� said architectural historian Ulrike Heckner. He went on to say that the plaster was mixed with ground-up clay bricks to produce a red cast to make it look like a brick-built Byzantine basilica.

Hadrian�s Wall path proving too popular

To the consternation of local pubs, cafes and hotels, walkers are being urged to give Hadrian�s Wall a rest during the winter, because of fears that the popularity of the newly opened long-distance footpath, combined with poor weather, will cause damage to the World Heritage Site. Since the 84-mile trail opened earlier this year, an average of 800 people a month have completed the route from Wallsend, in North Tyneside, to Bowness on Solway, in Cumbria.

Research suggest that each walker spends a minimum of �30 a day, bringing several millions of pounds of new money to the hard-pressed upland region. The Countryside Agency, which manages the route, is now urging people to �respect the archaeology and just think about when they visit the wall. If the ground is wet, they will churn the ground up. So all we are saying is we need to give the path a rest.�

Chunnel rail link yields archaeological 'string of pearls'

Staff at the Archaeological Data Service in York have started loading pages of text, maps and thousands of photographs onto its internet site as a record of the scores of sites uncovered during construction of the new high-speed Channel tunnel rail link. Helen Glass, archaeology manager for Rail Link Engineering, describes this 70-metre-wide transect across Kent as the �longest, narrowest and potentially richest archaeological dig in Britain � best described as one long string of pearls�.

The archive is claimed as the first to be made so widely accessible by a commercially funded research programme. Jay Carver, one of the archaeologists on the project, said: �There seems to be a �knowledge gap� between developer-funded work like this and the public, as well as academic archaeologists. This site should help fill that gap by making the results of all this work easily accessible.�

The �5.2bn link project has unearthed a Mesolithic flint factory, a rare Neolithic longhouse, a Roman villa, a medieval moated manor house, a Victorian model farm and a camouflaged ammunition dump from the Second World War.

�One of our problems all along has been resisting the urge to go beyond the area of the new line,� Ms Glass said. �The trouble is, that way we'd have ended up digging up the whole of Kent.� Some sites have been preserved in situ: archaeologists managed occasionally to shift the line a few metres to the left or right to bypass particularly interesting sites and cuttings were also steepened in several places to protect buried buildings and graves.

Historic houses are the nation's greatest glory, says The Times

The journalist Simon Jenkins used his column in The Times this week to promote his latest book, called England�s Thousand Best Houses. Stating that �England does old houses better than anywhere�, he took a swipe at �neophiliac architects and their critics, for whom contempt for the old is a virility test�. Accusing them of �heritage-hatred�, he said that �caring for the past is no alternative to facing the future. It is part of the same process�.

Jenkins referred to the 1974 V&A exhibition on the Destruction of the Country House (in which several Fellows were involved) which �charted the awesome loss of 600 properties over the preceding century. The exhibition awakened owners and government alike to a crisis, and the impact was dramatic. Since that date, no truly great house has been demolished and more than two dozen have been opened to the public, including such glories as Hever, Kingston Lacy, Tyntesfield and even Buckingham Palace�.

His article paid tribute to the National Trust, English Heritage and �a sometimes sympathetic Treasury�, for contriving �over the years to build a defensive wall of grants and tax reliefs around most English houses�. But this being Simon Jenkins, his column would not be complete without a few provocative jibes: �The gods of conservation have been too harsh on many houses�, he writes, �especially those owned by the National Trust. Their ghosts need replacing with human beings. They should be sublet to tenants proud to live in them, who do not mind the occasional members of the public traipsing through their sitting rooms�.

He nominates as his favourite house, Burton Agnes, on the coastal plain of the East Riding of Yorkshire, held in continuous line of descent since the Conquest, and concludes that �a quarter-century of crusading has paid off. England has something of which it should be proud, a nationwide gallery of its built inheritance finer than exists in any country in the world�.

RSPB plans to reverse the drainage of the Fens

The RSPB has announced that it will return 4,800 hectares (12,000 acres) of East Anglian prairie into a landscape of grazing marshes, reed beds, rivers and pools, reverting to the state it was in when the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden was brought in to drain the Fens during the reign of Charles I. Vermuyden�s project was not without its difficulties: he had to employ Dutch rather than English workmen because of resistance from fenmen, who made their living from the region�s abundant fish and fowl and feared that they would lose their livelihood. Despite this, Vermuyden changed the course of rivers, drug mighty drains and installed wind pumps to create what became England�s most productive arable farmland.

Having already restored Lakenheath Fen, in Suffolk, from carrot fields to wetland, the RSPB now has plans to restore grazing marshes on the Ouse washes in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, and to create new wetlands in the lower Witham area near Lincoln, and in the Spalding and Crowland area of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.

The RSPB�s aim is to create freshwater wetland habitats for birds and insects, but the side benefits will include a big increase in the supply of thatching reed, and a better future for waterlogged archaeological deposits. The RSPB is not alone in its strategy for extend their wetlands. The National Trust is already committed to expanding Wicken Fen, and English Nature and the Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust are planning more wetlands at their Wood Walton reserve.

Collecting and the Imagination: Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill

This one-day conference, to be held on 5 December 2003 at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, will examine the myths and realities of Walpole's originality and achievements as a collector.

Over a period of more than fifty years of ceaseless activity, Horace Walpole, antiquarian, writer and gossip, amassed an extraordinary collection embracing antiquities, rare books and manuscripts, pictures, prints and drawings, furniture, ceramics, armour and curiosities. These he arranged with fastidious care and an idiosyncratic eye in the rooms of Strawberry Hill, his house at Twickenham, one of the key monuments of the gothic revival. Whilst the pattern of Walpole's collecting and his furnishing of Strawberry Hill reflected to some degree contemporary aristocratic tastes, his particular interest in portraits, miniatures and other items with historical provenances and associations � either genuine or fictional � can be seen to represent a new and original kind of programmatic collecting, an attempt to assemble the visual materials of a history of England and arrange them in rooms that sought consciously to enshrine narratives and spark the imagination.

The sale of the contents of Strawberry Hill, lasting 24 days in 1842, was one of the most celebrated in auction history; it excited enormous popular interest and polarised the opinion of connoisseurs, scholars and the public-at-large concerning the importance of the collection and Walpole's status as its creator.

For more information please contact Maisoon Rehani.

Vacancies

Wearmouth/Jarrow World Heritage Site Bid, World Heritage Site Project Officer
Salary �20,000 to �23,000, closing date 21 November 2003

The Anglo-Saxon monastery of St Peter�s, Wearmouth (now part of the City of Sunderland) and St Paul�s Jarrow was an intellectual powerhouse in early-medieval Europe. Significant remains of the monastery�s buildings survive in use at both sites. Combined with results of archaeological investigation and the influential output of Bede, the monastery�s most famous inhabitant, they form the basis of a bid for inscription as a World Heritage Site.

The Steering Group overseeing the bid wishes to appoint a Project Officer to write a Management Plan for the sites which will cover conservation, tourism, interpretation, education and regeneration. The post-holder will also act as the bid�s focal point, leading on communications, consultation and events. The successful candidate will demonstrate experience of or aptitude for technical understanding of conservation policy and practice, management of heritage sites, the educational potential of heritage sites and heritage-led regeneration as well as political sensitivity, diplomacy and consensus-building skills.

The post is employed by and based at Bede�s World in Jarrow which is the museum dedicated to Bede, the Wearmouth-Jarrow monastery and early medieval Northumbria (www.bedesworld.co.uk). Further details and an application form are available from Bede�s World by e-mailing finance@bedesworld.co.uk.