Salon Archive

Issue: IFA-142

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Roman remains at risk at Southwark site

Maev Kennedy, FSA, reported in the Guardian on 31 May the fears of archaeologists that important Roman remains would be destroyed at the church of St George the Martyr, in Southwark, because time and money had run out to continue with their excavation. Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology Service were reported to be working against the clock to finish excavating the site, ahead of pile-driving and underpinning work, which will destroy anything in the archaeological layer that has not already been salvaged or recorded.

Harvey Sheldon, FSA, Chair of Rescue, and an officer of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society (LAMAS), called the situation ‘a disgrace’. Dr Sheldon has directed many excavations in Southwark, including the Rose theatre site, and believes the losses will include major Roman buildings fronting on to Watling Street, one of the most important Roman roads whose precise route through the area has never been traced. ‘I have seen substantial brick foundations ─ clearly Roman from the quantities of Roman pottery coming out of the trenches. Levelling the site means that a metre of history is going to be scoured off the site and lost forever’, he said.

Dr Sheldon said that ‘even with archaeology apparently catered for things can go badly wrong’ and that the excavation raised a number of critical issues about the way that developers (in this case a church engaged in a lottery-funded project) could dictate what happened to archaeological remains, in contravention of the spirit of PPG16. Dr Sheldon said he had no criticism of the MoLAS team's actual work; progress was slowed by the discovery of hundreds more buried human remains than had been expected. It also seems that there was a delay in providing archaeological access to much of the crypt area in the weeks before the dig was due to end.

When Salon contacted Dr Sheldon to ask whether the situation had been resolved, he replied that the best the developer could offer archaeologists was the chance to record any remaining sections after the crypt floor had been lowered by up to a metre, adding that ‘this is hardly adequate treatment for a Roman building sequence, nor for cut-features which might include earlier phases of the church’. English Heritage had also given an emergency grant for extra diggers over the final weekend to recover medieval terracotta fragments judged of national importance which were also uncovered in the excavation.

The Reverend Maggie Durran, the development consultant for St George’s, maintained that level-reduction, under-pinning and piling work would not damage in situ remains, and said: ‘We are very keen on our archaeology, and we have done the very best we can by this site, but we have an absolute deadline of this week. Archaeologists have to understand that if their budget is spreading, everyone else's is shrinking’.

Dr Sheldon said that LAMAS intended to maintain pressure to ensure the mistakes at St George’s were not repeated.

Stonehenge: what lies behind that ‘unprecedented divide’

Readers of British Archaeology magazine were told this week that a rift has recently opened up in the English archaeological community. Under the headline, Unprecedented divide over Stonehenge, the magazine reveals in its latest issue (July/August 2006) that the meeting hosted by the Society of Antiquaries on 31 March this year to consider the options for resolving traffic problems in the Stonehenge area was ‘exceptionally heated’.

The cause of the heat, Salon can perhaps now report, was a press release issued by a group of conservation bodies, including the National Trust, the CBA, Friends of the Earth, CPRE, RESCUE and Transport 2000, opposing all five of the Highways Agency’s proposals for the A303. The release caused anger for several reasons: some interpreted the timing of the press release as a deliberate attempt to pre-empt the outcome of the Antiquaries’ meeting, which had been convened in a spirit of open-mindedness, to hear all sides in the debate; others objected to the wording of the press release, which gave the impression that the whole archaeological community was opposed to the Highways Agency’s proposals; others were concerned that none of the organisations associated with press release had consulted their trustees or members before signing up to it, and some members of the Prehistoric Society’s Council were particularly unhappy at seeing their name attached to the statement. Further frustration was then engendered at the meeting by the refusal of any of the ten signatory organisations to offer alternative routes for debate: as Sir Neil Cossons, FSA, said repeatedly at the meeting: ‘we know what you oppose; we don’t know what you propose’.

In their defence, the ten signatories said their position was consistent, and that they had said nothing in the press release that they had not already said at public inquiry and in previous statements to the press. Indeed, ahead of the expected announcement from the Highways Agency of the results of its consultation (scheduled for later this month) the National Trust again convened a press conference last week at which it wheeled out its big guns ─ William Proby (Chairman), Fiona Reynolds (Director General) and Sarah Staniforth, Historic Properties Director ─ to reiterate the Trust’s opposition to any existing proposal.

At the press conference, the National Trust warned that ‘Stonehenge and its ceremonial landscape are now under imminent threat of being ruined in perpetuity by the wrong solution’. If the Guardian is to be believed, Sarah Staniforth then went further and said that ‘Stonehenge risked being stripped of its status as a world heritage site because of “second-rate” government proposals to ease traffic congestion at the monument’. In fact, far from disapproving, the UK National Commission for Unesco has declared itself in favour of the short-bored tunnel and one reason why the Officers and Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries feel able to support the short-bored tunnel scheme is that it fulfils World Heritage Site aspirations for protecting archaeological remains while improving their setting and accessibility.

Leaving aside the hyperbole of the press conference, what also seems to be at issue here is a philosophical divide between those conservationists who see people as one of the critical factors in the debate, and those who are almost exclusively focused on the monument itself. Those organisations that have come down in support of the short-bored tunnel option for Stonehenge argue that people matter very much in the argument: the people who live along the A303 route (principally in Winterbourne Stoke) who deserve to be relieved from traffic noise and pollution; the people who are involved in accidents every year at the dangerous A303/A344 junction; the people whose journeys along the A303 are inconvenienced by the traffic jams; and the millions of people whose visits to Stonehenge falls short of the life-changing experience that it might be because of the poverty of the setting and the interpretation facilities. Building a tunnel along the line of the existing road, they argue, harms only that part of the World Heritage Site that has already been messed up archaeologically, and offers manifold ‘people’ benefits, and whilst everyone would love a longer tunnel, they reluctantly accept that the additional benefits do not justify a doubling of the cost.

By contrast, the National Trust’s position ‘privileges’ the World Heritage Site designation over other factors in the equation. The National Trust believes that the World Heritage Site designation is paramount and that no expense should be spared in removing modern intrusions in all forms from within the boundaries of the WHS. This admirable position is somewhat stymied by the failure of the Trust and its supporters to find an unproblematic route that achieves this goal. The Trust has identified a ‘corridor’ within which a new route might be found, but any road put through this corridor would involve relocating Larkhill army training camp and would cut through a landscape richer in bio-diversity and archaeological monuments than the area around the present A303.

Very late in the day, the National Trust seems to being waking up to the fact that its ‘corridor’ might not be the answer. A press statement just posted on its website indicates that the Trust would now be prepared to support ‘a bored tunnel at least 2.9km long’. Writing in the Daily Telegraph on 17 June 2006, Adam Nicholson, a journalist who often writes in support of National Trust policies (but who on this occasion seems confused by what exactly is being proposed or at what cost, and doesn’t seem to know the difference between miles and kilometres) suggests that ‘a 2.8 mile tunnel’ would be acceptable.

Whether 2.9km or 2.8 miles in length, neither option is currently on the table and to demand either ignores the fact that the Government has already ruled out a longer tunnel after a lengthy public inquiry to look into the costs and benefits. What worries supporters of the short-bored tunnel option is that the Government could seize on the ‘unprecedented divide’ amongst heritage professionals and decide to delay making any kind of a decision, whilst blaming archaeologists for the continued failure to resolve the Stonehenge traffic problem. That will do no good for the image of archaeology, and nor will it help the people whose lives are currently blighted by the existing A303, even if it does mean a kind of victory for the National Trust and the CBA.

Solutions for Stonehenge: three letters published in the Guardian on 17 June 2006

Sir: The National Trust suggestion that doing nothing is better than upgrading the A303 through a 2.1km tunnel next to Stonehenge is irresponsible in two ways. First, this stretch of the A303 must be upgraded in a way that is affordable and reduces its impact upon the setting of the monument and the heritage of the landscape; the tunnel achieves this aim. Second, this option, along with the resited visitor centre, will vastly enhance the understanding a visitor can gain of one of the greatest achievements of our prehistory. Perhaps the National Trust might consider its priorities to those who suffer the current chaos of visiting Stonehenge. I doubt that the future visitors who will be able to grasp the sheer drama of the Stonehenge landscape will regard the current proposal as "second rate".

Professor John C Barrett, FSA
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Sir: The National Trust, like many of us, would like the government to commit to a long-term solution to the roads at Stonehenge. In March this year I attended a meeting at the Society of Antiquaries of London, as did trust representatives, at which the issues were debated. Chris Jones of the Highways Agency said it was fanciful or disingenuous to suggest there were achievable road alternatives that had not been considered. The Trust will draw much sympathy in wishing a perfect outcome for Stonehenge, but we have to choose between ideal and solution. We get the latter, and as close as we can come to the former, in the favoured tunnel.

Mike Pitts, FSA
Marlborough, Wilts

Sir: The bottleneck on the A303 at Stonehenge could be solved by a bored tunnel to take the roads away from the heritage site. This decision was welcomed by Unesco's world heritage committee in 2003 (Road plans put Stonehenge status at risk, June 14). After a decade of analysis and debate, this route was agreed by a public inquiry, and it seemed as though action would finally be taken to restore the stones to the isolated setting which they deserve, and to deliver the much-needed transport improvements vital to the economy of the south-west region. Only one solution meets the needs of the environment, the need for swift and safe road transport to the south-west and the needs of this internationally significant heritage site. None of the alternative schemes put forward in the review could begin within the decade. The government should authorise the Highways Agency to proceed without further delay with the construction of the published tunnel scheme for the A303 at Stonehenge.

Edmund King
Executive Director, RAC Foundation

Capturing the Public Value of Heritage

English Heritage has just published the proceedings of the conference called Capturing the Public Value of Heritage, which was held in London on 25 and 26 January 2006, jointly hosted by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, English Heritage and the National Trust (copies available from E H Sales, product code 51216, price £10 plus p&p).

This is a fascinating and important work, likely to be cited as a landmark publication in future studies of heritage management, simply because it brings together so many different perspectives on the meaning of the words ‘public’, ‘value’ and ‘heritage’. Whether the conference succeeded in joining those three words up to form a concept that everyone can share as a basis for future heritage policy is a different matter. Brave attempts were made to do so, but those whose speeches to the conference made most sense all seemed to be addressing the one influential organisation that was absent from the conference: HM Treasury. Their papers read like prayers offered to an invisible deity, hoping to persuade the absent Chancellor and his army of civil servants and advisers that measuring ‘public value’ should be more than an accountancy exercise.

Sadly, such an enterprise seems doomed to failure. No matter how hard any heritage professional works to try and redefine ‘public value’ (so that its meaning becomes ‘what the public values’), the term is essentially an economic one, to do with the taming of public expenditure, bearing down on costs and ensuring that the performance of the public sector matches that of the private sector (and contracting out public services to the private sector if that is the only way of reducing costs). It is the concept that underlies the current ‘reform’ of the national health service, for example, and it has very little to do with ‘what the public values’ because if it did, there would be small hospitals with dedicated staff providing responsive services round the clock in every community (as there are in Portugal, for example).

Whether or not the Government is really committed to the public’s view of the heritage will be revealed when the White Paper on the reform of the heritage protection system is published later this year (originally scheduled for July, but now more likely to emerge in the autumn). The conference papers provided plenty of evidence that when members of the public are given the opportunity to express a view, they say they want stronger protection for a wider range of heritage. But that is costly and obstructive to the Government’s development goals, so it is branded as NIMBYism or backward-looking heritage (don’t laugh). Salon’s editor predicts that the White Paper will argue that ‘public value’ lies in stronger designation, but for fewer assets, cutting out the marginal, the contested, the inconvenient and the relatively commonplace, leaving only those assets that are least under threat and about which there is an overwhelming consensus ─ and lo and behold, that will also be achieved at a reduced cost to the state.

Our future lies with the creative industries, say arts leaders

Leaders of Britain’s theatres, museums, art galleries, libraries and archives are also hoping to influence the Chancellor by means of a manifesto, launched on 8 June, designed to convince the Government of the central economic role played by museums, heritage and the arts. Called Values and Vision: the contribution of culture, the manifesto says: ‘We want to put culture at the centre of government thinking and, more importantly, at the centre of our national life’. It documents the many successes of the arts and heritage sector in recent years and calls on Government to provide the funding needed to sustain this good work to cope with the growing public appetite for the arts, museums, libraries and archives.

Tony Hall, executive director of the Royal Opera House, said the creative economy was growing at 8 per cent a year ─ much faster than the rest of the economy ─ and in the south east it rivalled financial services in scale: ‘the future is in the creative industries because it's something we're good at’, he said. He added that ‘museums, libraries and concert halls are vast deposits of knowledge and the raw material for future success: they're not some add-on but absolutely vital to the future of the creative economy on which our future will undoubtedly depend’.

Among statistics published in the manifesto is evidence from the Government’s own surveys that more than twice as many people in Britain have visited a museum or gallery in the past year than in Italy. Nearly half the population has used a public library and seven out of the top ten UK visitor attractions are publicly funded museums or galleries. Attendances are at their highest for a decade, with two-thirds of the population attending at least one event in the past year.

Michelangelo ‘til midnight

Further evidence of the public’s appetite for culture came in the announcement last week that the British Museum would open its doors until midnight for the first time to meet the unprecedented demand for its Michelangelo exhibition. More than 140,000 people have visited Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master, since it opened at the end of March. Now the only way the museum can cater for the demand is by staying open until midnight every Saturday until the show closes on 25 June. The exhibition brings together material from the dispersal of Michelangelo's studio in 1564.

Heritage assets: can accounting do better?

John Carman, Senior Lecturer in Heritage Valuation at the Birmingham University Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, would not be happy with Salon’s use of the word ‘assets’ to describe heritage entities. In a letter to the Accounting Standards Board (ASB), he objects to the designation of any heritage object as an ‘asset’ on the grounds that ‘in many cases it is not: it is an object that needs to be conserved and looked after, attracting costs but not any kind of return’.

John’s letter was written in response to the consultation paper published by the ASB in January 2006, asking for responses to its proposal for an accounting standard that will require museums and galleries to report balance sheet values for all the heritage assets they own. John goes on to say that he objects in principle to the whole exercise, on the grounds that ‘heritage objects held by public institutions exist outside and beyond the realm of the everyday and the economic: they are in fact the antithesis of economic assets because as “heritage” they belong to everyone and the institutions which hold them do so only as trustees with no direct interest themselves’.

The Society of Antiquaries is also amongst those who have responded to the proposal with a degree of concern, saying that the valuation of heritage assets might give the impression that the museum or charity whose task is to conserve and protect those assets is wealthier than it is. Worse still, valuation might lead to pressure on trustees to dispose of assets. The Society’s response also argues that annual valuations will involve an undue cost in valuing and reporting those assets, will lead to large annual fluctuations in the balance sheet and ultimately add nothing to the user’s understanding of the reporting entity.

The Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA) makes similar points in its response, saying that ‘this proposal is based on a premise that is unacceptable to the Society ─ that it is in the public interest to put a financial value on our shared archaeological heritage. As archaeologists we believe that a collection’s or individual artefact’s value lies in the information that it contains which illuminates various aspects of past human society. This “information value” has no connection to any financial value that the collection or artefact might have. Indeed, the financial value of a collection or artefact is irrelevant since there is a presumption established over many years that museums do not sell artefacts or collections.’

The SMA statement goes on to ask where museums are to find new resources to pay the consultants who will be required to undertake an annual valuation, and it points out that the Treasure Valuation Committee established under the 1996 Treasure Act has found that there is a severe shortage of professional valuers with both knowledge and credibility to undertake the valuing of archaeological objects.

It has emerged, however, that not everyone within the museums community is opposed to the Accounting Standards Board’s proposals: apparently both the National Museums Directors’ Conference and the Museums Association are broadly in favour of what they see as an exercise in introducing consistency into a field where various different practices prevail at present. Whatever the outcome, one strongly suspects that accountants will be the winners.

Our Portable Past

English Heritage has published a list of conditions under which it will give permission for metal-detecting work on land that it owns, or on projects that it funds. The conditions state that consent for metal-detector use will only be given where metal artefacts are threatened with destruction and no alternative for securing in situ preservation can be achieved. They also say that metal-detecting work must only take place within the context of properly formulated research-based fieldwork, integrated with desk-based archaeological assessment as well as other fieldwork techniques and structured retrieval of non-metal artefacts. It wants appropriate standards of finds location to be adopted and for finds to be reported and published to agreed standards before being deposited in an accredited museum (subject to landowners’ agreement).

This policy, says EH, was ‘formulated amid increasing concern for the serious negative impacts that can result from the unstructured collection and recording of material’. EH has also called on other organisations, landowners and individuals who are asked to give consent to metal detecting or any form of archaeological activity on their land to insist on the same conditions.

The advice is contained in Our Portable Past, launched on 14 June, which states that English Heritage will now only support or recommend permission for metal-detector work that is part of a project that integrates metal-detector survey with other archaeological techniques. Project designs should contain appropriate strategies for recording and mapping artefacts where they are found, and the recovery of finds should be based on the principle that as much as possible should be preserved in situ.

In launching the policy, Adrian Olivier, FSA, MIFA, Strategy Director of English Heritage, said: ‘Inappropriate [metal-detector] use can cause irreversible harm. We hope that our policy will give the transparency that is needed in this area and also has the wider effect of encouraging good practice across the board.’

Our Portable Past can be downloaded from the English Heritage website.

New Coroners Bill

Last week, the Department for Constitutional Affairs published its draft Coroners Bill), which the media hailed as the overhaul of a set of laws that have not changed since the Middle Ages. According to Roger Bland, FSA, IFA Afill, Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, ‘it contains far-reaching changes to the Treasure Act, all of them I think positive: a single coroner for Treasure, and assistant Treasure coroners; a new Chief Coroner to whom appeals can be made; a new duty for anyone who comes into possession of an object which they believe to be Treasure (eg a dealer) to report it; a new duty for finders not just to report Treasure but also to hand it in.’

The bill is no more than a draft at present: it is likely to be presented to Parliament in the next session, starting in November 2006. If passed, the new Coroners Act will come into effect late in 2008 or early in 2009.

Archaeological Archives: creation, preparation, transfer and curation

The Institute for Field Archaeologists is seeking feedback on a draft best-practice guidance document on archaeological archives. Copies of the document can be downloaded from the IFA website and comments should be sent to the author, Duncan Brown, Chair of the IFA Finds Group, by Monday 17 July 2006.

The best-practice guidance has been drawn up by the IFA in response to the ‘Review of Standards in England for the Creation, Preparation and Deposition of Archaeological Archives’ (2004) commissioned by the Archaeological Archives Forum (AAF). This revealed major inconsistencies in the ways various types of archaeological practitioner ─ planning archaeologists, contracting units, specialists and museum curators ─ perceived their role within the archaeological archiving process. The new draft hopes to resolve this by explaining best-practice procedures for all stages of the archive process, and showing how they are relevant to all areas of the archaeological profession. The guidance looks at the documentary archive (written material, drawings, photographs and digital material) and at the curation of the material archive (including human remains and scientific samples), and it gives guidance on the laws relating to copyright, title and ownership in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Bamburgh sword nearly ends up in skip

The importance of proper archiving procedures was illustrated by a story in the Daily Telegraph on 19 June, which reported that the seventh century pattern-welded Bamburgh Sword narrowly avoided being dumped in a skip by workers who were clearing the house of our late Fellow Brian Hope-Taylor. The sword was rescued by former students who had gone to the house after hearing that Hope-Taylor’s books were being sold off. They found the sword in a suitcase that was about to be loaded into a skip. The sword was originally found in the first ever excavation at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, in 1960 and is now back there on display. Paul Gething, from the Bamburgh Research Project, said: ‘We had no idea it would be such an exceptional sword and the only one of its kind ever found. It is a dream come true.’

Headless Romans in York: doubt cast on the Caracalla theory

Salon readers might have seen a BBC TV ‘Timewatch’ programme last month in which archaeologists working in York revealed the discovery by Patrick Ottaway, FSA, MIFA, and his team of thirty decapitated Roman skeletons in the rear garden of a house in York. The programme explored different theories to explain why their heads had been removed and placed between their knees, on their chests or by their feet. Anthony Birley, FSA, came up with the plausible explanation that these people were murdered by the bloodthirsty Emperor Caracalla because they were supporters of Geta, his younger brother, rival and co-emperor.

This explanation was based on the large amount of early third-century pottery recovered from the site of the burials (Caracalla came to the throne in AD 211). Now, according to Kurt Hunter-Mann, writing in Yorkshire: Archaeology Today, the magazine of the York Archaeological Trust, further decapitated burials have been found in neighbouring back gardens that indicate a date range for these burials stretching from the late second century and on in to the later third or even early fourth centuries. During almost a century of deposition, new graves have intercut older ones. Some of the later graves include multiple burials (four people to a grave) or burials in which the remains of up to four horses were buried with the human remains in large wooden boxes. The final phase is characterised by individual burials clustered around the earlier burials with horse bones.

Nobody is rushing into an explanation for what can clearly no longer be considered a single event. All Kurt Hunter-Mann will say is that ‘the decapitation rite is even more difficult to interpret than was first thought; gladiatorial combat is the latest theory to be proposed’. For pictures and further information on the finds, go to the YAT website.

Westminster Hall excavation reveals more pieces of a medieval royal table

Trestle fragments made of Purbeck marble have been found beneath the floor of Westminster Hall, adding to those found in the 1960s and on display until recently in the Jewel Tower. When joined together, the fragments make up one of the supports for a magnificent stone table dating from the reign of Edward I (1272─1307), if not earlier. The trestle resembles a square slab, just under 1m high and 1m deep, pierced by a large and very slightly pointed chamfered arch; the outer vertical face is carved to form a semi-circular pilaster, with shaft rings at top and base.

The stone table was probably used for state banquets and located at the dais (southern) end of Westminster Hall from the thirteenth century. Various documents record the purchase of a new Purbeck marble top for the table for Edward II’s coronation in 1307, and the repair of cracks using three long iron cramps in 1399. The table might have been extended over the centuries until it required ten trestles by the time of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katharine of Aragon in 1509. The table was broken up during the Commonwealth (1649─60) and parts ended up being used for floor levelling material where parts were subsequently found in 1960. The most recent discovery was made when Gifford and the Museum of London Archaeology Service excavated the floor area as part of works to resolve problems of subsidence.

Chris Thomas, of the Museum of London, said that the find was important because of the rarity of stone furniture surviving for more than 700 years. ‘You get altars in churches but that’s about it,’ he said.

Global colonisation: chicken or egg

Paul Mellars, FSA, of the University of Cambridge Archaeology Department, has published a paper arguing that the period immediately preceding the colonisation of the globe by the human species was marked by technological developments and changes in human economic and social behaviour but that it is frustratingly difficult to know whether new technologies were the product of new ways of thinking or whether it was the development of new technologies that led to cognitive changes.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online, Professor Mellars asks why, given that anatomically and genetically modern human populations existed in Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago, did a major dispersal of these populations to Asia and Europe not begin until sometime after c 65,000 years ago.

Pointing to new mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evidence for a major population expansion between 80,000 to 60,000 years ago, he links this to recent archaeological discoveries in southern and eastern Africa suggesting that there was a major increase in the complexity of the technological, economic, social and cognitive behaviour of certain African groups at approximately the same time, characterised by stone-blade production, new forms of specialised tools — some composites made from bone or wood with stone inserts — and both personal adornments and the earliest unambiguous forms of abstract art.

Reporting on Paul Mellars’s paper in The Times on 13 June 2006, Norman Hammond, FSA, says that such increased technical efficiency combined with population growth could have led to competitive expansion into others’ territories, culminating in the move out of Africa. David Keys, reporting the results in the Independent, went further and claimed that the invention of ‘the world's first man-made projectiles ─ light-weight throwing spears and bows and arrows ─ enabled the expansion’.

Paul Mellars himself is more concerned with the chicken and egg question: did these technological, economic and social developments result from external pressures, such as some form of climate change, or from internal changes in the cognitive capacities of early human beings, with explicitly symbolic behaviour preceding major changes in tool technology? Ian Hodder, at a recent lecture to the Society of Antiquaries, strongly favoured the latter as an explanation for agricultural innovations at the 9,000 year-old Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey, but Paul Mellars concludes: ‘testing such ideas against hard archaeological data is one of the notorious dilemmas in studies of human cognitive evolution’.

Andean people look forward to the past

A similarly mind-bending ‘before/after’ situation is revealed in an article by Dr Rafael Nunez of the University of California, San Diego, and Professor Eve Sweetser of the University of California, in the journal Cognitive Science, where the authors report that the Aymara people of southern America have a concept of time where the past lies ahead of them and the future behind. ‘Until now,’ the report says, ‘all the studied cultures and languages of the world have not only characterised time with properties of space, but also have all mapped the future as if it were in front. The Aymara case is the first documented to depart from the standard model.’

Dr Nunez discussed past and future events with thirty ethnic Aymara adults from northern Chile and concluded that the nayra, the basic word for ‘front’, ‘sight’ or ‘eye’ in the Aymara language, is used as a metaphor for ‘past’, while qhipa, the basic word for ‘back’ or ‘behind’, is also used to mean ‘future’. Thus the expression nayra mara (‘last year’) can be literally translated as ‘front year’. Elderly Aymara also referred to the future by thumbing or waving over their shoulders and swept forward with their hands and arms for now or the near past and farther out, to the full extent of the arm for ancient times.

The language of the Aymara, who live in the Andes highlands of Bolivia, Peru and Chile, has intrigued western scholars since the earliest days of the Spanish conquest. A Jesuit wrote in the early 1600s that Aymara was ‘particularly useful for abstract ideas’.

Starbucks comes to eighteenth-century Maryland Inn

Heritage values on the other side of the pond were revealed this week in a story from the Maryland Examiner which reported that planning permission had been given for Starbucks to convert part of the Maryland Inn — a relatively untouched eighteenth-century Annapolis hotel, known as the King of France Tavern when it opened under Sarah Ball’s ownership in the 1780s — into a Starbucks coffee bar.

The Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission originally opposed the application, but gave support once agreement was reached with Starbucks for a thorough archaeological investigation prior to conversion of the building. Donna Hole, chief of historic preservation at the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission, said: ‘the archaeology component will be expensive, but that it was “not negotiable”.

The most telling point in the article was Donna Holes’ statement that: ‘You really want to have a distinctive character to your historic district, but there is increasing pressure — when people come here, they want to get what they can get anywhere else in America.’

Society of Antiquaries ballot results: 15 June

The Society is very pleased to welcome the following new Fellows who were all elected in the ballot held on 15 June 2006:

Rica Jones, Susan Rankin, Philip Betancourt, Jan Wills, MIFA, Roy Stephenson, MIFA, Stephen Parry, MIFA, Roger Smith, John Morcom, Claire Cross, Pamela Porter, Nigel Maslin, John Hughes, Ian Roberts, MIFA, Philip Hewat-Jaboor, David Harrison, Paul Remley, Emma Carver, Victor Marchant, Nigel Pollard, Paul Dalton, Elizabeth New, Kate Taylor, Andrew Spicer, Jayne Semple and John Biggins.

Queen’s Birthday Honours

Our congratulations to Barry Cuncliffe, CBE, FSA, Professor of European Archaeology, University of Oxford, who was created a Knight Batchelor for services to archaeology, and John Curtis, FSA, Keeper of the Department of the Ancient Near East at the British Museum, who was created an Officer of the British Empire for services to museums, in the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Obituary: Tony Baggs

The following edited highlights are from the obituary for Tony Baggs published in The Times on 10 June 2006.

Tony Baggs, who died on 31 May 2006, at the age of seventy-two, was the architectural editor of the Victoria County Histories (VCH) for twenty-seven years. As President of the Royal Archaeological Institute (1992), and chairman of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (1973─6), he was one of the country’s most respected building archaeologists. On his retirement from the VCH he became consulting archaeologist to the Diocese of Ely and was on the Fabric Committee of Peterborough Cathedral. In 1992 he became principal investigator for the Cambridge Historic Buildings Group, which he founded with Nicholas Ray in the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge. During his career he published numerous papers on building archaeology and architectural history.

Anthony Paget Baggs — always known simply as Tony — was born in Norwich in 1934, and was a lifelong bibliophile, spending much of his school holidays in and around bookshops and his other obsession, historic churches. He went to school in Stamford, where he was taught art by the cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung, then to Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1953 to read archaeology. On leaving Cambridge he did military service in Malaya, where he spent two years commanding a field survey troop, mapping the uncharted Malayan jungle. On his return to England he secured a position in the Norwich Museums Service as Keeper of the History of Technology. He later remembered it involved looking after a sizeable bicycle collection.

From Norwich he moved to Cambridge in 1963 to work for the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England as a principal investigator, contributing to the volumes on West Cambridgeshire, North East Cambridgeshire and Stamford, as a result of which he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1965. In 1968 he published a much-cited article on sixteenth-century East-Anglian terracotta in the Archaeological Journal. His career break came with his appointment as architectural editor of the Victoria County Histories in 1971. Over the next twenty-seven years he travelled the country, visiting every building of interest in the areas under study. It was the perfect job for a man of his talents and one he approached with energy and relish, producing characteristically succinct entries for fifty-five volumes.

Through careful reading, archival research and first-hand experience he acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge of architectural history. Always active and practical, he was never happier than when he was up scaffolding examining a piece of stonework or in his workshop mending a sash window. He was a quiet, unassuming and quintessentially modest man. In later years his position in the architecture department brought him into contact with students who were universally fond of him.

PS: Alison Taylor, who attended Tony’s funeral on 15 June, adds that: ‘As well as being President of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in 1975─7, and serving as a Council member on frequent occasions, Tony was a constant source of advice and refereeing support for the Editor (me) for everything concerning historic buildings. A huge number of Fellows and MIFAs turned out for his funeral in Cambridge last Thursday ─ former colleagues from the RCHME and VCH, local EH staff and masses of local archaeological and buildings interests were represented.’

Obituary: Leslie Alcock

The following edited extracts are taken from the obituary published on 15 June 2006 in the Daily Telegraph.

Professor Leslie Alcock, who died on 6 June 2006, aged eighty-one, was a pioneer of ‘Dark Age’ archaeology and led the team which excavated Cadbury Castle in Somerset, the best known and most interesting of the reputed sites of King Arthur's Camelot. At the time he was excavating Cadbury, Alcock inclined to believe that Arthur was a historical figure, a view reflected in his Arthur's Britain, a lively and scholarly account of the available historical and archaeological evidence, published in 1971 and reprinted several times. In later life, though, he distanced himself from the book, having become convinced by historians that there was no good evidence that Arthur ever existed.

Leslie Alcock was born in Manchester and won scholarships to Manchester Grammar School and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read History and became president of the Oxford Archaeology Society. During the Second World War he served as a captain with the Gurkhas in India, becoming fluent in a variety of Indian languages. Graduating after the war, he returned to the subcontinent to assist Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the excavation of a Bronze Age site at Mojendo-Daro in the Indus valley. In 1950 he was appointed superintendent of exploration at the Department of Archaeology by the new government of Pakistan.

Returning to Britain, Alcock worked for a year as assistant curator at the Abbey House Museum in Leeds before being appointed to an assistant lectureship at University College, Cardiff, in 1953. He was made Professor of Archaeology in 1973, but subsequently moved to Scotland to take up a personal chair at Glasgow University.

Alcock made his name in the early 1950s as director of excavations at Dinas Powys, near Cardiff, a hillfort site containing evidence of wooden structures and a large quantity of high-status metalwork, jewellery, glass and imported pottery dating from between the fifth and seventh centuries AD. This excavation, published in 1963, demonstrated that the period traditionally described as the ‘Dark Ages’ could be made accessible and elucidated through archaeology.

Though the supposed connection with Arthur remained the focus of public interest at South Cadbury, attracting thousands of visitors to the site, Alcock saw the site as a microcosm of 1,200 years of British Celtic history, containing, among other things, one of the largest and most complete ceramic sequences for the period from the late Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the country, a vital resource for academic research.

In Scotland, Alcock was instrumental in establishing Glasgow University as a leading centre for the study of archaeology; many of his students went on to occupy important positions in academia and on archaeological and heritage bodies. He continued to pursue a vigorous programme of fieldwork, concentrating on sites mentioned in ‘Dark Age’ manuscripts, the most significant being Dumbarton Rock, the chief fort of the kingdom of Strathclyde from the sixth century to 870. He distilled the results of this work in Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain AD 550─850, published in 2002.

Alcock served on various public and advisory bodies. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1969 and appointed OBE in 1991. A brilliant speaker and writer, Alcock relished the cut and thrust of debate, though he could be prickly and demanding on occasion.


The story about the mortal remains of Christopher Columbus (which crossed the Atlantic almost as many times as Columbus himself did while alive) attracted much interest and elicited a number of other bone-related stories from Salon readers. John Nandris, FSA, draws attention to the fact that the municipal museum in Genova has, beside the glass case containing Nicolo Paganini's magnificent Guarneri violin, what is advertised as Christopher Columbus' thumb. Ian speculates whether DNA from that digit might help pin down where Columbus came from. Many people still refer to him as Genoese, as he did himself in his will of 22 February 1498 (‘yo nacio en Genoba’), but contemporaries describe him as being red-haired and six feet tall, and there are as many competing theories about his birthplace as there are versions of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays: Columbus has been claimed as Basque, Catalan, Portuguese, a converted Spanish Jew, Corsican or Greek (Corsica and Chios were both under Genoese control at the time and many inhabitant of the village of Pirgi in the island of Chios have the surname ‘Colombus’).

Robert Merrillees, FSA, reports another example of peripatetic bones: this time, the remains of Jean sans Peur, Duke of Burgundy, who died in 1419, and his wife, Marguerite de Bavière, which, Robert writes: ‘have recently been rediscovered in the Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney, by the energetic new Senior Curator, Michael Turner. Their presence in Sydney bears witness not to an early attempt by the French to lay claim to Australia before Captain Cook but to the desire of enlightened free settlers like Sir Charles Nicholson, after whom the museum is named, to promote intellectual and cultural standards in the colony of New South Wales in the mid-nineteenth century when the university was established in Sydney, with Nicholson himself as one of its founders and its first Chancellor.

‘Just how bits and pieces of Jean sans Peur and his spouse found their way to Sydney is not well documented but they were evidently acquired by Nicholson himself, after a study had been made of the bones by the Commission des Antiquités de la Côte d'Or in 1841 in the cathedral of Saint-Bénigne in Dijon. Before their re-interment it would seem that a number of them were “souvenired”, mounted on a tableau, and subsequently sold. Jean sans Peur, it will be recalled, did nothing to impede and may even have abetted Henry V's invasion of French territory and took no part in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, though two of his brothers fought on the French king's side and were killed. Jean himself was assassinated at the Dauphin's instigation at Montereau and originally interred in the Chartreuse at Champmol.

‘His relics are currently on show in the Nicholson Museum in an exhibition entitled Unearthed Tales 2: a fascination with death, which includes part of Jean's ‘cilice’: not the instrument of self-mortification which, thanks to Dan Brown, we know is used by the members of Opus Dei, but Jean's ‘hair-shirt’ ─ or rather the garment in which he was buried. The museum also has a Flemish reliquary chest, also on display, of the seventh-century St Eloi, but with nothing inside. Still to be resurrected in the museum are a substantial collection of mediaeval English seals and documents, archaeological material excavated in London and found in the Thames in the mid-nineteenth century, and various plaster casts made around the same time, including a “Danish Runic Stone found in London in August, 1852”, a “model … of the Saxon Font in the Cathedral Church of Winchester”, and a “piece of Sculpture in Stone in the Choir of Ely Cathedral”.’

Finally, last week’s news that a new archaeological recruitment agency had been set up to ‘provide competitive rates of pay and promote archaeology as a profession to be proud of’ brought a swift response from readers who looked at the Archpeople Recruitment Agency website and concluded that their rates fell below the minima used by the BAJR website and the IFA jobs information service, adding that pay levels in general for archaeologists are ‘a long way from being anything for the profession to be proud of’.

Conferences and seminars

IFA Finds Group, ‘Archaeological Glass’, Wednesday 5 July 2006, 10am to 4.30pm
LAARC, Mortimer Wheeler House, 46 Eagle Wharf Road, London N1 7ED

Speakers include Ian Freestone on ‘Glass compositions and their analysis’, Angela Wardle on ‘Roman glassworking at Basinghall Street: a case study’ and John Shepherd, FSA, on the ‘Use and distribution of glass in the Roman period’. A speaker yet to be announced will look at aspects of medieval glass, and the day will conclude with a tour of the Museum of London’s ceramics and glass collection led by Roy Stephenson, Manager of the LAARC. Further details from Nicky Powell, of the IFA Finds Group.

The Finds Research Group AD 700─1700, ‘Pots and Pans: domestic artefacts of base metal’, Saturday 23 September 2006 at the Somerset County Museum, Taunton
Based around the recently opened exhibit of English bronze cooking vessels, this day meeting will consider all aspects of cauldrons, skillets and related household implements, including their form, manufacture and use. Further details from

English Heritage, the University of Bath and Brunel 200, Genius: Brunel's engineering achievements and their legacy, 15 September 2006, at STEAM: the Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon
On the anniversary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's death, this symposium will bring together practitioners and researchers from different disciplines to discuss and present the findings of recent research on topics such as Brunel's adventurous designs for bridges, his use of cast iron, his spectacular ships and his relationships with other engineers. Please contact Lucie Pursell for an application form and further information.


University of the West of England/University of Bristol, fully funded PhD studentship: Contemporary Art and Archaeology in the Context of Urban Renewal
The aim of the project is to explore the public understanding and public value of commissioned artistic and archaeological practices in the context of urban regeneration, using contemporary urban regeneration in the Broadmead shopping district of Bristol's city centre as a case study.

Taking as its starting point the broader discourse around public art, patronage and the role of artists in urban renewal on the one hand, and debates over the public understanding and public value of heritage and archaeology on the other, this studentship will make use of research methods drawn from contemporary art, archaeology and ethnography to study the changing material and social environment of Broadmead.

The studentship contributes to an ongoing collaboration between the ‘Situations’ programme, the ‘Place’ research centre in issues of place, location, art, context and environment at UWE and the ‘Performativity, Place, Space’ (PPS) research theme at the University of Bristol, including the Arts Council-funded '’Material City’ programme of seminars and events on Art and Archaeology (a collaboration between Situations and the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Bristol).

Application forms and further particulars from the Situations website.