The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 100

Issue 100

May / June 2008


There is more content online than usual for this bumper issue!


Early Scottish gardens unturfed

Axes could be 0.5m years old

In the press

Listing lobby was no hot air

Kent Anglo-Saxon cemetery could be royal

Poetry to assist transfer of Hadrian's Wall collection

In Brief & Phase 2


John Wymer
Mike Pitts introduces an archaeologist with a fine eye for illustration

The Lost Royal Cult Of Street House, Yorkshire
The excavation of a unique Anglo-Saxon cult cemetery

Born digital: Making People Believe
How computers have changed the world of archaeology

The Office: Heritage and Archaeology at Fortress House
John Schofield finds unexpected things on Savile Row

Green Men & The Way of All Flesh
Richard Hayman uproots a fashionable myth

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones considers archaeological imagery, and The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland has a new website

100 letters & news

Some of the letters we received and news stories we revealed in the past 100 issues

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Communication is king, says Mike Heyworth, celebrating nearly 60 years of magazines

Extra online content


Sebastian Payne asks, what do forensic archaeologists do?

Mick's travels & more travels

Mick Aston looks for early saints in Cornwall, and an introduction to visiting Cornwall's sites & monuments

my archaeology

Phil Harding, the man with five guitars


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

100 Issues

100 letters & news

Some of the letters we received, showing the wit and wisdom of British Archaeology readers, and news stories we revealed in the past 100 issues.



Most palaeolithic art depicts food. I suggest that, far from being dildoes, the examples Dr Taylor discusses are stylised fish. If one compares his examples to known engravings of fish, there is a similarity in the curve of the tailfins and taper of the body. His "double dildo" bears an engraved circle on the shorter branch which may represent an eye. An engraving of a fish from Goyet, Belgium, might be taken for a phallus were it not for a similarly engraved eye.
Paul Pettit, University of Oxford, 1996

Hadrian's secret

Your piece on Spadeadam brings back memories. I was a newly appointed lecturer in archaeology in 1968, and took my first students on a field trip to Hadrian's Wall. At Birdoswald we were examining the turf wall east of the fort. Suddenly there was a fearful roar and a boiling cloud rising to the north. We had no idea what it was, but sheltered behind the stone wall and waited for the blast to reach us. It was not till we returned to the Youth Hostel in the evening that we heard all about the top secret rocket research establishment.
Bill Putnam, Dorchester, 2005

BA69, March 2003

Celtic identity

Our understandings of the British iron age have undergone profound changes in recent decades. The simple idea of "the ancient Celts" as an ethnic category, with common social and cultural characteristics, is now obsolete. The "Ancient Celts" never existed. But Celts exist now. Millions of people believe they are Celtic, and see themselves as descendants of peoples they regard as Celts who lived in Britain. All such identities are inventions. But to examine critically the basis of living ethnicities like "Celticness", or indeed "Englishness" as some medievalists are doing, is to tinker with the roots of people's sense of identity. If scholars do this, they have a responsibility to communicate with the rest of society about the implications of what they say.
Simon James, Durham University, 1998

Antique appearance

There is one further but crucial difference between film archaeology and the real thing, but this time the movie-makers have got it right. I have yet to meet an archaeologist with looks to equal Ralph Fiennes (or Harrison Ford).
Linda Smith, Northallerton, 1997

BA52, April 2000

Welsh quarry

I amsure it has not escaped you that your photograph of part of Penrhyn Slate Quarry in the Ogwen Valley was upside down. This made its 60ft high galleries stereoscopically confusing, but still managed to evoke the perhaps unlikely sentimental attachment I have to thismost impressive open-cast mine. I grew up in the Ogwen valley, and in 1956 carried out a juvenile survey of the quarry, with its many conduits, galleries and shafts. I learned from the quarrymen how to abseil between the galleries on a rope, and how to split slates, and avoid being blown up.
John Nandris, UCL Archaeology, 1998


Paul Stamper traces the documented use of themason's trowel for archaeological excavation as far back as Glastonbury lake village in 1906. Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington, two much under-rated fieldworkers, allow us to add a full century to that ancestry. The pick-axe and spade were much favoured; however they also used a "mason's trowel", and even had "a knife with a very strong blade... specially made at Salisbury".
Blaise Vyner, Stockton-on-Tees, 1999

Elephant cap

Your December issue was as fascinating and well-presented as ever. But I venture to point out that it is not Alexander the Great who is depicted on coins as wearing an elephant scalp head-dress, but Demetrius I of the remote Greek kingdom of Bactria (c190–170BC), who invaded northern India. He must either have had a preternaturally enormous head or have worn the scalp of an unusually diminutive elephant.
Thomas Braun, Oxford, 2003

BA2, March 1995

Bloody archaeology

The character Clive Gamble describes in his article of Boxgrove Man, redolent of a Pleistocene Alf Garnett, differs widely from my perception of Middle Pleistocene hominids. There is overwhelming evidence for speech at the time. In the horse butchery area, there are at least five discrete knapping scatters around a complete carcass, which easily satisfy the criterion for "conversation rings" of debris.
Mark Roberts, UCL Archaeology, 1995

Balls of wool

I think that the "enigmatic carved stone object" illustrated in your article on Skara Brae is a core weight for a wool ball. You can see how cunningly the top and base ridges are off-centre. Ridges are then provided at right angles for the second course of winding. The third group of ridges is set horizontally and the fourth at right angles to that. A practiced knitter might be able to add to these observations.
Roger Carter, Chard History Group, 2000

BA38, October 1998

Hazelnut cutlets

I write with reference to your news item on the discovery of possible mesolithic vegetarians, which has since been picked up by the magazine The Vegetarian. The lack of bone at Colonsay may be the result of taphonomic processes: is there any reason why bone should preserve well in this case? Is it some sort of "special use" site or a seasonal occupation site that doesn't represent the general lifestyle or diet of the full year?
R Toomey, Illinois State Museum, 1995

Could it be...?

I must take issue with the statement that the tightly curved arc touching the rim of the bronze age Nebra disc has "no conceivable significance as a depiction of anything in the skies". I thought of a rainbow immediately.
Belinda Stratton, Amsterdam

BA75, March 2004

Perhaps the whole disc needs to be seen as a "daytime" artefact. Could I suggest that the arc is a rainbow, with the bands representing the spectrum?
Ian Blackwell, Newcastle upon Tyne

A close look will show lines along the length of the "ship" and that can mean one thing only. It is a rainbow!
Patrick McSweeney, Bromley

Ask any five-year-old and they'll tell you what it is: a rainbow.
Jake Spurling, Shaftesbury

It was my immediate assumption that this was just another feature that man sees in the sky: sun, moon, stars and rainbows. Am I alone? Has anyone else ever suggested his?
Alison Watts, St Albans

Readers re-interpret the Nebra disc, after BA intentionally printed a photo of it the other way up from its conventional, and arbitrary, view, no 80 Jan/Feb 2005.

BA81, March/April 2005

Travel with Time Team

As a former astrophysicist I was delighted to see an archaeologist taking an interest in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
Keith Sugden, London, 1996

It's a man thing

The use of the masculine pronoun to mean all of society is ambiguous and confusing. Additionally, such use suggests that social groups may be subsumed under and can be defined and entirely represented by the male form. The roots of this tradition lie with the western, heterosexual androcentric values of the 19th century prescriptive grammar movement. In the reflexive, interpretive theoretical paradigm that prevails within modern British archaeology, this reflexivity and scrutiny of our own part within the interpretation of the past should apply at all levels. Thanks for the article!
Hannah Cobb, Manchester, 2004


I have another example of a modern place-name that emerged like a traditional name (by popular consent) – to add to Spaghetti Junction. County Road Roundabout in Swindon, consisting of five mini-roundabouts replacing a single large one, was officially renamed 'The Magic Roundabout' by Thamesdown council because that was what everybody else called it.
Richard Pope, Swindon, 1995

BA95, July/August 2007

Missed target

During my training as an artillery officer in the 1940s I spent a great deal of time trying to get my guns to hit the barrows on the Salisbury Plain Training Area. It was reassuring – and at the same time chastening – to learn that the monuments in the impact zone of the artillery ranges were the least damaged of all. Gunners just aren't much good at hitting barrows.
Henry Cleere, Paris, 1995

Last word

It is time we dropped the terms "amateur" and "professional" in archaeology. There is really only archaeology done well or done badly, and this does not depend on whether people are paid or not.
Mick Aston, Bristol University, 1995

This historic letters selection is a one-off: please write as usual to the editor by email or post. Letters may be shortened.

A selection of covers from previous issues of British Archaeology. Covers do not correspond to the issue in which the letters appeared!


BA7, September 1995

Brains found in medieval skulls

Fifteen medieval human brains, shrunken but still recognisable and 'spongey' to the touch, have been found inside skulls in graves at the site of the Augustinian Friary in Hull.

The waterlogged conditions at the site also preserved oak coffins and one of the finest collections of medieval everyday clothing yet found, including several complete tunics.
No 1, February 1995

Mesolithic houses in Scotland and NE

Two large Mesolithic houses, each one an immensely rare discovery by itself, have been found in separate excavations some 80 miles apart - one at Howick on the Northumbrian coast, the other near Dunbar in East Lothian.

The circular, sunken-floored building on the cliff top at Howick consists of an inner ring of upright postholes, with an outer ring of stakeholes angled inwards towards the apex of the roof, suggesting an appearance similar to a Bronze Age roundhouse.

The other newly-discovered building, on the coast near Dunbar, is possibly the earliest, and certainly the most substantial, Mesolithic house in Scotland. The near-circular building is marked by deep postholes for large, heavy timbers set at an angle into the ground, suggesting that it was domed.
No 69, March 2003

Rare Iron Age chariot burial discovered near Edinburgh

The immensely rare discovery of an Iron Age leader buried on his (or her) chariot in a grave - in the continental style - has come to light during a rescue excavation on wasteland at Newbridge outside Edinburgh.

Iron components of the chariot were found in a good state of preservation, including the two wheel rims and hub- hoops, the yoke fittings, harness and horse bits. The wood of the chariot, however, and all organic grave-goods such as clothing, have disappeared. All that remains of the person are a few scraps of tooth enamel.

Iron Age burials of complete standing chariots in pits under a mound were quite common in France and Belgium in the 3rd–2nd centuries BC, but only one previous example has been found in Britain, near Pickering in North Yorkshire. In the Yorkshire case, however, the chariot had not been buried underground but was merely covered by a mound of earth. The famous Iron Age 'Arras culture' graves of the Yorkshire Wolds contained chariots, but these had been dismantled before burial.
No 58, April 2001

Parish boundary that may date from the Bronze Age

Remarkable new evidence for the antiquity of some English territorial boundaries has come to light on the Wiltshire-Gloucestershire border, with the discovery that the boundary between the two parishes of Ashton Keynes and Somerford Keynes may date back at least 3,000 years to the late Bronze Age.

Excavations this summer, carried out by the Oxford Archaeological Unit in advance of gravel extraction, found a double line of Bronze Age pits that precisely mirrors the parish boundary for a distance of at least 200 yards. The county border now also follows the same line, as a result of boundary changes in recent years.

Similar double lines of Bronze Age pits have been found elsewhere in England - in Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire - and have been interpreted there as territorial boundaries. This summer's excavation found that Roman fields and property boundaries respected the line of pits, suggesting that the boundary was observed in that period, while the present parish boundary is known to date at least from Domesday Book in 1086, and probably from mid-late Saxon times. The suggestion of unbroken continuity is therefore strong.
No 49, November 1999

No 24, May 1997

Bronze Age ard, grains and fields

A Bronze Age ard, thought to be the oldest known in Britain, has been found in a prehistoric channel of the River Thames at Eton in Berkshire. The ard - an early form of plough - was found with a small deposit of charred cereal grains close to a system of contemporary Bronze Age fields.

The arrow-shaped maple-wood ard has been radiocarbon dated to 900-760BC in the Late Bronze Age. Earlier Bronze Age ards are known from Poland and Denmark, but the next earliest dated British examples were made in the Iron Age. An ard found at Pict's Knowe near Dumfries in 1994 was originally thought to be Neolithic (see BAN, November 1994) but later radiocarbon dating suggested it was Iron Age. Ard marks, on the other hand, have been found preserved in ancient landsurfaces in Britain from as early as the Late Neolithic.
No 26, July 1997

Oldest cottage

Timbers from a cottage in Upton Magna, Shropshire, have been dated by dendrochronology to 1269, and suggest it may be the oldest complete surviving cottage in Britain. It is 66 years older than one in Mapledurham, Oxfordshire, previously thought Britain's oldest cottage, and was discovered by Madge Moran, of the Vernacular Architecture Group, during a survey of timber-framed buildings around Shrewsbury.
No 7, September 1995

Obituary: Leslie Grinsell

Leslie Grinsell, though an amateur archaeologist most of his life, to a great extent determined the directon of field archaeology in the second half of this century. He came to prehistory viaa the classification of flint implements but soon turned to barrows, long and round. With rucksack, maps, notebook and tape, he had by 1941, when he produced The Bronze Age Round Barrows of Wessex, made inventories of Surrey Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight scrutinising some 6,000 barrows. His widely acclaimed book The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, which outlined numbers, forms, and regional distributions had been published in 1936.
Leslie Valentine Grinsell: born London 14 February 1907; died 28 February 1995.
No 4, May 1995

Major new rock art discovered

One of the largest and most elaborate panels of prehistoric rock art in Britain has been 'discovered' in the central Lake District. The carvings are openly visible, but until now they have been completely overlooked by prehistorians. The concentric ring and cup designs, identified last year by amateur rock art sleuth Paul Brown, can be found in Langdale on an important routeway to and from the Neotithic 'axe factories' around Pike of Sickle.
No 51, February 2000

The 7,700-year-old woman who ate like a wolf

The thighbone of a woman who died about 7,70O years ago, found in a dried-up channel of the River Trent in Nottinghamshire, has undermined some of the cherished clichés of the Mesolithic era. The poor lady, it seems, never saw the sea, and never ate a shellfish or perhaps even a hazelnut in her life.

Stable isotope analysis - a 1aboratory techniquue for measuring the source of protein in bone - conducted by Mike Richards of Bradford University found that the woman's diet was virtually as meat-rich as that of a carnivorous wild animal.
No 66, August 2002

Inverted tree found inside timber ring

An inverted oak tree pushed into the ground with its roots pointing up at the sky has been discovered on a beach on the North Norfolk coast surrounded by a ring of timber posts.

The oval ring of 54 posts, close-set to form a near-continuous wall around the inverted oak, lies between the high and low water marks, and has been preserved by regular immersion and burial in shifting sands and clays since it was first built, possibly in the Bronze Age. It re-emerged recently as a result of coastal erosion.

The eerie symbolism of the upside-down tree, stripped of bark and wrapped in a tendril of honeysuckle, clearly marks the discovery as some form of ritual structure. Francis Pryor, archaeological director of Flag Fen and an expert in waterlogged Bronze Age remains, said the tree resembled a 'table with fingers' which could have been an altar. 'The obvious explanation is that you'd have a body there.
No 40, December 1998

No 10, December 1995

Stuart Piggott

British archaeology has lost the last of its 'three wise men'. The death of Stuart Piggott, so soon after Christopher Hawkes and Grahame Clark, means that an entire generation of prehistorians who began their careers in the late 1920s has now passed. More than anyone else, they laid the foundations for the study of British prehistory and between them they taught most of the senior figures in the discipline today.

Throughout the 1930s, Piggott was an outsider in British archaeology, yet this was the period in which he conducted some of his best research. This included the excavation of Thickthorn Down long barrow, the first classification of British Neolithic pottery, and the definition of the Wessex culture. His remarkable talents were rewarded by his appointment as Professor at Edinburgh as Gordon Childe's successor. Childe regarded him as a protegé, and to Piggott's alarm he even drove him all the way from London to introduce him to his new home. Childe had problems understanding traffic lights and for 350 miles he was utterly reliant on Piggott to tell him what to do.
Stuart Piggott: born 28 May 1910; died 23 September 1996.
No 19, November 1996

Rare listed pill-box faces demolition

One of the most unusual World War II pill-boxes in Britain, built as an extension to a listed building in Hertfordshire, and designed in a matching style, faces demolition later this year. The case underlines the importance and urgency of the Defence of Britain Project, launched by the Department of National Heritage and the CBA in April, which aims to record what little remains of Britain's fast-disappearing wartime buildings.

The pill-box, built over one of the entrances of the Great Hall at Merchant Taylor's School, near Rickmansworth, forms part of a Grade II-listed structure designed in a rare neo-Georgian/Swedish Modern style in 1931-33. The Great Hall and later pill-box were both made of specially-manufactured two-inch red bricks, and together form the largest building made of the bricks in Europe.
No 6, July 1995

Lost skeleton of 'barber-surgeon' found in museum

One of British archaeology's best-known and most 'dramatic' skeletons, which was thought destroyed during World War II, has been rediscovered in a basement of the Natural History Museum.

It belongs to the Avebury 'barber-surgeon', and was originally found underneath a buried megalith by Alexander Keiller in 1938. Dated by coins to the early 14th century, and identified as a barber-surgeon by a pair of scissors and a medical-looking probe, he is thought to have been crushed accidentally by the megalith as it was being buried in a medieval 'rite of destruction'.

The skeleton has now been relocated by Michael Pitts, former curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury, while researching a book on henges. It lies, labelled, in a cardboard box, ironically in a bomb-proof basement at the museum. Other 'lost' skeletons from Stonehenge, Woodhenge and the Avebury Sanctuary also survive in the museum. 'The barber-surgeon's skeleton exactly matches Keiller's description,' Mr Pitts said. 'There is no doubt of its identity.'
No 48, October 1999

Decorated shears trimmed Celtic hair

Unique engraved copper alloy shears have been found at an Iron Age site in Essex. Well preserved but missing the tips of both blades, they were excavated at a small settlement dating to c20BC–AD70, around the time of the Roman conquest. They are likely to have been hair scissors: classical writers noted Celts took considerable care of their hair, and men of their moustaches.

The find was made at Hamperden End, Henham during the laying of a Transco gas pipeline between Cambridge and Matching Green in 2002. Derek Cater, project officer for Network Archaeology, told British Archaeology that the shears were near the bottom of a ditch separating two circular gullies thought to have enclosed roundhouses.
No 78, Septemebr 2004

If the Normans had used plastic bags in the 1066 invasion, archaeologists would still be digging them up today. Daily Mail Feb 27

Please send your ideas for the magazine: we may not publish them all, but we will read and take notice. Ed

We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]