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


News is written by Mike Pitts

Early Scottish gardens unturfed

Excavations in Aberdeenshire have revealed details of lost gardens. At Leith Hall the foundations of a small rectangular building match structures mapped in 1758. At Drumcastle, garden features destroyed during the civil war had later been landscaped with soil containing medieval ceramics and 18th century wine bottles.

Both estates are now owned by The National Trust for Scotland. At Leith Hall, Kennethmont, as the drying ground shrank, a square feature had been slowly rising in the lawn in front of the house until last spring it interfered with the grass cutter. It appeared to match the depiction of two single-storey garden pavilions or porter's lodges in a 1758 estate plan. The site was excavated in the autumn as part of a historic landscape survey.

The base of a 5.5×11m two-roomed building was uncovered, with evidence for a slate roof and glazed windows. In one corner was an unusual water feature, with conduits leading in and out of a 1m deep circular stone cistern. Could it be part of a grotto with miniature pool? "Or", says Shannon Fraser, nts archaeologist, "did this have a much more prosaic function?"

At Drumcastle, above the river Dee near Aberdeen, historical records note "a pleasant garden planting" that was destroyed in 1644 by the Marquess of Argyll's Covenanting forces. In March the trust excavated a trench on the south lawn, where earlier geophysical survey had suggested remains survived. Walls, paving and terracing – the garden's "hard framework" – were found, with signs of late 18th century landscaping that smoothed out the area. This soil fill contained medieval glazed floor tiles and pottery fragments, and quantities of 17th–18th century wine bottles, fine tablewares and clay pipe fragments. Murray Archaeological Services directed both projects for the trust.

Axes could be 0.5m years old

News came in March of an important find from dredging area 240 on the North Sea bed, described as being up to 100,000 years old. The 28 handaxes could, however, be much older, further increasing the discovery's significance.

A photograph seen by British Archaeology, reproduced in the article for the first time, shows one of the axes with a distinctive "tranchet" cutting edge. This results from a particular way of finishing the implement's tip, and is commonly seen at the butchery area at Boxgrove, West Sussex, firmly dated to at least 500,000 years ago.

Stratigraphy could point to a yet more intriguing date. The fresh quality of the artefacts makes it likely they lay in fine sediment, not gravel. In 2005/6, Wessex Archaeology conducted a survey in nearby dredging area 254. It identified fine-grained sediments from the Wolstonian and Ipswichian (200–125,000 years ago), thought to be a time when there were no humans in Britain, containing "notable amounts" of charcoal. Antony Firth, head of coastal and marine projects at Wessex Archaeology, told BA that this "cut against the grain of expectations quite radically". Could the handaxes also come from those deposits?

Information about the news ite, 13km off the coast of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, has been emerging slowly because of the complex mode of its discovery. Hanson took marine sand and gravel under license, and delivered it to Flushing, south-west Netherlands. There, over three months, amateur archaeologist Jan Meulmeester recovered bones, teeth and artefacts. He told the wharf owners in February, and under a 2005 protocol between the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association and English Heritage, Hanson moved dredging away from the site. The finds are in Holland.

The 100,000-year date estimate came from Hans Peeters at the Dutch National Service for Archaeology (RACM). This had to rely on axe typology, a notoriously imprecise method. The question is, at a depth of some 25m, how can archaeologists find outwhere they really came from?

In the press

Daily Mail

"I can reveal that the 44-year-old cerebral aesthete English Heritage chief and Charles II impersonator Dr Simon Thurley fell in love with Dr Anna Keay, 33 – former curator at Historic Royal Palaces and an expert on the Koh-i-Nor diamond – after she arrived to work at English Heritage. To the surprise of his friends, they will marry next month" Richard Kay, Jan 3


"I am a wiccan and my wife is a druid. I work, pay my bills and taxes, do not commit crimes or try to force my beliefs on anyone, and would appreciate it if the press stopped writing about us in a way that would be unacceptable for other religious groups" Feb 18. Steve Diamond responds after Metro, reporting BA's Stanway feature (Mar/Apr), called Druids "bearded, white-clad crackpots that gather at Stonehenge"

The Art Newspaper

"The British Army is to develop a Cultural Heritage Initiative to assist with archaeological sites and museums in southern Iraq. This will be launched with the Iraqi state board of antiquities and heritage, along with the British Museum. The plan is to help at 'iconic cultural locations', and to leave a positive 'legacy' after the withdrawal of British forces. The proposal is at an early stage, and is expected to be announced in May" Feb 26

The Northern Echo

"Landlord Billy Nettleton was astonished after a 700-year-old grave cover was discovered in his village pub – thanks to the smoking ban. One of his regulars, archaeologist Percival Turnbull, spotted it in the wall as he stood outside puffing his pipe, because he can no longer smoke in the bar of the Blacksmiths Arms in Mickleton, County Durham. Mr Turnbull said: "I saw right away that it was part of amedieval cross slab grave cover" Mar 10

The Guardian

"Arriving soon at Stonehenge: 480 trucks a day from Tesco's 'megashed' – Warehouse to be one of largest buildings in Europe – Scheme could cause traffic chaos, AA warns" Feb 23

Listing lobby was no hot air

A derelict 19th century building became a signpost of new listing attitudes, after a strong campaign led to English Heritage changing its mind about its significance. In 2000 EH had advised designation as Grade 2, but did not progress this recommendation. Last November, responding to a request for spot listing, EH declined on the grounds that the structure had not served its intended function and was in compromised condition. Protest was supported by BBC Coast archaeologist Mark Horton, shadow arts minister Ed Vaizey, Jeremy Clarkson, Save Britain's Heritage, the Association for Industrial Archaeology, South Hams District Council and the CBA, and on 10 March English Heritage announced that it had listed the building Grade 2.

The Totnes atmospheric pumping house was erected in 1848, to power trains by air pressure. However, the Brunel-designed system was a failure, and the line to Plymouth was never completed. Current site owner Dairy Crest – a key local employer who was debating leaving Totnes – had said it planned to clear the building, and in February was reported to be removing the roof. Listing does not guarantee the station's future, but special permission is now needed for any alterations.

Roger Bowdler, English Heritage head of territory designation, said approvingly that the building was "a fascinating thing", and told BA that there had been "quite a hue and cry in our department about how we assess things". EH encourages public engagement, with new listing guidance on its website: before this, Bowdler said, "listing was a complete mystery".

Delighted Totnes Museum administrator Alan Langmaid said he saw the station every day on his way to school. "Now my children will plod past the same old building", he told BA.

Kent Anglo-Saxon cemetery could be royal

Excavations in Kent, at Springhead Park, Northfleet, have uncovered more of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery first identified during Channel Tunnel Rail Link works in 1999–2002. Grave goods include exceptionally fine brooches.

The CTRL investigations had revealed 36 seventh century graves. Evaluation nearby in 2003 ahead of Countryside Properties housing works (part of Land Securities' Ebbsfleet Development), found an extension of the cemetery, which was fully excavated by Wessex Archaeology. Graves now total 148.

Teeth and occasional bone fragments were preserved, but it is the grave goods that are exciting archaeologists. There was a relatively high number of warrior burials for a cemetery of this size: at least eight individuals, presumed to have been men, were buried with swords, spears, knives and occasionally shields, of which the central bosses survived.

Two people, evidently of very high status, took with them composite gold filigree disc brooches encrusted with garnets. One of these, which had been accompanied by beads, silver rings and a silver pin, appeared to have been held in a leather and fabric bag; well-preserved textiles included fine flax linen. This brooch is still in its block of soil, but X-Ray has revealed intricate and refined decoration. Three further graves contained amethyst necklaces, and a fourth a unique item that may be a highly ornamented purse mount

In a pattern also seen at CTRL excavations at Folkestone, 19 graves had been laid out in a row, with a ringditch added at the northern end. The grave goods suggest that 18 of the deceased had been women.

Field officer Catriona Gibson and project manager Richard Greatorex say the cemetery was in use around 620–700AD, when the Kentish royal family had split its powerbase into two centres. Springhead could be associated with the western of these.

Poetry to assist transfer of Hadrian's Wall collection

Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities closes for the last time on 19 April. The collections, owned by the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, will transfer to the £26m Great North Museum in 2009. To bridge the gap, the university's director of archaeological museums Lindsay Allason-Jones has commissioned a book inspired by Roman artefacts.

Maureen Almond, a postgraduate student in creative writing at Newcastle University, has written poems about brooches, a carved stone head (pictured on the book's cover) and an iron rock wedge. Towards the end (reproduced below in full) celebrates a highly decorated shield boss found in the river Tyne. Each object has been photographed by Glyn Goodrick, the museum's ICT officer.

Material from the museum, which includes important collections relating to prehistoric rock art and Hadrian's Wall; the Shefton Museum's collection of Greek art and archaeology; art in the Hatton Gallery; and the collection of natural history (which includes some archaeological and ethnographic objects) in the Hancock Museum, will all join together at the Hancock, extended and refurbished by Terry Farrell and partners.


Towards the End

When you dropped your shield
was it because it was arrow-laden,
too heavy for its purpose?

Or were you simply tired of fighting?
Had you had enough of crawling round your empire
like a demented tortoise?

And the wounds you sustained,
were they heart-felt or merely flesh-deep,
nothing more than pride bruised?

Were you thinking, anyway, of changing sides
when your emperor called you back?
Is that why you lost your battle-nose?

Maybe thoughts of home distracted you.
Maybe you saw the writing on the wall
realised that in the end, you'd lose.

In brief

Awards to be presented at British Museum

The programme of British Archaeological Awards 2008 has been announced, with 10 awards to be made on Nov 10 at a ceremony at the British Museum, London. There will be presentations for the best project, independent or amateur project, book, scholarly book, TV/radio programme, discovery, innovation and ICT project. There are also awards for lifetime achievement and Young Archaeologist of the Year (YAYA). Entries deadline was May 31 (1 Sep for YAYA). See or contact Sarah Howell, c/o Robert Kiln Charitable Trust, 15a Bull Plain, Hertford SG14 1DX

Quarrying windfall

Since its launch in 2002, the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund – fuelled by a tax on the aggregates extraction industry – has contributed nearly £40min over 360 projects. To make it easier for us all to find out where themoney goes, on March 12 ALSF launched a website ( and 12 downloadable reviews on the themes of reducing the environmental effect of quarrying, the sustainable provision of aggregates, improving the environment, and heritage. Amongst many others, the latter reports describe several projects that have featured in British Archaeology.

Heritage science

In February English Heritage announced the appointment of a steering working group to pursue the recommendation of the House of Lords select committee on science and technology, that the heritage sector develop a comprehensive national science strategy. The group is chaired by Sarah Staniforth, historic properties director of the National Trust. The strategy's first draft is promised for summer 2009, and a website is planned.

Orkney discovery

In March Naomi Woodward, who last year found two flint tanged points on Stronsay, Orkney (News, Nov/Dec 2007), returned to the possible late ice age site for test excavations. Large quantities of in situ flint debris, with fine blades and microliths, charcoal and post-holes confirmed suspicions that an important early hunter-gatherer site survived at Links House. Woodward is now seeking funding for a major excavation.

Also, Orkney plumber David Barnes holds found a carved neolithic stone at Sandwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, after storms in March. The carving is typical of elaborate work found on slabs in burialmounds aroundOrkney and further afield in Ireland, dating back to 4000BC, and may have been washed up froma submerged cairn.

Phase 2

BA98 Cover

The Portable Antiquities Scheme saga, with the much-praised project attempting to convince the Museums Libraries and Archives council that it has nowaste to trim (News, Jan/Feb and Mar/Apr), seems to be concluding. In February, the MLA and the British Museum (where the PAS is based) came to an agreement, with the MLA committed to provide $1.3m in 2008/09 and to arranging to continue at that level up to 2011 subject to a joint BM/MLA inflationary review. The British Museum will take over the scheme by 2011, an outcome with which archaeologists and the British public can take great heart – director Neil MacGregor has shown commendable support for the scheme throughout. Nonetheless, Roger Bland, PAS head, will need to make cuts, and as we go to press, the arrangement has still to be endorsed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The scheme was strongly debated in Westminster Hall on 5 March, with an inconclusive ending as Ed Vaizey MP, shadow arts minister, rose to object to statements from arts minister Margaret Hodge. Interviews were recorded for a Radio 4 PM programme (broadcast on 27 Jan).

BA99 Cover

Our excavation feature (Mar/Apr), timed to coincide with publication of the monograph, Stanway: An Elite Burial Site at Camulodunum (The Roman Society), received as much web publicity as anything covered by BA. The Discovery Channel and Spiegel Online ran good stories, and it was further picked up in print by, amongst others, publications in Brazil, Russia and India, as well as Der Spiegel itself. Did that have anything to do with the editor's highlighting of the excavators' very tentative identification of a Druid grave? We couldn't possibly comment.

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

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