The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 101

Issue 101

July / Aug 2008



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


The Copper Age
Special: did Britain have a fourth age?

Portable Antiquities
The Scheme must go on

Drawing Stonehenge
A major fieldwork project is explored by six artists

Severn estuary
Martin Bell describes the unique world of ancient mudflats

Gin Drinker's Line
Insights into WWII Hong Kong defence system

A Professional Mockery
Gary Lock on difficulties in obtaining "grey lierature"

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones explores the realms of archaeological fiction and a look at Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society's website


your views and responses

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Mike Heyworth says it's time to think big – The CBA at Discover Archaeology LIVE, London Olympia


An exhibition to make you think (and a bog body)

Mick's travels & more travels

Mick Aston goes to Glamorgan in search of monasteries, and Jon Cannon tours south-east Wales

in view

New columnist Greg Bailey probes a coming major TV series – BBC's Bonekickers

my archaeology - NEW!

Neil MacGregor: The accidental archaeologist and new director of the British Museum


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


News is written by Mike Pitts

Anglo-Saxon London may date back to AD500

In recent years substantial excavations in the City of Westminster – of which the largest was associated with the redevelopment of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden – have identified the middle Saxon town of Lundenwic. It was a busy industrial and trading centre, on the north bank of the Thames between what are now Trafalgar Square and Aldwych. In AD871 a Viking army moved in, and people seem to have returned to the old Roman town (now the City of London) for easier defence against raids.

Lundenwic was thought to have been founded around 650, but the latest discoveries suggest it may date back to the previous century. Another large excavation in Covent Garden, at the London Transport Museum, supports this new version with the discovery of what looks like Lundenwic's first early Saxon cemetery, in use by at least 550–600. New dates may take the town's origins as far back as the earlier sixth century.

Ten cremation burials, most of them in urns, were excavated by AOC Archaeology Group in 2005 when the museum extended its basement for new shop and gallery space. Burnt human bone has now been radiocarbon dated, in one case to AD410–550. The second date of AD430–640 comes from the remains of one of three adults buried together. The ashes of two of these had been gathered into pots, one with glass beads (suggesting a female); the remains of the third, which might have been in a bag, were accompanied by tweezers (suggesting a male) – this could be a family group. Completed study of the artefacts indicates they are consistent with a date before 550.

Two people were laid in graves after the cremations, one of whom was an adult woman wearing a necklace of 19 amber beads and a glass bead, and almost certainly (her grave had been disturbed) a silver disc brooch set with cut garnets. These objects suggest she died between 575 and 600.

By the early to mid seventh century, the cemetery had been abandoned as Lundenwic expanded northwards. Structures, pits, wells, middens and gravel surfaces were recorded in the dig, with artefacts demonstrating craft practice that included the production of textiles, metals and glass. Excavation of deep basements in the 17th and 18th centuries had left little else to find.

Excavating the last Neanderthals – in Sussex

Flint spear heads once thought to be no more than 4,000 years old have been dated to some 30,000 years ago: they could have been made either by late surviving Neanderthals or early-arriving modern humans. The site is unique in Britain and one of the most important of its type in north-west Europe. But it will soon be planted with a vineyard and trees. In the last chance for a modern study, excavations are taking place as the magazine was published.

The flints were found in 1900 when Beedings, near Pulborough, West Sussex, was built as a retirement home for London physician John Harley. He recorded 2,300 artefacts, "as sharp as when the broken fragments fell from the maker's hands", and mounted displays of the finds in his house. They were later given to the county museum, where today no more than 180 pieces survive.

Roger Jacobi, who has completed a substantial study of the material, describes the loss as "particularly sad". Recognising the importance of the site, he arranged for thermoluminescence dating of a heated flint. The result, published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, was 31,000BP ±5,700 years.

Britain then was at the north-western tip of a vast mammoth-steppe, swept by herds of mammoth, wild horse, woolly rhino, giant deer and reindeer. The site has good views across the Sussex Weald. Jacobi thinks itwas a camp from which hunters – whether Neanderthals or modern humans – watched for large game.

The site's significance lies in the unusual preservation conditions. The flints had been found in a deep fissure or "gull" in the local greens and, which archaeologists relocated in 2001 using geophysics. English Heritage commissioned the Beedings Survey, and last year trial excavation confirmed that the gull is well over 3m deep and contains in situ artefacts.

The survey is directed by Matthew Pope and Caroline Wells for the Archaeology South East and Boxgrove Project teams at UCL. Working closely with the present landowners, they are excavating three trenches across the fissure,with volunteers from the Worthing Archaeological Society which has researched the site for 30 years.

The site, says Pope, is "crucial" to approaching the little understood time when modern humans replaced Neanderthals. The spear heads "may well represent the technologically advanced signature of the last Neanderthal hunters in northern Europe".

Back to Easter after 90 years

The last British archaeological project on Easter Island was over 90 years ago, when Katherine Routledge conducted the first recorded excavation. Now a British teamhas permits from CONAF (the Chilean National Parks Authority) to investigate key sites. A five-year programme of survey and excavation has begun, following two exploratory seasons. It promises to change our understanding of the south Pacific island famed for 1,000 carved stone statues, and known locally as Rapa Nui.

Sue Hamilton (Institute of Archaeology UCL) and Colin Richards (University of Manchester) will work with Rapa Nui co-directors Susana Nahoe (University of Chile) and Francisco Torres H (Museo Antropológico Padre Sebastián Englert). For the first time, they say, they plan to study the complete landscape rather than discrete monuments.Unlike the "north American-derived processual tradition" that has dominated field research, they claimthey will also seek answers about what the island's many structures meant. They are both experienced fieldworkers (Richards co-directs the Stonehenge Riverside Project), and it is expected that several techniques will be used on Rapa Nui for the first time.

In February they completed the first full survey of Puna Pau, where the statues' red pukao "hats" were quarried (photo right shows Bournemouth University's Kate Welhamat a toppled hat at a statue site). Resistivity tomography provided stratigraphic information along 40m transects; they plan to excavate what they identify as a road buried by up to 5mof stone debris, the first dig at this quarry.

They will also dig at themain statue quarry at Rano Raraku, which has seen no excavation since Thor Heyerdahl's expedition in 1954. They hope to obtain dating and ecological information. British Archaeology will report progress.

London shofarot surprise

The shofar is a ritual Jewish instrument made froman animal horn: when the walls of Jericho fell, shofarot were being blown. Two were found in 19th century London, both of ram's horn, and claimed to predate the expulsion of the Jewish community from England in 1290. However, there was no context for the finds, says Bruce Watson of the Museum of London Archaeology Service, so it was decided to radiocarbon date them. One was dredged from the Thames at Vauxhall (with a third, now lost) and is now in the collection of the Cuming Museum. The other, in the London Jewish Museum's collections, was found at Leadenhall Street in the City. Both dated to AD1680–1939, after the readmission of the Jewish community in 1656, raising the question as to why as ritual objects they had not been correctly buried within a cemetery. They may never have been used.

Daily Mail

"Home extension horror as mum discovers ten skeletons buried under her dining room– and faces a £30k bill tomove them. It is thought up to 40 more bodies could be buried at the cottage in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire – on the site of a Quaker burial ground from the 1700s. The Ministry of Justice told Miss McGuigan, 42, it was an offence to 'offer indignities to the remains of the dead' and warned of health and safety rules. She has now ordered coffins and is looking into arrangements for amass cremation or a burial in a nearby field. 'The undertaker has quoted me £800 per body,' she says" Apr 21

Isle of Thanet Extra

"Beads, glass beakers, brooches, a toilet seat and ring fragments were among the items catalogued.

So that's what they mean by a pull quote: a sub on the Isle of Thanet Extra misunderstood an article's reference to "a toilet set", listed amongst finds recovered from the excavation of Anglo-Saxon graves at Ringlemere,Kent, declared treasure at an inquest. Mar 21

In brief

Society loses £500,000

Last autumn the London Society of Antiquaries celebrated 300 years with Making History, an exhibition of antiquities and documents at the Royal Academy. The previous president had told fellows that all costs would be met from sponsorship, donations and ticket sales. In the event, the society has revealed, the estimated 60,000 visitors turned into 39,500, of whom just under 10,200 actually paid (most visitors were RA friends and guests with free access). The society's project evaluation also blames its net loss of £573,160 (over half of last year's entire CBA spend) on a failure to attract sponsorship and donations, and unhelpful communications with the RA. But it all came out well in the end. The society's investments in 2007 realised a profit of £791,000.

Silbury is safe

Works to stabilise Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, have ended, at a final cost to English Heritage of £1.66m, after it was discovered that the 1968–69 Atkinson/BBC tunnel had caused even more damage than first envisaged – a new collapse occurred during the works. The gain in knowledge about the history and construction of Europe's largest ancient mound, however, is expected to be significant.

Comment on heritage future

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published the draft heritage protection bill. Substantial changes to heritage legislation for England and Wales are promised, many of them welcomed by archaeologists (News, May/Jun 2007). At the last-minute the features of the important cultural property (armed conflicts) bill were joined to it, making this a critical but demanding task for 2008/9. The DCMS asked for comments by June 27: see Comment was also sought on the key issue of the costs of meeting the bill's provisions: to by June 16.

Flooded neolithic Orkney

The Orkney world heritage site complex of neolithic ritual monuments was created before the sea filled the Stenness basin, isolating the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness. Radiocarbon has dated the inundation to 1440–1270BC, suggesting there may be important submerged remains.

Celebrating 50 years

What is now the School of Archaeology and History at the University of Leicester, began life in 1957/8 with a one-year archaeology course at the Department of History. Celebrations in March included a party and the launch of an anecdotal history that will raise memories from anyone with an archaeology degree (available from the department for £7). Cutting a Stonehenge cake were Graeme Barker (head of department 1988–2000, now Disney professor of archaeology and director of theMcDonald Institute for ArchaeologicalResearch at the University of Cambridge), Alan McWhirr (a student on the first archaeology course, who later directed excavations at Roman Cirencester for 20 years and retired from the university in 2002), Marilyn Palmer (head of department 2000–06, a leading industrial archaeologist) and Colin Haselgrove, present head of department.

Phase 2

Hans Peeters, senior archaeologist specialising in early prehistory at the Dutch National Service for Archaeology (RACM), writes to say that the apparent tranchet flake scar on the North Sea handaxe (News, May/Jun) is in fact damage. In the absence of a geological context, he says, its age is unknown, though "a parallel to Boxgrove cannot be excluded". We look forward to hearing further news about this important find when the artefacts and animal bones (amixed assemblage) are studied at Leiden University.

Our web columnist was surprised to hear herself praised in the Scottish Parliament. In a debate on April 23 about the relationship between Historic Scotland and local authorities (the main conclusion, she says, "was that their new joint working agreement is a good thing"), Liam McArthur noted Radio Orkney's regular archaeology programme, "fronted by the irrepressible and hugely impressive Caroline Wickham-Jones". She keeps those web features coming, too: this issue is on fiction.

This seems an appropriate point to mention TinyURL. This is a free service (at that converts web addresses into shorter ones. Its use in British Archaeology (introduced in the last issue) lightens the page, and makes copying addresses into a browser quicker, easier and less error prone. As with all addresses in the magazine, you will need to preface these with http://.

An odd thing found on the sea bed off Salcombe,Devon, reported in a feature about collections of bronze agemetalwork found there and at Langdon Bay, Kent (Nov/Dec 2006), is described by Stuart Needham and Claudio Giardino in the March Antiquity. They conclude it is part of a plough shoe, distinctive of Sicily in the later 11th millennium BC.

Knowledge is power, and understanding the past can only help us in dealing with the present and the future. Harrison Ford, on election as a director of the Archaeological Institute of America just before the launch of Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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