British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 101

Issue 101

July / Aug 2008

Contents

news

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

features

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

letters

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

spoilheap

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

on the web

When archaeology is really meant to be fiction

Caroline Wickham-Jones opens the internet for a good summer's read.

Top Site

Archaeologists and fiction have an interesting relationship. Setting aside the veracity of our interpretations of the sites we excavate, fiction provides an admirable method to present our condensed thoughts to a wider audience. We are used to books and film: the internet is another vehicle. What does it contribute?

It is not hard to find listings of books related to archaeology, but what about actual archaeological fiction? One of my childhood favourites, Littlenose, is conspicuous in his absence; there is a sales pitch for Noggin the Nog, with a brief sound of his master's voice (www.dragons-friendly-society.co.uk), and Asterix is well promoted. Perhaps we have to look for more recent contributions?

Not quite – older fiction is present, but you have to hunt it out. The Gutenberg Project (www.gutenberg.org) provides a source for out of date texts from the usa, though better known authors tend to be better represented, such as Jack London's Before Adam (www.gutenberg.org/etext/9113). Infomotions has some material (eg infomotions.com) and there are plenty of transcriptions on the Prehistoric Fiction website (www.trussel.com/f_prehis.htm). Indeed the author of Prehistoric Fiction provides a fascinating consideration of prehistory as a genre, from the history of the novels, through major contributors, to listings (many illustrated and summarised) and excerpts. Sadly, the site does not seem to have been updated comprehensively recently: Michelle Paver's Wolf Brother is missing (reviewed Books, Jan/Feb 2005), though the bulletin board has contributions.

If prehistoric fiction is a genre, a new contribution to the field might be the teaching novel. Contributions are starting to appear for all levels, from college students (Stone Mirror: A Novel of the Neolithic) to young children (The Ice Journey series).

It is interesting how little fiction there is actually on the web, and how even authors themselves seemto avoid the internet as amedium. Michelle Paver is one exception: her website provides information on her research (more a travelogue than a list of works consulted) and a link to a site dedicated to Torak and the world of Wolf Brother, including a section of related fan fiction – all this from someone who tells us she does not have internet access).

Moving from "fiction" to "fantasy" yields more results, many definitely on the fantastical side (eg prehistoricfantasy.blogspot.com). They should not be ignored, nevertheless, as literature like this can have an impact on popular perceptions, and the long list of links on many websites shows just how widely some authors reach to draw their inspiration – how they choose to interpret their wisdom is, however, up to them.

Archaeology sits oddly as a sub-branch of fantasy (www.castlefiction.com) because it emphasises the links to science fiction: but is that not precisely what we are about – creating other worlds and appropriate technologies? The authors are in no doubt that they write "prehistoric fantasy" (see the description of the Reindeer People on www.meganlindholm.com/novels.html). One author enthuses over the mix of "drama and science" (www.inspiredauthor.com/v3/historic-fantasy-novel), while others provide "how to" guides (www.tor.com/Gears/archaeological_fiction.html).

As on paper, prehistoric fiction on the web extends to comic books, from the colourful Turok, Son of Stone, to Anthro, though all merely reflect printed copy, as with graphic novels (age-of-bronze.com).

In short there is a dearth of archaeological fiction on the web. Be inspired, release your inner author, explore your archaeological dreams, follow the guidelines, and fill that gap! Let's get some quality (and accurate) material out there.

Archaeological fiction on the web

  • Prehistoric Fiction – www.trussel.com/f_prehis.htm
    • An in-depth discussion of prehistoric fiction as a genre, plus a reading list to keep you occupied throughout the wettest summer
  • Archaeological Fiction – www.tor.com/Gears/archaeological_fiction.html
    • An interesting, and personal, view of the driving forces behind a bestselling prehistory series
  • The Clan – www.torak.info
    • Wolf Brother, for the uninitiated. There is more prehistory on the author's own home page (www.michellepaver.com), but the fan-site encourages participation with imaginative and informative art-work
  • Shadow of the Serpent – www.biddle-audenreed.com
    • Read the first 11 chapters free. An "action-packed adventure tale of epic proportions..."
  • Super-Hero Prehistory – comiccoverage.typepad.com
    • Some old friends meet some surprising outfits

Taking a parish story from desktop to field with a podcast tour

Harold Smith describes the potential that web technology now offers even small organisations.

It is 10 years since the Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society set up its website (www.barwickinelmethistoricalsociety.com). It has developed into a large depository of articles and illustrations of the history of the parish of Barwick-in-Elmet, West Yorkshire. Initially the speed at which most networks operated was too slow to put large files onto the site. However, as technology progressed over the decade, I have introduced a number of features which I can recommend to any amateur society devoted to history or archaeology.

As emails and entries in our guestbook came in, we got to know our readers. We have developed features to give reader groups what they wanted. For example, on the website there is a recording of someone born in the parish, so that those living overseas can hear how his or her ancestors may have spoken (or how they themselves may have spoken if their ancestor had not emigrated). For readers who once lived in the parish (and all readers in 50 years time) we have an item called Today's News (Tomorrow's History).

The website has enabled us to meet another need. Recently the villagers of Barwick-in-Elmet had been urged by English Heritage to make people more aware of their rich heritage. A prominent part of that is an iron age hillfort, which has within it a Norman motte and bailey. The site is a scheduled ancient monument and is described by English Heritage as being of national importance.

To further appreciation of the hillfort and castle, the society has introduced a podcast of a guided tour. It supplements recently installed information boards, which have a brief text and illustrations, but cannot reveal the whole range of information necessary to bring the site to life. For the podcast we had to write the script (myself), and find a recording specialist (Audioweb UK) and someone to read it (Eleanor Hills). Audioweb recorded the reading, edited it and added appropriate sound effects. Armed with an Apple iPod or other MP3 player, and a map of the earthworks (which can be downloaded from our website, along with the podcast itself), any member of the public can organise their own tour at a time to suit them. There is future scope to extend the concept to other parts of the parish.

There are many sites of historic or archaeological interest where it is not economical to employ someone to supervise or assist visitors. On other historic sites, especially those which are not secure, it is not always possible to employ a personal guide or to issue audio-tour handsets. The Barwick-in-Elmet earthworks are spread over some 6ha, much of which is in public access areas. The only solution is to provide a self-help tour which can be downloaded from the internet. I would suggest that many sites of historic interest are faced with similar problems, and would benefit from this treatment.

Much of the material on the website is from our quarterly, The Barwicker. This 18-page publication has been produced since March 1986. Articles are put online at least three months after appearance in the Barwicker, and will stay available for all time.

Until recently the volume of information was small enough for me to run the site using my own personal web space courtesy of my service provider. In the last year the society has begun to fund the activity for the first time. Our main page registers approaching 3,000 visits a year. Through the web site the society reaches farmore people than it could in any other way. It can also be argued that the people it reaches are the ones who are really interested in the history of the parish.

Harold Smith is the Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society's webmaster

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