The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 106

Issue 106

May / June 2009



Breton hoard of stone axeheads is first for UK

Flint finds point to Scotland's first people

Antiquities Scheme unearths second Roman pan

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2


Beneath the Sea Special: Part 1
Discovery and work on HMS Victory

Beneath the Sea Special: Part 2
Underwater landscapes and the Swash Channel wreck

THE BIG DIG: Wallingford
Community research project in this historic Oxfordshire town, said to have been founded by King Alfred

The Nighthawing Report
While most metal detectorists give positive contributions to the archaological world, nobody is perfect. Pete Wilson considers tackling the rogues


Proud of all humanity – and Homophobic (Latin or Greek?)

on the web

Recommended websites
Discovering historic landscapes, and a major Gallo-Belgic pottery resource


your views and responses

CBA Correspondent

Gill Chitty introduces some recent examples from the CBA's advocacy files


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Found from the air

Star Letter

Star Letter

Chris Wardle

I congratulate Henry Chapman for his excellent article on the Where Rivers Meet Project, examining the two prehistoric henge-like monuments at the confluence of the rivers Mease and Tame with the river Trent (feature, THE BIG DIG Mar/Apr). This is the first time that these nationally important monuments and their setting have been the subject of systematic examination. I look forward to the publication of the full report later this year.

The existence of both the Sunburst Monument and the Woodhenge Monument had been recognised at least since the early 1960s, thanks to the late Jim Pickering. Jim's pioneering work surveying the cropmarks of the Trent and its tributaries opened a whole new chapter in our understanding of the prehistory of Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. I recall seeing those colour photographs of Catholme when I worked for Staffordshire county council a few years back. If the photographs were not actually taken by him, they were almost certainly taken from his cockpit by Fred Hartley, of Leicestershire Museums, who often accompanied Jim on his cropmark surveys in the late 1970s and 80s. The other possibility is that they may have been taken from a microlite operating from the field some 5km to the south at Whitemore Haye (now probably quarried away). One of my former colleagues, Chris Welch, got one of the fliers from that field to take photos of Catholme.

Jim was a fascinating character who fought in the RAF during the war, including as one of the pilots of the Gladiator biplanes Faith, Hope and Charity during the siege of Malta. Although he could sometimes be brusque in his dealing with archaeologists, his contribution to archaeology should not be forgotten.

Chris Wardle, Derby

Henges at Catholme, Staffs
The henge-like timber structures at Catholme, Staffordshire, photographed by Jim Pickering

Jeremy Lowe

Congratulations on the high standard of BA. The Catholme discoveries are most interesting – but where are they?

Jeremy Lowe, Llandaff

They are at NGR SK 194167

The first dig at Wroxeter

Anthony Greenstreet

Your article on the history of excavations at Wroxeter, with its plea for their resumption, was of great interest (Roger White, feature, Mar/Apr). This archaeological site is one of the few that have been celebrated in poetry. In Section XI, Songs of the Three Rivers, of his immensely long patriotic poem The Island (1944), Francis Brett Young (1884–1954) wrote,

Wroxeter drawings
Detail of sections through Roman baths at Wroxeter, drawn by Thomas Telford in 1788 and now in the archives of the Society of Antiquaries of London, click for larger image. © SAL

...and Wrekin's dome
Shaggy with forest broodeth on
That crumbled city of Old Rome
Which dead men once called Uricon –
That white-walled City of the Woods
Whose stark, fire-blackened ruin guards
The mortal ashes of multitudes
Scattered amid their broken shards.

Perhaps these lines could feature in any re-presentation of the (hopefully, resumed) excavations at Wroxeter.

Anthony Greenstreet, Camberley

Joan Schneider

The history of excavations at Wroxeter is more than 60 years longer than was stated in your article. The first serious excavator of the Roman city was not Thomas Wright in 1859, but the great engineer and architect Thomas Telford in 1788. Early in his career he was appointed surveyor of public works for the county of Shropshire. He became aware that farmers looking for building materials and guided by cropmarks were digging up and destroying the Roman remains. Disturbed by this he informed the land owner, who stopped the quarrying and paid for Telford to carry out further excavations, in which he uncovered extensive remains of a bath house. He afterwards wrote a report and prepared drawings and plans of what he had found.

Telford's later achievements as a builder of roads, canals, bridges, harbours and much else have perhaps overshadowed his early activity as an archaeologist.

Joan Schneider, Dunstable. Information from Thomas Telford, by LTC Rolt (1958)

Roger White comments:

> Rick Turner makes much the same point in his recent article for the Antiquaries Journal (88, 2008, 365–75). In fact, the first recorded discovery at Wroxeter was in 1709 when a hypocausted room was recorded in the Philosophical Transactions, complete with schematic plan. Neither this nor Telford's work, however, count as archaeology. Telford merely recorded the excavated remains, with fantastic accuracy and in a complex isometric drawing that was way ahead of its time, but he was not interested in stratigraphy or the associated finds. Wright, whatever his failings, was conducting a research excavation: he initiated the work rather than coming in once a discovery had been made. He used excavation as a technique to find out what kind of building the Old Work was part of. It is this initiation of active research on the site that we are commemorating this year.

Time Team cantata

Tom Welsh

I was much impressed by your interview with Harrison Birtwistle (My Archaeology, Mar/Apr). I think he is one of the few British composers who can be said to have drawn directly from archaeological inspiration; composers have used classical themes but not actual archaeological sites or evidence. It seems a bit remiss of them. Birtwistle's Silbury Air and Duets for Storab come within that scope, also the opera Gawain, and the suite from it, Gawain's Journey, evoke for me a very strong sense of the dark age British landscape.

So as a prompt I thought I'd spotlight some other British composers who have dabbled in archaeological inspiration, which might be subject matter for another article. The obvious first choice is John Ireland whose symphonic rhapsody Mai-dun and prelude The Forgotten Rite are amongst several archaeological inspirations. Another less familiar direct association is William Alwyn, whose Fifth Symphony subtitled Hydriotaphia draws on the inspiration of Thomas Browne's Urn-burial, or a Discourse on the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in Norfolk (1658).

Possibly more landscape than archaeology, Arnold Bax did draw inspiration from heritage locations, of which the best known is his tone poem Tintagel. Another composer to touch on archaeological subject matter is David Bedford, with a choral work The Song of the White Horse. Maxwell Davies, mentioned by Birtwistle, did attribute one or two archaeological inspirations such as Stone Litany.

However archaeology influencing music seems quite rare, which is strange given the prominence of archaeology in the media, including television. Maybe it is time a modern British composer immortalised Time Team in a new composition. Or there could be a case for encouraging composition workshops and masterclasses to visit archaeological excavations and major exposed antiquities like Wroxeter for inspiration.

Tom Welsh, Northampton

Rupert who?

Helen Paterson

I visited the new centre when it first opened, and was distressed to realise that Rupert Bruce-Mitford was never mentioned (Letters, Mar/Apr). Rupert was a good friend and neighbour of mine, when I lived in Harrow, and was proud of his detailed work at Sutton Hoo, and would I am sure be saddened to know that he had been "airbrushed out". Without taking away from Brown and the earlier excavators and Martin Carver later, Rupert's volumes were certainly the definitive reports of his era at Sutton Hoo.

It would be good to see this omission rectified in future displays.

Helen Paterson, King's Lynn

Is stone engraved?

Poulton stone
But is it art? The engraved piece of stone from ring ditch 2; it is 47mm long and 18mm thick. Photograph by Alan Wilmshurst

John Allen

You illustrate an "engraved stone" from a dig at Poulton, Cheshire (News, Mar/Apr), with the implication that the grooving is of human origin. The stone is identified as a limestone, and I would suggest probably came from the outcrop of the Carboniferous Limestone series to the west. I would also like to suggest that another interpretation should be considered.

If you superimpose a reversed tracing of one face over the other, it will be noticed that the pattern of grooves is substantially but not completely reproduced. Two grooves commence at prominent notches in one of the narrow faces of the fragment. This suggests that the grooves and notches could reflect the differential solution while in the soil of narrow veins of calcite that pass at steep angles through a thickness of limestone that is much more finely crystalline. If this is correct, the grooving is natural and not human.

Prof John Allen, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading

Mike Emery, Poulton project director, comments:

> Professor Allen's intriguingly alternative explanation is certainly worthy of consideration. However, several other factors need to be considered (which he was not privy to when the piece was published).

> The solid geology of the area is composed of Triassic Red Sandstone, overlaid by dense boulder clay. The nearest limestone outcrop is some 19km to the west. The etched fragment is the sole piece of limestone on the site (from 51 trenches excavated over the past 14 seasons).

> Microscopic analysis demonstrates that either two types of tool were used to incise the stone, or one implement that gradually became blunter as etching progressed (possibly a piece of quartz): c 70% of the patterning has a distinct v-shaped form, while the rest is more rounded or sub ushaped.

> The fragment was initially considered to be natural, following much the same reasoning as that outlined by Allen. However, when all the above factors were taken into account, a different interpretation emerged. The patterning is strongly resonant of that found on Grooved Ware pottery of the late neolithic. Its deliberate deposition among fragments of human cremated bone and faunal remains possibly points to it being a curio imbued with some symbolic or sacred significance. Finally, if the patterning had been formed through a natural process, it would still throw up equally intriguing questions as to 1) how it got to the site and 2) what significance it held for those responsible for its deliberate deposition among remains of the dead?

Good work

Jenny Comben

Your quote from the Wrexham Chronicle, "A hoard of Roman coins found by mental detectorists" (News, Mar/Apr), gave us a laugh! I have subscribed to BA for our school library following much interest in Time Team, and what an interesting magazine it is. Something for everyone – novice to expert. Keep up the good work.

Jenny Comben, print resources manager, Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester

Brian Edwards

On entering my local newsagent to pick up the latest British Archaeology (Mar/Apr), I was stopped in my tracks by what stood out from the many magazines on the shelf. The cover was wholly unexpected and quite brilliant. Well done!

Brian Edwards, Devizes

Sure, there's military checkpoints, there's bureaucracy… but in a few years this could be a viable tourist spot.
Abdul-Zahra al-Telagani, spokesman for the Iraqi Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, welcomes the first western tourists since mid-2003. Reuters

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.

Beneath the sea – Letters special

Over the features pages, the controversial and difficult world of maritime archaeology is explored with discussion of two projects, one run for profit and one with public funding (a further consideration follows of what the sea has to offer beyond shipwrecks). Last issue's Spoilheap column, about Odyssey Marine Exploration's work on the supposed wreck of HMS Sussex, provoked a strong response. Here is a selection of letters.

Not archaeologists

Colin Martin

The anonymously-written Spoilheap (Mar/Apr) seems to have it in for underwater archaeologists, and to have swallowed the blandishments of the salvage lobby. It is facile to compare developer-funded archaeology on land with the targeted extraction of valuables from a shipwreck to reward investors. The former is a statutory requirement of development, and though the archaeologists profit from their labours (only modestly, given current rates of pay) what they do is real archaeology, moderated by peer-review within their profession. Treasure hunters, on the other hand, go for big bucks to the exclusion – and often destruction – of everything else. Shipwrecks can provide unique closed collections of just about everything, including the organics usually missing from terrestrial sites. Have you ever seen a treasure-hunting prospectus extolling the worth of shoes?

The argument that any information is better than none is spurious. Sale catalogues provide all the information numismatists are likely to need, while most of the rest will go hang, for it costs more to conserve and study than it would yield under the auctioneer's hammer. It would of course be technically possible for a treasure hunter to conduct an exemplary archaeological project culminating in a full published report, but in the 40 years I've been in this field it's never happened, and I don't think it will. Claims in a prospectus are no substitute for the real thing, however many tame and usually surface-bound "archaeologists" are hired to provide an aura of respectability. Let's see the results, and be permitted to peer review them on their archaeological merits without fear of litigation should the reviews be critical. I've avoided naming companies or individuals because this fear is a real one.

Please don't exalt the treasure salvors, for whatever else they may be they're not archaeologists. Instead Spoilheap should urge real archaeologists above and below the water to engage more constructively with one another, because the aims they pursue are the same. So are their mores.

Colin Martin, honorary reader in maritime archaeology, University of St Andrews.

Odyssey is successful

Chris Preece

Spoilheap has, as usual, hit the nail on the head (but should prepare for moral outrage in response). As an archaeologist who has worked both underwater and on land (for the last seven years in developer-funded terrestrial archaeology), I can assure my marine brethren that I too have ethical qualms. I am deeply concerned about the number of greenfield sites being built on in this country and my part in their development. This though is the real world, however imperfect and either I interact with commercial concerns (and take the opportunity to record data) or I devote myself to protest.

Odyssey Exploration are hardly the bad guys of salvage. They employ two qualified archaeologists (yes, they are real – though frequently vilified by their "colleagues" – their CVs are available for scrutiny in the project plan); they conduct photogrammetric pre-disturbance surveys to a high standard; all artefacts are plotted, logged and tracked. With regard to HMS Sussex, not only did Odyssey display the patience of Job when having to deal with the requirements of three governments (and years of costs born of delay and layers of bureaucracy) they also produced, as required, a comprehensive 186-page project plan. In addition they have already put into the public domain preliminary reports on the Sussex and the Victory (would that some of the designated sites were as quickly published). Many terrestrial developers are far less cooperative.

Unsurprisingly therefore, commercial archaeological firms have been willing to work with Odyssey – Gifford, Wessex and MoLAS amongst others. Marine archaeology graduates (many of whom pursue academic or administrative careers) are averse to bullion retrieval, an issue that has scarred generations of their predecessors, either through bitter experience (the wreck of the Hanover comes to mind) or by association, due to treasure hunters calling themselves archaeologists and using inadequate methodology. The reaction has been to resort to protectionism (impossible to police) and the virtual mothballing of sites, in contrast to terrestrial archaeology where excavation is normal practice.

It is surely time to progress the arguments as has been done on land. Bullion retrieval will continue to be a factor on underwater sites. Ships were the Securicor vans of their day. If the marine archaeological fraternity cannot come to terms with commercial interests, they will not only become increasingly sidelined but will also miss the opportunity to play a part in recording and developing innovative methodologies for deep-water archaeology (something Odyssey is already doing). There is a danger too, that people will draw the conclusion that what really ruffles feathers is Odyssey's success rate, allied to the fact that they are currently making all the interesting discoveries.

Several wrecks are described on Odyssey Marine Exploration's website, but at the time of going to press there are technical reports for only two: the alleged Sussex and the Victory.

Chris Preece, via email.

Information is valuable

Margaret Rule

I have always welcomed my copy of British Archaeology, enjoying the obvious bias displayed by many of the contributors, but respecting its honesty and accuracy. The Spoilheap article on treasure hunting demonstrated the bias, but had little regard for accurate representation of facts.

The unnamed author is entitled to his opinion about the laws of salvage whereby a salvor may be recompensed for his efforts either by direct payment or by ownership of part of the salvaged material. This choice leads to sale of some of the objects after recovery. It seems to be an open question whether the salvaged coins recovered from HMS Sussex (if any) will be sold by the owners, the British government or by the salvor.

However, to assume that Odyssey Marine Exploration, the salvors of a naval vessel believed to be HMS Sussex, are conducting a "sample excavation, with otherwise unrecorded loss", assumes that the operation is nothing more than a treasure hunt and it goes too far. The Odyssey group has the appropriate equipment and an experienced team. There is no reason to assume poor standards. Whether the ship is the Sussex or one of the other ships lost at the same time, the standards of survey, excavation and salvage must be the same.

The author goes on to cite "the Mary Rose was as much of a treasure hunt as the Sussex". I wish I knew the source of this calumny. "The remains of the crew from the former, for example, were delivered to the specialist in a sack, with only one provenance – somewhere in the ship."

While lose bones from the upper levels of the silts, the equivalent of plough soil on a land site, were stored as a bulk sample, all the bones from the stratified levels within the ship were recorded in situ, recovered with associated silt samples and taken ashore to the finds department with a unique reference number. In the data base they are related to their position, context and associated finds. They were stored in conventional "bone boxes".

After the ship was recovered in 1982 the complete documentation on the human remains was reported to the coroner and a small committee was established to decide how to deal with them. At that time there was a demand from some residents of Portsmouth and Gosport that the bones should be reburied on site. This would have meant a complete loss of scientific and cultural information. After many months deliberation the committee chaired by the provost of Portsmouth together with the coroner, myself and Charles Douds, the chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, agreed that there would be a ceremonial burial of an unknown sailor from the Mary Rose in Portsmouth Cathedral, and the remaining bones would be placed in a secure store and made available to accredited scientists. This enabled Dr Ann Stirland to complete her thesis and publish her results.

I sympathise with those people who do not wish to see "popular" displays from a war grave, but I believe the information still available from this group of healthy young men is too valuable to waste.

Margaret Rule, archaeology director Mary Rose Trust 1979–94.

Not for profit

Joe Flatman

I was extremely dismayed to read the Spoilheap article. The author suggests that recent work on the presumed site of HMS Sussex is comparable to PPG16-type developer funded archaeological work on land, "the goal is profit".

I beg disagree; the ultimate goal of a development such as an office block is indeed profit, but no building developer sets out with the aim to directly target an archaeological site, nor to profit from the site's destruction through the sale of artefacts recovered, unlike, it would appear, the case of the Sussex. As demonstrated time and again, the vast majority of developers are keen to avoid archaeological sites at all costs and to follow best-practice, guidance and laws for the management and interpretation of a site when necessity forces them to impact upon such locations. If given the option it can be assumed that most would prefer not to become involved at all. Can the same be said of the Sussex and countless other sites at risk in the marine zone like it?

As regards any comparison of the Sussex project with the recovery of the Mary Rose, this is then gross calumny to the many dozens of volunteers who worked so long and hard to help recover the latter. Did any of the volunteers involved financially profit from their labours? No. Did a single object from the site ever reach an auction room? No. Was the intention of the Mary Rose project from the outset the recovery of materials for profit? No.

Joe Flatman, Lecturer in Maritime Archaeology UCL Institute of Archaeology, Surrey county archaeologist.

On You and Yours (Radio 4, Feb 2), Greg Stemm, Odyssey Marine Exploration chief executive, implied that the sale of wood from the Mary Rose was comparable to the sale of items from wrecks such as the Sussex or Victory. The Mary Rose Trust told British Archaeology that loose fragments from the ship are sold to raise money for research and conservation: a paperweight with a small piece of timber embedded is very popular, and a limited edition of 200 pens and pencils is to be launched in April.

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