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

on the web

Putting the pieces of the past into place, historic landscapes

Top Site

Archaeologists study historic sites created by people in the past, but how often do we consider these as part of a wider world? Caroline Wickham-Jones investigates.

Most of the time in the field, we engage with localised sites, but these always exist, and existed, in landscapes. This has exercised the Forestry Commission in Scotland, whose website links sites of all shapes and sizes into a dynamic geography. The archaeology is not initially obvious – this is a subtle website whose apparent simplicity masks plenty of information and pictures, together with stories, events (still to come) and access detail. Scotland's Rural Past also aims to return sites to the landscape. SRP is work-oriented, sites appear as "projects" – it is technical and less interpretive (promised photographs do not always materialise); but the result is similar. There is a wealth of material out there.

Beautiful rural locations are not everything. Archaeological or historic sites also make up our towns and cities, but it is harder to find information. York Archaeological Trust might be a good start, but its content covers heritage centres and walks (and is marred by the problems of returning to the home page). There is a well-hidden gazetteer of sites, but images depend on a plug-in that Firefox did not recognise, and mapping depends on site selection not vice versa. Museum of London Archaeology also disappoints, with disjointed information about key sites and projects, rather than interpretation of how the many years of archaeological research in London are starting to add up. English Heritage publicises the Historic Environment of Liverpool Project (HELP), which does not seem to have web information. Historic Liverpool at last provides what we need, albeit with maps that are driven by listed buildings.

Elsewhere, historic sites relate to each other in all sorts of ways. One obvious factor pertaining to location and type of site would be the coast. The Clwyd Coastal Survey focuses on interpretation to the exclusion of site detail. Sefton Coastal Heritage links to a variety of material, from prehistoric footprints to specific villages. The South West Coast Path lacks precise site information, but does illustrate how individual locations work together.

Battlefield archaeology is ripe for landscape links. While many British battlefields are now interpreted, websites tend to be heavy on text and relate primarily to visitor facilities. Where are the maps for Culloden? Why are the depictions of Bosworth Field hidden in an archaeological FAQ section? Contrast the simplicity of the Somme Remembrance Trail, or the variety of Passchendaele Remembered.

Finally, what about our national parks? All promote archaeology and discuss how the landscape has evolved, but access to individual historic site detail varies. The North York Moors and Northumberland parks stand out for archaeology, but neither website offers easy information to access field sites in person.

Archaeology has a respectable history of study. Perhaps it is time we started to join the dots? And to point others in the directions we have all enjoyed treading.

Historic landscapes on the web

Top Site Thumbnail

  • Forest Heritage Scotland –
    • Putting people back into the past, with subtle but informative archaeology and enough information about Dog Falls illicit whisky still to make your own
  • Historic Liverpool –
    • Such urban archaeology on the web as this is rare, and when you look at the attitude to sharing information and software you will like it even more
  • Paleo Indian Archaeology on DoD installations –
    • An academic site, but I could not resist the link between prehistory, shorelines and the US Department of Defense
  • The Battlefields of the Somme –
    • Driven by visitor logistics, maybe, but there is a wealth of detail from landscape reconstruction after the battles to the sites (and poets)
  • Battle of the Boyne –
    • The right amount of text and a good mix of images and maps, though the battle is not put in context. Striking stark screens, but where is the music?

Caroline Wickham-Jones teaches archaeology for the University of Aberdeen.

All about Gallo-Belgic pottery

In the early Roman empire in northern Europe, quantities of new-style mass produced ceramics were imported into Britain from France. Jane Timby introduces a website that documents this trade.

Gallo-Belgic pottery was made in and around Rheims, north-east Gaul (Gallia Belgica) from the Augustan period (later first century BC), through to c AD70–80. From around 20/10BC–AD10 the pottery reached a large number of sites in southern Britain, mainly in the form of fine ware cups, platters and beakers, used functionally, or symbolically, for the serving and eating of food and drink. Three principal wares were made: terra nigra (black or grey), terra rubra (orange or red) and white wares. Some vessels carry potters' name stamps or marks.

The inspiration stems directly from the Roman fine ware pottery industries first established in Italy and then introduced to southern and central Gaul. Gallo-Belgic pottery essentially forms the northernmost link of this new tradition that revolutionised pottery technology and marketing. The highly coloured vessels and new wheelmade shapes would have been extremely exotic to iron age people used to handmade, mainly dark-coloured jars and bowls.

In Britain Gallo-Belgic ware has been found on many sites in a variety of contexts, most commonly with burials and settlement. The widest range of pre-conquest finds is from the oppidum at Camulodunum, near Colchester. Significant assemblages have also been found at other pre-Roman settlement foci such as Silchester, Canterbury, Leicester, Braughing and Bagendon. In addition Gallo-Belgic vessels are present in at least 26 cemeteries or individual burials. After the conquest the distribution becomes more expansive with particular, although not exclusive, links with the military forts.

To date there has been no complete overview of these wares in Britain. How and why did they appear at this time? Where were they used, who by, and for what purpose? How did the new forms and technology impact on the native industries? The acquisition of such imports had great economic, social, cultural, technological and symbolic significance. They signal a considerable increase in cross-channel contact, while their presence on sites provides a useful chronological indicator. They had a marked impact on the development of the indigenous ceramic repertoire. In addition, they reflect social stratification; communicate changes in eating and drinking habits, not only in content but practice; and act as one index of the considerable economic change in the period immediately preceding the Roman conquest.

Gallo-Belgic website

This unique website (at, hosted by Oxford Archaeology) hopes to address these questions and more. It presents the digital results of the Gallo-Belgic Pottery Project recently undertaken by Valery Rigby and Jane Timby. A primary aim of the project, funded by a Leverhulme research grant administered through the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University, has been to compile a corpus of Gallo-Belgic pottery found in Britain. We have created a digital record of all known potter name stamps and marks, and a quantified record of all documented finds, with ancillary information such as site type, context, associated pottery imports and presumed tribal area. To date some 1,090 stamps have been recorded and over 10,500 individual vessels.

We are preparing a book outlining the background to the industry, its forms and fabrics, chronology and distribution. It is intended that the website, which represents the first stage of dissemination, should appeal to a variety of users. Initially it is of immediate practical use to pottery specialists allowing identification and dating of finds. It can also provide an important educational resource to research students, acting as a springboard for developing new ideas and theories. Finally it will be a valuable tool for studying the important transitional phases between later prehistoric and Roman periods in Europe, particularly in terms of the early economic dynamics of the Roman Empire.

Jane Timby is a freelance archaeological consultant specialising in later prehistoric, Roman and Saxon pottery.

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