The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 108

Issue 108

Sept / Oct 2009



Major slipware kiln site found near Leeds

Roman graves rescued: but cemetery doomed?

Isle of Man house is one of Britain's first

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2


THE BIG DIG: Fetternear
Penelope Dransart reports on the topical issue of MPs claims expenese, at Kettlethorpe Hall

London: the mud of ages
Lorna Richardson reports on the discoveries made by the Thames Discovery Programme community initiative and Nick Booth describes his Foreshore Group training

For the sake of the worms
As we celebrate Charles Darwin, Matthew Law considers one of his less well-known interests that led him to excavate at ancient sites

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones reviews How to get active with archaeology, and John Schofield looks at Flash methods to view the evolution of graffiti


your views and responses, with further Beneath the Sea coverage

book review

We review a new publication about the Vindolanda Roman Fort

CBA Correspondent

Mike Heyworth welcomes new HLF money for training, and highlights the CBA's role


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Star Letter

Fierce competition

Star Letter

David Mullen

I wish to express my concerns over the future of archaeology as a taught subject. I issue this as a warning to all those considering a degree or employment in archaeology.

I am a recent graduate from Chester University, where it is expected I will receive a good degree. I have been seeking positions since early May, but this has come to nothing. Some employers have advised that they could not offer me work due to the massive numbers of applicants from more experienced persons. A prospective employer in Dublin said they had received over 150 applications for one position, and that "hopefully the future will get better for us archaeologists".

I have sought employment in other sectors. Before university I worked for an insurance company as a claims handler, so I applied for similar jobs. At three interviews in one week, I was asked the same question: "Why did you choose archaeology?" I explained that it was a degree that not only was interesting, but gave me skills which are valuable in all employment sectors, such as data analysis, computer use, research and presentation. They were all concerned that I would jump at any chance of employment in archaeology, and that they were looking for people dedicated to a career in insurance. My confidence has taken a massive blow, and I am now thinking that my degree is worthless.

Universities should outline the fierce competition for employment in archaeology, and if you do not have a back-up plan you could find yourself in a worse position than before you began. I am now some £15,000 in debt – the same had I taken a law, business studies or any other sought-after degree which almost guarantees a bright future.

What does an archaeology degree offer? What are my options now? I could sign on for benefits and volunteer on projects till the sector picks up. I could do a masters degree – but if a first degree in archaeology does nothing, what will another do? I could keep applying for jobs outside archaeology. The easiest option would be to enter a teacher training programme, the route taken by many archaeology graduates. Is this why it is offered as a subject at university, to give opportunities to the archaeologists of today, not produce the archaeologists of tomorrow?

speaking to archaeologists who have been around for many years, not a lot has changed: there have always been far too many archaeology graduates for the jobs available. I almost feel robbed of three years of my life and £15,000. I now know how people feel who invested their money in failed companies, and who have been robbed by bogus traders – gutted.

The archaeology degree should be looked at under a microscope, and its value to students justified in terms of careers and how employers outside archaeology perceive it. I thoroughly enjoyed studying, and I still have the same passion for archaeology I had when I first visited a museum as a toddler. But the future looks bleak. My advice to graduates this year would be to try to get the funding for a masters to widen your career choices, perhaps teacher training would be an option; and for all people interested in an archaeology degree, please choose this with another subject to give you further options on graduating. Good luck to all trying to find employment in archaeology. Hopefully the future will provide us with a career we have worked hard to achieve.

David Mullen, Ashton-under-Lyne

Bottle Find

Bottles and blades

Mark Andrews

I was intrigued by your article on the witch bottle (News, Jul/Aug). I have to admit I was not familiar with such a thing until I was enlightened by British Archaeology. I have to tell you a story.

Approximately three weeks ago from today's date [Jul 11], we had occasion to respond to a suspicious person in a camping area. The reports and background on the male caused me some concern, so I responded as backup to my two constables who were attending. All things ended well and the male was evicted from the camp ground by park staff supported by us. Why is this relevant to witch bottles?

The man had a plastic bottle in his vehicle cab, wrapped in tape, with screws protecting the cap from being turned without lacerating your hand. Being law enforcement officers we were curious and asked what the bottle was for. The male said for protection from bad people. When asked what was in it, he claimed urine and razor blades. We asked if we could open the bottle. He said yes, and turned the bottle over to us. What we found was what he described and what you describe in your article. At that time we didn't know what we had, but now, we do thanks to your article educating us. It is amazing that practices dating back centuries are continuing to this day.

Truly enjoy your magazine.

Mark E Andrews, inspector, Ontario Provincial Police, Sebringville, Canada

Lewis Hands

I renovated a house in Cardiff in the 90s, one of several in the terrace in Canton built in 1895 by a sea captain (Capt Hopkins). Cardiff was, of course, king coal in the Victorian era, exporting coal to the empire.

In the fireplace in the front room and above in the main bedroom I found a bottle. I was not so interested in archaeology in those days or I would have taken more notice. I now know about witch bottles, not least from the article in British Archaeology.

I think the bottles were both of the fizzy pop variety with internal screw threads, and about 5 or 6 inches in height [13–15cm] and of clear/greenish glass. One bottle had a top on it, the other didn't. They were buried in the hearth to such an extent that the heat of years of fires hadn't cracked them. I took great pleasure in washing them out and cleaning them up for display on my mantelpiece! I remember one definitely had hair and at least one nail in it, but no liquid.

So, it seems to me that the tradition of keeping out evil spirits with such bottles lived on at least in south Wales until the late 19th century.

Lewis Hands, Bath

Industrial origins

David Poyner & James Lawson

The feature Rethinking industrial origins (feature, Jul/Aug) raises interesting issues on the chronology of the iron industry and on the nature of industrial archaeology.

Paul Belford states that in the Coalbrookdale area "ironstone began to be mined in the 15th century". It is likely that such mining predates this by some considerable time in the east Shropshire coalfield. In 1324 there is mention of an ironstone mine in Wrockwardine Wood, within a few miles of Coalbrookdale (A History of the County of Shropshire 11: Telford (VCH 1985), 328–30). In the late 12th century, the forest rolls record the presence of smiths or forges at Little Wenlock, Dawley and Lawley, all again close to Coalbrookdale. Whilst these could be simple blacksmiths, a community archaeology project lead by Tim Young in the neighbouring Wyre Forest coalfield has identified an iron smelting site from the 13th century, and there is documentary evidence of either ironstone mining or iron production in both the Wyre Forest and Clee Hill coalfields (all in Shropshire) in the 14th century. It seems highly likely that the industry was also established in east Shropshire well before the 15th century.

Well into the 17th century the Weald of Surrey, Kent and Sussex was the largest single producer of bar iron, but a recent estimate suggests that in 1600 Shropshire and the Black Country produced around 20% of the national output. The iron history of the West Midlands in the early MoDern period has long attracted the attention of historians (eg The Rise of the Midlands Industries 1600–1838, by WHB Court, OUP 1953) and there has been an equally long debate about a Tudor "industrial revolution". The statement that Darby's achievements in 1709 "kick-started an industrial revolution" also needs qualifications; whilst one of a series of important technological breakthroughs in the iron industry, its effects on national iron output were substantially less than those seen after the introduction of the blast furnace at the end of 15th century or changes in iron refining technology in the late 18th century.

On a wider issue, others in British Archaeology have referred to the historic debate as to whether industrial archaeology should be concerned with the archaeology of industrial processes at all periods, or more specifically with the "archaeology of industrialisation". Michael Nevell concluded that there was "a general acceptance that industrial archaeology meant the archaeology of the industrial revolution" (feature, Jan/Feb 2006). Belford's article explicitly draws attention to the importance of investigating the archaeology of older industrial sites. Within Shropshire, as in many other iron-working areas, it is possible to identify a sequence beginning with hand-operated bloomeries, then water-powered bloomeries, charcoal blast furnaces and finally coke blast furnaces. To fully explore this industry, it is necessary to go back well beyond the industrial revolution. Archaeology can contribute to the study of the classic industrial revolution, but there is still merit in a more inclusive definition of the subject.

David Poyner, Kidderminster, and James Lawson, Habberley

First photo

Rob Poulton

One of the many interesting features of the article on Wroxeter (feature, Mar/Apr) was a photograph of the 1859 excavations, and the accompanying comment that it "must rank among the earliest, if not the earliest photographs of an excavation in Britain". Early, yes, but I believe the earliest is actually an 1855 photograph of excavations in the Chapter House of Chertsey Abbey, Surrey. It was taken by a GW Oakes, of whom we know no more. It is published, along with some of a very fine series of photographs of the 1861 excavations at the same site, including stereoscopic pairs as at Wroxeter, in Archaeological Investigations on the Site of Chertsey Abbey, by R Poulton (Surrey Archaeological Society 1988).

Rob Poulton, heritage enterprise manager, Surrey County Council

Old stones

Gordon Ingram

We have found a chalk pebble with lines on it that are similar to those on the stone from Poulton, Cheshire (news, Mar/Apr; Letters, May/Jun). Such stones could have been picked up anywhere, and become an "artefact", perhaps by a hunter to show to his family or tribal elder, and then acquired "cult" status or just been thrown out with the "rubbish" by a hut-proud wife! I'm sure that the traits we have today for picking up "interesting bits", were no different in any times past, but we seem to want to attach a status to artefacts that is often undeserved and unnecessary.

Gordon Ingram, Chelmsford

Charles Smith

In incised V-section linear carving the aim is to have the bottom of the V incisions running centrally along each cut. From the photograph, this appears to be so, and this convinces me that these marks were produced by hand. If they were caused by natural scouring they would tend to show more variance in section.

Charles Smith, stonecarver

Beneath the sea – Letters special

Our May/June issue featured an important wreck – is it HMS Victory (as claimed), is it threatened, who has rights to it and should artefacts from it be sold? Here we print correspondence about the wreck between Lord Hunt and Lord Bridges (lightly edited, mainly for style). These are important documents. We welcome Lord Hunt's assurances about the government's position, which as Lord Bridges' reply indicates was in need of such clarification.

Dear Lord Bridges

Thank you for your letter of May 13 and your contribution to the report debate on the marine and coastal access bill (May 5 and 19). I understand your concerns surrounding the importance of the UK's marine archaeology and the need for adequate protection. In responding to your amendment and addressing my own at report, I set out the government commitment to heritage protection and highlighted how I would like this bill to complement any future heritage protection legislation. I will here respond to your concerns surrounding HMS Victory and my commitment to further investigate this issue with the Ministry of Defence.

Following further discussion with the Ministry of Defence, I can categorically confirm that there is no agreement in place between Odyssey Marine Exploration (the American company referenced in your letter) and the MoD or indeed any other government department or body for the excavation of the wreck believed to be HMS Victory. Furthermore, the government has not sold off the wreck or any of its contents to the United States and has no such plans to do so in the future. The wreck is an important part of British archaeological heritage and it is therefore imperative that we maintain control over any future activities relating to the site.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLoS), any vessels owned or operated by a state and used only on government non-commercial service remain the property of the crown. This ensures that no intrusive action may be taken in respect of the wreck believed to be HMS Victory without the express consent of the government. The Ministry of Defence is managing the issue and has set up an interdepartmental group which includes representatives also from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Transport. This group has been established to consider the way forward, with English Heritage agreeing to provide advice on both the historical significance of the find and the risks to the site.

This work is in the early stages and we are therefore not able to confirm the features of the site, or indeed the presence of bullion on board the ship. However, if any archaeological finds are discovered, they will not be able to be removed without specific consent from the UK government. I am sure you understand that we have some way to go in determining the archaeological significance of the wreck believed to be HMS Victory and I would therefore like to reassure you that the government is taking this work seriously and has no intention of selling this wreck to any company or country.

Yours sincerely, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, deputy leader of the House of Lords, May 21

Dear Lord Hunt

Thank you for your letter of May 21 about the marine and coastal access bill. The facts you state do not coincide with the version printed in the May/June issue of British Archaeology.

You state clearly that there is no agreement in place between the MoD and Odyssey Marine Exploration from the US. But according to British Archaeology, Odyssey has claimed legal status as the wreck's guardian, following the decision of a US court sitting in admiralty. This appears to be in breach of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage which came into force in 2001. I venture to suggest that the department studies with care the article in British Archaeology. Indeed the department should perhaps subscribe to this publication. I made copies of it and deposited them in the library at the House of Lords where they are no doubt still available.

I suppose that you may decide to write to British Archaeology after further investigation. I should be keenly interested in the outcome. Having spent some time in Whitehall before retirement, it seems to me possible that the Ministry of Defence, keen to mobilise cash for investment in badly-needed military hardware, may have decided to realise the asset of the wreck for cash without proper ministerial supervision. This is of course mere speculation.

Yours sincerely, Lord Bridges, Woodbridge, Suffolk, May 30

Arguments flawed

Gregg Stemm states that in my article on Odyssey Marine Exploration (May/Jun), "innuendo and false information are used in place of facts" (letters, Jul/Aug). This is a serious allegation that I must counter. My comments follow his numbering:

  1. The Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee learned of the proposed Sussex salvage agreement at least two years before it was signed in 2002. At that stage no proper archaeological provisions were envisaged. The archaeological protocols introduced by the Ministry of Defence result from intervention by JNAPC and others.
  2. Stemm writes, "the Sussex agreement does NOT rely on the sale of artefacts". On his own website and in his agreement with the MoD, under "sharing arrangements" every paragraph refers to selling artefacts and sharing the proceeds. The sum of $500m could be realised only by the sale of valuable artefacts such as coins: the UK government could not, or would not, reimburse Odyssey with taxpayers' money. That would defeat Odyssey's own stated business MoDel, whereby excavation should be funded by the sale of artefacts!
  3. Stemm says that salvage and sale are the only options for saving our underwater cultural heritage. The flaw in his argument is that by its own admission, Odyssey will only "save" a few "high value" wrecks, and not the thousands that have no monetary value. Why not offer his services to save the Stirling Castle?
  4. A recent report by Odyssey concludes that trawling is damaging the Victory, so the company should be allowed to excavate it. However, the lobster pot shows that the wreck is safe: trawlers avoid potting sites.

When Stemm says that 46% of UK shipwrecks are at high or medium risk, he misquotes English Heritage. This statistic relates only to the 66 sites listed under the 1973 Protection of Wrecks Act, not the 32,476 pre-1945 casualties known to lie in the English territorial sea.

Robert Yorke, chair JNAPC, Horsham

See also:

I think the Parthenon marbles should stay in the British Museum. I'm more scared of Neil MacGregor than I am of the Greek government.
Ed Vaizey MP in conversation with the editor. See'My Archaeology' in the printed magazine (p66).

CBA web:

British Archaeology

Jan/Feb 2005
Mar/Apr 2005
May/Jun 2005
Jul/Aug 2005
Sep/Oct 2005
Nov/Dec 2005
Jan/Feb 2006
Mar/Apr 2006
May/Jun 2006
Jul/Aug 2006
Sep/Oct 2006
Nov/Dec 2006
Jan/Feb 2007
Mar/Apr 2007
May/Jun 2007
Jul/Aug 2007
Sep/Oct 2007
Nov/Dec 2007
Jan/Feb 2008
Mar/Apr 2008
May/Jun 2008
Jul/Aug 2008
Sep/Oct 2008
Nov/Dec 2008
Jan/Feb 2009
Mar/Apr 2009
May/Jun 2009
Jul/Aug 2009
Sep/Oct 2009
Nov/Dec 2009
Jan/Feb 2010
Mar/Apr 2010
May/Jun 2010
Jul/Aug 2010
Sep/Oct 2010
Nov/Dec 2010
Jan/Feb 2011
Mar/Apr 2011
May/Jun 2011
Jul/Aug 2011
Sep/Oct 2011
Nov/Dec 2011
Jan/Feb 2012
Mar/Apr 2012

CBA Briefing

Courses & lectures
CBA Network
Grants & awards

CBA homepage