British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 109

Issue 109

Nov / Dec 2009

Contents

news

Museum calls for fund to study treasure finds

Missing Stonehenge circle did not come from Preselis

with Important revision to Stonehenge bluestone theory
An interim note on the latest developments, by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins

Found: "The great lost monument of Cambridge"

in the press

in brief & phase 2

features

Staffordshire Gold

Nevern Castle – Castell Nanhyfer

Tracking Hunters and Gatherers on the Continental Limits

with Bibliography

Remembering the Great War with Lutyens

Extending the British Museum

letters

your views and responses

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones looks at excavation websites

Matt Ritchie introduces Forest Heritage Scotland

CBA Correspondent

Don Henson looks at the Marsh Award shortlist

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

letters

Star Letter

Give life a chance

Star Letter

Heather Butler

David Mullen's letter (Sep/Oct) was indeed representative of the archaeological profession today. Yet I am somewhat disappointed that he feels "almost robbed of three years of [his] life". I too am a University of Chester history and archaeology graduate (2005). Having family commitments, I did not follow the course of professional archaeologist, but "fell into" the teaching profession, completing a City & Guilds 18-week delivering learning course – and yes, still have a student loan of some £9,000. I would agree that I have struggled for four years coming to terms with what to do next: what MA shall I take, and where can I find a suitable supervisor for my third rewritten MPhil proposal?

I think you have to take a step back and assess what experience and qualifications you possess. To progress further you will need to take some sort of postgraduate certificate, whether in teaching, museum studies or archaeological conservation. Teaching is a highly rewarding career, and does produce the archaeologist of tomorrow. So OK, you are not going to make much money, but you will be passing your interest onto others and widening their educational level. I now run successful WEA (Workers Educational Association) courses in local history; my archaeological experience allows me to include this element in my courses. It has given me great pleasure over the last two years to see learners embracing history and indeed, pursuing their own lines of interest and producing outstanding pieces of work. I have also set up an independent local history group and am the branch leader of Wrexham and District Young Archaeologists' Club. I am also involved with the Wirral History and Heritage Association which is really making bounds in Wirral – an organisation which is committed to protecting and encouraging future generations to respect the historic environment.

I would ask you to remember why you did an archaeology degree – the passion you have for the subject, and commitment to the protection, conservation and preservation of the heritage environment and archaeological record. Perhaps you could get involved with a Young Archaeologists' Club in your area, and focus on heritage issues in your local community? Get involved with local societies and respected heritage individuals. Make some contacts and you will soon see doors opening!

Please remember your degree is not worthless!

Heather Butler, Wirral

Guy de la Bédoyère

David Mullen raises an interesting problem about the bleak prospects for archaeology graduates, but archaeology is not uniquely disadvantaged – or present circumstances uniquely bad for archaeologists. He needs to give himself (and life) a chance.

In 2007 I gave up most of my work as a freelance writer and broadcaster in history and archaeology, and retrained as a schoolteacher. I had a very strong desire to teach, but I was also aware that my freelance work was unlikely to remain viable: TV budgets have plummeted and book-writing was hardly worthwhile at the best of times.

These days I teach history and classical civilisation with archaeology at a girls' grammar school in Lincolnshire. Several of my students are keen to take archaeology degrees, and I am anxious that they have a realistic idea of their prospects. I am also form tutor for 22 sixth-formers about to make their UCAS applications, for which I am writing the references. Many feel a pressure to pursue science or certain other degrees on the basis that these are likely to ensure they have secure futures in employment.

But I believe absolutely firmly that people should follow their hearts, or at least give it their best shot, whether they study physics, law or archaeology. Mick Aston was kind enough to record his views for my students. He said, "You should do what you're interested in – you're a long time employed. I don't know anybody who was really interested in getting into history or archaeology who didn't eventually make a living out of it. It might take a while, and they might have to develop a particular expertise – but everyone who's really passionate about it gets into it eventually." The same points apply to any subject.

A degree is not a guarantee for a specific future. It takes a long time, and if Mullen thinks his contemporaries with science and law degrees are waltzing into jobs, he's wrong. I worked for the BBC for most of the first 17 years of my working life. It was five years after I graduated when I wrote my first book, and 16 years later when I first became involved in Time Team. It took me 26 years before I became a schoolteacher, the most fulfilling thing I have done, and the last thing I expected to do.

So it may take a while, but if you have the "passion" then you will get there one day. You need to do what you can to make your own luck, and to take advantage of opportunities when they come your way. Your degree was no more a waste of £15,000 than anyone else's. Nothing one wants or expects at the age of 21 goes according to plan: life produces the most unexpected opportunities at the most unexpected times, usually as a result of one's own mistakes. What really matters is not what goes right in life, but what goes wrong and how one deals with that. That's what I tell my sixth-formers, and I am greatly pleased that my own life's unexpected turns put me in the position where I am able to do so.

Guy de la Bédoyère, Welby, Lincolnshire

Catherine Petts

While I have every sympathy for David Mullens's predicament, his letter shows considerable naivety. When he wrote he had been job hunting for only three months – in a recession when there are several million without jobs. Many well-qualified and experienced people have been unemployed for a year or more.

However, there have been many new graduates interviewed on radio and TV, as shocked and dispirited as he is to find that their degree does not guarantee employment. Governments past and present are to blame. They have pushed to get more students into university while expecting the students to bear most of the cost. To succeed in this they have had to give students quite unrealistic expectations about their job prospects when they graduate.

Mullen also complains that the number wishing to study archaeology and enter the profession far exceeds available jobs. This has always been so. If his main aim in studying for a degree was to change his career, then it was up to him to find out what the prospects were. Even then he would be fortunate to find a career that did not require postgraduate training. I have met accountants, IT professionals and human resources managers who started with an archaeology degree. None of them saw their degree as worthless: it gave them transferable skills and enriched their lives, and most were active amateur archaeologists.

Mullen's predicament is mainly the result of the current economic situation. But he seems also to have embarked on his degree and his job hunting with quite unrealistic expectations, for which he must not blame the university.

Catherine Petts


Changing the land

Sandra J Stone

I read with interest and sadness Tom Greeves's article (Sep/Oct) about the degradation of Dartmoor and the possible loss of exceptional archaeology. It saddens me to think that the usual faceless bureaucrats are making decisions that effect livelihoods and landscapes that have endured and co-existed for many thousands of years. Very often decisions are made that do not take into consideration the long term consequences. The people who should be involved, who know the idiosyncrasies of their areas, are rarely consulted before or even during the decision-making process.

We in Victoria have just lived through our worst fire year ever, with the prediction of worse to come, and whilst we have had a royal commission into this tragedy, it has to be said that the refusal of the Victorian government to exercise fuel reduction practices together with banning of cattle gazing in the High Country did not help the situation. Since the cattle have been banned, there has been a proliferation of blackberries, thistles and other weeds growing in areas that were once prime grazing country, similar situation as Dartmoor with its gorse bushes which, once dry provide excellent fuel for fires along with heather and peat.

There seems to be a worldwide need to change things (perhaps in order to justify one's position in a useless organisation), things that have endured for thousands of years without harm or hindrance, and this change is rarely to the benefit of anyone, least of all the landscape and the people who work in it and with it.

Sandra J Stone, Victoria, Australia

Fred Mustill

Down here in the far west of Cornwall we have a mini Dartmoor similar in geology and flora, but even richer in extant and with spectacular archaeology ranging from Neolithic to the birth of the Industrial Revolution. We, ourselves actually farm part of this (see bodrifty.co.uk).

The West Penwith moorland does however differ from Dartmoor in that much of it has long been overgrown with impenetrable gorse, bramble and bracken which damage sensitive archaeology. The cattle which used to graze these moors are mostly gone (uneconomic). Fifteen years ago an English Heritage representative called at our farm to do a spot check on nearby listed features – a barrow mound and a large linear. He was unable to identify or access either. They have never been seen since.

To be fair to English Nature (DEFRA) they are trying to encourage grazing by giving financial aid funded by schemes of the most Byzantine complexity.

Yet, they and concerned farmers and commoners (including The National Trust) have come up against an unexpected obstacle – the rambler and the dog walker – who hold that cattle are a threat and have no right to be grazing the commons. Incredibly, they have successfully prevented the implementation of grazing schemes.

Our hedges here, are made of granite. Many were built in the iron age and have been in continuous use ever since. I suspect that fundamental farming practices have also remained unchanged. The traditional farmer however, along with the professional archaeologist, is now an endangered species.

Fred Mustill, Bodrifty Farm, Penzance


Vaizey's policy?

Mike Eddy

I read your interview with Ed Vaizey MP, Conservative shadow culture minister, several times in an attempt to discover what an incoming Conservative administration might do for our nation's heritage and for its archaeology in particular (My archaeology, Sep/Oct). The interview with British Archaeology was an important opportunity to set out Conservative heritage policy and it is puzzling that he failed to take it.

On the other hand, the local Conservative parliamentary candidate in Dover and Deal, Charles Elphicke, has been much more forthright in his views. Tipped to be a member of the Conservative government's treasury team, which will set spending priorities, Mr Elphicke has asked "if English Heritage is the right organisation to run our castles", because it "lacks the energy and entrepreneurial flair to make the most of them". As an alternative he has suggested that Dover District Council should take over local English Heritage monuments. He has also suggested that there will need to be a massive sale of national assets.

What is Mr Vaizey's policy for Britain's heritage?

Mike Eddy, Deal, Kent

The back page interviews are insights into personalities and archaeology, not opportunities to grandstand policy or issues. British Archaeology would be pleased to hear from Ed Vaizey – or any minister or prospective minister – on their plans for our heritage.


Preserved

John Price

The front cover X-ray of the Greenwich bellarmine witch bottle (Jul/Aug) did not show up the contents as well as it could. Archaeologists should be aware that there are around 30 or so X-radiographic units throughout the UK in museums and units at the service of local archaeological conservators. Medical and veterinary equipment can offer much help, but industrial machines with slower X-radiographic film and higher kilovoltages can yield extra quality and information when examining metals; stereo 3D views are fairly simple to produce.

England's first stoneware kiln producing bellarmine jars was found at the Ferry Approach in nearby Woolwich (see Post-Medieval Archaeology 12 [1978], 30–85). In 1975 the kiln was lifted in one piece by the Ancient Monuments Laboratory, with the help of building workers and local volunteers and now, together with its thousands of sherds, is looked after by the Greenwich Heritage Centre.

Readers of your excellent Lindow Man feature (Jul/Aug) may not know that towards the end of his study, Pete Marsh paid a visit to Savile Row where the facilities of the largest freeze dryer in London, at the Ancient Monuments Laboratory in the now demolished Fortress House, were used by British Museum and AML English Heritage conservators to stabilise the remains. This possibly was the first time a bog body was freeze dried, unknown to the large police station opposite and the hundreds of pedestrians who walked along the pavement!

John Price, Conservation Services, Farnham


Recording sections

Stephen K Donovan

I am a geologist with no training in archaeology, but I usually pick up the latest issue of British Archaeology on my travels. I particularly enjoyed the many photographs of sections in pits in the "digs" issue (Jul/Aug), and was interested to see how much information I could glean on stratigraphy from some of the photographs.

In research papers in both geology and, as far as I know, archaeology, there is a tendency to figure measured sections as detailed, labelled drawings in ink or computer generated. The "digs" issue showed me that I could almost sketch a measured section from the excellent photographs. On this evidence, I think a strong case can be made to include both photographs and drawings of key sections in both disciplines. The photograph doesn't duplicate the measured section, but rather provides a means whereby an interested reader can make their own interpretation from the actual field record and compare it with that of the authors. It is also of archival importance for anyone revisiting a site in the future.

Stephen K Donovan, geological editor, Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum – Naturalis, Leiden, The Netherlands


Industrial archaeology

John Owen

I was intrigued by the letter from David Poyner and James Lawson (Sep/Oct). As a young student of engineering, I was fascinated by a BBC series on industrial archaeology, a topic that combined my interests in history and engineering. I joined the [new] South East Wales Industrial Archaeology Society in 1966. Members included museum curators, university lecurers, engineering professionals and ordinary people (like myself) with an interest in the subject. But we were all amateurs, since the discipline didn't really exist in an academic sense. Despite some attempts at professionalism, it was (and still is) perceived as a "hobby": almost anyone could call themselves an industrial archaeologist.

Industrial archaeology would ideally need a fusion of industrial history, archaeological knowledge and a wide engineering education, including, at the minimum, civil and mechanical. Very few seem to match these requirements, there being an apparent view among academics that any knowledge of engineering is irrelevant.

After an early period in the steel industry, my professional life has been mainly in oil and gas, but I still have passion for the history of the iron and steel industries. I can appreciate the sentiments of your correspondents, but feel they play down Abraham Darby's role: his use of coke transformed iron production, from what was effectively a cottage industry, leading to the expansion of the coal industry, the creation of the railway industry, the transformation of the shipbuilding industry and an essential role in the expansion of textiles. There were earlier "industrial revolutions", but it is the study of the 18th century one that defines industrial archaeology.

John Owen, Caerphilly


Nuts

Debra Saenz

Congratulations to everyone involved for the amazing discovery of the oldest British house on the Isle of Man (News, Sep/Oct). I'm very interested in both archaeology and survival techniques. I'm not sure if hazelnuts are as oily as almonds, but if you split half an almond you can use the shell and nut as a sort of oil lamp. Perhaps some of these hazelnuts were used partly for fuel/fire as people foraged in bad weather, or to keep predators away from the house at night? An oil based fire would burn better in inclement weather and assure that it would burn through the night.

Debra Saenz


Stone splitting

Mark Watson

Mark Horton (In view, Sep/Oct) is plug and feathering stone; the end process would be to split the stone. Prior to plug and feather, stone was split by wedges. I just think that the description ["Mark Horton splitting Caen stone in Normandy"] is too general and needs a more accurate and full title.

Mark Watson, student member ICA stonemasonry


Could have been... An archaeologist. After watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, I built a huge rock collection.
Actor Helen Baxendale, Guardian 29 August 2009

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