British Archaeology, no 11, February 1996: Reviews

This century at Stonehenge (at last)

by Mike Pitts

R Cleal, K Walker and R Montague
English Heritage, UKP70.00
ISBN 1-85074-605-2 hb

If this book were a new car - such is its importance - it would have descended from the clouds amidst lasers, escorted by angelic supermodels. Instead, it was launched at the Society of Antiquaries with tea and biscuits. Such is the world.

None of the major excavations at Stonehenge this century had previously been published. Neither the site's history, nor the stories of the stone rings and burials found in textbooks and guides, had ever before been substantiated with published evidence from the ground. Consequently, this book - which has gathered the evidence together - is a triumph of vision, management and execution.

There are surprises here for the public and specialists alike: not least in the rejection of the traditional phasing in favour of a compelling alternative. But the major contribution is the organisation of the archive, and the marshalling of data in print to make all previous work accessible.

Let's pick a few plums. There is a newly-excavated Mesolithic pit, to set beside the three post-pits already known, with unique evidence for the environment on the chalk c 8000BC. There is a new `reliable series' of radiocarbon dates: the Avenue, previously thought to have been built as two projects, is shown to be a single construction. There is a hugely detailed analytical study of artefacts and animal remains from the site. The archaeology of stone structures is described in text and diagrams filling 100 pages. And there is a 22-point plan for future research at the monument.

When we were digging by the Heelstone in 1979, a tourist asked if we were there because `they' wouldn't let us inside the fence. In a way, he was right. For generations there has been an academic wall around Stonehenge that this book casts asunder. Who can now doubt that the physical barriers will soon go too?

Mike Pitts is a former Curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury

Quick-marhcing round our Roman camps

by Gordon Maxwell

Humphrey Welfare and Vivien Swan
ISBN 0-11-300039-1 pb

`Rome's Race - Rome's Pace . . . Twenty-four miles in eight hours . . . Head and spear up, shield on your back, cuirass-collar open one hand's breadth - and that's how you take the Eagles through Britain.'

Kipling's vivid picture of the Roman army on the march, sketched long ago for a work of popular fiction, still powerfully captures people's imagination. This handsomely-produced book, based squarely on factual reporting, deserves to make a similar impact on all those who care about the past. It draws on our fascination with a shared imperial past and, like Kipling, deals faithfully with its topic.

The subject matter - Britain's amazing wealth of Roman temporary camps - represents an archaeological resource in which Britain is almost uniquely rich. More than 130 English examples are listed here, 76 known solely from air photography, but over 50 - a staggering proportion in view of their ephemeral nature - still partly visible as earthworks. Handling so precious a topic, the Royal Commission might easily have been tempted to expand the recording task into a full-scale research project. Instead, they have chosen to concentrate on the field archaeology.

The result is a much more valuable tool, a masterly compilation which combines concise descriptive accounts of individual sites with finely-drawn plans and rectified plots of aerial data, as well as a superb selection of the air photographs themselves. Although a considerable literature on the subject already exists, this is the first attempt at an exhaustive catalogue; mercifully, it is not obscured by the disproportionate and often unjustified amount of speculation on date, purpose and context that tended to beset earlier publications, which dealt piecemeal with individual examples or groups of sites. Not that the book's introductory section fails to address these and other matters; both the scholar and the general reader will find here a wealth of contextual material, but presented in user-friendly prose and with admirable conciseness.

Dr Gordon Maxwell is the former Head of Archaeology at the Scottish Royal Commission

Baths, markets, defences, everything

by Tony Wilmott

John Wacher
Batsford, UKP45.00
ISBN 0-7134-7319-3 hb

The first edition of this book, published in 1975, was a landmark in the study of Roman Britain, and quickly became the standard reference work on the subject. Shortly after its publication, however, came the explosion of urban archaeology in the 1970s and 80s, resulting in the recovery and publication of a vast amount of new data on many of the towns Wacher had discussed. Despite this, the first edition remained invaluable as the starting point for research.

After 20 years this fully revised second edition is more than welcome, and one cannot but wonder at the volume of material which the author has had to sythesize to produce his town- by-town summaries.

The towns of Britain were the engines of Romanisation. Without towns `Roman' life was impossible. The foundation or encouragement of towns was therefore a fundamental concern of the provincial administration. Wacher's chapters on the nature of towns and their place in the life of the province are virtually unchanged since the first edition, though ideas on some of his themes have moved ahead. His item-by-item anatomy of British towns, however - summarising aspects such as baths, markets and defences - remains the most useful summary of urban installations available, and here it is fully updated and cross-referenced to the town summaries which form the bulk of the book.

Some archaeological work has been done in all the towns discussed, and information up to 1992 is fully taken account of, with some additional material to 1994. For the general reader and student this book stands alone in offering an unrivalled overview of its subject written in clear, precise prose which is free of jargon. For the researcher it is a base from which deeper research may be undertaken.

Tony Wilmott works for the Central Archaeology Service at English Heritage

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