The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 111

Issue 111

Mar / Apr 2010



New centre for Stonehenge – if drivers agree

British archaeologists help record Armenian rock art

Geophysics finds encourage new look at Stanton Drew

Dramatic rock art discovery in Swaledale

in the press

in brief & phase 2


The Future of our Past (not online)

In the run-up to the General Election, the parties give their views on heritage

410–2010: Rome and Britain

Introducing the events and issues commemmorating 1600 years since the end of the Romans in Britain

THE BIG DIG: Barcombe Roman Villa

What was it like to live in rural Roman Britain? Report on 11 seasons of fieldwork at the villa and bath house

Polynomial texture mapping for archaeologists (not online)

A new imaging technique is relatively easy and cheap to operate, yet has enormous possibilities in archaeology

Introducing Stonehedge and other curious earthworks

Stonehenge is the focus of unprecedented research. Yet the site was last surveyed in 1919, until now...

Remembering Fromelles

One of the most pointless battles of the First World War, with great loss of life, occurred at Fromelles in northern France. Only now are some of the dead being honoured with individual graves

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones looks at e-material

Adrian Green describes the new website for Salisbury Museum


Sebastian Payne considers the remarkable potential of hammerscale for understanding the work of iron smiths


A tribute to some of the archaeologists and lovers of antiquity who died in 2009


your views and responses

CBA Correspondent

Mike Heyworth considers the thorny issues of treasure and responsible detecting


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Star Letter


Star Letter

Caitlín Matthews

Love of the land of Britain and its history is not tantamount to love of intolerance, nor is spiritual affiliation of the Pagan traditions of Britain akin to membership of the BNP, as Spoilheap may seem to have implied to some readers (Jan/Feb).

Most people now understand that our ancestry flows back to common sources – not all of which stem from this land. These common sources are the ancestors of us all, as genetics is proving. We all come from "very old families" whose children survived, thrived and spread about the earth. We have to honour all the ancestors for their persistence, if only to give thanks for the life that they gave us. Even if some of our ancestors lived in Britain in prehistory, most of them had to emigrate during the last ice age and return from Europe as migrants when it warmed up again. In that sense, we are all "immigrants". The bloodlines of Britons are inextricably mixed by successive waves of those who came here, and will be unendingly enriched by those who come after us.

In a time when society has broken down the cohesion of the extended family, ancestry can become a vital form of belonging for the rootless or unacknowledged. It is only when that belonging becomes a means of entitlement that ancestry appears as a political football. Let us remember that, considering how closely related human beings are to one another, there is no "them and us", only "us".

Ancestry, as revealed by genetic research, opens an exciting prospect, but it tells us little about our ancestors' intent or motivation. If future archaeologists find me entombed dressed in clothing made in Nepal, with a chicken tikka beside me as food for the otherworld journey, and a rolled up copy of the Guardian, will they then conclude from my grave goods that I am a north Indian woman with liberal tendencies? No. They will check the radio isotopes of my teeth and conclude that I was born in the south of England, and discover that a portion of my mitochondrial DNA stems via a maternal forebear, who was but one foremother of many, from the Dordogne region about 40,000 years ago. It will not tell them much about my passionate love of Britain's land and history, my distaste for intolerance, nor my adherence to the continuously-unfolding spiritual traditions of north-west Europe that are still evolving and changing.

If archaeologists could consider their own propensity to become ancestral – a fate that awaits us all – then this debate might be shaped with more insight and humanity.

Caitlín Matthews, Headington

John Marshall

Spoilheap expressed alarm at the misuse of statements by archaeologists to bolster racism in the United Kingdom. In the same issue, Greg Bailey (In view) both reiterated this alarm and praised the BBC for its approach, and you concluded with reminiscences from David Attenborough (My archaeology). The BBC has many jewels. The Victorian Farm was a splendid piece of experimental archaeology and I enjoyed looking over the shoulder of the gentlemanly, scholarly and very hardy Nicholas Crane as he journeyed in the footsteps of William Camden.

Unfortunately I would not exempt all television from blame. About three years ago Channel 4 ran a mini-series called Face of Britain, which seemed to advance the line that Britain's original inhabitants (apart from shadowy hunter-gatherers) were Celts, Saxons and Vikings. This series was clothed in the guise of a serious scientific investigation and it worried me. I asked two eminent archaeologists whether the evidence presented was valid, and they exploded at the suggestion, and the poor standards used in the programme.

I hope I misunderstood the comment about Time Team (In view), which read to me like a sideswipe, because that series has done much to encourage me to learn more and to undertake formal study. In particular, whatever your view of Tony Robinson (I like him), it is a good format to have an interested layman to ask experts for explanations, rather than a set of all-purpose experts who know everything about everything. Neil Oliver was the presenter of Face of Britain, and he made statements to camera probably well outside his specialism.

John Marshall, Ealing

No swipe at Time Team, which both Greg Bailey and I think is a very good thing. Ed

Anglo-Saxon fan writes

Martyn Whittock

I wonder if any other readers have been disappointed by the small number of Anglo-Saxon objects displayed in the – otherwise impressive – new Ashmolean Museum, Oxford? A very small number of cruciform and saucer brooches seem to have been selected from what was a huge and impressive collection on display in the old museum. As a result, there is little opportunity to study development in form or decoration. And there is little interpretation of what these finds can tell us about Anglo-Saxon culture. Furthermore, what is on display is in only one part of a room covering the period England 400–1600; while other collections – elsewhere in the museum – have their own impressive rooms. I wondered what the Anglo-Saxons had done to offend the Ashmolean?!

Martyn Whittock, Bradford on Avon


James Dickson

The bronze age cist at Forteviot (News, Jan/Feb) is of great importance. The flowers are those of Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet). The material has been shown to me by the GUARD archaeobotanists Susan Ramsay, who identified the pollen, and Jennifer Miller, who found fruits. As you say this shows that flowers had been placed in the grave, as my late wife Camilla Lambert thought for the bronze age grave at Ashgrove in Fife in 1964. In 1978 I claimed that the beaker in that grave held mead because I found in it Filipendula and other significant pollen.

That the very sweet-smelling flowers were placed in graves seems not at all unlikely and neither does their use in mead or ale, as they contain the chemical basis of aspirin. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

James Dickson

A good archaeologist can read a bucket of soil as if it were a complex historical novel.
Michael Ondaatje, Anil's Ghost (2000)

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