The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 112

Issue 112

May / Jun 2010


Rare prehistoric finds at major Carlisle dig

Hammerwich hoard "saved" – but who for?

Mary Rose studies query science of tracing migration

Surprising age of new-found stone row on Dartmoor

in brief & phase 2


University archaeology

THE BIG DIG: Discovering Bosworth

The Buried Gods of Gogmagog

Three Men and a (Leaky) Boat

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones investigates the archaeological value of encyclopaedic websites and Stuart Jeffrey describes the Grey Lierature Library


A child's gift to science, the human remains debate


Your views and responses

CBA Correspondent

Mike Heyworth explores the great rewards and challenges of undersea archaeology


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


News is written by Mike Pitts

Rare prehistoric finds at major Carlisle dig

Just before Christmas last year Oxford Archaeology North completed a seven-month excavation with up to 60 staff, at a site on the Carlisle northern development route (CNDR) that will link the A595 and the M6 west of Carlisle, Cumbria. Work focussed on a very large scatter of mesolithic flint artefacts, and an old channel, once part of the river Eden, that had preserved quantities of neolithic organic remains. Amongst these are the first British "tridents" found in modern times. A section of Hadrian's Wall was also excavated, where a new road bridge is to be built.

The mesolithic site (c 8500–4000BC) was on a natural terrace above the river; the survival of an ancient land surface is described as "fortuitous". A sieving system developed by Dutch archaeologists was used, in which hundreds of tonnes of soil was washed by water pumped through wheelbarrows whose bottoms had been replaced with 2mm wire mesh. In this way over 200,000 flint artefacts were recovered, including many microliths, from a scatter spread over 800 square metres. OAN project manager Fraser Brown says there is no obvious pit house, despite stakeholes, charcoal-rich pits and a large hollow. It is possible the site was regularly visited for exploiting the salmon-rich estuary.

Equally remarkable is the material from the palaeochannel, found in two dark layers separated by silt. The lower layer contained evidence for human activity and beaver-chewed timbers which may be contemporary with the flint scatter. In the higher were a variety of neolithic artefacts. These include two "tridents", wooden forks seen previously in 19th century finds from a bog in Armagh and in a well-known group of objects from Ehenside Tarn, also in Cumbria. The latter included stone axes, a polishing stone and a paddle: all of these are amongst the new finds, as well as a flint arrowhead with hafting mastic still attached. Withies held by stakes driven into the channel may be the remains of a disused fish trap. Radiocarbon dates for the "tridents", whose function is unknown, range from 3800 to 3370BC.

Mark Brennand, senior historic environment officer at Cumbria county council, says the location was significant in neolithic times. The cropmark of a large henge-like ring (which may have been a palisade) has been recorded 150m from the river, with a smaller ring nearby. Brown tells British Archaeology that he is now working on the post-excavation assessment for the contractor, Birse Civils. "That's when the real story will come out", he says.

Hammerwich hoard "saved" – but who for?

News that funds have been raised to buy the Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon hoard for Birmingham and Stoke museums was greeted with delight in the West Midlands. As Birmingham Archaeology returns to the site for further excavation, work will enter a new phase with museum ownership assured. The goal now is to raise money for conservation and display. But in a bizarre twist, British Archaeology can reveal that Staffordshire county council is seeking to trademark the hoard name.

Soon after the treasure committee valued the hoard at £3.285m last November, the Art Fund announced that it would lead the "battle" to save it for the West Midlands by April 17; it had been agreed from the outset that the British Museum would not seek to acquire it. While common in the art world (Titian's Diana and Actaeon was recently bought for the nation for £50m, to which the National Heritage Memorial Fund contributed £10m), such a figure has no precedent for the purchase of British archaeological artefacts. Yet no painting has attracted such a high level of interest and donations from so many people. The Portable Antiquities Scheme's Kevin Leahy, who is expanding the hoard catalogue (he has found an unexpected number of loose garnets, of great interest for future research), said "the general public are really interested – this is not an elite pastime".

Household names stated their support for the appeal, among them Tony Robinson, David Starkey and Michael Wood, Judi Dench, Michael Palin and Frank Skinner, and Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg – though the Birmingham Mail noted that "none of the party leaders appeared to be backing up their words of support with donations".

In February the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall viewed the hoard at the exhibition at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent (Birmingham council said the prince was descended from Anglo-Saxon Mercian kings). The exhibition drew 52,500 visitors in 24 days, averaging slightly more per day than the first one in Birmingham; both had four-hour queues (see News, Jan/Feb). Stoke Museum received £152,000 in public donations during the display.

At the appeal launch in January, the Art Fund's new director Stephen Deuchar announced a £300,000 grant and Birmingham and Stoke councils each offered £100,000. The appeal passed £1m in late February, and on March 23 the NHMF announced a grant of £1.285m, bringing the fund to its first target. The money will be split equally between landowner and finder. The appeal continues with a new focus on raising £1.7m for the essential conservation, research and display.

On March 7 the Art Fund brought nine-year-old Emily Bairstow from Devon to see the hoard: she had written to Tony Robinson and donated £10. Unknown to her and to most of the hoard partners, on January 13 Staffordshire county council had applied to trademark the phrase "Staffordshire hoard", saying later that in due course it would transfer the mark to the partnership. The goal is to control the name for business use, something that many archaeologists are uneasy with. There is a two-month notice of opposition period once the application is advertised in the Trade Marks Journal.

Mary Rose studies query science of tracing migration

For over a century human migration and mobility have been important issues in understanding the past. Traditionally these have been approached through artefact studies, often with considerable disagreement. Recently science has stepped in, with the analysis of tooth enamel – which traps signatures of local geology and climate – appearing to offer robust insights into ancient residency and movement. The science is still developing, and relies on the existence of detailed base maps against which variations in stable isotopes of lead, strontium and oxygen, preserved in excavated teeth, can be compared.

There have been some spectacular surprises, one of the first being the claim in 2003 that the Amesbury Archer, a man buried near Stonehenge around 2300BC with exceptional grave goods, was born in central Europe. Other prehistoric people have been shown to have moved widely around Britain during their lives. In March it was announced that over 50 young men who had been brutally killed between 910 and 1030AD and buried in a pit near modern Weymouth, had been identified as Vikings.

In 2009 a new theory was proposed for the sinking of the Mary Rose in 1545. Lynne Bell, Julia Lee-Thorp and Andrew Elkerton argued in the Journal of Archaeological Science that a high proportion of the crew were foreign mercenaries: unable to speak English, they failed to respond to orders when a manoeuvre went wrong. The oxygen isotope patterns in the teeth of 18 men from the ship, it was claimed, showed that as many as two thirds of them had grown up further south in Europe.

Now in the newly-published issue of the same journal, Andrew Millard and Hannes Schroeder (at Durham and Oxford universities) say the study was flawed; Bell, Lee-Thorp and Elkerton (at Simon Fraser and Bradford universities, and the Mary Rose Trust respectively) defend their work. At the heart of the dispute is a disagreement about how such studies should be done.

Millard and Schroeder compared the original teeth data to known geographical variations in phosphate values in drinking water, using an equation derived from a study comparing teeth and water. They conclude that only one of the analysed ship crew was definitely born abroad. Bell et al, by contrast, had compared their data with analyses of human and horse teeth from modern Britain. Millard and Schroeder say the modern sample (with nine human teeth) is too small, and does not represent the full variation of UK groundwater isotopes. Bell et al counter that comparing teeth directly with teeth – human or otherwise – is the better approach.

Surprising age of new-found stone row on Dartmoor

On 4 April 2004, Tom Greeves made the remarkable discovery of a major prehistoric monument on Cut Hill, one of the highest (at 600m OD) and remotest parts of Dartmoor. Survey that still continues has now revealed a total of nine megaliths, eight exposed by historic peat cutting and erosion, and one discovered within the peat by probing. The stones are 1.5–2.6m long, and between 19m and 34.5m apart over a total distance of 215m: in all respects, these statistics make the row distinctly large amongst some 80 previously known on the moor. All stones now lie flat, but what look like packing blocks at the end of one suggest the row may originally have been standing.

Adding to the significance of the discovery is the blanket of peat, which has preserved a prehistoric land surface and made radiocarbon dating possible. Stone rows of this type in western Europe are traditionally thought to date from around 2100–1600BC, making them early bronze age. This argument has been criticised by some for a lack of solid evidence, and the Cut Hill row is the first to be directly dated.

Carbon samples were obtained from the peat above and below one of the stones, and below another (described in the new Antiquity, March 2010). These suggest that one had fallen by 3600–3440BC and the other by 3350–3100BC; the latter was already covered in new peat by 2480–2240BC. In other words, the row is much older than expected, and was made by some of the region's first farmers in the early neolithic.

Ralph Fyfe, of the School of Geography, University of Plymouth, has analysed pollen and other plant remains from the peat. These point to a heather-dominated heath in the late mesolithic (radiocarbon dated to 5980–5740BC), with a mostly wooded landscape at lower elevations; Elisabeth Greeves found a microlith at the site, which may have been lost by a hunter at that time. In the neolithic there was still no clear upland moorland, with the row likely built in a patch of open heath or bog in what was otherwise woodland.

Fyfe and Greeves note that while unusual for Dartmoor, the Cut Hill row is echoed in form and scale by a few on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. These too, they say, could be early in date.

The straight, north-east/south-west alignment of the row is apparently all but identical to that of Stonehenge – that is, it seems to indicate the rising midsummer sun and setting midwinter sun. A similar orientation appears at another exceptional site at Drizzlecombe, where two or three long rows run for 75–150m; one ends with one of Dartmoor's largest standing stones, 4.3m high. This may be coincidence – studies of stone row alignments on the moor indicate an almost random pattern – but the story of the Cut Hill row is far from over.

in the press

3,300 PC

The Daily Mail

For officials at the Scottish Executive, the prehistoric ruins on Orkney are a potential hotbed of homophobia and racist hate crime. They concluded that the Ring of Brodgar presented no threat to gays – but recommended another check should be made in five years' time. 6 Mar.

The Telegraph

Attempts to settle the scandalous and bitter controversy have convinced the mainstream of archaeological opinion that the finds should not be taken seriously. Others claim to have deciphered the engraved clay tablets in several different ways. Who, if anyone, forged the finds or salted the site remains a mystery, and on 10 February Emile Fradin, aged 103, of Glozel, near Vichy – the central figure in that mystery – took any secrets he might have held with him to the grave. 4 Mar.

The Scotsman

A proposal by Western Isles Nationalist MP Angus MacNeil to create a wing of the British Museum on the Isle of Lewis to house the Lewis chessmen was rejected by the UK government. The debate in Westminster Hall in the Commons also saw calls from other MPs for the return of historic items to Staffordshire, Suffolk and Wales. But culture minister Margaret Hodge said: "I disagree with the premise that items can only be appreciated in their national setting." 11 Mar.

The Sydney Morning Heral (SMH)

I watched open-mouthed as a distinguished, white-haired English matriarch, dressed in the clothes of the seasoned rambler, tried to haul herself on top of the mighty Hadrian's Wall. First she dug her heavy boots into the masonry. When that failed, she used her walking stick to scrape a foothold. Her efforts continued, and a shower of dust accompanied each clumsy manoeuvre. Abominably, dozens of others did the same at a spectacular event organised to highlight the need to preserve Britain's biggest, longest monument. 19 Mar.

NVQ Completion

Photo shows Andy Coutts, centre, and Steve Milne, with Kate Geary of the Institute for Archaeologists


Divers between the Isle of Wight and West Sussex had been mystified by the sight of two tanks, two bulldozers and a field gun – but no ship – on the sea bed 20m down in Bracklesham Bay. The Southsea Sub Aqua Club decided to investigate, eventually identifying the tanks as rare Centaur CSIVs. War diaries in the National Archive revealed that the plant had been lost when a landing craft tank (LCT) capsized on 6 June 1944, the day of the Normandy invasion. The LCT itself remained afloat until it was deliberately sunk by shelling; the crew of over 50 all survived. The project won the sub aqua club the Nautical Archaeology Society's Adopt-a-Wreck Scheme competition, and the British Sub Aqua Jubilee Trust's Peter Small Award.

Mellor Effect

The Archaeology Training Forum launched a national vocational qualification (NVQ) in 2007. NVQs are assessed mostly on-the-job rather than by exams, with previous experience being taken into account. In January Andy Coutts and Steve Milne became the first amateur archaeologists to receive the NVQ level 3 in archaeological practice – they are among the first 10 of any archaeologists to be so honoured (see photo, right). They gained much of their experience at the Mellor Heritage Project, which in January celebrated ten years of excavation (see feature, Jan/Feb 2010). Yet again in January, John Hearle, chairman of the Mellor Archaeological Trust, received an MBE.

in brief

Money crisis hits Manx excavations

Work on major excavations on the Isle of Man appears to have stalled, as the UK government has removed what it sees as subsidies to the Crown dependency, where the top rate of income tax is 20%. The island has no equivalent to the UK planning system that ensures excavation funding, but discoveries of international significance were made thanks to goodwill between the Manx government, archaeologists and the developer (News Sep/Oct 2008 and Sep/Oct 2009). Understanding of important mesolithic and bronze age houses lies "in limbo", according to one source, until money is found to pay for post-excavation analysis.

Museum body hands back money

£4.8m is more than enough to fund the Portable Antiquities Scheme for a year and buy the entire Staffordshire hoard: yet that is the sum the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) is returning to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), having underspent on Renaissance in the Regions. Stuart Davies, president of the Museums Association, complained strongly to the DCMS, saying, "The administration of the programme needs improving". In 2007, MLA chief executive, Roy Clare sought to close the Portable Antiquities Scheme's central unit to help it meet its own budget (News, Jan/Feb 2008).

Excavation awarded

Chris Yates, a diver in the South West Maritime Archaeological Group, won the £1500 prize at the Awards for the Presentation of Heritage Research in February with his talk on the discovery and excavation of an exceptional group of bronze age metalwork, mostly ingots, from the sea bed off Salcombe, Devon. A few days later Headland Archaeology, competing against a range of industries, won the Construction News Specialists Awards for site preparations and services.

Victory for Buckland

In February the Court of Appeal said Paul Buckland, professor of archaeology at the University of Bournemouth, had been undermined by the university with "an unequivocal affront to his integrity". His claim of unfair dismissal was supported. He had resigned after student exam papers had been upgraded without consulting him.

Phase 2

BA 111 cover

Following excavation of the communal war grave and creation of a cemetery for the remains excavated in 2009 (feature, Mar/Apr), individual burial of the 250 dead from the Battle of Fromelles (1916) began on Jan 30, with light snow on the ground. There will be a dedication ceremony on Jul 19. Confounding cynics – and greatly exceeding official expectations – on Mar 17 the Australian government announced that 75 of the men had been identified by name. All were Australian, and a further 128 had been identified of this nationality, as well as three unknown British men. Further identifications are anticipated over the coming four years.

The "princely" Anglo-Saxon grave at Prittlewell, Essex, excavated in 2003 (feature, May 2004), became the site of a protest camp in 2005 when objectors to a proposed road scheme thought the archaeological discovery would stop the development (feature, May/Jun 2006). In the event, the camp departed in April last year when the council, citing the cost of the delays, announced a less ambitious scheme. However this February tents returned to the site as a new row broke out over the removal of trees – which the council says will be replaced with more than the losses. Roadworks start in June.

In a study of Bristol city centre, James Dixon (feature, Mar/Apr 2009) suggested archaeologists might treat urban regeneration as a topic in its own right, not just as an opportunity to excavate historic towns. He described how the history of benches at the St James Barton roundabout charted a move from a "friendly vision" to arrangements that "deny homeless peoples' right to be". Dixon now writes to say that two months after the publication of his feature, the council buried the evidence beneath woodchips. "Don't ever think that archaeology can't change the world", he says.

[When managing clubs in Spain and Italy] his holidays were often spent visiting archaeological sites. Chris Bowlby reveals that Fabio Capello, England football team's Italian manager, has a passion for archaeology and museums. BBC Radio 4 Profile Jan 6

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