British Archaeology banner

Cover of British Archaeology 116

Issue 116

Jan / Feb 2011



All the latest archaeology news from around the country


Crosby Garrett Roman Helmet

The fullest report yet on its discovery, appearance and modern fate, plus its restoration

THE BIG DIG: Flixbrough

20 years of study at the Lincolnshire DMV

Fieldwalking in Bingham

The community story of a Nottinghamshire parish

Silbury Hill

What is it and how was it made?

The Varmints Show

In the Varmints' fourth exploration of music and archaeology, we look at Music and Place

on the web

Military sites of all periods and online teaching of GIS

CBA Correspondent

Our Casework team reviews another year of listed building saves


Your views and responses


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


News is written by Mike Pitts

Monuments defined land use for millennia

Around 800BC people dug a ditch on flat land before it dipped down to the river Cam, near Trumpington, Cambridgeshire. The ditch marked the edge of a plateau settlement that dominated the landscape for another three centuries. A thousand storage pits were dug and many houses built: yet none crossed the boundary.

On the other side were graves. It was assumed three apparent ring ditches seen on air photos were typical ploughed-out bronze age burial mounds. On excavation, however, one of them failed to show, while the others were found to be older, and much rarer neolithic circular funerary monuments.

The larger monument began with a curving ditch probably dug as a quarry for a small mound. Close by was a long grave pit containing the remains of four individuals, none complete when excavated: disarticulated bones from one person lay above the dismembered remains of a second, and these were flanked by two crouched bodies. Burial into this pit occurred on at least two occasions, the only other finds being some bones of wild cattle (aurochs).

This ensemble had been enclosed by a substantial circular ditch, in which were found sherds of Mildenhall and Peterborough style pottery (c3200– 2600BC). The smaller circular ditch to the south-west also seems to be neolithic; at its centre was a pit (possibly disturbed by a tree fall) containing a few human bones.

The location's sanctity persisted for generations. In the early bronze age (c2000BC), a shallow ditch, in which were found Beaker sherds, was dug around the larger monument. In the middle bronze age (c1500–1100BC), the cremated remains of two people were buried in urns just to the south-west. A pit was dug for an infant, its grave marked by a small mound, in the late bronze or early iron age (c1000–600BC). Finally, a woman was buried with an iron bracelet on her wrist and a shale pendant at her throat; this contrasts with more typical iron age rites, that left undistinguished human remains in abandoned pits scattered across the settlement – the other side of the boundary.

How long the neolithic monuments remained visible is unknown, but it is possible the ritual status of the land on the plateau edge persisted beyond the iron age: Trumpington's medieval church is about 600m to the north-east on the same axis.

Excavation by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit began in June and is expected to finish by the end of 2010. Trumpington Meadows Land Company, a partnership between Grosvenor and the UK Universities Superannuation Scheme, is turning what was the Plant Breeding Institute immediately south of Cambridge, into a mix of park, arable and housing, with 1,200 dwellings.

Bronze age eel trap may be oldest known

"Are you sure this is bronze age?" Examining a fish trap excavated in the Flag Fen basin near Peterborough, Peter Carter, the last traditional Fenlands fisherman, had been talking to archaeologists as if his ancestors had made it: records show his family were catching eels in that part of England in 1470. Yet the object at his feet was bronze age, made around 1100BC. It may be the oldest basket trap specifically made for eels yet identified.

The trap was found near Must Farm, Cambridgeshire, during a project to investigate a series of ancient river channels on the fen edge. Excavation at Hanson's clay and gravel quarry in 2006/7 had uncovered a unique bronze age riverside settlement, that had collapsed when wooden piles caught fire, pitching rarely seen household contents – from clothing to pots of food – into the mud and water that preserved them. The Cambridge Archaeological Unit, of the Department of Archaeology at Cambridge University, plans to put the settlement into its full landscape context through fieldwork over the coming 10 years.

They began in 2009 with Hanson's continuing support, making ecological discoveries. Expecting the same in 2010, when they investigated a 60m stretch of the channel 200m upstream of the settlement, they were surprised to find a sequence of activities which CAU's Mark Knight said displayed "incredible vertical resolution": a jam of felled trees at the base, followed by hurdles, fish weirs and traps a little higher, metalwork above this, then human remains and finally iron age artefacts.

Project manager David Gibson invited Carter to the site. He identified the eel trap, and brought out one of his own from his car – what he called a grigg. Modern traps are made with split willow, which allows the buoyant pith to absorb water and the trap to sink. The bronze age trap's willow is not split, so Carter suggested it would have been pegged down.

Looking out to sea, Carter said the trap had probably been set between April and June. It would have been laid at dusk, and collected the next morning – "but he didn't come back". He? Carter said his family had been fishing for 500 years, and it was always the men who set the traps.

Bones of eel (Anguilla anguilla) have been found at mesolithic hunter-gatherer sites around Europe. Immature remains – elver – were abundant at the early mesolithic site at Lough Boora, Co Offaly, around 7500BC, and eel were also common in the later mesolithic shell middens in Denmark before 4000BC. Wooden mesolithic fish traps found in 2004 at North Wall Quay in the Liffey estuary, Dublin, carbon dated to around 6000BC, are thought to be the oldest identified in Ireland or the UK, though none was intact.

Britain in archaeology

The Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME) warned of diminishing opportunities for storing excavation archives. Museums in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Northamptonshire, Sheffield and "many other areas" no longer accept finds and records. Fame estimates that after 20 years of developer-funded excavation, archaeological practices hold material from over 5,000 sites at an annual cost of £0.25m – "a major museum collection in its own right". Chief executive Adrian Tindall proposed that the time has come to think about dumping some of the stuff.

A 16th century stone archway, described as the only remnant of the approach to the Augustinian Abbey which once stood on the lawns of Scone Palace, Perthshire, was demolished by a van removing a marquee after a weekend event. Conservation architects from Historic Scotland advised on the restoration.

Detectorists found a bronze age pot stuffed with metal objects at Burnham, Essex, and asked archaeologists to excavate the site. Axeheads and other items were recovered from the soil, and the pot was lifted for dissection by conservators at the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Resource Centre, with the aid of X-ray images. Early reports list two complete and some fragments of socketed axes, part of an ingot and the tip of a socketed spear resting above a solid mass of metal. Detectorists' discovery in 2005 of a bronze age pot near Falmouth, Cornwall, containing 33 copper alloy axes, led to archaeologists calling for a fund to pay for the conservation and study of such finds, when resources are otherwise channelled into paying finders the treasure award.

Some 56 items from the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire hoard went to the Louvre, Paris, in November. Garnets were to be subjected to particle-induced X-ray emission, Raman spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence at the EU-funded CHARISMA project, which provides grant-aided access to analytical and conservation processes. Analyses should reveal whether the garnets come from India, Sri Lanka, eastern or southern Europe. Valued at nearly £3.3m, the hoard was acquired by museums in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, where selected material is displayed. Dispelling rumours that the Vatican had wanted to buy the hoard, Pope Benedict XVI, in Birmingham in September, blessed some of the pieces.

Retired vet Olaf Swarbrick caused a stir by suggesting that the Uffington white horse, a famous chalk hill figure in Oxfordshire thought to have been first carved c1380–550BC, is a dog. In a letter to the Veterinary Record, Swarbrick suggested the elongated body and tail indicated a sporting hound. The National Trust, into whose turf the white figure is cut, insisted it was a horse. Well-read archaeologists are familiar with Swarbrick's case, from a letter he wrote earlier to British Archaeology (Jan 2004).

Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum, London, made no 53 in the Times Eureka's "science list", "the 100 most important people in British science and engineering". He is director of AHOB3, the final £1.1m phase of a major research project that has been making dramatic discoveries relating to the dispersal of early humans in Europe.

Out for a walk on the Errislannan peninsula in Connemara, Ireland, archaeologist Michael Gibbons came across a complex series of stone-built ponds, weirs and dams in the river Barrow, which John Folan uses to trap and catch fish. Folan said he had learned how to make the traps from his father and grandfather, but Gibbons believes they are ultimately mesolithic, having been adapted to suit varying needs through at least six millennia. Even the fish is a surprise, an unknown variety perhaps related to shad.

A sizeable stretch of London's Parliamentarian Civil War defences was discovered on the site of the British Museum's new World Conservation and Exhibition Centre. The once substantial 17th century rampart ran for 18km (11 miles) and is well mapped, yet has proved elusive on the ground. Archaeologists found a 2m deep ditch, paralleled to the south by bank remains; beneath this were soil-filled ruts, thought to have been made by construction carts or barrows. Also found was part of the north wall of the garden to Montagu House (1675–79), a stately home bought by the Trustees of the British Museum, and opened to the public as the original museum in 1759.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales announced that the Druid Network could register as a charity. The DA spreads the word about Druidry, which it defines as "the native spiritual tradition of the peoples who inhabited the islands of Britain and Ireland… [and] much of Europe", and a "religion" with multiple deities. Melanie Phillips branded the decision "malevolent" in the Daily Mail, for undermining "the bedrock creed of this country", and granting Druids tax exemptions. The commission explained that modern Druids find human and animal sacrifice unacceptable.

A University of Cincinnati excavation project at Pompeii, Italy, has used an Apple iPad for direct field recording, saving the archaeologists time and paper. Stratigraphic diagrams, of a type often known as the Harris matrix after a system that was developed at excavations in Winchester in the 1970s, were created with the OmniGraffle app, a tool said to "organise your thoughts visually, document them beautifully, and communicate them to the world".

Phase 2

BA 115 Cover

As we went to press, the CBA-supported study of homelessness in Bristol (our Jul/Aug 2010, no 113 cover story) was to feature as A History of Stokes Croft in 100 Objects, at The Emporium, a community sort-of-gallery on the Stokes Croft road (some "wanted the place to run on a purely not-for-profit basis... this has been largely successful"). However it now faces eviction from "a rich hong kong businessman". All will be revealed, one way or another, Dec 16–19.

Jody Joy, curator of European iron age collections at the British Museum, says the museum has moving correspondence between Christopher Hawkes, Oxford University archaeologist and one time BM assistant keeper, and Paul Jacobsthal, the German archaeologist exiled to Britain in the 1930s. The fine metal objects illustrated in our feature (Nov/Dec 2010, no 115) are all at the BM, most on display.

Our cover story (Nov/Dec 2010) helped considerably to publicise the issue that new excavation licences for human remains require reburial within two years (a magazine initiative, not a CBA campaign). Robin McKie wrote about it in the Observer, and the matter was discussed on several radio programmes. The Law Commission requested a copy of the feature. Andrew Miller, chair of the science and technology committee at the House of Commons, wrote to the secretary of state for justice, Kenneth Clarke. Clarke replied that "there is much to be said for bringing the legislative framework [with reference to modern archaeological practices in relation to human remains] up to date". "We recognise", he added, "the valuable contribution that archaeologists make to the study of human history".

The Ministry of Justice has amended reburial conditions for human remains from the Stonehenge excavations, extending the stay for the Aubrey Hole 7 remains till November 1 2015, and granting a two-year extension for iron age bones from the Stonehenge palisade field. Reburial remains their ultimate fate.

I love watching the Discovery Channel, I'm fascinated by archaeology. People think when you're famous you're going to be cool. I'm not. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), talks to OK! Magazine, Nov 2010.

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