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Cover of British Archaeology 117

Issue 117

Mar / Apr 2011



All the latest archaeology news from around the country

on the web

Historical recipies to tempt the taste buds


Our tribute to the losses of 2010

my archaeology

rancis Pryor on his accidental career


Why study archaeology, and can it reveal the past?


Your views and responses


10 big questions archaeology must answer

What can archaeology do for us?

THE BIG DIG: Winchester

St Mary Magdalen Hospital, with evidence of leprosy, TB and that Romans treated wounded soldiers

Return to La Cotte

Neanderthal butchering at this Jersey cave site

Dear Lord Chancellor

The human remains "crisis" continues, and children thank organisers

The one with archaeological evidence to support it

How the Stonehenge megaliths might have been moved

The Varmints Show

In the Varmints' fifth exploration of music and archaeology, we look at the 1990s Seattle grunge music scene.


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Dear Lord Chancellor

BA115 Cover

In October last year, British Archaeology featured what it called “the human remains crisis” on its front cover. We regarded as a major problem the fact that all licences issued for the archaeological excavation of human remains now require the remains to be reburied, normally after two years (see Nov/Dec 2010, no 115). Despite considerable publicity for the topic, and a written response to the debate from the secretary of state for justice, there were no clear signs that the Ministry of Justice intended to change the way licensing regulations are enforced. Accordingly Duncan Sayer, Mike Pitts, Prof Mike Parker Pearson and 39 other leading British professors of archaeology have written to Kenneth Clarke expressing their concerns. This is the letter. Other archaeological organisations and individuals are also writing to Mr Clarke. You could add your voice by writing to him too, and read more online

The Right Honourable Kenneth Clarke QC MP
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ

Dear Lord Chancellor

Archaeological investigation of human remains

On 1 November you wrote about the archaeological investigation of human remains to Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee for the House of Commons. You noted that you had received no formal representations against the implementation of the current licensing scheme, and that professional archaeologists had advised that the arrangements had given rise to no particular difficulties.

We wish to inform you that, to the contrary, these arrangements have caused deep and widespread concern. They are seen by many in the UK archaeology and heritage professions as unacceptable, and we believe they are not in the public or national interest.

We believe that the new licence conditions imposed since 2008 were adopted without proper consultation, and without appropriate consideration of the consequences of such a dramatic change. If such conditions continue to be applied, Britain risks losing its leading role in archaeological science, a decline that will be observed closely by an already mystified international scholarly community.

The excavation and study of human remains is highly regulated by professional ethics, and overseen by publicly agreed guidelines. This is a cultural practice not unique to this country, and one that has been much examined around the world. Your current requirement that all archaeologically excavated human remains should be reburied, whether after a standard period of two years or a further special extension, is contrary to fundamental principles of archaeological and scientific research and of museum practice.

Particularly for periods before written records, human remains are among the most important forms of evidence about our past. Archaeologists have been excavating and curating such remains for centuries, and they continue to be studied as scientific techniques develop and questions change. Such research can never be "completed". It contributes to the story of our past and the public’s understanding of the lives of the people who came before us; it helps put our own lives into perspective . Surveys show that 90% of the public approve of the curation of ancient human remains in museums: archaeologists do not undertake research in a vacuum but consult regularly with the public, study museum feedback and involve the public in fieldwork.

We wish to return to the simple , well-tried system practised up to 2008, which permitted the retention, study, curation and display of excavated remains as appropriate.

Yours sincerely

Professor Mike Parker Pearson FSA FSAScot MIfA
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield
Mr Mike Pitts FSA MIfA
Editor of British Archaeology, Director of Digging Deeper Ltd
Dr Duncan Sayer
School of Forensic & Investigative Science, University of Central Lancashire
Professor Ian Armit FSA FSAScot
Department of Archaeological, Geographical & Environmental Sciences, University of Bradford
Professor David Austin FSA FRHistS
Chair of Archaeology, University of Wales Trinity St David
Professor Graeme Barker FBA FSA MIfA
Disney Professor of Archaeology, University of Cambridge
Professor Martin Bell FBA FSA
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Richard Bradley FBA Fil Dr hc (Lund) FSA Hon FSAScot MIfA
Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Martin Carver FSA
Editor of Antiquity, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology, University of York
Professor Andrew Chamberlain
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield
Professor Bob Chapman FSA
Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Jim Crow FSA FSAScot
Head of Archaeology, School of History, Classics & Archaeology, Edinburgh University
Sir Barry Cunliffe CBE FBA
Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology, University of Oxford
Professor Timothy Darvill OBE FSA MIfA
School of Applied Sciences, Bournemouth University
Professor Keith Dobney
Sixth Century Professor of Human Palaeoecology, University of Aberdeen
Professor Stephen T Driscoll FSA FSAScot
Department of Archaeology, University of Glasgow
Professor Richard P Evershed FRS FRSC
Director of Bristol Biogeochemistry Research Centre, University of Bristol
Professor Andrew Fleming
Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, University of Wales
Professor Mike Fulford CBE FBA FSA
Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Clive Gamble FBA FSA MIfA
Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
Professor Roberta Gilchrist FBA FSA MIfA
Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Chris Gosden FBA
Chair of European Archaeology, University of Oxford
Professor John Gowlett FSA FRAI
School of Archaeology, Classics & Egyptology (SACE), University of Liverpool
Professor Helena Hamerow
Head of School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Professor Anthony Harding FBA FSA
Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter
Professor Colin Haselgrove FBA FSA FSAScot
Head of School of Archaeology & Ancient History, University of Leicester
Professor Ian Haynes
Chair of Archaeology, Newcastle University
Professor Julian Henderson FSA
Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham
Professor Carl Heron
Head of Archaeological, Geographical & Environmental Sciences, University of Bradford
Professor Simon Hillson
UCL Institute of Archaeology, London
Professor Mark Horton FSA
Department of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol
Professor John Hunter MIfA FSA FFSSoc
Emeritus Professor of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Birmingham
Professor Martin Jones FSA
George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science, University of Cambridge
Professor David Mattingly FBA FSA
Department of Archaeology, University of Leicester
Professor Martin Millett FBA FSA
Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge
Professor Charlotte A Roberts FSA
Department of Archaeology, University of Durham
Professor Chris Scarre FSA
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Durham
Professor Stephen Shennan FBA FSA
Director of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, London
Professor Chris Stringer FRS FSA
Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum
Professor Geoffrey Wainwright MBE FSA
former Chief Archaeologist, English Heritage
Professor Alasdair Whittle FBA
Distinguished Research Professor in Archaeology, Cardiff University
Professor Howard Williams FSA
Department of History & Archaeology, University of Chester

Dear Gemma and Mikey

In June last year, pupils from Oakington Church of England (aided) Primary School visited an archaeological excavation of an early Anglo-Saxon cemetery near their village in Cambridgeshire. The children wrote to the archaeologists about their experience, after being shown artefacts and human remains from the dig by Gemma Tully, Oxford Archaeology East (OAE), and Mike Tennant, a student at University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). The excavation is a continuing research and community project run by Duncan Sayer, UCLan, and Richard Mortimer of OAE in close collaboration with Oakington parish council. Currently special permission needs to be obtained from the Ministry of Justice if the public are to see human remains being excavated.

Annie's letter Arthur's letter Cathy's letter

Thank you for letting us come to have a look at the bones you found when you were doing the archeologcial dig. It was very interesting. I especially enjoyed looking at the children bodies like the teeth. I would like to be an Archiologist when I grown up. Thanks.

yours Sincerely

Thank you for talking to us about the archeological dig. I enjoyed all of it, and I especially enjoyed trying to gess what things were. My favourite thing was looking at the children's bones.

I didn't know until today that there is a bereal site in the rec.

Yours Sincerely

Thank you for talking to us and showing us the Archeological dig.

I enjoyed looking at the artifacts and guessing what they were. I also enjoyed feeling the teeth and pottery. I found it very interesting seeing the trench and the boots.

I didn't know that Anglo-Saxons were buried with the things that were important to them.

Yours sincirly

Emily's letter Jack's letter Jessica's letter

Thank you for taking us to see all the different things at the dig. It was very intresting because: We got to pass things round in a circle and look at them. I enjoyed it.

I particularly liked looking at the teeth. They were very dirty.


Thank you for soowing us you fins. I spesley liet The teef.

It was rely good. I realy lieat The caw toof.

Love from Jack

Thank you for all the information and you are very cind to let us all go to the dig and your especially cind for doing it for free and you oferd and we didn't ask.

You have made me want to be an archeologist, when I'm older because it's so interesting.


Jonathan's letter Lola's letter Maddy's letter

Thank you for having us, it was very kind of you to let us see your things.

I enjoyed looking at your artifacts and seeing the dig.

Now I know all about Saxon burials.

yours Sincerly

Thank you very much for showing us the Archeological dig.

I loved all of it and liked looking at all of the bones. And I enjoyed looking at the babies teeth and the animal bones as well. I found it very interesting and learn some facts about the Anglo Saxons that I didn't know before. It was very kind and thank you.

Yours Sinercely

Thank you for letting us come and see the dig that you are doing on the rec. I enjoyed everything.

My favourite bit was when we had to guess what the oldest bit of pottery was. I also enjoyed the horse and cow teeth being past round.

I found the bit about the children's bones very interesting. Thank you very much for everything and thank you for the ice lollies you gave to brownies.

Yours sincerely,

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