British Archaeology, no 13, April 1996: Reviews

Plastic Pete and the Lindow Men

by Adrian Tindall

RC Turner and RG Scaife
British Museum, UKP25.00
ISBN 0-7141-2305-6 hb

When Lindow Man was discovered in 1984 he was hailed as Britain's first bog body. In fact, as this book shows, at least 236 bodies of all possible periods have been found in Brit-ain's peat bogs.

At Lindow Moss, four sets of human remains have been found, probably those of two males. This is a detailed study of the second body, found in 1987. It includes new research on the first body (Lindow Man), a gazeteer of British bog bodies, and recent research from Ireland and the Netherlands.

Despite its fragmentary state, the second body has produced some remarkable evidence - not least the presence of an extra thumb on the right hand, and one wonders whether it was this deformity that singled him out for his fate. Study of his gut contents showed a last meal of cereals and hazelnuts, but none of the mistletoe found in Lindow Man's guts that prompted so much speculation about his Druidic connections.

The problems of radiocarbon dating now seem largely resolved. Despite their `Celtic' affinities, both bodies appear to be of early Roman date. This is not so surprising, given their location in a culturally backward part of the North West. Their savage death continues to fascinate. Lindow Man was bludgeoned, garroted and bled, while the second Lindow body was probably beheaded. The book presents two contrasting explanations of the pathological evidence: the traditional one of ritual slaughter by the Celtic `triple death' or decapitation, and the rather less convincing one of post- mortem injury and bungled attempts at recovery.

One of the most exciting theories is that Lindow Man's body may have been decorated with blue- green mineral-based paint. This may be evidence of vitrum - the tribal war-paint mentioned by Caesar and usually interpreted as the vegetable dye, woad.

The book ends with a review of Lindow Man in modern society, including a wonderful list of misnomers compiled at the British Museum enquiry desk - Sludge Man, Plastic Pete, Body in the Bag, Man in the Toilet, and Stuffed Pygmy.

Adrian Tindall is the Principal Conservation Officer (Archaeology) at Cheshire County Council

Aching joints in long-dead bones

by Jennifer Wakely

Juliet Rogers and Tony Waldron
John Wiley, UKP29.95
ISBN 0-471-95506-X pb

How I wish I could have had this book when I was starting out in palaeopathology! Rogers and Waldron have succeeded in cutting the complexities of diagnosis down to size. The language is clear, avoiding unnecessary clinical jargon, and defining terminology in a way that makes perfect sense and can be remembered easily. The illustrations are clear and unambiguous, so that it is easy to compare them with the real bone in front of one, on site or in the laboratory. I particularly like the check-lists of diagnostic features at the end of every section.

The interweaving of clinical, radiological and skeletal information helps to produce a holistic picture of a diseased joint, and the authors' suggestions as to how the burgeoning technology of DNA analysis might be used in the future offer a vision of an increasingly complete understanding of joint disease in the present as well as the past.

Most human bone specialists have at some time been tantalised by two temptations - to over-diagnose the rare rather than the commonplace diseases that actually tell us more useful things about individuals and communities in the past; and to over-interpret skeletal data so that we end up reconstructing the life and death of a long-dead person in a way that verges on historical fiction. The warnings and examples in this book, and the straight-forward discussion of epidemiological issues, should keep our feet on the straight and narrow path of correct diagnosis and restrained interpretation.

Dr Jennifer Wakely is an Osteoarchaeologist at the University of Leicester

Bede and those cussed natives again

by Peter Carrington

NJ Higham
Manchester UP, UKP45.00
ISBN 0-7190-4423-5 hb

In this book, the second volume in an intended trilogy (see review of the first in BA, June 1995), Nick Higham has written political history on an epic scale, based on much of the archaeological work that has recently started to make sense of the early post-Roman centuries. Doubtless specialists will find many points to dispute, but to the outsider his story is credible and stimulating.

Higham's main theme is that of Bede as a `providential historian' presenting the English, especially the kings of Northumbria, as God's chosen people and the legitimate successors of the Romans as rulers of the rebellious and heretical British who still formed the bulk of the population. The second, linked, theme is imperium or `overkingship' of one regional ruler over another, and it was the Northumbrian Oswald who brought God's will over the English to fruition by uniting the old Roman province under his rule.

The long struggle for supremacy between the Christian Northumbrians and the still-pagan Mercians and their British allies was, of course, a central concern for Bede. Higham departs from the current consensus by regarding the Tribal Hidage - a tribute list of midland and southern peoples - as a Northumbrian document, attesting the overkingship established by Edwin over these peoples in the 620s.

Britain's Roman past may well have been more than a source of legitimacy for its new rulers. Higham argues that it also shaped their territories, with English tribes succeeding Romano-British civitates, and English kingdoms the Roman provinces into which the island had been divided.

This is a book aimed at the dedicated student of Anglo-Saxon England. Its 250 pages are densely written - and sometimes repetitive - with a minimum of illustrations, and it assumes a knowledge of the basic framework of `kings and battles'. It is often difficult for the non-specialist to separate restatements of current consensus from Higham's own views, and the manner of referencing is hardly convenient. The book also has a rambling feel - hardly surprising as three of the six chapters were originally intended for separate publication.

Dr Peter Carrington is the Senior Archaeologist with Chester Archaeology

Archaeology meets the police force

by Trevor Anderson

J Hunter, C Roberts, A Martin
Batsford, UKP25.00
ISBN 0-7134-7901-9 pb

What is forensic archaeology? It involves the recovery of human remains which date from within living memory, many of which will be positively identified with the cause of death established; and the results of the work will be presented to a court of law. The authors' credentials for writing an introduction to the subject are impeccable. Hunter and Roberts are based at Bradford University, the first university to offer a course in the subject, and they have carried out several investigations for the police.

Forensic archaeology is a very specialised area and the majority of archaeologists will spend their working lives without coming into direct contact with it. The key message of the book is that remains that fall within its field are normally in fact recovered by police personnel, who have no experience of the specialism; while archaeologists, many of whom have excavated hundreds of graves, are rarely called in. This raises concern that valuable osteological and stratigraphic information will be lost; not to mention the possibility that an ancient skeleton might become the centre of a murder enquiry.

The book reads as individual contributions by experts rather than as a coherent whole. Several chapters provide a valuable introduction to the study of human skeletal material, but the book would have benefited from a detailed report on a scene of crime investigation involving an archaeological input. This would have helped archaeologists approaching a forensic case for the first time, and would have emphasised to police readers the value of an archaeological presence. Indeed, this book will only be a success if it reaches the hands of the police.

Trevor Anderson is the Osteoarchaeologist at Canterbury Archaeological Trust

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