British Archaeology, no 21, February 1997: Reviews

Scottish remains and Rome's indecision

by Colin Martin

David Breeze
Batsford, £15.99
ISBN 0-7134-7890-X pb

For three centuries Roman armies occupied much of northern Britain without achieving total conquest. Large-scale expeditions reached the Moray Firth on at least two occasions and, in the aftermath of Agricola's victory at Mons Graupius (AD83/ 4), a network of forts extended to the edge of the Highlands. But this was to be the furthest advance, and within a few years the territory north of the Tyne-Solway line was abandoned in favour of the `permanent' solution of Hadrian's Wall. By the mid-2nd century, however, southern Scotland was again overrun and a new frontier - the Antonine Wall - was established beteen Forth and Clyde. These gains in turn were shortly discarded in favour of a return to the southerly line.

Rome's military indecisiveness has left a rich legacy of temporary camps, forts, frontier works, and associated archaeological finds. These remains form the subject of this book by David Breeze, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic Scotland. Though the topic has been covered by generations of scholars, what makes this study different is its thematic approach. Rather than pin scraps of archaeological meat onto the inadequate skeleton provided by sparse and often questionable literary sources in the hope of somehow constructing `history', he has viewed the evidence in its entirety to consider how the Roman military machine functioned in a frontier situation. A critical appraisal of the sources brings the reader up to date with the latest discoveries (some of which derive from Breeze's own research), and sets the agenda for well-illustrated chapters which examine the processes of invasion, conquest, occupation and withdrawal.

Breeze's closing chapter on the army's relationships with indigenous peoples gives much food for thought. Though the evidence is too disparate to provide easy answers it does give rise to an intriguing final question. Did the threat posed by Roman incursions unify the northern tribes, and might this perhaps have sown the seeds of Scotland's growth to statehood in the centuries to come?

Dr Colin Martin is a Reader in Maritime Studies at the University of St Andrews

An update on the industrial heritage

by Robert Protheroe Jones

eds Marilyn Palmer and Peter Neaverson
Leicester University, £14.00
ISBN 0-9510377-5-7 pb

Over the last decade the management of the country's industrial heritage seems to have matured and improved - if only because the amount remaining is now of manageable size.

These proceedings of a seminar held at Leicester University in 1994 make it clear that the statutory bodies and the archaeological trusts and units have begun to integrate their lists of sites and field records.

One of the foremost problems in industrial archaeology has been to establish what exists and - often more difficult - to identify previous work. At some sites, work has unknowingly been duplicated. The more complete our knowledge of what exists, the better informed will be decisions on fieldwork and the selection of sites for protection.

Three quarters of this book is concerned with `establishing what exists', `assessing priorities' and `protecting sites of importance'; and half the 24 papers are by Royal Commission, English Heritage and Cadw staff. However, there are no definitive statements of policy. Industrial archaeology genuinely needs a definitive guide in this respect. Many of the papers are case studies. The remaining quarter, `sites in their context', is concerned with landscape, urban and social contexts - valid and often neglected considerations, but this section does not fit easily into an otherwise tight structure. The challenge of fitting these wider approaches into the existing framework of recording and protection has yet to be comprehensively addressed.

Many of the papers possess the blandness and false positiveness common to most official presentations. Counterpoint is provided by the more independent contributors, most notably David Bick of the Welsh Mines Preservation Trust, writing on statutory protection and restoration grants, where it seems that buildings are `damned if they are and damned if they aren't' scheduled.

Robert Protheroe Jones curates the heavy industry collections at the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum, Cardiff

Moorland and its Mesolithic causes

by Kathy Willis

IG Simmons
Edinburgh, 25.00
ISBN 0-7486-0842-7 hb

When one thinks of the bleak moorlands of England and Wales it is hard to conjure up an image of a gently undulating landscape covered by mixed deciduous woodland - which is what the moors once looked like. So how were they transformed?

In this fascinating book, Ian Simmons, Professor of Geography at Durham, addresses the conflicting hypotheses that the moors were created by climate change or by human activity. He provides a well reasoned argument, backed up by numerous palaeoecological and archaeological examples, to argue a case for human activity in the Mesolithic period that even the most hardened cynic would find difficult to reject. In Simmons's analysis, important factors in triggering the transformation included small-scale clearances, animal grazing, burning, and increased population density. None of these suggestions are new; but the quantitative approach adopted by Simmons is. Population density during the late Mesolithic, for example, is given a figure of around 0.1-1.0 persons per sq km; whereas coasts could be more densely populated by a factor of three. These figures are then applied, along with other ecological information, to various models of society-environment relations. The model selected by Simmons as the most likely is one that postulates largely sedentary groups, which spent much of the year near the coastline but moved up the river valleys as a unit at the end of summer. Smaller sub-groups would have then headed into the uplands to hunt red deer. It is argued that these groups fired areas of the woodland/ forest scrub to encourage plants known to be favoured by deer, and that their annual pilgrimage, even if not to exactly the same spot each year, would have caused the eventual demise of the upland forests.

It is, to my knowledge, the first time that such a detailed appraisal has been attempted of the arguments on whether human activity or climatic change were responsible for a specific landscape transformation. And whatever one's feelings about the wet and open moorlands of England and Wales, they now have to be seen as an impressive heritage from later Mesolithic cultures.

Dr Kathy Willis is a Research Fellow in the Department of Plant Sciences at Cambridge University

Return to the British Archaeology homepage

Return to the CBA homepage

© Council for British Archaeology, 1997