ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 43, April 1999


Saxon weirs

From Dr Chris Salisbury

Sir: The Essex Unit is to be congratulated on its recording of fish weirs in the Blackwater Estuary and especially on their splendid reconstruction drawing (`No small fry in Saxon fishing industry', February).

These weirs are remarkably similar to the 46 freshwater eel weirs uncovered by gravel quarrying in the Trentside parish of Hemington, Leicestershire, which span the 7th to 12th centuries. The infill between the posts of these weirs was wattle panelling or wattling in situ, and the brushwood was confined to the bottom of the fence to make it `fish-tight'. Large numbers of boulders were used to stabilise the posts. We too found wattle panels lying on the bed of the river, but our interpretation was that these were not walkways, but to prevent scouring and undermining of the posts.

This type of fishing also seems to have stopped in the 13th century, but was overlapped and superseded by a method using massive stone mud-anchors.

Yours sincerely,
Tollerton, Nottinghamshire
8 February

Hill figures

From Dr Bob Bewley

Sir: Paul Newman's piece on hill figures (`Inexhaustible symbols cut in chalk', February) reminded me to send you an aerial photograph of the Uffington White Horse taken on Sunday 15 February 1998. This landmark is a favourite with my children when I take them flying, and it always looks different, but never so odd as it did on this day.

Orbiting the site, I could not work out what the spidery-looking creature was, or how it had been attached to the hillside. I could not believe it had been cut into the chalk without anyone noticing it. Having recovered my composure and photographed the site, looking like it had never looked in 3,000 years, I discovered the next day that the figure was in fact a circuit board or microchip, made of plastic.

A local artist wanted to find a suitable location for a symbol of the 20th century on a chalk hillside. I hope he finds a suitable hillside, continuing the long tradition of chalk figures, but I am not sure that so close to the Uffington White Horse would be the right place!

Yours sincerely,
Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire
2 March

From Mr Karl Wittwer

Sir: I was surprised to see Paul Newman's description of the image found on a buckle from Finglesham, Kent - to which Christopher Hawkes likened the Long Man of Wilmington - as representing `a Viking warrior in ceremonial attire'.

The buckle, excavated by Hawkes in 1964, is normally dated to the 7th century - surely a little early for Vikings! True, it depicts a naked spearman in a horned head-dress, but current wisdom would suggest that the warrior of the Viking period preferred a more practical plain helmet and to go bear- (rather than bare-) shirted!

In the humble opinion of one who is not a professional archaeologist but who retains a lively interest in the archaeology of the Saxon period - and of his own county in particular - `Finglesham Man' would appear to have affinities with the near-contemporary horn-helmeted dancers of the Sutton Hoo helmet plates.

Whilst these may, indeed, have a Scandinavian provenance or exemplar, they may surely equally well represent some Teutonic warrior culture which may still at this period have been a common tradition of the English and their continental kindred.

Yours faithfully,
5 February

Flint axes

From Mr Andrew Sewell

Sir: I have just finished reading the book Fairweather Eden, by Michael Pitts and Mark Roberts, covering the Boxgrove excavations. It was most interesting, and particularly where they deal with the use and manufacture of flint `axes'.

They make quite clear that the large number of ovate flint axes were used essentially as butchery knives. The key aspect of the flaking technique was evidently to produce strong and sharp edges for removing flesh from the bone. While I accept that the established name for this kind of flint is an `axe', I suggest this had as much to do with the traditional view that `Ancient Britons' (with whom the `axes' were associated) spent all their time fighting, and thus flints tended to be matched to the weapons of a typical Norman conqueror!

Mesolithic and Neolithic `axes', from this area at least, do more or less conform to the conventional axe, with a short or pointed cutting edge on a long body, in many cases suitable for hafting. In short, I suggest the Palaeolithic flints typical of Boxgrove and elsewhere should be known as, say, `butchery (or heavy) knives', clearly differentiated from the flint axes of later periods.

Yours sincerely,
Aldbourne, Wiltshire
6 December

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