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ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 46, July 1999

LETTERS

Battlefields

From Mr Glenn Foard

Sir: I would not disagree with a word of Richard Morris's article, `Victory at Tewkesbury battlefield' (April), celebrating the rejection of a housing development proposal at the centre of the field. This was certainly a major success.

However I am disappointed that once again the archaeological potential of our battlefields has not been acknowledged. Archaeologists have the opportunity to contribute in a major way to the analysis of battles and sieges in Britain, which have in the past been largely the preserve of military historians. However, if we do not recognise the potential of battlefield archaeology and continue to fail to ensure adequate protection - in particular to the distributions of unstratified artefacts which lie scattered in their thousands across the sites - there will be little evidence left in the ground in a few years' time.

I have heard reports that some of these nationally important sites have been stripped by metal detectorists, usually with little or no recording.

Successes like Tewkesbury may ensure the future survival of an open landscape as a setting within which one may muse upon some of the greatest events in our history, but they do nothing to protect the artefact distributions which are essential to any comprehensive understanding of exactly how and where those events unfolded. If English Heritage is not willing to fight for the strengthening of battlefield designation - to conserve the important artefact distributions which tell a crucial part of the story of the battles - then at the very least they should fund rescue recording on each of the sites before the archaeological resource is depleted to such an extent that it has no real meaning.

Yours sincerely,
GLENN FOARD
County Archaeologist
Northampton
10 May

Paganism

From Dr Martin Henig

Sir: I have little doubt that Paul Blinkhorn is right that paganism survived in these islands long after they were supposedly Christian (`Tolerating pagans for the sake of trade', May).

However, I would not dismiss the Roman, Celtic and Romano-Celtic element in this survival. Not only is there the matter of the continuity of `Roman' temple sites such as Uley (more properly Nympsfield - ie, Nemetfield,`nemet' being a Celtic name for a sacred grove) in Gloucestershire or Woodeaton in Oxfordshire, but there are cult practices such as `decapitated burials', ultimately derived from Iron Age head-cults which survive in places well into the so-called `Anglo-Saxon' period.

Ad-Gefrin (the Hill of the Goats) in Northumbria, which Blinkhorn mentions, could have reference to a Pan or Faunus-like figure, though he seems to be most at home in East Anglia. Mercury (or his Celtic equivalent), a god associated with goats, is a likely source for the name.

Moreover the Sutton Hoo sceptre, whose face-mask decoration Blinkhorn regards as a firmly Anglo-Saxon cultural icon, comes at the end of a long tradition of Celtic and Roman sceptres and tip-staffs. In Rupert Bruce-Mitford's original report of the site, in fact, he regards the sceptre as a Celtic artefact.

I don't want to minimise the contribution of new arrivals to Britain in the Dark Ages, but I would simply suggest that their contribution has previously been over-emphasised, probably as a result of English nationalism.

Yours sincerely,
MARTIN HENIG
Institute of Archaeology
Oxford
14 May

Dovecotes

From Ms Klara Spandl

Sir: In my article, `Exploring the round houses of doves' (June 1998), I wrote that doves were bred to supply meat all year round. This may in fact not be so.

The historian John McCann has recently brought to my attention the results of his research in England, and that of Una Robertson in Scotland, based on household accounts of all periods. The research shows that pigeons did not provide a useful supply of fresh meat in winter. The few pigeon squabs produced between mid-November and April were an out-of-season luxury, and this is confirmed by the very high prices paid for them.

Yours sincerely,
KLARA SPANDL
Oxford Archaeological Unit
Oxford
17 May

Cook and Caves

From Mr NA Hudleston

Sir: In the May issue of your excellent magazine, I am informed in `In Brief' that Captain Cook `discovered Australia in 1768-71'. As a Yorkshireman, I am glad to hear this.

As a pettifogging stickler for accuracy, I must point out that Australia's former name, Van Diemen's Land, shows that the Dutchman Van Diemen found it a bit earlier - in the 17th century. Not to mention that my late friend Joseph Needham, Master of Caius College, Cambridge and a historian of the Far East, claimed to know of a 15th century Chinese map which showed the north coast.

I was also interested in your article on Scottish cave homes in the same issue (`Turning a cave into home sweet home'). But why go so far for evidence that people used caves in recent times? What about domestic caves in Nottingham? These certainly survived into my lifetime (I was born in 1915). There is also a cave dwelling still in use in Knaresborough, which I have been inside. It has just been restored and is still habitable. Abroad, the Albaicin caves at Granada in Spain are still inhabited to this day.

Yours sincerely,
NA HUDLESTON
Harrogate
10 May

Stonehenge

From Sqn Ldr Peter Davies

Sir: Some of us mature undergraduates reading archaeology have already spent a life-time career in one of the practical sciences or the military, and have found ourselves wading through treacle with Neo-Marxist, Processual, Post-Processual theories, and all the rest. Duncan Steel's offering on Stonehenge and its relation to meteors therefore came as a happy diversion (`Stonehenge and the terror in the sky,' June).

I understood what he wrote; but I do not understand why he wrote it - unless it was simply to obtain another `tick on the board' to be included in the next Annual Confidential Report, and subsequent Job Appraisal Review, as part of the pernicious pursuit of Promotion by Publication. In which case, he is forgiven - we all have to exploit the system. If this is archaeology, though, I shall never be an archaeologist, just trowel fodder.

Yours sadly,
PETER DAVIES
Reading
7 June


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