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ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 52, April 2000

LETTERS

Neanderthals

From Ms Carolyne Kershaw

Sir: Paul Pettitt suggests that the first `modern human' colonists in Europe may have waged a successful campaign of genocide against Neanderthals (`Odd man out', February).

Although these early modern humans were as intelligent as humans today, and had developed trade networks stretching across Europe, I doubt they could have co-ordinated a policy of genocide across great areas with perhaps hundreds of tribes or clans co-operating to carry out this policy.

The demise of Neanderthals may, instead, have resembled that of mammoths in North America. Recent computer models have shown that the impact of human colonisation on mammoths was initially small, but was catastrophic over a longer period.

I suspect that apart from violent incidents and perhaps occasional vendettas between individuals or clans, modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted and to some extent mixed, traded, and interbred. But over an extended period small advantages, perhaps a slightly lower infant mortality rate, perhaps a willingness to exploit a wider territory or range of food sources in difficult years, could result in a catastrophic decline in Neanderthal populations without any deliberate policy on the part of modern humans.

The remaining Neanderthals would either have become integrated into the modern human population, or would have become isolated communities into which new genetic material was not being introduced, thence falling victim to the dangers of inbreeding.

Yours faithfully,
Carolyne Kershaw
Liverpool
16 February

Changes in archaeology

From Mr John Charlton

Sir: I read with approval your article on how archaeology has changed over the past century, and with amusement the answers, from odd to smug, to your survey of views on the most important recent advance (`Looking forward to the new century' and `Time Team vs Sutton Hoo vs C14 dates', December).

Francis Pryor, the CBA President, of course hit the nail on the head. The most important advance is that the developer now has to pay.

It was very different in the City of London in the 1930s. When I came to London as a postgraduate student to study under Mortimer Wheeler at the London Museum, then in Lancaster House, I found that one of my fellow students, GC Dunning, bore the title of Inspector of Excavations. For a nominal salary he went several times a week to the City to meet the curator of the Guildhall Museum and go round such buildings as might involve deep enough excavation as to penetrate Roman levels.

I can best describe what this inspection amounted to by explaining what I did when Gerald went abroad for three months in 1931 and I took his place.

At about a quarter to twelve I arrived at the Guildhall Museum, where Quintin Waddington, the curator, was waiting for me with two large bags and several smaller ones. (Waddington's status in the Guildhall hierarchy was indicated by his official title - Museum Clerk.) He also had a pound note from the Guildhall treasurer's office. We went smartly off to The Butler's Head, where we took turns in buying a half pint of cider and Waddington changed the pound into small silver.

We then went around such building sites as might produce Roman or medieval material. We weren't allowed to enter any of them but were allowed to collect what we could from any workmen who might have picked up during the excavation anything that might get him a bob or two from Waddington. We did our best to find just where the finds came from but not, I recall, with much success.

The most we did was to record the name of the site from which they came. The only one I recall after nearly 70 years is one near Adelaide House which produced a lot of plain Roman Samian ware pottery, of a type earlier than I'd met on Hadrian's Wall. I think the only important find made by these inspections was made by Eric Birley, Dunning's predecessor, who managed to save a carving of a Roman mill just as it was being loaded onto a lorry. It is illustrated in the 1930 guide to Roman London produced by the London Museum.

After doing our round we returned to Guildhall Museum, where Waddington did the cataloguing and I washed the pottery. Then lunch in the Guildhall canteen and back to London Museum before two: London traffic was speedy in those days!

The City's change of heart towards its early history came with excavation of the Mithras temple by Peter Grimes in 1954. I was then Inspector for London and late every afternoon went to the site to help control queues of City workers and explain what it was all about.

Yours faithfully,
John Charlton
Purley, Surrey
29 January

Horse burials

From Mr Karl Wittwer

Sir: In your December magazine you reported on a `second' Anglo-Saxon horse burial at Lakenheath. Intriguingly, this morning I discovered the following entry in the Appendix to Archaeologia 25, 1834, which I have not seen cited in the context of recent finds:

`In 1812 some labourers, while levelling skirt-lands [in Mildenhall, near Lakenheath], discovered a human skeleton of large dimensions . . . between the skeletons of two horses. On one side lay a long iron sword . . .

He had a torques [sic] of gold; but the temptation of this precious metal induced the labourers for a time to conceal their discovery. The torques was conveyed secretly to Bury, sold to a petty silversmith, and immediately melted down.'

There can surely be little doubt that this is yet another of the Anglian horse burials. Regrettably, this report was assembled some 20 years after the discovery - or robbery - of the grave, and was not deemed worthy of inclusion within the main body of the transactions.

Yours faithfully,
Karl Wittwer
Maidstone
11 January

War photos

From Mr Kevin McLaren

Sir: Martin Ecclestone writes of the paucity of aerial photographs of Britain surviving from the war years (Letters, December), and advocates transferring Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photographs of Britain from the United States to the National Monuments Record.

He may be interested to know that the Scottish Royal Commission (RCAHMS), which looks after the National Monuments Record for Scotland, has acquired copies of the entire US holding of Luftwaffe imagery of Scottish locations, and has published a catalogue of the collection. The photographs are freely available for study. The Commission has also prepared a catalogue to its collection of over 4,000 Royal Air Force images of Scotland dating from World War II, to be published in March.

Yours sincerely,
Kevin McLaren
RCAHMS, Edinburgh
13 January

Listed buildings

From Mrs Sharon Wallington

Sir: Richard Hollingdale's letter on the demolition of listed buildings (Letters, February) prompts me to offer my own thoughts. I too read your original article (`Please may I demolish my listed home?', November) and was fascinated by the opposing arguments, both of which appear to have great merit.

Listing is a highly emotive subject which affects people from all walks of life, including those with little or no interest in history. I have heard of cases where a building's listed status has taken precedence over practicality and what, to many, would appear common sense.

Last year I was lucky enough to visit Merevale Hall, owned by the Dougdale family. We moved to this area a year ago and I was enchanted by this turreted Victorian building, which I can just see from my bedroom window. But the building is listed and, much to the owner's consternation, his freedom to alter it has been forfeited. What is particularly interesting is that a Georgian building previously stood on the site and was demolished to make way for the present Victorian one.

In the past, the family have always been able to build and alter their own residence at will, yet now progress is restricted and they are forced to maintain a cold, impractical building in a way that completely denies the brilliant advances of the last century.

Yours sincerely,
Sharon Wallington
Atherstone, Warwickshire
17 February


We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at editor@britarch.ac.uk or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.


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