ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 55, December 2000


In the field

Reviewed by Susan Oosthuizen

Fields in the English Landscape
Christopher Taylor
Sutton £12.99
ISBN 0-7509-2490-x pb

The history, development and morphology of fields are neglected outside academic journals, and yet they are an essential topic for anyone with an interest in landscape history. Christopher Taylor's classic book - revised for this edition by the author himself - is one of the few books available which treats the subject in both the breadth and depth it deserves, and yet which is as accessible to the layman as to the scholar. It is a treat to see it back in print.

The book explains the origins and variety of field systems from small rectangular fields created by prehistoric farmers with various forms of `scratch' ploughs (so-called because they were not strong enough to turn the sod), to the huge fields, like Bomb Crater or Pylon Field, carved out from heathland in Dorset during the last century using mechanised ploughs.

The book demonstrates a rich understanding of the ways in which fields were used in different periods, depending on ploughing technology and social organisation. For example, it discusses the transition from the infield/outfield system of the Roman period (where `infields' near the settlement were intensively farmed and `outfields' further away were cultivated on a rotational basis, interspersed by quite long periods of fallow) to the more intensive farming arrangements of the late Saxon period, as the outfield was gradually absorbed into the infield. This transition is related both to questions of the form of Saxon ploughs and to the character of post-Roman society and economy.

Taylor's descriptions of the characteristics of fields of each period in the differing landscapes of upland and lowland Britain are admirably clear. Even a complete newcomer will be able use this book to begin to distinguish prehistoric from Roman fields, or late medieval from 17th century enclosures, from maps or from evidence on the ground.

Also impressive are Taylor's descriptions of an enormous variety of evidence - like the character and materials used in walls and hedges, as well as the forms and patterns of earthworks and ditches of different periods. Medieval terraces (lynchets), for example, are described with such clarity that they should be both readily identifiable and easily explained by any welly-booted or armchair reader.

This is a classic text, and this edition contains little that is new. This is not a drawback or a deterrent. On the contrary, it is beautifully and accessibly written with excellent line drawings. The poor reproduction of black and white photographs is the only detraction.

Susan Oosthuizen teaches landscape history in the Continuing Education department at Cambridge University

Welsh past

Reviewed by David Longley

Prehistoric Wales
Frances Lynch, Stephen Aldhouse-Green and Jeffrey L Davies
Sutton £25.00
ISBN 0-7509-2165-x hb

This book has been eagerly awaited by those aware of its gestation. It answers a real need. The authors are experts in their respective fields, each very active in Welsh archaeology and each an excellent communicator.

In the first section, Stephen Aldhouse-Green reminds us of our place as humans within the animal kingdom, charting the periodic activity of hunting, scavenging and food gathering communities in `Wales' over an almost unimaginably long 225,000 years. `Modern' humans were present at Pontnewydd soon after 30,000 years ago with settlement intermittent until the last glacial maximum when ice sheets 300m thick covered Wales. Climate and its variation is important in Wales during all periods. With the retreat of the ice about 10,000 years ago, temperatures rose rapidly to a maximum exceeding that of the present day.

In the second section, Frances Lynch characterises the archaeology of the first farming communities, seeing a watershed around 2500 BC when cracks begin to appear in the conservative, traditional society of the earlier Neolithic as new configurations of power appeared. The later Neolithic and earlier Bronze Age have a coherence which requires they be treated together in the third section, again by Lynch.

The final section, written jointly by Lynch and Jeff Davies, spans the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. A catastrophically worsening climate is shown to precipitate changes towards the end of the 2nd millennium, with new religious and ceremonial orientations and a new visibility of settlement, including a major emphasis on defence.

Each section presents the evidence in a broadly comparable framework, beginning with a scene-setting introduction followed by a discussion of climate, environment, population, settlement, communication, artefacts, burial, ritual and society. This arrangement is helpful in allowing change and development to be tracked through time. This book scores particularly well in drawing attention to a comprehensive range of new information in a reasoned and structured way.

One question, however, which will be of interest to a Welsh readership and on which greater guidance might have been provided, concerns the chronology of, and mechanism by which, a language ancestral to modern Welsh was introduced. We are discouraged these days from describing the language or its speakers as Celtic, but certain cultural shifts in an island - such as the adoption of a new language - would seem to require contact with new peoples. The movement of people is accepted as essential to the initiation of agriculture in the Neolithic; but the authors are reluctant to allow that it took place in later prehistory in the absence of clear archaeological evidence.

The plates and figures are generally well chosen and well reproduced. The authors are all experienced university lecturers and this volume will become an essential student textbook. More generally it is an excellent guide to current thinking on the archaeology of prehistoric Wales.

David Longley is the Director of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

Places for people

Reviewed by David Wheatley

The Archaeology of Natural Places
Richard Bradley
Routledge £15.99
ISBN 0-415-22150-1 pb

This book is mainly concerned with distinctive votive deposits; places embellished by rock art; production sites; and natural places which later became elaborated as monuments. The study of these four topics are brought together under the umbrella of `an archaeology of natural places'.

The book opens with a chapter on Saami ethnography, concluding that sacred places are not often immediately obvious. A discussion of the 2nd century Greek writer Pausanias's Periegesis, which includes descriptions of sacred places, emphasises `the significance of natural features even at a time when monumental architecture had assumed a vital role'. Richard Bradley also discusses shamanism, in which experiences may `become associated with particular kinds of location in the landscape'.

In his discussion of rock art, he draws on his work in northern Iberia and argues the need to consider intended audiences: `naturalistic' styles may have been intended for an uninitiated audience and located nearer to settlements, while abstract styles required `special knowledge' and tended to be less accessible. Production sites are addressed through a return to his work on Cumbrian stone axe production sites (recalling their inaccessibility and the way that obvious sources of raw material were ignored) and Wessex flint mines for which he rejects a functional interpretation, claiming instead that the source of the material and the danger and remoteness of the source may have been significant. Finally Bradley suggests that monuments may come about through copying or embellishment of natural features.

In the final section, ideas so far developed are applied to case studies. The first, Neolithic Britain, begins with the idea that deposits are made and monuments intended to be experienced in a prescribed order. Such sequences, he argues, are often concerned with `origins' and the place of people in the world. Next he discusses the relationship between rock carvings and tombs in the Scandinavian landscape, finally drawing these threads together to discuss the role of natural places in later European prehistory as a whole, and the way in which the construction of monuments transformed natural places during the period from the later Mesolithic to the emergence of state societies.

Although there is plenty here that is new, this book might be seen by some as a reworking of existing material.

Certainly the sections on the origins of monuments, Iberian Rock Art, Cumbrian axe production and votive deposition will be familiar ground for those who know Bradley's work. Disappointingly, given the title, the book fails to acknowledge or engage with recent theoretical debates regarding the culture/nature dichotomy - `nature' and `culture' are mostly taken as a given.

The diversity of the material discussed is both a strength and a weakness: while it reveals the breadth of Bradley's intellectual repertoire, it also makes it impossible to sustain a single narrative, so that the interpretation sometimes seems to link a series of fascinating examples rather than create an `archaeology of natural places'.

That said, there is undeniable merit in the way that Bradley successfully builds interpretation from the archaeological material, and in an archaeological literature that can sometimes seem dominated by theory-gurus and obscure philosophical schools this is a refreshingly archaeological book.

David Wheatley is a Lecturer at the University of Southampton

Togas et al

Reviewed by Jenny Hall

Roman Clothing and Fashion
AT Croom
Tempus £18.99
ISBN 0-7524-1469-0 hb

There have been few books or articles about Roman clothing in recent years that have been accessible to the general reader and this book is a welcome addition. The book takes a chronological look at clothing worn throughout the Roman Empire, making it possible to see fashion trends changing over time. It takes evidence from art, literary sources and textile remains with line drawings explaining details from sculptured reliefs and using textile examples to explain certain elements of style and manufacture.

It is set out in a clear logical way, looking firstly at the basic cloths, weaving techniques, and the use of colour. An important point, usefully made, is that much Roman cloth was woven to the shape of the garment, even clothes like the semi-circular toga, thus negating the need for hems and making use of the stronger selvages. It also cut down on waste, reminding us that clothing must have been quite valuable.

Under the headings of male and female clothing, the book looks at individual items of dress such as tunics, togas, outer garments, shoes and leg coverings, and underwear. The one article of clothing that everyone thinks was worn by the Roman man was the toga, and it may come as a surprise to learn just how few provincials would have actually worn one. A tunic worn with a mantle or cloak was more suited to provincial life.

Female fashion accessories and a detailed chronology of hairstyles for both sexes help to build a vivid picture of the appearance of Roman men and women. Children's clothing mirrored adults', and having looked at the main types of clothing for men, women and children, there follows a useful discussion of provincial clothing. It shows that each province was influenced not only by Rome but also by local cultures and even tribal fashions from beyond the imperial frontiers.

This book benefits from detailed descriptions and makes good use of the available sources. The chapters on shoes, although useful, need better illustrations to help explain the differing styles. From a practical point of view, the book would have benefited from the inclusion of simple patterns, other than for the tunic, to make it possible for enthusiasts to recreate some of the basic costume styles.

Jenny Hall is a Curator at the Museum of London

Henge makers

Reviewed by Simon Denison

Mike Pitts
Century £17.99
ISBN 0-7126-79545 hb

Mike Pitts is that rare thing, an archaeologist who not only makes the news - important excavations at Stonehenge and Avebury, and related discoveries such as this summer's beheaded Stonehenge skeleton - but who can also write it. Following his debut popular book on Boxgrove (Fairweather Eden, 1997, with Mark Roberts), this new book looks at the world of the Wessex henges.

Like the former book, this one has a cast of characters - the archaeologists who sit waiting for important telephone calls, who sip cups of tea as they watch geophysics results come up on screen, who run across their sites yelling `yippee'. It is as much about the thrill of research and discovery as about interpretation, and Pitts has a talent for what journalists call colour writing - the telling details that allow the reader to paint a mental picture of what is going on.

He covers not only recent digs such as those at the Sanctuary and Beckhampton Avenue (both Avebury), but also major campaigns of the past such as William Hawley's and John Evans's at Stonehenge (1920s and 1970s), Harold St George Gray's and Ben and Maud Cunnington's at Avebury (1920s and 1930s), and Geoff Wainwright's at Durrington Walls and elsewhere (1960s).

At its best, this book is a gem - witty, charming, urbane, informative. In a few passages it reaches genuine inspiration. In a brilliant observation, the Stonehenge Avenue is `a sort of cursus with a mission'. Pitts's thoughts on why people erected stone circles - based around Richard Atkinson's reconstructions at Stonehenge - also ring remarkably true: `Erecting even the smallest stone is an event . . . It attracts attention and bequeaths stories - it generates a buzz. It gives an anonymous rock a unique identity. In a word, it creates a Megalith.'

In between accounts of excavations, he provides adept summaries of such subjects as the efficiency of Neolithic bows and arrows (pretty darn good), how the bluestones got to Stonehenge (by sea), and how archaeologists reconstruct faces from skulls.

If the book is not perfect, it is because in his enthusiasm for the archaeology Pitts sometimes forgets he is writing a popular book. Take this humdinger: `The later Yand Z holes (Phase 3vi) seem to respect the fallen sarsens, suggesting the collapse may have occurred in the time of Hengeworld, for there is a distinct kink in the circuit at this point, and Z8 (which should be in the vicinity of the fallen sarsen 8) may never have been dug.'

Another difficulty is that, to generate pace, he quite often tells you three or four stories at once. For example, he starts you off at one dig. A couple of paragraphs later you're at another dig. Over the page you're into a completely new subject. Then he returns you to one or both digs 30 pages later. This can be more than a touch confusing.

The culmination of the book is a grand interpretation of what henges, and in particular the Woodhenge-Stonehenge-Avenue complex, were for. Based on construction materials, orientation of entrances and ethnographic parallels, this turns on the idea that in Neolithic ceremonies wood may have symbolised the living and stone the dead. Pitts argues that funeral processions may have recreated the `journey into light' experienced when using some psychotropic drugs or in the near-death experience.

The interpretation is ingenious, and fits the evidence such as it is. But I am struck by the thought that no archaeologist in 4,000 years' time, however perceptive, could possibly work out Christianity with almost nothing to go on but the ruins of St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. I'd like to be convinced but something holds me back.

Simon Denison is the Editor of British Archaeology

Old bones

Reviewed by Keith Dobney

The Archaeology of Animal Bones
Terry O'Connor
Sutton £30.00
ISBN 0-7509-2251-6 hb

Compared to the huge numbers of textbooks on other subjects in archaeology, there are far too few on palaeobiological remains. Terry O'Connor has been actively involved in this field for perhaps longer than he cares to remember and has been one of those responsible for bringing the discipline (often kicking and screaming) into the mainstream of archaeological research.

His early work (on animal bone assemblages from Lincoln and York in particular) provided significant advances in our understanding of many aspects of urban economies in the historical period and provided a sound basis upon which others could build. His latest book is more general and draws upon his wealth of experience in the field.

It provides the uninitiated with a grounding in the variety of methodological procedures and problems associated with the study of archaeological vertebrate remains. It then guides readers through the wealth of information such remains can provide for understanding the past.

He refers to a wide range of recent and more distant studies, as well as peppering the text with examples from his own work. Unfortunately the poor quality of many of the photographs, illustrations and tables detract from what is otherwise a well-crafted textbook.

The ideas and opinions in the book are Terry's own and others may disagree with some, many, or all of them. Nonetheless, they illustrate the fundamental problems associated with the recovery and interpretation of most archaeological finds assemblages. They also highlight the exciting potential that still exists.

Keith Dobney is an animal bones specialist at the University of Durham

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