Years of pestilence
The medieval fleet
Editor Simon Denison
From Dr Alison Sheridan
Sir: In your account of the discovery of an early Bronze Age disc bead necklace from Barbush Quarry ('Intact Bronze Age necklace found near Dunblane', August; photo by NMS, not Stirling Regional Council as credited), you report that it is thought to be the only intact example known in Britain. This is not the case.
In my report on the Barbush Quarry find (to be published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland) I cite five other examples of complete or virtually complete disc bead necklaces from Scotland alone, with numbers of disc beads ranging from 127 to 259 (against 124 at Barbush). These include the unique example from West Water Reservoir, Peeblesshire, which had a second strand of beads made of lead and was associated with an infant aged 3-6 years (see Hunter and Davis, Antiquity 68).
Nearly 30 disc-bead necklaces (plus eight incorporating fusiform beads as well) are known from Scotland, with further examples from elsewhere in Britain and Ireland. They are almost all from early Bronze Age funerary contexts, mostly crouched inhumations; and where the sex of the deceased has been determined, it has been female in virtually every case. Food vessels are the commonest ceramic association.
Some necklaces (and bracelets and belts) feature tiny disc beads, 5mm and less in diameter. These appeared earlier than the necklaces made of larger disc beads - around 2300 BC - and continued to be used after the latter became popular.
These necklaces, and other pre-Iron Age artefacts of cannel coal, jet and similar substances, are the subject of a long-term National Museums of Scotland research project, undertaken with Mary Davis of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales.
All but one of the Scottish disc bead necklaces so far analysed have been made using cannel coal or shale for the beads. The exception, from Cloburn Quarry, South Lanarkshire, was mostly of Whitby jet.
Assistant Keeper of Archaeology
From Ms Nina Jennings
Sir: Martin Ecclestone is right (Letters, June): thatch was by no means the universal roof covering in early medieval Britain.
Of the ten early Cumbrian roofs stripped in recent years, and known to me, two were turf with a light skimming of straw over the oldest part of the building (Hitchens Onset at Scaleby and Meadowbank at West Curthwaite), and three more were wholly or partly heather (Baldwinholme Farm, Howard Cottage at Warwick Bridge, and Lamonby Farm Cottage at Burgh-by-Sands). One of these buildings, Hitchens Onset, has a dendro date of 1491 and it is possible that the others are of broadly similar date.
Bruce Jones, Cumbria's former County Archivist, has found documentary evidence of turf roofs in the lease of a four room burgage in Scotch Street, Carlisle, dated 1589, although the lease also mentions slates.
The late James Walton took the view that some of the hogback tombstones represent buildings with shingled roofs such as those of the Norwegian stave-churches (Antiquity 28, 1954). Among other examples, he quotes a 12th century document mentioning straw, rushes, shingles or tiles.
As only a handful of these early Cumbrian roofs survive it is impossible to be definitive, but it appears more than likely that turf and shingles preceded the once familiar local stapple thatch.
Clearly in order to be in a position to pronounce on the history of vernacular architecture in Britain, it is necessary to venture well beyond the Home Counties and the South West.
From Ms Kate Ashbrook
Sir: As you report (In brief, August), Shaugh Moor and the Blackabrook valley on Dartmoor have been saved from the ravages of the china clay companies, who wanted to make the archaeologically unique Shaugh Moor into a giant dustbin and the Blackabrook into a superquarry. This victory is in no small part due to the campaigning of the CBA and other organisations, all of which we would like to thank.
In 1978, the Dartmoor campaigner, Sylvia Sayer, won a 30-year reprieve for Shaugh Moor by persuading the two clay companies to share tipping space, but it was only for 30 years. She wrote at the time that 'the saviours of this splendid area of open moorland cannot yet hold the champagne picnic within one of its bronze age hut circles that had been hopefully planned'.
On 22 July this year we did hold the champagne picnic in a Bronze Age hut circle, and it was a great day.
But as you point out, the battle continues. The clay company Imerys still plans to destroy part of nearby Crownhill Down with a quarry and haulage road. We shall all fight on, bolstered by our recent victory.
We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005