Citadel of the Scots
Reading the land
Great sites: Meols
Editor Simon Denison
Detectorists report thousands of new finds to archaeologists
Third year of Government’s voluntary recording scheme brings to light numerous intriguing rarities.
Thousands of ancient artefacts, from everyday items to intriguing rarities found by metal detectorists and other members of the public in England and Wales, have been reported to museums in the third year of the Government's voluntary recording scheme for portable antiquities.
Particularly noteworthy finds include a piece of decorated Irish metalwork looted by Vikings, two Roman coin hoards, an Iron Age model shield, evidence of two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, the seal of a 13th century county sheriff, and a fake antiquity made by a team of notorious East London forgers in the 19th century.
The Irish find, made at Arnside in Cumbria, is an 8th century bronze bowl mount in the form of a human face, above a panel with traces of inlaid yellow enamel decoration on a red background. Made as one of a set, it was originally mounted on a bronze bowl to hold rings from which the bowl could hang, and originally included a second inverted human face at its base, in mirror image of the face at the top. Similar Irish two-headed mounts have been found in several Viking graves in Norway - including the rich ship-burial at Oseberg dating from 834 - and in the Viking city of York.
Valued for its decoration, Irish metalwork travelled with Viking raiders and settlers as loot, traded goods, gifts or dowry pieces. In Britain, small cut-out pieces of Irish metalwork were quite often used to decorate lead weights; and the large hole drilled through the mouth of the Arnside mount suggests it may have been reused in this way.
The two probable Anglo-Saxon cemeteries were located near Saxmundham in Suffolk and Oxborough in Norfolk. The Suffolk site produced ten late 5th and 6th century brooches including an almost-complete large cruciform example. One brooch, and a buckle, seem to have been melted on a cremation pyre. The Norfolk finds consisted of three Roman coins, adapted in order that they could be worn as jewellery - probably as pendants hung around the neck. The earliest, a worn denarius of Severus Alexander (222-235), was particularly interesting as it showed that such coins were still in use at least 250 years after they had been struck. The other two were gold coins in Visigothic style, dating from the end of the 5th century.
Several Iron Age artefacts were recorded in the West Midlands, including a harness mount, a glass bead and a fine decorated linch-pin terminal - used to keep a cart or chariot wheel in place on the wheel-shaft. In all, five linch-pin terminals have been recorded since the scheme began, a major increase given that only two were known before.
An Iron Age miniature shield has been recorded in Wales. Found near Barmouth on the west coast, the shield is thought to have been made as a votive deposit; and aerial photographs of the findspot have revealed that it lay within a previously-unrecognised rectilinear enclosure, possibly a shrine. The model shield, measuring 86mm by 49mm, is the first from Wales, and is decorated with incised motifs that match those found on several full-sized shields known from North Wales (such as the Moel Hiraddug and Tal-y-Llyn shields), suggesting a possible North Welsh 'school' of shield manufacture in the period.
At Langtoft in East Yorkshire, metal detectorists found two Roman coin hoards in pottery containers by the side of a former Roman road. The earlier hoard comprised 976 denarii, radiates and nummi, all but one dating to before 305. The second pot contained 924 nummi, mostly reduced issues of Constantine the Great, the latest ones dating from the mid-320s. Both hoards have been declared treasure and await valuation.
A copper alloy seal found by a detectorist near Godstone in Surrey has been traced to a 13th century sheriff of Kent. The seal shows two face-to-face boars' heads with fleurs-de-lys above and below, and the inscription 'S FULCONIS PEYFORER' (the seal of Fulk Peyforer). Peyforer was the name of Kentish family whose origins can be traced back to the Domesday Book. Fulk was sheriff of Kent in the 1260s, but was unsuccessful in carrying out his duties of collecting taxes for the Exchequer because of a period of severe civil unrest known as the Barons' War. In 1274 he was described in documents as a 'former tax collector' when he received a £5 payment for expenses incurred in his collecting work, and in 1277 he was working as a judge, making enquiries at Maidstone about a case of murder.
A false medieval finial - the decoration at the top of a piece of furniture or building - has been recorded in Dorset but is thought to have been found at Guildford in Surrey. The cast, hollow object is decorated with human figures front and back, and numerous chevrons, pellets and other designs. Although medieval in appearance, the finial is in fact a so-called 'Billy and Charley' forgery - the work of William Smith and Charles Eaton of Shadwell in East London. This pair of late 19th century forgers made, buried and 'found' numerous fake artefacts to supply a growing demand for medieval antiquities.
The voluntary recording scheme now covers about half of England and all of Wales. The Heritage Lottery Fund is considering a proposal to extend the scheme to the rest of England. The scheme's website (www.finds.org.uk") now contains records of some 18,000 finds recorded under the scheme, including about 2,000 images.
Neolithic farmhouse found in Scotland
A large Neolithic farmhouse, one of only a handful known in the British Isles, has been found in fields near Callander in Perthshire.
The longhouse is thought to date from about 3500-4000 BC, at the transition point between hunting and gathering and settled farming in Britain. Among the finds were burned hazelnut shells - reminiscent of Mesolithic campsites - and also farmed cereal remains.
More than 200 pieces of early Neolithic round-bottomed pottery were found. Among the everyday items were some fragments of fine, decorated pottery with elegant rims. Also found was a flake of green Arran pitchstone, thought to be a waste fragment from the manufacture of a tool. No other stone artefacts were found.
Nearby is the 350m Auchenlaich cairn - the longest megalithic burial cairn in Britain. The two structures are contemporary and the remains of the inhabitants of the house are likely to have been interred in the cairn. The cairn has not yet been fully excavated.
The house, some 25m long and 10m wide, was subdivided into several internal rooms including what may have been a kitchen defined by burned areas in the ground - possibly the sites of hearths. The building as a whole may have been home to an extended family of up to 20 people, with cattle housed at one end and other areas set aside for agricultural use.
The house was built with walls formed by massive timber posts, and internal rooms were created by light wooden partitions set in slots cut into the ground. The building was probably thatched. In size and internal layout, the house is uncannily similar to the only other Neolithic house known from Scotland, at Balbridie on Deeside.
The longhouse, excavated by archaeologists from Stirling and Glasgow universities led by Gordon Barclay, was possibly rebuilt at least once before being burned down and abandoned.
Lost Roman town abandoned 2,000 years ago found in Kent
The site of what seems to be the 'lost' Roman town of Durolevum has been found in Kent. The town appears on the Antonine Itinerary - a kind of map of the Roman Empire probably made in the 3rd century - but its location was later forgotten.
Geophysical surveys of Syndale Park, a privately-owned estate near Faversham, have revealed a network of square buildings and lanes, which subsequent excavations have indicated were of Roman date. A massive cobbled section of Watling Street was uncovered - 48ft wide and 8ft thick - strewn with Roman finds. On either side were buildings made of brick with carved stonework and classical mouldings, suggesting that the town consisted of about a mile of ribbon development along the line of the road.
A solid silver harp-shaped brooch, dating from about AD 50, was found in pristine condition on one of the early surfaces of the road. It was tucked away between two cobblestones in the gutter in the middle of the road, and seems to have lain there unnoticed until the road was resurfaced. According to site director Paul Wilkinson, of the Kent Archaeological Field School, the spring was still in working condition when it was found, and the brooch could still be worn. 'To think that someone lost it on the Roman road 2,000 years ago, and I picked it up in exactly the same condition is amazing,' he said.
Other finds from the site include marble toilet sets - cosmetic mixing palettes - possibly from Egypt, amphorae, and near-mint condition coins ranging from Claudius (mid-1st century) to Arcadius (5th century).
If Durolevum survived throughout the Roman period, it seems to have been abandoned almost overnight soon afterwards. Roman debris was left scattered over the surface of the road, including a Roman boot - just the hobnails survive - a quernstone and broken pottery. No medieval objects whatsoever were found, suggesting that Watling Street, the main Roman road from Dover to London, was never used again. Instead a new road, on the line of the modern A2, was made parallel to the old road a short way to the south.
Elsewhere in Kent, at Richborough - where Claudius launched his invasion of Britain in AD 43 - traces of another Roman town have been mapped by geophysical survey, supported by limited excavation conducted by English Heritage. The remains surround Richborough's well-known fort and amphitheatre and demonstrate that the settlement was a much bigger civil and commercial centre than had previously been thought. The site of the harbour has also been located.
Roman water-lifting machinery unearthed in London
Archaeologists have found the remains of two Roman water-lifting machines close to St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London - the first to have been discovered anywhere in Britain.
The discovery offers a partial answer to the long-standing problem of how Roman London was supplied with fresh water. Londinium, as far as archaeologists know, had no aqueduct. But with a population of more than 10,000, and with two public bath-houses, the city must have consumed gallons of fresh water every day.
The machines were found in two massive oak-lined wells, the widest and deepest yet found in London, where they had remained waterlogged. The earlier well has been dated by dendrochronology to AD 63, and remained in use for about ten years. It seems to have been built as part of a programme of public works following Boudica's burning of London in AD 60/61.
Collapsed at the base of the well was a group of about 12 wooden containers - three of them almost complete - which seem to have formed part of a 'bucket-chain' linked by iron struts, and suspended from a large pulley above the well. Contemporary descriptions suggest that the chain may have been powered by a human treadmill.
The later well was built in 108/9 and was destroyed by burning - possibly in the Hadrianic Fire of around 120-130. The wooden containers were charred but the iron mechanism, far more substantial than in the earlier well, was found in a remarkable state of preservation - uncorroded, still articulated and moveable, according to Jenny Hall, a Romanist at the Museum of London. The machine as a whole conforms closely to one described by the Roman architect Vitruvius.
At the base of the second well was a complete copper cauldron, and to one side was a shallow tank which may have been used to store the water from the well, before it was channelled perhaps to the Cheapside bath-house a short distance south, or to the amphitheatre a little way to the north.
Excavating a Scottish rebel’s luxurious stronghold
Excavations this year at Cadzow Castle in Lanarkshire have shed light on the rise and fall of one of Scotland's great noble families of the 16th century.
Cadzow, one of the seats of the Hamilton family, was built in the 1520s or 1530s by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, a military engineer and architect who was Master of the King's Works for James V. However in 1579, during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots - while Mary was imprisoned, and the country was ruled by regents on behalf of young James VI - the Hamiltons opposed the government and their castle was besieged. It has remained a ruin ever since.
At the heart of the inner ward was a large mound, which this year's dig has revealed covers the remains of a tower house - the castle's main building. Great chunks of masonry, including doorways and the tops of walls, were found upside-down, with evidence of burning, indicating that the castle had been blown to pieces by the attacking forces. According to Peter Yeoman, of Historic Scotland which sponsored the dig, it was 'most unusual' to attempt complete demolition in such circumstances. 'This shows how determined the regent's forces were to suppress the power of the Hamiltons.'
The castle had been built fit for a king. About 800 fragments of luxurious green-glazed floor tiles were found, impressed with the letters J and M, probably representing King James V and one of his wives (either Madeleine or Mary). Identical tiles - from the same kiln, even the same firing - had been used to floor a principal chamber at the royal palace of Linlithgow some 20 miles away, where Sir James Hamilton was carrying out works. It seems likely that the noble architect appropriated any unused tiles from Linlithgow for use in his own home.
During the 18th century, Cadzow Castle was incorporated as a romantic ruin into the grounds of nearby Hamilton Palace, the main seat of the Dukes of Hamilton (whose fortunes by then had revived). However, in the mid-20th century Hamilton Palace itself became derelict when its owners could no longer afford the maintenance costs It is now the site of a trading estate and shopping mall called 'Hamilton Palace' on the outskirts of Hamilton town.
The Government last month announced its intention to widen the legal definition of treasure to include prehistoric objects of base metal (ie, copper-alloy and bronze, lead, tin and other non-precious metals), following a review of the Treasure Act carried out by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Finders of treasure have a legal obligation to declare their finds. At present, the definition of treasure is limited to objects at least 300 years old containing a minimum of 10 per cent gold or silver, coin hoards at least 300 years old, and associated objects. In the new year, orders defining the change will be placed before Parliament.
Iron Age hillforts
An Iron Age fort has been found surrounding the Wallace Monument on Abbey Craig near Stirling. The digging of cable trenches for a new floodlighting system revealed the remains of stone-faced ramparts laced with timber, a paved walkway around the rim of the fort possibly for patrols, and two defended entrances.
The discovery was (almost) matched shortly afterwards when archaeologists in North Yorkshire claimed to have found one of Britain's largest 'unrecognised' hillforts on Roulston Scar near Thirsk. The discovery received wide publicity in November when the site was found to cover more than 40 acres, with the remains of a 4 metre-high box rampart broken by two heavily defended gates. Unfortunately for those involved, this site has long been recognised, appearing in standard works such as Nick Thomas's 'Guide to Prehistoric England' (1960, 1976).
Fears that the Valletta Convention (BA February, August) might bring an end to amateur archaeology in Britain by requiring all archaeological work to be 'licensed' were laid to rest last month by the Culture Secretary, Baroness Blackstone. She announced that the Government would not introduce new legislation to tighten controls on amateur groups. However, English Heritage, in consultation with other archaeological bodies, will develop a voluntary Code of Conduct for any archaeologists in England wishing to work outside existing mechanisms such as the planning system (for the CBA's proposals, see December 2001 Briefing).
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005