Guns of the Armada
Editor Simon Denison
From Mr Alastair Oswald & Mr Graham Lee
Sir: Your 'In Brief' column in December contained an item on the media coverage of the Iron Age hillfort at Roulston Scar in North Yorkshire, which concluded with the statement 'Unfortunately for those [archaeologists] involved, the site has long been recognised, appearing in standard works such as Nick Thomas's Guide to Prehistoric England'.
The implication was that we had been caught out by failure to carry out proper research. To set the record straight, we were never under the illusion that our field survey had discovered the site in terms of putting the dot on the map, and we did not intend to make that claim for ourselves. But that honour cannot go to Nicholas Thomas, nor to the antiquarian William Grainge, who first described part of the monument in about 1857, nor even, perhaps, to the Ordnance Survey, who literally put the northern rampart on the map in 1853. For it could be argued, since field walls had been laid out along certain stretches of the perimeter by 1829, that the site has never been truly lost in that sense.
Although it suited the national press to gloss over the history of research in the interest of producing a stronger story, local papers touched on this aspect and even included a copy of the First Edition map. The role of the OS was also mentioned in the all-too-brief interview on Radio 4. Many papers included reconstruction drawings of the box rampart, which were based on information from rescue excavations carried out by Tony Pacitto in 1969 and 1970 (currently unpublished). Although these excavations were only explicitly credited in the local press, perceptive readers will have realised that it would have been impossible to reach such a reconstruction using the evidence of field survey alone.
What we discovered that had not been recorded by anyone previously was this: a stretch of rampart surviving as an earthwork up to 4 metres high, running for well over 1 km. This stretch formed only part of the perimeter as a whole, but it was around twice as long as the combined lengths of the sections identified previously. And it lies within a stone's throw of the most intensively used footpath on the North York Moors. Surely it would be a sadly jaded archaeologist who could fail to be a little surprised and impressed by that.
But the term 'discovery' is intimately bound up with the advancement of understanding. It is best regarded as a process, not as an act. In 1960, Nicholas Thomas commented that the rampart should not be confused with a nearby linear earthwork called Casten Dyke South, which he dismissed as being an 'altogether later earthwork'; and our work has now produced evidence in support of that assertion.
However, his insight was widely overlooked and the confusion that he had warned against was precisely what was still peddled by most 'standard works'. For example, the local Sites and Monuments Record and modern Ordnance Survey maps continued to interpret the northern rampart as part of a discontinuous cross-ridge boundary enclosing two separate promontories. A number of recent writers have conflated the rampart and the later boundary earthwork, arguing that the monument should be classed as a promontory fort.
The primary importance of the discovery that the perimeter forms a complete circuit is that at long last this idea can be laid to rest, allowing us to see the monument as a fully-fledged hillfort in a promontory location.
From Dr Paul Ashbee
Sir: The site of Kent's 'lost' Roman town of Durolevum is no new discovery (News, December). Hasted, writing in the 18th century, notes a substantial rectangular earthwork by Judd's Hill in Syndale Park, and the Victoria County History of Kent (1908) remarks that Durolevum was on this spot.
The OS map (1921) labels the rectangular earthwork as 'camp', and the 1957 edition of the map shows 'Romano-British settlement (site of)' as partially in the park. During the 1930s, the area west of the junction of the A2 with a minor road from Doddington was a hopgarden (TQ 989611) and abraded Roman pottery and tile fragments could be found in the tilled soil.
From your news report, however, it appears that the remains of Durolevum have, by geophysical survey and some excavation, been shown to be more substantial, even grandiose, than was ever envisaged.
From Mr Paul McLaughlin
Sir: On the subject of broken artefacts buried with their owner in a Neolithic grave ('Lest We Remember', August), I would like to offer an observation from this side of the Atlantic.
Our Stone Age Native Americans ceremonially broke objects included in burials. Their reason for doing so was to free the soul of the object to travel with the soul of the deceased. This reasoning was recorded by early pioneers while still in practice. Many Native American tribes would bury all of the deceased's possessions with the deceased and all items would be broken or ceremonially 'killed'.
Finds in fields
From Dr Helen Geake
Sir: In your excellent news article on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (News, December) you mention that noteworthy finds include evidence for two early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, one in Norfolk and one in Suffolk. In fact, these two cemeteries were merely the most spectacular of many more cemeteries which have recently been found in eastern England by metal detectorists. About six or seven new early Anglo-Saxon sites - all probably inhumation or mixed inhumation/cremation cemeteries - have been discovered each year for the last three years in Norfolk alone, and we now know of nearly 40 sites just from metal detecting in that single county.
The objects from these sites were originally buried two to three feet down at the bottom of graves. They are found by metal detectorists when they are brought up into the ploughsoil by arable farming activities such as deep ploughing or destoning. These processes completely destroy stratigraphy, and the finds are the only aspect of the sites to survive. Today we deplore the 19th century antiquaries who threw everything away bar the finds - but are we any better, when we allow the archaeology to be ploughed away without record?
Almost none of Norfolk's nearly 40 sites have received any excavation, and all continue to be eroded every year to produce the carrots, potatoes and sugar beet for which the county is famous. The same is true for sites in Suffolk and Lincolnshire, and probably very many other counties. What other archaeological sites have been lost we do not know.
Presumably all stratigraphy less than three feet deep has now gone. Unless a site produces metal finds that can be collected by detectorists, it will be destroyed unnoticed. Do we have the will to start really lobbying for damage on this scale to be mitigated?
From Mr Anthony Greenstreet
Sir: Peter McCrone suggests (Letters, February) that the bones of Edward I might be exhumed to check the nature of 'butchery' marks on defleshed bones.
There are other potential candidates for examination. J Huizinga in The Waning of the Middle Ages recounts that numbers of Englishmen who fell in France in the Hundred Years War had their dismembered bodies boiled to extract the bones, which were then sent home in a chest. These included Edward of York and the Earl of Suffolk, who died at Agincourt; Henry V himself; William Glasdale, who perished at Orleans at the time of its relief; a nephew of Sir John Fastolfe (Falstaff), and others.
We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at email@example.com or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005