Engines of Change
Lord of the Hrungs
Editor Simon Denison
From Mr Quentin Hawkins
Sir: I was interested to read about the recent discovery of part of a 16th century armoured jacket in Chester (News, April). A modern replica of a 'jack' can be seen and handled at the Museum of Border History in Hexham, Northumberland.
Your report claims that jacks ceased to be worn in the late 16th century because they offered no protection against musket balls. Is this a fair assumption? Whether or not a musket ball could penetrate armour was dependent on a number of factors, one of which is that firearms in those days did not always fire. This is the origin of the term 'flash in the pan'. Also, firearms were not that common in the 16th century, although they were in use.
Body armour, in the form of the iron cuirass, continued to be worn throughout much of the 17th century before its eventual demise. Not only did firearms become more widely used during the 17th century, but also the gradual replacement of matchlocks with flintlocks made the weapons more reliable, provided that the flint was replaced at regular intervals. Perhaps jacks fell out of use, instead, because they took so long to make.
From Mr Michael Cuddeford
Sir: There has been much discussion in recent issues about cannibalism and human sacrifice, which may occasionally have been related (eg, Books, April; Letters, April). Such practices were abhorrent to the Romans as much as they are today, and yet both are demonstrably a commonplace throughout history.
The Gesta Francorum and other medieval chronicles describe how starving Europeans ate dead Saracens in the absence of any other sustenance during the First Crusade. Cannibalism has occurred after plane crashes and shipwrecks in more recent times. This year, newspapers carried reports of the dismembered body of a boy recovered from the Thames, who The Times (20 April) suggested may have been a sacrifice to a Nigerian sea goddess.
It could be argued that there is little fundamental difference between an Islamic suicide bomber and an Iron Age bog body - self-immolation (voluntary or otherwise) through political incentive coupled with profound religious conviction. And is judicial execution not also a form of human sacrifice? Although primarily a form of punishment and deterrence, is there not also perhaps an element of sacrifice to Justice contained in this ritualistic act? From wicker man to electric chair - just how far have we come?
Lost and found
From Dr Paul Wilkinson
Sir: Paul Ashbee's letter commenting on the lost Roman town of Durolevum near Faversham (Letters, April) contained some interesting information. However his comment that our discovery of Durolevum is 'not new' is misleading.
We are aware of numerous suggestions (eg, in the Victoria County History, 1908) that the site was at Syndale, but even the VCH hedges its bets and says 'but identification falls short of precision' - and goes on to say that the site may be at Teynham some three miles to the west. The Ordnance Survey, another authority cited by Dr Ashbee, also places Durolevum at Teynham in its 1840 edition. Obviously confusion reigned (and still does) about the site's exact location.
Now, three years of geophysical survey followed by focused excavation have defined the exact location and extent of the town. It is, in fact, closer to Ospringe than Syndale - and therefore not where earlier researchers thought it was.
From Mr Chris Burr
Sir: The first sight of lonely Stonehenge as seen unexpectedly when driving along the nearby road must have caused a million travellers to pause for thought over the past hundred years. I hope that depriving large numbers of passers-by of the spectacle by diverting the roads to create a revised on-site visitor experience (Update, April) doesn't reduce the public perception of the monument to that of just another pay-per-view attraction. The tingle most people have experienced to date is as part of their real lives, in passing, so to speak.
Perhaps the cost of hiding the site from the roads would be better spent in building a replica more centrally located. This could have better parking, a good coffee shop, feature an as-new reconstruction like the one in Oregon and an exciting Imax 3-D presentation of the late use of the site for executions. At the real site, our descendants can always bury the roads if they wish after the age of the car comes to an end. Unless, of course, they then regard our highways as monuments.
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