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Cover of British Archaeology

Issue 70

May 2003



London graves descrated by Boudicca's army

Jacobite 'gentleman's retreat' at Glenfinnan

Bronze Age trackway and hide in East London

Evidence reveals peaceful Roman occupation of Scotland

How natives made money out of old Roman coins

In Brief


First humans in Britain
Nick Aston on the occupation of Britain during the Ice Age

Great sites
David Field on Europe's largest prehistoric mound, Silbury

Power dressing
Alison Sheridanon the significance of Bronze Age jewellery


Roman burials, Saxon immigration and an elephant cap


George Lambrick on the need for a National Heritage Act

Peter Ellis

Regular column


Mining in World History by Martin Lynch

The Past in Prehitoric Societies by Richard Bradley

Shaping Medieval landscapes by Tom Williamson

Novgorod edited by Mark Brisbane and David Gaimster

Raising the Dead by A J Stirland

The Geratest Killer by Donald R Hopkins

CBA update

favourite finds

Ros Niblet on an iron folding chair from Verulanium


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Simon Denison


London graves desecrated by Boudicca's army

Excavations in the City of London have uncovered possible evidence of the desecration of Roman graves by Boudicca's forces when London was sacked and burned in AD 60/61.

Archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology found a small cremation cemetery from London's earliest years that had been severely disturbed some time before the 70s - the date is given by a coin overlying the site.

Contemporary with the cremation cemetery, the partly-decomposed body of a middle-aged or elderly man had been thrown into an open drainage ditch, with the partly-decayed head of a young woman placed between his legs. The bodies were left uncovered. The man's skeleton was missing its lower legs, while the woman's skull had lost its jawbone.

Although mutilated and other 'strange' burials are not unknown in Roman Britain (BA, March), these remains do seem to represent body-parts that had been roughly removed from their original graves, perhaps quite soon after burial, in an act of deliberate desecration. 'It is hard not to associate this with Boudicca's sack of London, as the dates match,' said project director Chris Moore.

Once London was reoccupied after Boudicca's revolt, the site was rebuilt as two properties - a group of industrial buildings and a large timber-framed shop in the late 1st century, replaced by two high-status masonry town houses from the mid-2nd century. These went out of use in the 3rd century, but survived to provide building stone until the 11th or 12th centuries.

They lay alongside a road which probably ran from the east gate of the city at Aldgate to the forum. In the medieval period, the road was realigned slightly to become modern Fenchurch Street. Throughout the medieval period and later, however, the site remained divided into two properties fronting the street. The new development on the site - an office block - amalgamates the two plots for the first time in 2,000 years.

One of the more interesting finds came from one of the metalworking buildings. A fragment of a late 1st century blue-glass 'circus cup', it was decorated with an image of Pirimus, the metalsmith's favourite charioteer.

Jacobite 'gentleman's retreat' at Glenfinnan

Excavations at one of Scotland's most evocative historic monuments - the Glenfinnan Monument, west of Fort William - have recovered traces of a two-storey shooting hut that originally formed part of the memorial to the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.

Bonnie Prince Charlie's standard was first raised at Glenfinnan, marking the start of his campaign to recover the crown for the Stuarts which ended the following year at Culloden. In 1815, when the Highland cause had become tinged with nostalgia, the monument was built by the Jacobite MacDonald landowners of the area. It consisted of the present tower, without the famous statue of the highlander which now stands on top, and the two-room hut - one room above the other - which must have given superb views down Loch Shiel and up Glen Finnan.

According to the excavator, Jill Harden of the National Trust for Scotland, the hut was intended perhaps as a 'gentleman's retreat' - a place to sit and contemplate what might have been if Charles Stuart had been successful in his campaign. 'It is easy to imagine a roaring fire in both rooms, comfortable chairs and a bottle to hand,' she said.

The hut, however, was demolished in the 1830s when Angus MacDonald of Glenaladale decided to alter the monument. The highlander statue was commissioned, and the stone from the hut was probably reused to build the wall around the site. Apart from an engraving of the period. all knowledge of the former structure was then lost.

The new excavation was prompted by a redevelopment of the Garden of the Clans immediately around the monument. It revealed the foundations of one corner of the hut, allowing an approximate ground plan of the building, about 5m square over foundations 1m wide, to be recorded.

The original access to the upstairs of the hut was by steps inside the monument. The blocked first-floor doorway can still be detected from outside the tower.

Bronze Age trackwya and hide in East London

The remains of a Bronze Age wooden trackway and an adjoining platform - possibly the base of a hunting hide - have been found at Beckton in East London.

The site lies close to the north bank of the Thames, an area of former marshland that has since been reclaimed. The trackway, made of bundles of brushwood pegged down with stakes, was just wide enough for a single person or animal to walk along. One of several found over recent years in the area, it ran across the marsh from a gravel ridge in the north towards the open river. It has been provisionally dated to about 1500 BC.

The rectangular platform is a much rarer discovery. A layer of yew branches was first spread out to form a solid base. Then alder poles cut to a similar length were laid on top, side by side, like Bronze Age garden decking. The platform has been interpreted as the base of a hunting hide, but direct evidence is missing.

According to excavator Tim Carew of PreConstruct Archaeology, the trackway allowed Bronze Age people to cross the marsh to fish or hunt birds, to collect reeds or wood, and to reach boats. Animals may also have been driven out to pasture in the summer when water levels dropped. Underneath the track, the tooth of a cow was found - belonging presumably to a grazing animal that slipped into the bog and drowned before the track was built.

The absence of 'ritual deposits' of metal in the area suggests the track had no sacred function. Many of the cutmarks on the timbers survive, however, and it may eventually be possible to tell the sizes and shapes of bronze axes that were used to make it.

Evidence reveals peaceful Roman occupation of Scotland

The initial Roman occupation of central Scotland was achieved relatively peacefully, perhaps with native consent, and it lasted up to 15 years - much longer than previously thought, according to new research.

Recent evidence from the 'Gask frontier' - the earliest land frontier in the Roman Empire - indicates that it was established in the 70s AD rather than the mid-80s, before being abandoned sometime after 86. The frontier consists of a network of forts, fortlets and watchtowers between Stirling and Perth centred on the legionary fortress of Inchtuthil. Its purpose was to control the main route between southern Scotland and the north, where the A9 road runs today.

In a series of excavations since 1995, the Liverpool University-based Roman Gask Project has produced large quantities of pottery and glass that clearly date to the 70s. Researchers have found that many sites saw major structural changes, suggesting lengthy occupation. At Cardean fort, for example, the granaries were rebuilt and the early barrack block was replaced by a possible stable. Every watchtower on the frontier was rebuilt at least once.

In the traditional view, the frontier was established in the 80s through the campaigns of the governor Agricola. The theory was based largely on the writings of Tacitus, Agricola's son-in-law. According to Birgitta Hoffmann, deputy director of the project, the new evidence suggests the founder was more likely Petillius Cerialis, general and diplomat, and governor in 71-73/4.

He appears to have been welcomed by the native population. Pollen evidence from settlements in the area shows no agricultural decline from the 70s - as would be expected if occupation had been achieved through conquest, as many native farmers would have been killed. Instead, it shows the intensification of grazing, with pastures supporting bigger herds.

Evidence from the latest season's work at Coldoch, two miles from the Roman fort of Doune, suggests the natives may have started to grow wheat - a crop not generally grown in Iron Age Scotland - to trade to the Roman army and its camp followers, who may have numbered as many as 20,000. Fragments of 1st century Roman glass at the settlement proves there was contact between incomers and natives.

'With the bigger cattle herds and possible evidence of wheat cultivation, it looks very much like the Romans were providing a market for the local population,' Dr Hoffmann said.

A book by project director David Woolliscroft, 'The Roman Frontier on the Gask Ridge, Perth & Kinross' was published last year by BAR (vol 335).

How natives made money out of old Roman coins

A very rare example of a Roman coin hoard clearly intended for recycling into brooches or trinkets by Britain's native population, perhaps for resale back to the Roman army, has been found north of Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland.

The hoard of 70 worn, low-value bronze coins was found by metal detectorists last year at Longhorsley near Morpeth and has since been examined by archaeologists at Newcastle University. The coins date from the 70s to the 160s AD.

Most intriguing was the discovery, amongst the coins, of a 'sprue' - a conical lump of metal that had solidified in an air-hole of a mould. Analysis of the sprue showed that it was made of exactly the same metal as the coins. Part of the hoard had already been recycled, and the saving of the sprue showed that nothing was being wasted. Only one similar sprue has been found before in Britain, at Duston, Northamptonshire, alongside early 4th century coin moulds and discarded spoil castings.

Evidence of recycling metal is well-known at forts, but the absence of any known military sites near the findspot suggests that the hoard was being worked by the native population. A small British settlement is known about a mile away at Smallburn.

The area, north of Hadrian's Wall, was only part of the Roman Empire between the early 140s when southern Scotland was reoccupied (after an earlier failed occupation in the 70s and 80s, see opposite), and the mid-160s when the Antonine Wall was abandoned. The coins must have fallen into native hands during this period. They were found very close to the Devil's Causeway, the main Roman road from Corbridge into Scotland, and had possibly been buried by an itinerant native tinker.

According to Lindsay Allason-Jones, Keeper of Archaeology at Newcastle's Museum of Antiquities - where the hoard is now on display - the local people made no use of Roman coins as currency. However, small items such as brooches and horse harnesses made out of recycled bronze in native styles have occasionally been found at forts.

These items had been made locally, presumably from old coins, and sold back to the Roman army. 'The Longhorsley hoard seems to be a possible source for this recycled material,' she said.

In brief

Medieval shop

A late 13th century timber-framed building, thought to be a shop, has been discovered in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, during the conversion of what looked like a mid-Victorian house on the high street. The timbers have been dendro-dated to between 1277 and 1297, during the reign of Edward I, making it the country's second-oldest medieval shop after the Jew's House in Lincoln, which dates from 1160.

A well was found inside the building and the timbers were smoke-stained, suggesting that it belonged to a craftsman working with fire and water such as a jeweller. A page from a 16th century prayer book was also found hidden in the wattle-and-daub. The timber framing will be preserved within the building when it is converted into an office, helped by a £250,000 grant from English Heritage.

State of archaeology

The All Party Parliamentary Archaeological Group has published its first report on the state of British archaeology. For appag's full recommendations, see insert included with this issue. The CBA welcomed the wide-ranging report, which contains many valuable recommendations. CBA Director George Lambrick said: 'It is hugely encouraging to see a substantial group of mps taking a real interest in archaeology. We will be considering their recommendations closely.'

Salisbury cathedral

Examination of timbers in Salisbury Cathedral has found that far more original 13th century fabric survives than was once thought, including the nave's great west doors and the battens supporting the lead roof - which had survived exposure to the elements during the Civil War when the lead was stripped off.

Researchers from English Heritage found the earliest known use of Arabic as well as Roman numerals to mark timbers for assembly, and the earliest and one of the country's finest crown-post roofs in the north porch, with parts dating to 1251-2 and 1254-5. Some of the timber in the cathedral came from trees at least 300 years old when felled. One had a first-ring date of AD 908. Some had also been brought from Ireland, at a time when the builders were in dispute with local suppliers.

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