Hunting for cave art
Archaeology of industry
Editor Simon Denison
Reviewed by Alan Morton
The Archaeology of Medieval London
This book does precisely what it says on the cover. London within its walls, the Palace of Westminster and Southwark are the subject, covering the years from the 880s to the 1540s. Religious houses and the seats of power therefore figure at some length, the louche suburbs somewhat less. The material described is generally archaeological, with little space devoted to the historical sources. These are tight constraints but there is still plenty left to tell. Especially in the last 30 years, archaeological fieldwork has considerably extended and amended our understanding of this 'flower of cities all'. So it is very handy to have a modern guide to the evidence.
The book is mainly aimed at the reader with a general interest in London or its archaeology, and it is free of jargon. The book works smoothly as an epitome of other, more detailed monographs and as an introduction to them.
A more specialist market is also being catered for. The student will be at home with the archaeology-report template that has been adapted for organising the information, but the general reader may have to persevere. The main body divides into four chapters, each covering a phase lasting under 200 years - and the hard dates assigned to the phases can seem arbitrary. For example, 1066 figures twice, although the author points out that little or nothing appears in the material record until a generation or so after the Norman Conquest.
The chapters are broken into many sub-sections, more or less common to all - the growth of the town, its markets, its houses, the life of its inhabitants, and so on. This arrangement is most satisfactory in the later chapters when the increasingly ample body of evidence demands a corset. In each case a concluding section summarises and explains the data. I'd recommend first reading the four summaries one after the other. A continuous story then emerges.
Only the illustrations are a serious disappointment. A picture every third page sounds generous, but most are small and economically reproduced. Even with the aid of the captions, it is sometimes impossible to know for certain what is shown in a photograph. Where the material evidence is being described in some detail, a drawing is more desperately needed than another thousand words. The maps are a particular trial. Unless one already knows where Bread Street is, or Kennet Wharf Lane, or many other landmarks peppering the text, it does help to have an A-to-Z handy while reading.
Nevertheless, the book goes a long way towards satisfying a need. As long as the purchaser doesn't expect it to do more than it promises, it is worth having.
Alan Morton is the City Archaeologist in Southampton
Reviewed by Hannah O'Regan
The Tower Menagerie
The Tower of London has stood on the banks of the Thames as a symbol of authority since William the Conqueror ordered it to be built in the 11th century. Since then it has housed - among other things - the Royal Mint, various members of the royal family and many unfortunate prisoners. In addition, for 600 years it was the home of the Royal Menagerie, a collection of animals presented to the crown by overseas visitors and people attempting to curry favour with the reigning monarch. This book sets out to tell the colourful tale of this collection from its beginning to the closure and eventual demolition of the buildings in the mid-19th century.
Those seeking a detailed and scholarly account of the history of the menagerie should hunt elsewhere, but if you like your history light and filled with anecdotes, footnotes and puns then this is an excellent read. One of the problems with menagerie history is that there are few early records other than bare facts, such as 'received one lion' - but the author has got round this by using the story of the menagerie as a springboard for discussions of related matters, such as the relationship between bear-baiting and the early theatre, the origins of museums and the depiction of animals in medieval painting.
None of these are covered in great detail - indeed, it would be difficult to do so in only 8 chapters and 246 pages of text, especially when covering six centuries of history. But this leads to my only real criticism of the book. After beginning entertaining discussions on a number of interesting topics and whetting the appetite to find out more, there are no references (fine, it is not intended to be an academic tome), but the further reading section comprises a measly five books. I would have hoped for a few more, especially ones likely to be found at the local library.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is well written, humorous and contains all the well known and amusing stories. There was little that I had not read before in other publications, but it's a nice synthesis, well presented, with an abundance of illustrations and relevant quotations.
Hannah O'Regan is a researcher in archaeology and paleontology at Liverpool John Moores University
Reviewed by Reviewed by Martin Henig
The British Settlement of Brittany
Brittany, as is well-known, is so-called because of what were perceived as large-scale settlements of people from the Roman province of Britannia in the peninsula previously known as Armorica. This book, mainly written by the late Professor Pierre-Roland Giot, with two collaborators who finished his manuscript and had it translated, would seem to be the first book on the subject and, given the popularity of Brittany for archaeological holidays, it will no doubt be bought by many travellers as a vade mecum.
The cover at least is bright and cheerful with its aerial view of clear green-blue water and a lush coastline but, alas, there is very little within the book that lives up to the promise.
Before commenting on the intellectual substance, it has, alas, to be stated that the manuscript reads like a bad student's thesis. To start with it has been very badly translated and is full of Gallicisms and proper names which appear in their French rather than Latin or English forms (thus Constance Chlore, rather than Constantius Chlorus or Constance of Lyon for Constantius, the author of the life of St Germanus). The text is not well organised and every now and then the flow is interrupted by a sort of appendix or special study by another author. It would have needed a very thorough edit indeed to render it acceptable. Tempus should have felt under no obligation to issue the work in its present form.
Undoubtedly the reason that the decision was taken to publish the book in its present form is that it contained information of surpassing importance to scholarship which might otherwise be lost and here, of course, it would be unfair to deny that there is something of interest here even though some of the matter is curiously old-fashioned (measurement of skulls) or irrelevant to the theme, as seem to be one or two later chapters dealing with the history of Breton-Frankish relations in the Carolingian age.
As for the origins of the British settlement, this is ascribed to the settlement of dedices from northern Britain and troops taken to the continent by Magnus Maximus in the 4th century. Unfortunately no convincing material evidence is adduced (and probably none exists) for this assumption. We are, however, on clearer historical ground in the case of the 5th and 6th century establishment of settlers from south western Britain and South Wales in Cornouaille and Domnonea, the most western provinces of Armorica. It is this settlement which is associated with famous Christian leaders like St Samson of Dol and Paul Aurelian, the latter perhaps a conflation of two insular 'saints'.
It would seem that there was a great deal of passage backwards and forward between western Britain and Brittany, reflecting the persistence of long-established sea routes. There is even a little archaeological evidence, like a sherd of 'B2 ware' so familiar at Tintagel, from Lavret. However, most readers would have assumed such contacts. When all is said and done the book fails to get to grips with two key questions which are surely primary in a book of this title.
First, it is maintained that the language of Brittany came from Britain but this is by no means universally accepted; and one would have liked a more dispassionate discussion of the evidence which would have to take account of the epigraphic and historical evidence for the survival of Gaulish. How different were the languages or dialects of Britain and Gaul in any case?
Secondly how is it possible to discuss British settlement without comparing material culture on both shores of the channel? It does not seem that the authors have ever looked closely at insular material and the finds shown, like the Chapelle St-Pierre 'metallic goods', the anthropomorphic bone figurines from the Isle of Lavret, and the ring from Rallion certainly do not look British to me.
Perhaps, as in England, there was a fair amount of creation of identity in the migration period. We know that the mixed, but largely British and Frankish population of Kent repackaged themselves as 'Jutes', and the largely British populations in the lands east of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall) seem to have ended up as 'West Saxons'. In western Armorica the small elite which managed to impose an identity on the population happened to be British rather than 'Gallo-Roman' in origin, so they became Bretons. The process may have been essentially the same.
Martin Henig is a Lecturer in Roman art at Oxford University
Reviewed by Jenny Hall
Water Technology in the Middle Ages
When the amazing remains of Roman ironwork and wooden buckets were excavated from London's Gresham Street in 2001 (ba, December 2001), archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology Service found there were few parallels from archaeological sources. Literary sources, however, indicated that bucket chains and associated water-lifting machinery were known in the classical world but unhelpfully, they failed to give the technical details that the Museum of London required in order to build a full-scale working water-lifting machine.
In Britain, most Roman water systems do not seem to have survived beyond the Roman occupation and the technology was lost, although in northern France about half of the Roman aqueducts were still functioning. Much of the technology for early medieval water systems seems to have evolved through the monastic houses. So did they make use of the ancient literary texts that survived in the monastic libraries to design their new water systems, or did they simply depend on the expertise of their workmen?
Whatever the route, knowledge about hydraulic technology seems to have been channelled from religious houses into medieval towns as they and the demand for clean water grew. In British monasteries, the adoption of systems consisting of conduits and water-pipes is well documented, and medieval masons and plumbers must have extended their skills enormously in such major building projects.
Throughout the medieval period, as now, the generation of waste became a problem in towns. Rivers and wells were polluted by domestic rubbish, animal waste, sewage and industrial effluents, all of which led to public complaints and a need to rectify the problem. In London, the construction of the Great Conduit in the 13th century must have been a response to urban growth. Joint sponsorship of water systems - by religious institutions and towns - in the late 14th and 15th centuries provided public water supplies throughout Europe.
This book was written to disprove the view that water supplies were sorely neglected after the Roman period until the Renaissance, and it usefully collects together information contained in the many literary sources and charters that survive from the period to prove that medieval water systems were in full flow. It also looks closely at their design and construction. Coming to the book from a Roman perspective, I found it an interesting read but was disappointed to find that the sort of Roman hydraulic technology I was seeking seems not to have continued into the medieval period. The book is, however, a fount of knowledge for anyone interested in tapping into its sources.
Jenny Hall is the Roman Curator at the Museum of London
Reviewed by Derek Craig
The Sandbach Crosses
In the market square of Sandbach in Cheshire stand the remains of two sculptured stone crosses, now 4.8m and 3.2m high. Although noted in 1585, these monuments were subsequently broken up and only restored to their present state at the beginning of the 19th century. The fragments had been reused in various places round the town, and in this book Jane Hawkes carefully reconstructs their known history. The monuments which exist today have thus been subjected to breakage, recutting and weathering, and the loss of several sections, now replaced with modern stone or, as with the cross-heads, almost entirely missing.
Although now in the guardianship of English Heritage, these monuments, covered with tiers of doll-like figures, seem to offer little for analysis, and on a cloudy day are probably ignored by most tourists. That this view is mistaken is demonstrated by Dr Hawkes - an art history lecturer at the University of York - in this superbly illustrated book, which includes 56 photographs of the monuments themselves and 28 beautifully detailed line drawings of the individual sculptures by Caroline Richardson, as well as comparative illustrations. Each face of both crosses is described in detail, and Dr Hawkes draws attention to the individual features of every figure (oddly, these descriptions are placed at the end of the book).
In an extensive analysis she dissects the identity and sources of influence of each scene; then, demonstrating a profound understanding of early Christian thought, she expounds the meaning of the scene as it would have been understood in the early medieval period. Finally she links each scene on the shaft to show how the iconographic programme might have been conceived by the people who commissioned the monuments.
Dr Hawkes concludes by drawing together the evidence for dating the monuments, from the iconographic sources, the figural style, the non-figural ornament and the decorative arrangement. This leads her to date one cross to the early 9th century, and the other slightly later. She then proceeds to analyse the cultural context, considering the monuments in their local situation on the western borders of Mercia, as well as demonstrating links that extend to Columban Ireland and Carolingian Switzerland (a map would have been helpful here). Five other fragments, in much worse condition and now in the local churchyard, are also illustrated and analysed, and these are shown to be the remains of funerary monuments in the same style as the crosses, but slightly later.
I cannot hope to do justice here to the insights displayed in this book, which reveals the meaning of the sculpture to a depth that has not been matched elsewhere, except perhaps in writings on the Ruthwell cross, the only other monument to have had a book devoted to it in recent times. Hardcore iconography may not be to the taste of every field archaeologist, but the book's Irish publishers and English Heritage are to be congratulated for their support of such scholarly work.
Derek Craig is the Research Fellow for the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Monuments at the University of Durham
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005