Lasers at Stonehenge
Editor Mike Pitts
From Ms Gwenda Smith
Sir: How should I go about ordering a back copy of BA? Here in rural Vermont we have the remains of a copperas works ('The Forgotten Chemical Revolution', August 2002) that was started up in 1809 at the time of the trade embargo preceding the War of 1812. It became one of the country's leading producers and ran until 1882 or so, by which time copperas [a chemical used as a dye fixative] was available as a by-product of the steel industry . The site is in the process of being wiped out by the US Environmental Protection Agency in the name of a cleanup, much to the distress of those of us who feel it is an important national historic site.
US federal regulations evidently require that a certain amount of ferrous sulphate be added to flour at the mill as a way of combating anaemia. In meetings about our copperas, I used to ask the audience whether they had eaten their copperas for the day, which seemed to get their attention, given that it is currently associated with environmental 'pollution'.
Back issues of 'British Archaeology' (though several are sold out) can be obtained from the subscription address on page 3.
From Mr Quentin Hawkins
Sir: Dr Alex Woolf (Letters, July) argues that while Britain's population has been increasing since late prehistory, the number of prehistoric people from whom we are descended is small, because in a traditional society one quarter of the population do not have children who survive to adulthood.
If 25 per cent of each generation have no children, if we go back 20 generations to Tudor times, just three people in every 1,000 would be the ancestors of people alive today. From the time of the Norman Conquest, just two people in every 100,000 could be our ancestors. Could this be true?
No, probably not. A simple formula of 0.75 raised to the power of so many generations makes sense only if the 75 percent of people in each generation who have children have just one per couple. Yet we know that large families were commonplace in times past.
If we assume that the 25 per cent of people in each generation who do not have children have siblings who do have children, which may not be far from the truth, then we can infer that quite a high proportion of the prehistoric population of Britain may have been our ancestors.
From Mr Keith Horsfield
Sir: The so-called plotting board shown in your photograph ('The Mary Rose', July) is a chess board. A grid of squares has been crudely scratched on the end of a wood plank. The size is right for a square board of 8x8, but it is not possible to be sure of this because of decay. Alternate diagonals have been indented by a punch to make the classic chequerboard pattern. The associated navigation tools, dividers and protractor, are beautifully made precision instruments, and to suggest that these were used on such a crude board is at least an insult to the craftsmen who made them.
That no chessmen were found is no surprise, as the board was obviously made in an emergency and would have been used with men made from whatever materials were available, perhaps paper or parchment.
May I suggest the Mary Rose Trust asks three archaeologists who play chess to review this interesting artefact, and convey their opinions to your excellent Journal?
Perhaps a game between the two camps would settle this? Challengers, chess-playing amateur or professional archaeologists or historians, should send their written case for the board (maximum 300 words) to the editor. He will make up the competition rules, and if there is sufficient interest will select the match venue and 'British Archaeology' will announce the result.
From Mr Ron Wilcox
Sir: The re-enactments at the end of the recent Channel 5 film 'Stonehenge' were pure imaginative hokum. Do the public not deserve better archaeology programmes than those currently on offer, almost all poorly researched and poorly put together, which present archaeology as a study in which common sense is not a necessary qualification?
From Mr Brian Robinson
Sir: As an interested layman, I should like to make some observations after reading James Symonds' excellent article ('Beyond the Industrial Revolution', September). I have dabbled for some years in my family history, most of it centred on the Bolton area in Lancashire. Parish Registers generally exist back to Tudor times, and whilst a valuable resource for family historians and genealogists are under-rated for more serious study.
Marriage Registers in the 18th century generally bore the signatures of the happy couples. Their grandchildren in the same parishes did not sign, but only made their mark. Clearly in the simpler days children had time to be taught the basics of the three 'R's, no doubt by the parish clergy, but with the changes in society those children had to labour for the family. Literacy only returned with the late 19th century Education Acts.
In my family's case Marriage Registers and early Censuses show 'miner' was prevalent where before 'weaver' had been.
From Mr Mark Ryan
Sir: The caption for the picture of the Little London Works in Symonds' excellent article states the depiction is 19th century. Judging from the motor vehicles clearly shown I would perhaps place the drawing's date to nearer 1920?
Keep up the good work.
Anna Badgcock, excavator of the Little London Works, comments that the illustration is from an undated promotional publication, in which the artist may have attempted a retrospective view: trains and cars seem from different eras.
From Mr Chris Harvey
Sir: Reading Symonds' article reminded me of a conversation at a European Aerospace Bearing meeting in Paris. I helped restore and run the Crofton Beam Pumping Engines on the Kennet and Avon Canal, where we pointed out that Watt's contribution to steam power was the separate condenser and the (subsequent?) application of steam rather than atmospheric pressure to the top of the piston. I explained this to the leader of the French delegation who had not heard of Newcomen, but who said "Ah yes, like Papa Papin!". I'm ashamed to say I hadn't heard of Papin!
How quickly did the change in powering most 'industrial' activities by water (and wind) to steam occur? Just because steam-powered mills become possible doesn't mean they instantly take over. The premises of the 18th century Frenchay Iron Company, for example, became a flock mill and latterly a sheet-metal ducting fabricators and a vehicle spraying enterprise. There were about 30 mill sites along the Bristol Frome and its tributaries. I've heard the Frome called 'a stroppy little river', but even so the horsepower that could have been extracted by each mill must have been limited. Ever larger steam engines, and presumably economies of scale, meant more machines and more people employed in any one mill. Equally, I'm sure the smaller 'old technology' water mills in some industries would have tried to carry on by finding niche markets of more specialised products - stressing quality, for example.
That the late Victorian Empire could be administered, raw materials used (some would say exploited) and goods sold back to colonies, must be bound up with the development of ways to turn heat (fire) into mechanical energy to power factories, ships, trains and later road vehicles and aeroplanes.
The Romans and other earlier empires seemed to reach a growth limit, and I wonder whether a lack of speed in communications (in spite of good Roman roads!) and the inability to derive power from other than muscles, water and wind had anything to do with it. We now have a sort of global 'empire' in that technology can penetrate to every corner (not that everyone enjoys a fair share). The many inventors of the external and internal combustion engines, from Hero through Christiaan Huygens, Papin, Newcomen, Watt, Otto, Diesel, Parsons to Frank Whittle have a lot to do with that.
Several wrote to say that Creswell Crags (east Derbs/west Notts) are not, of course, in the Peak District (mainly north Derbs) (BA September).
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