Editor Mike Pitts
From Ms Catherine Petts
Sir: ‘Although initially the haunt of extra-mural classes and amateur enthusiasts.....’ (‘Beyond the Industrial Revolution’, September). Many of the amateurs involved in industrial archaeology are/were professional engineers, surveyors and the like and, I suspect, bring an understanding of how the buildings and machinery they are recording were used that is lacking in some professional recording.
From Mr David Dykes
Sir: I spent a thoroughly enjoyable and instructive week at Blacklands in Somerset with Jayne Lawes and her team from the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society. Everyone was extremely professional but managed to integrate all the students (total novices) completely and gave us an excellent introduction. I for one will certainly be doing my best to keep volunteering for digs from this experience.
From Mr Stuart Nisbet
Sir: Chris Harvey’s suggestion (letters, November) that the Romans’ restricted ability to develop natural power imposed a growth limit is absurd. The potential of most mill sites greatly exceeded what was required. Today, despite advanced power sources, we are seeing a swing back to natural power. An understanding of the reasons behind this will be important to archaeologists and historians in the distant future and are also relevant to our understanding of the past.
From Dr Julie Gardiner
Sir: David Gaimster (‘The Mary Rose’, July) perpetuates old myths. Objects were provisionally described when first recovered from the wreck. Not surprisingly, some identifications were later refined. Examples include the ‘plotting board’, which Keith Horsfield (letters, November) correctly identifies as a gaming board and which has been described for publication by Mark Redknap. Another is the apothecary’s balance which is actually a historically important coin balance (with weights). Both are displayed in the Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth.
All will be revealed in five volumes of The Archaeology of the Mary Rose, to be published over the next three years. The first two are available now from Oxbow Books. The report on all the non-ordnance artefacts is due in 2004.
From Mr Olaf Swarbrick
Sir: I reckon the well known allegedly prehistoric Uffington ‘horse’ is a wolf hound type of dog – horses don’t have this tail. When did wolf hounds come to the British Isles? Celtic or Saxon hounds would have been long haired.
A wolf hound would also make more sense of the head, but this may have changed over the centuries.
From Mr S M Smith
Sir: I am sending you a photo of my first barbed and tanged arrowhead. I understand it is rather small (comparatively) and therefore reasonably rare? I am an amateur archaeologist who has general historical interest but I specialise in lithic studies. I am thoroughly enjoying my new found interest which sometimes totally consumes me.
From Mr Eric Houlder
Sir: I was particularly interested in the November issue of BA because of the two ‘imaging’ features. I remember the finding of the Stonehenge carvings 50 years ago; it was one of the discoveries that sparked my interest in archaeology and photography. However, I must comment on the two conventional, comparison photographs at the top of page 10.
The original one on the left uses ‘grazed lighting’ to emphasise the low-relief carvings to excellent effect. In contrast, the right hand picture taken recently shows very little relief effect, demonstrating that it was taken in diffused light. To the non-specialist reader this (intentionally?) gives the impression that the carvings have almost disappeared. Had the same grazed lighting been used for the modern picture the comparison would have been fairer and more valid.
From Professor Norman Hammond
Sir: Your splendid digital image of Stone 53 has reinforced my long-expressed suspicion that the famous ‘dagger’ may well be two overlapping axe carvings, the larger superimposed on the smaller at a later (though not necessarily much later) date. The curvature of what would be the blade of the larger axe is similar to that of both the smaller one and its singleton neighbours; and although the butt is longer and more tapered than the others, the axe at the right-hand edge of Stone 53 is also fairly long. It is also possible that the taper of the putative larger axe has been extended, given the slight change in depth indicated by the laser scan about 60 per cent of the distance from the blade.
From Mr John Owen
Sir: In response to S M Stirling’s interesting letter (September), I wonder what language Alfred and Asser would have used? The last 100 years have seen a dramatic decline of Welsh in Wales, so a similar language change could have happened in Wessex.
If English people they feel they came over with Hengist and Horsa in three keels, it cuts them off from all the history and archaeology of Britain prior to about 450 AD. Thus Stonehenge is as relevant culturally to them as a Mayan Pyramid; it may be great archaeology but it’s not theirs. That is the advantage of being Welsh (British)—all the archaeology in BA is ours.
Newsletter to news stand
From Mr John Malam
Sir: As a subscriber to BA since the late 1970s, I have seen the magazine metamorphose from a humble A5 newsletter. Plans to put it on the news stands are long overdue (CBA Annual Report). What chance? In the November issue, out of 12 sections, only five contain feature or news-led archaeology content (24 out of 48 pages, two on a non-British feature). The rest are letters, CBA news, books (worthy and too long), rants, Briefing and adverts.
The magazine’s ‘Britishness’ should be maxed to the full, with more content devoted to UK fieldwork (old and new), regional round-ups, sites, finds, exhibitions and theme-based articles. The time is right for an archaeology magazine. No dumbing-down needed. Do this, and life on the High Street may be long.
From a serious archaeologist
Sir: As a Butser Ancient Farm volunteer, I eagerly watched the construction of the Roman villa (News, November). Although some of the building was filmed, the project was a fully researched archaeological experiment using authentic materials and methods. It has been exciting, educational and rewarding.
It is offensive to have the label ‘stuff no serious archaeologist will watch’ attached to this programme. The subject has been brought into the living rooms of millions of people and I suspect has acquired a large number of recruits who are very serious.
From Mrs Nell Darby
Sir: In a recent interview Andrew Davies, who wrote the screenplay for ITV’s execrable Boudica, mocks ‘serious’ historical TV programmes, saying he and his fellow writers are after ‘drama, not history lessons’.
Facts are seen as less relevant than excitement, personalities and pace. Some archaeological and historical programmes seek parallels between ancient societies and today’s. Surely, though, such parallels cannot always be made. Can we not understand an action without it being compared to some within our direct experience?
I work for the BBC, but I recognise that my employer also has its faults regarding its history output, making programmes such as Landscape Mysteries and Time Flyers that are enjoyable, but that simplify situations in their half-hour slot. Large audiences are sought at the expense of historical veracity.
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