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Cover of British Archaeology

Issue 75

March 2004

Contents

news

Ancient timbers found near South Yorkshire's oldest church

Mapping the Forest of Dean

Stonehenge Public Inquiry

Education Awards

New Light on Roman Rampart

In Brief

features

Who Owns Our Dead?
Vince Holyoak and Andy Saunders debate plane crashes

Corroded In Action
Excavating plane crash sites can bring special rewards

Archaeology At Sea
George Lambrick goes to sea

Heathrow Today, Tomorrow The World
Mike Pitts finds dramatic archaeology at Heathrow

Home and Heritage
Lynne Walker describes a battle won to preserve local homes

Yorkshire's Holy Secret
Jan Harding and Ben Johnson reflect on 10 years’ fieldwork

Bone People
Terry O’Connor’s quick guide to recognising human bones

letters

Piltdown, Orwell, Roman villas and hetrosexual values

opinion

Sue Beasley is not impressed by treasure

spoilheap

Neil Mortimer fails psychic link-up with Medieval Wales

books

Britain BC. Life in Britain & Ireland before the Romans by Francis Pryor

Pompeii. A Novel by Robert Harris

Anglo-Saxon Crafts by Kevin Leahy

Viking Weapons & Warfare by J Kim Siddorn

Glastonbury: Myth & Archaeology by Philip Rahtz & Lorna Watts

The Port of Medieval London by Gustav Milne

The City by the Pool by Michael J Jones, David Stocker & Alan Vince

Revealing the Buried Past by Chris Gaffney & John Gater

Essex Past & Present by Essex County Council

Seven Ages of Britain by Justin Pollard

The Complete Roman Army by Adrian Goldsworthy

Tracks & Traces: the Archaeology of the Channel Tunnel by Rail Link

CBA update

tv in ba

Angela Pinccini introduces a new review feature.

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

books

Cliff Hanger

Reviewed by Peter Drewett

Britain BC. Life in Britain & Ireland before the Romans
Francis Pryor
HarperCollins £25
ISBN 0007126921 hb

Much has been written about British Prehistory that is unintelligible, dull or just plain bad. What a delight therefore to review a book that is the exact opposite, beautifully written, exciting and extremely good. Although related to the author's television series Britain BC this book is not a lightweight spin-off. Weighing nearly a kilo it is a serious review of current thinking on British prehistory.

'I regard the nations of the British Isles as having more that unites than divides them', says Pryor, 'and as being culturally peculiar when compared with other European states'. He believes that archaeology is vitally important. 'Without an informed understanding of our origins and history … we are prey to nationalists, fundamentalists and bigots of all sorts'. Archaeology, he says, cannot be separated from us now. So interwoven in the narrative are Pryor and his wife Maisie Taylor, first seen chatting to heavyweight boxer Joe Bugner on the train.

The book is structured chronologically, not in the disconnected 'themes' in so much trendy history and archaeology. The Palaeolithic, often inhabited only by bifaces, is brought to life though the people studying it, John Frere, John Wymer, Clive Gamble, Mark Roberts and the like. From the Mesolithic we become 'an island people' with all that means for cultural development.

With the adoption of farming I was reminded of Christopher Chippindale quoting Levis-Strauss (BA June 2002): 'Against the theoretician, the observer should always have the last word, and against the observer, the native'. Pryor may not be Neolithic, but he farms (sheep, today) as in prehistory, on the Fen edge where for 30 years he has observed and applied developing theory. Phenomenology, agency, symbolism and the like are in the story, but theory is never used at the expense of observation or experience.

Working in an area where ancient wood survives (over half the superb colour photos contain at least some wood: what would have happened to Flag Fen without Maisie?) Pryor adopts Parker-Pearson and Ramilisonina's ideas of living wood and dead stone. The landscapes held domains of the living, liminal zones and domains of the ancestors.

The Later Iron Age chapter starts 'The camera tilted, rocked and swooped as it followed the French navy destroyer forcing her way through the massive seas of the south Pacific…' What a cliff-hanger to end a review! Whatever your interest in archaeology, this book is an essential read. Buy it.

Peter Drewett is Professor of Archaeology at University of Sussex


Dark Vision

Reviewed by Tony King

Pompeii. A Novel
Robert Harris
Hutchinson £17.99
ISBN 0091779251 hb

Like Pliny in Harris's novel, archaeologists strive for an unemotional view of the evidence they handle; but the Vesuvian sites can break that detachment. While researching in the Pompeii finds depositories one winter, I had the uneasy privilege of being in the town centre virtually alone, picking my way to the gate at the end of the day through dark and deserted streets, past houses filled with the debris of extinguished lives. The old Antiquarium, where I had laid out animal bones for analysis, still contained plaster casts of humans and the famous dog, writhing in apparent agony at the final pyroclastic smother.

Then, in the 1980s, the modern interpretation of the Vesuvian eruption was only beginning to take shape, thanks to Haraldur Sigurdsson and other vulcanologists. Mount St Helens suddenly put Vesuvius into focus. Public imagination caught on to the probable events at Pompeii. Charred skeletons on the beach at Herculaneum gave dramatic proof of the ghastly effect of the pyroclastic surges.

Harris exploits the new interpretation to striking effect. The memorable image of Pliny's ships unable to row through a sea filled with floating pumice, brings home the true predicament in which even the most powerful found themselves. The novel's hero is aqueduct engineer Marius Attilius, investigating a break in the water supply from the Aqua Augusta on the day before the eruption. Repairs to the aqueduct tunnel reveal damage caused by seismic activity, and at the same time the growing threat posed by the volcano itself. Attilius, of course, cannot stop the eruption or even give adequate warning, but he does alert Pliny, the book's other main character, who attempts a rescue mission.

The story is not all derring-do. Attilius also uncovers corrupt activities controlled by a wealthy freedman, Ampliatus, and falls in love with his daughter Corelia. The teeming life of Pompeii, Misenum and other Campanian towns is well depicted, with a sense of municipal incompetence probably not far short of the truth, to judge from Cicero and other writers. The characters could have been fleshed out more, though, particularly Corelia and to a lesser extent Attilius himself.

Harris's vision is as dark as my impression of the town. Much of the action is in tunnels and cisterns, and in the volcanic night brought on by the eruption, to which the bright light and heat of Campanian high summer provide vivid contrast. This will make a great film.

Tony King is Professor of Archaeology at King Alfred's College


Small Press

Anglo-Saxon Crafts

Kevin Leahy
Tempus
£17.99 pp192 pb
ISBN 0752429043

A generation ago a gap yawned between holes in the ground where Saxons (apparently) lived, and astonishing technical and aesthetic achievements of gold jewellery and the Sutton Hoo ship. Now our understanding has been transformed by large numbers of artefacts from excavations (workshops remain elusive) and, recently, from detectorists. Leahy provides an expert, accessible, and notably well-illustrated guide to this mass of new material, with analyses of techniques, commentary and reflection. Chapters on metals, timber (with building methods), wood, textiles, leather, glass, pot, and bone end with an examination of craft workers in Anglo-Saxon society. Our understanding of the products, distribution methods, and status of craftsmen—and of course women—is clearly advancing rapidly, and in 30 years we can confidently predict a much deeper understanding of the subject. For the moment Leahy's survey provides an essential overview, and he is to be congratulated on it.
Paul Stamper

Viking Weapons & Warfare

J Kim Siddorn
Tempus
£16.99 pp192 pb
ISBN0752428470

Meet warmongering, weapon-wielding Vikings, sans horned helmets but with impressive mead-bellies. Re-enactors get closer to the Scandinavian prototypes—or at least that is the author's premise—than did the performers in Wagner's Ring Cycle in 1870s Bayreuth, who gave us the hairy hellraisers of popular mythology. Chapters treat spears, swords, helmets, shields, missiles and armour, while others of varying degrees of relevance offer the wider context of smithying, ships and the sea. Full of practical insights—'My experience indicates that to wear mail without padded protection is sheer foolishness'—and with good photographs (but variable line drawings) this is more fun than a finds report. First published in 2000 (BA Oct 2002), and now substantially enlarged, Weapons has proved popular among general readers and re-enactors. Sadly the publisher ducked any attempt to put the author's random scholarly annotations into some sort of order. PS

Glastonbury: Myth & Archaeology

Philip Rahtz & Lorna Watts
Tempus
£15.99 pp208 pb
ISBN 075242548X

Glastonbury must be one of the most famous historical places in Britain, through the Abbey – the wealthiest in Medieval England – and its mythical associations (such as King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea). The published literature is enormous, and in this study Rahtz and Watts provide an excellent overview of Glastonbury's history and archaeology, with all its intriguing uncertainties. Their central question is why this small corner of Somerset became so famous: was it the rich natural resources, or the ability of successive generations of abbots and monks to create and exploit its legendary associations as a source of income from pilgrimage and political patronage? They skilfully summarise the considerable amount of archaeological work that has been carried out, that, with the notable exception of Rahtz's own excavations, remains largely unpublished. The book is extremely well illustrated and written in a very accessible style. Stephen Rippon

The Port of Medieval London

Gustav Milne
Tempus
£17.99 pp192 pb
ISBN 0752425447

A riverside settlement in the 7th century, by the end of the 13th London was the country's principal port and a major European trading centre on its way to being England's largest city. Thirty years' excavation—the author a key player in endeavours he rightly characterises as Herculean—have provided much of this story and some of Britain's most spectacular archaeological photos. There are eight chronological chapters and five thematic ones, including an overview of the key excavations, fishing, harbour construction and shipbuilding. Archaeological discoveries are to the fore, but historical evidence is well integrated, bringing Medieval London to life: 'On 31 May [1322] William Wombe', who was to lose his footing and drown, 'waded into the river near Hay Wharf to wash himself, a not unreasonable or presumably uncommon activity given his occupation as a latrine cleaner.' Important, impressive and eminently readable. PS

The City by the Pool

Michael J Jones, David Stocker & Alan Vince
Oxbow
£29.95 pp430 hb
ISBN 1842171070

The city is Lincoln, excavated extensively since the 1940s but with a poor publication record. In this important and substantial overview volume archaeology tells a story markedly different from the accepted one. New interpretations include a major ritual causeway of the late Bronze and Iron Ages, the role of Roman ritual monuments, a Middle Saxon ecclesiastical site, 'a ring of [Medieval] markets laid out around a reserved enclosure housing the religious and secular aristocracy', and industrialisation in the 1840s— a century later than hitherto accepted. As for the Brayford Pool and the River Witham, the volume relocates the docklands and casts some doubt on Lincoln's image as a major port. A CD-ROM (Windows only; tough luck on we Mac users) provides both an urban archaeological assessment and a characterisation exercise, a possible model for similar work elsewhere. PS

Revealing the Buried Past

Chris Gaffney & John Gater
Tempus
£17.99 pp192 pb
ISBN 0752425560

As Mick Aston says in his preface, this is the first British book on archaeological geophysics for a generation. It was worth waiting for. Techniques are described from dowsing ('in our experience [it] does not work') to vertical electrical sounding, with many examples. For excavators, the contractors themselves (almost all independent groups, now doing 450 surveys a year) or Time Team addicts keen to know more about 'geofizz' (much more), this book delivers and will become an essential text (if not bedtime reading). The commercial need for clarity and speed of results has transformed the science, so it is good to see the authors emphasise that the best results come from a problem-solving approach in which archaeologist and surveyor work together. There will never, they say, be a Universal Ditch Detector. Mike Pitts

Essex Past & Present

Free with A4 SAE from O Bedwin, Essex County Council, Chelmsford CM1 1LF or pdf from owen.bedwin@essexcc.go.uk

A shopper found his Sunday ice cream wrapped in this tabloid newspaper, and wrote asking for back issues: hardly a daily request of council offices. What's more, this is Essex, 'a better place to live and work' according to the council website (that could be a statement or a target), but not topping many lists of historic destinations. So all power to Essex's Heritage Conservation Branch, responsible for this impressive twentieth annual roundup of county archaeology. It began as eight black and white pages, is now 20 in colour, and is still distributed as a free supplement (with no advertising) in the weekly Essex Chronicle. Cllr Kay Twitchen notes early issues were dominated by sites investigated before destruction, while today there are stories of conservation, better management and appreciation (and, she adds ominously, the council needs to cut costs). MP

Seven Ages of Britain

Justin Pollard
Hodder & Stoughton
£20 pp334 hb
ISBN 0340830409

What went wrong? Pollard (producer/author) is a Cambridge Arch & Anth graduate, with television experience that includes Time Team, and no mean writer. I so wanted to like the TV series to which this book is tied. Yet both fail to deliver. The book is misleadingly titled (check the index: 'Wales 77, 123 …'; 'Ireland 77, bog oaks 36-8'; 'England … see also Britain'). 'The ordinary inhabitants', about whom this is supposed to be, vanish under Roman rule. The representation of prehistoric Britain is staggeringly ill-informed. 'Some teeth from Boxgrove … date from well over a quarter of a million years ago' (p1 – Boxgrove is 500,000 years old), '[The people of Star Carr] might have been descended from the Swanscombe and Boxgrove folk, but …' (p2 – they are entirely different species, modern humans being of African origin), and on, point by point. Enjoy the photos. MP

The Complete Roman Army

Adrian Goldsworthy
Thames & Hudson
£25 pp224 hb
ISBN 0500051240

One of a series of Complete this-and-thats of the ancient world, this sets out to be a one-stop guide to the engine behind Roman imperial power. The text is a perfect introduction by a Roman army expert to this fascinating subject. The army's reputation for organisation and discipline, he says , masks the inevitable changes that took place over the centuries. Chapters are chronological and thematic - this is a handbook as much as a history title. Special features cover detailed topics like specific battles. No footnotes or references make it less useful for a serious student, though there is a full bibliography. A very slick, Thames & Hudson production with outstanding photographs, plans and graphics – other publishers take stock. A very nice book to have. Guy de la Bedoyère

Tracks & Traces: the Archaeology of the Channel Tunnel

Rail Link
Oxford Wessex Archaeology
£4.50 pp32
ISBN 0954597001

When the Transport Secretary said on 16 September 2003 'this is an historic occasion', he meant the opening of the UK's first high speed railway, from the Channel Tunnel to north Kent. Shame he had no time to mention archaeology. Thirty years ago archaeologists noted how Victorian railways, dug by hand, led to more finds than machined 20th century motorways. Now, thanks to planning law, some of the rail link's £5.2 bn budget is spent on archaeology (BA May 1999). This booklet previews the discoveries, including a Neolithic longhouse, an Iron Age horse burial, Anglo-Saxon and Roman cemeteries and Medieval houses, arranged in commuting order (notes on which window to look from needed). MP

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