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Editor Mike Pitts
From Graham Mullan
I read with interest ‘Piltdown: Time to Stop the Slurs’ (January). The hoax should be thought of as the Piltdown ‘Forgeries’, 42 pieces of bone and flint probably fashioned at different times. The canine tooth was treated completely unlike the other bones and teeth: this important part of the story is one of only four objects not found by Dawson or Smith Woodward. The bone implement is also quite unlike the rest of the assemblage. It is the only object that does not fit with then current archaeological thinking. It is easier to envisage a separate genesis and purpose for these two items.
From David Padgham
I suggest ‘CFEB’ was C F Baxter of Lewes, member of the Sussex Archaeological Society and probable partner of local solicitors Wynne Baxter & Son, whose founder was a contemporary of Dawson.
From Miles Russell
‘CFEB’ was either Robert Downes, a Birmingham University graduate who was writing a book, never published, on Dawson 1953-56 (much of what CFEB says is word for word Downes’ manuscript)—though why use a pseudonym and not be published as ‘RD’?—or a local writer who had spoken with Downes. There were plenty of people in Sussex who thought they knew ‘the truth’ about Piltdown, but who could never publicly say anything given the pre-eminent level of scientists who had backed Dawson’s ‘discovery’. It is a little annoying that, given the mass of data demonstrating Dawson was a great antiquarian fraud and serial hoaxer, so many continue to prolong the conspiracy theory. I suppose that’s the legacy of the X-Files. I agree it’s time for the slurs to stop!
From Simon James
Peter Ellis’s swipe at Romanists (January) may have been tongue in cheek, but I give it a loud raspberry because it perpetuates damaging stereotypes, and is plain wrong. Why, many of us Romanists are under 50 and sold our Vauxhalls years ago; a lot know all about phenomenology, and are yet to start greying at all. I, and others, venture into Iron Age studies too, and welcome it when prehistorians can be tempted into the Roman period. Peter is right about one thing: we face a real problem in public misconceptions about ‘civilized’ Romans and ‘primitive’ Britons. The uninformed prejudices of other archaeologists just make this task even more difficult!
From Martin Pitts
There does exist an underclass of Romanists who think (and dress) very differently. However, the latter community is straining to be heard outside the confines of TRAC (Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference). I’m 23 (rarely wear tweed and never driven a Vauxhall), and my doctoral research is concerned with the practice of feasting and the deposition of pottery in the prehistoric to Roman transition. Preliminary results indicate a diversity of practices not easily explained by the current orthodoxy.
Orwell the populariser
From Peter Davidson
My attention has been drawn to a rather silly piece in your journal (‘Archaeologist fingered by Orwell’, November). The Foreign Office [in 1949] was not seeking ‘anti-communist propagandists’. They needed people who might reliably write to counter anti-British propaganda disseminated by the Soviets, especially at the United Nations. They also needed to know who not to ask to write on behalf of the British Government. It was not a question of Childe being ‘anti-establishment’. If that were the issue, why should Orwell have asked him (and Crowther) to broadcast to India? Further, he published Childe’s ‘Science and Magic’ in a collection of broadcasts, Talking to India. In his initial list, Orwell indicated his doubts as to whether Childe was seriously ‘unreliable’ by including a question-mark. When he sent his name to Celia Kirwan he made that two question-marks.
As for ‘mere “scientific popularisers”’ – well, really! What the hell was Orwell doing if he was not popularising science – and literature, and drama, and psychology – if it were not through the series of broadcast talks that he organised for India? He pointed out that these men were successful popularisers because they had a gift for instructing and influencing ordinary people. The trouble was that they, like Bernal, could not be relied upon. Orwell admired J B Priestley and was very angry when ‘the establishment’ pushed him off the BBC. He had a great gift for talking to ordinary people. I was greatly influenced by his wartime broadcasts and by They Came to a City. But, and it is a very big BUT: Priestley was totally taken in by the Soviets. In this instance, he had got it wrong and Orwell had got it right (see Vol XX of my Complete Works of George Orwell, 2nd ed, pp 318-27).
We were reporting press comments, and agree that Orwell would have approved of ‘popularisers’
From Tony Rook
I was told that most of the things at Butser’s new ‘Roman villa’ (Letters, January) about which I felt reservations were the responsibility of a planning officer concerned with appearance and building regulations. I studied the plans of about 120 domestic bath-houses in Roman Britain. They were all different. The villas which they served, perhaps, did not offer quite the same scope for eccentric bodgery as the baths, but they were free of building regulations and interfering planning officers. Apart from its incredible roof, perhaps Butser’s seaside bungalow might not have looked out of place after all.
My kingdom for a couch
From Michael R Ulyatt
Ron Wilcox referred to the Stonehenge hokum recently delivered by Channel 5 (Letters, November). Mr Wilcox and others like him should climb down from their high horses and if not happy with a programme switch channels or switch off. At least there is some exposure to British history which is not compulsory in this country after the age of 14, and until that gross deficiency is corrected anything offered has to be considered positively. For me, I will be pulling up a bigger couch, switching on my television and enjoying soaking up the ‘hokum’. After all, I may be in good company, if not now then at some time in the future.
From Peter Davies
Most TV programmes are reviewed by experts in the medium more concerned with how the ‘air time’ was filled than with the technical accuracy or presentation of the content. I hear you are to start a TV review column. Go for it! I look forward to being able to ‘get even’ with some of my past tutors (who have appeared on The Box) who slagged-off some of my brilliant essays!
Androcentric values, man
From Hannah Cobb
The implications of the language used in archaeological literature operate on more dimensions than suggested by Peter Ellis (November). The use of the masculine pronoun to mean all of society is ambiguous and confusing. Additionally, such use suggests that social groups may be subsumed under and can be defined and entirely represented by the male form. The roots of this tradition lie with the western, heterosexual androcentric values of the 19th century prescriptive grammar movement.
In the reflexive, interpretive theoretical paradigm that prevails within modern British archaeology, this reflexivity and scrutiny of our own part within the interpretation of the past should apply at all levels. Thanks for publishing the article! It’s always great to read something that makes you feel heated about your subject!
From Barry Atkinson
I am completing an MA in Field Archaeology at King Alfred’s College Winchester. My dissertation is on standing buildings in Hampshire. I am keen to pursue a career in any aspect of the preservation, renovation and restoration of historic buildings. However I have for the past four years spent most of my time cleaning hospital wards. Is there any hope that the recommendations outlined in the document Power of Place will ever see the light of day, and give me a chance to work in my chosen profession?
From Mark Ryan
I understand that you do not exclusively cover British archaeology, but was there a need to highlight little known rock art from a culture entirely different to anything likely to be encountered in the UK? (‘Colourful Past’, November). The illustration of the techniques was a suitable companion article to the ‘Stonehenge Laser Show’, but is similar more pertinent work not being undertaken within our islands?
From Melissa Johnson
I would like to see the News section expanded, and areas other than university-led research in the features, such as museums or amateur fieldwork. Opinions need not always be written by the same person. Book reviews could be shorter and cover more books. Letters I consider to be essential.
We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to the Editor at email@example.com or faxed to 01584 823461. They may be edited.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005