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Cover of British Archaeology

Issue 75

March 2004



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


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


Piltdown, Orwell, Roman villas and hetrosexual values


Sue Beasley is not impressed by treasure


Neil Mortimer fails psychic link-up with Medieval Wales


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


Ancient timbers found near South Yorkshire's oldest church

Excavations in Conisbrough, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, have revealed rare Early Medieval wooden structures beneath a 1960s housing estate. These include a fence with massive tongue and groove panels, a wood-lined pit, a track and numerous stakes.

Found in late 2002 during excavations in advance of residential and retail development, the timbers were known to be pre-modern from associated material. It was thought likely that they were Anglo-Saxon or Roman. However dendrochronology has now indicated a more recent date.

‘This falls in the period we know very little about archaeologically’, Richard Neill, project archaeologist for ARCUS, tells British Archaeology. A 148-year dendrochronological sequence has been established from measuring tree rings, running from AD 425 to 573. This indicates a probable late 6th/early 7th century date for the felling of the trees.

The complex was located on the spring line at the Magnesian Limestone/Middle Coal Measures contact. The timber, mostly oak, includes over 5 m of panelled fence, thought to be part of a channel taking water from the spring. Roman pots of types typically found at wells suggest the source was used from as early as the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD.

The excavations were close to two of the most important archaeological sites in Conisbrough, at St Peter’s Church and Conisbrough Castle. Extensive remains of a Saxon minster of 8th century date are incorporated within the church, thought to be the oldest in South Yorkshire and of a type believed to have been associated with royal estates. The castle dates back to c 1180, but is also thought to incorporate earlier Anglo-Saxon earthworks.

Also identified at the excavations were Medieval 11th to 13th century features, including pits and field boundaries, perhaps contemporary with a major rebuilding of the church and the building of Conisbrough Castle in the 12th century. A nearby street, Wellgate, takes its name from a Late Medieval wellhead structure which still survives on the site, and from which people in the town drew water until a water main was installed in 1903.

The name Conisbrough means ‘King’s stronghold’. The distribution of its dependant estates by the time of the Domesday Book (1086) suggests it was once the centre of an ancient lordship stretching from the River Don to the boundary of Northumbria. Given the survival of the church, there is the possibility of continuity in Conisbrough from the Anglian period, through the Viking Age, to the Norman conquest and beyond.

Mapping the Forest of Dean

The Aerial Survey section of English Heritage has just completed mapping and recording the Forest of Dean as part of the archaeological National Mapping Programme. Among sites recorded are a possible prehistoric earthwork enclosure and industrial remains.

Felling and replanting after World War II means that historic air photographs provide unique windows on archaeology usually hidden beneath the trees. Many remains have since been removed or landscaped: spoil heaps and tramways, for example, are used as viewing points and cycle tracks. New aerial reconnaissance by English Heritage has added important insights into the current state of monuments and their settings.

On May Hill, earthworks tell of a long history including quarrying, charcoal burning and grazing. Half obscured by a plantation known as The Firs is a substantial bank and ditch enclosure that looks later prehistoric in date. It is surrounded by a slighter 19th century common enclosure, broken by a carriage road. No fieldwork is known to have been carried out on the site, now proposed as a target for Gloucestershire County Council.

The project has recorded sites ranging from at least the Bronze Age to World War II, with a wide range of functions. Maps, records and photos can be studied at the National Monuments Record Centre (Swindon).

Stonehenge Public Inquiry

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling was apparently told to avoid commenting on speed cameras as the topic could damage Labour support: yet surveys indicate people like the cameras. So it is with proposed changes at Stonehenge. The project steered by English Heritage, the National Trust and the Highways Agency is much attacked, not least by archaeologists. If surveys commissioned by English Heritage mean anything, however, the visiting public cannot wait.

Respondents want more information (81% asked for ‘full theories and facts of Stonehenge’ in the proposed visitor centre; for 62% this included ‘modern Stonehenge (spirituality etc)’). They said the open space the changes would bring mattered ‘a great deal’ (‘Stones in unspoiled landscape’ 83%; ‘no cars nearby’ 79%: MORI 1996); 89% preferred a visitor centre remote from Stonehenge.

Some say with conviction that tourists want to park their cars at Stonehenge. Yet interviewed by MORI in 1996, 66% of visitors favoured a longer land train from the visitor centre that took them past sites like Woodhenge. Stonehenge, say critics (and some die-hard coach drivers) is a 15 minute attraction. Yet asked by Creative Research in 1991, ‘nearly everyone spoke of visiting the modified site “for the day”’.

Key to any changes are the road plans: without the A303 bored dual tunnel (2.1 km, but many, including the CBA, the National Trust and the CPRE, want more), Amesbury A303 flyover and the closure of the A344 at Stonehenge, little else would happen. The roads public enquiry, at which 1300 objectors have been invited to appear, opens in Salisbury on 17 February: watch progress at The inspector’s report is expected in the autumn, and a decision by the end of the year. The visitor centre, if it achieves planning consent (result also expected at year end), will open when roads are ready. If approved, road works will start in 2005 and mostly be complete in 2008 – leaving just enough time to prepare centenary celebrations for the acquisition of Stonehenge by the nation in 1918.

Education Awards

It is not easy to accommodate archaeology in the English education curriculum, but it can be done. The Society of Antiquaries has rewarded two colleges that teach archaeology, and their winning students, with £500 each. Michael Bamforth, now studying at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, was top archaeology A Level student (Peterborough Regional College). Colin Merrett, encouraged by his bank employer to ‘improve his work:life balance’, obtained the highest GCSE marks (Poole Adult Education Oakdale Centre).

New Light on Roman Rampart

Excavations before an old factory was developed at Mumrills Fort, near Falkirk, have revealed new details about the construction of the Antonine Wall, the frontier that briefly supplanted Hadrian’s Wall in the mid 2nd century AD. A section of collapsed rampart facing and a well preserved lilium, a defensive pit that once held upright stakes, were examined. Evidence for the daily cooking routine was also found.

Why Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, built a 58 km defensive rampart is unclear. It ran between the Firth of Forth to near Glasgow on the Clyde. Unlike its massive stone predecessor to the south, the Antonine Wall was built of turf on a stone foundation. It was in use from c AD 142-165, after which soldiers returned to Hadrian’s Wall.

Defensive earthworks enclosed land beside forts at the back of the Antonine rampart. Traditionally these annexes were believed to have been empty (excavation at Mumrills in 1959 revealed nothing), but recent work has shown they were packed with buildings.

Last August at Mumrills, Falkirk Museum Service, working with local volunteers, found the remains of two timber structures, two ovens and a well, all built over the road, indicating that space was at a premium. The front of the wall had fallen north, and over 3 m of retaining clay facing, or ‘cheeks’, were excavated. The fort annex had been a later addition, and where it joined the wall, the original turf cheeks were preserved.

Between the ditch and the wall was a well preserved pit, backfilled to hold a post. Half the pit was excavated, and the other half probably held a second post. Such pits at the siege of Alesia, France, where sharp objects were stuck into the wood, were described by Julius Caesar. In previous excavations of Antonine lilia (the structures apparently reminded Romans of lilies) only the pit bottom had been preserved.

‘There is so much which is new’, says keeper of archaeology and local history at Falkirk Museum, Geoff Bailey. ‘The Romans were constantly adapting’.

In brief

Follow that mole

People who have inspired communities to value their heritage were well represented in the new year honours, with 15 awards going to champions of the likes of old cars, canals and historic buildings. Well deserved: but does heritage as exclusively industrial history reflect what archaeologists do, or what civil servants and government think?

Among 300 named by the Sunday Times as having refused honours were archaeologists Ivan Margary (1896-1976, offered OBE 1966) and Arthur Raistrick (1896-1991, OBE 1975). Margary was an expert on Roman roads, with a strong interest in the Roman iron industry of the Sussex Weald. He was generous with his inherited wealth, benefactors including archaeological societies, the journal Antiquity and Exeter College, Oxford. Raistrick, imprisoned as a conscientious objector in the First World War, published much on the geology, landscape and history of the Dales and Pennines, and was a founder member of Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust. The way to find microliths (small Mesolithic flint barbs), he said, was to search springtime molehills.

Palace party

Fishbourne Roman palace owes much to Margary’s largesse. The site is to be refurbished and acquire a collections centre. As an aside to its fundraising campaign, the Sussex Archaeological Society is inviting Barry Cunliffe’s 1960s diggers to a reunion on 22 May – all 800 of them.

African links

At a grand do in December celebrating the British Museum’s 250th anniversary, Prime Minister Tony Blair, accompanied by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, announced £1 m for building links with African institutions. The money (half from the DCMS, to be matched by the British Council) will ‘increase understanding of the rich diversity and cultural heritage of African countries’, said Blair, ‘and of Africa’s influence on our world’. This is a good project for director Neil MacGregor, but the announcement is also indicative of changes at the BM, where news had too often sounded like signals from a sinking ship.

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