For the children
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Editor Mike Pitts
Reviewed by Mike Parker Pearson
Bronze & the Bronze Age: Metalwork & Society in Britain c2500–800BC
The appearance of metal, particularly copper and its alloyed form of bronze, has long been considered a watershed in human history. For antiquarians and early archaeologists, bronze indicated that its users were well on the road to civilisation. More recently, archaeologists have begun to wonder about the psychological impact of this substance, a kind of 'fifth element' whose transformation through fire may have had profound implications for religion as well as technology.
Barber puts aside chronological and typological categorisations and focuses on the metal life-cycle, from mining (with an excellent overview of the discoveries at Great Orme and other ancient copper mines), smelting and casting to use and deposition. He discusses how itinerant smiths have ceded to metalworkers as integrated members of society, albeit of a segregated social status. Some very detailed information on deposition contexts is especially welcome, as Barber hammers home the message that most bronzes were deliberately placed in the ground (or in the water) rather than being accidental losses. He ends with an excellent but too brief review of the state of knowledge and future directions of research.
Barber has a very engaging style of writing, making the book a joy and a necessary read for anyone interested in British prehistory. More should have been said on certain aspects. It is an accompaniment to rather than a replacement of introductory Bronze Age texts. There is not enough on the initial transfer of copper metallurgy to Britainâ€”in the mid-3rd millennium, 500 years or more after its widespread practice on the continentâ€”even though Barber explains that its late arrival in these islands suggests some form of resistance. Why was this the case? Why did European Chalcolithic period copper artefacts not reach Britain in the 4th millennium as they did Neolithic Scandinavia?
People do need to knowâ€”and want to knowâ€”the names and types of bronze artefacts, in chronological and regional contexts, especially since so many new finds are being reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. After the pioneering work of Colin Burgess and others, someone needs to publish an accessible and synthetic guide, to reintegrate that detailed knowledge of the material within the social perspectives so clearly set out here. Perhaps we should encourage Barber to write that 'Bumper Book of the Bronze Age'!
Reviewed by Mark Brisbane
Medieval Archaeology: Understanding Traditions & Contemporary Approaches
Medieval archaeology appears to lack the pedigree of its older prehistoric cousin. While most medievalists are far too busy to spend much time worrying about this, they do occasionally need a champion to point out not only the origins and developments of this distinguished profession, but also its recent successes and challenges.
Gerrard has done a great service by producing a well-researched and clearly written account that does just that. This is a serious contribution to Medieval archaeology and one that should be read by students, archaeologists, and all those interested in the link between Medieval and contemporary society and how Medieval archaeology formed itself into a distinct discipline.
Gerrard covers a very precise sub-era between about AD 1000 and 1550. This is not a summary of recent results, but an account of how and why later Medieval archaeology developed in the UK, the story of its origins, how it matured and how contemporary approaches have evolved.
The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 deals with early antiquarians, medievalism and the Gothic Revival, and the era ushered in by Pitt-Rivers that put monuments and methods firmly on the agenda for all archaeology including that concerned with the Medieval period. Part 2 covers the post-war Rescue boom, the establishment of urban units, new ideas and new techniques. Part 3 discusses the last 15 years or so, and is a critique of where Medieval archaeology is today. Throughout Gerrard is at pains to show the influences that history, local history, geography and landscape studies have had on Medieval archaeology. All sections are well researched â€“ there is an extensive 57 page bibliography â€“ and illustrated with examples. It is particularly encouraging to see so many proponents of Medieval archaeology over the last 50 years recognised for their enormous, often unsung, contribution to this discipline.
While urban and rural developments in Medieval archaeology are both well covered, there are a few gaps. In an otherwise exhaustive index, there is little mention of diet, crops, field systems, food or provisioning, which reflects a lack of recognition for some aspects of environmental archaeology's contribution and potential. Developments in the study of human remains and cemeteries are also covered less than might be expected. The geographical coverage of the book is steadfastly UK and largely England-based. There are occasional references to European influences, but a European and World context is generally missing.
Voices in the Past: English Literature & Archaeology
The study of literature ('material language'), says Hines, vivifies material culture, while archaeology enriches critical reading. The author's mission is to raise archaeology above theory-free attempts to date Beowulf, and join with literary criticism to reveal the complexity and coherency of the past. He leads us on a dazzling tour from Old English poetry to Bleak House, taking in, amongst much else, the transition between Old and Middle English seen through two Welsh border area manuscripts, a discussion of Medieval medievalism that moves from the Winchester round table through Chaucer's Troilus & Criseyde to John Gower's poetry; how Shakespeare reunited literature and physicality while artefacts excavated at the Rose testify to that project's success; and an essay on the 1851 Exhibition (oh what the Dome could have been!) leading to a call for a Victorian archaeology that reaches deeper than the monumentality of industrialisation and mere stamp collecting. All that and readable. Mike Pitts
Excavations on Copa Hill, Cwmystwyth (1986–1999)
Archaeologists long resisted the notion that copper was mined in prehistoric Britain, until in the 1980s clear Bronze Age radiocarbon dates came from mines on Great Ormes Head (north Wales) and Copa Hill (central Wales). This important book presents over a decade's determined work at Copa Hill, almost all of it newly published or previously only in summary form. There are detailed descriptions of excavations and the extraordinary finds that include stone hammers, antler picks, basket scraps and timber bracings and perhaps the oldest known drainage 'launders'. The dates now seem to take mining back into the Late Neolithic, in common with mines at Mount Gabriel and Ross Island, south-west Ireland, with immense implications for understanding timber henges and boats: integrating the mining with metal artefacts and broader society is a priority. Not an easy read, but essential for prehistorians. MP
Fiskerton. An Iron Age Timber Causeway with Iron Age & Roman Votive Offerings
Naomi Field & Mike Parker Pearson
This is a remarkable book in several ways. It reports on excavation beside the river Witham, Lincs, in 1981. A further two or three seasons were planned, but the then Ancient Monuments Inspectorate (now English Heritage) withdrew funds, and the Witham valley was omitted from English Heritage's early '90s Fenland Survey. It is testament, then, to the original excavator that Field should have a strong hand in such a detailed and high quality publication benefiting from so many authors. Highlights include the 55 bone 'spearheads' fully discussed by Sandra Olsen, iron weapons and metal- and woodworking tools, Andrew Chamberlain's presentation that timber posts were erected at times of total lunar eclipses, the 'causeway' or 'alignment' itself and an extensive consideration of context, in which a strong case is made for votive deposition of the many artefacts. The importance of new work underway in the valley is clear. MP
Roman Carmarthen: Excavations 1978–1993
What was town life like on the fringes of the Roman Empire? On the River Tywi in Dyfed, Carmarthen (Moridunum) was, after Exeter, the westernmost town in Roman Britain. Excavations between the late '70s and early '90s revealed much new information about the plan of the settlement and its individual buildings and chronology. Large area excavations revealed a series of rectangular timber-framed buildings, rarely employing stone foundations. Serviced by wells and set against gravelled streets they dated between the 2nd and 4th centuries. The economy appears to have been heavily dependent on iron-smithing, and the incidence of hearths and ovens suggest the importance of baking. Apart from pottery which, in its composition, resembles assemblages from south-east Wales, Roman material culture was very sparse. Distinctive in so many respects, it is hard to think of a parallel for Roman Carmarthen. Michael Fulford
TRAC 2002: Proceedings of the 12th Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Canterbury
Gillian Carr, Ellen Swift & Jake Weekes
A mixture of doctoral students setting out the direction of their research and established Romanists trying out new ideas present 12 essays. Although there is no explicit theme (apart from new ideas), at least half of the contributions are concerned with Roman material culture. Papers range widely from considerations of the possible significance and symbolism of human body fragments, whether anatomical ex-votos from sanctuaries or portrait busts; to notions of consumerism in relation to the villa in Roman Britain; to the different meanings of material culture within and without the Roman frontiers; to 'creolisation' or 'pidginisation' rather than 'Roman' versus 'native' as a better way of understanding cultural adaptations, and so on. The final tantalising essay 'Sex and the City' exploits a range of bioarchaeological data to establish a framework for reviewing female health in urban Roman Britain. MF
Medieval Building Techniques
Günther Binding, trans Alex Cameron
This remarkable book contains some 700 illustrations of builders and carpenters at work, as depicted in Medieval manuscripts in west Europe. There is a useful introduction, and a summary of 'tools and equipment' under the headings bricklaying, stonemasonry, sculpture, carpentry, transporting materials, lifting and scaffolding. Most of the pictures are of the later Middle Ages, but several earlier illustrations of, for example the 11th and 12th centuries, are interspersed. Unfortunately, though there is an index (mainly of tools), the drawings are numbered and listed under the name of the place where the manuscript is housed. This will be a useful book for reconstruction artists, but to be really valuable to a buildings' archaeologist, it needs to be reorganised and put together with pictures of surviving tools, masonry, carpentry, etc, in chronological order. Tim Tatton-Brown
Perhaps only barrows were more dug over than monasteries by the Victorians, and by early in the 20th century there was little left to say about the plan form adopted by the different orders. Conversely, the estate infrastructure which supported conventual establishments attracted scant attention, and even 30 years ago when James Bond began to gather material little had been done. Here thematic chapters treat topics such as manors and granges, woods and parks, gardens and vineyards, and towns and transport, setting out in a big, fat book a valuable overview. Inevitably a bit of a card index job, but one with ample context and analysis. A must for students of the Middle Ages, and for anyone interested in the story of the sub-prior of Warden Abbey, the vineyard and the whore. Paul Stamper
The Archaeology of Reformation
David Gaimster & Roberta Gilchrist
An exemplar of how archaeology can reshape an historical narrative rather than merely provide illustrative adornment. The mid-16th century Reformation saw the Dissolution of the monasteries, the destruction of chantries and colleges, and the organised pillage of churches in the greatest act of privatisation England has ever seen. A new belief system was imposed, denying the existence of the spiritual holding tank of purgatory and ending intercession on behalf of the dead. But what did the people actually think about this? Did orders from above alter beliefs and practices? Using largely physical evidence, of burials and monuments, church fabric and decoration, and what happened to recycled buildings and sites, an impressive roster of scholars address this and related questions. Well illustrated, and of wide-ranging interest to students of Medieval and Early Modern Europe.PS
Barley, Malt & Ale in the Neolithic
Tough work, but good that someone did it. This readable study takes as its commendable premise that if you want to find something ancient, the place to start is with a proper understanding of that which you seek. With the help of her craft brewer partner and Fawcett's Maltsters, Dineley reviews brewing and evidence for early cereal growing in Europe and the Near East, and looks in particular at Neolithic Orkney. As a one time baker and ale purveyor, I found descriptions of the processes convincing, and the notion that 'bucket-shaped' Grooved Ware is 'ideal' for drinking, and storage and fermentation attractive. Arguing that every pit and shelf was designed for such purposes is another matter. Evidence needed: as Dineley would say, excavators should think more about beer. MP
The Archaeology of Twentieth Century Tameside
Michael Nevell & John Walker
This title would have made Small Press on the strength of Councillor Roy Oldham's preface alone. 'This borough has a rich and interesting past', writes the executive leader, 'and I felt that this should be documented'. The result is the History & Archaeology of Tameside series of which this is the eighth and final volume (the Archaeology of Tameside series takes a site based approach). The low price and attractive presentation belie a substantial and original work examining Tameside's 'material culture and landscape development between 1870 and 2000', through analytical text, illustration and profiles of personalities and buildings, and a proposal that Closure Theory might link archaeology and society. Oldham for PM! MP
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005