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Editor Mike Pitts
Coins find could test ancient monuments law
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The 21 buildings vying for BBC 2â€™s summer Restoration prize remind us of Britainâ€™s very precious architectural heritage â€“ and of how much, even in our seemingly curated world, is endangered. Castles, a folly, an abbey, the worldâ€™s first radar station and others will benefit from extensive publicity. Typical is the Lion Salt Works, Marston, Cheshire (above), the UKâ€™s last surviving open pan salt works, needing £4.5 m to restore the buildings and revive open pan evaporation for block salt. â€˜Our site is not very prettyâ€™, says trust director Andrew Fielding, â€˜but it produced a commodity in everyoneâ€™s kitchenâ€™. Presenter Griff Rhys Jones says it is often better to preserve than to smash everything down and start again.
Pipes may be oldest wooden musical instrument
Six pipes from Greystones, Co Wicklow, contemporary with the last megaliths at Stonehenge, are likely to be part of the oldest known wooden musical instrument in the world. How the pipes were played remains a mystery, but a popular theory amongst musicologists is that they were part of an organ fed by a bag.
Wet ground had preserved the finely carved yew pipes, found lying together in pitch order in a wooden trough. They range from 57 to 29 cm long, though most are not quite complete, and are about 2.5 cm across with hollows 2 cm wide. There are no finger holes. Some of the pipes have a stepped taper at one end; chisel marks at both ends suggest these were hidden by fittings. Small bits of leather inside one of the tubes have yet to be analysed.
Peter Holmes, trumpet player and specialist in ancient wind instruments, made replicas which he says â€˜sound in tune to our earsâ€™. If the set is complete, he tells British Archaeology, the musical gaps between the pipes are large, suggesting they would have been played together to create a â€˜harmonic curtain of soundâ€™. Television music for archaeology may never be the same.
The pipes were excavated a year ago by Margaret Gowen & Co at a residential development at Charlesland by Mountbrook Homes and Ballymore Properties. They were beneath a â€˜burnt moundâ€™. These mounds, thought to be the sites of cooking or steam bathing, range from Bronze Age to Medieval in date. There was evidence for prehistoric activity, says excavation director Bernice Molloy, including two circular houses, but radiocarbon dating of the trough has only just shown the mound to be Early Bronze Age, c 2120-2085 BC. A small sample has now been taken to date one of the tubes directly.
Ireland is known for spectacular bronze horns of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, but until now the oldest wooden instrument was a set of curved pipes from Co Tyrone (400 BC). Does Holmes have any doubts about the new pipes being a musical instrument? â€˜Noneâ€™, he says. â€˜Theyâ€™re hardly a set of chair legsâ€™.
Medieval quay found
Divers have found Medieval pottery, roofing tiles and structural timbers on the River Severnâ€™s west bank, near Hanley Castle, Worcester. Hanley ceramics, recognised from a nearby kiln excavated in 1992, suggest this is the public quay site (Latin communis statha) recorded in 1339 and identified today with the end of Quay Lane. A barn-like building there may have been a warehouse.
The castle was a favourite of King Johnâ€™s. In 1409 equipment from 42 wagons was offloaded at the quay when the Duke of York arrived. It would also have given local potters access to cheap transport to markets across the West Midlands. Hanley Ware was common in many local towns and villages, and is a major component of excavated assemblages in later Medieval Gloucester and Worcester.
River finds are thought to be pots lost during loading or dumped because of breakage. Almost complete local vessels have been recovered, including a rare chafing dish. Late Medieval German stoneware indicates that imports via the port of Bristol also arrived here. Other finds include two unusual perforated stone weights, perhaps for fishing nets or anchors for small boats, and a strange oval-mouthed vessel.
Derek Hurst, Worcestershire County Historic Environment & Archaeology Service, says the dismissal of Severn river bed sites because of supposed flooding disturbance is no longer tenable. â€˜The raising of water levels in the post-Medieval period caused by the installation of weirs may have helped preservationâ€™, he says. â€˜The value of such sites needs to be recognised, when unprecedented numbers of defence works are being planned by the Environment Agency after the flooding of 2000-1â€™.
Jan Harding, director of excavations at Thornborough, and George Lambrick, retiring CBA director, at a conference where it emerged that Tarmac own two of the three henges whose environment is threatened by quarrying. Neil Campling, county archaeologist for North Yorkshire, says the council, contrary to our assessment (â€˜Competing interestsâ€™, March), appended a full PPG16 condition. â€˜Neither the extent nor significance of the remains now known to survive in the [Flasks] quarry could have been picked up by the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment]. All areas of quarrying have been or will be subject to proper scientific investigation to the standards relevant to the works and the circumstances of the siteâ€™.
Roman graves and mosaics in danger
Dramatic events in southern England show that unrecorded destruction can still occur at even well known sites. In Dorset, archaeologists are appealing for funds to record a Roman villa with mosaics, close to the site of the unique Hinton St Mary Christian mosaic. In Bedfordshire, professional archaeologists worked without pay to salvage a Roman cemetery as quarry plant scattered human bones.
At Shillingstone, Dorset, archaeologists excavated a suspected temple or bath house, with walls surviving to 12 courses high, before construction of low-cost housing. When building began in May, however, an unforeseen large 4th century Roman villa was exposed. John Valentin of AC Archaeology, who excavated the bath house and is now working with local amateurs to record the villa, tells British Archaeology that developer Wyatt Homes were â€˜very goodâ€™, allowing them additional time on site. The late discovery, however, means money must be found. The site may be particularly important because of its proximity to the famous Hinton St Mary mosaic depicting a chi-rho design. Valentin says there are pieces of mosaic at the villa, and there is a good possibility that floors have survived.
Meanwhile near Bedford, planning consent for a gravel quarry had been refused because of an adjacent late Roman settlement and cemetery excavated in 1992. However the Borough Council gave permission on appeal, without reference to PPG16, the planning guidance that normally ensures proper archaeological mitigation. Alerted by a front page story in Bedfordshire on Sunday headed â€˜Skull found in quarryâ€™ (â€˜At a conservative guessâ€™, said DI Trevor Mulvaney, â€˜the skull is at least 150 years old and probably much olderâ€™), staff from Albion Archaeology recovered some 30 Roman graves, though half the site had been destroyed. The county archaeologist found money for five daysâ€™ work, but the team was so impressed, they continued for free.
Tim Pestell, curator of Anglo-Saxon archaeology at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, tells British Archaeology of the Treasure Actâ€™s mixed blessings. The museum is being offered too much good stuff. â€˜Most people prefer to sell to us rather than a dealerâ€™, he says, â€˜but we canâ€™t afford everythingâ€™. Amongst items recently turned away were nine Bronze Age gold rings and a silver-gilt Thorâ€™s hammer. â€˜On balanceâ€™, he adds, â€˜the act is a good thingâ€™.
The soon to open permanent Anglo-Saxon and Viking gallery may be unique for metal detector finds constituting half its exhibits. Norwich has the best Anglo-Saxon collections outside national museums, says Pestell, making the new gallery, featuring over 900 artefacts from between the withdrawal of the Romans and the Norman Conquest, a likely strong regional draw.
The independent Kilmartin House Museum, set midst spectacular Argyll scenery and archaeology, says it will close at the year end if new funding cannot be found. The beautifully designed museum (opened 1997) tours 10,000 years of the area, particularly rich in Neolithic and Bronze Age remains, including many stone circles and petroglyphs (the elegant website has a special rock art section). With its courses, cafÃ© and usual facilities, Kilmartin House is poised to become a research base that could bring much to archaeology and the local community. Sign their petition and see their work at www.kilmartin.org.
Military diploma scrapped
A second piece of the Roman military diploma from Dereham, Norfolk (News, September 2003), dated to AD 98 and thus Britainâ€™s oldest, has been found 125 m from the first, revealing the auxiliary cavalry wingâ€™s full name â€“ Ala I Pannoniorum â€“ and that the commanderâ€™s name began AMâ€¦ This distinguishes it from a Malpas, Cheshire diploma from the same unit (dated to AD 103) inscribed with a different commander. Adrian Marsden, Norfolk finds liaison officer, thinks the diploma was probably scrap bronze from a later Roman context. â€˜It seems to have been deliberately hacked up, rather than plough damagedâ€™, he says.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005