Digging up art
Bronze bog hoard
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Editor Mike Pitts
From Vivien G Swan
Richard Benjamin (‘Roman Wall: Barrier or Bond’, July) ignores my extensive pioneering research on north African troops in Roman Britain, which details the epigraphic, ceramic and some osteological evidence (Proc Soc Antiq Scotland 129, 1999; Journal of Roman Pottery Studies 5, 1992).
Soldiers from distant provinces were not recruited directly, but arrived as transfers resulting from troop-movements in times of crisis. Two main episodes can be recognised in Britain: in c ad 149/150, north Africans were probably brought back with British units returning from Antoninus Pius’ Mauretanian war, and are evidenced on the Antonine Wall, and at Chester, Holt, and Bowness-on-Solway. These are the men who were probably formed into the Burgh-by-Sands unit. In 208, the Emperor Severus brought detachments from the north African legion, III Augusta, for his campaigns in northern Britain (evidenced massively at York, and also at Caerleon, Hadrian’s Wall, in Scotland and the north; men who returned are epigraphically attested in north Africa).
I am investigating further evidence for north Africans at Roman Carlisle and the Danubian legionary fortress of Vindobona (Vienna) and the results of my research are being used by archaeologists working with ethnic minorities in Britain.
From Dylan Bickerstaffe
It is a little depressing to discover some people in Britain can only develop an interest in archaeology if they think their ancestors might have been involved. Thank goodness that British archaeologists have never taken this attitude, and, for instance in modern Sudan, often struggle to capture information on former great, Black African civilisations before the evidence is destroyed by dams, urban development etc.
The population of Roman Britain likely included Nubians and other black Africans, as well as ‘Moors’; Syrians; Scythians; Arabs; Mesopotamians; Germans; Greeks; Egyptians; and even the odd Italian! The homeland of the Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum was also home to the notorious ‘Sallee’‚ pirates who provided the Moroccan courts with tens of thousands of white British slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is often passed-over in slave studies that the greatest traders in Black Africans were Arabs: the suppression of that trade being one of the unpopular acts of the British in Egypt in the early 20th century.
From Roger Wilson
It is wrong to think that Roman north Africans were ‘black’, any more than Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and Libyans north of the Sahara today are ‘black’. The latter are a mixture of indigenous Berbers and Arabs: the black element comes from that part of their countries which lies in the Sahara. The ancients drew a similar distinction between ‘Africans’ (‘white’) in the Roman provinces, nearest the Mediterranean, and ‘Aethiopians’ (‘black’) who lived in mysterious Africa far to the south (a vaster zone than modern Ethiopia). Voting Septimius Severus a ‘best black Briton’ is ludicrous – he was neither Briton (dieing at York does not make him British!), nor black. The painted portrait of him in Berlin shows him swarthy (ie brown) beside his ‘white’ (Syrian) wife, but that follows artistic convention between sexes which goes back through Greek art to the Egyptians.
Road closure approved
From Henry Cleere
At its 10th Session in Paris on 24-28 November 1986 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites on the World Heritage List. The following note appears in the report of that meeting: ‘The Committee noted with satisfaction the assurances provided by the authorities of the United Kingdom that the closure of the road which crosses the avenue at Stonehenge was receiving serious consideration as part of the overall plans for the future management of the site’.
From Trevor Hussey
‘Coins find could test ancient monuments law’ (News, July) raised the similar situation regarding the law ‘protecting’ hedgerows. The Hedgerows Regulations of 1997 are extremely weak. In a recent case a landowner was seen using a tractor to remove a hedge without necessary permission, telling the District Council there had been only a few bushes. Local residents testified that the hedge had existed for at least 50 years. We had a detailed botanical record from my 1976 survey. It is hard to imagine a stronger and better documented case. When the council prosecuted, the landowner conceded there was a hedge but claimed he had been ‘managing’ it. After a site inspection, the council’s barrister advised dropping the prosecution because roots left in the ground had begun to shoot which the landowner would claim as proof of ‘management’. If grubbing out a hedge constitutes ‘management’ the law is an ass. I would be very interested to learn of successful prosecutions under the 1997 regulations. Hedgerows are of immense archaeological importance. Does the CBA plan to campaign for an improvement in the laws?
From Paul Wilkinson
I wondered if Brian Philp and I were watching the same Time Team programme on the first Roman fort in Britain (Letters, July)! Tony Wilmott, a foremost expert on Roman forts said the ditches at Syndale were definitely Roman with a military ‘ankle-breaker’. Farm ditches are a different kettle of fish. Roman pottery expert Malcolm Lyne said Claudian fineware in the ditches – not the sort found on low-status farmsteads but used by the Roman army – could be dated to the Roman invasion of ad 43. Philp’s measurements are wrong. He ignores the Roman ditch (coins date it to the time of the invasion) found by Time Team on top of the prehistoric ‘rampart’. Time Team did a great job at Syndale and although failing to find a Roman fort opened up all sorts of research. Using John Gater’s geophizz we spent four weeks last summer excavating the fort’s ditches, and found rubbish pits inside with many items of Roman military equipment. We await Brian Philp’s excavation reports from 1965, 1966 and 1994.
From Matt Ritchie
You are giving undue prominence (and tacit acceptance) to the views of self-styled ‘druids’ such as Ms Restall Orr (Opinion, July). Pagan mysticism has no place within serious archaeology. Having also read an article on Julian Cope (Guardian 16 June), it is clear that the Pagan has no real respect for the ‘stones and bones’ of our ancestors, merely a desire to enact cod ceremonies. Would Restall Orr have approved of the exemplary scientific processes that have determined so much about the Amesbury Archer?
From Yvonne Aburrow
Restall Orr does not speak for all Pagans. Many I know are scientists, or interested in science, especially archaeology. Contemporary Paganism owes a massive amount to historical and archaeological research. How do we know that the ancient dead were practising the same kind of Paganism that we are? I think their remains should be treated with respect, but I am sympathetic with Sebastian Payne (Science, July) who points out that we may yet learn more from stored bones. Neolithic remains were not buried, but exposed for excarnation then displayed in burial mounds for descendants to perform rituals with – hardly an opportunity to rest in peace. Perhaps the bones could be stored in a burial mound (a national repository), consecrated by Pagan priestesses and priests, but with temperature and humidity controls to ensure preservation and access for study.
From Nicole Brown
I sat uneasily through a lecture on the rescue archaeology of a cemetery, pondering on, when does archaeology becomes grave robbing? While I respect Restall Orr’s modern Pagan Druid beliefs, I feel they have little to do with the Druids of late Iron Age Britain, and cannot claim any connection with Stonehenge, this is the rational 21st century, not the antiquarian 18th of Stukeley.
Wye oh wye
From Neil Moorcraft
I watched with great interest Bridge on the River Wye (Extreme Archaeology, C4 20 June). There was a constant focus on posts thought to be the remains of a Roman bridge, but no examination of the opposite bank. There was no suggestion that they were a quay or boat mooring. The Wye is particularly navigable at this point. This was not, as suggested, the first clear evidence of the Roman occupation of Wales between 60-70 ad. The Romans were already in Wales during this period as shown through excavation of the fortress and supply base at Usk and the speculation of a fort at Cardiff. Excavations have showed the existence of a small Roman cemetery at Chepstow. I enjoyed the use of computer graphics to demonstrate the site within the Wye Valley, but I did have to laugh when following a near-death experience the archaeologist was more concerned with the archaeology than her own life. Enthusiasm and passion to the rescue!
From Mike Thomson
When I was a town planner with a local authority, well before PPG16, I kept a close liaison with local archaeologists, and had one of the council’s copies of the SMR [Sites & Monuments Record] in my office. The Bedford case, in which the borough council gave quarrying permission without reference to PPG16 (News, July), and the recent blaming of planners for the failings of the Butser Roman Villa reconstruction, suggest that in some places there is still a long way to go. As a former inspector with the Planning Inspectorate, I sometimes wonder if I’m the only town planner reading BA. I can’t remember when I last read a letter in our Planning journal which involved archaeology. The County Archaeological Unit or its equivalent should be a regular consultee on planning applications.
We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005