Stone tools: the mines
Stone tools: the men
Editor Mike Pitts
Identifying with the past
From Russell Norris
I’m exceptionally interested in the July British Archaeology’s editorial turn. I studied Ancient History at Birmingham University, but am now an advertising writer, dealing with deep-rooted concepts like personal identity and cultural stimuli. Whilst strongly engrossed in Richard Benjamin’s article (‘Roman wall: barrier or bond?’) I couldn’t help feeling unease. I am half American and have Native American roots – but the heritage of the nation I’m a citizen of is no less relevant to my sense of who I am as a Briton. I feel just as individually alienated from – say – Roman, Viking or Celtic histories as a Black Briton does. But should I feel a racial affinity with these cultures to have an interest in them? Each has played a seminal role in the shaping of British culture. Should we use archaeology’s treasures to comment on its own time or ours?
I’d like to praise both British Archaeology and Benjamin for bringing archaeological discussion into the public arena. Very few people really stop to consider the effects our history can have on our views today. I look forward to more articles in this vein: a much stronger link between archaeology and the life-affirming values it can hold for the people of today is long overdue!
From Bob Britnell
I find it incredibly difficult to comprehend who the peoples of Europe were 2,000 plus years ago. If the ancient statues and paintings are to be believed today’s Greeks are not ethnically the same as the Ancient Greeks. The same can be said of the Ancient Romans and the Carthaginians who do not exactly correspond to the Italians and North Africans of today. After invasion and settlement by Goths, Visigoths, Turkmen, Arabs and others, it is almost impossible to see the Europeans and North Africans today as the direct heirs of those earlier people.
I do not think that anyone reading British Archaeology or generally well educated, would deny a long term black presence in Britain, but one that has not generally made itself felt until the 20th century.
From Tim Strickland
I was greatly heartened by Benjamin’s article on the ways in which our so-called ‘white man’s heritage’ can be used to stimulate multi-cultural inclusiveness. With the decline in the teaching of classical civilisation, the dumbing-down of our education system and the biased coverage of imperialism, one might argue that many of his ideas should be directed as much at schools and students in general as at the laudable objective of racial-inclusiveness.
My guess is that Septimius Severus considered himself a ‘Roman’, although proud of his North African roots. But his statue, which once adorned the main square in Tripoli, was removed by Colonel Gaddafi in the 1970s because the man was ‘too western’. Septimius was a fine example of the Arab (or Semitic) world’s social conquest of Rome (not to mention Britannia). It is a pity that the Libyan president failed to recognise this crucial and significant fact.
Benjamin is warning us against not selecting ‘snippets’ which suit today’s agendas. I have hoped for many years that he was ‘out there’ somewhere and that he would make his presence felt. I much look forward to hearing more from him.
From Anne Shortland-Jones
The Byzantine bucket from Sutton Hoo is decorated with a band of dancing Africans. Their equipment is very similar to that of a figure on an amphora dated 580-525 BC now in the British Museum, but at Sutton Hoo the figures are much more exuberant! The Anglo-Saxons of Suffolk at least had some idea of what Africans looked like.
From John Levesley
I started work in civil aviation. Many years later I moved to the edge of the New Forest. Over some ten years I have researched and mapped a disused airfield near my home, without digging anything. I have recorded the memories of local people and the US servicemen who served there in 1944. All of this information is available on the Internet (www.winkton.net) and a book is being proof read.
There are many like myself who are not ‘recognised’ but hold a vast range of material about local landscapes and their usage within living memory. The Portable Antiquties Scheme helps finders bring artefacts into the realm of the archaeological community. Should there be a scheme to do the same for ‘irregular’ sources that detail landscape developments, to the benefit of future historians and archaeologists?
From AC Davenhall
I was interested to read that the Thornborough Henges mirror the pattern of the stars in Orion’s Belt (‘Yorkshire’s Holy Secret’, March). In his Forty Years’ Researches in British & Saxon Burial Mounds in East Yorkshire (1905), John Mortimer, the pioneering 19th century archaeologist who excavated tumuli in the Wolds, suggested that some of the groups he investigated were laid out to resemble the Great Bear. Orion and the Great Bear are two of the most prominent asterisms visible from the northern hemisphere, but whether the similarities were intended by the monuments’ builders is a moot point.
From John M Allistone
I was interested in Peter Drewett’s ‘What has gone wrong at university? (Opinion, September). As a very mature student (63 years old), I have obtained a GCSE and A-Level in Archaeology and a Certificate in Archaeology from Exeter University by Distance Learning. Next term I start on a Diploma in Archaeology. Then what? The Open University is missing out here. Summer schools could be used to offer practical experience on sites looking for inexperienced diggers. I have achieved a Certificate in Archaeology without any practical on-site experience.
From Terry O’Connor
The prospect of debt in a low-paid profession is surely a factor in declining undergraduate archaeology admissions, but there are others.
Looking for intellectual stimulation, would-be applicants see the ‘public face’ of archaeology and think that it is a branch of the entertainment industry. Once, Time Team was derided for ‘dumbing down’ archaeology: today, it looks positively elitist alongside Extreme Abseiling on Ancestral Battlefields (only a matter of time…).
We should use the modular course structures to train those who want a field career, but stop pretending that university archaeology is primarily vocational. Be much more positive about archaeology as a really interesting subject in which to develop essential learning skills and personal qualities. The bright students that field units need are inhibited from coming into the subject by patronising, corrosive media trivialisation.
From Mary Alexander
It is irritating to be told how to do one’s job, by people who know little about it (‘No One Voice’, September). Careful excavation and study reveal a great deal about burial and ritual, and an understanding of what prehistoric people were doing, and why they did it. Archaeological method, by its very nature, involves respect for whatever is being dug up. It is archaeologists who discover the sites and suggest possible ritual landscapes, not ‘pagans’.
There is no tradition in this country that human remains should never be removed. They are far safer in museums than in the ground. By excavating human remains (only done when the site is to be destroyed) we are giving the individuals concerned a form of immortality. Who could object to that?
When I am dead I will have better things to think about: whatever happens, I am happy to be dug up after a decent interval, and put in a museum.
From Frank Olding
‘Pagan mysticism’ may have ‘no place in serious archaeology’ (Letters, September) but pagans (like every other interest group) certainly have a role to play in the management of the archaeological resource. As a community heritage officer for a local authority, I work on many heritage and archaeology-related projects. There are as many outlooks, prejudices and hidden agendas as there are groups, but all are passionate about their heritage and committed to working for the benefit of the archaeology. They all have something of value to bring to the table and all deserve the common courtesy of respecting their views - even if we do not agree with them.
Giant story not over
From Rodney Castleden
I believe I am the only person to have undertaken archaeological fieldwork on both the Cerne Giant and the Long Man, and have my own distinct perspective. The two British Archaeology articles (July) imply that if one hill figure is Early Modern, the other should be too. This is as untrue as arguing that because the Uffington White Horse is Late Bronze Age the giants must be also. One, both, or neither may turn out to be, but I see no particular virtue in believing that either of the giants is Early Modern.
Joe Bettey proposed his hypothesis that the Cerne Giant is a 1650s cartoon of Cromwell a decade ago. It is aired repeatedly, yet there is still neither documentary nor archaeological evidence for it. If the Cerne Giant was made in The Commonwealth, it would not have been remembered by 18th century villagers as ‘a god of the ancient Britons’. Nor would churchwardens have released parish funds to ‘repair the Giant’ in 1694 unless it was regarded as part of the local heritage; it must have been regareded then as an antiquity and cannot have been made within living memory.
What Martin Bell and Chris Butler have very usefully added to the story may be an episode in the evolution of the Long Man, not his creation. The addition of red brick in around 1550 may have been an attempt to make a fading outline more visible, much like the yellow bricks added in 1873-74. The obituaries of the ancient giants have been published prematurely.
We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at email@example.com or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005