Stone tools: the mines
Stone tools: the men
Editor Mike Pitts
Iron Age children's graves found in Orkney
When excavation began at Berst Ness, a tidal island on the tip of Westray, Orkney, archaeologists thought they were uncovering a Neolithic tomb. Now after the fifth summer of work, they know it is a large Iron Age circular house (1st century BC-7th century AD), but around it have been found many human skeletons – and the high proportion of children and newborns suggests, unusually, an entire community was buried there.
The site is the Knowe of Skea, a large mound threatened by sea erosion. The house walls, well built from quarried stone, survive up to 1.2 m high and in places are almost 4 m thick. The house is circular outside, but the interior is oval. There are so few ‘domestic’ finds, say Ease Archaeology directors Hazel Moore and Graeme Wilson, and with the nearest cultivable land some 1.5 km away, it was more likely a ritual building than a home. Evidence for smithing includes crucibles, and moulds for plain copper-alloy pins.
Outside the large house, which is on the highest point of the promontory, some 200 graves have been excavated around and inside two smaller buildings. Some bodies were laid out straight, some crouched; some in stone cists, others in hollows in the rubble. Joints of beef or mutton were buried with some people, otherwise no grave goods have been found.
‘This year’, Wilson told British Archaeology, ‘we were in the baby area’. At least 60% of the bodies were neonates or children. Infant mortality was high, but what is probably unusual is the fact that such young people were buried. The remains provide a rare opportunity to study an apparently complete prehistoric population.
Adult females had a distinctly strong jaw, present in some modern islanders. It is hoped that DNA and isotope analyses will reveal patterns of migration, descent and diet. The work is funded by Historic Scotland, the Orkney Islands Council and the Orkney Archaeological Trust.
First Anglo-Saxon era papal seal found (and second)
Your new job is to help the public identify ancient relics. Your training equips you to recognise much of what you are likely to see, but you rely on specialists around the country for help with those rare pieces that fox you. What you do not expect is to be shown, on one of your first ‘finds days’, something so odd you do not even know who to consult.
‘It sat in my drawer for a week or so’, says Peter Reavill, finds liaison officer for Herefordshire and Shropshire. ‘I didn’t know what to do with it’.
An inscribed lump of lead, found in March by a metal detectorist in the Frome Valley, east Herefordshire, was eventually identified by Tim Pestell (Norwich Castle Museum) as a papal bull seal, or bulla, of Pope Paschal I, who died in 824.
‘The discovery is of considerable archaeological interest’, says Pestell. ‘Not only are bullae of this date incredibly rare, so are any seals’. Despite this being the first papal seal identified from Anglo-Saxon England, documents issued in Italy were commonly used by the English Church. The design of bullae such as this one, says Pestell, likely influenced Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian coins.
The seal is of further interest for the way it has been neatly trimmed (it was originally circular), while leaving lettering intact. It weighs 28.9 g, almost exactly one ounce. Many weight standards appear to have been used well into Medieval times, but the new find suggests an imperial ounce was adopted in the English world, away from the Viking Danelaw of eastern England.
Inspired by this discovery, Pestell searched the records in Norfolk, where 17,000 new finds are reported every year. He was rewarded with the second papal bulla from Anglo-Saxon Britain, recorded in the 1990s but not then fully identified. The lead seal is of John VIII (pope 872-882). ‘This is very interesting’, says Pestell. ‘The English king Edmund was killed in 869 by Vikings, and within three years a papal document is circulating’.
There will be a display about the Portable Antiquities Scheme with local metal detector finds in Hereford Museum 18 October-13 December.
Coastal war defences mean more book borrowing
Recent erosion and large-scale industrial developments have highlighted the need for looking after the archaeology of coastal areas. English Heritage’s Aerial Survey section has completed mapping and recording all archaeological features on air photos along the Suffolk coast and estuaries as part of their National Mapping Programme. Working with a Suffolk County Council field survey of the inter-tidal zone, the project has added detail to already known sites in this sensitive area. Previously unrecorded features include a large possibly Anglo-Saxon fish trap in the Stour estuary. Inland, newly recorded cropmark sites include a prehistoric pit circle and a small Roman villa, set within a landscape of ancient fields.
Coastal anti-invasion defences from World War II have dominated the project. English Heritage say the examination of 1940s RAF aerial photography has provided a unique opportunity to record the effect of military anti-invasion defences in extraordinary detail. The defences, anti-tank ditches, concrete cubes, barbed wire and minefields, have been mapped in an almost continuous line along the coast, as can be seen here at Aldeburgh in 1941 (photo, north to left). Knowledge of a wider system of defences should enable better understanding of isolated concrete remains on the coast today.
Research undertaken during the project has highlighted the social consequences of defence construction. Unable to take their accustomed walks beside the sea, people read books, leading to an increase in borrowing at Ipswich library.
Maps, records and photos can be studied at the National Monuments Record Centre, Swindon (email@example.com).
In September Suffolk County Council acquired commercial access to a complete digital archive of World War II air photographs.
Casanova's lover knew statue
Roman emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) liked to build things. Here in Britain we got a nice wall, but in Italy he built a villa – literally, a house, but in reality more of a small city in as much as 300 ha outside Tivoli, east of Rome; it is now a World Heritage Site. In the villa he fashionably created architectural gestures to various parts of the empire, which from the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC included Egypt, represented at Tivoli by the decorated Canopus garden. A statue of queen Arsinoe II that may have stood in that garden has now been identified amongst items sold at auction in 2000 at Harrington Hall, Lincolnshire.
Sally-Ann Ashton, assistant keeper at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, says the dark green meta-dolerite carving is a Roman-Egyptian copy of an Egyptian Ptolemaic (332-330 BC) original, not, as described in the sale catalogue, a late 19th or early 20th century copy. She says that not only is it unlike recent copies, but it is illustrated in a book, Alticchiero, published in 1787 by Justine Wynne, Countess Orsini-Rosenberg and one-time lover of Casanova, and described as having come from Hadrian’s Villa.
The 85 cm high statue, likely one of a pair, says Ashton, ‘would have been the perfect combination of cultures for this particular emperor, who was well known for his keen interest in Greece’ (Egypt had been under Greek rule before Roman occupation). It also draws attention to Hadrian’s patronage of Egyptian cults, hitherto little noted.
‘The voluptuous figure’, she adds, ‘is quite wonderful and complete’. It has been loaned by its present owners, the Tomasso brothers of Leeds, for exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Roman kiln found - great tiles, poor speller
A kiln has been found at Plaxtol, near Tonbridge, Kent, used in the 2nd century AD by a man named Cabriabanus, to make specialised bath-house tiles. Cabriabanus, a name not otherwise known from Britain but thought to be Celtic, was an entrepreneur who traded in north Kent and London and, says Malcolm Davies who found the kiln, who used special techniques to speed production.
Clay tiles were key components of a Roman villa, different types being made for roof, floor and heating system. Cabriabanus specialised in voussoir tiles, the most complex, designed for conveying hot air inside bath-house arches. Seventeen fragments have been identified bearing parts of a stamp reading PARIETALEM CABRIABANU FARBICAVI, or, complete with spelling mistake (‘farbicavi’ for ‘fabricavi’), ‘I, Cabriabanus, made this wall tile’.
A few were excavated near Plaxtol in 1858, but the site was lost. Davies fieldwalked the farm, located the bath-house and with geophysical survey identified a villa complex. He removed the plough soil from an isolated structure, and found the floor of a tile kiln which archaeomagnetometry dated to AD 120-165. Kiln tiles were made with the same clay as those stamped Cabriabanus.
Davies, retired personnel director at Dan Air, has been researching Roman Paxtol since 1990. ‘I got interested in archaeology’, he says, ‘got some resistivity equipment and got going’. He believes Cabriabanus mass-produced tiles by roller-stamping long slabs of clay, before cutting them into panels which were assembled around a wooden box former. His stamp, says Davies, ‘reflects the pride of an individual craftsman working in the new Roman economy’.
Cup and ring survey
English Heritage are funding a two year pilot project for a national survey of prehistoric rock art. Northumber-land and Durham County Councils will record all their art, using rubbing, laser scanning and digital image processing. An English Heritage team will map surrounding landscapes. Local people will be trained for the survey. The first free two-day volunteer course takes place 15-16 October, with fieldwork soon after. There will be further opportunities for involvement over
the next two years.
A crew of 60 will take a replica longship, based on vessels in the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark, on a two week sail around Britain and Ireland in 2007. Sponsored by the Carlsberg brewery, the project will help Viking specialists around Europe learn about longship handling at sea. The 30 m ship, under construction for four years, has a specially woven flax sail and rigging made from linden bast and horse hair. Timber from 340 oak trees was shaped with replica tools and treated with pine resin.
Peter Fowler, who reported in September on discoveries of ancient field walls in the Languedoc, has continued the survey and found new evidence to suggest that the Rivalte system, defined by parallel walls 20 m apart, is Medieval: two walls were recorded crossing a Gallo-Roman resin-production site marked by quantities of pottery. In contrast, the Le Sauvage fields remain closely associated with prehistoric cairns, and some are overlain by Rivalte-type walls, so are at least pre-Medieval. For more details see October Landscapes.
More homes threatend
SAVE Britain’s Heritage says Darwen, Lancashire, will lose 160 terraced houses, part of a mill workers’ estate from the 1870s, under John Prescott’s Pathfinder plans. Despite most being occupied, the buildings have been classed as ‘unfit’ or ‘at risk of being unfit for human habitation’, and are in ‘what might normally be described as fair condition’. Justification for demolition, the charity claims, is based on a false valuation of the houses.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005