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Cover of British Archaeology

Issue 80

January/Febuary 2005



Roman stone "basilica" used by Anglo-Saxons

Ring may be contemporary with Archer

Oldest door made by Anglo-Saxon carpenters

Archaeology on-line

Ancient houses in Cornwall

Norwich finds may be UK's first flowerpots

In Brief


Silbury Hill: the dilemma
English Heritage report on an issue of wide public concern

Sutton Hoo goes to sea
Edwin and Joyce Gifford test the kings's ship

Roman cemetery
Hilary Cool assesses pagan rituals at Brougham, Cumbria


Have British Archaeology readers solved the Nebra disc?


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

Floppy photography

From Eric Houlder

The aerial photograph of the Thornborough henges in the CBA Annual Review 2003-4 was shot by me (not English Heritage, as credited) on 24 July 1978. My pilot was the late Derrick Riley, surely one of the best aerial archaeologists ever to pilot an aeroplane.

Had digital imaging been possible in 1978, and had I been equipped to shoot digitally, that image would be on a now obsolete floppy (really floppy!) disc, and totally unretrievable today. I can still use this and other much older transparencies, and indeed do, regularly, but luckily do not depend on digital retrieval to use them! How long will current storage media last? As one editor said to me, ‘you can always re-scan a slide’.

I hope that I am not the only archaeologist to stay with film. Too many colleagues are discarding the trusted technology in the rush to use the latest medium. Let us not throw out the old until the new has been with us long enough for us to know how long it will really last.

Yours sincerely,
Eric Houlder

  • BA picture editor writes. ‘Images submitted on film are usually superior to digital images. Which do you prefer?’

  • Sculpture

    From Dave Badman

    Living on the Isle of Wight with a life-long interest in prehistory I have spent many hours field-walking and have a substantial collection of flint tools and flakes. My work as a sculptor has been increasingly influenced by my research. I am interested to know how many other like-minded members the CBA has. This example is a 3 by 4 inch, three-dimensional tactile sculpture in blued, hammered steel containing a flint scraper from the south of the Wight.

    Yours sincerely,
    Dave Badman

    Planning debate

    From Mike Eastham

    I have a BA (Single Hons) degree in archaeology from the University of Durham, and am currently an area planning officer in development control at South Ribble Borough Council in Lancashire. I am also chairman of the North West Branch of the Royal Town Planning Institute and I spend a large deal of time grappling with the reforms which came into place on 28 September 2004 with the new Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. The aim of the Act is to simplify and speed up the plan-making process and increase the involvement of community groups; reduce the length of public inquiries; increase the use and scope of compulsory purchase orders for the regeneration of town and city centre sites; and remove crown immunity, amongst other things.

    The Planning Institute itself has recently undergone a major overhaul of its governance, it is now focussing on broader issues than merely land-use planning, there have been educational reforms, the development of networks and the positive promotion of the profession from the branch level to the national level. We are eager to promote the successes of the ever improving relations between planners and archaeologists since Geoffrey Wainwright [former English Heritage chief archaeologist] drafted PPG 16, and develop stronger links with the CBA at both branch and national level to formulate a co-ordinated response to the protection of the nation’s heritage.

    If you have any views on the matter I would be happy to enter into an electronic debate.

    Yours sincerely,
    Mike Eastham

    Learn to dig

    From Paul Wilkinson

    I read with interest John Allistone’s letter (November) on problems for inexperienced diggers. We at the Kent Archaeological Field School have for the last six years been offering excavation opportunities to the general public. The response has been staggering, this year alone over 1,000 student days were taken up by people of all ages and all walks of life to excavate a Roman building near Faversham. We now have over 600 members and growth in this area is 17%. If a student is determined to dig and gain practical experience all they have to do is peruse the archaeological excavations offered by the CBA.

    Yours sincerely,
    Paul Wilkinson
    director KAFS,

  • The new season’s excavations will be listed in next issue’s Briefing

  • Are we alone?

    From Belinda Stratton

    I feel I must take issue with Clive Ruggles’s statement (‘I don’t agree’, November) that the tightly curved arc touching the rim of the Bronze Age Nebra disc on one side (widely interpreted as a ship) has ‘no conceivable significance as a depiction of anything in the skies’. I thought of a rainbow almost immediately. Might this be a possibility? In that sense my sympathies do lie with professor Ruggles’s interpretation: such a weather-related phenomenon would surely be out of place on a careful depiction of the cosmos, but might perhaps belong among depictions of the wonders of the sky on an object of sacred power? It’s just a thought, from a complete non-expert

    Yours sincerely,
    Belinda Stratton

    From Ian Blackwell

    If Howard Davies and Miranda Aldhouse-Green’s argument that the apparent star formations on the Nebra disc (‘Star wars’, November) indicate ‘daytime’ stars, then perhaps the whole disc needs to be seen as a ‘daytime’ artefact. This would obviously fit with the idea of the sun, and also with the moon (very much a daytime object in our skies). This leads to the question of the arc, which currently is described as a ‘solar boat’. Could I suggest that this banded arc is a rainbow, with the bands (albeit only three distinguishable) representing the rainbow’s spectrum?

    Yours sincerely,
    Ian Blackwell
    Newcastle upon Tyne

    From Patrick McSweeney

    If ‘objects in the sky’ are what are depicted, then in no way can the curved item be a ship. A close look will show lines along its length and can mean one thing only. It is a rainbow!

    Yours sincerely,
    Patrick McSweeney

    From Jake Spurling

    What?? Ask any five year old and they’ll tell you what it is: a rainbow, detailed enough to show some of the concentric lines separating the colours. The sun is only seen in the daytime sky, so depicting a rainbow on the disc is not so surprising—and what celestial phenomenon is more awe-inspiring than the colourful, transient and rarely-seen rainbow? I’m sure I’m not the only one to point this out.

    Yours sincerely,
    Jake Spurling

    From Alison Watts

    I often feel that people, (especially archaeologists) try to read too much meaning into beautiful objects from the past. Do we not now appreciate objects as things of beauty, surely people in the past were the same? When I first saw pictures of the disc, it was my immediate assumption that this was just another feature that man sees in the sky: sun, moon, stars and rainbows. Am I alone? Has anyone else ever suggested this?

    Yours sincerely,
    Alison Watts
    St Albans

  • Our photo was (intentionally) printed upside down compared to the usual published orientation. See exhibition news in Briefing

  • Good in Bedfordshire

    From Martin K Oake

    The News article in July British Archaeology, ‘Roman graves and mosaics in danger’, contains significant errors regarding events.

    Bedfordshire County Council, not Bedford Borough Council, are the Minerals Planning Authority and dealt with the quarry application. The development was identified as archaeologically sensitive partly because of the adjacent Roman settlement and cemetery. I recommended evaluation, in line with PPG 16 and the County Council’s Minerals Local Plan. This identified Roman remains in a small part of the proposed quarry, and indicated that they might include an extension of the cemetery. I recommended that development impact could be mitigated by archaeological investigation and that this should be secured by a planning condition based on the model in para 30 of PPG 16.

    Planning application was refused, but without reference to archaeology as a reason. The applicant’s appeal against the County Council’s refusal was dealt with by a Public Inquiry. The inspector allowed the appeal and granted planning permission. The County Council submitted the condition described above to deal with the archaeology, which was not an issue at the inquiry. The inspector did not accept this advice and included an ‘access condition’ in the permission. This did not require the developer to implement an agreed scheme of investigation and only allowed access to observe and record. With no resources available, it was not possible to undertake archaeological work in advance of mineral extraction. When human remains were reported I was able to find a small sum to commission Albion Archaeology to undertake salvage recording and to their credit some of Albion’s staff did further work in their own time.

    The implication that local planning authorities in Bedfordshire are not fulfilling their obligations to archaeology properly is untrue. I can understand the reaction to your article in Mike Thomson’s letter (BA September), but the County Council, as always, followed the procedures outlined in PPG 16, and his criticism is unjustified. The problems were caused by the inspector using an inadequate planning condition when granting consent contrary to the condition suggested by the County Council. The local planning authorities in Bedfordshire are very supportive of archaeology and have a good record in protecting archaeological remains, following the guidance in PPG 16.

    Your article does a disservice to the County Council’s archaeological staff and our planning colleagues in both County and District Authorities who work hard and effectively to protect the archaeology of Bedfordshire. Perhaps the real story here is the apparent weakness of the Planning Inspectorate’s understanding of archaeology, a matter we are pursuing through the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers.

    Yours sincerely,
    Martin K Oake
    county archaeological officer,
    Bedfordshire County Council

    Cutting edge grammar

    From Vincent Megaw

    Punctuation is a dying art, but some forms seem to be less equal than others. In BA September when referring to the fascinating Iron Age shears recently found in Essex, I note almost equal use of the ‘C’ word with and without quotation marks. Celtic (or ‘Celtic’) is of course just as much a conventional archaeological term as ‘Scythian’, ‘Roman’—or perhaps ‘English’.

    Yours sincerely,
    Vincent Megaw
    Flinders University, Adelaide

    We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.

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