The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology

Issue 82




Another early garden pot

Hunters respect white magic

New body to promote endangered Roman wall

Leicester lion is rare import

Sea finally takes defences

Gold rings still unexplained

In Brief


Bodies - who wants to rebury old skeletons?
New sensitivities change attitudes to ancient human remains

Carrowmore - Tombs for hunters
Göran Burenhult describes excavations at Irish neolithic tombs

on the web

Recommended websites


Heritage Crisis?
Views and Responses

CBA news

Headlines from the CBA office.


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Another early garden pot

In the Jan/Feb issue we reported fragments of "horticultural vessels" found in a 17th century pit in Norwich, suggesting these could be the oldest flowerpots yet seen in Britain. We can now add to this record an urn of similar date from Potterspury, Northants.

The six sherds of a crudely made, unglazed pot were found in 2000 during a watching brief at a housing development on the site of a 17th century kiln yard at 28 High Street.

Paul Woodfield says a pre-construction geophysics survey revealed nothing, so no prior excavation was required; the sherds, with large quantities of kiln wasters, were unstratified.

Originally named Pury, the village became Potterspury in the 13th century, and remained a major local production centre throughout the middle ages. EM Jope excavated the oldest identified kiln in 1949. It had fired jugs, pans, cooking pots and roofing tiles in the 14th century, and similar wares have been found on excavations locally and in adjacent counties. Up to 10 kilns are now known, and a large volume of material awaits funding for analysis. Most recently Network Archaeology found quantities of medieval pottery on a watching brief in 2003 at 47-53 High Street, close to a kiln identified in 1998.

The industry was in decline by the 18th century. In 1712 John Morton noted that "garden pots made of [the local clay] tho' never so wellbaked are very apt to scale, and be broken in pieces by foul weather and frosts". Oil sizing was said to protect them, but not all were convinced; others suggested soaking in horse urine.

Woodfield says the sherds may represent the first decorative garden urn identified, perhaps an ornamental vase such as on the terrace balustrade added to The Hall, Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts, built in 1610; or perhaps a lidded terminal urn as seen on gates at Nether Lypiatt, Glos, built 1702-5. The site had been owned by the potter Leonard Benton II, whose will is dated 1681.

Hunters respect white magic

Following up the discovery of later mesolithic (8500-4000bc) flint blades and cores during fieldwalking, research excavations last year at Langley's Lane, near Midsomer Norton, Somerset revealed evidence for early hunters in the Wellow Brook valley. Mesolithic flint artefacts, animal bones and charcoal were found scattered throughout a spread of tufa, a lime deposit equivalent to cave stalagmites that forms outdoors in warm, wet environments.

Small circular pits had been dug on the very edge of the tufa. One contained a handful of narrow flint blades, another a small tufa ball apparently shaped by a pair of hands and a third flint blades and fossils.

Paul Davies, the Graduate School, Bath Spa University College and Jodie Lewis, department of archaeology, University College Worcester, describe these finds as "caches", saying they might have been "votive deposits" more familiar from later prehistoric contexts. The hunters may have thought the tufa "magical", as the calcium carbonate precipitated out from ordinary looking water, coating vegetatio and soil and rendering the landscape near white. Were the objects, they ask, placed underground to show respect for the tufa boundary? Excavations will continue in the summer.

New body to promote endangered Roman wall

In AD130 it was a bold statement about empire and conquest. Now Hadrian's Wall is a laboratory for heritage management. As we go to press, announcement is expected of a controversial "Hadrian's Wall Trust", which aims to help regeneration by making the world heritage site an international attraction. Meanwhile archaeologists fear a national trail is already damaging the wall.

The trust, joining bodies such as English Heritage's Hadrian's Wall Coordination Unit and the Hadrian's WallTourism Partnership, was recommended last year by ONE Northeast and North West development agencies. Using words that bring fear to some archaeologists – product development, marketing, branding – they recommended investment of £56.25m, predicting visitors would increase by a third with 1,622 new jobs by 2011.

The report also emphasised archaeological significance. The "Greatest Roman Frontier", it said, would need new "preview centres", existing locations such as Chesters and Vindolanda should be "upgraded" and new "attractions" would include some wall reconstruction.

Hadrian's Wall was Britain's first world heritage site to have a management plan, published by English Heritage. The revised 2002 plan recommended sustainable development "to ensure the recovery of the local economy after the impact of foot and mouth disease".

Hadrian's Wall Path National Trail opened in 2003. Well promoted ("Famous associations: Emperor Hadrian; Sting; Alan Shearer"), the trail has brought almost £4.5m to the area, says the Countryside Agency, and over 400,000 walkers.

Museums have not all shared in this success, with visits to Roman sites lower in 2004 than in 2003. Peter Fowler, author of Landscapes for the World, believes development fosters the "sad suburbanisation of the landscape".

"The matter of principle – should you have a trail along a world heritage site? – was dodged at the beginning", he says. "You can do that anywhere, it doesn't need to be on a major world monument".

Paul Austen, co-author of the 2002 management plan, says monitoring has revealed increased trail erosion. A source describes this as "much more than any of us would have anticipated"; another claims milecastle 38 is "suffering significant new damage".

Austen denies that irreversible damage has yet occurred, but says promised management mechanisms "need to be more visibly applied to ensure the trail is an asset to the world heritage site, not a threat to its integrity".

The Countryside Agency told British Archaeology that the "green sward...protects the buried archaeology", but "month by month our understanding of how to manage the surface of such a unique route increases".

Leicester lion is rare import

The opening last December of a much desired bypass at Rearsby, Leics, was disrupted when hunt supporters prevented transport minister Charlotte Atkins from cutting the tape. Only months before, University of Leicester Archaeological Services (field director Sophie Clarke) had been excavating the route at the end of a programme that went back 10 years.

Finds included evidence for mesolithic (10,000-4000 BC) and neolithic (4000-2050BC) activity beside Rearsby brook, an iron age (700BC-AD3) farmstead and a "pit alignment" boundary. The prehistoric farm was succeeded by a Roman one 100m to the east, with round and rectangular structures and a well within a series of ditched enclosures. Three probable graves were recorded, but only the iron coffin nails survived.

A small pipeclay lion was found, with traces of brown glaze on the mane. Made in the Allier valley, central Gaul (France) and imported soon after the Roman invasion of AD43, such figurines are rare in Britain. A more complete example was found at Baldock, Herts, with a pouring spout above the head, and the tail acting as handle.

A second farm at the other end of the bypass, near Queniborough, was active in the decades immediately before the Roman invasion. Foundation trenches of one or more rectangular buildings were found, whose function is not clear. A ring-ditch c5m in diameter with a centrally placed pit may have been a funerary monument or barrow, although these are more typical of the bronze age (2050-700BC).

Roman glass blowing Glassmakers Mark Taylor and David Hill, who specialise in recreating Roman vessels, plan to build and run two Roman woodfired glass furnaces in Quarley, Hants in April and May. The workshops will be open to the public on May 14-15, and accessible by appointment for two weeks before. A pot furnace and a tank furnace, based on information from excavations, will be made partly from actual Roman bricks and tiles supplied by archaeologists, with an annealing oven to preserve glass vessels made. This is the first experiment of its type in Britain, and the process and furnaces will be thoroughly recorded for comparison with excavated remains. For information phone 01264 889688

Sea finally takes defences

Three years ago English Heritage surveyed one of the largest concrete tank barriers of the second world war. Now a storm and high tides have washed almost all of it into the sea.

In 1940 Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk was defended by Winterton Battery, with two 4in guns and rows of reinforced concrete cubes, one parallel to the shore, the other set at right angles. A second shore row was added in 1941 as the first was sinking into the sand, bringing the blocks, each 5ft (1.5m) square on 2ft (0.6m) thick bases, to a total of around 100.

Since then the sea has been slowly eroding the dunes: cubes, a pillbox and concrete pedestals for the spigot mortar (an anti-tank weapon) had already fallen over the cliffs when in July 2002 the Defence Areas Project mapped some 68 blocks; others almost certainly lay buried in the sand. Dates and soldiers' names had been written in wet concrete.

On the night of February 13-14, most of the remaining blocks fell onto the beach. Some left poised on the cliff were pushed over, and only nine survive in situ – of which one hangs over the edge.

From 1995 to 2002 the Defence of Britain Project volunteers, managed by the Council for British Archaeology, recorded nearly 20,000 20th century military sites across the UK (see This was followed by English Heritage's Defence Areas Project, which analysed sites and considered their future, and backed surveys with documentary research.

William Foot, project manager for the Defence Areas Project, told British Archaeology the destruction at Winterton-on-Sea shows the importance of recording and where possible protecting second world war structures. "This catastrophic destruction may have been inevitable", he said, "but it is still a major loss".

Gold rings still unexplained

Ring money or hair ring? Our understanding of gold ornaments that date from the late bronze age (1200-700BC) is affected by what we call them, thanks to the quirks of antiquities law. As a particularly fine example goes on display, it is emerging that these rings were much commoner than once believed. Their purpose, however, remains a mystery.

Until recently, the reporting of precious metal antiquities was governed by Treasure Trove law, under which a coroner decided whether or not a new find had been deliberately hidden with intention to recover. Single finds were treated as casual losses, with little financial incentive for them to be declared.

The 1996 Treasure Act was designed to encourage recording, so that now more of these rings are coming to light. Yet under a rule that says gold is treasure but single coins are not, defining the rings as money would remove any legal need to report them.

This question arose at the inquest over a ring found in 1999 near the Spetisbury Ring hillfort, Dorset, when the coroner declared it treasure after noting dealer Chris Rudd's claim that it could be money as well as jewellery. The anonymous finder had not declared it, and the precise find spot remains unknown.

Gillian Varndell, British Museum, says such rings were definitely not money, but neither were they hair or skin ornaments: wear is always outside, not inside, and gaps are too narrow for piercing nose or ear.

The Spetisbury ring, 14mm across, was made from a round gold bar, with stripes of electrum (gold with high silver content) inlaid in a continuous spiral. It is now displayed with other prehistoric gold in Dorset County Museum.

In brief

Historic Scotland

On April 4 Malcolm Cooper was due to become chief inspector at Historic Scotland, a new post subsuming the former chief inspectors of ancient monuments (held by David Breeze, now promoting the Antonine Wall as a world heritage site) and of historic buildings (last held by retired Richard Emerson). "Scotland has a marvellous historic environment", says Cooper. "My job is to make sure it is well understood and plays a strong role in Scottish society." His immediate challenge? "Getting to know staff, Scotland's historic environment and people outside the organisation".

Orkney research agenda

Moving from a senior post in English Heritage, Cooper excavated on Orkney as a student. The neolithic monuments of Maeshowe, the Stones of Stenness, the Watch Stone and the Barnhouse Stone, the Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae were inscribed as a world heritage site in 1999 as "the heart of neolithic Orkney". For Colin Renfrew it is "one of the most numinous places in the world". Peter Fowler believes the chance to inscribe a "cultural landscape", not a set of sites, "was knowingly missed by those concerned". In practice this will come closer with Historic Scotland's launch of a research agenda in March, first scheduled for 2003. At the contemporary monuments and world heritage site of Avebury and Stonehenge, publication of the former's revised agenda and the latter's first have both been delayed.

Farming scheme

In March the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched its Environmental Stewardship Scheme, offering money to farmers in England who manage their land environmentally, reflecting growing public awareness that rural landscape is as artificial as urban and needs caring for. There are strong heritage benefits of the scheme, which English Heritage helped to develop and which will counter agricultural damage to ancient landscapes, monuments and historic buildings. Farmers can receive £460 a hectare for taking archaeological sites out of cultivation, or if they are still being ploughed, £60 for reducing cultivation depth to 10cm.

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