The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 85

Issue 85

November/December 2005



Archaeologists find trowel - and other stories

Bid to list first commercial nuclear power station

Model views - arial photography on the cheap

Return to Gwithian, Cornwall

Cave archaeologists find human remains

In Brief


From Ashes to Dust: who cares about sports heritage?
Jason Wood thinks the historic environment is losing out to sport in government spending - and this will worsen as the London Olympics approach. He has a solution

Coast Survey special
Archaeology on the shores of Norfolk and the Isle of Wight

White Badges
Mike Pitts visits poignant wartime field art asking 'Will we remember them?'

Roads to the past: Ireland's archaeological revolution
It's a long road: Dàire O'Rourke reveals extraordinary Irish archaeology in danger from the expanding road network.

on the web

Recommended websites


Views and responses

CBA news

Headlines from the CBA office.


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Archaeologists find trowel - and other stories

Archaeologist Alexander Keiller dug up a family marmalade jar, but few now would expect to recognise such immediate identification in the finds tray. A Minnesota volunteer at Arbeia Roman fort has got close - excavating a pointing trowel with her own trowel. The iron tool, whose wooden handle had not survived, could have been used cAD210 by a Roman mason on the fort's granaries, and might have been deliberately buried. For 10 years Earthwatch, the Boston-based scientific foundation, has been bringing volunteers to "northern England, once considered the edge of civilisation", to dig at the South Shields fort. The project is directed by Paul Bidwell, Nick Hodgson and Graeme Stobbs of Tyne and Wear Museums. Other finds this year included two rare complete Roman cavalry spurs.

Caithness is well known to archaeologists for its neolithic chambered burial cairns (c4000-3000BC). John Barber, director of AOC Archaeology Group, has returned the gift by leading a community project at Spittal, with the Caithness Archaeological Trust, to build a new stone cairn in a quarry operated by A&D Sutherland. The experiment, accompanied by tours, lectures and children's activities, attracted over 150 people, and showed that, perhaps assisted by the absence of tv cameras, a well-organised workforce could build an impressive neolithic-style tomb in a few weeks. Next year's project is to collapse the cairn and examine the result.

"Much of this fascinating work remains unknown to the wider public, whose understanding and support are crucial to the preservation of our heritage." So says the Presentation of Heritage Research Awards, of studies published in monographs and specialist journals. Winner Matthew Seaver described his excavations at Raystown, Co Meath, of over 100 5th-10th century AD burials and remains of at least eight watermills and six corn-drying kilns. British Archaeology welcomes the awards, created by English Heritage's chief scientist and ba columnist Sebastian Payne, and sponsored by eh and other heritage bodies, for their concept and also their prominence - a first prize of £1500 and a judgment of live presentations at the British Association's Festival of Science, this year in Dublin.

An old, disused route has long been recognised crossing Norfolk near Castle Acre, visible in field and parish boundaries and slight earthworks. It crosses the river Nar, in whose broad flood plain bridge timbers might be preserved.

So thought John Shepherd of the UCL Institute of Archaeology and Michael de Bootman of Heritage Marketing & Publications, who sponsored excavation this summer that found both the rammed gravel road and, beneath, large oak piles. Coins suggest the bridge, thought to have been replaced by a metalled surface as the channel silted up, was built cAD200-400. The route seems to have been abandoned before Anglo-Saxon villages were laid out in later centuries.

Bid to list first commercial nuclear power station

"This is the saddest place", wrote Julian Cope. "A beautiful stone circle looking out onto the Irish Sea on the west and the Cumbrian mountains to the east. Yet 400 yards away is... Sellafield nuclear power station".

The circle is known as Greycroft. It has never been excavated, but it is not this that has excited archaeologist Clifford Jones. He wants to save Sellafield.

Calder Hall at Windscale, or Sellafield as the authorities renamed it in 1985, produced weapons-grade plutonium, but it was also the world's first commercial nuclear power station, connected to the national grid in 1956 after construction began in 1953. With 19 other publicly owned nuclear sites, Calder Hall was passed to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in April. The plan is to cocoon the four reactors in concrete, and demolish the rest.

Jones once worked for British Nuclear fuels, and was responsible for building management at the site. "She was a very tidy old ship", he says, "internally quite magnificent, with brass fittings and dials, all set in a Dan Dare future".

He has asked English Heritage to list it as a historic structure, seeking preservation of parts "to provide for the future a reasonable representation of the world's first Magnox power station": a reactor, a heat exchanger building, a cooling tower and a turbine hall. If it is not saved, he says, in five years no Magnox power stations will survive.

Andrew Davison, English Heritage inspector for the north-west, admits it is the first time they have been asked to consider a nuclear power station, adding the proposal presents "interesting practical problems".

Jones says the Calder site can be made radiologically safe - "school parties could walk over the preserved reactor". Head of communications Bill Hamilton says the nda has raised the idea of preservation in its draft strategy. Public comment is sought before mid November, when the strategy is put to the government (visit There is local support. Copeland council has backed retention in principle, saving of a cooling tower.

"It's a steam engine", says Jones, now archaeology lecturer at Lancaster University department of continuing education, "a nuclear powered steam turbine. People thought it would give unmetred electricity. It was a huge leap forward. Now they're going to rip it all to pieces".

Model views

The value of aerial observation to archaeology has been appreciated since before the first winged flight - Stonehenge was photographed from a balloon, and some of Britain's pioneering aviation experiments took place in the Stonehenge world heritage site. Recording and analysis are now a science. The latest development (reported in September's journal Antiquity) is the creation of high resolution digital landscape models by airborne laser scanning (lidar); barely visible earthworks can be contoured in detail, even through dense tree cover, and the Antiquity authors say that lidar will rapidly become as significant as aerial photography itself.

There is still room for the enthusiast photographer, however. North Yorkshire community archaeology projects have found a relatively cheap, effective answer to the need for aerial photographs in a model aeroplane. A radio-controlled digital camera is mounted on one side of the aircraft, controlled on a separate radio channel, and the moving image is relayed to a monitor. A flight lasts some five minutes, during which 40 still shots can be recorded.

Ian Pearce, of Great Ayton cap, says the model scores over conventional aerial photography in that it can repeatedly circle a site at low level. The system has been developed by Mike Hughes of Hughes Aeroviews, Ripon (01765 604064,

Return to Gwithian

Archaeologists will welcome news that an important excavation at Gwithian, Cornwall, conducted in the 1950s and '60s, is now being analysed for full publication in 2007. Unusually good preservation in sand dunes led to the recovery of a long prehistoric sequence, with the first Beaker pottery associated house and cultivation marks in fields, and an equally unique post-Roman settlement with large quantities of otherwise rare "grass-marked" pottery. This summer an excavation trench was reopened to obtain new samples for environmental analysis and OSL dating of sand layers which seal occupation horizons. Photo shows Charles Thomas (centre, director of Gwithian excavations 1950-60s), with Bernard Wailes (co-director 1960s) and Joanna Sturgess (member of the 2005 archive team). The work is being done by Cornwall's Historic Environment Service (formerly the Cornwall Archaeological Unit), with support from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund and English Heritage

Cave archaeologists find human remains

Excavations inside a cave at Goldsland Wood, overlooking the Severn plain near Wenvoe, South Glamorgan, have uncovered remains of at least seven prehistoric people. Meanwhile a human skeleton was found when archaeologists opened a blocked cave entrance on the Isle of Skye.

Last year Rick Peterson, subject leader for archaeology at the University of Central Lancashire, saw a row of caves at Goldsland with Stephen Aldhouse-Green from the University of Wales, Newport. "They looked very promising", Peterson says. They were looking for continuous sequences of deposits in several caves that might date back as far as the last ice age over 12,000 years ago.

Trial excavation this summer confirmed good preservation in the cave, whose mouth had been enlarged for neolithic rituals around 3000BC. Peterson thinks a few human teeth and bones may be all that is left of bodies later moved to the nearby chambered tomb of St Lythans. They also found a deposit of ash containing cremated bone. The team will return to dig on a larger scale next year.

Steven Birch and Martin Wildgoose had been investigating High Pasture Cave, Skye, since Birch found ancient deposits there in 2002 (Entrance to the underworld, Sep/Oct). This summer they broke through into the cave's presumed original entrance, and found the bones of a young person, possibly female, a rare iron age burial for the region (c400-150BC).

The 19th century image of "cave man", still strong in popular discourse, was always misleading. In times of extreme cold, early humans used cave mouths for shelter and the passages for rituals, but it is likely that lives were often mostly spent elsewhere. Caves did attract particular types of activity, however, and they protect remains from erosion. With the recent finds of early "art" in Derbyshire and Somerset, and excavations such as these, we can expect to see further important cave discoveries.

In brief

Wight ways

As we go to press, excavation begins at what may become an iconic late iron age or Roman site on the Isle of Wight (c100BC-AD400). Flood defence work by the Environment Agency on the Eastern Yar at Alverstone led to the discovery of Roman causeways preserved in peat. Wight archaeologist Kevin Trott says stakes, brushwood and worked timbers indicating at least four trackways, one with stone cobbles, and associated metal artefacts have inspired comparisons with hitherto unique iron age remains at Fiskerton, Lincs (c450-300BC).Tree ring patterns there suggested to Andrew Chamberlain, University of Sheffield, that posts were renewed during lunar eclipses; metal, bone and wood artefacts had been ritually consigned to the river Witham. The excavation at Alverstone is supported by the Environment Agency and English Heritage.

First posts

A line of 10 posts cutting across a channel in Somerset may be part of an ancient salt marsh fish weir. The timbers were found by C and N Hollinrake, seeking archaeological remains for Wyvern Waste at a landfill site near Puriton. The Times reported a "6500 year-old mesolithic fish weir", but when radiocarbon dates were later obtained they suggested a neolithic date of c4000-3600BC. This could still be the oldest wooden structure in the country, found as a new report reveals that all ancient wood on the Somerset Levels may disappear. See magazine feature, page 32.

Ritual centre

Significant discoveries have been made at Durrington Walls, Wiltshire (c2500-2200BC), as excavations by Manchester and Sheffield universities at the country's largest henge continued this summer (see News, Jan/Feb). Outside the east entrance a midden of unprecedented size was uncovered, containing huge amounts of bones and artefacts, with remains of two houses and parallel ditches marking an approach "avenue". Inside, massive oak postholes of the circular structure first uncovered in 1967 and known as the Southern Circle were investigated. Artefacts had been placed in the pits after the posts had decayed. Much material for dating was obtained.

Phase 2

In the July 2004 issue of British Archaeology, we published a report in which it was alleged that Mr Robert Duquemin had escaped prosecution for metal-detecting on a protected site due to the low value of the articles in question. We accept that this allegation was untrue and are happy to state that charges against Mr Duquemin were dropped when expert evidence prepared for his defence showed that the charges were unsubstantiated and that he had been metal detecting on a field where he had permission to be. We apologise to Mr Duquemin for the distress and embarrassment these false allegations have caused him, and have paid a sum in compensation, together with legal costs.

Apologies to Roger Ling, who thought Butterworth & Laurence's Pompeii "a good read" but lacking in "historical veracity" (Books, Sep/Oct), and found himself described as "professor of art history and visual studies": he is not ("perish the thought!"), but he is professor of classical art and archaeology, at the University of Manchester. In the same issue "the western Celtic fringe and its affiliation with the Liberal Democrats (UKIP and Plaid Cymru/SNP)", said to have been written by Chris Preece (Letters), should have read "OK, and Plaid Cymru/SNP" (yes, in British Archaeology). At another point the editor misspelt his own name, but he probably deserved that.

Our cover story about preserving Long Kesh/Maze drew much interest: WH Smiths, Swindon had to restock twice; author Laura McAtackney gave a long interview to RTE radio; and, amongst other places, her appeal could be read on websites in Swedish, German and Slovenian.

If you want your research seen or your arguments aired, bring them to British Archaeology.

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