The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 88

Issue 88

May/June 2006



Meadowsweet flowers in prehistoric graves

Strange fish

"Find of several lifetimes" – cathedral archaeologist

Oldest houses in Scotland

Archaeologists mourn loss of two popular colleagues

In Brief


End of the line: St Pancras Station
How many graves would you have saved? Phil Emery rescues French revolution refugee history.

The floors that Rome built
Stephen R Cosh and David S Neal are recording every Roman mosaic.

Protests at Bling King's grave
What can the Prittlewell protesters hope to achieve?

on the web

Recommended websites


Views and responses

CBA news

Headlines from the CBA office.


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Tribal fictions

Miles Russell

Had to write to whole heartedly agree with Amanda Chadburn's comments (The currency of kings, Mar/Apr). ESVPRASTO has to be the person whom modern historians [and Roman historian Tacitus] call Prasutagus [Boudica's husband] (Prastotagus may therefore have been closer to his real name). The observation opens up a wider concern, however, about the modern interpretation (and mistranslation) of iron age names, especially those allocated to tribes. Plausible names, such as the Iceni, Dobunni, Durotriges and Trinovantes, are regularly mentioned in texts on Roman Britain, but it is worth pointing out that these names are modern fabrications. In all cases they represent an attempt by modern linguists and historians to create a "best fit" from a diverse mass evidence. The Iceni, for example, clearly wrote Ecen, Eceni, Ec, Ecn or Ece on their coins (never Icen, Iceni, Ic, Icn or Ice). "Iceni" is therefore a modern interpretation: a fiction. Similarly the established tribe the "Dobunni", are, given the literary and archaeological evidence, more likely to have been the Bodunni. The "Durotriges" of Dorset cite themselves as the Durotrages on more than one occasion, whilst the "Trinovantes" of Essex are always referred to in Latin texts as the Trinobantes.

It would be nice if we could all refer to Boudica's tribe as the Eceni, as this is closer to their interpretation of their name, but given the frequency of the incorrect variant "Iceni" in modern texts, this is almost certainly unlikely to ever happen.

Miles Russell, senior lecturer in archaeology, Bournemouth University

*Manda Scott calls the tribe Eceni in her Boudica novels. Dreaming the Serpent Spear (Bantam, February 6) is the fourth and last, but she promises to "continue [writing] into the later years of Roman occupation". Ed.

Low Ham detector

Peter Cornall

May I offer a much earlier example of the archaeological use of a mine detector than that mentioned in Amanda Chadburn's article? In the summer of 1947, I was one of a small party of Sixth Formers who spent a fortnight in Somerset on the Low Ham villa dig. The site director's name I cannot recall, but the dig was visited (and perhaps in some manner overseen?) by Dr C Raleigh-Radford. To the best of my memory, it was through his agency that the dig had the loan of an army mine detector, the first I had ever seen. The chief deployment, I believe, of this heavy green-painted apparatus was to try for evidence of blacksmithing in the area of the villa. I fear that I have no memory of any results, which may suggest that they were negative – or else that I was far too humble a member of the team to have been told!

Peter Cornall,

No ham detected

Sarah Scaife

Some years ago I worked for Mark Horton on the Shanga Project. I was an archaeology graduate and research assistant to the British Institute in East Africa. I enjoy watching Mark on TV (In view,Mar/Apr) as it reminds me of the fun we all had: full moon parties, coral reef snorkelling and midnight swims in the Indian Ocean ran alongside the daily archaeological excitements of the research. I can assure your readers that in my view Mark Horton for one does not "act up" for the cameras. If anything he tones down his enthusiasm.

These days I am a consultant to the museums sector, based in Devon – usually, though not always, rather less of an adventure.

Sarah Scaife, museums consultant, Totnes.

Off track

Mark Bell

I really enjoyed your article on the end of Roman Britain (Britannia: the threat within, Mar/Apr). It is about time the dykes got the archaeological attention they deserve, being the only substantial monuments we have for this period. The recent glut of books on the post-Roman period has curiously neglected them. As good as the Ordnance Survey's map of Dark Age Britain was, however, research has moved on in the 40 years since it was published. Time for a new edition?

Can I correct a couple of misconceptions in the article? Recent work has not redated Wat's Dyke – a radiocarbon date from the ground surface under the dyke produced a date between ad268 and 630. It is still possible that this monument is Anglo-Saxon instead of post-Roman in date.

Also the Fleam Dyke does not bar the Icknield Way in Cambridgeshire, because the way does not exist there. The Icknield Way as a long distance path was a fantasy of medieval history, adopted in the early 20th century when it was believed that the only significant prehistoric occupation of Britain was on the lighter chalk soils of the downs. People therefore had to use such "ridgeways" to avoid the impassable damp oak woods that covered the heavy soils of lowland Britain. Aerial photography has shown that the heavy soils have had as much settlement as the chalk.

It is time that such long distance paths should be left behind as one of the bad ideas of the 20th century.

Mark Bell, Bournemouth

Mystery solved

Tony Poyntz-Wright

With reference to the Somerset mystery (Letters, Mar/Apr), I think I can advise as to the location of the site referred to and visited by John Cross in his youth. It is, I believe, Sherborne Old Castle. Sherborne is only some 6 miles from Yeovil where your correspondent was living and the Old Castle has adjoining a large lake. It is in a very ruinous state, but does have a tower of sorts still standing. The Old Castle was built by Roger de Caen, appointed bishop of Sarum by Henry I, and had a somewhat chequered history until Sir Walter Raleigh took a 99 year lease in 1592. He made attempts to repair the castle, but was defeated in that endeavour by persistent mould on his clothes and books and dampness in the fabric. He therefore built the New Castle nearby but was forced to surrender the estate in 1614 and in 1617 it was sold to Sir John Digby (1580–1653) and has remained in the ownership of the Digby family ever since.

Tony Poyntz-Wright,Taunton.

Legitimate descendant

Steven M Campbell

I have interest in follow up articles or news with respect to the reported marriage of George William Frederick toHannah Lightfoot (1759) as it pertains to your article and the findings at Carmarthen church (News, Forgotten "royal" graves found in Carmarthen church: George III's first marriage casts doubt on legitimacy of the Queen, Dec 2000). I am also interested in sources concerning "George Rex" of South Africa and "George Rex" of Pennsylvania, usa, each reporting to be the son of George III and Hannah Lightfoot.

Thank you in advance for your response.

Steven M Campbell, 6th generation, George Rex, USA,

On the tile

Peter Groom

Your article on Roman rabbits (News, Jan/Feb) was interesting. Several years ago, I attended a talk by a local archaeologist. During the talk she showed a slide of a Roman tile found in East Anglia, the tile clearly depicted a man carrying two rabbits. After the talk I pointed this out to the speaker but was told that the Normans introduced rabbits. I argued that if the person depicted was carrying hares as she suggested then the Roman tile maker would have sketched hares and these were quite clearly rabbits. I was corrected again and the conversation ended. Perhaps the physical evidence that you documented may be the proof required to validate the Roman artist.

Peter Groom, Stafford.

Nebra on view

Brendan O'Connor

The Nebra find (Letters, Mar/Apr) was deposited around 1600–1500BC, as we can tell from the associated objects, which are characteristic of that period, and radiocarbon dating. The disk itself must have been made a bit earlier because it had been reworked three or four times and was no longer new when it was buried. But it was made of low tin bronze, and bronze objects appeared in central Europe only around 2000BC. The Nebra exhibition has moved to the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg until July 16 (see

Brendan O'Connor, Edinburgh

*Josephine Leigh (Letters, Mar/Apr) corrects her dating to 1600BC. Ed.

Questioning Urswick

Mark Brennand, Dave Coward, Daniel Elsworth, John Hodgson, Ben Johnson, Eleanor Kingston, Rachel Newman & Richard Newman

We were concerned to read an article about Urswick, Cumbria (Running with the runes, Mar/Apr), amounting to an endorsement of the site as that of a Roman military installation. We are local contractual, curatorial, and voluntary sector archaeologists. We have visited the site during the excavations, have followed them through extensive local media coverage, and one of us was employed there in 2005, supervising the excavations during the director's absence.

The site has produced very few Roman or other finds, and there is no evidence of Roman structures or military presence. The sandstone in the field walls and church may be worked, but it need not have come from a Roman fort. There have been no verified Roman inscriptions, tombstones or topsoil finds from the site. The few remains there are, encourage an interpretation as little more than an agricultural landscape of largely undatable features.

The proposed early medieval monastic boundary has proved elusive to archaeological detection; the original provenance of early medieval sculptures at Urswick is unknown.

We have no objections to an archaeological project centred on Urswick, and the involvement of the local community is laudable. We do not lightly criticise a colleague's work, but our passion for the archaeology of the north-west has left us with little choice.

Mark Brennand, Dave Coward, Daniel Elsworth, John Hodgson, Ben Johnson, Eleanor Kingston, Rachel Newman and Richard Newman, Milnthorpe.

Honouring colleagues

Mick Aston

It may be because I am getting old, but I did "enjoy" the Requiem section (Mar/Apr). I hope this becomes a regular feature (I also hope that I am not in it for a very long time yet!). Keep up the good work.

Mick Aston, Winscombe.

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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