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Cover of British Archaeology 91

Issue 91

November/December 2006



New finds 30 years on from the drought of 76

Houses near Stonehenge astonish archaeologists

Roman pool may be for early Christian baptism

Logboat's last voyage launches new journey

In Brief


English landscape: lovely, isn't it? It's dead
Cider with trunk roads - Trevor Rowley casts an archaeological eye on the last century

Final proof of ancient UK contact with Sicily?
Salcombe and Dover - Bronze age wrecked cargoes in Devon and Kent

Science: evidence for ancient dairying
Neolithic farmers milked their animals in 4000BC

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ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


New finds 30 years on from the drought of 76

Dry seasons force crops to root deeper and reveal hitherto unknown buried features. 2006 was such a year, in which archaeologists flying across the UK reported new discoveries and sites not seen since the exceptionally dry summer of 1976. In Scotland, where the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments was celebrating 30 years of flying (Jul/Aug 2006), the Roman forts and camps at Trimontium (Newstead) were revealed in detail not seen across large areas since the 1940s. In England at Hutton Moor, North Yorkshire a neolithic cursus monument (c3000BC) could be seen (parallel lines bottom left) near the Cana Barn henge, south-east of the Thornborough henges. In south Wales the concentric ditches of a new neolithic causewayed enclosure (c4000BC) showed as grass marks near St Athan airfield in the Vale of Glamorgan (below). Two new Roman fortlets were also found, near Llanerfyl, Powys and Bala, Gwynedd.

Houses near Stonehenge astonish archaeologists

Excavation within the Stonehenge world heritage site has revealed up to nine houses, from a time when such structures are extremely rare. The closest parallels may be in Orkney.

Last summer was the third major fieldwork season of the joint university Stonehenge Riverside Project. Work continued at several locations, including at the large henge earthwork of Durrington Walls, where the houses were found, dating to c2500–2400BC.

Three houses identified in 2005 outside the east entrance into the henge, close to the river Avon, were further investigated in 2006, with four others, some extremely well preserved. The walls of the structures, the largest some 6m square, are marked by lines of small postholes about a metre out from the trapezoidal chalk plaster floors. Sometimes there are shallow trenches in the space between, which Mike Parker-Pearson (University of Sheffield) interprets as footings for wooden furniture of the type seen in neolithic stone houses in Orkney. Sites there such as Skara Brae are also linked to Durrington Walls by the common occurrence of distinctive Grooved Ware pottery. Each house has a hearth, defined by intense reddening.

Most remarkable are two houses found inside the henge at the centre of substantial ring ditches, the larger 40m across, with a single entrance; the smaller had an external bank, and Julian Thomas (Manchester University) is calling them "henges". The house inside the larger ditch is similar to the largest by the river, with the addition of stakes in a slot across the front and 27 "palisade pits". Beyond this were three very large postholes. Close by a house of similar size was also surrounded by a palisade, on the inner edge of the ditch.

Thomas says these unique enclosed houses may have been former homes "venerated and elaborated", or perhaps had been "shrines" from the start. Could the larger have been a chief's house? "That's only one of the possibilities", he comments. They are broadly contemporary with Stonehenge, but a large dating programme and further excavation will clarify the relationship.

Thomas thinks all these structures may be older than the large henge earthwork. This came to public attention in 1967 when a road was improved, revealing the first large "timber henge", concentric rings of massive postholes, to be excavated in modern times. Further work in 2006 included a return to that site; re-excavation of part of nearby Woodhenge (first dug in 1928) by Joshua Pollard (Bristol University); and investigation of a scatter of bluestones near the Cursus by Colin Richards (Manchester University). Chris Tilley (UCL) and Kate Welham (Bournemouth University) are also project directors.

Roman pool may be for early Christian baptism

Excavation by the Kent Archaeological Field School has revealed an unusual octagonal Roman bath house at Bax Farm, near Faversham. The masonry structure, c10m across, enclosed a central octagonal frigidarium pool over 5m across, with a large brick conduit for supplying cold water. The walls were originally decorated with painted plaster, and the floors with coloured tesserae (small ceramic or stone cubes); smaller marble mosaic cubes were also retrieved. Some rooms had underfloor heating, with alcoves containing hot plunge baths. The base of a rectangular pillar, says KAFS director Paul Wilkinson, suggests the bath house was arcaded.

In the early 5th century ad the cold pool was rebuilt as a smaller circular plunge bath. The brick conduit was blocked off, and a lead water pipe installed to feed the pool and a small fountain whose apparent base survived. The floor and tiled steps leading down into the pool were painted blue.

"The function of these elaborate and exotic buildings has often been discussed", says Wilkinson, adding that this is the first found in south-east England. "But most experts keep coming back to the idea that the octagonal frigidarium could have been used for Christian baptism or even Jewish sacred bathing". He compares a five branched design on a lead seal found at the site to the seven branched Jewish candelabrum or menorah.

The Bax Farm villa is one of several large Roman estates equally spaced along the Roman Watling Street (News, Jun 2000).

Logboat's last voyage launches new journey

A well-preserved prehistoric logboat found in the river Tay in 2001 has been lifted and is now undergoing conservation in Edinburgh. It is hoped eventually to exhibit her in Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

The late bronze age boat (radiocarbon dated to 1130–970BC) was found by metal detectorists in the intertidal zone of the Tay estuary at Carpow, near Abernethy (News, Feb 2002). Work by David Strachan of Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust in 2002 and 2003 (News, Nov 2003) revealed the vessel to be c9.25m long, carved from a single oak log, with a rare vertical transom board at the stern end; apart from some erosion at the prow, the boat was in unusually good condition.

It was clear from study of the boat in situ that she was eroding fast, so her excavation and recovery were arranged through a partnership between the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Historic Scotland and the National Museums of Scotland. It is the flagship project of a Scottish Executive initiative announced in 2005 to promote and protect Scotland's wetland archaeology.

Strachan and a team of archaeologists exposed the boat over seven days during spring tides in July and August, revealing two carved stopblocks behind the transom board and further detail such as repairs and a possible seat base. She was towed 1.5km downriver to Newburgh, where, watched by locals and BBC Scotland, she was winched in a metal frame onto a lorry which drove to Edinburgh. Here over three years she will be impregnated with polyethylene glycol, then freeze-dried.

In brief

Anglo-Saxon brooch mystery

An announcement on the future of two exceptional Anglo-Saxon brooches is expected as we go to press, under questions as to why their provenances are unknown. Culture minister David Lammy placed a temporary export bar to allow interested parties to raise £7,000 for a gilded mount and £15,000 for a square-headed brooch. The expert report noted the mount had "extremely fine interlacing animal motifs... of beautiful execution and fluidity", with "only few parallels, one of them on the great gold buckle from Sutton Hoo". The square-headed brooch "has not been recorded or published, and was not known to the author of the most recent work on brooches of this type" (J Hines 1997). It has the "remnants of textile on the back". They are said to have come from the stock of a dealer in liquidation.

Sir John Evans centenary

The death of antiquarian Sir John Evans (1823–1908) is being marked at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford by a project that includes a catalogue of his archive, an anniversary conference and a recreation of his study in the new gallery of European prehistory. Evans, the father of Knossos excavator Sir Arthur Evans, published important works on coins, stone and bronze implements, and was central to the debate about human origins in the 1850s. The Ashmolean announced in August that her majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark has accepted patronage of the project, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Flag Fen boost

A proposed £500,000 Archaeological Resource Centre at Flag Fen, Peterborough, has been given £10,000 by Peter Boizot. Owner of the Great Northern Hotel, Boizot had previously helped the Fenland Archaeological Trust with gifts of £25,000 towards excavations at the site. The centre will provide facilities for working on finds from Flag Fen, as well as future material expected from major developments in Peterborough. The timbers from Seahenge, the bronze age ring from the foreshore at Holme, Norfolk, were first treated at Flag Fen, before moving to the Mary Rose Trust workshops in Portsmouth. The structure will be at the heart of major new displays at Kings Lynn museum.

Phase 2

Since last issue's feature on the current threat to Iraqi antiquities, and our interview with US Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, Iraq's heritage has again been in the news. Donny George, president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, praised for his work after Baghdad Museum was looted in the chaos of April 2003, has resigned and gone into hiding with his family in Damascus. George told the Art Newspaper that Baghdad was so dangerous that the National Museum had been encased in concrete to protect it from further attacks and looting.

Neil Brodie, research director at the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, Cambridge University, investigated the looting of the Baghdad museum and the present situation regarding antiquities in The Search for Iraq's Treasure on Radio 4 (Sep 6) – sadly not presently available for listening on the BBC website.

Apologies for attributing a remark in Books to Nic Fleming (Telegraph journalist and son of archaeologist Andrew Fleming) instead of Nic Flemming (maritime archaeologist and commentator).

In Nov/Dec 2005, we revealed (News) that Clifford Jones had requested that English Heritage list components of Calder Hall, Windscale, as the world's first Magnox power station, "with brass fittings and dials, all set in a Dan Dare future". The Department for Culture Media and Sport, he now tells us, has decided not to list. The adviser's comments noted that a likely museum would effectively preserve the reactor, heat exchanger and turbine hall. The unexceptional cooling towers fall belowcurrent design standards, and deterioration has been noted since 1967, resulting in planned demolition and reduced maintenance.

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