The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 92

Issue 92

January/February 2007



Ancient trading power near Inverness

Rare insights into a medieval city

Possible new neolithic enclosure on Orkney

Roman Colchester unveils more of circus

In Brief & Phase 2


Stonehenge Douai manuscript discovered
Christian Heck describes his surprise Stonehenge find, a new medieval depiction

Transit van excavation
Bristol students find more than bunk in an old Ford van

Are these the pyramids to revolutionise Europe?
Anthony Harding investigates date claims of 12,000 BC/BP near Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Among tombs and stone circles on Banc Du
A history of discover of Neolithic earthworks and causewayed enclosures

on the web

Recommended websites


Views and responses

CBA news

Headlines from the CBA office


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


The editor receives much correspondence that has little to do with issues raised by the magazine. Just for once he has selected some of this. As always, letters may have been shortened – mostly much, much shortened.


Guy de la Bédoyère

Romanization isn't a dated paradigm and nor has it hamstrung research (David Mattingly Opinion, Nov/Dec). Today it realistically reflects the visible archaeological record, definable by the variable appearance of Roman-type goods and customs. It's open to flexible interpretation, the hallmark of mature archaeological debate. Trying to shoehorn everything into a single model is the really obsolete paradigm.

The high visibility of Roman material and its dramatically variable impact on native culture is the most useful measure across time and place of Roman Britain's social and regional differences, and how it differed from the rest of the Empire. For example, the exceptionally visible military community imported the widest range of samian pottery forms and was also the most conspicuously literate. Conversely, in Britain's remotest regions, appreciating the tenuous or non-existent access to either is an equally important aspect of the picture. Thousands of other sites reflect all the points in between.

As for the Roman army "deliberately" adopting an identity that set it apart: why would soldiers have done anything other than live as they were accustomed? But we can't generally know whether the extent of a community's use of "Roman" material was elective, or imposed by circumstance or institution. Nor can we readily judge how much people selectively adopted culture in order to differentiate themselves from others.

Romanization isn't and can't be obsolete: it is the record available to us and should be used as constructively as possible. Just calling it outmoded doesn't make it so. All serious modern books on Roman Britain consider social and regional variation, long recognised as blatantly obvious. But archaeology doesn't yield motive. Fabricating arcane social science terms like "discrepant identity" won't fill the gap, make good the limits of the record, or provoke a debate where there isn't really one to be had.

Guy de la B&eactute;doyère, Welby.

Roman heads

Miles Russell

I am pleased that Martin Henig has further noted the important Roman. sculptured heads from the Bosham/Fishbourne area (Letters, Sep/Oct). however I am afraid that, with regard to their identification, he is completely wrong. The well-preserved Bosham portrait is clearly not that of Germanicus, Caligula being a much better match, however uncomfortable that observation may be. The battered colossal head, also from Bosham, that he cites as being a representation of the emperor Trajan, unfortunately possesses only a passing resemblance to that particular princeps.Adetailed analysis of the surviving features has demonstrated that, without a doubt, the portrait is that of Nero, the image being an official version of the emperor made between the years ad59 and 64. Trajan would, in any case, have been an odd choice for a monumental sculpture in Britain, a province that he successfully ignored throughout his reign.

The famous marble head of a youth recovered from Fishbourne palace exactly matches the official image of the young Nero, as better preserved examples found throughout the empire amply testify. Arguing that the piece is that of an anonymous son of an anonymous occupant of the palace complex seems like special pleading.

The same identification is clear for the bronze head of the "emperor Claudius" found in the River Alde and currently held by the British Museum. Quite why anyone has ever thought this to be Claudius escapes me, the piece possessing none of the fourth emperor's traits and all those of his successor, the youthful Nero (especially in the "large projecting ears"). In fact the head is almost certainly one of the many images disseminated around the empire at the time of Nero's accession in AD54. As such, the piece could easily still have been a victim of the Boudican revolt of AD60/1 (taken by a British rebel), although a case of Damnatio memoriae remains a possibility. Carol Twinch's letter (Sep/Oct) creates an interesting dilemma: whether a copy of the Alde head should remain on display within Rendham church, Nero being the first major persecutor of the Christian faith, or be cast out. This is a theological matter.

Miles Russell, School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University.

Roman floors

Patricia Witts

I was pleased to see British Archaeology's coverage of the Romano-British mosaics corpus by David Neal and Stephen Cosh (The floors that Rome built, May/Jun). All too often, archaeologists are fairly dismissive of mosaics as inconveniently large and crumbling artefacts that are usually unable to yield the sort of factual information, such as firm dating evidence, that can be forthcoming from other finds.

To the traditional archaeologist, the study of mosaics has sometimes been regarded as the poor relation. The new corpus will hopefully go some way to counteracting this impression, and by making the basic information accessible to a wider audience it will stimulate research in this fruitful area.

Figured mosaics can be studied as much more than attractive decoration: they provide a key to the interests and concerns of those who commissioned them, and have much to offer in helping us engage with the thoughtprocesses of the time.

In discussing mythological scenes in mosaics, however, the authors of the corpus have created a myth of their own. Contrary to their assertion that "the wonderful series of mosaics from Frampton villa, Dorset, contain a bewildering display of mythological tales", the images can be decoded by looking closely at what they represent and what thematic connections exist between them.

The authors are also wrong to state that the Frampton pavements are known only from the engravings of Samuel Lysons: James Engleheart recorded one of them in a painting now in the Dorset County Museum, which was published and discussed by Martin Henig over 20 years ago.

Patricia Witts, Bristol

Roman camps

Caitlín Matthews

I am utterly charmed by the thought of Romano-Pictish settlements on Anglesey (Mick's travels, Nov/Dec).

Could it be that this was some kind of British holiday-camp, policed by helpful druids, where a rapprochement between those military wall-builders and indigenous wall-leapers might be effected? Or maybe the Picts were just after stealing the camp's bouncy-castle so that they could cross the Wall after they returned from their hols?

Why have we never heard of this before? Or perhaps I have missed some contemporary advances in British archaeology? Please enlighten us further...

Caitlín Matthews, Headington

Efficient secretary

Bob Rutland

Further to Nick Corcos's experience of his MP's distinct lack of enthusiasm for archaeology (Letters, Nov/Dec), when Archaeology and Government was published in 1974 by CBA/Rescue, copies were sent to MPs. At the time of my relatives was secretary to an MP. She intercepted it and sent it to me, as I was an archaeologist and would therefore find it interesting!

Bob Rutland, Leicester

We are now analysing the results of our reader survey. The winners of the prize draw – when 25 CBA books will be given away – will be announced in the next issue of British Archaeology. In the meantime, here are some of the comments we received.

I am very pleased to say that British Archaeology now leads the field and every issue is very highly priced but worth every penny. Areally excellent publication and one to be very proud of.

Whatever the editor's salary is, it should be doubled!

Shame the magazine has become an ego trip for Mr Pitts to parade his PC credentials.
No address

Would it be possible to consider an English Heritage watch, examining how EH actually operates in the regions?

This questionnaire should have been bilingual in Welsh and English.
Morgannwg Ganol

Would appreciate more articles on the scientific side of archaeology. Keep up the great work!!
Harrow Weald

Congratulations on the current style and quality of the magazine – I have followed its development with delight.

Seems a good magazine, but I was happy with original newsletter in 60s. Web page excellent. Don't put foreign material in unless v spectacular.
No address

[I would like] features on sites overseas, especially where there is a link to British history (eg early colonial sites in America).

I particularly enjoyed the feature on Iraq's heritage.
Saffron Walden

I would like articles on Egyptology. I would not want British Archaeology to increase any further in size as I am already finding it adds too much weight for me to carry it around in my bag as I used to do to read in cafes and on journeys.
No address

I usually read the magazine from cover to cover with great pleasure.

Splendid in every respect – informative, enjoyable and beautifully designed.

No address

I don't watch much television but enjoy "In view". Why don't you give advance warnings of upcoming programmes?
The publication timetable does not allow us to list in advance.

Sections on course on media studies in archaeology is boring (Bristol thing). Too much modern archaeology!

Most of my interest lies in 20th century archaeology, mostly military sites and Victorian forts locally on the Isle of Wight.
No address

Great coverage of medieval and historical archaeology. More features on museums will be welcome!

It would be very, very useful to add in some information on how to dig etc. It is sometimes hard to understand everything that's going on in the magazines.

Please keep the technical content up – too much "opinion" is really just waffle!
Market Drayton

I have noticed a change towards popularising the mag with an "attention grabbing" front cover and tv and website features. As long as the main point of the magazine does not become sidelined (ie up to date research results, probably not published yet, which can change the understanding of our past cultures), then I am happy!

I really enjoy your articles on the Mary Rose and other underwater topics.

"True" archaeological recording and reportage of the industrial era would appear to be sinking under the weight of the new verbosity and the extreme enthusiasm for the Roman era.

I am totally turned off by WWI and II, having lived through the latter (happily) and find it a very choking subject.

I am disgusted with the invasive questions.
No address

Please send your ideas for the magazine: we may not publish them all, but we will read and take notice. Ed

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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