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


Ancient trading power near Inverness

Work that began as the investigation of a small palisaded enclosure overlooking Loch Ness, has uncovered part of one of the country's best preserved iron age settlements. The bases of circular turf walls survived around plank-floored houses that may have had two storeys. The scarcity of domestic refuse and evidence for working glass and metals suggest an industrial zone within a seat of power.

Headland Archaeology first sampled a palisaded enclosure seen in aerial photos at Culduthel Farm, near Inverness, in advance of housing construction by Tulloch Homes. Much of the site, however, was unavailable for evaluation at an early stage because of an exclusion zone around badger setts. A subsequent watching brief revealed what project manager Mark Roberts describes as "a huge black splodge" downslope from the palisade. "I've never seen anything like it before", he says. "It took several months to peel it apart, like an onion". The archaeologists praise the Tulloch Group for their cooperation.

Excavation between June 2005 and February 2006 uncovered the remains of 17 round houses, some lying under deep ploughwash. They were built round an internal post-ring, and most had an entrance porch facing northeast. The outer wall of two, the larger 20m across, stood in a ring-groove with a stone-faced turf wall laced with timbers.

Some of the charred wood is thought to indicate floor planks. Many pits were well over 1.5m deep, with massive stones for packing posts; several contained the actual burnt timbers. No houses appeared to have domestic hearths. Supervisor Ross Murray says this may reflect their function, or, he suggests, hearths could have been on a higher floor level; ladder footings have been tentatively identified.

Eight metal-working furnaces were found within the buildings, with much iron slag, iron bloom and clay furnace lining in adjacent deposits. Copper working was also indicated, by slag, many crucible fragments and ceramic ring-moulds. Arotary quern stone had two ingot moulds carved into one side and a unique fish-tailed mould into the other. Blanks and waste from making glass beads were also found (a pink bead may be unique in iron age Scotland), with small pieces of enamel waste. Further metal-working debris was found in a cobbled area 100m east of the settlement.

Iron objects were common and very well preserved, including chisels and awls, bolts for joining wood and smaller decorative objects. An iron sword stood point down in a posthole; a small knife and a spearhead had been similarly "sacrificed".

An enamelled Romano-British bow and fantail brooch, horse harness and decorated sword-hilt guard, date from the late first/early second century AD. A few small Roman coins are interpreted as signs of trade.

Rare insights into a medieval city

Amajor redevelopment that will see some 50 new shops built has been the occasion for much the largest archaeological project ever to occur in Cambridge. Excavation, on a scale little seen in a historic city since the urban renewals of the 1960s and 70s, has revealed extensive details of the medieval town boundary known as the King's Ditch, and a wide area of contemporary suburban development. Waterlogged conditions led to the survival of many wooden structures and artefacts.

The Cambridge Archaeological Unit began work for the Grand Arcade Partnership with evaluations on the 1ha site in 1996, conducting the main excavation through 10 months in 2005 and between March and May in 2006.

The King's Ditch, dated c1050–1150 (it is hoped continuing analysis will determine whether or not it has a preconquest origin, a much-debated issue), survives above ground only in street alignments, but was once a substantial earthwork. At one excavated site the ditch was 14m across and 2.5m deep, with steep sides and a flat base. Unmixed clay backfill in the ditch could be collapsed bank material, and a c20m wide "clean" zone within the ditch's inner edge, with little evidence for other medieval activity, may indicate the site of a missing inner bank. Detailed investigation revealed much about the ditch's initial construction, remodelling and features such as small bridges.

The King's Ditch cut the excavated area in two. On the smaller, town side, clearance for car parking in the 1970s had removed much evidence; deeper medieval pits and part of a large wooden tank were amongst finds. On the other side, however, a dozen adjacent properties of an early suburb development beyond one of the main gates, at least in part deliberately laid out and defying an earlier property boundary, was well preserved.

The modern street frontage has been retained, so archaeologists were unable to investigate early street front structures. Immediately behind, however, were many pits, from extraction of gravel and clay and associated with small scale industry. Craig Cessford, senior project officer, says the new development includes a double level of basements, lowering the area by 6m. Archaeological excavation thus went deeper than often occurs, leading to the complete emptying of filled wells and the recovery of much material preserved in the wet conditions. Finds included wattle and barrel linings of the wells themselves, wood-lined tanks, part of a discarded wicker eel trap, dressed planks and a complete handled wooden jug, probably 14th century, turned with great skill from one piece of European maple.

Other finds include a rare small 16th century leather tankard. Large 18th–early 20th century assemblages were recovered, and cellars and wells were investigated in unusual detail. Exhibitions are planned for 2007.

Possible new neolithic enclosure on Orkney

There is a concentration of prehistoric remains around the Lochs of Harray and Stenness on Orkney, including the Ring of Brodgar and Stenness stone circles, Maeshowe chambered tomb, other cairns and megaliths, and settlement at Barnhouse. Recent work, however, aided by some 200ha of a variety of geophysics surveys, suggests that even this underestimates the richness of this part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney world heritage site.

Evaluation had shown that most of a substantial mound on the Ness of Brodgar could be artificial, a mix of midden, soils and structures, and date to the neolithic. Alarge mediaeval-looking linear anomaly was seen to be a series of different neolithic structures eroding out of the side of the mound.

The Orkney Archaeological Trust excavated a larger area in 2006, expecting, says project manager Nick Card, to find the interior of a building. Instead they came across a large radially-divided oval structure some 8m by 6m internally, with domestic and funerary elements, an inserted fireplace and a massive drain. Finds include a cache of flint artefacts, pottery, a ground stone axe and ground adze, and a decorated stone slab associated with a cist. Excavation will continue in 2007.

Meanwhile as part of improving public access to the Ring of Brodgar, construction began on a car park at the Dyke of Sean, a supposedly medieval earthwork that crosses the peninsula, but may in fact be prehistoric. An arc of walling was discovered that seems to coincide with very slight indications in a magnetometry survey and aerial photos that were previously thought to be geological. There is no direct dating, but, says Card, "Everyone thinks it is prehistoric, possibly part of a large enclosure over 100m across".

Roman Colchester unveils more of circus

Like a construction project still in progress, further significant details of Britain's first Roman circus at Colchester, Essex have emerged. It is now known to be 450m long – 100m longer than first thought. Elsewhere in the town the complete plan of the Head Gate has been confirmed, with two carriageway arches.

Taylor Woodrow's continuing redevelopment in the Napier Road area has led to the uncovering of a 13m long wall foundation, part of the stadium's semicircular eastern end. The circus was as long as that at Arles, France (see feature Mar/Apr 2005) but relatively narrow. The site of the starting gates was identified at the west end in 2005.

Philip Crummy of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, contractor to RPS Planning Transport and Environment, says part of the inner wall supporting the seating bank had collapsed onto the track. An inlaid pendant had probably been torn off a horse as it collided with the wall. Beyond the outer wall, across the truncated earth bank, was a gravelled area, well preserved under a thin layer of demolition debris.

The south-facing Head Gate, the third Roman wall gate to be fully planned in Colchester, was found while cat was monitoring roadworks for BT and Lowery Ltd. Built ad65–80, the gate had a central pier, proving a design with two arches. Historical sources seemed to indicate one, but Crummy, who had predicted the wider route, says it is likely that housing congestion had swamped the other arch before demolition in 1753. "We are completely delighted", he says.

In brief

Tombstone saved

Last year (News, Mar/Apr 2006) we revealed that a property developer was considering the New York sale of a Roman tombstone found in Lancaster. Lancashire Museums has now announced that, aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the V&A–MLA purchase grant fund and the Oxford-based Haverfield bequest, it will be able to acquire the stone, and conserve, study, publish and ultimately display it. The 2.5m high memorial depicts a horsemounted curator (a quarter master or junior officer) of the Ala Augusta, holding the severed head of a tribal man whose body kneels below, still clutching a sword. Stephen Bull, curator of military history and archaeology in Lancaster, said the stone was "an iconic piece of Lancaster's dramatic past"..

Return of AHOB

Proving that you can save valuable time thinking up contrived acronyms, the five-year Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, funded with over £1m by the Leverhulme Trust, is to continue a further five years with £999,000 from the same source. AHOBL, which brought together many archaeologists and other scientists, successfully combined new work with renewed research on old excavations, culminating in last December's announcement (BA Jan/Feb 2006) of 700,000 year-old flint flakes from Pakefield, Suffolk. East Anglia will continue a major focus for ahob2, with other work to include an attempt to extract dna from the hominin jaw from Kent's Cavern, Devon. Anewdate of c35,000 years ago suggests it may be neanderthal rather than, as previously thought, modern human.

Bastion found

Awatching brief by Pre-Construct Archaeology at the installation of a pumping station at the former Shippams social club has uncovered a bastion in the Roman town wall on the east side of Chichester, West Sussex. The superstructure had been robbed, but a massive 7m square ashlar stone base survives, incorporating a recycled piece of moulded stonework, probably from a monumental structure. Council archaeologist James Kenny says, "this is a once in a lifetime discovery". The remains have been preserved in situ by Kier Property Developments.

Up all night

Amongst independent groups recognised in November by the British Archaeology Awards, previous winner the Biggar Archaeological Group, Lanarkshire continue to impress. It took the Heritage in Britain Award (for securing a long-term site preservation), was runner up for the Pitt Rivers Award ("We were lost in admiration at the sheer scale of their work") and its website was recommended by the Mick Aston presentation award ( Presentation was also honoured in the press award, shared by Eastern Daily Press's Treasure: Your Past, and Win Scutt for his World Archaeology News on BBC Radio Five Live (3.30am !)

Phase 2

The Tomb Builders in Wales 4000–3000 BC by Steve Burrow and Requiem: The Medieval Monastic Cemetery in Britain by Roberta Gilchrist and Barney Sloane were the winners in strong book awards short lists (last issue).

The British Museum's Stuart Needham, coauthor of an importantfeature in the last issue (reported in Norman Hammond's Times column) about the Moor Sand and Langdon Bay bronze age metalwork groups, was unhappy with the editor's handling of what, for British Archaeology, was an obscure phrase for an obscure artefact, a "strumento con immanicatura a cannone". Needham had asked for "implement with perforations and socket", rather than the editor's direct translation.

We celebrated 30 years of aerial photography by the Scottish royal commission in the Jul/Aug issue with some spectacular shots, but less impressive captions. Michael Donaldson tells us that the picture on page 27 shows Manderston House, not Mellerstain. Author Dave Cowley adds that the island on page 28 is Harris, not Lewis.

News Sep/Oct 2005 reported concerns that little investigated cropmark sites between Bow and North Tawton, Devon, were threatened by a proposed windfarm. Peter Green, of the Den Brook Valley (Wind Turbine) Action Group, says planning consent has been refused, with archaeology a consideration. The developer has appealed.

Amanda Chadburn recommends Unearthing Mysteries featuring Boudica's partner King Prasutagus, to be aired on Radio 4 on boxing day, a programme for which she was interviewed after someone read her feature (Mar/Apr 2006). On December 19 the series, presented by Aubrey Manning, reports on the Ancient Human Origins project.

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