The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 95

Issue 95

July/August 2007



Compassion revealed in Quaker finds

Did comb dress Celtic beard or horse's mane?

Consultation continues over future of Scotland's heritage

Popular Scottish hillfort is probably Pictish

In Brief & Phase 2


Archaeology: The Blair Years – How did we do?
Enough of politics, here's the real legacy of the last decade

In Holy Union - Gothic ivories reunited
Mark Redknap describes his eureka moment

Building a New World - Digging up Jamestown
Geoff Egan says the Virginia colony can tell us about Britain

on the web

Recommended websites
Virtual landscapes and research on Hadrian's Wall


Views and responses

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Mike Heyworth on education and training in archaeology


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Star Letter

R****ization - Star letter

Richard Hingley

A recent exchange of views in British Archaeology caused me to reflect on the term "Romanization". In An Imperial Possession (Books, Sep/Oct; Opinion, Nov/Dec), David Mattingly has abandoned the term, while Guy de la Bédoyère (Letters, Jan/Feb) supports its continued relevance: it is open to "flexible interpretation, the hallmark of mature archaeological debate".

In researching my forthcoming book, The Rediscovery of Roman Britain 1580 to 1910, I have found no uses of "Romanization" prior to 1885, when the term was adopted by Arthur Evans to explore the evidence for the passing on of Roman culture to the colonised population of Illyria. The idea was further developed by Francis Haverfield in his influential paper of 1906 ("The Romanization of Roman Britain").

More recently, Martin Millett's highly successful book, The Romanization of Britain (CUP 1990), updated the term, drawing upon new discoveries and ideas. One reaction to Millett's book has been that many began to turn critical attention to the idea of Romanization; indeed, reflecting on these reactions, Millett has recently written (Books, Sep/Oct) that Mattingly "rightly rejects" the use of the term.

Although drawing upon ideas expressed in classical texts, the word "Romanization" is modern. The classical author Tacitus claimed that the first centuryRoman governor, Agricola (Agricola 21), had brought culture (and slavery) to the Britons.During the early 17th century, this formed a powerful way for the British to think about their own colonial possessions in Ireland and north America. The term "Romanization" was invented, however, during the late Victorian and Edwardian crisis of imperial confidence. Its value derived partly from its perceived relevance to the contemporary colonial situation. It presented Edwardian Englishmen with a precedent for their own colonial actions, since the Britons themselves had earlier been colonised by Rome.

The idea of Romanization throughout the 20th century supported a pre-existing approach, which, as is clearly demonstrated by Mattingly, emphasised the archaeological remains of the most wealthy, powerful and Roman – the major towns, villas, roads, fortresses and forts. This perspective created a self-fulfilling prophesy, since until the 1960s sites considered to be less "Roman" were not studied. Since the advent of rescue archaeology, the exploration of non-villa settlements and nucleated small towns scattered across the Roman countryside has indicated that the vast majority of people in southern Britain adopted only limited elements of the new ways of life offered by Rome. The Roman populations of the villas and Roman towns of lowland Britain represented a narrow elite of well-connected people, whose wealth was based on the labours of a substantial population of poorer land owners, tenants and slaves.

This realisation has caused many in the current generation of Roman specialists to challenge the terms with which the Roman past of Britain has been interpreted. While some archaeologists continue to use the term Romanization in their accounts, many have rejected it because of the way in which it closes down important debates about the character of our Roman past. Mattingly uses new terms and approaches to provide a more complex account of identity in Roman Britain, following a comparable intellectual tradition to the late Victorians and Edwardians who developed the (now outmoded) idea of Romanization.

Richard Hingley, University of Durham,


Peter D Iles

Making archaeology matter (feature May/Jun) refers to 13 human skulls found, along with a variety of other human and animal bone, at Langford Lowfields quarry, Nottinghamshire. There seem to be some parallels between this material and that found during the construction of the docks at Preston, Lancashire, in the period 1885–1892, when along with a variety of metal and stone items, wood, two canoes, etc, 20 human skulls and a number of skulls/horns of aurochs and red deer were recovered. The collection was originally dated to the bronze age, on the authority of these tools. More recently, however, the human skulls have been assessed and carbon dated by researchers at Liverpool John Moores University, and the results showed a sequence of deposition dates from the neolithic to the Saxon period, with the most recent skull apparently showing evidence of a sword cut down the side of the face. See "Prehistoric human and ungulate remains from Preston Docks, Lancashire: problems of river finds", by A Turner, S Gonzalez & JC Ohman, Journal of Archaeological Science 29.4 (2002).

Peter D Iles, specialist advisor (archaeology), Lancashire county council Environment Directorate, Preston


Ben Edwards

When I first became interested in archaeology, well over 50 years ago, I had two photographic scales which appear in most of the photographs I took. One was 3ft 6in long, marked off in three one-foot divisions and six one inch ones, the other of one foot, marked in 12 one-inch divisions. Their lengths were thus clearly apparent. Today, as a result of metrication, most scales have five or 10 divisions, with a few of four (the standard 2m ranging pole). The problem with the five and 10 division scales is how does one know the length of the divisions? The answer is usually "By working it out" with such a thought as "If that is a wall it is probably something under a metre wide, so those divisions must be 10cm each" (or whatever). In other words, as with the Dover feature (May/Jun), one works out the length of the scale from the size of the object against which it is set – which is precisely the opposite of what the scale is for! I am not a Luddite; I am not advocating a return to imperial measure; only that scales should show, preferably on the scales themselves, how long they are, or at least if not, that captions should tell us.

Ben Edwards, Preston

• This partly lands on the editor's desk; I aim to identify scales in captions, and missed these in the last issue. Making archaeology matter: p6 top 2m; p6 bottom 1m; p18 2m, 30cm and 50cm; p19 top 2m. Excavating Dover's medieval seafarers: p35 1m; p36 top 2m and 50cm; p36 bottom 2m (x2) and 50cm; p37 top left 10cm; p37 top right 50cm. Apologies, Ed


Warwick Rodwell

I was delighted to read that wonderful interview you had with professor Sheppard Frere (My archaeology, May/Jun). I could "hear" every word of it coming from his lips, in his inimitable style. Having known him since the 1960s, I have always found his slightly dry sense of humour positively side-splitting. He, more than anyone else, helped me in establishing my career, and I shall always be grateful for his kindness and generosity of spirit. Last year, it was a privilege and joy to attend a lunch, with other former students, to celebrate his 90th birthday. Sheppard himself knew nothing about the event, until his wife brought him to the hotel where we lined up to greet him. He is a national treasure.

Well done!

Warwick Rodwell, Chilcompton


Stuart Nisbet

The editorial (May/Jun) claims that history has failed to help us understand the slave trade and that archaeology must do better.

However a later article in the same edition (Smyrna Beach, Florida) relies more on history than archaeology to uncover a colonial slave-run site. Later still, when it comes to assessing the impact of archaeology on tv, most of the programmes cited merge history with archaeology under the fuzzy "heritage" label.

Let's not be snobbish and reject history. While most British Archaeology readers would probably admit to favouring artefacts over archives, digging any site without first checking its written history is not sustainable in 2007.

Stuart Nisbet, Glasgow


Conrad Houle

Regarding the church alignments (feature, May/Jun). As it is reported, the aim was to align the churches eastward. It appears that it must have been accepted in the early days. However, the alignment is not exactly east (90°).

Could it be as simple as what day of the year the builder decided to begin the construction, and where the sun rose that day, he decided that was close enough to east?

Are there records that would state the day in which the construction was begun? And would these records show where the sun would have risen?

Conrad Houle, Rochester NY, USA

What future for archives?

Robert Key

The wonderful world of archaeology is missing a trick and heading for crisis as far as excavated material is concerned.

Exciting and imaginative ways of displaying and interpreting finds, old and new, are attracting new interest in the archaeological record of human life and activity in these islands. Yet the tonnage of unseen material mounts, uncurated and unavailable for consultation. What a waste!

The costs of storage to excavators and museums grow daily. Planning policy dictates that commercial sponsorship of excavations will increase. Those companies have little interest in storing such archives. Local and regional museums have neither the space, staff nor budgets to cope with them.

In the House, in March, I asked minister David Lammy to review this growing financial burden. Flummoxed, he answered a question I did not ask. In April 1 asked him if DCMS ministers had discussed with English Heritage the creation of regional depositories. The answer was no – it was up to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Yet, Rescue tells me they have raised the matter directly with the minister and with the secretary of state and included it in their submission to the DCMS inquiry into the heritage sector.

I am now pursuing this direct with DCMS and with the MLAC.Neither the heritage white paper nor the marine bill white paper addresses the question of archives. With the latest comprehensive spending review imminent, the least we can do is ensure that ministers are not insulated from the facts. I would be grateful for any evidence of the extent of this problem, be it storage capacity, budget constraints, staff shortages or lost opportunities, that I can pass on to ministers.

Robert Key, MP, House of Commons

Somewhere on the desk is a 400,000-year-old flint hand-axe. It's probably my most prized possession.
Novelist Will Self, Guardian Review April 7

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.

CBA web:

British Archaeology

Jan/Feb 2005
Mar/Apr 2005
May/Jun 2005
Jul/Aug 2005
Sep/Oct 2005
Nov/Dec 2005
Jan/Feb 2006
Mar/Apr 2006
May/Jun 2006
Jul/Aug 2006
Sep/Oct 2006
Nov/Dec 2006
Jan/Feb 2007
Mar/Apr 2007
May/Jun 2007
Jul/Aug 2007
Sep/Oct 2007
Nov/Dec 2007
Jan/Feb 2008
Mar/Apr 2008
May/Jun 2008
Jul/Aug 2008
Sep/Oct 2008
Nov/Dec 2008
Jan/Feb 2009
Mar/Apr 2009
May/Jun 2009
Jul/Aug 2009
Sep/Oct 2009
Nov/Dec 2009
Jan/Feb 2010
Mar/Apr 2010
May/Jun 2010
Jul/Aug 2010
Sep/Oct 2010
Nov/Dec 2010
Jan/Feb 2011
Mar/Apr 2011
May/Jun 2011
Jul/Aug 2011
Sep/Oct 2011
Nov/Dec 2011
Jan/Feb 2012
Mar/Apr 2012

CBA Briefing

Courses & lectures
CBA Network
Grants & awards

CBA homepage