British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 95

Issue 95

July/August 2007

Contents

news

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

features

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

letters

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

on the web

Past landscapes on the move

Caroline Wickham-Jones looks out of the window.

Archaeologists are concerned with the way sites combine into landscapes. So how is complex landscape history presented online? The obvious ports of call, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Cadw and English Heritage provide plenty of information, maps and illustrations. But they have been well-visited in this column, and this time we shall look elsewhere.

First, a definition from a site randomly selected from the many education courses now available: the University of Oxford Department of Continuing Education says landscape archaeology is understanding “past human impacts on the resources, topography and environment of the whole landscape, from uplands to coasts, and from farmed landscapes to urban/industrial areas” (awardbearing.conted.ox.ac.uk/archaeology/mscala.php).

Some local councils have embraced the landscape dimension to their archaeology. Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service offers some rather dry links(www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/default.asp?Document=600.20). If you want to get out and become involved the bbc has an extensive range of information from top tips to case studies (www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/local_history/landscape/landscape_history_top_tips_01.shtml). Of several local groups, the Chester Society for Landscape History has a good web profile (www.chesterlandscapehistory.org.uk). There are national societies and journals, from the Society for Landscape Studies (www.landscapestudies.com), to Landscapes (www.windgather.co.uk/landscapes.php), though these have surprisingly little information on their websites.

Landscape archaeology is popular: there is even a group on Flickr dedicated to sharing and discussing photos of UK landscape history (www.flickr.com/groups/uealandscape). Perhaps the most fun thing, however, is the way it lends itself to digital reconstruction. Technology offers sophisticated virtual worlds that are ideal for expressing the dynamism of landscape change. You can experience past landscapes, from the popular (the landscape traversed by the massed armies of the Total War fanatic: www.totalwar.com) to the academic (Stirling University: www.virtual-landscape-centre.co.uk – sadly no animations online).

UK Agriculture is an impressive site run by Living Countryside (www.ukagriculture.com). In addition to a wealth of information on everything farming, prominence is given to a comprehensive account of the way the landscape has changed from the ice age to the present day. The information is given in digestible snippets that may be over-confident for some, but this is archaeology reaching out to a wide audience and the animations are splendid. The one thing missing, curiously, seems to be fields and boundaries.

Wessex Archaeology offer a more specialised animation of a submerged mesolithic landscape, the river Arun (see box). There is an informative, if somewhat breathless, voiceover, and the scale of information changes nicely from the land itself to the people within it. This is complemented by several pages of well-illustrated text.

Imaginatively, these last two sites also offer their animations on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcGBnVI0gM0). Contributions here range from the serious to the bored. It is obvious that some people are well aware of the power of sites like these to reach out to a wide audience: but perhaps more archaeologists could take note, and take part.

Historic Webscapes


Roman barrier now community inspiration

Matthew Symonds introduces endless stuff about Hadrian's Wall – a research framework on the web.

Ownership can be a thorny issue in archaeology. Hadrian's Wall is no exception. The vast majority of the monument remains privately owned, while the sites and museums along the wall are owned and operated by a network of different bodies. The remains themselves are scheduled ancient monuments, ensuring that any work or disturbance is strictly controlled. Yet beyond the physical vestiges there is a vast corpus of knowledge, built up over the centuries. Who owns that? And who has the right to use it for future research? Here at least the UNESCO status of Hadrian's Wall provides a simple answer: as a world heritage site it belongs, in a very real sense, to all of us.

The new research framework is an English Heritage project, undertaken by Durham county council and Archaeological Services Durham University. It explores three elements: the existing knowledge base, gaps within this, and strategies to plug them. It will not fund research, but is intended to signpost, though not of course dictate, the direction of such research. Hadrian's Wall studies are resplendent with examples of how enthusiastic amateurs can make a major contribution to knowledge, and the research framework is attempting to reach the archaeological community in its broadest sense.

It would be impractical for all interested parties to attend everything, but the internet provides a forum where everyone can have their say. To exploit this potential, project documents have been tailored for web publication and are designed to encourage participation. Much of this material is in a draft state, promoting discussion rather than offering a bold and closed statement of intent. It is not, however, a Wikipedia-style free-for-all: suggestions are adjudicated by the project officer or supervisors. The project documents are at www.dur.ac.uk/archaeological.services/research_training/hadrianswall_research_framework/project_documents.

At the most prosaic level, a list of collections holding Hadrian's Wall material is being assembled. Keeping track of artefacts discovered centuries ago is no trivial undertaking, and by posting our progress online people can and do add to the list. This is not just getting others to do our work: it allows everyone to contribute to and even shape the outcome of the project.

Draft documents showcasing current perceptions of the frontier have been voluntarily compiled by a diverse group of wall experts. To promote equal coverage, these contributions have been subdivided into eight themes: Pre-Roman, Stanegate, The Wall, Forts, Trade and Exchange, Landscape and Environment, Life and Society, and Post-Roman. These provide a fascinating insight into all aspects of the frontier zone and create a starting point for designing research strategies.

There are as many opinions about what is important as there are interested parties, yet it is only by building a consensus that the project will be a success. By making this research material freely available, everyone can ensure that their area of interest is fairly represented and devise a wish list for future research. Although the cache of internet documentation is not yet complete, the response has been encouraging. Topics deserving more coverage have been identified and contributions which address them offered and accepted. Feedback has been positive, and includes a steady stream of enthusiastic suggestions. It is hoped that the full impact will be felt at a public meeting, to be advertised online. All of the interested parties will be present and, using the internet material as a basis, research priorities will be identified and discussed. As well as ensuring that the end product is as robust as possible, by keeping everyone engaged and up to date throughout, the entire community will have ownership of the final document.

Matthew Symonds is the Hadrian's Wall research framework project officer.

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