The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 96

Issue 96

September/October 2007



Ambassador sees peace message in museum

Archaeologist who fought for history's underdogs dies

Roman fort found in Cornwall

Full scale of ancient Welsh stone quarry revealed

In Brief & Phase 2


More travels - This is not just a walk, this is an archaeological walk
John Cannon considers places to see in County Durham

Green treasures from the magic mountains
Alison Sheridan describes exciting new French project on Jade Axes

Fading star: Star Carr
Fieldwork at the iconic mesolithic site reveals new fears


Let Lucy sparkle

on the web

Recommended websites
Who's blogging? And the Society of Antiquaries of London


Views and responses

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Mike Heyworth wonders what lies ahead for archaeology


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Ambassador sees peace message in museum

At the launch of new British Museum galleries on June 11, Rasoul Movahedian, Iranian ambassador to the uk, said that opening a cultural exhibition was "like leaping into the heart of a magical realm – a realm in which people see the reflection of glory of the past". Iran, he said, had contributed in every era to the enrichment and promotion of human heritage.

Surrounded by elegantly displayed objects from the ancient middle east – including the Cyrus cylinder (c535BC), which the museum likes to describe as the world's first charter of human rights – the ambassador sought a clear political message at a time when modern Iran's internal politics and international standing are both wavering. Iranian scholars, journalists and activists returning home from the west have been arrested. us president Bush believes Iran is building a nuclear weapon and arming Iraqi insurgents, and is said to be impatient with diplomatic negotiations.

This "unparalleled collection of material from ancient Persia", said Movahedian looking around, was "truly a visible embodiment of an ideal of perfection", which could help people "enhance their mutual understanding and friendship". "Today's world", he continued, "needs peace and friendship more than any other time". Referring to the dangers of security and global warming, he said "art and culture is the only safe haven to grasp". "Objects in this museum, as well other museums", reflected vividly "a common message of human cultural heritage: that we need coexistence and dialogue, even with future generations". It was a message that seemed to please archaeologists present.

The British Museum's new galleries show artefacts from the ancient middle east and Europe, and prehistoric and Roman Britain. Ancient Iran 3000BC–AD651 (the Rahim Irvani Gallery) focuses especially on early farming and Persepolis, seen through large 19th century casts of stone reliefs, and features the famous Oxus treasure. Ancient Europe 4000–800BC follows the impact of farming further west, leading to Britain and Europe 800BC–AD43 and finally the largest display, Roman Britain AD43–410 (the Weston Gallery). In reality, almost all the material displayed in the European galleries is British, offering an unprecedented survey of some of ancient Britain's most spectacular artefacts.

• On July 5 the British Museum, long dogged by shortage of display, storage and working space, announced plans to build a £100m exhibition and conservation centre on the north side of its Bloomsbury estate, under the guidance of Lord Rogers. It hoped the new building could be ready by 2011 – which would be in time for a blockbuster show to accompany the Olympics.
• On July 12 the us State Department offered museums grants of up to £100,000, if they could show how a project "promotes us foreign policy".

Archaeologist who fought for history's underdogs dies

Peter Ucko, one of the great and controversial achievers in world archaeology, died on June 14 aged 68, at home in London in the city of his birth. He was not an excavator or a media performer, and to large sectors of the profession he was little known. But in others, particularly in academia and archaeological politics and human rights , he was a leading figure who changed forever the worlds he touched.

That force is best illustrated by his organisation of the 11th Congress of the International Union of Pre- and Proto-historic Sciences, a once important European archaeological forum. Head of the archaeology department at Southampton University, he had approval to do it his way, with a world focus and delegates from indigenous communities whose archaeology was being studied by others. In 1985, the year before the conference, the un called for a boycott of apartheid South Africa. In sympathy with the many attendants who would otherwise not come – and under pressure from the Southampton authorities and the student union – Ucko disinvited South African academics.

Ferment ensued. International media debated issues of free speech. A Times leader claimed the meeting would now be a "rump congress attended by a disreputable group of British Communists and 'Third World' archaeologists". Most north American and all Israeli archaeologists withdrew, the IUPPS itself pulled out and Ucko created a new executive committee after most of its members resigned. The subsequent World Archaeological Congress was a success, and is now established as a major four-yearly event (WAC6 will be in Dublin next year). Its impact has been profound, creating a strong voice for an archaeology beyond artefacts and antiquity, that engages with values, people and politics.

Ucko used his anthropological training to study near eastern figurines for his PhD at UCL, leading to publications critical of the "mother goddess" and simplistic interpretations of ancient art. After lecturing at UCL Anthropology, in 1972 he became principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. He moved to Southampton in 1981, and in 1996 became head of UCL Institute of Archaeology.

He cared deeply for his students, and as chair of the CBA's education committee, he pushed hard for archaeology to be included in the national curriculum. Though keen on public archaeology and a lover of TV soap opera, Ucko did not understand modern media. His many publications (which included an edited study of 18th century Avebury manuscripts, a rare excursion into the British field) were typically unaffordable to most of those for whom he wrote; emails, which he always printed, were "a waste of trees".

His personality mixed shyness and unstoppable determination to further an important cause, with selfless concern for others and an unwitting ability to be cruel to those whose actions he deplored or did not understand. He challenged those who said there were no strong characters left in archaeology

See also Times online article.

Roman fort found in Cornwall

One Roman fort is a fort, but two is a movement – or at least, say Steve Hartgroves and John Smith of Cornwall's historic environment service, they can now "speculate about their wider geo-political context".

Both forts are on hilltops overlooking the highest navigable point of a major river, the Camel which flows north into the Bristol Channel, and the Fowey which flows south into the English Channel. Though only 9km apart, they are strategically sited to oversee traffic moving east–west along the ridgeway that separates them.

The newly-confirmed fort is not far from Restormel castle, above the river Fowey. Classified in 1973 as a "native defended settlement", the plough-levelled square earthwork was subjected to a magnetometer survey by Peter Nicholas and members of the Tamarside Archaeology Group.

This revealed two sets of banks and ditches around a rampart enclosing an area of 60m×70m, with an entrance in each side. It is very similar in shape and size to the other fort at Nanstallon, though the latter has only one ditched rampart.

Finds collected from the field by Jonathan Clemes and others show an unusual quantity of continental and Mediterranean material (75%, compared to 25% from "native" sites), with continuous occupation from the first to the early fourth centuries AD. Iron slag suggests smelting was conducted nearby, though only excavation could prove a direct link. Restormel fort is just 300m from a prominent iron lode, while Nanstallon fort is within 3km of silver, lead, tin and copper deposits. Hartgroves and Smith suggest the Roman military were prospecting for workable mineral deposits.

Investigations in the 1960s at Nanstallon uncovered an HQ building (principia), commandant's residence (praetorium), barrack blocks, workshops and stables. Aresistivity survey is planned to clarify the Restormel fort's internal layout.

Full scale of ancient Welsh stone quarry revealed

Though many more likely remain to be identified, there are only six known neolithic stone quarry locations in Britain, of which Mynydd Rhiw, on the Llyn peninsula in north Wales, was thought one of the smallest. Shallow quarry hollows were first seen in 1956 after gorse burning; excavations in 1958–9 showed that a very fine-grained, flinty-textured rock had been exploited in open pits. The distinctive baked shale was later recognised in some 20 axeheads found scattered across Wales.

Steve Burrow, curator of neolithic archaeology at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, was puzzled by a feature of the site. To find the special stone, the neolithic workers would have had to have dug down through 1.5m of glacial drift. But how did they know it was there?

In 2005 Burrow searched the hill and found one outcrop, and on a later visit geologists found more. In 2006 he excavated a narrow 20m-long trench 350m south of the 1950s excavations, and discovered tons of neolithic quarry debris. Here, he says, the axe makers were aiming not for solid rock, but axesized chunks in the regolith, material churned up by former glacial action. Earlier this year excavation further up the hill uncovered more axe-making dumps and a button made of Whitby jet, possibly linked to nearby bronze age burial cairns.

Importantly, in 2006 Burrow found sufficient charcoal to provide nine radiocarbon dates (part-funded by landowner the National Trust), which indicated activity at the site between 3750–3100BC and again around 2400–2200BC.

The quarried area now stands at some 400m by 30m. Yet to date, though museum geologist Heather Jackson has examined thin sections from 700 axeheads, not one has been found that was made in the newlydiscovered quarries, where the stone is slightly different from that seen in the 1950s excavations. It seems, says Burrow, that the products had only a limited circulation, although the search for more distant exports continues through geochemical analysis.

In brief

Fort grants

The west end of Hadrian's Wall, built in the AD120s, was at Bowness, but forts and towers continued a further 7km down the coast of Cumbria. Most forts are small, but at Maryport is a rectangular earthwork marking one of the largest on the entire frontier. The Senhouse Museum Trust has received £50,000 each from Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd and the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop plans for new visitor facilities, conservation and research at the privately owned site. York Archaeological Trust will prepare a research framework. Development of the site, said a press release, will create "a significant public asset" and "a huge opportunity for the town and the region in terms of tourism, opportunities for community and volunteer involvement and education".

HER guidelines

New guidelines for historic environment records have been launched, to reflect the transition from former sites and monuments records, and for the first time covering Wales and Scotland as well as England. The guidelines, designed for those in local authorities who work with hers, are available at

Scottish cuts

The National Trust for Scotland plans to lose up to 80 of its 500 staff. With shrinking visitor numbers at its 128 properties and overstaffing said to date back to a 1999 reorganisation, it needs to save £3m. The nts has a small team of archaeologists responsible for conservation, research and outreach. Projects recently featured in British Archaeology include the restoration of an 18th century pleasure ground in Perthshire (Jul/Aug) and important mesolithic and neolithic excavations at Crathes, near Aberdeen (News, Sep 2004 and Mar/Apr 2007). Founded in 1931, the nts has 300,000 members.


Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology, was among those honoured for services to heritage in the Queen's birthday list, with an MBE – as was Nick Johnson, county archaeologist for Cornwall.

All change

One of the last acts of Tessa Jowell as secretary of state for culture, media and sport, whom Gordon Brown replaced with James Purnell on June 28 after her six years in the post, was to announce English Heritage's new chair, after much delay. Lord Bruce-Lockhart (experienced in local government) took up the part-time position on August 1, to face the continuing impacts of cuts to EH's grants and the execution of the significant heritage white paper. At a celebratory leaving reception in June, former chair Sir Neil Cossons unveiled Martin Jennings's model of a statue of Sir John Betjeman, set to become the Paddington Bear of the rejuvenated St Pancras railway station.

Phase 2

Phase 2 breaks tradition by not featuring the cover of the previous issue, proud of it as we were (a colourful montage, you will remember, of excavation photos representing the Blair years). On June 18 the Guardian supplement G2 ran a story on "The wrecking of the Thames Gateway", trailed from the front with "Beautiful. Historic. Doomed" over a landscape air photo.

Naturally no-one at the Guardian (conscious of editor Alan Rusbridger's dictum that "Any half-trained reporter can hammer out a story on... archaeology") will have seen the Nov/Dec 2006 issue of British Archaeology, so here it is, with a story on the English landscape trailed from the front with... After all, a broadsheet newspaper with a circulation of 370,000 and teams of editors and designers needs no help from a magazine editor with an old iBook in a spare bedroom.

In the last issue (Jul/Aug) a feature by Geoff Egan on the Jamestown excavations, Virginia, was illustrated with a 400-year-old English lead label stamped YAMES TOWNE. This precious, iconic artefact was blasted into the sky on June 8 in the shuttle Atlantis. It went to the International Space Station and, 6,000,000km and 13 days later, returned safely to earth, as president Bush helped NASA launch an 18-month publicity partnership with Jamestown – an outreach programme of outrageous vision and daring. This journey appears to have attracted no criticism, yet one would have thought it no less dangerous than that soon to be undergone by some bones between Ethiopia and Houston, which professional archaeologists have slammed (see Opinion, this issue). Students of fossils sometimes forget which planet they're on.

News (Jul/Aug) featured a Quaker cemetery under the themes of dissension and compassion. When the media caught up, it was not from us or the excavators, but Environment Agency public relations, who told of a "mass Quaker grave". We try our best.

Finally, congratulations to Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, whose Homo Britannicus was shortlisted for the Royal Society general prize for science books 2007 (reviewed Jan/Feb, "a terrific book").

I wanted to be a palaeontologist, excavating Australopithecus bones in northern Kenya.
Novelist Mark Haddon, Observer.

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