British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 98

Issue 98

January / February 2008

Contents

news

Major new galleries open in Cardiff

Popular scheme threatened: culture change needed

Cultural icon: Phil Harding or Jonathan Ross?

Roman governor in Scotland

Bones of our forefathers

Secrets of Silbury poet revealed

Medieval archaeology comes of age

In Brief & Phase 2

features

Drapers Gardens
First insights into striking discoveries from Roman London

Detecting the past
Let the rally begin: we consider new detecting developments

First iron age furnaces
Rachael Hall describes extraordinary remains from Corby

on the web

Recommended websites
Fringe archaeology, and a new website from Heathrow.

letters

Views and responses

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Lynne Walker reports on the CBA's recent historic building casework

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

on the web

Is there an alternative? (Fringe Archaeology)

Caroline Wickham-Jones looks at what happens when archaeology goes bad.

"Fringe theory" influences popular thought, while many archaeologists prefer to ignore it. The web broadcasts to a wide audience. Many sites present extreme and biased views, but their polished air can make it difficult to assess their validity.How to decide?

The grandfather of fringe archaeology has to be Erich von Däniken (www.daniken.com/e). His website is professional and well-designed, promoting his theory that civilisation as we know it developed from extra-terrestrial contact. The title, "World of Mysteries", hints at his leanings, but a prominent invitation to join his research society provides a sense of academia. More recently Graham Hancock (www.grahamhancock.com) has set up In Search of the Lost Civilisation. The look is good; the content covers the supernatural, climatic change and science stuff, with information about lecture tours and books.

Look more closely, and you find the personality of the central characters rather than archaeological evidence. If you wish to push the boundaries of our understanding of the past, web skills are not enough to support unsubstantiated claims. Robert Lomas has been a prolific author (sometimes with Christopher Knight) on the contribution of freemasonry to science, to the origin of the megalithic yard. His site (www.robertlomas.com complemented by www.knightlomas.com) is text-heavy, and at least cannot be accused of lulling readers with sophisticated graphics.

Author Dan Brown's website (www.danbrown.com) emphasises that he is "impeccably well researched". It does not seek to promote his novels as factual, but offers "bizarre true facts" behind them. A host of websites now seek to support or disprove his theories (www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com; www.allaboutgod.com/da-vincicode-truth.htm; www.christianitytoday.com/history/newsletter/2003/nov7.html). The Priory of Sion aims to debunk Da Vinci claims (priory-ofsion.com). Other biblical challenges include the quest for Noah's Ark (www.noahsarksearch.com).

We all link facts with theory, but sometimes the theories become stretched. The late Thor Heyerdahl connected pyramids and other monumental structures around the world; his website is modest and relies on links, but emphasises his archaeological status (www.greatdreams.com/thor.htm; see also www.kon-tiki.no/Ny/Dok_eng/e_start.html). His experimental archaeology has been obscured by controversy.

Britain has several contributions to fringe archaeology, from the preinternet days of Piltdown Man (www.clarku.edu/~piltdown) to leylines (www.leyhunter.com). Arthur clearly got around (www.magicdragon.com/Wallace/arthur.html; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sites_and_places_associated_with_Arthurian_legend). Occasionally, apparently mainstream sites stray into mystery and get rather lost (witcombe.sbc.edu/earthmysteries).

Fringe can go mainstream. Consider the possible connections between the constellation of Orion and neolithic henge monuments: who would have thought that www.robertbauval.co.uk might lead to www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/orion.htm? Experimental archaeology, once the realm of the eccentric, now has a respectable academic basis (experimentalarchaeology.org; www.butser.org.uk; www.sogaer.ex.ac.uk/archaeology/prospective/maexp.shtml).

"Alternative history", as Bauval calls it, is not to be ignored. It shapes perceptions of the past, and throws up the occasional item of interest, even if only on grounds of sheer inventiveness: look at www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRRDzFROMx0

Alternative archaeology on the web


A long history of arrivals and departures

Tom Goskar and Chris Brayne introduce a substantial new excavation website.

The archaeological investigations at Heathrow Terminal 5 were the largest ever undertaken in Europe. The six-year fieldwork programme has just been completed, and to coincide with this, a website has been launched to share the results.

Archaeology at Heathrow T5 (www.framearch.co.uk/t5) tells the story of how the landscape changed through time. It is not split up into traditional archaeological periods, but into landscapes; points in time where we are able to recognise a difference in how people are using and changing their environs.

The story takes the viewer from the beginnings of human occupation at the end of the last ice age, right up to the construction of T5. Each part of the story is illustrated by evidence-based 3D visualisations, animations and photographs.

The website is designed to be interactive with the reader on a variety of levels. We have tried to make the story as accessible as possible in terms of language, but occasionally more complex terms and words need to be used. An interactive glossary picks out these terms and underlines them with dots. When a mouse pointer is hovered over these words, a definition pops up.

Clicking on pictures will float a larger version over the page. Animations can be viewed on the site or downloaded to watch offline. An interactive map shows a stylised plan of how the landscape changed through time, and allows the user to jump into the story at any point in time. Each page of the story has a navigation bar on the right hand side. From there, it is possible to jump to an overview of each landscape, where they are explained in more detail.

The archaeological data behind the interpretations can be explored in the Evidence section. Fifteen specialist reports are available to download, along with specially designed software called the Framework Freeviewer. This presents a map of the T5 site where you can "drill down" into the actual excavation data, click on features to find out what they are, and even view scans of sections.

The Freeviewer (a geographic information system or GIS) was initially distributed on a companion CD to the first book (Landscape Evolution in the Middle Thames Valley: Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavations 1, Perry Oaks; see Books, Jul/Aug). This new online distribution will allow users to access updates to both the viewer (Windows only) and its data files. For the advanced research user, the excavation data are also provided in a number of alternative formats. Reuse of the data is encouraged through a creative commons license.

No website about an archaeological project is complete without a photo gallery. Archaeology at Heathrow T5 has a gallery that is linked through to the photo sharing website, Flickr (www.flickr.com). The collection includes over 60 photos featuring everything from bronze age cups to archaeologists in situ in their trenches and tea huts. The photographs are released through the Wessex Archaeology Flickr gallery, and reuse of them is encouraged through a creative commons license.

The launch of this website is only the beginning. As more of the story unfolds, new sections will be added covering later periods. Users will be able to post comments – asking questions or setting out their own ideas about the T5 discoveries – and there will be rss feeds for those who wish to keep track of new information.

The website is funded entirely by BAA as part of their commitment to publicise the findings of the Terminal 5 excavations.

The T5 excavations were conducted by Framework Archaeology, a joint venture of Wessex Archaeology and Oxford Archaeology set up to work at BAA airports. Tom Goskar is archaeological multimedia developer and Chris Brayne is head of it at Wessex Archaeology.

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