The other day Vinci project manager Simon Clark very kindly showed me around the works at the emerging new visitor centre at Airman’s Cross. It’s well on it’s way, though even looking at it like this it’s still difficult to believe it’s really happening, so complex has been the route. Here is what it looked like, with, first, a couple of shots of the old (present) site. There are subtle changes here if you know what to look out for, like this hedge cut down:
Here is a view in the new Denton Corker Marshall building, looking out from the ticket booth:
Inside it’s very spacious, from the top below, retail area and then part of the museum:
Here are some views of the undulating roof:
And a view from the roof (you can just see some of the Winterbourne barrows in the distance):
The front wall, with its forest of erratically aligned supports:
And then there are the plant rooms, bus park ticket office, stores, offices and so on – not to mention the huge landscaped parking areas – that will help to make this a completely different experience from the old facilities for everyone who works there or visits:
And soon this will be history, the A344:
Perhaps not (though no obvious other candidates spring to mind) but it’s worth asking. What it certainly is, is quite different from any Stonehenge film you will see made today. In fact it’s so different, the very comparison is an object lesson in thinking and communicating about the past, and in broadcasting history.
I’ve just watched Paul Johnstone’s 30-minute 1954 film for the BBC TV series Buried Treasure, called, simply, Stonehenge. It’s in black and white, of course, and it mixes studio talk with outdoor film sequences. It’s powerfully different from a modern film.
Now, we get ordered to believe – to the accompaniment of dramatic but stale film sequences and lots of noise, as if someone had opened the Stonehenge cupboard and everything had fallen out on us – that a new film will change the way we think about Stonehenge; that it shows a new explanation that kills dead everything else.
Then, we got a Cambridge don in a bow tie – not a sunset or megalith in sight! – saying, in immaculate diction, “Good evening. Our programme tonight is about a monument which is one of the wonders of the prehistoric world of western Europe – Stonehenge.”
Not “the”, but “a monument”… not “the”, but “one of the wonders”… not “the world”, not even “Europe”, but “western Europe”… No sensationalism here, as the programme strikes out confidently in a style that blends a Cambridge tutorial with the darker recesses of Radio 3.
It’s quite wonderful! For the “ordinary viewer”, as presenter Glyn Daniel used to call us, the film gives something that no other film about Stonehenge I’ve ever watched does: that is quite simply, an idea of what Stonehenge is. Not a health spa, a celebration of ancestors, an astronomical computer, a monumental lichen-spattered vagina – but Stonehenge. We get to see the way the stones are carved, with details of joints and faces, models showing how it was built, experiments in moving stones, all for no reason other than these are things we might like to know about. It’s extraordinary.
Imagine this was a natural history film, made in 1954. Not an inappropriate thing to do, as David Attenborough was even then helping to make Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?, an archaeological quiz show also presented by Glyn Daniel. In the same year, Attenborough presented the first Zoo Quest films. These too mixed outdoor filming and studio talk. When we watch Attenborough today, the sounds and pictures around him are radically different, and breathtaking – but otherwise, the films are really quite similar. They show a distinguished communicator describe the world with knowledge and enthusiasm. Somewhere since 1954 television ceased to trust its audience to find ancient worlds, in their own rights, interesting.
To be fair, Johnstone’s film has its moments of longeur. We see Richard Atkinson and Stuart Piggott talk to Daniel. None of them is quite sure how they should behave in a studio, they look nervous and self conscious. Daniel plays the eager but ignorant presenter, but you never quite believe it when he says, in effect, golly, professor, I didn’t know that – you suspect that actually he did (as he did).
For archaeologists who know Stonehenge well, or knew these men when they looked less youthful, or indeed didn’t know them at all, this film has many moments to treasure.
In the outdoor sequences, we get several glimpses of the excavations that Atkinson and Piggott were directing, and of which we still know less than we should.
We see the newly discovered dagger carving, looking so fresh we wonder how on earth noone had seen it before?
We see Stonehenge in the round before the major restoration work that began in 1958. We see a boggling piece of experimental archaeology, in which – I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it, and now I can watch it over and over I still wonder if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing – a man takes a prehistoric stone maul excavated at Stonehenge, and with it bashes a fallen sarsen megalith, at Stonehenge, to show us what a lot of effort it takes to create a pool of stone dust. And look, there is the newly powdered white dust.
And, to confirm our modern prejudices about British archaeology in the 1950s, the question “Why?” – “Why was Stonehenge constructed?” – is asked 24 minutes into a 30-minute film. Piggott takes exactly two minutes to answer, and back to the don. But really, in his succinct, clear way, Piggott says just about all we still say today. Not forgetting, of course, that it had nothing to do with modern Druids.
On the dust jacket of Paul Johnstone’s book of the series, Buried Treasure (Phoenix House 1957: does anyone know who the man above on the left is, in the book’s frontispiece?), it says: “Most television programmes are here and – it is their nature – are gone. A few deserve the permanence of book form. Buried Treasure is one of these…” But thanks to the BBC, the Stonehenge film is also preserved, and we can watch it, along with many other delights, on their archive pages, gone no more.
Stonehenge just featured on TV in the first film in The Flying Archaeologist series, “Stonehenge: The Missing Link” (online till May 27) . The series is presented by Ben Robinson, who’s a proper archaeologist – he’s a principal heritage at risk adviser at English Heritage (you might have noticed lots of other EH staff on screen, he lets his friends in too). Sometimes his enthusiasm carries him away with the significance of what he’s describing (are ploughed out long barrows really so special?). It’s nice to see all the sights, though, including in this film, the recent Marden dig and the source of the river Avon, even if the flying conceit begins to wear thin after a while. Air photography has told us very little specifically about the Stonehenge landscape in recent years, where it’s been overtaken by newer technologies including geophysics and lidar.
The “missing link” in the title is the dig down by the Avon below Vespasian’s Camp, not far from Stonehenge (see clip above). Here is a wonderfully important site, and all credit to those who found it and are researching it. Yet one of the extraordinary things about the site (I’ll say straight away I haven’t yet seen it) is that its real significance has been understated. You don’t often get that these days.
It’s a spring with copious remains of hunter-gatherer activity (mesolithic) from around 8–7,000 years ago. Partly because of the wet conditions, bone seems to be common, and really well preserved. The likelihood of there being preserved houses in the area is strong. This is extremely rare for this era, and so important to help us understand that world.
Yet whenever the site is mentioned, it seems, it’s linked to Stonehenge, as if it needs the prop. The Times ran a piece last year titled “Tracing the origins of Stonehenge”. Here’s one in the Independent in 2011, subtitled “How students found evidence to change the way we think about Stonehenge”. “Now evidence is emerging”, it says, “that the Stonehenge area could have been an important centre for prehistoric people several thousand years before the giant stone circle was actually built.”
Well, anyone who’s been shown the white painted disks on the surface of the Stonehenge car park (you can see one of them above, photographed a couple of days ago) knows that such evidence has been around for decades, and unlike the site by the river, it’s evidence that can at least be argued to have some relevance to the stones – it consists of pits that held enormous pine posts, that could hardly have had any practical use, 9–10,000 years ago. There is a bone from Stonehenge itself with a carbon date that suggests it’s probably mesolithic (see my blog here); and more recently Darvill and Wainwright’s 2008 dig found pine charcoal which was dated to around 9,000 years ago, in the centre of Stonehenge. We know there were people on Salisbury Plain, and on the future site of Stonehenge, in the mesolithic. We don’t need Vespasian’s Camp to tell us that.
What we do need is to find out more about what was going on at Vespasian’s Camp in the mesolithic. That’s a story potentially of international significance, not important just to a bunch of stones over the hill. It doesn’t need Stonehenge.
Searching through my Kodachromes for pictures to illustrate the British Archaeology feature I wrote about earlier today, took me back nearly 20 years – I was on Rapa Nui in 1994. Here are some that didn’t make it into the magazine. There were then, it seemed, few tourists on the island, but there was more than enough going on: the huge reconstruction job of re-erecting all the statues on a rebuilt platform at Tongariki was underway, what was then a biannual arts festival (Rapa Nui Tapati) happened while I was there, and I was lucky enough to meet Georgia Lee on a visit of her own. And the weather and light were terrific.
The new British Archaeology contains the first printed report on our study of the great Easter Island statue in the British Museum. The feature makes a great spread, and the results are really interesting.
I wrote about our work in the BM at the time here and here. Now the analyses are well advanced. In March James Miles gave a presentation about the technology of the survey (using photogrammetry and RTI in news ways) at the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference in Perth (see session 30 here). In British Archaeology we focus on the what we can see on the statue. The key points are:
- Contrary to popular belief, the statue was not made for a coastal platform, but always stood in the ground where it was found on top of a 300m cliff
- When it was half-buried by soil and food debris, small designs known as komari, representing female genitalia, were carved on the back
- At a later date the whole of the back was covered with a scene showing a male chick leave the nest, watched by its half-bird, half-human parents – the story at the heart of the island’s unique birdman ceremony, recorded in the 19th and early 20th centuries
- In its present plinth, the statue leans slightly to one side
You can read the case for this, and more, in the magazine. You can find it online and in the Apple store; the printed magazine goes out to members and subscribers today, and will be in the shops on Friday.
And watch the video here.
My last post had one clue to stuff in the next British Archaeology, this one has three. Just more pictury things I liked recently.
First a simple idea put into practice that really works. • P • I • T • O • T • I • was a short-lived digital rock art exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge University. But you can still see it online, and it’s worth a look. It’s not exactly clear who did what, but it says that it “grew from years of research” by Christopher Chippindale and Frederick Baker of the Cambridge University Prehistoric Picture Project. It shows panels from the prehistoric art in Val Camonica, Italy, in a way that no images such as the grabs above can do justice. Go see.
I also really liked this feature on the Evolution of the New York Driver’s License, with all the images of which these are a small selection.
And finally, a still from a new movie about Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki voyage. Heyerdahl had some odd ideas about history and human culture, some of them rather dark, but he was a fascinating man who deserves more attention than he gets outside Scandinavia. Whether Kon-Tiki Sails Again lives up to the man remains to be seen, but I look forward to finding out.
There’s much going on at Stonehenge, and one day I hope to catch up with some of it here, though there’s plenty of press coverage of developments at the visitor centre. But I did want to record the seasonal image one writer conjured for posterity:
“Many gathered last week to celebrate the verbal equinox at Stonehenge.”
Or, let’s look at the rather curious selection of archaeological motifs in the Google search logo. A new British Archaeology has gone to the printers, leaving me as usual with an exhausted shrunken brain, so it’s nice to look at some pictures. Here’s the first round. There are clues to what’s in the new magazine, but I doubt any of them will be visible until the magazine’s out on April 12 (April 10 for CBA members and subscribers).
I noted an archaeological Google doodle last year, and we had another one recently to celebrate the centenary of Mary Leakey’s birthday. I thought it’d be fun to google the Google doodles, and came up with this lot that are loosely archaeological.
First ones that really are archaeological, from top left:
Mary Leakey’s 100th Birthday, Feb 6, 2013
Howard Carter’s 138th Birthday, May 9, 2012
Abu Simbel, Oct 22, 2012 (apparently on October 22 and February 22 the sun shines on all the figures except for Ptah, an underworld god)
100th Anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu, Jul 24, 2011
Discovery of the Aztec Sun Stone, Dec 17, 2009
End of the Mayan Calendar, Dec 21, 2012
Opening of the Acropolis Museum, Jun 20, 2009
Then a couple that are more geological:
Scientists unveil fossil of Darwinius masillae, May 20, 2009 (I reviewed the trade book about this for the Sunday Times)
Nicolas Steno’s 374th Birthday, Jan 11, 2012 (The Danish pioneer in geological stratigraphy and understanding fossils, 1638–1686)
Here are two more academic ones, the Flintstones’ 50th Anniversary (Sep 30, 2010) and Asterix’s 50th (Oct 29, 2009). So where’s Tintin?
Lastly you can bring in quite a few under the rubric of national days. These are from a nice series by Kevin Laughlin:
Bolivia Independence Day 2012, Aug 6, 2012 (the stone arch at Tiwanaku)
Nicaragua Independence Day 2012, Sep 15, 2012 (the 16th century El Castillo de la Inmaculada Concepcion)
Honduras Independence Day 2012, Sep 15, 2012 (Copan ruins)
Argentina Independence Day 2012, Jul 9, 2012 (The colonial Casa de Tucumán)
Peru Independence Day 2012, Jul 28, 2012 (Chan Chan ruins)
Jordan National Day 2010, May 25, 2010
Jordan Independence Day 2011, May 25, 2011
Morocco Independence Day 2008, Nov 18, 2008
Morocco Independence Day 2008, Nov 18, 2011
Croatia Independence Day 2011, Oct 8, 2011
St. Patrick’s Day 2012, Mar 17, 2012 (worth a look for Jennifer Hom’s notes on how she worked from the Book of Kells)
It’s really not difficult to think of ideas for more. Stonehenge? Easter Island? An actual pyramid somewhere? Anything in China? Australia or New Zealand? You can suggest things to Google, worth a go.
I really want you to see these paintings. Made around 1870, they’ve never been hung in public before. They are a wonderful early experiment in archaeological reconstruction illustration, are little known, and need researching – along with their creator. This is going to be a long blog, but the subject deserves it.
There are 14 of the paintings in the Quadriga Gallery in the Wellington Arch, in the exhibition The Birth of Archaeology & the Battle for the Past (until April 21). The show is about Charles Darwin, Sir John Lubbock and General Pitt-Rivers, and the 1882 Ancient Monuments Act. There are some wonderful things, including these two gems below – a slice of Silbury Hill from inside the 1849 tunnel (I like to think it was originally wrapped like a piece of wedding cake), and one of William Stukeley’s commonplace books (both loaned by Wiltshire Museum in Devizes).
But I want to write about the paintings. There are 20 in the full set, 19 scenes of prehistoric life, and a view of a tropical island. They were apparently (a word one can use a lot here) commissioned by John Lubbock around 1870 (only two are dated), and used to hang in his home-cum-museum at High Elms in Downe, Kent. They were never published. All but one are now in the care of Bromley Museum Service, some owned by the BMS, some by Eric Avebury, John Lubbock’s grandson. The one not in Kent is in Australia (according to Avebury, this was given by his sister to her friend Robert Gordon, a Sydney doctor).
Ernest Griset (1844–1907) seems to have been an extremely industrious illustrator, well known in his time but not now outside salerooms – it’s fun to write about someone who has no Wikipedia entry. Born in France, he came to London as a child, and though busy apparently died poor. There is a useful essay about him at the Look & Learn website, the British Library lists his books, and Lionel Lambourne edited a short illustrated book over 30 years ago. An article published in 1945 called “A forgotten illustrator” seems to have got it right (see end references).
This particular group of Griset paintings, however, has recently attracted interest, when Adrian Green was curator at Bromley Museum (he’s now curator of the Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, which has also lent material for the exhibition). Tim Murray (La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia) “discovered” the paintings for archaeologists, and Richard Milner (who among us could not warm to the man who edited Stephen Jay Gould’s column “This View of Life”?) did the same for natural scientists: Murray wrote about Lubbock and Griset, and Milner about the coral island painting, both in 2009 (see references).
Murray tracked down the Australian work, illustrated three paintings, and numbered the collection. It’s possible to correlate most of his numbers with Bromley Museum’s catalogue, so I list them here (he refers to an online feature at La Trobe, but as I write that seems to have been taken down). They are:
Mammoth Hunters (71.1.7, Murray 1)
Wolf pack and man (71.1.8, Murray 2)
Bison hunt (71.1.9)
Interior of a megalithic tomb (71.1.10, Murray 4)
Bison hunt in forest (74.83.1)
Stag in snow covered landscape (74.83.2)
Stag killing (74.83.3)
Beached boats with figures at sunset (74.83.4, Murray 8)
Prehistoric group around fire in cave (74.83.5, Murray 9)
Boat making (74.83.6, Murray 10)
Seal hunter (74.83.7, Murray 11)
Earth house (74.83.8, Murray 12)
Spear making by skin tent (74.83.9, Murray 13)
Lake village (74.83.10, Murray 14)
Lake with wildlife (74.83.11, Murray 15 or 16)
Dead mammoth on ice flow (74.83.12, Murray 15 or 16)
Lake village with blue mountain (74.83.13, Murray 17)
Sunset group with tent by water (74.83.14, Murray 18)
Bear savaging man (in Australia, Murray 19)
Atoll (in Bromley, but apparently no catalogue number, Murray 20)
In the exhibition, we say they were painted “around 1870”. All we have to go on is the dates on two of them, “Sunset group with tent by water” (18, dated 1869) and “Atoll” (20, dated 1871). Perhaps more information would be revealed if they were taken out of their frames.
“Atoll” was apparently commissioned as a gift for Darwin (his first book, in 1842, was The Structure & Distribution of Coral Reefs), but never presented. Milner shows the painting (a long image in three pieces), and this detail which he suggests is HMS Beagle – the ship that took Darwin round the tip of South America and introduced him both to coral reefs, and to indigenous people whose descriptions inspired Lubbock in his thoughts about prehistoric Europe:
As for the rest, “around 1870” is a powerful date. Lubbock’s two, highly influential books about early people were published at that time: Pre-Historic Times, as Illustrated by Ancient Remains & the Manners & Customs of Modern Savages (1865), and The Origin of Civilisation & the Primitive Condition of Man: Mental & Social Condition of Savages (1870).
The titles make clear his agenda: he believed that prehistoric times could be understood through a combination of studying archaeological remains (“the unwritten records of our earliest national history”, as he described them to parliament) and modern peoples. He collected prehistoric European artefacts, and contemporary objects from around the world beyond Europe, to study and to show visitors to his home. The contemporary pieces – over a third of his collection – were what we would now call ethnographic artefacts from indigenous communities. To Lubbock these were products of ancient technologies, still alive in the skilled hands of ‘savages’, which could help him understand early Europe. In the exhibition we have some spears and clubs from Australia, the Cook Islands, the Marquesas and Cameroon: such pieces make notable appearances in Griset’s paintings.
This is what makes these works so interesting. They were done, we may imagine (and research may yet unearth documentation to prove this) under Lubbock’s instructions: they were the product of a prolific illustrator and a leading, pioneering archaeologist. We can see why that is special by looking at two examples of contemporary work where such collaboration was absent – Griset’s other illustrations, and a book published in 1870 called L’Homme Primitif, by another writer on ancient times, Louis Figuier.
Figuier occasionally notes ethnographic studies (how fire is made, for example), but his book is primarily an archaeological work, with much more detail in this area than Lubbock gave. He goes along with the case for ancient Europeans alive with now extinct animals, though he doesn’t like the idea that humans evolved from apes (variations shown by fossils, he says, can be put down to the tougher times of the ice age). It’s a book that students interested in the 19th century arguments about early humans and archaeology can read with great profit. And it’s got 30 “scenes from the life of primitive man”, by Émile Bayard. Here are four of them.
These are classic examples of how prehistoric artefacts can be put into modern hands to make them come alive. In the last, the ice age artists are not just, in Figuier’s words, “precursors of Raphael and Michelangelo”, they are Raphael and Michelangelo: their noble stance and ragged dress put them half way between a 19th century Bohemian and an ancient Greek athlete (no ape blood here). The deer hunters are straight from classical mythology. The only archaeological or ethnographic references are in the weapons, flint handaxes roughly bound to wooden handles.
Griset went to a different extreme. He excelled in caricature and quick sketch (too much realism and atmosphere risked exposing his technique), and illustrated many books. Among these was Legends of Savage Life, by James Greenwood (1869). This was a crowd-pleasing collection of stories, set in the worlds being revealed by European explorers, that had no concern with reality. In The luckless Adaphang (first image) native Patagonians had abandoned their traditional diet of seal meat, and as a consequence shrunk from giants to a fraction of an inch high. The Elk demon (second image) is a story about famine amongst native north Americans.
The gap between that Griset and Lubbock’s Griset is enormous. Equally, the latter and Figuier’s Bayard are also quite different. For Lubbock, Griset was aiming for a sense of prehistoric verisimilitude. His dominant theme is of near-naked men battling with savage beasts, including mammoth and bison, known from excavated bones to have lived in the ice age. Griset drew on ethnographic reports from around the world and other archaeological evidence from Europe, as did Lubbock in his books on evolution and society. The images show nature shaping early civilisations in the same way that Darwin’s process of natural selection lay behind the great variety of life. Early people were not noble, but struggling to survive, innocently laying the foundations for millennia of progress.
This is the painting in Australia:
Here is a lake village. An unusually dry winter in 1853 caused Swiss lake levels to fall, exposing ancient remains that attracted much attention – Lubbock helped to excavate some. In contrast to palaeolithic sites, the neolithic “Swiss lake villages” – Lubbock coined the terms “Palaeolithic” and “Neolithic” – produced bones of domestic cattle and cultivated cereal grains, signs of Europe’s first farmers.
And here is a neolithic tomb. Uniquely in Griset’s series of paintings, this shows an archaeological monument rather than an episode of daily life with imagined or reconstructed houses. It is almost certainly based on the West Kennet long barrow in the Avebury world heritage site with a good view of Silbury Hill, which was bought by Lubbock in 1873. A description of excavations in the barrow published in 1868 conjured a chamber lined with six large slabs, the gaps filled with dry-stone walling, four articulated skeletons (two “apparently in a sitting position”) and stone tools and pieces of pottery; Griset shows the bodies trussed with rope, and a symbolically extinguished hearth.
Most of the paintings, however, show hunter-gatherers, especially ice age ones. And here an interesting area opens up. Thanks to Google images, we can see that the scenes Griset painted for Lubbock weren’t the only ones of their kind. And as most of these other pictures are in private hands having briefly surfaced through salerooms, at present we can know very little about them.
This painting is in our show, no 15 or 16 in the Bromley list.
Here are some other Griset mammoths, not in the show, the first listed by eAntik.cz:
These two were sold in consecutive lots in Cirencester (UK) in 2008:
And most interestingly, throwing new light on the Bromley mammoths, is this. Sold in Naples, Florida, in 2008, it is apparently titled, “Strait between France & England Frozen”. This astonishing scene of dying mammoths, spear-wielding hunters and their dogs, may, perhaps, be the first depiction of an ice age world in which Britain and France were connected.
Here’s another mammoth scene in the show:
Compare the above with this, from The Story of the Earth & Man, a geological book by JW Dawson (1873). Which came first?
Another picture from the show, this time illustrating someone making a dugout canoe.
Now, when we put the exhibition together, we assumed this was an ancient scene. It may well be. But now I’ve found this, I wonder. It was sold in 2008 in Massachusetts, when it was described as “Two American Indians making a canoe”. Significantly, it’s dated, to 1876.
Griset undoubtedly did do some illustrations of north Americans, such as this, from a 1922 Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan, & Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi, by David I. Bushnell, Jr:
And he did other archaeological scenes:
And finally this, in the collection at Turton Tower, Lancashire:
I’m quite sure this is only the tip of it all. At least we now have the unprecedented chance to see 14 of his works in one go.
“A forgotten illustrator: Ernest Griset 1844-1907”, by Hesketh Hubbard, The Connoisseur 115 (1945), 30–36
Ernest Griset: Fantasies of a Victorian Illustrator, ed Lionel Lambourne (Thames & Hudson 1977)
“Illustrating ‘savagery’: Sir John Lubbock & Ernest Griset”, by Tim Murray, Antiquity 83 (2009), 488–99
Reindeer engraved on a bone from the British Museum’s Ice Age art exhibition, and a white horse carved into a Dorset hillside – both feature on the cover of the new British Archaeology. The horse is to flag up the unexpected re-appearance of a lost dummy for an illustrated Puffin book about chalk hill figures, that Eric Ravilious was working on when he died (and now acquired by Wiltshire Museum, where you can see it on display this week). James Russell has written about that, and Jill Cook, who curated the British Museum show, describes an ancient world “teeming with game and symbols”.
Emma Cunliffe writes about the destruction of Syria’s heritage, and Dot Boughton rounds up a very curious group of new-found prehistoric bronze hoards from Wiltshire and Hampshire. Other features include the annual Requiem – obituary notes on many of the British archaeologists and lovers of antiquity who died in the past year – the extraordinary geofizz at Brancaster on Time Team’s last dig, and the centenary of the passing in August 1913 of an act to protect ancient monuments. In News we broke the story that Wiltshire’s museums have called a stop to excavation because they have nowhere to store the stuff archaeologists are digging up. And all the usual regulars, with strong pieces from the CBA about architectural history and the Marconi Factory. It’s a great edition. As always, if you are a member of the Council for British Archaeology you will have received a copy of British Archaeology as part of your members’ package. Or you can obtain the magazine separately in print (by subscription or in selected newsagents including WH Smith) or digital form, including an app for iPhone, iPad or Android.
A press conference revealing research? To read some of the reactions, you’d think it was a panel of bankers explaining why our mortgages had to go up to pay for their bonuses.
Unsurprisingly, there was huge interest in the news about the car park dig in Leicester. Yet not everyone was happy about the way the study of Richard III’s remains was presented. It’s coming from both sides – arts (critics and historians) and science (focussing on the DNA analyses). Why couldn’t we have had a proper peer-reviewed academic process before any further information was released? The scientific research is incomplete. What’s the interest anyway? It’s not proper history, and doesn’t tell us anything new. And, of course, the real motivation is money: Leicester University needs the publicity.
Well. Where to start? There is a huge amount of information out there. (Did you hear? They held a press conference.) Still, it’s worth summarising what we know so far, to help some of the critics catch up. A good single source is the University of Leicester Press Office, and I got most of my info from there and a very good feature and diary of the dig at the university website (and of course there is a Wikipedia entry). Do skip the next few paragraphs if you think you know all this.
History: Lin Foxhall (Leicester)
Richard III was 32 when he died in in 1485, on the field of the Battle of Bosworth. Accounts of his death variously refer to a blow sufficiently severe as to embed his helmet in his skull, of shaving his head and of a death blow from a halberd. John Rous said in his History of England (completed in 1486) that Richard was buried among the Friars Minor (Franciscans) of Leicester in the choir of the church.
Rous wrote (in Latin) that Richard was “slight in body and weak in strength”. The Silesian Nicolas von Poppelau (who met and liked Richard III) wrote (in German) that he was “taller than himself, but a little slimmer and not so solid, also far leaner; he had delicate arms and legs”.
Rous also described Richard’s body as misshapen, with one shoulder higher than the other. Later descriptions elaborated this, culminating in Shakespeare’s Richard III who has a hunched back, a limp and a withered arm.
Excavation: Richard Buckley (University of Leicester Archaeological Services)
The site of the Grey Friars church was identified from a map drawn by Thomas Roberts in 1741, and confirmed by Deirdre O’Sullivan (University of Leicester) and another friary specialist. The Social Services Car Park and Alderman Newton’s School Playground were selected as accessible areas of that church. Ground-penetrating radar survey at three locations revealed little more than modern utilities (gas mains etc).
On the first day of excavation, in the car park, a human leg bone was found – described at the time as “a good find but not particularly surprising when excavating around a church”. Wall foundations and floors later confirmed the discovery of a church, and identified much of its plan. The burial cannot be more recent than 1538, the year of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The burial was in the choir (several other graves were uncovered, dating to “a much earlier period of the friary’s history”, but not excavated as they did not relate to the project’s purpose). The grave appeared hastily dug, and was not long enough so that the head was raised. There was no evidence for a coffin, shroud or clothing. The unusual disposition of the arms suggests the hands might have been tied.
Radiocarbon dating: Universities of Oxford (ORAU) and Glasgow (SUERC)
Replicated independent tests show the individual died between AD1450 and 1540 (95% probability), or 1475–1530 (69% confidence). The individual had a high protein diet – including significant amounts of seafood – suggesting high status.
Osteology: Jo Appleby (Leicester)
The individual was male, in his late 20s to late 30s, with a gracile or feminine build. He had severe scoliosis (onset perhaps at puberty), causing him to stand up to 30cm (1 foot) lower than his full height of 1.72m (5 ft 8ins), and his right shoulder to be higher than the left. His arms were of similar size and used normally during life, and no evidence for a limp has been described.
Either of two significant blows to the back of the head from “a bladed weapon” would have led to almost instant loss of consciousness, and rapid death. Other injuries (to the head, a rib and the pelvis) may have occurred after or immediately before death, but are consistent with post mortem “insult wounds”, and are “likely to have been inflicted after armour had been removed from the body”. The face was undamaged.
Micro-CT: Professor Guy Rutty, (East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, Leicester), Sarah Hainsworth (Materials Engineering, Leicester)
In what is said to be the first application of micro-computer X-ray tomography in an archaeological investigation, the wounds and scoliosis can be studied in great detail. No specific results yet described.
Genealogy: Kevin Schürer (Leicester), David Annal (formerly the National Archives), Morris Bierbrier (Fellow of the Society of Genealogists)
The maternal link between Anne of York (Richard III’s sister) and Michael Ibsen’s mother Joy has been confirmed, with documentary evidence for every link in the chain. A second living maternal descendant (not royal) was found: “again with solid documentary evidence for every step of the way”.
DNA analysis: Turi King (Leicester), Gloria Gonzales Fortes (York), Patricia Balaresque and Laure Tonasso (Toulouse)
There is a match between fossil mitochondrial DNA from the skeleton’s teeth, and the two direct descendants of Richard III on the female line; the mitochondrial DNA sequence is “relatively rare”. The modern DNA work was conducted at the University of Leicester, the ancient DNA analysis at the University of York, independently verified at the Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse.
Future work. The skeleton’s DNA may be compared to those of descendants down the male line. Analysis is complete of the DNA of a “number of the men identified as descendants of Edward III through his son John of Gaunt – who would both have shared the same Y chromosome as Richard III”. Turi King reports “a consensus Y chromosome type of these individuals”. Preliminary DNA work has confirmed that the skeleton is of a male, so analysis of the Y chromosome should be possible.
So, there’s a lot of stuff we now know about “skeleton 1”, found on the first day of the dig under a white R painted on the tarmac (apparently the only one there, and not in a parking space), where the determined Philippa Langley “had the strongest sensation that I was walking on Richard’s grave”.
There are two things that make me happy to say – as I did to the Associated Press – that as much as we can ever prove anything, these remains are those of Richard III. First is the evidence I’ve summarised above. But there’s a second, important reason. A lot of people have been working on this project, and continue to do so. Everything I’ve seen so far gives me confidence that as a group, they are working together well, trust each other, and are driven by the thrill of science and the urge to solve problems. I’ve seen no grandstanding of egos, no point scoring against colleagues, no sensationalising, no playing to the media.
You may think all that irrelevant. Well, I’ve been around a long time in this business, both as a research archaeologist and as a journalist, and I’ve seen plenty of those things – and they matter. They can interfere with academic research, they can lead to futile projects and they can produce unsubstantiated claims. Just one person in a large team can mess it all up. This isn’t the place to give examples of bad practice, but I’ll give one of good. The AHOB project, a huge conglomeration of research scientists from around the world that is now coming to an end, was aimed at better understanding the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain. It cost millions, and produced many academic publications, with more to come, and many very significant discoveries. And, despite the occasional press junket, it was distinguished by a strong desire just to know more, energised by the knowledge that it really was changing the way we understand the past. And when it happens like that, you trust it.
I trust the Leicester team and its colleagues outside the university.
One of the complaints has been the lack of peer review. Mary Beard was put off by “the priority of the media over peer review”. “This is a complicated bit of scientific analysis”, she writes, “being given its first outing in a Press Conference… DNA evidence is tricky and any scientist would want their results peer evaluated before going completely public.” Any scientist? I can’t say, having met some at the press conference, that I sensed much resentment against the process. But the classical historian was not alone with her concern.
Charlotte Higgins (whose book on Roman Britain we await with interest) was concerned that “the findings have been published in a peer-reviewed journal rather than just announced in a press conference” (“the bone evidence is clearly circumstantial… though I can’t claim to know enough about DNA evidence to understand what the margin of error is here”). Science correspondent Alok Jha, also at the Guardian, was similarly concerned: “because the results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, it might be worth throwing in a little scepticism”. Nature newsblog saw a “twitter of discontent among scientists who are wondering why the university publicised the discovery before putting the data out for peer review”.
Others just questioned what the fuss was about. Why the interest? We haven’t learnt anything new or important. The only explanation is that the university wants publicity – more grants, more sponsorship, more students. “What possible difference is the discovery and identification of this skeleton going to make to anything?”, says classicist Neville Morley. His answer? “It’s all about money”.
In the real world, where most of us live, money matters. Universities do need to raise it, and whether the funds come through enlightened despots throwing around their cash, public-minded governments, philanthropists, parents or commercial activities, there has always been a general assumption that research and teaching (at least in our culture) are largely independent – and academia has had centuries to learn how to maintain that position.
Also in the real world, peer review, while important, is not perfect. Perhaps archaeology is unique, but in my experience there is no doubt that reviewed papers are published that should not have been, that the process is subject to academic fashion, and that individuals or groups occasionally use peer review as a way of blocking competitors’ work. Reviewers, the best of whom are the busiest, do not get paid and do not get public reward for their work – it can be easy to skim a paper and err on the side of doubt, to the benefit of authors. Relying too much on paper trails has messed up the National Health Service. This must not happen to academic research.
And is the difference between a press conference and an academic presentation necessarily so complete? It is common for archaeologists to present their work at lectures to learned societies while it is still in progress. Colleagues want to know about it, and researchers appreciate feedback – and it allows them to mark out their territory, gain publicity and add to their CVs, all recognised strategies.
For example, the Society of Antiquaries has a weekly lecture programme. Tomorrow as I write, David Gibson is talking about the extraordinary finds at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire. That will be popular. But it is not peer reviewed.
Which leads me to a curious blog by Catherine Fletcher, lecturer in public history at the University of Sheffield. She says quite positive things about the research and the archaeologists, but then adds, “releasing results directly to the media before their publication in learned journals is a new trend. The approach of Cern in the quest for the Higgs boson has been influential here. Universities have realised that media interest generates publicity and with it – they hope – cash.”
Well. She must know what she is talking about given her job title, so I can only imagine that history as an academic subject is behind on this one compared to archaeology – well over a century behind.
As long as it has existed (which isn’t that long), archaeology has caught the public imagination, and archaeologists have wanted to tell the public what they are doing. Mortimer Wheeler, who did much to shape our profession in the 1930s and 40s, was famous for putting publicity before peer review: his great excavation at Maiden Castle was on the front page of the Daily Mail before it was reported in the Antiquaries Journal, and people queued to pay to see the trenches.
In 1859 (as our exhibition at the Wellington Arch, which opened today, explains), two antiquarians made a momentous discovery in a French quarry that was to change the course of archaeological research and our understanding of humanity. They rushed back to London with their find, and proceeded (with like-minded colleagues) to address one learned society after another – hotly pursued by the press. The world knew about it all before the peer-reviewed papers were out, and the world believed them: like the archaeologists in Leicester, they presented their case clearly, with the evidence to back it up.
Now how does an academic lecture – or rather a session of such talks – differ from Monday’s conference in Leicester? Introducing the line-up, Richard Taylor, deputy registrar at the University of Leicester, said that all this will be published in peer-reviewed journals – not a promise I often hear at learned societies (or indeed one that is always fulfilled). Six specialists then talked about their respective fields, starting with Richard Buckley on the archaeology, with pictures on a screen. At major presentations at the Antiquaries, selected people in the audience are pre-warned that they will be asked for comment. So in Leicester, we had prepared reactions from six people, followed – as at the Antiquaries – by questions from the floor.
If that sounds like an academic conference, it was like an academic conference. The major difference was that Leicester was better than a typical group of talking academics. We had no text-filled PowerPoint slides to show the speaker’s mind was switched off. Everyone talked clearly, in good English, to the point and to time. Each presentation followed logically from its predecessor, and they added up to a coherent story that was brought to a conclusion by Buckley – at an academic meeting we would more likely have been treated to a series of unconnected talks under a theme heading whose meaning might itself have been a topic of specialist investigation. At which point, to my astonishment, there was a whoop and applause from the audience, something you’re even less likely to hear from journalists than from academics. We were enjoying ourselves.
Now none of this matters a jot if the conference was all presentation and no content. But we were being shown a substantial research project that was a case study in how archaeology works at its best, from questioning and planning, to fieldwork, analyses and conclusion. The distinct but linked strands of research were given to us in one go, so their joint impact on the questions could be evaluated. Peer-reviewed publication will take longer, and will see those strands unravelled, as different journals and different research lines complete at different speeds. Armed only with those, the media would make it look more confusing, reporting some of the studies and not others, with differing emphases, and – a key point – the public would be less well served.
And, this is the rub, so would academia. Asking specialists to address a wider audience, during their research, forces them to think beyond the narrow confines of their immediate tasks, to see the bigger picture. It demands that they communicate in clear language, which means they have to think clearly. It encourages them (though in this case I doubt such incentive was needed) to work together, not competitively. And it asks them to think very hard about what they are going to say. For if they get it wrong, they surely will be fried.
Sometimes the peers in the street are the ones that matter most.
Richard III (or, perhaps, a skeletal imposter) is giving us an interesting media moment. As has become apparent over the past week, on Monday the University of Leicester (to quote one of its press releases), “will reveal the results of a series of scientific investigations into human remains – which are possibly those of King Richard III”. By now we all know the reference is to remains excavated last year in a Leicester car park. There is a very carefully orchestrated press event on Monday morning , where I hope to be. But the timing leaves weekend editors in a quandary.
By next weekend, the story will have been well turned over, and it will be difficult for papers to find much really new to say. Yet the results of the research, and all the details, seem to have been truly kept secret (certainly, I have no inside knowledge). So what do you do a day or two before the release? It’s hardly a story you can ignore.
You could, with sufficient resources and cunning, find someone to spill the beans, and run your own exclusive, ahead of the event. That may well happen. At the very least, you could run headlines that suggest that that is what you have managed to do, and after a couple of pages or so fess up in the last sentence and admit that actually, you don’t really, really know.
Or without too much work, you could just look at everything that’s been put out over the past few months. So here, without comment, is my little contribution.
Monday’s Channel 4 film is called “Richard III: The King in the Car Park”. No question mark, no “Mystery of…” or “In search of…”, just “The King”. That, of course, is pure hype. As is this book release from The History Press, which I received on January 29 (and which I reproduce below in full, so you can see the complete, unembargoed thing).
The book is by the resourceful John Ashdown-Hill, who has been credited with the research that identified a living descendant of Richard III. It is a revised edition of a book originally titled, The Last Days of Richard III, and published in 2010. Now it’s called, The Last Days of Richard III & the Fate of his DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig. Fair enough. But did Leicester University press office approve this?
“…with the discovery of Richard’s skeleton at the Greyfriars Priory [the release actually says “Greyfrairs Priory”, but I think that’s a typo] in Leicester, England, John Ashdown-Hill… [gives] details of how Richard died, and how the DNA link to a living relative of the king allowed the royal body to be identified…
“Richard III’s family tree took John Ashdown-Hill three years to trace – now the living ancestor he found provides the key to analysing the DNA of the skeleton unearthed in Leicester.”
Either John Ashdown-Hill knows something most of us don’t, or he’s got horribly carried away. We’ll know on Monday morning. Or possibly over the weekend.
Some extraordinary things are coming together in the Wellington Arch in London. English Heritage is getting ready to open a new exhibition in the Quadriga Gallery (The Birth of Archaeology and the Battle for the Past), which opens next week – the first public event in a year of celebration of the Ancient Monuments Consolidation & Amendment Act 1913 (really!). They should’ve given the act a snappier name: it is in fact a great story.
Anyway, among the stuff being unpacked and examined in the arch when I was there on Wednesday, were three portraits: an oil of John Lubbock, an oil of General Pitt-Rivers, and a photo of Charles Darwin.
The latter (above, ready to hang), is from Darwin’s home at Down House, managed by English Heritage. Online it’s sometimes described as 1859 (the year his On the Origin of Species was published), which would be great – we also have a first edition copy of the book in the show, and the flint handaxe that John Evans and Joseph Prestwich took back to London from the quarry at St Acheul, also in 1859 (another story, but the find that amongst other things, showed archaeology could write history). But when was the photo really taken?
On the face of it, that date comes from an odd book by Karl Pearson (1914) about Francis Galton (it has an unsettling obsession with genealogy). He reproduces the image as below:
(Interestingly, Pearson also notes that the photo was “touched up by Mrs Darwin”. Comparison of images here suggests she was particularly concerned with his trousers.)
When the Down House print was unpacked in the arch, I was able to look at the back of the frame. There are two stickers, including a business label from Messrs Maull & Fox, at 187a Piccadilly.
I learnt about Henry Maull (1829–1914) from a useful website about London photographers. Maull traded from a number of addresses, typically three at any one time, and with a number of different partners. One of those addresses was 187a Piccadilly, Westminster (above Hatchards booksellers), where he had premises between 1857 and 1885, and the business continued there under Maull’s name until 1924. His name appeared above the shop in four guises:
1. Maull & Polyblank: partnership with George Henry Polyblank (1828–?), May 1857–March 1865.
2. Henry Maull: after this partnership was dissolved, Maull re-established himself on his own, March 1865–1871.
3. Henry Maull & Co: 1872–1877.
4. Maull & Fox: a new partnership with John Fox (1832–1907), 1878–1885; the partnership was dissolved in 1885, but the studio continued until 1924 under successive owners with the original name.
So this print must have been made, or at the very least framed and sold, some time between 1878 and 1924. Apparently after it was sold, on two occasions notes were added which suggested the photo was taken in 1859: one says “original taken about 1859”, the other, in a different hand, “…taken about the time of the publication of the ‘Origin’. Belonged to William & later to Horace Darwin. J.D.”
Maull’s first studio opened on Gracechurch Street, City of London, in 1854 (as Maull & Polyblank), so on that basis, the photo could theoretically have been taken between 1854 and 1862, when Darwin grew his beard. So far so good.
However, the photo was reproduced by Francis Darwin, Charles’s son, in 1899, when he described it thus:
“The portrait of Charles Darwin is by Messrs Maull and Fox, who have been good enough to permit its reproduction. The date of the photograph is probably 1854; it is, however, impossible to be certain on this point, the books of Messrs. Maull and Fox having been destroyed by fire. The reproduction is by Mr Dew-Smith, who has been at some disadvantage, having only an old and faded print to work from.”
The photo (cropped, perhaps reflecting the print’s condition – no trousers) was also reproduced by Darwin & Seward in 1903, again with the date “c 1854”. This image is on the Darwin online website:
A version was published in in 1884 in Harper’s Magazine (also from Darwin online):
In 1899, Maull was trading as Maull & Fox, and would have provided the print that Francis Darwin used under that name. But if the shot was taken in 1854, it would have been by Maull & Polyblank. That is the attribution to a very similar portrait. It looks like the same jacket, but otherwise different clothes, so apparently not actually at the same sitting, though one has to wonder:
This is now owned by Christ’s College, and was taken by Maull & Polyblank for the Literary & Scientific Portrait Club. The Darwin online website quotes a letter from Darwin to Joseph Dalton Hooker on 27 May 1855 that apparently refers to this image:
“if I really have as bad an expression, as my photograph gives me, how I can have one single friend is surprising.’
The website says there is a pencilled note on the back of the frame:
“This photograph of Darwin was presented by him to my Uncle, FD Dyster, of Tenby. I am informed by Francis Darwin, his son, that the photograph was probably taken in the year 1854, but he had never seen it. FHH Guillemard.”
So Francis said both of these photos were “about 1854”.
It seems likely that if these two really were taken in 1859, that date would have been associated with at least one of them from the start. Yet it was added later, and not to both. It’s a bit circumstantial, but the testimony of Francis and the sitter’s comment that is apparently about one of them, add up to the photos having been taken in 1854 or 1855. The Down House print was made in or after 1878.
Will Silbury Hill wash away? I think the radio presenter who asked me that was probably joking. It rained a lot a decade ago, and the top of the hill collapsed inwards when poorly backfilled old excavation tunnels slumped. English Heritage fixed it, and really it’s pretty stable now.
It’s been raining a lot again, and as has happened before, the old ditch around Silbury is now flooded. It’s a good time to see the site (especially if the sun shines), as it’s easier to imagine how it might have appeared when it was built – and when its original purpose and meaning were driving events and perceptions in the final neolithic/copper age around 2400BC. So here, in case you can’t make it out there, is how it looked this week.
The very base of Silbury is solid chalk rock, but most of it is quarried and mounded rubble, some of it at least packed within rough chalk walls that apparently help retain the hill’s shape. That rubble had to come from somewhere. The easiest way to see the quarry is to look at a plan – because it runs around the hill, you can’t see it all in one view on the ground.
The above is from a pamphlet published by the BBC to accompany its broadcast of Richard Atkinson’s excavation in 1968 and 1969 (there is advice to visitors – you weren’t allowed in the tunnel; I remember Lance Vatcher, who supervised the dig, telling me how a field was used as a car park and the public had to be towed out of the mud). I bought the guide at the museum on my first visit to Avebury when I was at school.
I’ve coloured the quarry blue. As Jim Leary and Dave Field have explained, the Beckhampton brook flows into this and would have filled it with water; close by is the spring at the source of the river Kennet, adding to the watery significance of the location.
Note how on the south edge of the hill is a small stretch of ditch isolated by low “bridges” on either side.
Atkinson dug a trench here, but it didn’t reach the bottom. This ditch cannot have filled with spring water, but could it have held rainwater? Were the “bridges” to give access to the hill (if so, perhaps there were wooden structures across them that might have left evidence excavation could uncover)? Or were they – instead or in addition – designed deliberately to isolate that bit of ditch, for some unknown purpose?
Such association of neolithic monuments and water has long been commented on by archaeologists. Leary and Field note the scarcity of burials in this era, and suggest people might have been casting cremation ashes into rivers. Was Silbury’s moat a collective grave, a watery entrance to another world?
The idea can be tested. If sufficient quantities of ash were cast into the ditch, some might remain in the deep silts. These silts can easily be cored and sampled. Several recent studies have successfully extracted fossil DNA from sediments. It seems worth checking to see if, deep below the water and the silts in Silbury’s ditch, still lie traces of the people who may have looked to the hill to mark their passage into history.
“Great monuments: great rivers”, by J Leary & D Field, British Archaeology Sep/Oct 2011/120
The Story of Silbury Hill, by J Leary & D Field (English Heritage 2010)
And of course, as Jim Leary says, please don’t climb all over the hill, it’s damaging and disrespectful!
The common feeling I get talking to people at the centre of it all is that its time had come. I saw John Gater a few days ago, the geofizz man. He joined the first programme to help out a friend, Mick Aston. But, he said, “If I knew what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world”.
And there’s much else in the new edition that’s really interesting, not least the two other features whose opening spreads I also show here. One of my favourite things is just one page, a news story about something wonderful the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford has acquired. If you don’t already subscribe, you can see that page in the free app sample: just search for archaeology in iTunes and scroll down to apps.
What did Stonehenge look like? How did it begin? The new Antiquity features an article by Tim Darvill, Pete Marshall, Mike Parker Pearson & Geoff Wainwright called “Stonehenge remodelled”. It’s designed to be the definitive summary of the current rethinking about the monument’s construction history. You can see an abstract here, though you need to subscribe to read the paper. There is a much fuller study published by English Heritage available online (though not live as I write).
Mike Parker Pearson has already published much of this (see my earlier blog), though every time it’s described, some detail has changed, and that’s true of this version. I’ve summarised their Stages in this table, which is based on one by the authors. Radiocarbon dates on the right are mostly actual dates, calibrated at 95% confidenceThis is a substantial advance on where we were until recently, and overall it’s a history that feels truer to the spirit of the place than earlier versions. But the depressing thing is that in some respects little has changed since the last definitive version published in 1995. This is because the archaeology, in particular the poor quality of the excavations and doubts about precise contexts of many of the radiocarbon samples, just cannot stand up to much more precision, much as we’d desperately like it to.
That’s not to say it’s all over. One thing that struck me as we considered this new phasing, is that Stonehenge seems to have a history that pre-dates the main ditch and bank enclosure that is traditionally (as effectively here by Darvill et al) taken to be the start of it all, at around 3000BC.
As is now clear, the Aubrey Holes, or maybe just some of the cremation burials, might slightly predate the ditch circuit. There are several other radiocarbon dates that are older than the ditch construction: some of them from bones in the ditch, where they are ascribed to older, “curated” remains that were carefully placed there when the ditch was dug; and others from contexts that make less obvious sense, where the finds are simply dismissed as “residual”.
But if cremation burial at Stonehenge began before 3000BC, might other remains come from features or activities on site that are contemporary, i.e. also pre-3000BC?
In January this year I went through the date lists and tabulated all the samples with older dates, listing them in rough order from older to younger (see chart). These are mostly samples we have traditionally labelled “structured”, “curated”, “residual” or “rejected” – in other words, we’ve labelled them out of the picture. There are also three antler samples that have been included with the others used to date the first ditch excavation.
There are arguably three chronological groups here (indicated by the lines in the stage column), but what’s most interesting is that we have a bunch of dates that suggest a story:
1. All the ditch samples are near terminals in the circuit, ie by the entrances
2. Of these, older samples are at the south, younger at the north-east.
This might indicate that these “structured” remains are in fact dating early features with which they are contemporary, i.e. Hawley’s “craters” at what later became ditch terminals. In that respect, the primary burial of distinctive cattle bones (look at all those ox jaws) at a “pre-ditch stage” at the same time as some cremation burials has obvious long barrow analogues. A number of neolithic long barrows on Salisbury Plain have large cattle bones where in other cases we might have found human remains. These ox bones might be telling us that Stonehenge was already a place where death was celebrated, before it became Stonehenge.
But suppose the bones in the ditch had been taken from somewhere else? Where might that have been?
One area of the site that remains stubbornly difficult to integrate, is that between the main entrance and out beyond the Heelstone. This plan is from Cleal et al, I’ve just removed all the excavation trenches and labels to make it easier to read.
Many of those features, including stone pits D and E, Stone 95, the rash of postholes across the ditch causeway, the stone or post pits B and C and the row of postholes at A – even the Heelstone and Stone 97 (the latter could be the former in an earlier position) – could be parts of what elsewhere might be interpreted as a large “mortuary house” defined by parallel ditches:
Who knows? My point is that the story is far from over. The only way to make significant new progress now is to combine re-examination of old excavation records (particularly Hawley’s) with new excavation at the site on a scale commensurate with the problems.
Salisbury Cathedral glowing in fog at dusk yesterday, like a ship drifting in dangerous waters
Not just because of the designs, which are fabulous, or the ideas, stories and information, or even the associations and memories. But because of the vision. The idea that the provider – even a profit-making publisher – can decide to give people more than they know they want. Imagine that principle applied today by people who convey knowledge. In news giving, for instance, We could have news presenters who talk to us because they want us to know things they believe to be important. Who have a passion to inform and educate, who want to get underneath the stories, to understand them and to share that understanding – because they believe that it is important that people understand. That is the Penguin principle.
Well it makes a great cover, anyway, sort of Doggerland in a nutshell. I wrote the feature about underwater landscapes (or as the cover strapline puts it, “The search for Atlantis and sunken civilisations”) for the new BBC Focus magazine. It was interesting doing it to find how much the UK is leading this area of archaeological research – and what made it difficult is that many of the most promising projects are just getting started, so have little to show yet. It’s a topic to watch.
If you ever wondered how the statues on Easter Island were moved from the quarry, or especially if the thought never entered your head, you really must watch this video on the Nature website – and stick with it to the end. Whether it’s what actually happened is anybody’s guess – as it is with every theory of this type – but it’s wonderful to see!
Nature’s report is based on an article in Journal of Archaeological Science by Carl Lipo, Terry Hunt & Sergio Rapu Haoa, “The ‘walking’ megalithic statues (moai) of Easter Island”. It’s worth looking at that too: the free content includes a lot of long-captioned illustrations.
You can see Lipo and Hunt (L and R above) addressing the National Geographic Society here, Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo: The Statues That Walked. They have been regularly making controversial claims and interpretations for Easter Island’s archaeology. Other archaeologists researching the island have objected strongly to some of the things they are saying. It’s all good stuff. The history of archaeology on the island is full of things that should not have happened, with much in common with events at Stonehenge. With hindsight, there have been too many small excavations with ill-defined aims, often poorly conducted and often not fully analysed and published, while basic archaeological fieldwork – good surveys of the monuments, for example – has been skimped.
If we are to understand this extraordinary place, we need just the sort of debates that Hunt and Lipo are stirring up. They open up big questions that remain unanswered. They focus attention on the archaeology, what it has achieved and what it might still do. A world heritage site, Easter Island needs what Stonehenge did finally get: a comprehensive analysis and publication of all previous fieldwork, going back into the 19th century; a publicly discussed research agenda contributed to by everyone with an interest in the island’s archaeology and history, and fully published; and coming out of this, ambitious, cutting edge, quality fieldwork that sets out to tackle key issues – which should include excavation on a scale we’ve seen recently around Stonehenge. There are several projects in progress, including Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction based at UCL and Manchester University. None of what I’m suggested need affect any of these, but all of them, and us, would benefit.
And as a footnote, the best walking statue of all – though it lacks the music.
When I put that on the cover of British Archaeology above a photo of Mick Aston in February, I left it deliberately ambiguous. Mick was leaving Time Team – but what about Time Team itself?
Now it’s official. Attempts to fiddle about with the 18-year-old format are deemed to have failed, and in the wake of that and confusing scheduling (always a sign that a broadcaster’s heart isn’t in it), Channel 4 has announced that it’s killing off Time Team.
It doesn’t actually use those words, and its press release naturally praises the series and promises more to come. But next year’s series, the 20th, will be the final one with three-day digs. That’s big for archaeology, and big for broadcasting.
Twenty years is a long time for a TV series, especially a factual one. And as well as the standard programmes, there were seemingly endless specials. The series generated a vast number of what we archaeologists call grey evaluation reports. It featured so many practising archaeologists, that the profession has developed what must be a unique accommodation with television. Time Team educated and inspired, and brought many people into archaeology, to study at university and even to work as archaeologists.
It also found new archaeology, and created new stories. As C4’s head of factual Ralph Lee says, “I am incredibly proud that, as well as providing hundreds of hours of education and entertainment on Channel 4, Time Team has invested, over and above production costs, more than £4m in archaeology in Britain over the past 18 years.” Where else in broadcasting can you find that?
There is a part of me that wonders if this might be the right decision for Time Team. The failure of the silly stuff in this year’s series was never going to be rectified by going back to Time Team in the 20th century. Yet it’s that that people love. The TT legacy is going to be strong, and not allowed to dissipate into embarrassing farce. There are books, broadcastable films and DVDs, press and magazine features and the famous excavation reports to fuel debate about archaeology and broadcasting for generations.
Tim Taylor created something very special, and has every right to be proud of it all. Long live Time Team.
Programmes will feature the Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Wiltshire excavated by soldiers in Operation Nightingale; the Roman fort at Brancaster, Norfolk, where geofizz really came up trumps; a Tudor mansion at Henham Park, Suffolk; the remains of Cardinal Wolsey’s home; castles in west Wales, Northern Ireland and Rutland; an iron age hillfort on the edge of Cardiff; a Roman villa on the banks of the Thames; and Elizabethan copper mines in the Lake District.
There will be four Time Team Specials: the sunken wrecks of two of the earliest prototype submarines from before the First World War; Lincoln Castle; reconstructing the bronze age Dover Boat using materials and tools from the time; and an investigation into the tsunami that swept across the North Sea some 8,000 years ago.
C4 says “further one-off specials are planned for at least into 2014 and the series will continue to be repeated across both More4 and Channel 4”.
The release also plays up the channel’s other “new history” programmes. These include The People of Stonehenge (working title) for early 2013, featuring our Aubrey Hole excavation at Stonehenge (and possibly me), and Darlow-Smithson’s film about the Richard III car park dig. You can’t but admire Darlow’s ownership of that, and what will surely be one of the season’s most watched films, in says C4, er, “early 2012”.
He feels, he says, that the Time Team format has “gradually been changed” (note, not just “changed”) into emphasising a documentary style, moving away from “Time Team’s core DNA. This centres on the moment that we see archaeology emerging from the ground for the first time and the team battling against a limited timescale, using their intelligence and skill to work out the right strategy to answer key questions.”
“Over the last decade”, he continues, “the size of the production and the staff needed to support it and the budget has grown to an unsustainable level. On the final show of last year we had over 75 people in the lunch tent! For the first 5-10 years of Time Team it used to be just Mick, Phil, the cameraman, the Director and me in the pub! In my view this size of production made it harder to get in touch with the key archaeological events.”
He wants to “get back to that immediacy of discovery”. He plans “Dig Village” shoots with Mick as a guide, and featuring Stewart Ainsworth, Paul Blinkhorn and others; a pilot will “be seen on the internet in early November”.
He also hopes to return to some old Time Team sites, in “the Time Team ‘Legacy’ Roadshow”.
See my posts about Mick leaving, and the media coverage:
A dripping, misty dawn over Savernake Forest this morning.
At last, after all these years, we’ve got the very first comprehensive study of the actual stones at Stonehenge. As part of its research into Stonehenge and its landscape that will feed into displays at the new visitor centre, English Heritage commissioned Greenhatch Group surveyors to produce the first complete, high resolution 3D digital model of Stonehenge and its immediate landscape, using lasers and a bit of photogrammetry. Then Marcus Abbott (ArcHeritage) and Hugo Anderson-Whymark (freelance lithics specialist) analysed the data, created new digital images and news ways of seeing them, added some of their own photos and spent time amongst the real stones.
In one sense the results are not surprising: it was obvious to anyone with eyes that that we could learn a lot about Stonehenge with a proper study of the stones. And yes, we have learnt a lot. But just about all the details are revelatory.
There are four different areas where new things are really going to change the way we think about the monument:
- how the stones were dressed and what the original monument looked like
- prehistoric carvings – difficult to see and unknown to visitors: the new discoveries have doubled the number of such carvings known in the whole of Britain
- damage by tourists: the scale of damage done by souvenir collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries had not been recognised before
- graffiti: dates range between 1721 and 1866, though most were carved 1800–1850 – and they’re almost everywhere.
And this must be just the beginning. There are more details yet to see (there is still scope for new and higher resolution survey), and new things to think about in the vast data set.
Marcus and Hugo have written a full report on it all for the new British Archaeology, and the feature comes with further comment from Paul Bryan and Susan Greaney at English Heritage.
Some of the new insights into the original monument are illustrated In this diagram we prepared for the magazine.
If you know Stonehenge, from this alone you can see at once how much new information has been revealed. Amongst other things, it seems fair to draw from this (and other new data) that the sarsen circle probably WAS complete; and that the whole thing was designed to be seen from the north-east, approaching up the Avenue – so the implication follows that the setting midwinter sun you’d be facing to the south-west was the key alignment.
Tom Goskar and colleagues from Wessex Archaeology and Archaeoptics experimented with scanning on three stone faces, and discovered a few new axehead carvings.
Stewart Lee presented an entertaining programme on Radio 4 last week about the old TV series that featured strange goings on in a village with a big stone circle. A lot of people are coming here from the link that the BBC kindly provided, so for anyone nostalgic about Avebury, here are a few recent photos. And you can listen to Happy Days: Children of the Stones here.
It’s now on view to the public for the first time since any of us (well, almost any of us) last saw it when it was auctioned by Christie’s last autumn. It’s in the astonishing exhibition at the Royal Academy, which they call Bronze, and this is how the helmet looked yesterday as photographed on my phone. The show is everything critics are saying about it, really worth seeing, and the helmet is far from the only archaeological artefact there. But beautiful as it is, you can’t help thinking, why did the owner lend it to the Royal Academy and not to the Tullie House Museum, which was so keen to show it to the people of Cumbria? As Mrs Merton might have said to the collector, “So, what first attracted you to the socially prestigious Royal Academy?”