thinking about archaeology

Archive for August, 2009

Back from Fromelles

Martial Delebarre

Since early May archaeologists have been unearthing the remains of some 250 soldiers who died on one night in 1916 at Fromelles in northern France. For the course of the first world war, the battle was irrelevant, but nearly 3,000 men died, among them some 2,000 Australians and 500 Britons. Eight grave pits dug by German soldiers for some of their attackers’ bodies were recently located, and a unique team was assembled to examine them.

There has never been a project quite like this. It is, says Margaret Cox, exactly how the site of a human atrocity should be (more…)

Get your Guardian now!

Digging up Britain

To its eternal credit, the Guardian today has a large chunk of archaeology in its G2 supplement, with 10 features looking at what’s happening in Britain now (two of them by yours truly). This is a newspaper that used to have such good archaeological coverage, and has recently (notwithstanding Maev Kennedy’s sterling efforts – she and I once shared the British archaeology press award for our Guardian contributions, and (more…)

Ah God! to see the branches stir

Rupert Brooke

Spent most of yesterday out in the woods filming, pleasantly peaceful with the sun occasionally shafting through, or the rustle of light rain on the canopy above making the space feel indoor, like a huge, spreading cathedral. We were in the valley we visited last week, where sarsen boulders excavated 90 years ago were abandoned in their trenches by a bankrupt business. It has a sense of loss about it, vaguely redolent of an (more…)

A film (not about grapes)


Another TV job today, this time with a bit of filming (in the rain) of something I am sworn to secrecy about – in fact if the crew’s hotel printer had been working, I would have signed up to silence as well. I’ll let you know when the programme is to be broadcast (I’m a consultant to the project), but it’s likely to be some time yet. In the meantime here is a photo of some garden grapes (looking like our biggest fruiting yet, they must like the rain). And of Bruce Bradley, a skilled flint knapper at Exeter University, whose work like that of all good experimental knappers is so important and (more…)

Good with funerals

Co-op Federation St

I knew the Co-op was good with food and had an ethical bank, but I didn’t know it was the UK’s “number one provider of funeral services”. It also has an amazing collection of buildings (most listed) in the centre of Manchester, where its head offices have been since 1863. I went to visit them yesterday and have a look at an excavation that is just starting on the site of their proposed new HQ, which they hope to open in 2012. It somehow seems appropriate that this is happening where once stood some of Europe’s worst industrial slums (whose horrors were described by, amongst others, Friedrich Engels). Co-op staff are apparently (more…)

Splitting stones

A huge sarsen boudler in West Woods, excavated by Thacker & Johnson in the 1920s and saved by their bankruptcy

A huge sarsen boulder in West Woods, excavated by Thacker & Johnson in the 1920s and saved by their bankruptcy

I went out on a TV recce yesterday, enjoying a rare bit of warm sunshine on the Marlborough Downs. We were looking at sarsens, the strange stones that lie scattered on the surface that were used for megaliths at nearby Avebury and to the south at Stonehenge. You hear a lot about the Welsh bluestones there, but the sarsens are far bigger and more engineered, and would have been a greater challenge to move, despite the shorter distance. There have been endless demonstrations for TV films of (more…)

Stonehenge: still a choice


The text below is based on a presentation I gave to the Society of Antiquaries in London in May 2006, as a contribution to a debate about the future of Stonehenge; my piece was driven largely by slides (I was still using Kodachrome then) showing the three main alternative routes for the A303 road then being considered. As we know, the options then being offered by the government were all dropped as being too expensive; a less ambitious, “temporary” solution to the monument’s environmental and visitor problems is now being pursued.

I think it’s worth publishing this, as a piece of history (in several ways), and a record of the frustration that many of us felt at the time, when it seemed almost every (more…)

10 stones

The people of Britain as represented on the plinth in One & Other on July 29 2009

Got the shirt

T shirt

So it all comes to an end. The weather was perfect – no rain, no wind – and the acrylic boxes sparkled like jewels in the floodlights. I got the ten stones out and back in time, I talked about them a bit while I was doing this and the catalogue posts went live on the website like clockwork. It was only an hour, but for a brief moment within that short time there was a unique exhibition, in a very public place, made by all the people of Britain. And as I left, they gave me a T-shirt.

The most surprising thing about being on the Plinth was seeing a little of what goes on behind the scenes – which I was forbidden (more…)