thinking about archaeology

Archive for March, 2012

No spin at Stonehenge in 1920

Here are two more press cuttings, reporting the start of excavations and restorations at Stonehenge directed by William Hawley in 1919 and 1920. A lot happened in those first few months of what became a project lasting years: stones 6 and 7 in the outer circle were set in concrete, after their pits had been excavated, and their lintel was secured with lead seals; the Aubrey Holes were discovered; sections of the ditch were excavated; and the new-found origin of bluestones in Pembrokeshire was announced after petrographer HH Thomas had examined pieces of stone from the digs.

Today academic and peer-reviewed publication of Stonehenge work follows press spin and reporting. In the 20s, however, it was quite different. The first article here (from the Salisbury Times, April 1920) describes in plain terms what the journalist saw when he or she visited the site. The second (February 1921) describes what had been found. It is essentially a précis of Hawley’s first report in the Antiquaries Journal; the photos above come from that report (Vol 1, 1921, pp19–41). It had previously been delivered as a lecture to the Society of Antiquaries in London in 1920, and it was then, in the discussion after Hawley’s talk, that Thomas had announced his discovery that most of the bluestones came from “the Prescelly Mountains of Pembrokeshire”. It would be hard to keep something like that out of the press today until after it had appeared in a peer-reviewed archaeological journal.

January 2014: adding photo for Rupert Hawley (see comment below).

Hawley 1919

William Hawley (third from right seated on stone) with Office of Works men in 1919 during early restoration work. They are gathered around the long-fallen fragments of stone 9. Behind them is the leaning stone 7, which has been clad in pitch-pine timbers ready for straightening; the lintel that joined this to stone 6 has been lifted off with the aid of the winch partly visible behind Hawley.

Like his predecessor and pioneering Stonehenge excavator William Gowland, Hawley was distinguished by a fine moustache!



What people were saying about Woodhenge in 1927

I’ve been thinking about what was happening at Stonehenge in the early 20th century recently, and unearthed some old cuttings in my library. Here’s one about Woodhenge, I think from The Salisbury Times. It’s strangely coy (“two well-known Wiltshire archaeologists” were, of course, Maud and Ben Cunnington), but it reminds us that everything we know about the past once was new. Here a debate about whether or not Woodhenge and even Stonehenge were iron age in date has been all but forgotten today. Yet the significance of burials at Stonehenge is really only now being appreciated again. We can’t know now what will remain of what we think important in a century’s time.

What made Stonehenge so interesting in the 1870s?

I’ve just discovered Google’s Ngram, which is fun to play with. It will search for words and phrases within a million scanned books. This is what it did with “prehistory” and “Stonehenge”. “Prehistoric” first appeared in print in English in 1851, and you can see a steady spread here of the use of “prehistory”. (If you graph “prehistoric”, the rise is even more dramatic, starting in 1860 and reaching a plateau around 1920, but it dwarfs the Stonehenge graph into a low wobble – these lines express the relative use of words to the entire lexicon, and are said to be most reliable between 1800 and 2000.)

Stonehenge has a more interesting graph. I’d guess the 1810s peak is connected to the excavations around Stonehenge in the early 19th century, not least by people like Cunnington and Colt Hoare. The 60s peak would fit the huge interest generated first by Richard Atkinson (his Stonehenge came out in 1956 and was paperbacked by Penguin in 1960) and then Gerald Hawkins (Stonehenge Decoded was first published in 1965).

But what’s that peak in the 1870s? Petrie? Darwin? A surge in visitors after the London train reached Salisbury in 1857? (But if that, why was it slow to start and did it then fall off?) Any ideas?

Frogs porn and all that springy stuff

I’m really not going to make a habit of this, but the days are getting longer, the sun is shining and the five-year-old had to draw spring for her homework. I think this drawing just about sums it up. It’s the phonetic spelling that gets the sap to rise.

A five-year-old’s view of arkeeolijee

The vision of an archaeologist excited by the discovery of a human skull as big as their spoilheap is somewhat undermined by the inscription which, if you can’t read primary school phonetics, reads: “Archaeologists dig for bones, and they have been doing that for a very long time. If you wonder what they do with the bones, don’t ask me because I don’t know”. This particular archaeologist goes completely awol as the printing deadline for British Archaeology careens towards him, so he deserves nothing less.

Jeremy Deller & Gabriel Moshenska

I was in London earlier this week to talk to two people who will be appearing in the next edition of British Archaeology.

This is Jeremy Deller in his local Italian restaurant, the Trevi, where we talked about his work while he had Marmite toast and tea. He has an entertaining and inspiring show on at the Hayward Gallery, where I learnt – in a section called “My failures”, about projects that didn’t happen – that he had proposed a replica Stonehenge trilithon (to be made in stone) as an entrance portal at the 2012 Olympics site.

This is Gabriel Moshenska, who is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Institute of Archaeology in London. The plaque was originally set up in St Johns’ Lodge, a luxury pad In Regent’s Park. The institute moved to Bloomsbury in 1958; when I was a student there the plaque was on the library wall. I think it would be fair to say that very few of us today really understand what Tessa Wheeler achieved. We urgently need someone to research this while there are still people who remember.