thinking about archaeology

Archive for June, 2013

Digging up the A344

A303 1

Yesterday evening I went down to Stonehenge to look at the roads. Not something everyone does, but this is a turning point in a century of argument and striving for change: on Monday part of the A344 was closed. Already the tarmac is being broken up, and soon it will be dug out and the cutting filled.

So now, if, like most people, you approach Stonehenge on the London road from the east, you have to take a slightly longer journey to get to the stones, and enjoy a more gentle winding down as you approach. This is only the start of the changes, but it’s huge. For anyone who’d like to see it but can’t be there, here are some photos. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

They are in three groups, which I’ve marked on the map I used earlier. Coming down the A303 from the east, you now follow the yellow arrow. You have no option but to drive straight through Stonehenge Bottom on the A303. There is a newly enlarged roundabout where you turn onto the A360, but there is nowhere obviously safe to park so I took no photos there. Then a completely new roundabout where the A360 meets the A344 and the B3086 (see my earlier posts here and here and here). Driving down the A344 from there to Stonehenge was weird; it’s no longer a through route, and in time it will soon close to public traffic too.


A303 2

A303 3

A303 4

A344 2

A344 1


A360 looking south from Airman’s Cross

B3086 looking north from Airman's Cross

B3086 looking north from Airman’s Cross

A344 3

A344 3.2

New car park entrance at Stonehenge

A344 4

A344 5

A344 6

As a footnote, you may have noticed a row of vehicles near the horizon in the views of Stonehenge from the east. Here is a detail:

Byway 12

This is not a road, but an unpaved track known as Byway 12. The anomaly that allows road vehicles onto it is going to become increasingly apparent (for the background to this, read down in my earlier post here)

Shame on you Fairfax Media

Sydney Morning Herald Brisbane TimesFamiliar photos in the Brisbane Times and Sydney Morning Herald. People at Fairfax Media, “Photo: Supplied” is not a credit. “Photo: Mike Pitts” is. I’m happy that you used this, it’s one of the ways I like to remember Mick, but nicking pics without credit (and if you’re not going to pay, a link would be nice) is shabby, even for a business nobly competing against News Corp.


Gone travelling

BA 90 masthead

Mick had been sending me a column for British Archaeology for every edition without fail since autumn 2006. We called it Mick’s travels, and in each piece he wrote about the archaeology and history of somewhere he’d been, often as a result of exploring on a Time Team shoot. Regardless of what I did with his text, or how I selected from his images (often failing to use the maps he lovingly scribbled on sheets of tracing paper stuck together with masking tape), the columns kept on coming, never late.

His first was about an early monastic estate in Somerset. I have his last on my desk now, along with a wallet of 35mm slides that always arrived with the typed captions by Special Delivery. He loved slides and had little time for fly-by-night digital stuff: scanning his trannies, and often spending hours removing the dust and flaws, was a magazine ritual I will much miss. His visit to the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset will feature in the next magazine, out on August 9, along with a tribute.

The Council for British Archaeology has put online a great video of Mick receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award at his home last year. His magazine columns will soon be on the site too, for free access.


Full column in British Archaeology 131 Jul/Aug 2013








Too soon. We’ve lost a man who was always true to himself, who loved life and inspired everyone he knew and met. If you liked archaeology, he was the archaeologist you wanted to be. His steadfast commitment to understanding the landscape and the lives of the people who made it – and to sharing his enthusiasm with others – shone through decades of two continuously changing professions, archaeology and broadcasting, as his style fell in and out of fashion, and back again. We were privileged to have him around. Thanks, Mick.

ATV Today Guardian Science Guardian Huffington Post

Evening Standard Belfast Telegraph Daily Mail Mirror

BBC News 1 BBC News

A gold edition

Cover with Spine

The Staffordshire hoard makes a dramatic front cover for the new British Archaeology, which features the first extensive look at the continuing research into the thousands of pieces of jewelled gold and silver found four years ago. They hope to finish cleaning it all by the end of this year, and then move on to stage two: reconstruction and scientific analysis. We are beginning to see just how remarkable this hoard is. ARTICLE

Other stories include Britain’s oldest early medieval helmet, conserved at the British Museum; a mesolithic flint axe from the North Sea; springs around Silbury Hill; neolithic house reconstructions under trial for the new Stonehenge visitor centre; and a military analysis of early medieval earthworks in Cambridgeshire.

I interviewed Jeremy Deller and Museum of London curator Caroline McDonald, for a feature about Deller’s work for the Venice Biennale, just before they left for Italy. (And elsewhere, Deller asked me to write about early British art for his guest-edited edition of Art Review.)


I’ve been waiting for years to publish this feature about an excavation in Kent. Archaeologists found quite extraordinary evidence for bronze age burial and ritual – not least a large pit containing the remains of an elderly woman, male body parts and children, and animals.

And there’s a fascinating article about Alfred the Great.



Nicholson’s Nek

Nicholson’s Nek

Following my earlier post about Ernest Griset (whose paintings for John Lubbock I described during my Pitt Rivers talk last week), here’s another of his works recently come to light. It’s in the new list of London art dealer Abbott & Holder.

It’s described there as “South Africa / Boer War. ‘The Battle of Nicholson’s Nek’, 30th October 1899. Watercolour and gouache. Signed and dated, 1899. 15.5×19.5 inches. £675.”

This looks like the one sold by Bonhams in January, with a second painting of the same battle, described as “The Ambuscade, Nicolson’s Neck”:


They had been previously put up by Bonhams in October 2012, with an estimate of £800–1200 for the pair, but were bought in, so there appears to be a price ceiling to Griset’s work.

This watercolour in the Abbott & Holder list is rather lovely, by William Leitch:


“LEITCH William Leighton V.P.R.I. (1804-1883) Northumberland: Norham Castle. Watercolour. Ex. Coll: Rowland Pierce (his stamp verso) 8×11 inches. £575.”

Interesting to compare with Turner’s earlier sketches and paintings there in the collection at Tate Britain, including this:

Castle on Hill. ?Norham null by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Dinosaur rap

Oxford Nat Hist 1

Wrapping things always brings unexpected and often slightly sinister aspects out of familiar objects. After an early morning at Stonehenge I drove up to Oxford, to give a talk at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The public access to the Pitt Rivers is through the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Its slightly older neo-gothic Deane-Woodward building (1861)  is closed this year while they complete restoration work to the roof. I photographed these creatures with my phone as I left.

Oxford Nat Hist 2

And this is how it looks when it’s open, with a roof like a great whale’s rib cage.

Oxford Nat Hist 4

Oxford Nat Hist 3


Spring (or is it summer?)

Stonehenge underpass 2

I was at Stonehenge early yesterday morning to record an interview for a future Open Country programme for Radio 4. The drive there was lovely, through the Wiltshire lanes crowded in with greenery and blossom, after so many months when it began to feel that winter was a geological condition rather than just a season. At Stonehenge, the days are ticking for the old, familiar furniture of compromise.

Stonehenge underpass

Stonehenge shop

Stonehenge cafe

plans for the future

Back home I photographed some flowers in the garden.

garden 1

garden 2

garden 3

garden 4

garden 5