thinking about archaeology

Archive for December, 2014

British Archaeology

Cover with SpineI’m particularly proud of our new edition, from the Galloway hoard – as we are now calling the new Viking-age hoard from south-west Scotland – on the front cover, to pieces on the Grenson shoe factory and paleo diets at the end. We broke the news about the Old Sarum geophysics survey, which was widely reported in the media. And there are many other new revelations.

The Viking hoard feature describes for the first time how the find was located and excavated, and how significant archaeological discoveries were made when the initial dig was extended to a 30m by 30m trench. In my experience, this is the first time such a large area has been explored around a detecting find here in the UK. That so much was discovered adds materially to the debate about how these sites should be approached by the archaeological and curatorial professions.

As always, you can find the magazine in newsagents, in the App Store or in digital form. If you go there now, you can read the Old Sarum story in a free preview. These are the feature opening spreads – just the start.

The boring Stonehenge story takes off again

fund the tunnel I would really like the Stonehenge A303 problem to be sorted out – and there is a serious problem, as anyone knows who has to drive there regularly. Tunnelling has to be part of the solution, for it would achieve what nothing else could, the removal of an impermeable barrier across the world heritage site landscape. So news that the government is ready to fund major works there is good to hear. road closed But let’s save a great deal of anguish, time and money: keep the politics out of it. For those of you new to this story (you wouldn’t think there would be anyone, but to judge from online comments, there are many), here are a few pointers.

  1. Don’t waste time dreaming up complex new routes. If you can find one, be sure it’s already been thought of. The map below is a hint of the work done in this area. It’s from a 2006 Highways Agency consultation, and it shows some of the major routes that had been seriously (=expensively) considered (I’ve combined two maps from the report). To be fair, research did not allow for flying cars. So if you really must pursue your own way, perhaps there’s an opening there.

where's the A303

  1. There is already a big road going through the world heritage site. We call it the A303, and part of it is a dual carriageway in a cutting. It’s full of cars and lorries. Tunnelling, or adding a lane to the existing road, would change things, but it would not introduce something alien to the place.

A303 lorry

  1. Hitching your political reputation to a solution is not necessarily to be recommended. The track record is not good. But all power to Danny Alexander, LibDem chief secretary to the Treasury. “The A303”, he has said, “should be a south-west super highway, which is what we are going to make it into through this investment programme. It can be England’s new economic engine.”

This is the same Danny Alexander who in 2010 told us that he had cancelled a proposed Stonehenge Visitor Centre, because it did not “represent good value for money”. We had to point out then that the government wasn’t actually in a position to cancel the project, and thus save £25m, as it was funding less than half of it. The Daily Telegraph has today drawn attention to the fact that “Two thirds of the [new road] schemes where construction work has been given the green light are in Tory and LibDem constituencies, including some of the parties’ most marginal seats”. If you can claim credit for taking away money that didn’t exist, you can presumably promise to spend it when it’s not there. But maybe UKIP-fear will finally deliver what all else has failed to do. I wish them the best of luck.

Nick Clegg at the stones this morning (ITV/Meridian)

Nick Clegg at the stones this morning (ITV/Meridian)