Monday, 26 March 2012

Cambridge burial

The burial - Cambridge University Archaeology Unit.
A friend of mine gave me a cutting from the Times today reporting on a burial in Cambridgeshire. They described the burial of a teenager interred on a wooden bed and she was wearing a gold cross, with trumpet arms, set with garnets.  Alison Dickens (Cambs Uni. Arch.) is quoted as saying that: "We think there's only been one other bed burial combined with a Christian cross ever found... Bed burials are conspicuously rare". The Times states that: "What is unusual about the discovery... is the combination of 'bling' and bed".     

The burial is in that transitional period between a purely pagan society and the introduction of Christianity in the later 7th century and here the burial is dated to between 650 and 680 AD. 

This has certain parallels with the 'King of Bling' (600-650 AD) found at Prittlewell, Essex several years ago. Found during a road widening scheme it was described as "the most spectacular discovery of its kind made during the last 60 years". This was of a male buried under a mound in an underground, wood-lined chamber stuffed full of artefacts.

Two gold 'Latin' crosses were found with rounded terminals, the first such gold crosses to be unearthed in the UK. Such usage originated in Lombardy and was equally popular in Bavaria from the 6th to the early 8th centuries and most have tiny perforations so as to be allowed to be sewn onto clothes.

The 'King of Bling' was laid on a bed or in a coffin. The poor state of preservation did not allow a definite interpretation. But if it was a bed then the Cambridge burial is another example, of a predominantly female depositional type. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

For regular visitors you will notice a change of design. Dig below the grass for older posts. The deeper you go the older they get - just like in archaeology!

Site visits

I can now confirm that a site visit will be made to Ham Hill this year for those that are doing the Digging the Dirt course. This is a very rare chance to see a hillfort being excavated and we will be shown around by the dig supervisor. I am awaiting dates but I hope to get the 17th of June for the Dorchester group and the 1st of July for the Bridport group. Contact me for details.

[update - Ham Hill is not starting until 21st July. They sent me the wrong date! Am in contact trying to get a date for a visit, even though it is after the course. I'm sure students will want to still go and I will let you know as and when a date is confirmed]


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Them bones, them bones...


"In winter almost all their holidays before dinner are spent in seeing another kind of sport... numerous bands of young men go out to play on the ice... they fit the leg-bones of animals to their feet binding them firmly round their ankles and hold in their hands poles shod of iron, which they strike against the ice and thus impel themselves on it with the swiftness of a bird or a ball from an engine... each lifts his staff to strike the other and the contest ends by one or both falling... sometimes a leg or arm is broken; but theirs is an age that covets glory; youth is fond of victory and practises itself in sham battles that may succeed better in real ones" [William Fitz-Stephen, 1173, London].


Monday, 12 March 2012

Martin Welch

I was very sad to hear that Martin Welch died last year. I was in his 'Anglo-Saxon Burial Customs' module when an undergraduate from 1986-9 at UCL. Although not my principle interest he made the subject fascinating and I have been looking at A/S incursions into the south west recently. I will be returning to his books with speed, as he was one of the most knowledgeable and interesting writers in the country on the period. 

Mick Aston interview

This months British Archaeology printed an interview with Mick entitled 'Why I had to leave Time Team'. I was astonished. 

I knew that Mick had been a long standing supporter of public participation in archaeology and its use in education and that it is vital that archaeology in the UK follows other countries in supporting and promoting the past as a tool for social inclusion and fostering a sense of identity. He knows that unless the public support the professionals and academics we are, in his phrase, "finished". He saw Time Team as a way to address millions, rather than what I do, talk to 30-40 people in a hall or teach 9-10 students in an evening.    

He underlined his problems, now, with TT by giving the programme 'Countryfile' as an example of how TT has gone wrong. He said that Countryfile has cut out the experts (except for one) and filled the presenter roles with attractive young things and that it has become "cliche-ridden pap". Incredibly strong words. In one, rather amusing, anecdote he said that on one TT programme they had someone dress as a 'monk' when in fact the outfit was a friar's. 

Rather sadly he said that TT has not 'worked'. It would have been instructive if the interviewer had asked him how it had not worked and outlined Mick's thoughts as to how he saw TT, from the start, working. If the idea of TT was to introduce archaeology to a greater number of people it has worked. No programme can really give the public the real, every day, reality of a diggers life, with all its tedious bits and routine. But it has shown what dedicated people there are in the job and all the skills needed to do the best job possible on sites that, after excavation, are gone forever. 

One statement that struck me was: "Archaeology in Britain is a shambles from top to bottom". He is very afraid for the future of the subject and I think that this is based on the fragmentation created by the  commercialisation of archaeology after PPG16 in 1990. I may be wrong but he is probably a supporter of the old County Council units, with locally based archaeologists building up expertise in their area. Whereas now we have commercial units dropped in to an area after winning a competitive tender. Dorset had this on the Weymouth bypass site, where Oxford Archaeology dug the site. The other results of fragmentation are low pay and very bad working contracts for diggers, where you can be laid off in days and no co-ordinated voice  when it comes to dealing with politicians. The first results in large numbers of skilled archaeologists leaving the job for a 'proper wage' and the second results in politicians (who only "respond to pressure") not addressing the many problems in the heritage 'industry' and lack of co-ordination across the country to protect and enhance Britain's many sites (look at Stonehenge!). 

In many ways British archaeology is shambolic. Leaving most of the job in the hands of the 'market' has destroyed the ethos of 'service' and 'localism'. But it is better than what we had before PPG16, with our archaeology being destroyed every day under the relentless drive for redevelopment in our cities and towns. Hundreds of dedicated archaeologists work every day to save sites either in situ or by record through excavation. That didn't happen in the 'good old days'. 

Archaeology as a profession is only 22 years old. It needs to learn from it own past and move toward a better future. I agree with Mick that things have to be better structured in archaeology as a profession from top to bottom. How that is to be done I do not know definitively (better and brighter people than me need to put their heads together on that one). 

We are saving more sites from destruction without record. But for what and why? I would like to see more people involved from the community. I would like to see trained community archaeologists working with field archaeologists to bring that about. The CBA is working on that by training up some people in community work, but it is too small and looking at the people they are recruiting they are falling into the same trap as Countryfile (young, white, middle class - not exactly representative of the communities they will be working in). 

I would like to see better pay and conditions for professional diggers. Units working in the areas they are based so that the information stays in the local community after being unearthed by local diggers. Sites where local people who want to get involved are not seen as pests or 'taking our jobs' - etc etc and so on.

It seems now that Mick is working locally and getting a lot out of it, as I do. He say that "that's what gets me up in the morning". Hear hear. Only by working locally can we fit the small pieces of the jigsaw of Britain's story together as a nation.          


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Digging the Dirt course

Spring into April by booking my next 10 week series of sessions in archaeology at Dorchester and Bridport. Find out how sites are dug, with some hands-on experience of washing and sorting finds; stories of my many years as a digger; see fabulous sites and treasures from the excavations I have worked on in London. And of course I will take you around some of the great sites in Dorset too [I have had an offer of visiting an excavation!]. Plus coffee/tea and nibbles in good company! My last course was a great success, so book soon and reserve your place. Click on the poster above for contact details. 

Friday, 2 March 2012

Archaeotreks - 'Stone & Iron Weekend'

The Grey Mare & Her Colts
The first Archaeotreks weekend will be: April 28th & 29th. Please contact me for details and B&Bs in the area. 

We will be having a 'meet & greet' Friday evening and then visiting Iron Age Maiden Castle and Eggardon Hill on Saturday and the Dorset Ridgeway on Sunday.