Since 1970 there has been a subtle change in the vision of the Celt, with an increasing emphasis on the economic systems which underpinned society and the use of
The mounting of the spectacular exhibition ‘The Celts, the Origins of Europe' in Venice in 1991, under the auspices of Palazzo Grassi and sponsored by the multinational Fiat company, is an example of the current use to which the Celts are being put. The point was explicitly made by the President of Palazzo Grassi in his introduction to the exhibition catalogue The Celts:
This exhibition is a tribute both to the new Europe which cannot come into fruition without a comprehensive awareness of its unity, and to the fact that, in addition to its Roman and Christian sources, today's Europe traces its roots from the Celtic heritage, which is there for all to see.
It is in the light of this vision that one can best understand the initiative of President Mitterrand in providing lavish funds from the French state to support a new programme of multinational excavations at the Aeduian capital of Bibracte. In doing so he was echoing the gesture of Napoleon III, though for rather different political motives.
Jacquetta Hawkes summed it all up in the memorable thought that each generation gets the archaeology it deserves. Put another way, it is difficult, indeed impossible, to study the past without our understanding being encumbered and perverted by the impediment of the social mores in which we live and the transient values of the moment. At best, by attempting to understand the distortions of the past, we can be more on guard against introducing distortions of our own and accepting those forced on us by our political leaders.
There are currently two extreme perceptions of the Celts: the New Celtomania, which provides a vision of a European past to comfort us at a time when ethnic divisions are becoming a painful and disturbing reality, and a politically correct view, which argues that the term is so abused as to be useless except to those who wish to increase the sales of their books. Both views contain some threads of value but in their extremity they are sterile. There were, in Europe and beyond, peoples who were known as Celts, whose movements and behaviour are reflected in contemporary sources. They spoke a language which spread over a huge area, versions of which are still spoken and taught today in the western fringes of the former territory. Some of these ancient Celtic communities developed a unique art and a distinctive material culture, which spread throughout Europe, and in the remote west, in Ireland, echoes of their society come down to us through the written versions of a long-extinct oral tradition. These threads are real and are worthy of our attention.
Celtic domesticity as imagined by A. Forestier in his illustration of 1911, based on the excavated evidence derived from the examination of the lake village of Glastonbury, Somerset.
The growing awareness of the material culture of the pre-Roman Iron Age in the middle of the nineteenth century began to instil a new sense of realism into the study of late prehistoric Europe, but it was not until 1871, with the recognition that the cultural assemblages found in the graves of the Champagne and the lake-side site of La Tene in Switzerland were closely matched by those associated with a series of burials inserted into the ruins of the Etruscan town of Marzabotto, that the historic Celts could confidently be identified. Thereafter the belief that the movements of people could be traced in the archaeological record gained wide acceptance, and the invasionist model became central to much archaeological writing.
Material of La Tene type found throughout central and eastern Europe was directly related to the historic expansion of the Celts, though the extreme paucity of La Tene material in Greece and Asia Minor, where the Celts were known to have been active, was a salutary warning of the adage that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
In the west the situation was more complex. The study of ancient European languages had shown that forms of Celtic were spoken over much of the Iberian Peninsula, the British Isles, and Ireland, and yet there was no historical record of Celtic migrations into these areas. It was, therefore, left to archaeologists and linguists to construct models of invasion from their two disparate viewpoints. Since each relied heavily on the other, a considerable degree of circularity developed in the arguments. In Iberia the classical sources indicated a Celtic presence by the sixth century Be, and this was supported by linguistic arguments that suggested that the Celtic spoken in the Peninsula was more ancient than that recorded in Gaul. Thus it was incumbent on archaeologists to 'discover' evidence for the Celtic migration from west central Europe through the Pyrenees in the material culture of the Late Bronze Age. This approach was most influentially propounded by P. Bosch-Gimpera in his famous paper 'Two Celtic Waves in Spain' published in 1939 in the Proceedings of the British Academy. In Britain and Ireland invasionist theories were summed up in the elegant formulation of Christopher Hawkes, presented in a paper entitled 'Hillforts' published in the journal Antiquity in 1931, in which a series of migratory waves were envisaged.
Simple invasionist theories of this kind were in common use until the 1960s and are still found from time to time in the more popular literature. Their modelling was based partly on the classical accounts of Celtic movements, but also derived inspiration from an awareness of the migrations of the late Roman and early medieval periods. Behind it all lay the knowledge, gleaned from recent history, of the dramatic cultural changes, linguistic and material, that had been brought about by west European imperial expansion. This strengthened the implicit belief that cultural change was most simply to be explained as the result of folk movement.
The 'Celts' that emerged during this period still retained the image of the warrior intent upon feasting and raiding-in other words the classical vision but, in a century dominated by recurring war, much of it resulting from German militarism, a new image began to develop in which the 'Celt' was given a more homely, creative appearance in contrast to other barbarians, in particu1ar the 'warlike Germans': in other words the 'Celt' was becoming domesticated. This was subtly, and perhaps unconsciously, done by putting increased emphasis on artistic and technical achievements and on the 'hearth-and-home' aspects of the archaeological record. Such an approach was particularly well developed in Britain, where the creative originality of Celtic art had long been recognized, largely because the extreme paucity of cemeteries producing warrior equipment forced archaeological activity to focus on settlement sites and on the productive systems which maintained them.
The first recognizable ordering of the British agrarian landscape became known as ‘Celtic field systems', and the term was readily, if inappropriately, adopted in the Low Countries and Denmark, where isolated Celtic elements of material culture have tended to be given particular emphasis in contrast to the Germanic.
The Celt of the period 1870-1970 is, therefore, a complex creation. In the image of the nineteenth-century imperialists, he was prepared to fight his way into new territories, taking his women and children with him, but there to settle down to till the soil while the womenfolk spun, weaved, and ground the corn. His love of art was well developed and he was served by craftsmen of great originality and skill. Even his wife could add to the artistic ambience of the home by making pleasantly decorated pots. He was not unduly aggressive but would fiercely protect his family and home if danger threatened. The discovery of a
In France, too, opportunity for allegory was not lost. In the aftermath of the war, in 1949, a monument was erected on the plain of Les Laumes below Alesia. It records that
On this plain 2,000 years ago Gaul saved her honour pitting, at Vercingetorix' call, her peoples against Caesar's legions. After her reversal upon the battlefield, reconciled with the victor, united, defended against the invasions of the Germans, open to the enlightenment of Greece and Rome, she knew three centuries of peace.
Friday, August 20, 2010
On folklore and archaeology by AMY GAZIN-SCHWARTZ AND CORNELIUS HOLTORF
Farmer Anders Axel Petersson (1870–1930) shows an offering kettle to an antiquarian surveyor in 1927 in Sorunda parish, Södermanland, Sweden. The kettle is a socalled ‘giant’s kettle’. In folk tradition this geological phenomenon was supposed to be a kettle used by the giants that originally inhabited the land Source: The Antiquarian-Topographical Archive, Stockholm
Both archaeologists and folklorists trace the origins of their disciplines to the works of antiquarians in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, but they view antiquarians through different lenses (for detailed accounts of the history of archaeology and of folklore studies respectively, see Bahn 1996; Daniel 1980, 1981; Dorson 1968b; Newall 1980; Trigger 1989). Archaeologists focus on antiquarian recording of archaeological monuments—Stukeley’s detailed drawings of Avebury, or Inigo Jones’ and Stukeley’s plans of Stonehenge before some of the stones had fallen—as examples of antiquarian concern with material culture and monuments of prehistoric Britain. They see this concern prefiguring archaeological interests in these same aspects of the past (Ucko et al. 1991).
Folklorists, on the other hand, are more likely to note the same antiquarians’ descriptions of ‘popular antiquities’, which included traditions, legends, tales, sayings, proverbs, songs and activities. Antiquarians themselves rarely distinguished between observing ancient material relics and recording ‘relics’ of ancient practices or beliefs in the form of folk rituals and tales. They viewed the latter as ‘sharing with material remains the same character of misshapen fragments surviving from a bygone day’ (Fenton 1993:7).
These fragments, both material and oral, are viewed by antiquarians, folklorists and archaeologists alike as fast disappearing relics of the past (see, for example, Bruford and Macdonald 1994; A.Carmichael 1928; Henderson  1967; Macpherson 1768; Thoms  1965; preservation legislation). This tradition of the threat to heritage materials follows on antiquarians’ convictions that they were preserving information about the nature of the ‘vulgar’ people, reflecting the original cultures, character and histories of their nations (Wright  1968:41). Whenever relics of the past have been recorded, they have been thought to be in imminent danger of being lost for all time. With regard to folklore, however, we agree with those who have argued that this concern is largely based on a misunderstanding of its character:
Folklore is not a phenomenon that is dying out or decaying or showing any signs of being in a decline… Certainly it ages, and one part of it and then another may die off. But it is also capable of breeding; it grows, it spreads, it feeds on other matter, and it has the greatest ability to adapt to changing circumstances. (Opie and Opie 1980:68)
Archaeological sites, too, were threatened by destruction, through development and agricultural intensification. Antiquarians, and later archaeologists, therefore recorded them as comprehensively as they could, in some cases knowing that their records were likely to be all that future generations of archaeologists would have. For example, on the island of Rügen in Germany only 54 megalithic monuments are preserved today; archaeological research makes the most of Friedrich von Hagenow’s map and description from 1829, when 236 megaliths were still known (Schuldt 1972:10, 16–18). Archaeological concern with preservation and recording continues today, through the practices of cultural resource (heritage) management (CRM) and through other surveys like those conducted by the Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists on the island of Raasay, Scotland (see for example Macdonald and Wood 1997).
On folklore and archaeology by AMY GAZIN-SCHWARTZ AND CORNELIUS HOLTORF
CONSTRUCTING THE PAST IN FOLKLORE AND ARCHAEOLOGY
Everyone concerned with the past—archaeologist, historian, politician, storyteller, priest, parent—constructs ideas and images of the past from materials available in the present. Through these ideas and images, we invest meaning in past events; but these meanings may differ according to our perspectives. We view the past through the lenses of the present; indeed, people have probably always done so. Archaeology and folklore are two of the many lenses through which the past is given meaning, and it is the aim of this article to explore and understand differences and similarities in how archaeology and folklore create, and are created through, ideas about the past. In the intersections between these similarities and differences, we hope to find new lenses, through which we can begin to create alternative images of people’s histories. The articles that follow will explore the meanings people attach to the past, or to artefacts associated with the past. They will demonstrate the value of developing a dialogue between different systems of meaning. What aspects of the past, time, material culture are remembered, retold in folklore, and made meaningful in popular culture? How may such memories, stories and practices inform archaeological interpretations?
We do not seek to define a new field, folklore and archaeology (comparable to zooarchaeology or ethnoarchaeology); rather, we have set out to explore the possibilities of developing an interdisciplinary dialogue, and making this dialogue fruitful to the future development of both disciplines. In contrast to a common archaeological practice of borrowing methods, models or data from another field, we want to open a discourse between the fields, believing that a conversation about the many methods, models and sets of data that already exist in the two disciplines will enrich both, by creating new approaches to thinking about common questions, and indeed by raising new questions. The wide range of authors and approaches in our volume gives an indication of the diverse realms this dialogue may address. The multiple ways in which the connections between archaeology and folklore may serve, stimulate or trouble archaeology reveal the potential for a dialogue at the interface of the two fields.
In our introduction, we will briefly review some of the historical background for a study of folklore and archaeology, outlining the origins of both fields of study in a common antiquarian background and tracing the divergence of the two fields over the past century. We will then outline several lines of inquiry through which a study of folklore can enrich and broaden archaeological constructions of the past. First, we will deal with questions about historical accuracy, which lie at the heart of archaeologists’ worries about the reliability of folklore as evidence or data for archaeological interpretation. We will argue that this concern is based on limited views of both folklore evidence and more conventional archaeological evidence. Next we will address the value of folklore for understanding the history of monuments and the multiple meanings those monuments carry throughout their histories. Finally, we will give a brief overview of other areas where attention to folklore can inform archaeological interpretation and practice: issues of time, of identity, of the politics and sociology of archaeology as a discipline, and of the relationships between academic archaeology and the public. These issues do not define the limits of the dialogue between archaeology and folklore; we merely set them out as first steps in demonstrating the value of these connections.
Our thinking is grounded in four key convictions about archaeology, folklore and the creation of history.
First, our arguments are not based in the belief that folklore contains accurate and reliable representations of past behaviour, beliefs or events. The reliability of folklore for historical information has been, as we will discuss further below, the subject of often contentious argument. Our approach seeks to move beyond this problem. Folklore is not the only field where a concern with historical accuracy is problematic; archaeology too gives us the past as perceived and interpreted by present people. Neither field can be relied upon to tell us about the actual past. Folklore does give us a broader understanding of the past as perceived, remembered, and made significant by both past and present people.
Second, we are interested in what monuments and other archaeological objects meant (and mean) to people in their respective lifeworlds and how they were (and are) used in the formation of collective identities. In this context, the antiquity of a particular element of folklore is less important than its significance for interpreting meaning. As interpretive archaeologies have come to understand, the past is a creation of everyone who interprets material remains or fragments of tradition from past people’s lives, whether in the form of folklore or archaeological study. This past can be crucial for people’s understanding of the cultural landscape and their identities therein. Where these identities and different approaches to the past conflict, it is important to develop ways of establishing a dialogue among them.
These problems of accuracy and meaning are fundamental to the history of archaeological uses of folklore. Previously, when archaeologists attempted to apply folklore to archaeological materials, they often found that folk tradition and archaeological remains did not match. Rather than simply rejecting folklore as unreliable and inaccurate, several authors deal with these problems and find that, when folklore is analysed (as archaeological materials have to be analysed), it sometimes does provide plausible interpretation for those materials, whether or not they can prove unbroken continuity of transmission.
Finally, archaeological approaches to sites and monuments most frequently focus on the time of their construction and intensive use. However, visible monuments have life histories as well, extending from their construction up until the present. Folklore reflects some of the later interpretations of prehistoric sites, and contemporary folklore constitutes one important part of present-day understandings of monuments. It thus supplements recent concerns about the role and interpretation of the past in the present, which have mainly focused on various aspects of ‘managed’ heritage.
It will be argued throughout that folklore is valuable to archaeologists because it offers us alternative ideas about the past that counter our tendency to portray everyone in all time as versions of ourselves, and because it provides knowledge about the continued importance and therefore the later history of archaeological monuments.
Friday, August 13, 2010
There have been people in Europe for at least 50,000 years, and it seems likely that in earlier Palaeolithic periods when the climate was kind (prior to c. 25000 BC) nomadic bands from the sparse population may have moved about northern Britain. However, all traces of humanity were obliterated by the Ice Age that ended in Scotland roughly 10,000 years ago. Glaciation helped resettlement because, in a reversal of global warming, water became ice and sea levels dropped dramatically, creating causeways between Britain and the Continent and between Scotland and Ireland. Climate continued to improve in this Mesolithic period (up to c. 4000 BC) and trees, animals, and eventually people moved northwards.
Scotland may once again have had some human inhabitants as early as 8000 BC, but the earliest recorded settlement is of a group of hunters on the Isle of Rum dating to c. 7000 BC. Extensive settlement did not take place until after c. 6000 BC, however the colonists were clearly accomplished sailors as many archaeological remains are found in the Western Isles. By this stage, the relative simplicity of early hunters had given way to hunter-gatherers’ extensive exploitation of environmental resources on land, river, and sea. Yet these were still nomads who moved seasonally and left limited archaeological remains, their few artefacts suggesting that settlers came less from England than from Ireland and the North Sea basin. The land divided and the sea united, as it was to do for thousands of years.
From c. 4000 BC, hunter-gatherers became more or less permanently settled farmers who cultivated crops, domesticated animals, developed new technologies (including pottery), and left evidence of sophisticated communal cultures and belief systems. This Neolithic age (up to c. 2500 BC) overlapped with the Mesolithic and for thousands of years, thanks partly to the abundance of resources, people adapted more or less peacefully to migrations and to changes in climate and technologies and the lifestyles they brought.
Dark Age Scotland may not have been as poor as it later became. Treasure troves found by archaeologists, and the fact that both southern kings and Scandinavians thought it worth plundering, suggest otherwise. The same is true of the late Middle Ages and, except when decimated by disease or warfare (as in the early 14th century), population remained steady until demographic increase and bad weather created widespread famines in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Pre-modern economies were just as fragile as modern capitalism. The 1640s and 1650s were economically disastrous for Scotland as war disrupted trade, bad harvests created misery, and plague purged populations. Black-market lenders charged interest rates of 15–20% unprecedented until the 1970s. The late 1690s saw starvation, population displacement, and mortality from disease.
The knock-on effect in Scotland of the centuries of Roman occupation in southern Britain was considerable, but the actual Roman presence in the north was fleeting. The first incursion came in the summer of AD 79 when the Roman governor Agricola led his army deep into Caledonia. The campaign which followed was recorded by his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, and culminated in Roman victory at the battle of Mons Graupius in AD 83. Roman priorities, however, lay elsewhere, and Agricolan ambitions to bring all of Britain within the Empire were abandoned. A frontier was established much further south with the building of Hadrian’s Wall on the Tyne–Solway line in the 120s and 130s. In the middle of the second century southern Scotland was brought within the Roman province of Britannia when a second wall, of more modest construction, was built on the Forth–Clyde line, c.143. But this Antonine reoccupation lasted little more than a decade and the northern wall was abandoned in the mid-160s. A punitive campaign against the northern barbarians was waged by the Emperor Severus from 197, but his death at York in 211 brought the initiative to an end and Roman troops drew back to the Wall.
In the extreme south-west of Scotland, around the western terminus of Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman presence was strong because of the legionary fortress of Carlisle, and more or less continuous until the mid-fourth century. Further north, military intervention was limited to these few discrete episodes, all of them short. In attempting to assess the impact of all this on native society it is easy to be misled by the impressive physical remains of the military majesty of the Empire: the enormousness of Hadrian’s Wall itself, the monumental carved distance slabs from the Antonine Wall, the remains of the huge legionary fortress at Ardoch, Perthshire, the dazzling parade armour found at Newsteads in the Tweed Valley. Much harder to see is the kind of effect prolonged proximity to the Empire had on the society of northern Britain. It would be a mistake to assume constant local hostility to the ‘imperial oppressor’ for, in reality, the Empire held many attractions. The dichotomy was not so much between ‘Roman’ and ‘Native’, as between those inside and those outside the Empire. Recruits to the Roman army were drawn from all over the Empire including, after the initial period, Britain: a grave slab from Mumrills, on the Antonine Wall, commemorates a Briton, Nectouelius, serving in the Roman army in Scotland. From the very outset it is clear that some outsiders saw the Empire as something which they could exploit to their own advantage. One such was Lossio Ueda who proudly proclaimed himself ‘a Caledonian’ on an impressive Roman-style votive inscription at early third-century Colchester, Essex.
The impact of Rome on those who stayed behind in the north varied greatly according to region. Archaeologists perceive a cultural boundary at the Tay, 100 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall. There is no doubt that Roman influence on the ‘near zone’ of southern Scotland was profound. The presence there of low-value Roman items reflects the functioning in this frontier area of a limited monetary economy, of markets and of merchants. In the unconquered ‘far zone’, north of the Tay, it is trinkets and a few luxury items which are found circulating amongst the elite, as far as Shetland and the Outer Isles. Prestige goods are found in the south too: the great early fifth-century hoard from Traprain Law, East Lothain, alone contains more than 50 lb of silver (it has been suggested, only half in jest, that Rome’s biggest contribution to Scotland consisted of silver plate!). Differential access to the great wealth and prestige of Rome had a disruptive effect on local politics. Those who failed to take advantage of these new resources to express and enforce their social position might find themselves squeezed out by more favoured rivals. A similar pattern of political and social destablization can be seen all round the rim of the Empire especially after imperial power began to collapse in the generation before c.400. The complete lack of Roman pottery in the ‘Inter-Wall’ region from the second half of the fourth century suggests that trade had effectively ceased there by then. This decline in the ready supply of Roman goods may help explain the references in fourth-century Roman sources to devastating seaborne raids from beyond the Walls. The concerted attacks of the 360s were particularly intense and involved not only Picti and Scotti but also Saxons from across the North Sea.
The present consensus of academic opinion is still that Ireland was predominantly a rural society in pre-Norman times and that the patterns of settlement were dispersed, i.e. settlements were located out of earshot of each other. The commonest settlement type was the ringfort, which is also generally known by two Irish terms, rath (earthen fort) and cashel (stone fort or enclosure), which is most commonly found in the west where stone is more easily available as a building material. At its simplest it has been defined by Ó Ríordáin as ‘a space most frequently circular surrounded by a bank and fosse’. However, this simple definition does not encompass the large diversity of such sites, ranging from the largest tri-vallate examples with strong banks and fosses to small simple features with insignificant banks and ditches. Their ground plans also vary, sometimes quite markedly, from the ubiquitous circle and occasionally two or more examples are to be found located close to each other. They make up the most widespread type of relict earthwork to be found on the Irish landscape, with estimates of between 30,000 and 50,000 surviving in the first edition of the Ordnance Survey 6-inch maps of the 1840s. Thus it is interesting to speculate as to how many were still surviving in the landscape when the Anglo-Normans landed in Ireland at the end of the twelfth century.
Despite recent researches on this important settlement type by historical geographers such as G.F.Barrett, and by medieval archaeologists such as M.J.O’Kelly and C.J.Lynn there still remains much to be elicited about its chronology and function. With the general lack of information about ringforts in the surviving written sources of the period, which are mainly literary, or law tracts or annalistic writings, archaeological investigation assumes a primary importance. Although the totality of excavations number fewer than 120 sites, a small statistical sample, their random distribution would indicate that we do now possess a typical picture of their chronology and function. However, the archaeological evidence produced by many of these sites has often been either non-existent or undateable. Nevertheless, of the sites which have produced useful data, it would appear that ringforts can be broadly dated to the first millennium AD, and often functioned as defended farmsteads of one family grouping. Some others, such as Garryduff in Co. Cork, functioned as metalworking centres whilst other smaller examples served as pens to protect cattle, valuable assets in pre-Norman Irish society.
It is also difficult to know, given the small sample of excavated sites, how many ringforts of the national total were occupied simultaneously. This together with our lack of knowledge of the size of the population at the time means that it is only possible to guess whether or not the entire population was living in these defended farmsteads or whether there was another complementary nucleated settlement form, the existence of which is hinted at in the surviving law tracts. But before the problem of undefended settlements in pre-Norman Ireland is examined it is necessary to review some of the major conclusions on the nature and chronology of the ringfort produced by archaeological methods of enquiry.
The areal size of ringforts has been measured in some parts of the country as a result of various surveys, such as those for Counties Donegal, Down, Louth, Meath and Monaghan, the barony survey of Ikerrin in Co. Tipperary and Corca Duibhne (Dingle peninsula) in Co. Kerry, and Barrett’s specialized surveys of ringforts in the Dingle peninsula of Co. Kerry and part of south Co. Donegal. They have all shown that ringforts broadly vary in size from around 15 m in diameter to a few which are as large as 80 m. However, the median diameter would be somewhere around 30 m. Inside these fosses and banks archaeologists have found evidence for mixed farming but often with the emphasis on cattle rearing. At other sites there has been evidence of industrial activity, especially ironworking, as well as spinning and weaving. And at some of the larger ringforts there has been evidence of specialization in metalworking as well as glass production.
A more detailed analysis of their chronology reveals that the majority of excavated sites were occupied in the last half of this first millennium AD, i.e. from around AD 500 to 1000. However, both the origins and the final phase of ringfort construction have been the subjects of much academic debate which is still not resolved satisfactorily. It has been put forward by O’Kelly that their origins can be found in the Bronze Age and that they were an important feature of the Early Iron Age. But, there is evidence of occupation and, less certainly, the logical possibility that some were constructed after 1169. Barrett and Graham first put forward the above hypothesis based mainly upon their study of the 1840s distribution of this settlement type, especially in the Pale areas of Counties Louth and Meath. They found that the known distribution of ringforts was much denser in those regions which were west and north of the probable line of the Pale boundary, and they sought to try and explain this either by the removal of ringforts as a concomitant to the more intensive agriculture introduced by the Anglo-Normans in the areas under their control or, more controversially, through the continued construction of such settlement forms in medieval times in areas on the periphery of dense Anglo-Norman settlement. Incidentally, the areas of lower densities of ringforts also correspond fairly closely with concentrations of the place-name element ‘town’ which, according to T. Jones-Hughes, indicates regions which experienced ‘the most durable impact of Anglo-Norman colonisation and settlement’.
By David Stringer
Archaeologists have discovered what they say is Britain's oldest house, a circular shaped home built in about 8,500 B.C. next to an ancient lake at Star Carr, near Scarborough, in northeastern England. The house is about 500 to 1,000 years older than a building in Howick, northern England, previously thought to have been the country's oldest home.
Archaeologists have uncovered the site of Britain's oldest house, the waterside home of nomad hunters dating back about 11,000 years.
The dwelling, which has lake views, a thatched roof and very original features, predates the country's famous Stonehenge monument by around 6,000 years and was built at a time when Britain was still connected to continental Europe.
Teams from the University of York and the University of Manchester working at the site believe the circular shaped home was built in about 8,500 B.C. next to an ancient lake at Star Carr, near Scarborough, in northeastern England.
"This is a sensational discovery and tells us so much about the people who lived at this time," Nicky Milner from the University of York said Wednesday. "From this excavation, we gain a vivid picture of how these people lived."
Discoveries made at the site suggest the house was about 3.5 meters wide (11 feet, 6 inches), constructed of timber posts and likely had a roof of thatched reeds. The site was probably inhabited for between 200 and 500 years, and there were possibly several homes built at the site.
Archaeologists have also uncovered a 11,000-year-old tree trunk, with its bark still intact, and found traces of a wooden jetty-like platform on the bank of the ancient lake that could be the first evidence of carpentry in Europe.
The house is about 500 to 1,000 years older than a building in Howick, northern England, previously thought to have been the country's oldest home.
"This changes our ideas of the lives of the first settlers to move back into Britain after the end of the last Ice Age. We used to think they moved around a lot and left little evidence. Now we know they built large structures and were very attached to particular places in the landscape," said Chantal Conneller, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester.
Artifacts found at the site -- which include part of an oar, arrow tips and deer skulls -- offer clues to the lives of the settlers. It's thought they kept domestic dogs, hunted deer, wild boar and elk, fished on the lake and had rituals that involved the use of headdresses fashioned from animal skulls.
Science minister David Willetts said the building was an important discovery.
"It brings out the similarities and differences between modern life and the ancient past in a fascinating way, and will change our perceptions forever," he said.
The Star Carr site, which dates back to 9,000 B.C., was first discovered in 1947. Archaeologists began work to uncover the house about two years ago.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Online Book Reviews
Beginning in January 2010 (issue 114.1), all book reviews are published here as free downloadable PDFs. While we no longer publish book reviews in our printed fascicle (except for the occasional book review article), all are still listed in the respective print publication's table of contents.
Friday, July 23, 2010
By Paul Armstrong, CNN
London, England (CNN) -- Archaeologists studying the iconic Stonehenge monument in southern England have uncovered a second prehistoric henge-like circle only 900 meters away, which they hope will shed more light on the mysterious stone landmark.
The remains, comprising a circular ditch surrounding a ring of 24 internal pits up to one meter in diameter and designed to allow posts to support a free-standing, timber structure up to three meters high -- are thought to date from the late Neolithic period, some 4,500 years ago.
"Although it would have been made out of timber rather than stone, it's comparable in scale to the existing Stonehenge monument," said Henry Chapman of the University of Birmingham in central England.
Chapman was one of the British-led team involved in a multi-million dollar project to "map" the World Heritage site, using state-of-the-art imaging technology to recreate "virtually" the iconic monument and its surroundings.
The images, which resemble a lunar landscape, provide an outline of the circle buried under the surface with its opposing north-east and south-west entrances, together with what archaeologists believe to be a burial mound in the center.
This discovery is completely new and extremely important in how we understand Stonehenge and its landscape.
--Professor Vince Gaffney
--Professor Vince Gaffney
"Rather than giving us a map or plan of what is buried, this technology allows us to see it in three dimensions," Chapman told CNN. "We can almost excavate the site virtually by peeling off five centimeters at a time to see what is there."
Project leader, Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham, hailed the find as one of the most significant yet for those researching Britain's most important prehistoric structure.
"This finding is remarkable," he said in a statement on the university's website. "It will completely change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge.
"People have tended to think that as Stonehenge reached its peak it was the paramount monument, existing in splendid isolation. This discovery is completely new and extremely important in how we understand Stonehenge and its landscape."
Chapman added that the find may be the start of an exciting new chapter at Stonehenge. "We're just in the first year of a four-year project, so we'd expect to find lots more between the known monuments we see at present and hopefully fill the gaps in our knowledge," he said.
Debate has raged about the origins and purpose of Stonehenge, located on Salisbury Plain approximately 90 miles west of London.
Known for its orientation in relation to the rising and setting sun, the circle of stones represented a prehistoric temple to some. Others argued it was an astronomical observatory. Or that it was a marker of time.
But last year, archaeologists unearthed a new stone circle a mile from Stonehenge that they said lent credence to the theory that the famous monument was part of a funeral complex.
Dubbed "Bluestonehenge" after the color of the 25 Welsh stones of which it was once composed, the new find sat along the banks of the nearby River Avon.
University of Bristol archaeologist Joshua Pollard suggested Neolithic peoples would have come down river by boat and literally stepped off into Bluestonehenge. They may have congregated at certain times of the year, including the winter solstice, and carried remains of the dead from Bluestonehenge down an almost two-mile funeral processional route to a cemetery at Stonehenge to bury them.
The latest project, which is supported by the site's landowner, the National Trust, and facilitated by English Heritage, brought together the most sophisticated geophysics team ever to be engaged in a single archaeological project in Britain, involving archaeologists and other specialists from the UK, Austria, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Between 1949 and 1953, Grahame Clark directed the excavation of Star Carr, a lakeside, early Mesolithic site in northeastern Yorkshire, near the town of Scarborough. The waterlogged nature of the site meant that the preservation of the organic artifacts and remains was excellent. Pollen analysis and the remains of trees at the site were evidence of a lakeside, forested landscape, around two hundred years after the ice cap had retreated.
As the expert on the European Mesolithic, Clark was the ideal director of the excavation. Clark had based his revolutionary books on the Mesolithic period, written in the 1930s, on data produced by other people. Here was his opportunity to excavate and interpret new data and to compare it with previous data sets. Star Carr was an exemplary site.
The assemblage recovered from the site comprised simple microlithic (small) stone tools in the shape of barbs and arrows; flint scraps and burins used for working on antlers and bones; awls and axes; barbed spearheads made from red deer antler; elk antler mattocks for digging; scrapers made from wild ox bone; and a number of what appear to be masks made from red deer antlers, which may have been used as hunting camouflage or for ceremonial purposes. The remains of a wooden paddle were also found. Analysis of the animal remains revealed the subsistence patterns of the occupants and the nature of the social groups who used it. The animals they hunted included red deer, elk, roe deer, wild oxen, elk, wild pigs, and water fowl. There were no fish remains—perhaps they were not available in the lake this early, but the remains of two domestic dogs were found, among the earliest remains of this kind in Europe.
Based on the amount of animal bone found it was estimated that the site supported a group of around twenty-five people annually over a six-year period. However, if the occupation had been more intermittent, then the period of occupation was probably longer. The bone and antler technology, such as sickles and barbed points and arrows, was as distinctively Mesolithic as the lithic artifacts. Clark concluded that Star Carr was a specialized seasonal hunting and butchering site rather than a long-term occupation site, probably used by groups who moved on, depending on the season, to other camps on the coast or up onto the moors in the hills.
Excavations at Star Carr was published in 1954, and it reflected the careful analysis and resulting scope of interpretation by Clark and his colleagues. There were chapters on lake stratigraphy and pollen, animal bones, and the flint, bone, and antler tools.
Since 1954 other interpretations (and further excavations) have been made at Star Carr. It is perhaps the most eloquent testimony to the significance of the site, and the issues initially addressed by Clark, that it has continued to attract such attention and disagreement.
Further Reading Clark, J. G. D. 1932. The Mesolithic Age in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Clark, J. G. D. 1952. Prehistoric Europe: the economic basis. London: Methuen. Clark, J. G. D. 1954. Excavations at Star Carr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Fagan, B. 2001. Grahame Clark: An intellectual biography of an archaeologist. Boulder, CO: Westview. Legge, A., and P. Rowley-Conwy. 1988. Star Carr revisited. London: Birkbeck College. Mellars, P., and P. Dark. 1998. Star Carr in context. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Jarmo is an archeological site located in northern Iraq on the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.
From the beginning of his career Robert Braidwood (1907–2003) was interested in the theories of Gordon Childe and others about the origins of civilizations. After World War II he began to search for a Near Eastern site that would provide evidence of the “Neolithic revolution.” Following the theories of Childe, this was widely believed to have been the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and herding communities. As such this transition would represent the first rung on the ladder to the later development of early urban or city-state–based civilization, one likely triggered by environmental and population pressures.
Jarmo was a small village site in northwestern Iraqi Kurdistan, on the “hilly flanks” of the Zagros Mountains. Braidwood deliberately chose a site in a topographic zone where wild resources overlapped with domesticated ones, and where farming without irrigation would have been possible. The data from such a site would be different from what would have been obtained at sites in the “the fertile crescent” closer to the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Braidwood and his team discovered that this small village had been occupied by a community between 100 and 150 people for several centuries during the seventh millennium BC. The deployment of a multidisciplinary team comprised of paleobotanists, zoologists and geologists, radiocarbon and ceramic experts, anthropologists, and archaeologists made it possible to recover and analyze plant and animal evidence at the site, along with the more traditional architectural and artifactual evidence.
The people of Jarmo had lived in rectilinear household complexes made from mud bricks. Their economy was based on growing and harvesting domestic emmer and eikorn wheat, barley, and lentils. They also harvested wild plants, such as field peas, pistachio nuts, acorns, and wild wheat and barley, and kept dogs, domestic goats, sheep, and later, pigs. However, they also hunted wild animals, such as cattle, onager, and other small mammals. The bones of lions, leopards, small wildcats, foxes, and lynxes were also found at the site, killed either for their pelts or to protect the occupants and their flocks.
The inhabitants of Jarmo made a variety of flint and obsidian tools ranging from large to very small sizes. Many milling and grinding stones were found as well as small celts and chisel-like implements and some stone beads, pendants, and bracelets. A small amount of obsidian was imported from Anatolia, and then worked at the site. Other imports included turquoise and marine shells. Stone bowls were made from local limestone, and a small amount of pottery was produced (an innovation that seems to have originated elsewhere) there. Many small clay figurines (human, animal, and geometric) were found, along with many bone tools (such as awls or perforators), bone spoons, and beads.
Our understanding of and interest in the transformation from huntergathering to food production has changed since the 1950s, when research focused on the environmental and population pressures that contributed to its occurrence. Prehistorians now focus on understanding the social reasons for the transformation, and the social and cultural consequences of such a major change in lifestyle. However, the importance of Braidwood’s work at Jarmo has not changed. It provided the empirical evidence that such great cultural and economic changes had occurred, evidence as to how these early communities had changed from wild to domesticated resources, and evidence that this evolution had taken place over a longer period than had been thought. For many years Jarmo was the oldest agricultural and pastoral community in the world. The interdisciplinary fieldwork Braidwood pioneered became the model for fieldwork investigations of important regional cultural and economic transitions, not only in western Asia, but also all over the world. The archaeological techniques and methodology Braidwood pioneered at Jarmo became central to mainstream archaeological research design.
Further Reading Braidwood, R. J., and L. S. Braidwood. 1950. Jarmo: a village of early farmers in Iraq. Antiquity 24: 189–195. Braidwood, R. J., and G. R. Willey, eds. 1962. Courses towards urban life. Chicago: Aldine. Watson, P. J. 1999. Robert John Braidwood, 1907-. In Encyclopedia of archaeology: The great archaeologists, ed. T. Murray, 495–506. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Willey, G. R., ed. 1982. Archaeological researches in retrospect. Washington, DC: University Press of America.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Painting of stag and reindeer at Lascaux Cave.
In 1940 the cave of Lascaux in the Dordogne region of France was found by four schoolboys—it had the most spectacular collection of Paleolithic wall art yet seen. French archaeologist Henri Breuil was the first specialist to visit the cave and to verify its Paleolithic provenance. In 1902 Breuil and colleague Carthailac rediscovered and explored the cave of Altamira in Spain— and had put to rest all skepticism about the site and the authenticity of prehistoric cave art by announcing that the art on the walls of Altamira was Paleolithic and not fake. Since then the two had explored the cave of Naiux in France, and Breuil had become the world’s expert on cave art.
Lascaux has never been completely excavated, so detailed information about chronology and occupation is lacking. Nonetheless it is believed to be a site that people visited occasionally and specially for ritual purposes. It is believed the art was not all created at the same time and was the result of a number of different episodes of decoration. Charcoal fragments have been dated to around 17,000 years ago. It is best known for its magnificent paintings— some 600, and for its engravings—some 1,500. These are all the more remarkable in that they appear in different sections of the cave.
The first space in the cave is the great “hall of bulls,” about 20 by 5 meters, where the walls are covered in painted figures—the main group 5 meters long and dominated by four enormous black auroch bulls, along with smaller horses and deer and what appears to be an animal with two straight horns known as a unicorn. This space joins a gallery 20 by 1.5 meters by 3.5 meters wide that is decorated with paintings of cattle, deer, and horses. An adjoining shaft is decorated with the only human figure—a bird-headed man spearing a bison. A third space, 5 meters by 5 meters, is decorated with black deer heads and male bison. Another narrow shaft is decorated with engravings of felines. The Paleolithic entrance to the cave has never been found.
Ladders and scaffolds must have been used by the artists to get close to the higher surfaces, and there are pieces of wood in the caves that are probably the remains of these. In the highest space sockets are cut into the rock faces, some 20 meters above the floor. These were packed with clay and evidence of branches used to span the space has been pressed into the filler. At Lascaux there is abundant evidence of the techniques used to create Paleolithic cave art—stone tools for engraving, lamps, mineral fragments, basic mortars and pestles stained with pigments, and hollowed stones containing pigment powders. Sources for the ochre used in the cave have been identified.
Lascaux was opened for public visitation in 1948, but unfortunately because of modern algae and pollens and the heating of the atmosphere due to the large number of visitors, the surfaces of the cave complex began to deteriorate. In 1963 it was closed, but in 1983 a facsimile Lascaux was opened nearby.
Further Reading Bahn, P. 1998. The Cambridge illustrated history of prehistoric art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bahn, P., and J. Vertut. 1988. Images of the Ice Age. New York: Facts on File. Boule, M. 1921. Les hommes fossiles, eléments de paléontologie humaine. Paris: Masson. Boule, M. 1923. Fossil men. English translation. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. Chippindale, C., and P. Tacon, eds. 1998. The archaeology of rock-art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ramos, P. A. Saura. 1999. Cave of Altamira. New York: Abrams. Ruspoli, M. 1987. Cave of Lascaux. London: Thames and Hudson.
An archaeologist cleans a skeleton with a brush. Dr. Wheeler supervised the excavations at Maiden Castle, near Dorchester which have brought to light a number of skeletons. The excavations reveal the scene of a battle of AD 40. Photographed August 31, 1937.
Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler (1890–1976) was educated in the classics at University College London and in fine arts at the Slade Art School. He was one of the few young archaeologists to survive World War I. In 1920, after becoming keeper of archaeology at the newly founded National Museum of Wales, Wheeler began to excavate the Roman forts of Segontium (1921–1922), Brecon Gaer (1924–1925), and Caerleon (1926).
At these sites Wheeler began to develop and test the excavation techniques for which he later became famous. The last great advances in this area were made by General Augustus Pitt-Rivers in the 1880s, and Wheeler built on these, clarifying site stratigraphy by keeping simple, graphic, and sectional records of surfaces and sections. In 1926 Wheeler declined the Abercrombie Chair of Archaeology in Edinburgh and moved to work at the London Museum, where he wrote a series of classic and popular catalogs based on his research on Roman, Viking, and Saxon London. He continued to be fascinated by the relationship between Iron Age and Roman society in Britain, excavating at the Sanctuary of Nodens at Lydney in Gloucestershire (1928–1929), and at the late Iron Age and Roman city of Verulamium, near the town of St. Albans in southern England (1930–1933). At all of them Wheeler continued to develop his expertise in stratigraphic excavation and dating.
Between 1934 and 1937 Wheeler excavated the massive Iron Age hill-fort of Maiden Castle in Dorset in southern England. Many Iron Age hill-forts had been identified and excavated prior to this, but work had been hampered by the fact that they had either been excavated on too small a scale or without knowledge of pottery typology. The Maiden Castle Report, published in 1943, was a triumph, a book written in a highly direct and engaging style but full of important information.
Since his first excavations in Wales in 1921 until the last year at Maiden Castle in 1937, Wheeler had been refining his approach to excavation focusing on those elements such as excavation strategy and techniques, recording, and personnel management, which were also Pitt-Rivers’s concerns. The fact that both men had distinguished military careers has not gone unnoticed. At Maiden Castle Wheeler excavated in a checkerboard of grid squares that achieved two significant goals. First it allowed him to open up large areas without losing stratigraphic control. Second, the squares could be effectively linked up to create a sense of near-continuous stratigraphy across a large site. The approach, called the “Wheeler method,” set the benchmark in field excavation for the next forty years, achieving a goal that Pitt-Rivers never attained—to radically influence the process of field archaeology and through it to focus on the link between method and the reliability of interpretation. He was to use it to great effect in India during the 1940s and 1950s during excavation of Indus civilization sites.
Further Reading Cunliffe, B. 1999. Sir Mortimer Wheeler, 1890–1976. In Encyclopedia of archaeology: History and discoveries, ed. T. Murray, 371–384. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Hawkes, J. 1982. Mortimer Wheeler: Adventurer in archaeology. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. Sharples, N. M. 1991. English Heritage book of Maiden Castle. London: Batsford/English Heritage. Wheeler, R. E. M. 1943. Maiden Castle, Dorset. Oxford: printed at the University Press by J. Johnson for the Society of Antiquaries.
Monday, May 31, 2010
The first successful use of pollen analysis to explore vegetation history was by the geologist Lennart von Post, in Sweden in the 1920s. By identifying the relative abundance of pollen grains of different trees and plants in different strata, the ecology of an area during prehistoric times, that is, its climate, forest composition, and agricultural practices, and any changes to these over time, could be elucidated. This new scientific technique spread rapidly throughout Europe, so that by 1927 more than 150 papers about its use and the mapping of prehistoric ecologies had been published. In 1923 Harry Godwin began to employ pollen analysis for archaeological ends in England. Godwin (1901--1985) studied botany and geology at Cambridge University where he worked for the whole of his career.
During the 1920s and 1930s researchers began working together using pollen analysis to discover and map the impact of climate and human activity on the history of woodland (tree and shrub) vegetation. Refinements in technique led to the identification of many different kinds of pollen, such as the pollen of herbs and weeds and cereals, many of which were important indicators of past human activity. These refinements permitted the interpretation of certain features seen in pollen diagrams from natural deposits as the faint traces of the activities of the first farmers of the Neolithic period. One such feature is elm decline, which appeared in pollen diagrams as a noticeable and widespread reduction in elm pollen at a particular point, and was used to divide the Atlantic pollen zone from the succeeding sub-boreal one. Was this elm decline the result of human activity or climatic change or both? Many pollen diagrams revealed changes just above or after the decline horizon, which probably represented prehistoric episodes of woodland clearance, farming, and abandonment.
As pollen analysis developed across Europe, and its results were compared and tabulated, so could diagrams of different pollen compositions be mapped and divided into zones representing different phases of time, thus providing a means of dating suitable sediments. Precise correlations could be made within climatic, geographic, faunal, botanical, and archaeological pollen and sediment sequences. This chronology was used for the next twenty years until the advent of radiocarbon dating in 1950. In September 1931, a fishing trawler dredged up a harpoon from the Lenan and Ower Bank in the North Sea. Godwin analyzed a sample taken from the North Sea bed and found it was boreal in age (that is, from before the sea-level changes after the last Ice Age). The harpoon was examined by members of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia in 1932 and identified as an example of a finely barbed antler point, similar to those found at many Mesolithic Magelmosian sites across northern Europe and as far east as Estonia. What was even more interesting was that the sediment surrounding the harpoon was from fresh water. So this harpoon from under the sea was originally from a freshwater site, on hilly land that had been covered by the melting ice sheets at the end of the last Ice Age, when the Baltic and North seas had joined. What this proved was that the prehistory of Britain, prior to the end of the last Ice Age, was similar to that of northern Germany and Scandinavia, whereas its postglacial prehistory was unique. To further elucidate these thousand or so years of ecological changes and their impact on human populations and settlements, British archaeologists, following the example of their Scandinavian colleagues, began to work closely with paleobotanists, geologists, geographers, and biologists.
Godwin began to study the fens (or swamps) of East Anglia and Cambridgeshire with archaeologist Grahame Clark. The Fenland Basin of East Anglia was an ideal place to begin to study and map the history of British vegetation since the last Ice Age and to correlate this with geographic and demographic settlement changes at the same time. The area had been flooded by the North Sea and then covered by postglacial waterlogged deposits. During the sixteenth century AD the fens had been drained for agriculture, and by the twentieth century their upper peat beds had worn away in some places, so that banks of marine silt could be found. Air photographs (with O. G. S. Crawford) and ground surveys mapped the original fen waterways and the flat and built-up areas used for agriculture and settlements. In 1932, inspired by Godwin's expertise in pollen sampling and paleobotany and Clark's interest in using both for archaeological ends, the Fenland Research Committee (FRC) was established to conduct foundational research into the reconstruction of ancient British landscapes and environments. The FRC has been described as 'the first truly modern prehistoric project, because of its interdisciplinary scope.' At its peak, as Pamela Smith noted, it comprised forty-two specialists, including faunal, mollusk, and charcoal experts.
Godwin established the relationship between pollen zones and the stratigraphy of the peat by identifying the relative abundance of the pollen grains of different trees and plants in different strata. These analyses delineated the ecology of the area during prehistoric times, specifically its climate, forest composition, and agricultural practices. Godwin's pollen analyses of the peat deposits of these swamplands (or fens) elucidated the history of changes to their vegetation, and from these data Clark could interpret their impact on human occupants and geographic development. The FRC worked throughout the 1930s until 1948, when it became part of the subdepartment of Quaternary Studies at Cambridge University.
Clark and members of the FRC excavated and analyzed material from a number of different types of sites. At the site at Peacock\u2019s Farm Clark excavated flints from a Bronze Age level, and underneath that pottery from a Neolithic level, and below that a typical Tardenoisian core with other stone tool flakes and pieces from the Mesolithic period were found, the first time such a culture sequence had been demonstrated on a British site. The final report set the cultural remains in an environmental context. Other sites, such as Mildenhall Fen and a Bronze Age foundry, were explored for different reasons but in every case there was a conscious attempt to integrate archaeological and ecological information.
Other archaeologists at Cambridge, such as O. G. S. Crawford, Christopher Hawkes, and Stuart Piggott, all participated in the FRC's working committee. During the 1930s many undergraduates and postgraduates, such as Glyn Daniel, Thurstan Shaw, Charles McBurney, and J. Desmond Clark, had their first experience of fieldwork on FRC surveys and excavations. The FRC published five reports on archaeological excavations and thirteen studies of postglacial history by Godwin, in preparation for his classic History of British Flora.
Godwin became a global leader in ecological thought and practice. His work in the fenlands with Clark and other scientists, along with their data and interpretation, was finally published in 1950 in The History of British Flora. In 1948 he became the founding director of the subdepartment of Quaternary Studies. In this position and later, as professor of botany, he contributed to the uses of radiocarbon dating, to the geological history of changes in land sea levels, and to the archaeological implications of this work. Palynology and paleobotany have long since become essential to the reconstruction of past climates and ecologies and central to the business of archaeology. Godwin was knighted in 1970. Clark was to become Disney Professor of Archaeology in Cambridge and was knighted as well.
Further Reading Clark, J. G. D. 1989. Prehistory at Cambridge and beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Fagan, B. 2001. Grahame Clark. An intellectual biography of an archaeologist. Boulder, CO: Westview. Smith, P. 1997. Grahame Clark's new archaeology: the Fenland Research Committee and Cambridge prehistory in the 1930s. Antiquity 71: 11--30.