Registered Office University College London, Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY


A tale by Mike Pitts of the sensational rediscovery of some 'missing' skeletons from key Wessex sites in the Natural History Museum

         As an archaeologist, the chances are you will have seen human remains dug up, perhaps dug them up yourself, or even studied so many human bones that you dream about them at night. Stiffs are the stuff of archaeology. But I imagine it only comes once in a career to find a skeleton at Stonehenge, another at Woodhenge, and a third at the Sanctuary, Avebury - and more - all in one day.
         It began at the offices of Wessex Archaeology, where I was looking for information on Hawley's Stonehenge excavations, in connection with Hengeworld, my forthcoming book about henges and timber circles. During the preparation of Stonehenge in its Landscape (Cleal et al 1995), Wessex Archaeology had written to people in search of records, finds or just memories of the earlier excavations at Stonehenge. Amongst the papers Karen Walker had for me was a file of letters. "You might find something useful in here", she said, flicking through the pages. I wouldn't have bothered, except that my eye caught the letter heading of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Young's sketch
Young's sketch of the burial pit at the Sanctuary, from his diary of the excavation (courtesy Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Society)

         Anyone who knows Avebury knows the story of the barber-surgeon: how an itinerant apparently assisting in the burial of megaliths at Avebury in the 14th century was entombed with the stone that trapped and killed him; how Alexander Keiller dug him up in 1938, and sent his bones to Sir Arthur Keith at the Royal College of Surgeons in London for a report; and how they were destroyed in a wartime bombing raid.
         But the barber-surgeon was not the only ancient body lost in that raid. Keith had amassed quite a collection of prehistoric, Roman and mediaeval skeletons, all sent to him by archaeologists. It was a little known war tragedy that only archaeology could have created.
         The letter in the file was from the College's Museums Secretary, Muriel Gibbs. She had written in January 1996; Stonehenge in its Landscape was published in autumn 1995. "Dear Dr Allen", began her letter, "I really must apologise for the over long delay in replying". She had located a human skeleton found by Hawley in 1926 in a pit at the centre of Stonehenge. Hawley said it was badly disturbed, and Keith said the head type was Roman. Atkinson thought the grave might be prehistoric. There was no way of knowing who was right - until Muriel Gibbs traced the remains to the basement of the Natural History Museum.
         At the Museum in London, I found the skeleton listed with an accession number - a sure sign that it did really exist. Rob Kruszynski, responsible for the human bone collection, confirmed that he had seen the Stonehenge body some 25 years ago, when a Mr Winston Peach, convinced that it was King Arthur; had paid to have it radiocarbon dated. We do not as yet know which of many unidentified samples from Harwell this might be. But the story is that Keith may have been right.
         Meanwhile, I found myself stunned by what I was reading in Gibbs' catalogue. Amongst the skeletons given accession numbers - which thus had to have survived the war - was that from the bottom of the ditch at Woodhenge, and another from the base of a megalith at the Sanctuary. But there was one entry which left me speechless. '1938 Avebury 14C skeleton' it read. This could only be the barber-surgeon. After all these years, despite what even the original excavator believed, could this man's bones still exist?
         Yes. For a few days later, Rob Kruszynski rang Avebury Museum to say he had found the remains, and that they were in particularly good condition. How had these bones survived the bombing raid? And how, and when, did they end up at the Natural History Museum? Whatever, their recent rediscovery is very good news. These skeletons, each of them, are quite priceless as sources of information about some particularly interesting people from the past. Rest assured they will be well examined.
         Finding the Sanctuary skeleton was an appropriate coincidence, for I was planning a small excavation there, prompted by diaries kept by the 1930 foreman, W E V Young. These contain a great deal of information not in the published report - previously the only source of data on this important site - some of which conflicts with that report (Cunnington 1931). If we get the permits, Josh Pollard and I will be opening up part of the centre of this site in the last full week in August. We look forward to seeing you.

Mike Pitts


Cleal R M J, Walker, K E and Montague, R 1995. Stonehenge in its Landscape: Twentieth Century Excavations. London: English Heritage Archaeological Report 10.
Cunnington, M E 1931. The 'Sanctuary' on Overton Hill, near Avebury. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 45, 300-35.


Tessa Machling writes: Firstly, thank you to all who filled out the new forms; we really do appreciate your effort, as covenants are a valuable source of income to the Society. Secondly, the Inland Revenue has now made covenanting your subscription even easier: gone are the hassles of Revenue forms. Now all you have to do is sign the enclosed Deed of Covenant form, get it witnessed, and send it to the Society's office in London; Unless you change your membership category; there is nothing else to do, EVER !!! So please complete the form and send it to me today.


This is an urgent reminder to those readers who have not yet paid their subscription to the Society for 1999 (which was due in January). Unless it is received immediately, you will cease to receive PAST and will not be sent a copy of the 1999 Proceedings. Despite individual reminders (which cost the Society postage and administrative time) some 'members' have failed to respond, and Council will have to assume that these people have left the Society. If you wish to avoid this, please send your 1999 subscription immediately.
         Some members have still not changed their Standing Orders for 1999; whether you have responded to our letter by sending the difference between the old subscription (last valid in 1996) and the current one, or have not yet done so (if this applies to you, please send us your 1999 arrears immediately), take this opportunity to amend your Standing Order now, otherwise you will be in arrears again in January 2000. Please make an effort to write or go to your bank today, so that you do not miss out on the publications and events which make the Society such good value for money.


Shop early for Christmas, or indulge in a present to yourself! The Society's exclusive silver jewellery is selling like hot cakes, and the new enamel stick-pins have arrived. Both bear the Society's logo based on the New Grange spiral design. Prices for the silver jewellery are: earrings (pierced or clip) £26; small tie/lapel pin £26; large tie/lapel pin £28; cufflinks/tie clip £32. The attractive enamel stick-pins are £1.50. All prices include p&p and can be ordered from Dr Julie Gardiner, Wessex Archaeology, Portway House, Old Sarum Park, Salisbury 5P4 61B. Please make cheques payable to the Prehistoric Society.

Geophysical survey reveals yet another previously unknown neolithic monument

There are very few neolithic monuments known from Leicestershire and until recently there were no known causewayed enclosures. One has now been identified following gradiometer survey by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), directed by Adrian Butler; targeting a flint scatter at Husbands Bosworth (SK 635 825) in the south of the county. Situated on a sand and gravel spur overlooking a small valley, the monument consists of a closely-grouped concentric circuit consisting of a double ring of interrupted ditches enclosing an ovoid area covering c. 1.5 ha. The spacing between the two ditches averaged nine metres, falling into Palmer's 'narrow' category (Palmer 1976 Type 3) and its form has affinities with other examples from Barholm in Lincolnshire and Briar Hill in Northamptonshire (Palmer 1976 p.184 figs 14-15; Bamford 1985).
         Subsequent trial trenching by ULAS, directed by John Thomas, confirmed the presence of an interrupted ditch system, the upper levels of which contained late neolithic pottery, including impressed wares, and flint. No banks had survived as surface features, although possible evidence for an internal bank may be inferred from a thick stony layer which had slumped in from the interior of the site. A small concentration of post holes between the two ditches may have served as timber revetment to a bank to ensure stability.

Plan of causeway
Plan of causewayed enclosure at Husbands Bosworth, Leics

         The discovery adds to the growing evidence for neolithic occupation in this area of the East Midlands. Located between the watersheds of the Rivers Avon, Soar, Welland and Swift, all valleys where neolithic material has been found previously, the monument may have been located at the interface of different territories.

         (We would like to acknowledge the support of the archaeological sponsors Lafarge Redland Aggregates in the discovery of this site).

Patrick Clay
University of Leicester Archaeological Services


Bamford, H., 1985 Briar Hill, Northampton 1974-1978. Northampton: Northampton Development Corporation Monograph 3. Palmer R, 1976 'Interrupted Ditch Enclosures in Britain: the use of Aerial Photography for Comparative Studies'. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 46, 161-186.


As promised, we include in this issue the response of our French colleagues to the comments made by readers in the debate about the Petit Sorcier figure from Trois Frères. The debate does not, of course, have to end here!
         I would like to draw your attention to the messages from Tessa Machling about Deeds of covenant and unpaid subscriptions. It is now easier than ever to covenant your subscription to the Society, and it brings in extra revenue to the Society at no cost to yourselves. Please help the Society by filling in the enclosed form.
         It does, however, cost the Society to pursue unpaid subscriptions, and those which are still being paid at the old rate. We cannot afford to keep sending PAST and other mailings to readers who are effectively no longer members due to non- or underpayment. If this applies to you, please take this as a final appeal to your conscience, and send your 1999 subscription today.
         Many of you will be engaged in fieldwork over the summer, or will be visiting prehistoric sites in all corners of the world. Take some photographs and send me your news for the next issue of PAST, whether it be preliminary reports on fieldwork or reviews/reports of visits to sites, museums and Visitor Centres.


The Society's Annual General Meeting is a mixture of business and pleasure, with the formal business of receiving the accounts and election of Officers and new Council Members taking only a few minutes. The pleasure is in the announcement of Awards, namely the Baguley Award for the best paper in the Proceedings, the Research Grant Awards for the forthcoming year (including the Bob Smith Award and the Leslie Grinsell Award) and the John and Bryony Coles Award which provides funds for students to travel as part of their research or undergraduate studies. The Europa lecture is then given by the winner of the Europa Prize (set up by Professor Sir Grahame Clark for scholars who have distinguished themselves in the field of European prehistory). The evening ends with a wine reception so that the speaker can answer questions in a relaxing atmosphere.

Professor Bryony Coles receiving the R.M. Baguley Award from the President of the Society, Professor Paul Mellars
Professor Bryony Coles receiving the R.M. Baguley Award from the President of the Society, Professor Paul Mellars

         At the 1999 AGM Professor Bryony Coles was awarded the R. M. Baguley Award for her paper "Doggerland: A Speculative Survey" in the 1998 Proceedings.
         The Europa Prize was awarded to Dr Evzen Neustupný, who gave a lecture on "The Earliest Megalithic Tombs in Bohemia and Moravia"

Dr Evzen Neustupný, the 1999 Europa prize winner, with Lady Clark and Philip Clark at the Society's AGM
Dr Evzen Neustupný, the 1999 Europa prize winner, with Lady Clark and Philip Clark at the Society's AGM

Andy Lawson wonders what readers expect of archaeological books in this review of a new series

For decades committees of the great and the good have advised us that the way we publish archaeological reports is wrong. Professors Frere and Cunliffe long ago warned that we might drown in published data if we were not more selective about what we committed to print: most readers, they opined, need to get to the heart of the matter while a few need access to the detailed underpinning arguments. But do we listen to the words of wisdom? It appears that few have the nerve to follow the advice and to have the confidence to say that their conclusions are sufficiently authoritative not to require a full exposition of every contributory fact. Consequently, weighty monographs continue to appear regularly.
         The sales of individual site reports are in decline as are the numbers of those who subscribe to journals. This is surprising when the numbers formally studying, or engaged in archaeology have never been greater. Are they too telling us something - that they have not got the time nor money (nor perhaps the inclination) to invest in 'traditional' reports? The time has surely come to question the need for the 'traditional' style of publication except for sites of major importance and to establish how best to forward the cause of archaeology through printed works. It is not merely a matter of access to raw data and to 'research archives', which might be achieved through electronic networks, but focussing on the relevance of each suite of evidence to the overall story of human activity at the site. So what if there are 3000 sherds and 500 seeds: what are they telling us about the people who produced them?
         In parallel to reports which are focussed on an academic readership and its critical assessment of attainment is a much wider market enthusiastic for authoritative, yet readable accounts of important archaeological work. Accounts which describe the essence of the project, its context both physical and philosophical, and which enable the reader to understand the sorts of decisions which the director takes in shaping or realigning the work towards its essential objectives. The iterative or cyclical decision making process which is a feature of best practice in today's archaeological project management is seldom visible iii a 'traditional' report. However, is this not what we see played out in a deliberately popularist style by Time Team for millions of eager television viewers? The message is surely that we are failing the cause of archaeology if we do not offer public access to our work in a form which many crave.
         I am not advocating the abandonment of expert, detailed and incisive analysis of well-recorded fieldwork but a closer attention to the needs of the users of the products and investment where it will bring rich rewards. Astute publishers, aware of the growing public interest in archaeology, have identified the middle market for authoritative, well written books with a human touch. Now, in the same genre as Mike Pitts' and Mark Roberts' excellent Fairweather Eden, comes a range of new titles from Tempus, initiated by a publisher (Mr Alan Sutton) with considerable experience in the realm of archaeology. Seventeen titles appear in their new list (although some will not be available until next year). I have recently enjoyed reading two of these which are highly relevant to British prehistory - and to Wiltshire where I live and work. The first, The Salisbury Hoard by Ian Stead (ISBN 0 7524 1404 6), formerly of the British Museum, tells the fascinating tale of tracking down the finders of one of Britain's largest hoards of prehistoric metalwork, and of their subsequent prosecution. The book is a real life detective story par excellence but exposes the woeful lack of legislative protection for portable antiquities and of dealing adequately with all those associated with the handling of stolen goods. The second, The Land of Lettice Sweetapple by Peter Fowler and Ian Blackwell (ISBN 0 7524 1415 1) of Newcastle University, is a description of the long-term project to document and analyse a broad tract of downland (the Marlborough Downs). It amply conveys the chronological depth and complexity of surviving remains still available for study in central southern England. Here, over centuries, successive generations of farmers have made their impact on the countryside, the outcome being the palimpsest of monuments disentangled by the project. The research has been a pioneer in landscape studies and its imminent full publication will be a timely precursor for the RCHME's study of the neighbouring Salisbury Plain (to be published as an English Heritage Monograph perhaps?).
         Both books are very personal accounts of the subject matter. One highlights the issues surrounding a single findspot while the other concerns a landscape of many square miles. Both exude the tenacious determination with which their authors have pursued their research and enable the reader to appreciate the motivation, revelations, disappointments and frustrations of the work as it progressed. Both are as much about doing the project as the outcome: this is not a criticism but my perception of the scope of this new Tempus series.
         I predict that those who have a broad interest in the way archaeology is practised will find the style and tenor of these accounts much to their liking. If such publications offer a wide section of the public greater access to the discipline, they are to be warmly welcomed. In my view, Tempus are both performing a valuable role in publishing much needed insights into the workings of archaeology and at the same time providing us with food for thought on what readers of archaeological books actually want.

Andrew J Lawson
Wessex Archaeology

Tempus Publications Ltd, The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Glos. GL5 2QK, UK

The authors of the original piece on the 'sorcier' from Les Trois Frères, which sparked such an interesting debate in the pages of PAST reply to readers' comments

We would like to thank A. Sieveking (PAST 29), M. Eastham (PAST 29), P. Bahn (PAST 30), G. Mullan & L. Wilson (PAST 31) and J. Clottes (PAST 31) for the interest which they have shown in our approach to the "Petit Sorcier" and for their enriching and stimulating critiques. Most of those who commented (Sieveking, Hahn, Mullan & Wilson) emphasise the fact that we have only used the engraving (ie no photograph) made by H. Breuil, which it now appears should be subject to extreme caution (Eastham, Dauvois). Having unfortunately still not been able to access the cave nor to take photographs, we have only been able to use the renditions produced by Geidion (1962) and Dauvois (1994) to reanalyse this engraving and to clarify certain points of our analysis.
         It appears that the detail of the 'bow' is most in dispute. As Bahn and Sieveking emphasise, it is very difficult to be certain of the meaning of these lines, and those interpretations which see in them a nosebleed (Sieveking) or a musical instrument (Breuil, Dauvois, Clottes) seem hardly better argued than those which suggest a hunting bow (Demouche et al 1996, 1998). The 'attachment' of the instrument to a particular part of the 'head' is unclear, and a point of contact of one end of it within the nostril can only be seen on Dauvois' rendition of the figure. However, it seems clear that the 'instrument' is not held in the mouth as we previously said in print. It would appear that the 'bow' is a detail of importance for understanding the figure, but by itself it need not be crucial to the interpretation of its posture, which was the essential point of our reflection and our hypothesis, and which has been received with little favour (Eastham only!). According to Eastham, an interpretation as quadruped had already been proposed by Begouën (The Clay Bison 1927) but despite research we have not been able to locate the cited reference. [Ed.: see note (a) below].
         We are quite surprised that one of the main arguments of our interpretation - the position of the tail (in our view incompatible with an upright stance) has been barely commented on. Only Sieveking mentions it, and she does not see the position of the tail as a crucial guide to the quadripedal position; on the other hand she uses, in justification of a bipedal position, another single detail of the figure: one foot (the more extended one) suggests to her a bipedal stance. However she does recognise that the position of the feet is not totally incompatible with crawling. But even if a bipedal position were to be averred, should a "quasi-anatomical" examination of such details be relevant in the analysis of an engraving? Seeing the figure as bipedal would necessarily lead to the interpretation of the figure as moving downwards (or jumping) in order to explain the position of the tail. [Ed.: see note (b) below] This hypothesis, followed by all the authors, rests mainly on the relationship of the Petit Sorcier to the other engravings (Mullan & Wilson) or with a hypothetical 'ground surface' represented by a crack situated at the base of the figure (Sieveking). Is it pertinent to interpret this figure as in a bipedal stance when the lines of the ground surface are not drawn and when, on a single panel, animals respond to different angles of dip?
         Some of the authors (Eastham, Mullan & Wilson) consider the position of the observer accessing the room via the corridor to be a key element in the reading of the figure's posture. Such an association between the point of observation and the real position of the figure seems speculative. This is why we have considered only the figure of the 'Petit Sorcier' in basing our analysis on elements common to all the readings (legs, tail, chest and at least one 'arm', head).
         In considering all the data provided by the authors, the quadripedal position of the Petit Sorcier does not seem to us to have been challenged: in fact the extremities of all the limbs could still be positioned on the imaginary line which we have proposed. This approach allows a reading specific to the figure without reference to its hypothetical relationship with the total ensemble of engravings.
         The extremity of the line coming from the nose (whether this represents a nosebleed, a bow or something else) also joins this imaginary line, which strengthens the case for a quadripedal position of the figure. Moreover, the coherence of the whole is underlined by the parallelism of the tail, the 'bow' and the thigh.
         Thus it seems impossible to us to argue only on isolated details of the figure (bow, nose, mouth etc). Only an overall analysis of the engraving remains, in our view, the most prudent of approaches. It is possible that the position of the observer should be an element of its reading, but how do we understand this? In taking account of the different critiques, though the hypothesis of a hunting bow is difficult to sustain, we believe that of quadripedia allows a coherent interpretation of the Petit Sorcier. Attempts to associate the figure with the rest of the panel are essentially speculative and remain too inconclusive to help in any way towards an understanding of the posture of this figure. An analysis of the figure itself allows us to emphasise the coherence of its interpretation as a figure on all fours.
         To provide evidence leading to an overall and non-speculative understanding of the engraving it is essential that we study this representation in situ in order to establish the relative chronology of the lines which make it up.

F. Demouche, L. Slimak & D. Deflandre
UMR 6636 : "Économies, Sociétés et Environments Préhistoriques"-ESEP
Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l'Homme
5 rue du Château de l'Horloge, BP 647
13 094 Aix-en-Provence, Cedex 02. France


Bahn, P.G., 1998, Bahn on the sorcerer, PAST 30, 8.
Clottes, J., 1999, The sorcier: a more recent tracing, PAST 31, 7-8 and fig.
Dauvois, M., 1994, Les témoins sonores paléolithiques. La Pluridisciplinairité en Archéologie Musicale. Paris: Ministère de la culture, IVº Recontres internationales d'Archéologie Musicale de l'ICTM, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Oct. 1990, 153-206
Demouche F., Slimak, L & Deflandre, D 1996 Nuovelle approche de la gravure du "petit sorcier" à l'arc musical de la grotte des Trois Frères (Ariège) Préhistoire Anthropologie Méditerranéennes 5, 35-38
Demouche F., Slimak, L & Deflandre, D 1998 A new approach to the engraving of the "petit sorcier" à l'arc musical in the Trois Frères Cave, Ariège, PAST 28, 11 and fig.
Eastham, M., 1998, Encore le "petit sorcier", PAST 29, 8-9
Geidion, S 1962 The Eternal Present - The beginnings of Art. New York and London. Bollingen Foundation
Mullan, G. and Wilson, L. 1999, Le petit sorcier, PAST 31, 5-7
Sieveking, A. 1998, The sorcerer and the musical bow, PAST 29, 7-8 and figs.


(a) I have carried out some net-based bibliographical research on the Begouën reference referred to, but not located, by Demouche, Slimak, and Deflandre above and by Eastham in his original piece. I was unable to locate a 1927 publication entitled The Clay Bison: however, it would appear that one English-language version of the book referred to by Michael Eastham was called Bison of Clay, published (in a translation by R. L. Duffus) by Longmans, Green & Co (New York) in 1926. Trinity College Dublin library catalogue shows a book under the same title, but published in London (no publisher recorded) in 1926. This/these must surely be a translation of Begouën's Les bisons d'argile, published in Paris in 1925 by A. Fayard and listed in the catalogue of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and in other university libraries searchable on the Net. As I have seen neither the original or the translation, I am unable to verify whether the Begouën reference to a quadripedal stance occurs in this text; but we should remember that Eastham was referring to Begouën's comment on the "large 'Sorcerer'" in his PAST piece, rather than the Petit Sorcier; and was not absolutely certain ("if I remember rightly") that Begouën had said it in print. Any further information from readers who have access to the original French text or any of the English versions referred to above would be of interest to our French colleagues (and to your editor).
(b) The figure has also been interpreted as dancing: " wears the horned mask of a bison from which the skin hangs with the tail swinging to the rhythm of the dance" (Clark & Piggott 1970, 84 and fig, 27); perhaps a bipedal 'dancing' posture is also consonant with the extended foot referred to by our French colleagues above.

Clark, G & Piggott, S 1970 Prehistoric Societies. London: Penguin

Two of the organisers of the Society's Research Day give an overview of the rationale for and the results of the day.

Nearly 100 people attended a Prehistoric Society Research day on 'The Prehistoric Settlement of the Thames Valley' held at the Society of Antiquaries in London on Saturday 15 May. The meeting took as its starting point the fact that, under PPGl6, more archaeological work than ever before is being undertaken. This is especially true in the economically buoyant Thames Valley of today. However, this work is being carried out by a variety of commercial archaeological organisations, and in line with specifications set by archaeologists in different local authorities along the length of the valley. Under these arrangements, there is a clear potential danger of academic fragmentation.
         The aim of the meeting was therefore twofold. First, we wanted to bring together people who are working on a range of projects in this subject area. Second, we wanted to provide an opportunity to view the results from individual projects in a wider context. We hoped that this would enable comparisons to be made, and contrasts drawn, between projects, results and ideas which might otherwise remain unrelated to each other.
         To achieve this, the day was divided into four chronological blocks (mesolithic/early neolithic, late neolithic/early bronze age, later bronze age, and iron age). These were chaired by Richard Bradley, John Barrett, Roger Thomas and David Miles respectively. Reports on specific projects were presented within the context of these period blocks.
         The presentations demonstrated very clearly the extent and quality of the results being obtained from recent and current fieldwork in the valley. Taken together, this work is giving us the ability to document whole landscapes, to identify subtle differences between communities in different parts of the valley, and to trace the changing political fortunes of those areas through the prehistoric period. The end of the bronze age emerged especially clearly as a time of dislocation in settlement patterns in the valley.
         Above all, the day demonstrated the value, in the era of PPG 16, of exchanging information and ideas between the wide range of archaeological organisations, projects and individuals currently working on different aspects of Thames Valley prehistory. The challenge now is to find ways of continuing the dialogue which was begun at the meeting, and we are actively considering how this might best be done.

Roger Thomas & John Barrett

Bruce Watson describes and discusses the content of this research day

Some Londoners consider that the Thames is actually 'their' river as it flows through the heart of the metropolis. However; it should be remembered that the Thames flows across some 210 miles (338 km) of southern England and the lowest 65 miles (105 km) of the river is tidal estuary. The Thames rises in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, then flows south-eastwards across Oxfordshire; as it gains in volume it demarcates parts of the county boundaries of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey before arriving in Greater London. The Thames and its tributaries, which include the Cherwell, Colne, Lea, Kennet, Roding and Thame drain a vast area of Southern England. The power of this river system is demonstrated by the broad valley it has created - now lined with gravel terraces, relics of the changing river levels during the Pleistocene.
         The Thames is the oldest documented English river-name. In 51BC Caesar wrote an account of his second invasion of Britain in 54BC in which he described it as the Thamesis, probably Celtic for dark or silt laden river (Ekwall 1928, 402). Caesar noted the Thames served as the boundary between the territory of Cassivellaunus and the 'maritime tribes' in Kent (Handford 1951, 135), which is a reminder that navigable rivers are both routeways and also serve as boundaries.
         The Prehistoric Society conference considered the broader research implications of the vast amount of recent archaeological work along the entire Thames Valley, the programme being divided into four period-based sessions.

The Thames and its tributaries
The Thames and its tributaries. Key: 1. Crickdale; 2. Stanton Harcourt; 3. Yarnton; 4. Abingdon; 5. Eton & Windsor; 6. Heathrow; 7. Southwark

Mesolithic/early neolithic
         During the mesolithic period the environs of the Thames and its tributaries were widely utilised by highly mobile hunters and gatherers taking advantage of the rich fishing and wild fowling. Evidence of transient mesolithic occupation is provided by scatters of flint knapping debris found along the riverside. Within an infilled mesolithic palaeochannel of the Thames at Eton traces of beaver dams or lodges have been found.
         Excavations at the site of the new rowing lake at Eton in Buckinghamshire have demonstrated that during the early neolithic the tradition of riverside flint knapping continued and there was also evidence of woodland clearance by burning, probably to provide pasture. The impression is that during the early neolithic the upper Thames at Eton was utilised by pastoralists, who camped here on a seasonal basis and deposited their rubbish within natural hollows. Food residues on pottery from these hollows show traces of dairy products (Ken Welsh, Oxford Arch. Unit, 'Discoveries in the prehistoric River Thames at the Eton rowing lake, Bucks').
         A different pattern of neolithic activity has been revealed by excavations on the gravel terraces of the upper Thames at Yarnton in Oxfordshire. Here a rectangular, ditched mortuary enclosure was constructed, a rectangular hall or communal 'long house' (some 20 m long and 10m wide) defined by postholes, plus numerous pits and miscellaneous postholes (Gill Hey, Oxford Arch. Unit, 'Life on the flood-plain: Yarnton in the fourth and third millennia BC'). The impression is that Yarnton was an area of open grassland (not arable), which was not continuously occupied, but was inhabited on an intermittent or seasonal basis for a long period of time by pastoralists. The animal bone assemblage is dominated by cattle, sheep/goat and pig. The presence of charred grain and bread demonstrates that cereals were produced nearby.
         The excavations at both Eton and Yarnton suggest that during the early neolithic the banks of the upper Thames were utilised by small, mobile communities of pastoralists, perhaps practising transhumance and possibly carrying out shifting cultivation on the higher gravel terraces within the Thames Valley, to produce cereal crops. During this period it is clear that the upper Thames had no fixed course, as at both Eton and Yarnton there is evidence of eyots (small islands) created by braided channels or meanders, which periodically silted up when the course of the river moved.

Late neolithic/early bronze age
         Centuries of cultivation of the Thames gravels have destroyed almost all the standing earthworks within this region, but during the last 80 years aerial survey has revealed a landscape covered with cropmarks of all periods. The 1994 upper Thames Valley cropmark mapping project, which covered the area from Cricklade to Windsor; revealed long barrows, cursus monuments, causewayed enclosures, numerous ring ditches, mortuary enclosures and four henge monuments (Bob Bewley, RCHME/English Heritage, 'Ceremonial monuments of the Thames Valley: understanding the aerial evidence').
         One area of the Thames Valley where its cropmarks have been extensively excavated is Heathrow Airport, Middlesex. Work here has revealed part of the Stanwell early neolithic cursus, which was superseded by a series of late bronze age ditched fields. Interestingly, the bronze age settlement at Heathrow initially respected the line of the cursus; it was only encroached upon later, perhaps implying that over time its significance or sacred status was forgotten (John Lewis, Framework Arch., 'Monuments and deposits, structuring the landscape').

Late bronze age
         The later second millennium BC was a period of climatic deterioration and rising river levels. These events may have prompted the development of a new water-oriented cult, replacing an earlier sky/earth-oriented cult. This new cult could explain the numerous discoveries of bronze tools weapons arid ornaments during dredging of the lower Thames, as offerings to the river.
         Within the area of the lower Thames valley now occupied by Greater London many archaeological investigations have revealed a buried second millennium BC landscape of sandy eyots and estuarine marshes, criss-crossed by wooden trackways, all of which were eventually sealed by fluvial deposits. These deposits represent a sustained transgression during the first millennium BC. In north Southwark this transgression also buried a late bronze age field system with evidence of ard cultivation (Ken Whittaker; English Heritage, 'Buried bronze age landscapes of the Thames estuary').
         While the Thames was busy drowning parts of its flood plain, there was an unprecedented period of land allotment and agricultural intensification during the late bronze age within the higher portions of the same river valley. The creation of extensive areas of rectilinear ditched fields is interpreted as part of an intensive system of livestock farming (David Yates, Reading Univ.,' Later bronze age field Systems in the Thames Valley'). The possibility of intensive mixed farming should be considered as the number of people who can be fed from a hectare of cereals is some three to five times greater than the number who can be fed by produce produced by livestock grazing the same area. It is probable that the agrarian wealth that these fields generated purchased the metalwork which was being thrown into the Thames - a process of conspicuous consumption; which if competitive could have fuelled the process of agricultural intensification. Throughout the Thames Valley at the end of the late bronze age many of these fields were abandoned and not replaced until the Romano-British period.

Iron age/early Roman
         At Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire on the upper Thames gravel terraces, excavations during the 1980s revealed a series of iron age round houses, enclosures and numerous grain storage pits, demonstrating the importance of arable farming. The settlement consisted of some six to eight farmsteads, which were continuously occupied for some 700 or 800 years. It is possible that during the early Roman period horse breeding may have become a specialisation and number of small U-shaped ditched enclosures may have served as arenas or display areas for blood-stock (George Lambrick, Oxford Arch. Unit, 'Communities and Change').
         Excavation within the town of Abingdon in Oxfordshire, adjoining the upper Thames, has revealed that during the iron age there was an agrarian settlement here, which was superseded during the first century BC by an oppidum, defended by a series of multiple ditches. There are similar defences at Dykehill, Dorchester and the 'Big Enclosure at Cassington. All these sites are situated at the point where a major tributary joins the Thames, so it appears that they were local centres to regulate trade, within separate river valleys or hinterlands. Interestingly the site at Abingdon underwent a brief 'boom' immediately after the Roman invasion and by AD 47 a local fine ware pottery industry was established. However, after the first century AD economic decline set in, probably due to the fact Abingdon was not on a major road and therefore could not thrive as a market centre (Tim Allen, Oxford Arch. Unit, 'Nucleation and defence: a late iron age oppidum at Abingdon, Oxfordshire').

         The conference certainly proved that the archaeology of the Thames Valley is a dynamic subject. However, partly because of the sheer geographical scope of the river valley and partly because of the project-based nature of much of the fieldwork, there is serious need for synthesis of the vast volume of data. David Yates's research has shown the value of regional study and the potential of analysing existing data. One way of placing current and future archaeological fieldwork and research within a regional framework would be to follow the example of the various organisations concerned within the archaeological study of the estuarine Thames which have produced an excellent draft research framework for their region (An Archaeological Framework for the Greater Thames, Consultation Draft June 1998).
         As for future research aims for Thames Valley sites, I think that we should be trying to examine the links between the settlement sites and the river. For instance, how was the river exploited as a food source? Also could the river have been used for the disposal of the dead? Today the Ganges in northern India is considered sacred by the Hindus, who cast the ashes of their dead into the river in the belief that they will go straight to heaven. The sediments of the Thames palaeochannels have immense potential for providing an ecological history of the upper Thames and establishing the changing pattern of river levels. For example, could the rising river level during the second millennium BC have been partly caused by deforestation, increasing run-off?

Bruce Watson
Museum of London Archaeology Service

Ekwal, E 1928, English River Names. Oxford: OUP
Handford, SA 1951 Transl. of Caesar: the conquest of Gaul. London: Penguin


A Working Party was set up by the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Annual Day and the Council of the Prehistoric Society in Autumn 1998 to prepare a research framework for the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of Britain and Ireland. This followed the initiative from English Heritage to update the document Exploring our Past: strategies for the archaeology of England, first published in 1991.
         As many members will be aware, regional research directions are now being produced for all periods and two national research reviews have appeared: 'Historic Scotland state-funded 'rescue' archaeology in Scotland: past, present and future' (Barclay 1997) and 'English Heritage, Archaeology Division Research Agenda April 1997'. Both documents identify key areas for research and the need for locally relevant research frameworks for these periods to support curatorial decisions. The international relevance of and interest in, a research framework for the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of Britain and Ireland goes without saying.
         The need for a coherent framework has been brought sharply into focus as study of these periods has enjoyed a renaissance in interest and funding over the last decade or so. Major research and excavation projects have included those at Boxgrove, Kent's Cavern, Barnham, High Lodge, Beeches Pit, Oronsay, Newferry and Mount Sandel; the Palaeolithic Settlement of Wales Project; the Bally Lough Project; the Southern Hebridges Mesolithic Project; the re-assessment of sites such as Red Barns and Creswell Crags; and - the daddy (or mother) of them all - the English Rivers Palaeolithic Survey. The application of radiocarbon dating to both 'old' and new' sites and to extended sequences and the increasing application of Quaternary environmental and faunal analyses are providing new insights and tighter chronologies (and being regularly reported in PPS of course). The results of many of these projects have recently appeared in print or are fast approaching publication.
         Much has been, and continues to be, accomplished. However; in an increasingly competitive funding environment there is a need to focus on priorities in order to build on past success and ensure that future research will attract the resource it deserves. This will not be achieved by drawing up an over-long agenda of problems and areas to be investigated. Rather it will be made possible by demonstrating the advantages for the research, management, and conservation of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of an agreed broad programme of work with a clear focus. Consequently, as the Working Party concluded, a research framework which aims to concentrate on future directions must seek to accommodate much that is currently in progress while encouraging new researchers into this area of archaeology.
         The Working Party reported to the Society's Council in February 1999 and, subject to a little final tweaking, the Research Frameworks document is now completed. Production of the report has been generously financed by English Heritage. It will be a 12 page 'brochure', collated by the convenor of the Working Party, Professor Clive Gamble, and designed by PPS Editor Julie Gardiner, and gloriously illustrated.. It will be available free to members of the Society on request in the Autumn (details in next PAST). A postage charge may have to be made to non-members. As an appetiser; the following is the Summary Statement which introduces the report:

The need is identified for a review of current and future research priorities within the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods of Britain and Ireland. The framework proposed here is designed to demonstrate the advantages for the research, management, conservation and dissemination of archaeological knowledge about the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of a broad programme of work with a clear focus. This focus is achieved by identifying the following issues

  • Strategic themes
  • Colonisation and recolonisation
  • Settlement patterns and settlement histories
  • Social organisation and belief systems
  • Field and survey projects
  • Surveys
  • Assessments
  • Publication of key sites
  • Education, display and information exchange

    Compiled by Julie Gardiner from the Research Frameworks report

    A regular column featuring the best of Prehistory on the World Wide Web

    SCRAN: Funded by the Millennium Commission, the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network's mission is "to create a fully searchable resource base of Scottish material culture and human history". Not concerned solely with prehistory, this fully searchable database comprises many thousands of records of sites, monuments and artefacts, including those of the NMRS and Historic Scotland as well as other web-based resources. Feed in a search term (eg henge) and click on individual listings for details, and images where a camera icon is displayed.

    Mediterranean Prehistory Online: "aims to become one of the world's leading archaeological journals, publishing peer-reviewed papers of high academic standing which also use to the full the potential of electronic publication". Currently there are 12 online articles, one of which is a collection of 20 papers detailing results from an EC-funded research project on Human Population Origins in the Circum-Mediterranean Area. There is also a handy news section with information on conferences, projects and grants.

    Pfahlbaumuseum, Unteruhldingen: Web pages of this well-known open-air museum (opened 1922) exhibiting reconstructions of neolithic and bronze age lake-dwellings on the Bodensee, based on excavated examples from several locations and periods in the region. A short history of the museum and research, photos, illustrations and publications can be accessed online, as well as information for visitors and location maps. Welcome page (only) in English.

    Links zur Bronze- und Urnenfelderzeit in Mitteleuropa und benachbarten Gebieten: Some of the most useful Web pages are collections of links dedicated to particular topics. This annotated list of links collects together all Web pages associated with the European bronze age, amongst which are excavation reports, online papers, research projects and exhibitions. Organised into New, General, Archaeometallurgy and Country-based sections. Let someone else do the searching for you!

    Proyecto Ai Apaec: A well-illustrated virtual project on the archaeology of Peru, concerned particularly with the Moche culture but covering other periods, as well as topical comments on conservation, petroglyphs etc. Use the front page to get to different sections, and click on 'Presentacion' to get into a large number of pages about the Moche culture and related topics. Well-presented in Spanish with one welcome page in English.


    3rd Congress on Iberian Archaeology: 22.9.99-26.9.99
    At the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD). Vila Real, Portugal. 28 sessions announced, many of them concerned with prehistory, from the first occupation of the Iberian peninsula, and palaeolithic rock art, through megaliths and beakers to the iron age and after. Contact Mila Simões de Abreu, Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD), Pavilhão de Geociências, Campus da Quinta dos Prados, Apartado 202, 5001 Vila Real Codex; fax +351 59 325058

    Mesolithic Scotland: 5.11.99-7.11.99
    Organised by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland together with the National Museums of Scotland and the Prehistoric Society, this major international conference will provide an overview of culture and environment in the Mesolithic period in Scotland, together with surveys of the Mesolithic in adjacent or comparable areas of Europe, against which Scottish evidence can be evaluated. Further details from The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Royal Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH15 1LJ, tel 0131 247 4115, fax 0131 247 4163.

    EMAC'99. The 5th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics: 18.11.99-20.11.99
    Theme: Modern Trends in Research and Application. Topics include chemical, physical and mineralogical characterisation for provenance and technology; methodological considerations, study of kiln material and reconstruction of kiln function, data handling, and developments on dating and authenticity. At Demokritos, Greece. For further details contact Laboratory of Archaeometry. Institute of Materials Science (National Centre for Scientific Research) "Demokritos" Aghia Paraskevi. 15310 ATTIKI, Greece. Tel.: +30 1 650 33 92; fax: +30 1 651 94 30

    Congreso Internacional de Arte Rupestre Europe: 24.11.99-27.11.99
    A European rock art conference in Vigo, Spain. For further details contact José M. Hidalgo Cuñado, Museo Municipal "Quiñones de Leon", Parque de los Castelos, s/n, 36213 Vigo, tel. +34 986295075, fax +34 986239372

    Lithic Studies in the Year 2000: 8.9.00-10.9.00
    Organised by the Lithic Studies Society, the conference will be held at the National Museum and Gallery, Cathays Park Cardiff. Over 40 papers with many overseas speakers, divided into sessions on: Behaviour and Cognition in the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic; Projectiles - their Use and Significance; 5th-4th Millennia: Lithics in Transition; Lithics in the Bronze Age and Later Periods; Raw Material Studies: Mobility, Context, Range and Territory; Use-Wear and Residues. Contact Miss E.A. Walker, Department of Archaeology and Numismatics, National Museum and Gallery, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF1 3NP, for programme and registration details.

    Home Page The Prehistoric Society Home Page