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Traprain Law: Archaeology from the Ashes
Traprain Law: Archaeology from the Ashes
Traprain Law in East Lothian has long been recognised as one of Scotland’s most important archaeological sites. Early twentieth century excavations by Alexander Curle and James Cree produced the most extensive collections of Roman material from a native site in Scotland, as well as evidence for a significant Late Bronze Age presence.The complex series of ramparts has been interpreted as enclosing a major centre of pre-Roman Iron Age date, traditionally thought to be the fortified ‘capital’ of the Votadini at the time of the Roman invasion of AD 79. The ‘Traprain Treasure’, an exceptional hoard of late Roman silverware found in 1919, sealed the site’s iconic status within Scottish archaeology. Yet despite a continuing history of research, including work by Stewart Cruden in the 1930s, Gerhard Bersu in the 1940s, and Richard Feachem in the 1950s, much remains unknown about the nature, chronology and extent of human activity on the Law.
Recently, we have carried out two projects on the hill. The Traprain Law Summit Project (TLSP), from1999-2001, sought to assess the nature and extent of human activity across the area within the inner rampart, which had been little explored by earlier work. Much of the impetus for the project came from the recognition of numerous threats to the archaeology, especially from rabbits and accidental fire. In late 2003, our worst fears were realised when a devastating fire burnt out huge swathes of the hill.This led to a programme of assessment and rescue excavation in 2003-4 sponsored by Historic Scotland and the National Museums of Scotland (who had also both sponsored the TLSP). Additional sponsors for the TLSP were the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Russell Trust, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the University of Edinburgh Munro Lectureship Trust. The two projects have between them involved the excavation or assessment of more than 20 (mostly small) trenches and numerous test-pits across the hill. This summary sets out some of the most significant results.
Evidence for Neolithic and Bronze Age activity on Traprain suggests its use as a ritual focus and occasional burial place. The collection of rock art, recorded during quarrying during the 1930s, has now been augmented by the discovery of a new panel (see article below). The recent work has also produced more polished stone axes, showing that Neolithic activity of uncertain character ranged more widely across the hill than previously thought, but there has been nothing yet to suggest any substantial occupation during the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age.
The picture changes markedly thereafter. Late Bronze Age metalwork from Curle and Cree’s excavations had already indicated intense activity around 950-700 BC. However, radiocarbon dates obtained from cereal grains within occupation deposits in several of the recent trenches suggest a rather greater time depth to this Bronze Age occupation; although most relate to activity in the tenth or ninth century BC, others more probably reflect settlement in the later second millennium BC.
Dating the rampart system has been a perennial problem, but we did obtain radiocarbon dates for the innermost enclosure. The surface remains of this feature are no more than discontinuous scarps and rickles of stone and it had been discounted as a rampart by some authorities in the past. However, excavation revealed the remains of a terraced bank with a well-built outer stone face incorporating crudely faced stonework. Three radiocarbon dates from below the rampart suggest that there was activity on this part of the site in the late second or early first millennium BC. A further date, from material formed against the rampart, is virtually indistinguishable, suggesting that the rampart was built before 1010-790 cal BC. Taken at face value, this suggests that the summit enclosure was constructed during the Late Bronze Age, although it is clearly desirable to obtain more dates from these deposits. We also obtained Late Bronze Age dates from under the inner rampart but these provide only a terminus post quem. The fire has revealed numerous outworks on the west side of the hill as well as a previously unrecorded rampart on the south side. These features are undated but would have made the rampart systems considerably more impressive.
Another facet of Late Bronze Age activities on the Law came to light in 2004 when a hoard of four socketed and looped axe-heads was found buried on a ledge towards the top of the cliffs which fringe the south face of the hill. The precipitous location suggests a votive purpose, although the hoard was most likely buried during a time when the hill was a thriving settlement.The lack of distinctive pre-Roman Iron Age material from the early excavations has long been seen as problematic. However, the material culture of the southern Scottish Iron Age is notoriously impoverished and undiagnostic, so this apparent absence need not be fatal for the traditional interpretation of Traprain as a pre-Roman tribal centre. As we have seen, however, the radiocarbon dates from the recent work relate exclusively to the Bronze Age, despite our attempts to date grain from all viable stratified contexts. It is hard to escape the impression that any pre-Roman Iron Age occupation was far more restricted than that of the earlier and later periods. Nonetheless, there are some likely candidates for Iron Age buildings, particularly from the 2004 rescue work for which radiocarbon dates have yet to be obtained. In particular, there is an artificially enhanced terrace on the south edge of the summit, just above the cliffs which form a natural barrier on this side of the hill. A series of stone wall-footings and metalled floors here were associated with later prehistoric pottery and a stone ball of likely Iron Age date. One of these structures, which contained a well-built hearth, utilised a flat area of outcropping bedrock as part of its floor. On this bedrock were a series of much earlier rock carvings, some of which would have been exposed in the floor of the later building (see article below). In a nearby trench slightly closer to the summit was a metalled surface seemingly used as a cannel coal working area, also likely to be later prehistoric date. Traprain’s position, between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, placed it variously inside and outside the Roman Empire during the first few centuries AD, making the site pivotal to any understanding of Roman-native relations during this period. Despite some suggestions that Traprain may have been essentially a ritual centre during the Roman period, with only a very limited resident population, the recent work has tended to support the more traditional view of the site as a Roman ‘boomtown’. For example, excavation of a steeply sloping area of the inner rampart revealed that its collapsed remains were sealed by a deep accumulation of floor deposits, the uppermost associated with second century AD Samian pottery. The use of such inconvenient, steeply sloping corners of the hill for the construction of buildings suggests that space may have been at a premium. Indeed, one of the recurrent features of the recent work has been the density with which Roman Iron Age activity is distributed across the hill. On the basis of our assessment trenches, many of the artificially enhanced, slab-fronted terraces on the slopes below the summit seem likely to date to this period.
The recent work has also added to our understanding of the last defensive work on the site, the late Roman Iron Age ‘Cruden Wall’. Where the recent fire had exposed stonework on the east side of the hill, we were able to excavate a carefully-built stretch of terraced road or path which both facilitated and controlled access to one of the gates on the ‘Cruden Wall’, making the entrance a dramatic one.
New information has also emerged regarding the medieval re-use of the hill. Gerhard Bersu’s excavations in the 1940s had hinted at a thirteenth or fourteenth century AD date for a rectangular enclosure around the highest point on the summit. The recent work bears this out, but has also uncovered what appears to be a child’s long cist burial within the enclosure, suggesting the presence of an early medieval burial ground. Rectangular foundations discernible below the modern hiker’s cairn on the summit itself may even represent the remains of an accompanying chapel. A substantial stone-footed turf-built building on the south edge of the summit area has also been dated to the thirteenth or fourteenth century and could represent an ancillary building relating to an ecclesiastical focus on the hilltop. One possible context for these concerns a set of traditions relating Traprain Law to the life of St Kentigern, patron saint of Glasgow. Traprain lay close to the well-trodden pilgrimage routes of eastern Scotland, and the popularity of St Kentigern during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries may have sparked renewed interest in the site.
The recent work has certainly added new layers of complexity to the biography of the Law. Many of the TLSP trenches were set out explicitly to test ‘blank’ areas of the summit, to give some picture of the nature and density of archaeological deposits across the site. The pattern which emerged was quite clear: each trench yielded evidence of human activity, often complex and well-stratified. Traprain Law is a place with a long and varied past: it has been a burial ground, a ritual centre, a densely occupied settlement, a fortification, perhaps even a ‘tribal capital’ and a place of pilgrimage. Its constant re-invention over several millennia, to suit changing social, spiritual and political needs, reinforces its status as one of Scotland’s richest and most rewarding monuments.
Ian Armit, Andrew Dunwell, Fraser Hunter and Eimear Nelis
One of the most unexpected results of the 2004 fieldwork at Traprain Law was the discovery of in situ rock carvings on the floor of a putatively Iron Age building on the southern edge of the summit. This was not the first rock art to be found at Traprain. During the 1930s, several large panels had been discovered during quarrying on the north-east side of the hill. Although Arthur Edwards from the National Museums of Scotland was able to record the carvings and take casts, the rock art itself was mercilessly blown up to enable quarrying to proceed.
It is rare for in situ rock art to be discovered stratigraphically sealed in an archaeological excavation. Although partly covered by the metalled floor of the later building, the most complex cup-and-ring motifs in the newly discovered panel would have been ‘on display’ within the floor of the later building, close by the hearth. Although it is tempting to see this as a deliberate act of incorporation of the earlier art within the new building, the exposed motifs were very faint and the re-use of this outcrop may have been fortuitous.
Ian Armit and Margaret McCartney
Dorchester: Cropmarks Old and New
The henge enclosure at Mount Pleasant is a well-known landmark of British prehistory, primarily because of the excavations undertaken there by Geoffrey Wainwright in 1970-71. This limited trenching was part of a campaign that also took in Durrington Walls, Marden, and Woodhenge, all in Wiltshire, providing much food for thought for prehistorians ever since.
There had been considerable doubt about the enclosure’s date and function before Wainwright demonstrated a clear Late Neolithic origin. As well as a lack of previous excavation and the absence of surface finds, centuries of ploughing had left the earthworks in a rather denuded state. It was possible to identify a curving bank with inner ditch on the south side, with a probable entrance to the south-east, but that was pretty much it, apart from a possible ring-ditch identified on some late 1940s RAF aerial photographs.
Wainwright demonstrated that the surviving earthworks were the eroded remnant of an enormous earthen enclosure comprising a massive bank with internal berm and ditch, the total dimensions being 370m east-west by 340m north-south. Geophysical survey suggested 4 entrances in total, located to the west, north, east and south-east.
The geophysical survey also turned up an unexpected bonus – a massive and continuous palisade running within and concentric to the henge ditch. Enclosing an area measuring circa 270m east-west by 245m north-south, the palisade trench would have supported a wall of timbers perhaps 6 metres high, yet only two extremely narrow entrances could be found through this enormous timber barrier.
Within the enclosure’s interior, excavation focused on the ‘ring ditch’ mentioned earlier. This turned out to be the site of a complex timber and sarsen structure surrounded by a ditch 43m in diameter. Known as Site IV, the ditch enclosed five broadly concentric rings of post holes, plus a series of larger pits representing a sarsen ‘cove’ plus outliers. The precise sequence at Site IV has been a matter of some debate. The overall sequence at Mount Pleasant is a little clearer, although the situation is far from ideal. Radiocarbon dates obtained from excavated samples provide a broad outline chronology that places the main earthwork enclosure within the early-to-mid 3rd millennium BC. Site IV appears to begin life in the later centuries of the 3rd millennium BC while the palisade was constructed around 2000 BC, give or take a century or two. Finds and features point to continuing, if intermittent, activity including an Iron Age round house partly overlying Site IV.
As is well known, plough-damaged sites can benefit from airborne scrutiny. The presence of a crop is not always necessary – both soilmarks and cropmarks can indicate the presence of both archaeological and natural features invisible to the ground-based naked eye. The fields containing the Mount Pleasant henge have remained under the plough ever since Wainwright departed the site in 1971, the ongoing erosion contributing to increasingly revealing crop-and soilmarks. Aerial photographs taken by Damian Grady of English Heritage in June 2000 and March 2003 highlighted the presence of a number of features not previously recognised at the site. A subsequent reappraisal of all available photos showed that some of these features had in fact been lurking unrecognised for some time. The most useful images proved to be those in the collections of the National Monuments Record, Swindon, plus a series of photographs taken over the last 15 years or so by Francesca Radcliffe, a Dorset-based aerial photographer. In addition, a further flight by Damian Grady in September 2004 again captured the site as soilmarks.
The fact that the large quantity of extant photographs of the henge and its environs has not previously been studied in detail may seem surprising given the amount of fieldwork undertaken in the environs of Dorchester in recent years, and the amount of discussion about the site itself. The value of such an exercise is highlighted by the fact that a substantial portion of the inner palisade, discovered during geophysical survey in 1969, is in fact visible as cropmarks on two photographs held by the NMR and taken in the 1930s.
Analysis of the most recent photography suggested the presence of an external ditch along parts of the northern, eastern and south-eastern sides of the henge. There is no clear evidence that this ditch continues around the entire enclosure. The September 2004 photographs offered further detail for the earthwork, this time focusing on the bank either side of the south-eastern entrance. This is the best preserved stretch of earthwork and the soilmarks suggest a reason why – the bank in this area appears to have been heightened at some point in its history. The portion of bank west of the entrance features an axial scar and clear terminals,beyond which the original henge bank can be seen continuing westwards. This remodelling may have occurred during the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, of course, but there are other possibilities. As noted earlier, Wainwright found evidence for Iron Age occupation, for example. Does the round house provide a context for the heightening of the bank? And are the outer ditch fragments associated with this too?
A feature more likely to belong to the henge’s earlier history lies towards the south-west corner of the enclosure. Recent photographs suggested that both ditch and bank narrowed at a point along the henge’s southern side, more or less on a straight line passing through Site IV and the henge’s northern entrance. A three-dimensional view provided by overlapping pairs of 1940s RAF vertical photos confirmed a definite break in the bank, while the presence of a corresponding gap in the ditch was clearly captured by Francesca Radcliffe on a series of photos taken in August 1996. Her photos also indicate that this entrance was partly blocked by two lines of large pits. Did they represent an attempt to narrow an existing entrance, as had happened to the western entrance during the Early Bronze Age? They seem too large to represent post or stone settings, though only excavation could settle this.
Bearing in mind the recent attention paid to Durrington Walls, and in particular its relationship with the River Avon, another feature at Mount Pleasant worth highlighting here is what appears to be some form of approach from the north-east, heading towards the henge’s eastern side. The cropmarks suggest a soil-filled hollow feature resembling a ditch, but a more likely explanation is some form of enhanced natural hollow – it is remarkably straight-sided in places – leading from the valley of the Frome to the hilltop where, interestingly, it fails to link up precisely with any of the henge’s main entrances. Again, the relationships between these features would require excavation to sort out, but as with the enlargement of the hengebank, there is no need to assume a Late Neolithic date for this feature, at least in its present form.
Also outside the henge are a number of ring ditches. Three barrows were already known – the massive Conquer Barrow, which either sits on the henge’s western bank or was already standing and incorporated within the henge bank when the latter was built, is the most obvious. The remains of two more normally proportioned mounds lie to the south-east of the henge. Francesca Radcliffe’s photographs have shown that the area between these two mounds and the henge contains at least seven more ring ditches, although it is worth pointing out that one of these can be seen on the 1930s photographs mentioned earlier, while two others are visible on photos dating from 1948 and 1978 respectively. Another appears to have been crossed unnoticed by a pipeline in the mid-1980s.
There are additional internal and external features for which there isn’t the space to describe here. A more detailed transcription and discussion will hopefully be appearing in the next volume of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’s Proceedings.
.Martyn Barber, Aerial Survey, English Heritage
A Late Mesolithic/Early
Neolithic Site at Langley’s Lane, Near Midsomer Norton, Somerset
During the early summer of 2004, Dr Paul Davies and Dr Jodie Lewis began the first season of research excavations at Langley’s Lane, near the town of Midsomer Norton, Somerset. The excavation site is situated in the valley of a small stream, the Wellow Brook, which flows from the lower northern Mendip plateaux eastwards and then northwards toward adjacent lowlands in the vicinity of Midsomer Norton. In the area of Langley’s Lane, tufa deposits had previously been identified and subjected to environmental analysis, principally via molluscan analysis. In recent years, subsequent fieldwork by theQuaternary Research Centre, Bath Spa University College, had established more or less continuous tufa formation throughout the valley, either as valley-bottom or valley-side spring line deposits, from the stream’s spring emergence point downstream for a distance of some two and a half kilometres. As with tufa deposits elsewhere in central and southern England, these seemed to have formed during the Mesolithic and, perhaps, Neolithic periods. The field chosen for excavation had been subject to unsystematic fieldwalking the previous winter and finds included a series of Mesolithic flint objects including blades and cores.
Excavations in 2004 focused initially on a series of five test pits, aimed at identifying the extent of the tufa spread across the valley and focussing on areas where the tufa, here a valley-bottom deposit, on-lapped the adjacent slopes. Two of these test pits were subsequently extended to form a larger “L”-shaped trench. The tufa was found to have been partly truncated by the plough, but survived to a relatively high level, at times only 0.2m or so below the topsoil. The edge of the tufa was encountered in the northern trench, the deposit gradually thickening downslope towards the stream to the south. Three sondages were excavated through the tufa to assess its depth and to gain samples for environmental analysis. The maximum thickness of the deposit was found to be c.1m, although the tufa has been shown to be deeper nearer the stream in the bottom of the valley. Sealed beneath the tufa was a buried soil, maximum c.0.3m thick, overlying a degraded limestone natural. Throughout the tufa, animal bone, charcoal and Mesolithic worked flint was recovered, although these finds did not correspond to any obvious archaeological surfaces.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the excavation was the uncovering of a series of small pits at the very edge of the tufa formation where the tufa on-laps the adjacent slopes. Two of these were c.0.2m in diameter and circular in plan. The most easterly of the pits contained a handful of late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic flint work, mainly narrow blades, whereas the most westerly pit contained a small ball of tufa. This appeared to have been formed between the hands and deposited into the pit, which was subsequently backfilled. Two other slightly larger pits were also found, containing stone, worked flint and, in one case, fossils. A series of radiocarbon dates are currently being sought for the site, and analysis of the molluscan assemblages from the tufa is ongoing.
The site is of interest for two reasons. First and foremost, these ‘caches’ of flint blades, stone, fossils and the tufa ball seem difficult to explain on utilitarian grounds. The pit containing flint blades and fossils is particularly intriguing, and if the site were later and had contained bronze axe heads and‘figurines’, we would perhaps hesitate less in considering it a strong candidate as a ‘votive’ deposit. The second interesting point is that the pits seem to have been deliberately fashioned immediately adjacent to the tufa edge. Mesolithic activity at or near tufa deposits has previously been recorded, but the potential significance of the edge of such deposits, as markers in the landscape, has not previously been fully explored. One of the authors has previously argued that tufa deposits may have been viewed as ‘magical’ in the past, since to the observer the pale tufa seemingly ‘appears’ from ordinary looking water as the calcium carbonate, of which these deposits are formed, precipitates out from a soluble state. Substantial seasonal tufa deposition would, at times, render the landscape ‘white’ with tufa coating vegetation and the surface of the soil. It may be the case that these deposits were placed to respect such a boundary in the landscape.
Excavations will continue in 2005, particularly concentrating on exposing more of the tufa edge in order to establish whether there are more pits. At this stage, it is worth emphasising that the pits discovered so far were located along only two metres of exposed tufa edge. Related palaeoenvironmental research will also be undertaken, based upon a spatial sampling strategy of the tufa surface as it on-laps the adjacent slope. This will hopefully determine whether there was any manipulation of the vegetation contemporaneous with artefact deposition.
|Notice of the 2005 Annual General
The AGM will be held at 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday 1st June 2005, in the rooms of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London.
The meeting will be followed at 5.00 p.m. by the 14th Europa Lecture. The lecture will be followed by a wine reception.
12th March 2005
|Summary of Financial
Activities for the Year Ended 31 December 2004
The Summary of Financial Activities is an extract from the full accounts of the Society. Copies of the full accounts for 2004 can be obtained from Tessa Machling at the registered office address and they will be available for members attending the Annual General Meeting. The 2004 annual accounts will be sent to the Registrar of Companies after the Annual General Meeting.
The Society made a surplus of £2,341 in 2004 compared to £7,745 in 2003. The reduced surplus was mainly due to a reduction in the grants obtained from other organizations for the publication of papers in the 2004 Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. The level of grant aid is directly related to the composition of each volume as grants are normally only available for papers resulting from work funded by national organisations, such as English Heritage, or developer-funded projects. The Society is committed to its educational aims and continues to publish research papers entirely on merit, regardless of any external funding, amounting to 50-75% of the total number of pages in each issue.
The policy of the Council is that any sustainable surplus will be used to increase the funding allocated for the education and promotion of prehistory.
From the Delta of the Danube to the Estuary of the Tagus: Current Developments in European Early Modern Human Research: Prof. João Zilhão (University of Lisbon).
5 p.m., Wednesday 1st June 2005, Society of Antiquaries of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. The lecture will be followed by a wine reception.
This year’s Europa Lecture promises to provide a masterly and exciting overview of the latest research on Early Modern Humans in Europe and readers are warmly invited to attend. Professor João Zilhão is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Lisbon and was formerly Director of the Portugese National Institute of Archaeology. Although he has worked across a wide range of prehistory, his prime interest is in the Palaeolithic archaeology of Portugal and the problems of Modern Human origins and dispersal across Europe. He wrote the standard (two volume) book on the Portugese Palaeolithic, and has recently published the well known discovery of a possible Neanderthal/Modern Human hybrid skeleton from the site of Lagar Velho. Whilst head of the Institute of Archaeology in Portugal, he mounted a highly successful battle to save the extraordinary series of Upper Palaeolithic rock art engravings in the Côa Valley from destruction by a hydro-electric dam. He is now recognised as one of the leading researchers on the Palaeolithic in Europe and is a highly stimulating - and sometimes controversial - speaker!
There are still a few places left on this year’s UK study tour to northern
Pembroke, an outstandingly beautiful coastline densely packed with
well-preserved archaeological sites. The tour will take place from Monday 18th
July to Friday 22nd July and will be led by Professors Timothy Darvill and
Geoffrey Wainwright, both of whom have worked extensively in this area. Sites
to be visited will include Neolithic chambered tombs, a stone circle, Iron Age
hillforts, and the bluestone outcrops at Carn Menyn. Society members will be
shown around Castell Henlys promontory fort by Professor Howard Mytum and will
be given a tour of St David’s Cathedral by the Very Reverend J. Wyn Evans,
Dean. Evening lectures will be given by experts in the archaeology of the
region including Harold Mytum, Vicky Cummings and Ken Murphy. Accommodation
will be at the Wolfcastle Country Hotel situated in the heart of rural mid
Pembrokeshire. One of Pembrokeshire’s finest establishments, the hotel has
along established reputation for excellent cuisine and service. It has been
awarded an AA Rosette for Good Food and was Les Routiers Welsh Hotel of the
Year 2002. The cost including accommodation (fullboard), study notes, entrance
to sites and transport by minibus is £450 per person sharing.The booking form
can be downloaded from the Society website at
It is with great sadness that we report the death of a long-time member of the Society, Emeritus Professor Derek Simpson. Derek died suddenly but peacefully at home on 15th March.
After studying archaeology at Edinburgh in the Halcyon days of Piggott and Atkinson, Derek took up a post at Devizes Museum (1958-62) with Ken Annable. The Museum Catalogue that sprang from this partnership is still a valuable source book. A lectureship at Leicester University followed (1962-1984), and in 1984 Derek ascended to the Chair of Archaeology at Queen’s University Belfast where he remained until his retirement in 2002. Derek undertook fieldwork in Wessex, Scotland, and Ireland and published extensively on Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology. Perhaps his best known work was his contribution in Introduction to British Prehistory (with Vincent Megaw-Leicester University Press) which has passed through many undergraduate hands.
Derek will be remembered as a charming individual and an inspirational teacher. His knowledge of Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology (as well as the movies of John Ford!) was extensive, his sense of humour vibrant: a scholar and a gentleman. Those who knew Derek personally will miss him greatly and our condolences are sent to his widow, Nancy, and his children,Elisabeth and Duncan.
Survey at Arediou-Vouppes,
In 1993, the Sydney-Cyprus Survey Project identified a Late Bronze Age settlement at Aredhiou-Vouppes on the northern flanks of the Troodos mountains in central Cyprus. This was interpreted as a possible farming village or farmstead and dated to the thirteenth century BC on the basis of the surface material. The site is located on a low plateau adjacent to the river Aloupos and is currently covered by arable fields, farm buildings and, on the highest point of the plateau, a dairy farm. It lies within the territory of the later city kingdom of Tamassos (dating to the first millennium BC) and local tradition records that the name Arediou is eponymous, referring to Arete, a princess of Tamassos who buried some treasure there. During the later second and first millennium BC, this region was certainly wealthy, based on exploitation of copper resources in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains. This is illustrated, not only by the wealth of Iron Age Tamassos, but also by several lavish warrior burials excavated in and around Politiko, dating to the sixteenth to fifteenth centuries BC.
In July 2004, a team from University of Wales Lampeter conducted an intensive survey of Arediou-Vouppes to establish the size and nature of the settlement. Ultimately, we hope to test existing models of the social and political organisation of Late Bronze Age Cyprus which employ a tripartite model of settlement hierarchy (which posits urban centres along the coast, small farming communities in the interior and mining villages around the edge of the Troodos massif). Another research aim is to investigate the possibility that cemeteries may be located in the southern part of Arediou, represented by hollows in a rocky outcrop along the cliff edge, and to examine the spatial relationship between the living and the dead.
There were four main aspects to the survey. We focused on seven fields in the southern area of the plateau, identified as the core of the site in 1993. A detailed topographic map was produced using an EDM and a 10m-grid system was laid out over the site. Within this grid, we conducted an intensive surface survey, with total collection of all artefacts.The field boundaries, comprising stone walls built over natural rises in the ground, were walked separately and ground stone tools located amongst the stone walls were recorded in situ. Alongside the intensive survey, we conducted fieldwalking along the river valley to determine how much archaeological material was eroding down from the site. The results have been plotted onto the base map grid, allowing us to determine the spatial extent of archaeological material at Vouppes and the chronological parameters of the site. Field walking around the plateau indicated that the site extended at least 500m to the north of the main survey area, and the estimated extent of the site is c.10ha.
Finds recovered from the surface of the site include large quantities of pottery and lithics (ground stone and chipped stone tools). Although there were small quantities of Medieval and Ottoman pottery, the bulk of the assemblage comprised Late Bronze Age wares of thirteenth century BC date. In the north-east corner of the survey area, we located a discrete group of sixteenth century BC pottery types. There was far more diversity in the range of wares than had been anticipated. Large quantities of utilitarian wares associated with the storage and preparation of food (primarily pithos sherds as well as Cooking Ware, Plain Ware and Monochrome Ware) were recovered, along with small quantities of tableware (White Slip and Base Ring sherds). There were occasional imports, including a few Mycenaean sherds, Canaanite jar fragments and a couple of pieces of Egyptian amphorae. There was clear variation in the distribution of pottery types across the site. A high incidence of White Slip ceramics was found in the area of the tombs and there was a concentration of fine wares around the north-eastern part of the survey area. The greatest concentration of pottery was found in the northern part of the survey area, while the quantities of pottery decreased towards the south-west. There was a particular concentration of very badly worn White Slip pottery along the cliff edge, associated with the posited tombs, and there was a clear gap between the tombs and the apparent settlement area. The apparent separation of the domestic and mortuary arena contrasts with practices recorded at contemporary urban centres, where there is no spatial distinction between habitation areas and mortuary facilities.
A variety of survey techniques were employed to investigate the nature and extent of any extant archaeological remains below the surface. Marion Duff (University of Dundee) carried out a geophysics survey using a magnetometer and an EM 38. This confirmed the presence of tombs in the south-west area of the site and has identified a number of anomalies which we plan to investigate in future excavations. John Crowther and Dan Jones (University of Wales Lampeter) augured the site for a preliminary assessment of the subsurface Bronze Age soils, to establish the depth of the archaeological strata and to detect possible disturbance. The main analytical techniques to be employed are phosphate analysis, organic matter content, magnetic susceptibility measurement, and heavy metal analyses. The results are still pending.
The survey results have demonstrated significant time depth to the occupation of Aredhiou-Vouppes, with the recovery of sixteenth century BC material in the north-east part of the survey area. The full extent of the site is much larger than originally estimated. Initial analyses in 1993 suggested that the site covered an area of c.100 x 200m. However, the results of this year’s survey indicate Late Bronze Age activity some 500m to the north, still on the same low plateau. The range of material is richer and more varied than suggested by the initial reports from the site, and includes occasional imported materials. Rather than a small farmstead of the thirteenth century BC, the survey results clearly show Vouppes to be a large inland settlement, comparable in extent to the Late Bronze Age urban centres of Enkomi and Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios. It is not clear whether the settlement covered the entire plateau as a planned urban complex or if the material represents small clusters of settlement, possibly shifting around the plateau over time.
The Archaeology of Infancy and Childhood
With over 30 academic papers and 3 poster sessions relating to the role and worth of infants and children within the archaeological record, the Department of Classical and Archaeological Studies invites you to register for the conference. In attendance will be many of the world's leading ‘childhood’ researchers. Papers will cover childhood in many different cultural contexts. A practical ‘Child’ Osteology Workshop has also been arranged in association with the conference. For full details, including registration, schedule and a list of confirmed abstracts, visit the conference website at: http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/classics/Childhood.htm or email Mike Lally at: InfancyChildhood2005@Kent.ac.uk. Registration for the conference will be £16 (including a wine reception and conference refreshments), with an additional £10 registration fee applicable for the osteology workshop.
Going Over: the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in north-west Europe
This major international conference sponsored by The British Academy will include speakers from several European countries as well as from Britain and Ireland. It will cover regions from northern Spain to southern Scandinavia; new techniques; and selected themes and problems. £30 waged, £15 unwaged. To book see: www.cardiff.ac.uk/hisar/conferences/conferences.html or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Warfare and violence in prehistoric Europe
While Europe has a rich database upon which to draw for studies of prehistoric violence (real and symbolic), different languages and research traditions have tended to lead to fragmentation of the evidence. The intention of this conference is to bring together a group of researchers investigating different aspects of prehistoric violence, from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age, and including consideration of skeletal trauma, weaponry,architecture, iconography, and settlement patterns. Speakers include Ian Armit, Pia Bennike, Detlef Gronenborn, Anthony Harding, Chris Knüsel, Simon James, Jim Mallory, Jonathan McCormick, Margaret McCartney, Roger Mercer, Jörg Orschiedt, John Robb, Rick Schulting, David Smith and Nick Thorpe. The conference is sponsored by the British Academy and the Environment and Heritage Service, Northern Ireland. The conference fee is £25 waged, £10 student/unwaged, which includes 2 wine receptions, optional evening lectures and a film screening as well as the academic sessions. For further information contact Ian Armit (email: email@example.com), or to register send a cheque to David Smith, School of Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast UK BT7 1NN.
The 7th International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe
Meso 2005 will explore many of the issues pertinent to the study of prehistoric hunter-gatherer-fishers. As well as providing a forum for discussion, it is designed to inform the audience of the many new developments in the evidence for the Mesolithic period in Europe. Papers will address the following themes: Transitions; Understanding the social context; Environmental studies; Mobility: meaning, expression, recognition; Moving to new lands; Dwelling and settlement; Confronting the individual; Understanding Mesolithic technology; Islands: life on the edge?; Flint alternatives; Ritual in context; Regional identities; and Current research.
Fieldtrips will include an optional pre-conference trip to the Irish midlands, two half-day trips during and as part of the conference to Strangford Lough, County Down, and the East Antrim coast, and an optional post-conference trip to the Bann valley, north Antrim and Derry, and County Donegal. This is an excellent opportunity to join in and discuss the most recent research. It is not too late to present papers, though the organisers would welcome information on potential papers as soon as possible. For further details and booking please access the website on: www.ulstermuseum.com/meso2005/
St Kilda is a group of small islands of volcanic origin, forty miles off the west coast of the Western Isles of Scotland. The best-known are Hirta – the largest and only seriously habitable one – and Soay, the eponymous and earliest known habitat of the famous primitive sheep. PAST readers may be familiar with Tom Steel’s highly readable The Life and Death of St Kilda, first published in 1965 and still in print. Because of the relative inaccessibility of these islands, and the apparent exoticism of a traditional economy which involved scaling some of the highest cliffs and rock stacks in Britain to harvest sea-birds and their eggs, historical commentators have either treated St Kilda as a law unto itself or decided that the archipelago is best ignored. Prehistorians have taken much the same approach. St Kilda’s prehistory gets no mention in Ian Armit’s Archaeology of Skye and the Western Isles (1996), for instance. By contrast, accounts which concentrate on these islands have tended to exclude the outside world, highlighting two features seen as difficult or impossible to parallel elsewhere – the remarkable group of ruined buildings in Gleann Mór, most famously the ‘Amazon’s House’, and the so-called ‘boat-shaped structures’ at Village Bay. So should we think of prehistoric St Kilda as an outpost of the Western Isles, or as a case of insular eccentricity, like Malta or Easter Island? The emerging truth is more intriguing.
Not long after joining a conservation work party in1994, I began to realise that the most obvious bits of Hirta’s prehistory were locked into mostly nineteenth century standing structures at Village Bay– most notably the famous cleits, the corbelled, turf-topped stone sheds used for drying and storing sea-birds and other vital commodities. Flaked stonetools, made of dolerite, stood out against the oatmeal-coloured granophyre of many Village Bay structures, and it was not hard to work out that they must have been quarried from outcrops below Mullach Sgar, on the western side of the bay; on this treeless island they must have been used mostly as hoe-blades. In the mid 1990s, Mark Edmonds and I carried out several fieldwork campaigns. At the quarry sites, we discovered a few rough-outs for flake tools, pockets of dolerite flakes, beach-derived boulders probably used as mauls, and beach pebbles probably used for knapping stone. It turned out that there were numerous old-looking quarries on the dolerite outcrop. The hoe-blades could be found in standing structures and stone piles all over the traditional settlement zone at Village Bay, and we came to believe that they were probably associated with the Tobar Childa field system, a cluster of rather irregular, primitive-looking field-banks recorded by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland in 1983-6. The best parallels for the hoe-blades were the ‘flaked stone bars’ found in Orkney and Shetland mostly on late Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, but sometimes in Iron Age contexts too. At St Kilda, a few hoe-blades were associated with the Iron Age souterrain at Village Bay, but to date them earlier than that we had to use argument, rather than direct evidence. It was open to critics to take a chronologically minimalist view, and even to suggest that on this self-evidently ‘remote’ and ‘marginal’ archipelago, stone tools might have been made and used in relatively recent times.
In 2003, I went back to check on other objects of archaeological interest in the old walls at Village Bay; in 2004, I took Ann Clarke, the expert on the coarse stone tools of the Northern Isles, with me. As I had expected, she soon felt herself to be on familiar territory. For past inhabitants of Hirta used beach cobbles (mostly of dolerite) to make ‘pounder-grinders’ just like the ones in the Northern Isles.These are of various sizes and weights, fit beautifully in the hand, and show use-wear on one or both ends. Ovoid or near-circular plano-convex flakes were knocked off beach pebbles, and became Skaill knives (named after the bay beside Skara Brae); there are also a few primitive flaked cobbles, also a type known from Orkney and Shetland. A hundred years ago, trough-querns could be seen on Hirta; they were probably genuine antiquities, once probably used with the pounder-grinders – mortars to go with the pestles. But most trough-querns were evidently sold to tourists or taken away by trawlermen; in 2004, we were very lucky to discover a broken survivor. Beach cobbles of varying size, quite a few displaying impact damage, are to be found all over Village Bay. It is hard to prove that they were used in prehistoric times; however, their wide distribution, especially that of the large ones, suggests that they relate to a pattern of dispersed settlement.
We have also found fire-cracked stones, originally beach pebbles. They create a general ‘background noise’ all over the Village Bay search zone; like the smaller beach pebbles, many of them could have been moved around in baskets of compost in recent times. However, there are also a couple of ‘hotspots’, zones of much higher density – one near the souterrain and another further south, intensifying at the point where the main ‘consumption dyke’ rides over a sizeable mound. So Hirta probably contained burnt mounds – a phenomenon much better known on the Northern Isles, including the small, treeless Fair Isle, than on the Western Isles.
Exciting though it is to find the remains of a substantial pre-Iron Age cultural horizon by searching standing structures, in 2004 it became clear that our finds are merely the tip of a rather large iceberg. In this year, Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division did a deturfing exercise around the souterrain, in an attempt to clarify some aspects of old and unpublished excavations. Even at these mostly surface levels,there were hoe-blades and pounder-grinders galore, and wheelbarrow loads of fire-cracked stones; probably all these things were ‘residual’, for the most part dating from times before the souterrain was constructed. Although naturally many questions remain, the earlier prehistory of St Kilda no longer sits in a pigeon-hole labelled nebulous, irrelevant, or eccentric; Britain’s most remote speck of habitable land has been brought within the fold of orthodox north Scottish prehistory (if one may use such an expression!). We have grown accustomed to thinking about cultural similarities between the Northern and the Western Isles in the time of Iron Age brochs and wheel-houses. However, prehistorians have not got very excited about the relatively tenuous connections between these island groups in much earlier, Neolithic times – certain similarities among megalithic tombs and the presence of Unstan Ware in the Western Isles. With the identification of a substantial pre-Iron Age prehistory on Hirta, with recognisably Northern Isles linkages going back to the Bronze Age if not the later Neolithic, not only do we have something solid to put into a chronological gap; it is time to acknowledge more forcefully the sheer antiquity of traditions of competent boat construction and sea-knowledge around some of Britain’s wildest seas. It may be a cliché, but the saying about the sea being a highway, not a barrier, seems all too true.
In 1999, two metal-detectorists searching illegally made a discovery on a hill called the Mittelberg by the River Unstrut, just west of a village called Nebrain the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt. Their find was passed among various middlemen and dealers then offered for sale to museums. After it came to the attention of Dr Harald Meller, the State Archaeologist for Sachsen-Anhalt, it was recovered by a police sting in a hotel in Basel and became part of the rich collection of the Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte in Halle. The Nebra find of bronze objects, some with gold ornament, consists of two swords, two axes, a chisel, two spiral armrings – all characteristic of the end of the Early Bronze Age in central Europe around 1600BC, a date supported by radiocarbon determination from birch bark in the hilt of one of the swords – and a unique object known as the sky-disc (illustrated here courtesy of Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt; photograph by Juraj Lipták).
The sky-disc is 32 cm in diameter, of low-tin bronze with inlaid gold ornament. Although dated by its association with them, the disc is thought to be somewhat older than the other objects with which it was buried because it shows four separate stages of work, the intervals between which are not known. In its original form the bronze disc, hammered out from a casting, was decorated in gold with a larger circle and a crescent and numerous smaller circles.Two gold bands were subsequently fixed around the edge of the disc, covering two of the small circles and displacing a third. Then another curved band of gold was fixed in one of the spaces between the ends of those two bands. In the fourth stage, perforations were made around the rim of the disc. One of the gold bands was lost in antiquity and the disc suffered modern damage - mainly from the detectorists who used a hammer to remove it from the ground.
The larger gold circle and crescent are interpreted as the full moon (or the sun) and crescent moon, the smaller circles as stars: the compact group of seven smaller circles could represent the Pleiades. The two bands round the edge of the disc are thought to represent the horizons and to be aligned with the positions of sunset and sunrise seen from the Mittelberg at the winter and summer solstices respectively. The third band may be a symbolic boat taking the sun on its nightly journey over the heavenly ocean in accordance with an interpretation of the boats shown on many objects from the Nordic Bronze Age. The Nebra disc is thus believed to be the earliest depiction of the night sky known anywhere in the world and so an object of the utmost importance.
While there was no doubt about the other objects, the unique disc required careful study to verify its authenticity. All its materials and techniques were known in Bronze Age Europe. The disc did not show the radioactivity that remains in metal for about a hundred years after smelting, so it is not modern; its surface corrosion is ancient and not a modern simulation. The composition of its copper indicated that this came from the same source as the other bronzes, probably in the eastern Alps.
After the metal-detectorists were apprehended they revealed the location of the find, which has been excavated to verify that the objects recovered had been deposited there as a hoard. The site is already a tourist attraction. No trace of permanent occupation has been found on the Mittelberg, or any other material from the Early Bronze Age.
The discovery has generated huge public interest. Following conservation and study, the sky-disc formed the centrepiece of a wonderful exhibition in Halle – visited by 130,000 people by the end of February. The curators chose discerningly not only the obvious exhibits related directly to the sky-disc, which was displayed beside the Trundholm sun chariot, but also an instructive selection of material representing the Early Bronze Age throughout Europe – including the classic Wessex grave-group from the Bush Barrow, a hoard of decorated axes from Bunrannoch in Perthshire and sheet-gold discs from Ireland. The exhibition continues in Halle until 22 May (http://www.archlsa.de/). The Nebra disc will then go on to Copenhagen, Mannheim and Vienna, but will sadly not come to Britain.
In February, the Nebra sky-disc was celebrated by an international conference of truly Wagnerian proportions, which included contributions from Mike Parker Pearson, Marie-Louise Sørensen, Anthony Harding and your correspondent. A bracing visit to the snow-covered findspot provided welcome relief from the darkened lecture theatre! The proceedings of this conference are due to appear within a year and a bilingual German/English monograph containing the full report on the disc will be published in spring 2006. Meanwhile, information is available on the Internet at www.himmelsscheibe.de and a beautifully illustrated companion volume to the exhibition, Die geschmiedete Himmel edited by Harald Meller (Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart), is available from Oxbow Books.
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