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



Shanti Pappu reports on important finds of Acheulian tools and animal footprints at Attirampakkam, India.

          In the summer of 1863, deep in the heart of South India, the British geologist, Robert Bruce Foote, made a spectacular discovery. This was of a stone tool; the first in the Subcontinent to be conclusively identified. The discovery overturned concepts of human antiquity in India and paved the away for new avenues of research. Soon after, in the basin of the river Kortallayar, Foote and his colleague, William King, documented hundreds of stone tools eroding out of laterites in dry gully beds, near the tiny hamlet of Attirampakkam, 60 km northwest of the city of Chennai (Madras). Struck by the abundance of tools and their extreme freshness, they debated on past 'human' and natural factors which could have led to the concentration of artefacts at this site. More than a century later, these questions remain equally relevant. Our ongoing excavations at this site aim at addressing issues related to the age and nature of hominid occupation, in relation to changing Pleistocene environments.
          In the 1930's, scholars working in this river basin, identified a sequence of four river terraces with associated 'evolving' archaeological cultures. This scheme drawing on similar models developed in the river valleys of France and England, dominated Indian Palaeolithic research for more than half a century. Over the last decade, new developments in archaeological theory and methodology were increasingly influencing Indian prehistorians. In Pakistan, similar sequences of river terraces and cultures, developed earlier, were being proved wrong (Rendell et al. 1989). It was thought necessary to reinvestigate the Kortallayar basin, (Pappu 1996, 1997) with a multidisciplinary approach aimed at understanding hominid settlement strategies and Quaternary environments. Within an area of 200 sq km, an 'off-site' approach was adopted with Lower and Middle Palaeolithic assemblages being mapped across the landscape. The river basin, bounded by the hills on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, yielded evidence of numerous Lower and Middle Palaeolithic sites. Studies of the Quaternary deposits, revealed that although terraces existed, they did not in any way correspond to sequences built up earlier. Instead, a complex picture emerged of weathering of older deposits and their transport across the landscape via sheet and stream flood and stream channel processes. Lower to Middle Palaeolithic sites occur in caves, and in deposits of laterites and ferruginous gravels. Studies of site formation processes aided in identifying sites in different sedimentary contexts and helped in isolating well-preserved sites (Pappu 1999), suitable for further study. Variability in site size, artefact density and assemblage composition at different sites was revealed, and alternate models of hominid settlement patterns were built up from ecological and ethnographic studies. One hypothesis put forward was the possible dry season congregation of hominids from sites like Attirampakkam, situated near the river, to the hills during the wet season.
          These preliminary studies led to the choice of the site of Attirampakkam for excavation. The high density of tools, their extreme freshness and occurrence in low energy deposits all pointed to a well-preserved site. Preliminary test pits (2 x 2 m) were sunk in 1999 and a 5 x 5 m trench excavated in 2000. Results were startling and have added new dimensions to the Indian Palaeolithic record. Previous excavations at the site (1966-67), noted Acheulian artefacts in a layer of lateritic gravel. Our test pit also revealed a lateritic gravel with Late Acheulian to Middle Palaeolithic artefacts. However, underlying the gravel, we came across a deposit of clay, earlier considered to be pre-Pleistocene, and thus of little archaeological interest. We took a decision to investigate the clay; and to our surprise discovered more than 240 Acheulian tools extending from depths of 3 m to 6.90 m. These included, amongst others, handaxes, cleavers, borers, scrapers, knives, debitage and cores. Five pieces belonging to two artefacts were conjoinable. The possibility that tools were sinking into this compact clay was examined, although the absence of pebbles, size sorting of tools, and the presence of horizontally-aligned tools tends to render this improbable. No other comparable situation or context exists in the Indian Palaeolithic record. Prof. M. Taieb, Directeur de Recherches at the CEREGE, Aix-Marseille, France), and Dr. Y. Gunnell, Senior Lecturer at the Université Denis-Diderot (Paris, France) are currently directing the study of samples for palaeomagnetic measurements and a mineralogical and geochemical characterisation of these laminated clay beds. These studies will aid in obtaining a better understanding of the age and nature of these clays.
Excavations at Attirampakkam
Excavations at Attirampakkam
Acheulian tools found at the site
Acheulian tools found at the site
Acheulian tools found at the site

          This season's excavation threw up new surprises. On exposing the surface of the clay, at the point where it lies in direct contact with the overlying lateritic gravel, 17 round (roughly 15-20 cm diameter) animal footprints, and five hoof marks were revealed. Five footprints were carefully removed for further study and identification of the species; and the remaining surface has been preserved. These are associated with the Acheulian and are the first of their kind in the Subcontinent, placing the site on par with the small body of sites in Africa and Europe yielding evidence of footprints. These, along with the recovery of four fossil faunal teeth, assume greater importance when considering the paucity of data for palaeoenvironmental studies in India.
          Attirampakkam is unique in the Indian Palaeolithic context and has raised problems encompassing the nature of hominid activities, local and regional environments, the nature of the Lower to the Middle Palaeolithic transition and the age of the Indian Acheulian. It is perhaps fitting to recall the words of Robert Bruce Foote, who observed, more than a century ago, that questions relating to this site '... were more easily proposed than solved..'

Shanti Pappu,
Sharma Centre for Heritage Education,
Pune office: Flat No. 2, Vasundhara Apartment, Kasturba Housing Society, Vishrantwadi, Pune 411015

Foote, R.B. 1866. On the Occurrence of Stone Implements in Lateritic Formations in Various Parts of the Madras and North Arcot Districts. Madras Journal of Literature and Science, 3rd series, part 11:1-35.
Pappu, S. 1996. Reinvestigation of the Prehistoric Archaeological Record in the Kortallayar Basin, Tamil Nadu, Man and Environment XXI:1-23.
Pappu, S. 1997. Pleistocene Environments and Stone Age Adaptations in the Kortallayar Basin, Tamil Nadu. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Poona.
Pappu, S. 1999. A Study of Natural Site Formation Processes in the Kortallayar Basin, Tamil Nadu. South India, Geoarchaeology, An International Journal 14(2): 127-150
Rendell, H.M., R. Dennel and M.A. Halim. 1989. Pleistocene and Palaeolithic Investigations in the Soan Valley, Northern Pakistan. Oxford: BAR. International Series 544

These recent discoveries were made with the aid of a grant from the Society


Fig 1.
Fig 1. Distribution map of the Mesolithic sites so far discovered in the surroundings of Thari, Pakistan: 1) salt lakes, 2) limit of the sand dunes, 3) Mesolithic sites (drawn by P.Biagi)
         Preliminary surveys carried out in the surroundings of the town of Thari, in the Thar Desert by members of the "Joint Rohri Hills Project", have revealed the presence of Mesolithic, early Holocene, stations on the top of the sand dunes bordering the salt lakes that characterise the region (fig. 1). The first discovery of a Mesolithic site in the area was made in March 1995, when a rich lithic assemblage, including trapezoidal arrowheads, was collected from the surface of a fixed dune facing the lake of Sain Sim (LS1). An assemblage of 462 artefacts made from Rohri Hills flint. It was collected from close to the top of the southern slope of a sand dune facing the lake. Pieces were scattered over a surface of some 2000 square metres.
          The surveys carried out in January 1999 along the shores of lake Lunwaro Sim (fig. 2) led to the discovery of another Mesolithic site located on the top of the south-western dune that delimits the basin to the south (LS2). Its co-ordinates are 27º01'30" Lat. N. and 68º39'12" Long. E. The assemblage collected from the surface includes a few geometric microliths, among which are a backed blade and truncation, a probable lunate, a truncated bladelet and two microburins. The flint assemblage comes from the top of a stabilized dune some 13 m high, while the present surface of the lake basin lies some 10 metres below the sea level. Along the eastern shore of the lake, a sand terrace was observed 1 metre above the present shoreline in the exact location of 27º02'02" Lat. N. and 68º40'00" Long. E. Several freshwater molluscs belonging to the species Parreysia triembolus (Benson) were collected from the top of this terrace indicating the presence of an ancient shoreline. A sample of these bivalves was submitted for radiocarbon dating to the University of Groningen. They produced a result of 2460±50 BP (GrN-24967). Even though this date needs to be corrected for the reservoir effect, and the reservoir effect for the area is absolutely unknown, it is interesting to observe that the lake table has most probably fluctuated through time and that other samples are to be collected and dated in order to understand the variations in the extension of the lake basin in historic and prehistoric times.
         The above-mentioned locations are very similar to that recorded at Pir Nago. Here, along the southern sand dune cordon that delimits the eastern side of the lake, a flint assemblage was collected in January 2000. This assemblage is composed of 128 artefacts flaked from Rohri Hills flint. Among these are one microbladelet core, one microbladelet with abrupt retouch along the left side, one fragmented backed point with abrupt retouch on the left side and one probable pièce écaillée on a corticated flakelet.
          Two more scatters of flint have been discovered along the same dune some 300 metres north of PN1. They both yielded very poor flint industries, even though one of them, PN2, might be ascribed to the Mesolithic because of the presence of a discoid microflakelet core. Nevertheless more intensive surveys are necessary to define the cultural attribution of these latter assemblages.
          Along the north eastern edge of the lake, on a terrace lying between 3 and 4 metres above the present shoreline a concentration of freshwater molluscs has been collected to be identified and then radiocarbon dated in order to define the age of this shoreline.
Fig 2.
Fig. 2 - The salt basin of Lunwâro Sim from the top of the south-western dune where the Mesolithic assemblage was found (photograph by P. Biagi)

          The last lake to be summarily surveyed in February 2000 is that of Jamal Shah Sim, some 8.5 km northeast of Thari. A very quick visit to the eastern shores of this lake has demonstrated that also the last Mesolithic hunter-gatherers have settled this basin. A rich station has been discovered along the eastern shore of the lake along the slope of a fossil dune covered with kankar, a cemented crust of sand grains. This pedological situation is identical to that recorded for some Mesolithic sites of the Thar Desert of Rajastan. It is further proof that the sand dunes were already stabilized by the beginning of the Holocene, when the last hunter-gatherers settled in the region. As already suggested, the sand dunes that surround it were undoubtedly stabilized after 9250 BP. Given the short time at our disposal most of the finds have been left in situ for future research.
          The research currently in progress since 1993 in the Rohri Hills and their surrounding desert region has demonstrated the existence of Mesolithic assemblages of microlithic character in the lake territory around the town of Thari, in the Thar Desert. It is interesting to note that until a few years ago it was suggested that Mesolithic sites in the lower Indus Valley of Sindh, had completely disappeared, buried by a thick alluvium cover. This opinion had most probably been expressed because of the lack of evidence of microlithic industries in the Rohri Hills of Upper Sindh, that are rightly supposed to be one of the most important raw material sources of flint exploited in different periods of prehistory.
          Even though none of the Pakistani Mesolithic sites have so far yielded organic material suitable for radiocarbon dating, it is very probable that these flint industries represent different periods in the development of the Mesolithic of the lower Indus Valley. At present their detailed chronology is difficult to assess given the uncertainty and variability of the available 14C dates from the neighbouring Indian sites. It is most probable that the Mesolithic assemblages discovered in Sindh, characterized by various types of geometrical tools, are not chronologically contemporaneous; on the contrary they might indicate different periods of settlement by the last hunter-gatherers who inhabited the region around the beginning of the Holocene.

Paolo Biagi


One of the largest excavations ever undertaken in Scotland is reported below.


         Between May and December 2000 a programme of evaluation and excavation ahead of a 35 ha housing development revealed an extensive set of archaeological features ranging from a possible Neolithic barrow to over 120 Roman ovens. The excavations at Forest Road, Kintore, Aberdeenshire stripped an area of 9 ha, and represented one of the largest excavations ever undertaken in Scotland. The development area covered roughly the central quarter of Deer's Den a 44 ha Roman marching camp thought to relate to Agricola's campaign. The village of Kintore lies roughly in the eastern half of this substantial camp. The marching camp's ditch and bank had been upstanding until the middle of the 19th century but are now only visible as a cropmark. Prior to these works the only other known site in the development area was the cropmark of a possible round-house.
          The evaluation works revealed a greater density of both features and artefacts than would have been expected from either a marching camp or a plough-truncated landscape. The reasons for this are two fold: firstly a greater proportion of the camp's interior was stripped than normal and secondly a considerable amount of topsoil appears to have accumulated on the northern portion of the site leading to pockets of better preservation. This led to the survival of the possible barrow to a height of around 0.7 m. The post-excavation programme is about to start, however, it is possible to make a few introductory observations on the field results. It is clear that several broad periods of activity are present on the site: Early Prehistoric, Later Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval/Post-Medieval. The Early Prehistoric activity was dominated by Neolithic material and includes the usual variety of pits containing Grooved Ware, polished stone axes (at least five were recovered), and flint tools. However, there were also less common features, for example two shallow sub-rectilinear pits, measuring approximately 3m wide by 1.5 m long, which each contained dozens of Neolithic pottery sherds. These pits may be eroded hollows formed within structures, but there were no extant associated structural remains to confirm this.
Kintore: barrow under excavation
          The excavation also identified an artificial mound defined by a rectilinear segmented ditch, from which late Neolithic pottery was recovered. The eastern end of the barrow had been truncated by a 19th century quarry but the extant section was approximately 44 m long by 9 m wide and up to 0.7 m high. The barrow had been modified on at least three occasions, but it is hoped the full sequence will be elucidated during post-excavation work.
          In addition to the above, an inhumation within a large pit appeared to have also contained some kind of organic 'box' which held both a flint scraper and a Beaker. Based on the size of the capstone the box is assumed to have measured approximately 1 m long by 0.5 m wide and had a pebble floor. Over time the organic structure rotted away and the capstone fell and crushed the Beaker.
Kintore: polished axes
            The Later Prehistoric activity is dominated by two clusters of ring-ditch houses (a timber round-house with a gully or series of gullies within the interior). The first cluster of eight occupies a slight raised terrace immediately to the south of the barrow, the second group of three houses is located some 250 m further south.
          Around a dozen other round-houses have been identified, but these comprise post-rings; they are not as well preserved and may belong to a different period. The ring-ditch houses are between 6-8 m in diameter. The finds recovered from them are dominated by saddle querns - no rotary querns were recovered at all.
          While the primary aim of the post-excavation works will be to determine if these houses are successive or contemporary, the ring-ditches demonstrate considerable variation in the nature and quantity of the finds recovered from them. For example, one or two of the ring ditches contained over a dozen saddle querns (the majority of which were placed face down) and rubbing stones, while others contained only one or two. There are also highly variable amounts of charcoal in the ring-ditches; while some have relatively little others contain structural timbers such as planking or wicker work. This may indicate that some structures were burnt down, although some burnt structures contained artefacts while others did not. This may possibly suggest both deliberate and accidental destruction of houses. These various differences appear to indicate alternative processes of abandonment of the ring-ditch houses, but more detailed comment is impossible at present.
         Approximately the centre quarter of the marching camp was excavated, which covered a 260 m stretch of the southern ditch including the south west corner. While no entrance was found in the south (immediately to the south lies Rollo Mire, a bog), the ditch did contain a gap which respected the course of a now dried-up stream. The ditch was U shaped and had an ankle breaker at its base, possibly indicating a re-cut. Only one artefact was recovered from the ditch: a blue melon bead. Within the interior of the camp over 120 bi-partite 'ovens' (ie figure-of-8 shaped pits, filled with charcoal and ash) were excavated. These ranged in size from 0.5 m wide by 1 m long to 1.5 m wide and 3 m long. In addition to these ovens there were a limited series of small sub-rectangular pits measuring on average 0.6 m long and 0.4m wide, and up to 0.5m deep. A considerable variety of Roman material was recovered from the features including shoe tacks, barrel hoops, a finger ring, numerous nails, the remains of two carbonised bowls and two possible iron ingots.
There was also a limited range of Medieval and Post-Medieval activity, which appears to be connected with agricultural processing of some sort. However, prior to the completion of the post-excavation works more detailed comments are not possible.
          In conclusion the large scale nature of the excavation works at Kintore has allowed a considerably more in-depth look at what are staples of contract archaeology: Roman marching camps and plough truncated round-houses. While at present interpretation is limited by the lack of post- excavation works it is to be hoped that these works will offer considerably more insight into the nature of the activity on site.

Murray Cook
AOC Archaeology Group


Excavation and, more unusually, Educational Packs are planned for this site.


         An enclosure comprising three oval ditches identified as a cropmark site at Braehead, Glasgow; the location of a large modern shopping and commercial complex. The site lies on a low, hardly discernible sandy knoll on the floodplain of the river Clyde. The site is threatened by further commercial development and was therefore subjected to an archaeological evaluation carried out by AOC Archaeology Group in April to May 2000.
          The evaluation revealed an enclosure measuring 76 m x 60 m with three severely truncated oval ditches and a series of associated palisades including wattle fencing. The entrance faced the east, presumably protecting the interior from the prevailing northwest and westerly winds. One extremely degraded fragment of wood was recovered from the northern outer ditch, but no other waterlogged organic remains were encountered. Within the interior were a probable ring-ditch house, a post-slot structure and numerous post-holes indicative of other domestic or ancillary structures. Only one artefact, a spherical slate disc was recovered from the fill of the northern outer ditch terminal.
          A similar oval ditched enclosure, measuring about 42 m x 36 m, located a few hundred metres to the west, was excavated in the 1970s. Waterlogged material from the base of the V-shaped ditch dated the feature to 1930±140 BP (SRR-576) and 1640±80 BP (SRR-577). It is possible that the Braehead enclosure is similar in date, although given its form and the apparent multiple-phasing of the various palisades its inception may even possibly lie within the late Bronze Age.
          Given the poor state of preservation of the site it has been agreed between the developers, Glasgow Council and Historic Scotland that the site should be fully excavated. The excavation is due to start May 2001 and to continue for 10 to 12 weeks. This includes the production of a comprehensive public participation package, designed to attract a broad spectrum including the public, local schools and local societies. The focus of the public participation package is an on-site exhibition that will run for the duration of the excavation. The exhibition will be staffed by a qualified archaeologist who will also lead tours of the site from an elevated viewing platform.
          An education pack designed in line with current 5-14 curriculum guidelines has been produced and is available to download from AOC Archaeology's web-site, It will enable pupils to develop the skill strands of planning, recording, interpreting, presenting and evaluating and well as develop informed attitudes to Scotland's cultural heritage and its preservation. At the end of the exhibition children will be encouraged to enter a competition to guess the age of the site. Furthermore pupils will be able to achieve a greater understanding of field archaeology by using the on-site simulated excavation zone, located within arms reach of the 'real' archaeologists.
          Continued participation and interest in the excavation will be encouraged through free access, the use of volunteers and a weekly updated diary page on the AOC Archaeology's web-site. The site will be open to the public at weekends and by appointment during the week.

Clare Ellis


Prehistoric Society members are asked to help a study of erosion at this site.
Nine Ladies
Nine Ladies stone circle, showing the erosion a few years after the removal of the Victorian wall.
         The Nine Ladies stone-circle on Stanton Moor, Derbyshire, has been suffering serious problems of erosion in recent years, largely due to the increasing number of visitors trampling among the orthostats, but partly caused by vandalism. Trent & Peak Archaeological Unit (working on behalf of English Heritage and in conjunction with the Peak District National Park Authority) has been compiling data to illustrate the rate of erosion in the hope of defining its causes more closely and thereby arriving at some means of managing the problem more effectively (see Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 119 (1999), 288-90). As a result, there are plentiful photographs (in addition to metrical records) for the period since the late-1980s, but far fewer to help in understanding the patterns of wear that may have been inflicted upon the monument before then. Many prehistorians will have walked over Stanton Moor at various times during the 20th century, and many will have been armed with a camera. So this note is by way of an appeal to members of the Prehistoric Society to aid attempts to preserve Nine Ladies, by dipping into their personal archives and letting us know of any photographs they own that might be informative. We are particularly interested to see photographs of either the stone-circle or the outlying orthostat (the 'King') before 1985, when Victorian walls, built to encompass the circle and the outlier separately, were demolished. A few published photographs include the wall around the circle (e.g. Archaeological Journal 123 (1966), pl. I.A), but none, so far as we are aware, depict the wall around the King. Your photographs that include either wall, or indeed those taken immediately after their demolition, would be especially welcome.

Graeme Guilbert
T&PAU, Archaeology Dept, University of Nottingham,
NG7 2RD.


In the December issue of PAST, there was an interesting report of the investigations of prehistoric settlements and social organisation in the Lesser Antilles. This stimulated a French reader to offer information on another Caribbean site since they participated in the fieldwork in 2000.


         Dominique Bonnissent has conducted a large exploration of the site of "Hope Estate" on the Island of St-Martin from 1997 until last year. This Saladoïd inland settlement is located in the north-east part of the island. A topographical survey of the whole site has revealed the spatial organisation of the settlement. The oval dwelling area has post holes and pits containing abundant ceramics and burials. The midden material was deposited on the peripheral belt of this surface and 14C dates indicate a chronological occupation from 500 BC to 700 AD. A first stratified level belongs to the Huecan-Saladoïd period followed by a major Cedrosan-Saladoïd occupation. Environmental and sediment analyses are underway on samples issued from well-stratified, but complex, levels. Studies on the botanical and faunal assemblages (vertebrate and invertebrate, mollusc etc.) are part of the research. The project is supported by the Ministère de la Culture (DRAC Guadeloupe) and by the local archaeological association (AAHE) with the collaboration of undergraduates and specialists belonging to various universities and laboratories (Institut du Quaternaire à Bordeaux; Institut de Botanique à Montpellier, URA 1415 CNRS; Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville, etc.). In 2000, as part of the research program on Saint-Martin, an evaluation was conducted by Dominique Bonnissent on a post-Saladoïd site, Baie aux Prunes, on the western coast and two others were rescued at Baie Orientale. The first one (preceramic, dated between 800 and 400 BC) offers evidence of several camping places where all sort of activities were performed: sea-shell consumption, working of volcanic stone and shell tools. The second site, post-Saladoïd, consists of midden deposits with abundant artefacts. In 2001 evaluations will be conducted by D. Bonnissent on four other Amerindian sites whose existence has been demonstrated by preliminary surveys. The research aims to obtain evidence of the phases of human occupation of the island of Saint-Martin and thus indirectly of the whole of the Lesser Antilles.

Claude Burnez





         The central aim of the project is to examine and quantify the physical and chemical impact of bracken rhizomes on sensitive archaeological deposits. Much of Dartmoor's rich archaeological landscape is often perceived as being generally stable, with only occasional damage as a result of visitor or agricultural pressures. The picture is however, probably much more complex, and in particular, work carried out by botanists indicates that bracken is causing both physical and chemical damage to the areas which it colonises. The impact of the plant on underlying geology and geomorphology is now being appreciated, whilst in Scotland, work at Lairg has indicated the often considerable physical impact of the rhizomes on archaeological deposits. Bracken establishes itself on relatively well drained ground and on Dartmoor this often coincides with archaeological remains, which means that large numbers are seasonally obscured, and the clearance of the plant could be justified on aesthetic grounds alone. The potential problem is however possibly much greater than the inconvenience of being denied access and past work has suggested that the archaeological information held within each site maybe being severely compromised or even destroyed. Given the nature of this threat to such an important archaeological resource it is clearly of paramount importance that the scale of the problem be assessed and quantified. The central aim of the Dartmoor Archaeology and Bracken Project is to accurately quantify the scale of the problem and establish the precise nature of the impact on archaeological remains.
          Only excavation could provide the answers and after a long search, a prehistoric round house near Kes Tor was selected for examination. The house forms part of an extensive and well preserved prehistoric field system and measures 8.9 m in diameter. The walls of the house are composed of huge granite orthostats and this gives the site a robust appearance. This is confirmed by its survival through at least one period of historic field building and later afforestation. The interior of the building is, however infested with bracken and it is suspected that the associated rhizomes are causing considerable unseen damage. Research to date indicates that the bracken infestation is just over 20 years old, making it possible to examine the impact of the plant over a relatively short period of time.


         Two seasons of excavation, each lasting two weeks have so far been completed. Immediately prior to the excavation, a detailed survey of the bracken plants growing within the building was carried out. This survey recorded the position of each bracken stipe (stem) and information concerning the height and number of fronds. This information is being used to demonstrate the character of the correlation between the varying density of plants visible at the surface with the character of underlying damage caused by the rhizomes. Superficial examination of the results indicates that there is a considerable variation in both the density of plants and their heights. In particular, it was observed that the areas adjacent to the large orthostats generally contained both the greatest density and tallest plants. A total of 2,291 bracken plants were recorded with over 62% of the plants being between 1.3 m and 1.8 m high, with the smallest being 0.2 m high and the largest standing up to 2.3 m.

The rhizome mat
The rhizome mat adjacent to the house wall

Trench 2
The rhizomes encountered in trench 2: the impact on the archaeological stratigraphy is considerable


         Our work so far has generated a number of thought-provoking statistics and resulting ideas which highlight the likely magnitude of bracken impact on archaeological deposits. These are presented below in no particular order, but taken together emphasize the threat posed to archaeological sites by bracken.

1. A total of 2,291 bracken plants were growing within the interior of the house which measures 62.18 m2 in area. This represents an average of 36.84 plants per m2. Each of these plants grows from the underlying rhizome mat displacing all deposits which it encounters. Therefore each year about 733.51 cm3 of material within each square metre equivalent to 45,609 cm3 within the entire building is moved in this way. Assuming the same density of growth over a period of 20 years a total of 912,193 cm3 would be displaced by stipe growth alone. It would therefore take at least 164 years for all of the soil to be moved. This figure may make it seem that there is no immediate threat to archaeological deposits from this activity. However, displacement caused by annual growth of stipes is only a small part of the whole picture and the same statistic presented in a timescale which we can more easily appreciate is that unchecked, 10% of the deposits above the rhizome mat would be displaced within 16 years.

2. Within the rhizome mat itself, it is not currently possible to establish the level of damage which will occur in the future. It is however possible to establish a minimum level of displacement caused during the past 20 years. Within the parts of the upper rhizome mat examined an average of 8.3% of the soil has been displaced and in the areas most severely affected this figure rises to 23%. This level of damage is in addition to the damage caused by the stipes alone. Taken together the rhizome mat and stipes have in the past 20 years displaced over 20% of the archaeological deposits extending up to 0.26m below the surface.

3. Current damage caused by the rhizomes is not limited to the mat and the area affected by the stipes. Rhizomes were encountered at depth extending into and through the site of the prehistoric occupation surface. At this level an average of 1.5% of the current volume of deposits had been displaced by active rhizome activity with this figure rising to 5% in places. These figures may suggest that active damage to the archaeological deposits at this level is insignificant, but clear indications of much more extensive disturbance in the past indicate that this is cumulative.

4. Most archaeological deposits on Dartmoor are shallow and well within the reach of the rhizome mat uncovered. Clearly for this work to have a broader significance, further work will need to be carried out within a variety of structures in different topographical situations.

5. Much of the damage caused to prehistoric levels at this site appears to have been caused by previous bracken infestations. Bracken growing in the centuries immediately following abandonment would have taken less than 100 years to destroy the prehistoric occupation surfaces. This unwelcome conclusion may mean that a significant percentage of the currently infested and uninfested prehistoric sites have already been damaged to varying degrees.


         Current archaeological management strategies rightly favour the preservation of archaeological structures and deposits. Excavation is destructive and consequently many archaeologists consider it inappropriate to dig unthreatened sites. Dartmoor's archaeology is generally perceived as unthreatened and this probably in a large part explains why so few sites have been excavated in recent years. It is argued that the excavation and consequent destruction of sites should be left until our methods are as near perfect as possible and until then all our efforts should be extended to protecting the sites for future generations, who will undoubtedly have a range of available techniques which make ours seem primitive. This sentiment is one with which this writer wholeheartedly agrees, but at the same time we must be sure that the sites are truly stable and that we are not merely overseeing the gradual destruction of important evidence, which not even the most sophisticated of future techniques will be able to retrieve.
          Our excavation has confirmed that bracken destroys archaeological information. Within the current bracken rhizome mat, considerable damage is being caused by the 6.45 km of rhizomes, whilst within lower parts of the stratigraphy there is good evidence to suggest that a significant amount of information has been destroyed by one or more previous infestations. Much work remains to be completed before the precise character and varying extent of the damage caused by bracken rhizomes can be quantified.


The Prehistoric Society and The University of Sheffield Archaeology Society, February 2-3, 2001, Sheffield.


         Prehistoric warfare has become a hot topic in recent years. In the early days of archaeology the prehistoric past was perceived as an appallingly dangerous place, full of violence and savagery of all kinds. Over time, concepts of prehistoric warfare formalised into models of culture change based on invasion, displacement and colonisation. Since the demise of invasionist explanations, however, warfare has faded dramatically from archaeological accounts of the past, creating what Keeley (1996) has dubbed a 'pacified past', where violence and aggression were eerily, and rather unconvincingly, absent.
          A host of recent publications have begun to re-establish the importance of warfare and aggression in prehistoric societies (e.g. Keeley 1996, Carman 1997, Carman and Harding 1999, Osgood and Monks 2000), although there are wide differences in opinion over the scale, nature and ubiquity of pre- state conflict. Keeley's work, in particular, excites considerable debate, and it is a pity that it has not yet been subject to thorough discussion in print. The conference, organised by Mike Parker Pearson and Ash Lenton, was thus a useful chance to air some of the key issues that have emerged over the last few years.
          The conference began with a useful scene-setting presentation by Robert Layton on the various attempts to explain warfare from an evolutionary psychological perspective. Layton concludes that warfare was an emergent, rather than innate factor in human societies, thus its occurrence has to be seen as dependent on particular sets of circumstances. Pia Nystrom followed with an examination of aggression in non-human primates which highlighted some of the complexities which underlie popular accounts of 'chimp warfare'.
          John and Patricia Carman followed with a review of archaeological and anthropological approaches to the study of warfare, including some of the results from their ongoing 'Bloody Meadows' project, which focuses on documented battles. They presented an interesting case study on the Battle of Kadesh, where a Hittite army was routed by the Egyptians under Ramesses II, although both sides seemed to have bumbled around in a rather inefficient way. The aim was to show the formal, even ritualised, aspects of ancient battles, which contrast with the cold, rational analysis of conventional military historians. The point is an important one, although Kadesh was perhaps not the best illustration, reliant as it was on size estimates for the Hittite army provided by none other than the victorious Ramesses.
          Next came Chris Knüsel with an analysis of the well-publicised mass grave from the Battle of Towton (not exactly pre- or protohistoric, but with a site this good, who cares?). This was followed by Nick Thorpe on Mesolithic warfare, highlighting the wide geographical and chronological range of generally unambiguous evidence for organised aggression in prehistory. Roger Mercer then presented a careful consideration of the criteria available for the identification of warfare in prehistory, showing how these are all present in the British Neolithic. Indeed it is increasingly striking that the evidence for Neolithic warfare now tends to outweigh that for the Iron Age in Britain.
          Regional studies by Harry Fokkens and David Fontijn dealt usefully with the north European Bronze Age, while a comparable study of the Slovakian and Moravian Nitra culture was provided by Andreas Hårde. A detailed presentation of the Dutch MBA Wassenaar multiple burial by Leendert Louwe Kooijmans highlighted the way in which one-off finds can occasionally shatter our pre-conceptions; in this case of an apparently peaceful and largely undifferentiated society. This paper raised one of the few points of active disagreement when Chris Knüsel suggested that the disposition of some of the dead appeared to result from natural post-mortem processes rather than the careful arrangement of the bodies suggested by the excavator.
          Further emphasis on the potential impact of individual sites came from Richard Osgood, who opened Day 2 with an account of his re-excavation at Tormarton in south Gloucestershire (as aired on a recent Meet the Ancestors). The skeletal remains with embedded bronze spear-points, well-known since the late 1960s, can now perhaps be set in the context of a LBA boundary dispute which got rather out of hand (although, as Mike Parker Pearson suggested, the apparent disarticulation of some of the body parts from the recent excavations may be hard to reconcile with the single episode of aggression, death and deposition favoured by Osgood).
          Sue Bridgford's analysis of British and Irish LBA weaponry stressed the extent to which our understanding is limited by variable patterns of deposition. Bridgford believes that more or less every male in the period may have possessed a sword although only rarely will such items find their way into recoverable contexts. Melanie Giles' presentation on the Iron Age square-barrow cemeteries of East Yorkshire again highlighted the male associations of 'warrior' paraphernalia, setting these in opposition to an equally structured set of material associations associated with female burials.
          A particularly notable feature of the conference was the strong representation of Iberia, where there has been much recent emphasis on the study of prehistoric and protohistoric warfare. Papers by Jose Freire and Eduardo Sanchez-Moreno explored aspects of Iron Age warfare in western Iberia, highlighting the wealth of evidence for protohistoric violence in that region.
          Only two papers focussed explicitly on slavery. Miranda Green provided an overview of issues relating to the inter-linking concepts of slavery, ritual bondage and sacrifice during the later Iron Age of Europe. This was a useful counterpoint to the overall concentration on larger-scale warfare. Timothy Taylor concluded the conference with a thought-provoking paper stressing the sheer scale of slavery in prehistory (or at least its potential scale) and the implications that this must have for all aspects of our understanding of the period. His concluding piece on the well-known Viking-Rus sacrifice of a young servant girl at her master's ostentatious funeral provided an apt reminder of the appalling individual reality behind the often rather anonymous archaeological evidence for prehistoric violence.
          Several of the papers here, and much of the recent literature on the subject, have been concerned with establishing the extent of warfare and slavery at various times and places in pre- and protohistory. A very clear case has now been made that these aspects of the human past have been drastically underplayed by the last couple of generations of archaeologists. Perhaps the next step will be to assess the ways in which the reality or threat of physical violence impinged on wider processes of social change, and on the lives of individuals within past societies.
          Overall, this was an extremely well-organised conference with a balanced and engaging programme. The published proceedings should be well worth the attention of anyone with an interest in prehistoric warfare and associated themes.

lan Armit

Carman, J. 1997 Material Harm: Archaeological studies of war and violence, Cruithne Press: Glasgow.
Carman, J. and Harding, A. (eds) 1999 Ancient Warfare, Sutton: Stroud.
Keeley, L.H. 1996 War before Civilisation: the myth of the peaceful savage, New York: Oxford University Press.
Osgood, R. and Monks, S (with Toms, J.) 2000 Bronze Age Warfare, Sutton: Stroud.


As PAST goes to press the epidemic is still raging with devastating consequences.


         Few archaeologists involved in fieldwork of any description have escaped the knock-on effect of the Foot and Mouth outbreak. Contracts have been put on hold, dissertations redirected, incomes radically cut.
          As both an archaeologist and livestock farmer (we have some 2500 pigs and 650 sheep), plus helping run a small racing yard, my life has altered out of all recognition over the last few weeks. All those things one takes for granted have to be mulled over, the need for journeys justified. The vehicles reek of disinfectant, the horses cannot leave the yard.
          What has been really touching has been the concern expressed by colleagues in the archaeological world. To the many who have been in contact, not just with myself but with other landowners and farmers, a heartfelt thankyou. It is very hard on those archaeologists who rely on "the countryside" for their work and research but acting responsibly now will encourage landowners to grant permission for fieldwork in the future.
          One can only hope that by the time this is in print the worst will be over and that we will be able to get our lives back together and plan a fulfilling season's fieldwork.

Gill Swanton


Heaven and Hell and Other Worlds of the Dead, compiled and edited by Alison Sheridan. Edinburgh. National Museums of Scotland. ISBN 1-901663-41-8. Paperback, 168 pages, 126 illustrations.


         This volume from the National Museums of Scotland is a journey through the plethora of views of mortality, death and the afterlife from around the world, both past and present. Large colour photographs on almost every other page place the emphasis firmly on the material culture associated with various beliefs and practices, with commentary from 49 experts on or practitioners of these faiths, cults and religions showing that these items, far from being simply "museum-pieces", played and continue to play a vital role in the ways in which people come to terms with their own mortality and the mortality of others. Some periods in prehistory are dominated by funerary remains so this book, accompanying an exhibition, is a useful addition to the literature.
          The book is divided into six sections. The first five, deal with themes that are seen to be common to global responses to death through time: certain treatment of the body, notions of a 'journey' after death, possessions for use in the afterlife, notions of a world of the dead, and the role of the dead in the world of the living. Documented present and past practices and beliefs are juxtaposed with inferred archaeological ones, from manufacture of Ghanaian fantasy coffins to Urnfield cremation practices, from belief in Elvis as a holy prophet to the Chinese use of 'Otherworld Bank' cheque-books and credit-cards to bribe the judges in the courts of the afterworld.
         Although the practices of the world religions are covered in some depth, these are placed within their global context, with Fijian cannibalism shown simply as an alternative way of dealing with the body to Hindu cremation. And closer to home, an emphasis runs throughout the book on the peculiarly Scottish way of dealing with death and the dead. From Burke and Hare to lykewakes and the Scots diaspora of the past 350 years as witnessed on headstone inscriptions in Scottish graveyards, we see that rites and rituals from far-flung corners of the globe are no more bizarre than those practised at home.
          The final section, 'Here and Now', discusses the continuing hold that "the wish to know what happens 'on the other side' has on us, and presents the responses given to two questions various members of today's society: 'What do you believe happens after death?' and 'Do you live your life in a particular way with respect to this?'.
          Humanist, Pagan and agnostic voices stand alongside those of world religions showing that although there is no consensus with regards these questions, they have always and will always inspire faith, reason, dogma and wonder in all peoples.

Ben Roy



         PAST is happy to publicise conferences on this page. Please send details to the editor following the format below. If you want to use a PAST mailing to send out flyers please contact the editor for a quote.

Iron Age Research Student Seminar: 2.6.2001- 3.6.2001
The fourth Iron Age Research Student Seminar will provide a forum through which students can present papers in an informal atmosphere. This year the conference will be hosted by the Department of Archaeology, University of Durham. It is intended that the papers will primarily be presented by researchers engaged in existing MA/MSc and MPhil/PhD projects. However, the IARSS welcomes anybody who has an interest in current Iron Age research. On the second day, there will be an optional trip to the late Iron Age site at Stanwick, North Yorkshire. This is the first call for papers; each should last no more than twenty minutes. Poster presentations relating to ongoing research are also welcome. For further information, please see

Abstracts of approx. 500 words should be sent to

Department of Archaeology,
University of Durham,
South Road,
Durham, DH1 3LE

or emailed by 31st March 2001.

Engendering the Landscape (6th Women in Archaeology Conference), Australia: 8.7.01-10.7.01
This lively conference series is open to all genders and this year its focus is on landscape gender issues. Aboriginal landscape use and archaeological interpretations of gender in the landscape will both be covered. Further details available from

PO Box 3216,
Nerang Business Centre,
Nerang QLD 4211,

Sea Change: Orkney and Northern Europe in the Late Iron Age, Kirkwall: 6.9.2001-10.9.2001
The late Iron Age in Orkney represents a fascinating period of change from the time of massive Broch settlements at the start of the millennium to the early medieval Pictish Orkney which was overwhelmed by newcomers from Scandinavia in the late 8th century. The conference will feature new discoveries and theories and will include opportunities for participants to take part in study tours of Iron Age sites including Maehowe. There will also be a day of demonstration of Iron Age skills and public lectures in Stromness. Registration costs £90 (£80 before June 1st) or £40 unwaged. For details contact

Kate Towsey,
Orkney, KW17 2SS

tel 01856-731227

TAG 2001 (Theoretical Archaeology Group): 13.12.01-15.12.01
This year's TAG conference will be held at University College Dublin and will include sessions on migration in prehistory, sacred architecture, castles, public archaeology, figurines, landscapes, luscious lithics and neo-colonial pasts, among others. For further details, contact

TAG 2001,
Dept. of Archaeology,
Dublin 4,

Home Page The Prehistoric Society Home Page