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Studies in Northern Prehistory: essays in memory of Clare Fell, edited by P.J. Cherry
Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society: 2007; 288pp; figures not listed but c. 86; hb ISBN 1 873124 44 9. (£30)

Clare Fell’s name is well known to all involved in the archaeology of north-west England. She clearly inspired great affection as well as respect. The essays in this volume dedicated to her memory are as various as those in any festschrift. Some may best be described as personal (Aubrey Burl, Robert Bewley), some cover important topics of wide interest in the prehistory of northern England (Clive Bonsall on the late Mesolithic of the Cumbrian coast, Peter and James Cherry on finds of Yorkshire flint in Cumbria) and others present new research.

The volume begins with Kate Sharpe’s historical consideration of the role of women, and Clare Fell in particular, within local archaeological societies, focusing on the Cumberland & Westmorland. Thereafter there is a chronological progression from the Mesolithic to the Romano-British, with an entirely understandable concentration on the Neolithic. Unfortunately much of the book is beset by minor errors, infelicities and inconsistencies which should have been dealt with at editing or proof-reading; this applies to the illustrations as well as to the text. Given the purpose of the publication and the would-be high production values – art paper, hardback, quality binding – this is a pity. Terry Manby’s paper on Neolithic pottery is a case in point; it presents a valuable corpus that will be useful to future researchers but it reads like a rough draft still waiting to be edited.

The paper by Davis, Davis and Markham on the sourcing and dispersal of stone implements is also useful, though one suspects that it is in the nature of a ‘trail’ for the forthcoming technical paper that is referred to. Their first figure is adapted from a very badly scanned location map from an RCHME research report, with no indication that copyright permission has been sought – had it been, a better copy could have been supplied. More importantly, the authors misrepresent the work of Pearson and Topping who, while considering a possible Neolithic origin for the Carrock Fell enclosure, did not conclude that it was a henge or hengiform structure (p. 108); they tentatively suggested, rather, that it might have been a precursor to that group of monuments (2002, 126).

Mark Edmonds and Helen Evans present new fieldwork in an excellent example of just how much can be gained from study of what must have seemed, initially, to be a rather unprepossessing set of natural mounds and cairns on Sizergh Fell. My only slight criticism is a technical one: by their own account they carried out detailed survey (method and scale not given) of individual elements before undertaking control survey of the whole area (p 117-19) – this reversal of the survey principle of ‘working from the whole to the part’ runs the considerable risk of making life more difficult if errors arise. However, the paper contains useful discussion of the sequence, of parallels and of the close relation between natural and artificial features, noting that this has implications for management and conservation – ‘At a time when the conservation of landscape often creates a sharp divide between ecologists and archaeologists, these and similar deposits erode what may be an unhelpful line of demarcation’ (p. 137).

In a commendably brief essay Vin Davis and Jamie Quartermaine also describe the results of new research, in this case on previously undiscovered stone axe sources in the central fells. This is one of the better presented papers in the volume (it is to be hoped that the detailed maps are not abused by the unscrupulous thieves who like to fill their sheds with Neolithic stone-working debris).

Tom Clare considers ethnographic analogies for, and the phenomenology of, the Lake District axe production areas, referring explicitly to Clare Fell’s own use of ethnographic analogy in her work on this topic. (It is perhaps a little odd that he does not refer to Pete Topping’s work on this subject (2005; Topping and Lynott 2005), especially as he does refer to Cooney’s paper in the same publication. Another omission is Mark Edmonds’ book on Langdale (2004).) The exposition is elegant and the argument interesting but I cynically wonder whether, in relation to the phenomenological aspect, I detect the signs of somebody scrambling onto a bandwagon that is rapidly running away. In one respect in particular I have to question the author’s analysis: he suggests that, when seen from the south-east, the profile of the Langdales ‘is reminiscent of a hafted axe of the kind recovered from Ehenside and the Solway’ (p. 166); I find this less than convincing. It is the case, however, that Pike o’ Stickle looks like a steamed pudding.

In further discussion of fieldwork that has already been reported in the Proceedings of this Society and elsewhere (eg, 2004), Andrew Hoaen and Helen Loney look at agricultural practice in the Bronze Age through the study of cairnfields, arguing for a long period of economic and environmental stability in the settlement of upland Britain. The argument is attractive, and well made up to a point, but while one would not necessarily want to go back to the Burgess model that the authors argue against, there is no doubt that the period of equilibrium that they sketch was punctuated eventually, and the mechanism by which that happened does need to be explored. The evidence on which they base their argument is rather thin, or thinly presented. The authors make several references to ‘associations’ between archaeological features but it is not clear how robust these ‘associations’ are; they refer, for instance, to ‘small numbers of cairns associated with charcoal burners’ platforms’ (p. 200) but if they are ‘associated’ only by proximity then the association need not mean anything. The authors also argue that continuous activity over long periods at cairnfields ‘is suggested by their large size and accretional nature’ (p. 195); evidence of accretion would certainly be germane but large size absolutely cannot be assumed to be evidence of long duration – extensive areas of the Dalmatian landscape are covered by massive clearance cairns, much larger than anything seen in Britain, all made within a period of a few years in the later 19th century for vine growing which was then rapidly abandoned because of the migration of phyloxera.

Ben Edwards begins his account of excavations of the late 1970s at Pilling Moss with a lament that they were not published earlier, largely because of ‘the then lack of a suitable vehicle for their publication’ (p. 211); unfortunately the lack of a county archaeological journal for Lancashire is still a problem. The report on this later Bronze Age site is workmanlike but lacks any discussion, ending rather abruptly, and the only suggested interpretation of the site is that it may have been involved in pottery manufacture. This is based on the slight evidence of stones that might have been used for tempering (p. 222) and burnt clay that might have been part of a kiln (p. 228).

Professor David Shotter’s overview of the Roman period in southern Cumbria is scholarly but necessarily (given the relative paucity of the evidence), somewhat speculative – not that there is anything wrong with that. In sketching the environmental background Shotter states that forest clearance started about 800BC; it would perhaps be more accurate to say that extensive and prolonged clearance began at about that date (Hodgkinson et al. 2000, 46-7). The speculative nature of the essay is illustrated by the suggestion that a military camp existed at Kirkham on the Ribble (p. 241), based on the discovery of a pilum murale – a sharp stick. Indeed the story relies heavily throughout on the evidence of highly portable artefacts but, despite this, it is a thoroughly believable and well told story.

The volume concludes with the publication of a paper even older than the Pilling Moss report – J. Wilfred Jackson’s account of Romano-British and other artefacts from Attermire Cave, Settle, introduced and with notes by Alan King. This paper was prepared in 1931 but remained unpublished, for reasons which King explores briefly here. This is a useful addition to the corpus of finds from caves, a group of artefacts which Jackson, according to the lights of his time, took to be evidence of ‘occupation’ (p. 251) but which King quietly, and no doubt rightly, assigns to ‘continual religious use’ lasting from the Beaker period until the 8th century AD, suggesting that ‘this cave and the lengthy ledge approach changed through time from a passage grave to a shrine’ (p. 270).

In summing up this book, what we have is a group of papers which are generally useful, valuable and in some cases very interesting. There is a certain lack of coherence that is only to be expected of a festschrift but on the other hand there is, at the core of the book, a group of papers touching on stone axe production and other aspects of the Neolithic of north-west England which have a unity of purpose. At the risk of sounding too much like Lynne Truss, I find the number of typographical errors, infelicities, inconsistencies, omissions and ‘thoughts that might have been better expressed’ both irritating and distracting. I did not know Clare Fell personally, and I have no insight into how she would have felt about this but, given her generation and her educational background, I expect that she had high standards in this regard.

Mark Bowden
English Heritage

Edmonds, M. 2004. The Langdales: landscape and prehistory in a Lakeland valley. Stroud,Tempus
Hoaen, A.W. & Loney, H.L. 2004. Bronze and Iron Age connections: memory and persistence in Matterdale, Cumbria, Trans Cumberland & Westmorland Antiq & Archaeol Soc (Series 3) 4, 39-54
Hodgkinson, D., Huckerby, E., Middleton, R. & Wells, C.E. 2000. The Lowland Wetlands of Cumbria (North West Wetlands Survey 6) Lancaster, Lancaster Imprints 8
Pearson, T. & Topping, P. 2002. Rethinking the Carrock Fell enclosure, in G. Varndell & P. Topping (eds), Enclosures in Neolithic Europe. Oxford, Oxbow, 121-7
Topping, P. 2005. Shaft 27 re-visited: an ethnography of Neolithic flint extraction, in P. Topping & M. Lynott (eds), The Cultural Landscape of Prehistoric Mines Oxbow. Oxford. 63-93
Topping, P. & Lynott, M. 2005. Miners and mines, in P. Topping & M. Lynott (eds), The Cultural Landscape of Prehistoric Mines. Oxford, Oxbow 181-91

Review Submitted: September 2007

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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