Thursday, 16 August 2007

Fieldwork at Valle Crucis

At the end of July, myself and a group of students from University of Chester (Phil C., Brandi M., Joe M and Rachel G) spend a number of days carrying out fieldwork of the site of the old fulling mill of the Cistercian abbey at Valle Crucis, near Llangollen. This is the first stage of a joint project with Llangollen Museum to explore the site. There are no standing structural remains, but a series of earthworks related to the mill can be seen in the garden at Pandy.

We carried out an earthwork survey, which involved creating a hachure plan and levelling in a series of profiles across the site. Exploring the surrounding area I think I have also identified the course of aqueduct that took water to the nearby abbey. This will require further fieldwork though.

The next stage of the project will be small-scale fieldwork on the mill site and, ideally, further geophysical survey in the surrounding area. This will hopefully link up with geophysical survey already carried out by Sarah Semple (University of Durham)and Dai Morgan Evans ((University of Chester)in the environs of the Pillar of Eliseg.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Rotherwas Ribbon

Apologies for the long delay in updating the blog. The joys of fatherhood (ie sleepless nights, projectile vomiting and constant nappy changing)and the need to complete writing my new book have meant that the blog has slipped down by 'to do' list.

Thanks to Bill Sheppard for passing the following on to me:

NEWS: Green Party in England & Wales


A recently discovered 4000 year old monument in rural Herefordshire
is at risk of being covered by a new road development. Archaeologists
have said the 197ft (60m) long ribbon of stones, found by road
builders, could be as important as Stonehenge and is apparently
unique in Europe.

It is made up of a series of deliberately fire-cracked stones and
appears to have been deliberately sculptured to undulate through the
whole of its length that has so far been uncovered.

Hereford Green Party has been leading the campaign to defend the
Rotherwas Ribbon, also known as the Dinedor Serpent.

Local Green Cllr Gerald Dawe, said: "What we're going to have is a
road which no-one wants, going over a part of our history which has a
lot of public support.

Green Party Principal Speaker Dr. Derek Wall said:

"The Rotherwas Ribbon is of great historical importance. It is vital
that discoveries like these are protected from more road building.

"English Heritage inspectors have said that the best thing is for the
remains to be preserved in-situ. They are currently considering
whether the site meets the criteria for 'scheduling' - this status is
given to monuments whose preservation is given priority over other
land uses. (1)

"Though this wouldn't preclude the relief road being built, it would
send a message to Hereford council of the importance of these ancient

"A petition calling for a full public inquiry to decide the future of
the Rotherwas Ribbon can be signed on the Downing St website. I urge
people who care about out archeological heritage to add their names.(2)

"There are many organisations fighting effective and vital campaigns
against road building around the UK - including Road Block and the
Group Against Motorway Expansion." (3)


Notes for Editors

(1) More information on the Scheduling of Monuments can be found at


(3) More info on Road Block can be found at

More info on Group Against Motorway Expansion - http://

Green Party Press Office
020 7561 0282

Published and promoted by Jim Killock for the Green Party, both at
1a Waterlow Road, London N19 5NJ.

Friday, 15 June 2007

The destruction of Saami forests in Finnish Lapland started again

Forwarded from Taiga-Info

Here is some new information on the situation in Finnish Lapland, where the
Finnish Forest and Park Service recently resumed logging in one of the
important reindeer winter grazing areas.

Hannu Hyvönen at independent Finnish media cooperative Signs of life has
compiled this information. You can reach Hannu directly at

The destruction of Saami forests in Finnish Lapland started again

The long lasting forestry conflict in Finnish Lappland is again in a very
urgent state. The Finnish state owned company, Metsähallitus,
has started large scale logging operations in the home area of indigenous
Saami people on the 14th of May, 2007.

These logging have been critisized for the following reasons:

-there is no solution yet for the land ownership conflict between
indigenous Saami
people and the Finnish state.
-the Finnish state has not proven to be the actual owner of the forests
that it is logging right now.
-the clear-cutting style of logging ancient forests in the extreme north
of Europe cannot be accepted from an ecological and micro-climatical point
of view.
-the loggings destroy the very basis of the culturally important Saami
free grazing reindeer herding tradition
-the loggings waste the ancient forests and its wood and leave less
possibilities for future truly sustainable continuous cover forestry
without destructive clear cutting.

Among others Union of Ecoforestry urged Finnish
parliament to stop the logging immediately and distributed for
parliament groups the documentary movie Last yoik in Saami forests
( Until now there has not been any public reaction
by the Finnish government. The silence in Finnish media also continues.

The director of the movie, Hannu Hyvönen, expressed his feelings about the
on-going loggings recently: "It is quite easy for us to update this sad
turn-up in the documentary movie, but we cannot update these forests which
are now again cutted down."

The documentary movie can also be loaded here:

More info and links:

The short history of this conflict with video clips from the movie

1. Centre of Saamiland

In northern Lapland, over one thousand kilometres north of Finland’s
capital, Helsinki, lies the largest remaining wilderness in Western
Europe. These fells and forests are the homeland of Northern Europe’s only
indigenous people, the Saami. The land rights issue in the Saami homeland
is unsolved.

Look the introduction of the scenerys videoclip

2. Pulping the Saami forests?

Traditional reindeer herding is the one essential basis of
Saami culture.

During the cold Arctic winter months, old-growth forests provide a
lifeline for grazing reindeer. On the old trees grows the arboreal hanging
lichen that is an essential wintertime food for the reindeer.

However, the Finnish state-owned forestry company, Metsähallitus is
destroying important winter grazing forests that are vital to the
reindeer. These old-growth forests are harvested for production in the
Finnish pulp and paper industry.

Look the forestry yoik of the movie Last yoik in Saamiforests:

3. Who owns the land?

One big and still unsolved issue is the ownership of these forests.
Finnnish state cannot prove its ownership and still continues
logging activities. Look the comment of Heikki Hyvärinen, the lawyer of
Saami parliament

4. Greenpeace arrive
The long-lasting conflict between Saami reindeer herding interests and
government-owned industrial forestry flared up in the spring of 2005.
Local Saami reindeer herders joined environmental organizations and
started an international campaign to save the reindeer grazing forests
from logging.

Look the interview in the camp:

5. Cutting break and Antiterror infocenter

Greenpeace contacted the paper buyers. Forest industry giant Stora Enso
decided soon to stop buying wood from the disputed forests.
Metsähallitus had to stop the logging.

The conflict escalated towards violence when forestry workers, supported
by the Finnish government forestry company, set up their “anti-terror”
camp next to the Greenpeace Forest Rescue Station in the disputed forests.

They started attacks in the Greenpeace camp in nights
and days.

In May 2005 cutting moratorium continued and Greenpeace moved avay their
camp to cool down the atmosphere.

6. Stora Enso and Metsähallitus started loggins again in June 2005

But in July Stora Enso announced to their customers to start the
wood buying again and Metsähallitus started their cuttings in the area of
Nellim reindeer herders.

Look the clip of the scenerys from Inari lake:

7. United Nations intervention

In November 2005 reindeer herder Kalevi Paadar with his brothers made a
complaint for UN Human Rights Committee and claimed that cuttings in their
village destroy their possibilities continue the traditional free crazing
with reindeers and so violate their Saami rights for manage own culture.

UN Human Rights Committee asked Finland to stop cuttings for further

Look the video:

8. Illegalism in Lapland

The cuttings were stopped but the dialogue did not continue. The prime
minister did not want to join in discussion and the chair of Finnish
Secret Policy accused Greenpeace to be a violent terrorist organization:

>From the Saami side the conflict was not seen caused by Greenpeace but
Finnish companies wasting the forests and wasting the wood of them. Look
the comment by Pekka Aikio, the president of Saami Parliament in Finland:

9. Cuttings continue in June 2007
The present situation is now hot againg. Metsähallitus started logging in
Saami forests in Kessi in May 2007.
Read more and look the photos on the areas:



The above clips are part of the documentary movie
Last yoik in Saami forests , 54 min

You can look the version updated April 2007 on the address:
The documentary movie is also available on DVD.

For commercial presentations, library use and for tv broadcastings, please
contact the director Hannu Hyvönen directly at

tel +358 40 831 7733

Monday, 21 May 2007

New arrival

Isobel Kathleen Petts finally made her long-awaited appearance on Sunday May 20th at 5.36pm (just in time for Antique's Roadshow). Yay!

Monday, 7 May 2007


A bit of a quick winge. In 1987 the Norwegian director Nils Gaup made a rather good film called Ofelas (also known as Pathfinder). It was the first film made Saami, the native language of the native groups of northern Sweden/Finland/Norway and Russia, who are often called Lapplanders. It was a powerful retelling of a native myth. It was a simple, stark film relying heavily on the stark nature of the tundra landscape of northern Scandinavia, with relatively little dialogue. Its one of my favourite films.

However, 20 years later, Hollywood leaps in with both feet and remakes it as Pathfinder. Pointlessly resetting it in America, with a Viking boy adopted by Native Americans fighting against maruading Vikings. PLus adding loads of pointless special effects, atrocious art direction and Vikings in BLOODY HORNED HELMETS.

I've got nothing against pointless historical action films- when done well they can be great. But I don't understand the need to remake fantastic films, suck anything good and original out of them and turn them into cack hack and slay features. Maybe I'm just turning into an miserable old sod. Pah!

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Archaeology News

Thanks to Liz Dean for flaggin up some archaeology in the news.

First, there have been developments on the contraversial M3 motorway development in Ireland. This new motorway running through County Meath cuts extremely close to the internationally important archaeological landscape of Tara. This has caused massive controversy in Ireland, as many people have argued that the course of the road will destroy much archaeology and have a wider impact on the setting of this important site. Last monday the Irish Transport Minister cut the first sod to commence the motorway construction. The very next day the construction has to be stopped as a major new prehistoric ritual site was discovered.

Some of you may have seen the excellent Time Team recently which excavated a fantastic early Christian site on the Isle of Man. Amongst the discoveries were a fragment of an ogham inscription. The finds from the site have now been handed over to Manx National Heritage.

Many of you that one of my recent grumbles has been the diversion of money from the National Lottery Fund to fund the Olympic Games. However, there has been some positive news in the relationship between the Games and archaeology, as excavation has begun on the site of the games themselves in East London.

Finally, a medieval settlement is being excavated in Kinross (Scotland).

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Ideas of Landscape

I’ve just been reading Matthew Johnson’s excellent new book Ideas of Landscape. In this exploration of the origin of the English approach to landscape archaeology Johnson’s places particular focus on the work of W.G. Hoskins, whose book The Making of the English Landscape played such a central part in the development of landscape history in England. A key element of Hoskin’s approach was a strong criticism of industrialisation and the modern world. This comes through most profoundly in a key passage from Making, which is worth quoting in extensively:

“What else has happened in the immemorial landscape of the English countryside? Airfields have flayed it bare…Poor devastated Lincolnshire and Suffolk! And those long gentle lines of the dip-slope of the Cotswolds, those misty uplands of the sheep-grey oolite, how they have lent themselves to the villainous requirements of the new age! Over them drones, day after day, the obscene shape of the atom-bomber, laying a trail like a filthy slug upon Constable’s and Gainsborough’s sky. England of the Nissen-hut, the “pre-fab” and the electric fence, of the high barbed wire around some unmentionable devilment; England of the arterial by-pass, treeless and stinking of diesel oil, murderous with lorries; England of the bombing-range wherever there was once silence…Barbaric England of the scientists, the military men and the politician; let us turn away and contemplate the past before all is lost to the vandals” (Hoskins 1955, 231-2)

This elegiac and undeniably slightly reactionary passage strikes a chord with me. One of the first digs I worked on was the Anglo-Saxon site at West Heslerton. It was the summer of 1989 and as we revealed the remains of an rural settlement dating to the 6th century American A10 Tankbusters flew low overhead warming up for the first Gulf War. In the evenings we’d sometimes walk up to the top of the scarp slope of the Yorkshire Wolds and drink and smoke whilst looking at the landscape laid out in front of us. To our left lay Ryedale with its many early medieval monasteries, directly opposite were the southern slopes of the North York Moors, whilst in the distance to our right was the Mesolithic site of Star Carr. Occasionally, this idyll would be disturbed as warplane streaked across the sky practising night flights.

Many of my subsequent digging experiences have been juxtaposed with signs of warfare and conflict. Jet fighters screamed above us when sieving on the site of the castle of Dolforwyn in Montgomeryshire in 1992; military police stopped to investigate what we were up to when fieldwalking next to the army camp at Catterick in 1994. In 1996 I dug on the Roman fort at Pevensey in the shadow of a pillbox of 1941 vintage. In four years working in the North East I regularly sped passed convoys of army vehicles heading north to Catterick after peacekeeping duties in the Balkans or moving up to Otterburn for exercises.

Hoskin’s approach to the study of landscape was Romantic and his work is paralleled artistically in the Neo-Romantic movement. This movement has its origins in the late 19th century and early 20th century in the work of William Morris, Samuel Palmer and such under-appreciated writers as Richard Jefferies. However, it flowered particularly in the 1930s-50s in the art of John Minton and Eric Ravilious, the films of Powell and Pressburger and Humphrey Jennings and the music of Arnold Bax and Benjamin Britten. This late blooming was undoubtedly stimulated by the impending threat of industrialised warfare and the massive change in rural life that were taking place following WWI; George Orwell wrote about both these threats in his novel Coming Up for Air (1939). Whilst not normally seen as a Neo-Romantic in this little gem Orwell clearly engaged with the concerns of many other artists in the tense years of the late 1930s after Guernica and before Dunkirk.

It was the work of later artists in the Neo-Romantic tradition, including authors such as Alan Garner, Keith Roberts, and artists including Andy Goldsworthy , Clifford Harper and the Brotherhood of Ruralists, whose work I first encountered as teenager (in the case of the work of the Brotherhood of Ruralists on the cover of the Arden Edition Shakespeare’s I used at O level and A level) that stimulated and has continued to fire my own academic and creative engagement with the past and the English landscape, as much as childhood visits to castles and churches.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Estonia Pictures 4

This building, now the Estonian Museum of Architecture, but was once a storage building for shed. It lies in the heart of the Roterman's district close to the port of Tallinn. It is a reminder that although Tallinn's trade was at its peak in the later medieval period, its docks remained a key factor in the 19th century prosperity of the city. Even today over 80% of Russia's trade through the Baltic goes through Tallinn.

The Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevski which lies in front of the Estonian parliament house on the Toompea. It was built in 1900. Its dedication to Alexander Nevski, the Russian czar, whose remains lie in St Petersburg, was a clear political decision. Nevski defeated a Livonian army on the eastern borders of Estonia in 1242 at Lake Peipus. In Russia this has long been seen as a highly symbolic victory by Russians over military agression from Europe, and a victory over the Catholic church by Orthodox Christianity.

Tallinn Day 3

It has definitely got much colder today. The temperature is around 0ºC and the water in puddles is frozen. I go back to the Department of Archaeology to do some more work and do some photocopying. I wrestle with the photocopier, but eventually manage to get it to work; I get half way through my copying and then… out of toner. There is no one I know around, and I’m not sure I know the Estonian for “photocopier toner” anyway.

I take the opportunity to investigate some of the local museums: the nearby Niguliste Kirik (St Nicholas Church) is now a museum of religious art. It contains a range of altar pieces and crucifixions from the 14th-16th century, when Tallinn (or Reval as it was known) was at its height as a Baltic trading city. The highlight is the Dance of Death by the Lübeck artist Berndt Notke, a potent reminder of the proximity of death in medieval life, as well as containing scathing criticism of both the Pope and cardinals.

I then visit the Tallinn City Museum housed in a 14th century merchant’s house. It contains an excellent display on medieval life in Tallinn, with lots information about the city’s origins and the role played by the Guilds in structuring society. There is also a sobering display about life in Estonia under Soviet control.

After a bite to eat, back to the Department for some more wrestling with the copier and then back to the hotel to catch up with further reading, sort out my emails and get ready for tomorrow’s trip out to look at some archaeological sites.

Tallinn Day 2

After a breakfast I head back over to the Department of Archaeology. I take a different route and walk across the Toompea, the upper part of the Old Town, stopping to peer in the Orthodox cathedral. I spend most of the day working through loads of archaeological papers and journals building up my background knowledge of Estonian archaeology, particularly focussing on the what we would call the early medieval period, though in Estonia the Iron Age continues until the 13th century, when the country was conquered by the Danes and the Teutonic Order. Apart from a quick lunch in the departmental pub (!) I’m at my desk from about 10 till 6, when I head off. Marika Mägi, the head of the Department, for a meal, invites me round for a meal. I’m fed and watered splendidly. Chatting to her partner Tyge I realise that he spent some time in the Dept of Archaeology in Reading at the same time I was there- embarrassingly I have no memory of him- though to be fair he has no memory of me either! By the time I take the bus back into town its noticeable that the temperature is dropping. The walk back from the bus stop to the hotel is freezing. Despite yesterday’s sun, it’s clear that the cold weather is not yet gone.

Since I was last in Tallinn, three years ago, there have been some noticeable changes. Like any European city there are the usual mix of Irish pubs, Indian restaurants and Greek tavernas, as well as bars and eateries serving more traditional Estonian fare. However, the city is definitely becoming more oriented towards tourism. Twice I find that what used to be a bookshop has turned into a shop for holiday makers and gift buyers. There are also changes in the city’s attitudes to the traces of Soviet occupation. There decision by the city authorities to remove a monument to Russian soldiers who died in the Second World War has caused much controversy and has been reported in the international press.

Elsewhere, near the church of St Nicholas the foundations of buildings destroyed during the bombings of the city by the Soviets in 1944 stood as testimony to the destruction wrought by the Russians; when I was last here they were carefully fenced off and a sign explained their significance. However, they have now been covered over and the area is being turned into a small park. There is a definite sense that the city is turning away from the legacy of the Russian past and has its face firmly set on the future.

Estonia Pictures 3

Someexamples of typical 15th/16th century merchants houses. The bottom example is known as the Three Sisters and is now an expensive hotel. These houses combined domestic accmodation with warehousing; similar buildings are found in many of the towns that once belonged to the Hanseatic League.

Estonia Pictures 2

The sixteenth century Great Sea Gate on the northern side of the old town of Tallinn. The massive tower visible on the left is called Paks Margareeta (Fat Margaret), because it was the biggest tower on the walls. In front of the gate lies a monument to the victims of the ferry Estonia, which sank with huge loss over 800 lives in 1994.

Estonia pictures 1

The Russian orthodox church of St Simeon ad Anna which is just a few minutes walk from my hotel. It has its origins in the late 18th century, but fell out of use during the period of Soviet occupation in Estonia. Its now being restored.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

David's Tallin Trip Day 1

After a stupidly early start (I didn’t know there was such a thing as 3.30am in the morning), I make it to the airport, which at that time in the morning was filled with tired, grumpy people. The flight takes me over Denmark and the southern coast of Sweden. We overfly a series of Baltic islands including Öland, Gotland (Swedish) and Saaremaa, Hiiumaa and Vormsi (Estonia). It’s a good reminder of the importance of island and coastal landscapes when studying the archaeology of the region; in periods when the interiors of much of the East Baltic were dominated by dense forest shipping routes were obviously a major way of moving around the area.

I get a taxi from the airport to my salubrious dockside hotel. A Russian driver who either had a death wish or a grudge against the English drove the taxi; it is not surprising that Finland and Estonia produce such good rally drivers.

Tallinn is a fascinating city; it stands at the borders of Europe and Russia and also lies on the edge of Scandinavia and Central Europe. This can be seen in the architecture. The medieval heart of the city shows clear similarities with the other important trading towns that lie around the Baltic and the North Sea. At the centre of the old town lies the main square, Raekoja Plats, dominated by the 15th century town hall. In many of the streets around this part of the town the 15th and 16th century houses of the city’s major merchants, which combine domestic space with warehousing. Other clear reminders of the city’s Hanseatic trading past include the House of the Great Guild, which was the headquarters of the German-speaking merchant guild that dominated trade. Nearby is the House of the Blackheads, an organisation for visiting foreign merchants founded in the late 14th century. Both buildings are again typical of late medieval North European architecture.

However, elsewhere there are clear reminders of Estonia’s Russian past. The country was ruled by Russia during much of the 18th and 19th century, and was occupied by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991. This has left a clear mark on the city. This can be heard on the street, where it is common to hear Russian spoken – Estonia still has a large Russian-speaking minority, particularly in the cities. The architecture also expresses Russian influence. This is most obviously seen in the presence of a number of Russian Orthodox churches, including the spectacular Cathedral of Alexander Nevskii built in 1900 in a typical Russian medieval revival style, with onion domes and the a cross-shaped plan (for more about the changes in Russian architecture in the later 19th century have a look at Orlando Figes’ excellent cultural history of Russia: Natasha’s Dance). However, it’s not only in the sphere of ecclesiastical architecture that the Russian influence can be seen. The relative proximity of St Petersburg can be seen in the presence of the Neo-Classical and Baroque facades on a number of important public buildings, including the castle, which houses the Estonian government.

I head into town to get my bearings and a bite to eat. The weather is great- I am able to sit outside at a street café while I have my lunch. Having digested my beer and visited a few bookshops I head over to the Institute of Archaeology which lies in an historic building behind St Nicholas’s Church, a mainly 15th century building erected by German merchants. I have a meeting with Marika Mägi, the head of the department. We go for coffee in a pub in the basement of the building – the Department even has its own back entrance into the bar. This is an innovation every archaeology department in the UK should follow! We arrange that I should come in the next day to use the Departmental library for my research. By now my early start is beginning to catch up with me so I head back to the hotel to get a bite to eat and an early night.


Friday, 16 March 2007

Archaeology and slavery

As anyone who has picked up a newspaper in the last couple of months will be aware that 2007 is the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s abolition of the slave trade. As such I though it might be useful to flag up an interesting paper by Dan Hicks (University of Bristol) explores the relationship between ethnicity and slavery in post-medieval archaeology.

Olympics overspend hits HLF

I’m not a great sports fan. The nearest I get to active participation is the occasional length of the pool and a beer in front of the rugby. However, when I heard that London had won the Olympics bid in 2005 I can’t deny that like many others I was pleased.

Since, then though, my feelings about the Olympics has become less and less enthusiastic in almost exact proportion to the project overspend. Certainly, the Olympics will help regenerate a deprived area of east London, and may well inspire a generation of dumpy English people (myself included) to put on an ill-fitting tracksuit and jog round the block for a bit. But at what price?

The most recent budget projection for the games is now a wopping £9.3 billion – this is FOUR TIMES the projected cost in 2005 when we won the games. This is not a slight overspend, this smack of at the very best incompetence and at the worst dishonesty when setting out the finances to the public and the IOC. Just think, if the costs have risen that much in 2 years, what will the final spending be by 2012.

Does this matter? Well, yes it does. This extra money has to be found somewhere, and one of the kittys from which the money is being directed is the Lottery Fund, which is being hit to the tune of a cool £675 million. This adds to the money from the fund which had already been promised to fund the games.

Obviously my main interest is in how this will effect the Heritage Lottery Fund. According to a press release from the HLF it's going to have £90 million less thanks to the Olympic Games debacle. £90 million is a lot of money, but what does this translate to in practical spending on our heritage. This would pay for four year’s spend on smaller community and voluntary sector grants and the funding entire stream aimed at involving young people (around 6000 projects). Alternatively it could pay for the planned HLF spend on churches and historic town centres from Gateshead to Great Yarmouth (around 1400 schemes) for four years. The HLF is currently the biggest source of funds for the historic and natural environment, and cultural heritage, far outweighing the amount spent by government. This slashing of HLF funds comes after four years of de facto spending cuts for English Heritage. There appears to be no real interest within the government about the adequate funding for heritage in the UK. The good intentions laid out in the recent White Paper will come to naught without supply of adequate resources.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Heritage in the 21st Century: White Paper

The government has just published Heritage in the 21st Century, its White Paper on the future of the protection of archaeological and historic sites in England and Wales. It outlines its proposals for the way in which they hope to change the system which designates particular monuments or structures as worthy of protection. Currently, important buildings are protected by “Listing”- with Grade I Listed Buildings being the most important and Grade II being of lesser, but still significance, import. However, archaeological monuments, such as earthworks are protected by being made Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMS). Under the new proposals it is suggested that rather than having a separate system for buildings and monuments that they are brought together under the same system.

Other important proposals in the White Paper include the welcome suggestion that Sites & Monuments Records/ Historic Environment Records are made statutory, and that all county councils or local authorities should have access to one. It is also suggested that Class Consent (general standing consent given to carry out certain activities on SAMs) for ploughing should be removed. Until now, the subsurface areas of many protected ancient monuments have been annually damaged by continued ploughing, which often badly disturbs archaeological deposits. This would be ended under the White Paper, instead farmers would be encouraged to come to management agreements with English Heritage to protect the sites, potentially through the existing DEFRA Environmental Stewardship Schemes.

The White Paper is currently out for consultation- some bodies such as the The Archaeoligcal Forum have already responded. What do you think of these proposals?

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Tomb of Christ

Lots of press coverage of the claims by James Cameron (erstwhile producer of Titanic) that archaeologists have discovered the tomb of Jesus and his family. A tomb with a number of ossuaries (boxes for storing bones) were found in excavations in 1980. Six of the ossuaries were marked with the names Mary; Matthew; Jesua son of Joseph; Mary; Jofa (Joseph, Jesus' brother); and Judah son of Jesua. This, Cameron and his cohorts claim is clear evidence that this was Jesus’ tomb. Not surprisingly, the press released are being issued in advance of a forthcoming documentary on the topic directed by Cameron.

This is not the first time that a claim has been made linking an ossuary to Jesus. Several years ago a stone box bearing the name of James, brother of Jesus was found. In this case it was soon proved to be a forgery However, the press excitement at the time was just as great.

This is a potent reminder of the great popular interest in biblical archaeology (particularly in the States). There are still many people who look to archaeology to prove or disprove what is found in the bible.

In this case however most people’s critical faculties do seem to have remained intact (including in the media). Many people have pointed out how incredibly common the names found on the boxes were in 1st century AD Jerusalem.

Chimpanzee Archaeology

For most of us the idea of chimps using tools tends to bring to the mind the old PG Tips adverts. However, it appears that the truth might be a little more complex. An recent article in The Guardian describes recent observations of female chimpanzees making wooden spears and using them to hunt other animals for food. (Chester students also have a look at the original article in Current Biology – available on-line via IBIS. It’s in the “articles in press” section) discovery of stone tools apparently utilised by chimpanzeesover 4000 years go raised the intriguing possibility of being able to write the archaeology of another species.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007



Some of you may have recently noticed a flurry of news articles about Cleopatra being revealed as not the beauty that portrayed in legend. An image of her on a coin depicts her with a bulging eyes, a thick neck and a hooked nose. This is not a particularly new angle- a similar suggestion emerged in 2001 (thanks to Liz Dean for this reference).

The interesting thing about this is not whether or not Cleo was a beauty, but rather the way in which new discoveries or insights are publicised. In both cases, the suggestion came in advance of the opening of a new museum exhibition; one at the


A controversial archaeological project has recently been carried out at the University of Bristol. Archaeologists from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology “excavated” a transit van used by workers and archaeologists at the Ironbridge Museum.

This has caused some raised eyebrows- is this useful archaeology or a waste of time? Can archaeology tell us something new, useful and important about something as mundane a 1991 van?

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Metal Guru

An article in The Guardian about metal detecting. Do you feel the paper addressed in the debate in a balance way?

Archaeology and wind power

There has been a lot of recent interesting work being carried out on off-shore archaeology. This does not just include traditional nautical archaeology focussing on the study of ships and maritime installations. Work such as Birmingham University’s research into North Sea palaeolandscapes is extremely important. It aims to better understand the early landscape of areas now covered by water. Similar work could undoubtedly be carried out elsewhere on the British continental shelf.

Whilst of undoubted inherent importance, this research also has clear implications for resource management. With the push towards the expansion of renewable energy, there is inevitably going to be a greater push towards wind power, particularly in off-shore locations where more consistent winds are available and there is likely to be less opposition from local interest groups. However, the work at Birmingham serves as a useful reminder that such projects need to remember that seabeds are as much historic landscapes as on-shore locations. As such it is encouraging to see that COWRIE (Collaborative Offshore Wind Research Into The Environment), an independent company set up to raise awareness and understanding of the potential environmental impacts of the UK offshore windfarm programme has just published a guidance note for best practice in survey, appraisal and monitoring of the historic environment during the development of offshore renewable energy projects in the United Kingdom.

However, as always the proof of the pudding will be in the eating- will this guidance be followed or ignored in the push to meet government targets for renewable energy?

BBC Folk Awards

Last Wednesday saw the BBC Folk Awards , a handy reminder that the British folk music scene is undergoing a real renaissance (although one might quibble about the decision to award Seth Lakeman best album over both Bellowhead and Tim van Eyken). It would certainly be worth be signing the e-petition protesting against the ridiculous government licensing legislation restricting the performance of live music in pubs and bars.

It’s also worth having a think about how we approach this type of intangible heritage. Scotland, Ireland and Wales all have centres dedicated to their popular music. Whilst the Folk Music degree at Newcastle University is a fantastic development it is aimed at training existing performers rather than presenting folk music to the general public. In Scotland there is the National Piping Centre and in Wales there is Ty Siamas , there is no equivalent in England.

However, it is great to see that Somerset County Council has just published the Somerset Folk Map tracing the biographies and pinpointing the homes of the singers from whom Cecil Sharp collected his remarkable archive of traditional song, dance, tunes and children's games. Much of the work was done by Yvette Staelens, who works in the archaeology department at Bournmouth, and more importantly was once a backing singer for Blyth Power , possibly the best slightly-dodgy folk punk band in history!

Monday, 5 February 2007

The reburial debate

Two recent news articles have brought have highlighted the way in which archaeologists and museums treat human remains. Nine tattooed Maori heads have been Council of British Druid Orders have demanded that human remains on display in the archaeological museum at Avebury should be reburied.

This illustrates the complicated nature of the burial debate. Few would object to the repatriation of Maori remains. The demand for their return came from a body that can make some claim to represent the modern Maori community, and the modern Maori community themselves can make a clear case for being the direct ancestors of those people whose remains were taken. However, with the case of the Avebury remains, it is more debatable how far the Druids involved can make a clear case to represent the descent community of the prehistoric inhabitants. Even within the pagan community there are others who do not demand their reburial. The archaeologists who study Avebury are just as likely to be descended from the original occupants of the region as the Druids: how do we judge between competing claims to represent these dead communities? Indeed, is it possible for modern groups to truly represent the beliefs of the long dead?

From my point of view, those who demand the reburial of these early remains are as guilty of ‘colonising’ these past populations as the archaeologists. It is possible to argue that the belief that remains once buried should be kept buried is a relatively recent cultural construct. Despite medieval beliefs in bodily resurrection, in practice most medieval graveyards were continually reworked leaving huge piles of redeposited charnel. Should we aim to respect what past societies believed, or simply what they did in practice? It is noticeable that in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age society, there is good archaeological evidence (particularly from the Avebury region) that simple inhumation was not the dominant burial rite. Instead bodies were excarnated, disarticulated and circulated across the landscape. Arguably, by excavating and displaying the skeletal remains from Avebury we are closer to respecting the wishes of the dead community than those who would demand that they are reburied. What do you think?

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Valuing Heritage

A number of bodies including Heritage Link, English Heritage, The National Trust, Historic Houses Association and the Heritage Lottery Fund have just published a report Valuing Our Heritage. This is a document which aims to assess the economic and social importance of the heritage sector to the Britain. Much of the content is based on last summer’s History Matters campaign which many of you may have seen.

English Heritage has suffered a significant lack of funding over the last years, whereas funding for museum galleries and libraries has increased 36%, the Arts Council by 53% and Sport England by 98%. Despite the fact that EH has many statutory responsibilities, there has been no real attempt by central government to support it, with its funding not keeping up with inflation. It will be interesting to see whether the forthcoming White Paper on heritage protection, which is now promised to appear before Easter, will impact on the roles and responsibilities of both local and central archaeological curatorial bodies.

On another related funding issue are the potential threats to archaeology of the London Olympics 2012. First, there is basic threat to the archaeology and heritage caused by the major redevelopment of large parts of the East End. Ideally, this should all be mediated through the application of PPG16, the key element of planning guidance that deals with archaeology (though a search of the Olympics 2012 website for references to archaeology brings up no results). I have heard suggestions that the large-scale archaeological work required may cause a skills shortage in other parts of the country as many field archaeologists, particularly excavators, take advantage of the many jobs potentially available. However, it remains to see whether this will actually happen.

The bigger threat posed to archaeology by the Olympics is the wider pressure on public and lottery funding. However, it is clear that already the projected spending on the project is increasing rapidly, and it is likely that there will be aCaer Alyn project, or the Community Archaeology project in York. Whilst David Lammy, the Culture Minister, referring to the undoubted success of the Portable Antiquities Scheme may think that metal detectorists are the “unsung heroes of heritage”, the real heroes are those who spend time working on such community archaeology projects.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Introduction to the blog

Welcome to my new blog - Outlandish Knight.

The main aim of the blog is to keep students in the Dept. of History and Archaeology at the University of Chester up-to-date with current developments in the world of archaeology and heritage management, though others are more than welcome to read the blog and post to it.

Although mainly focussing on heritage/archaeology issues, I will also occasionally post on other topics of interest to which might be of interest to others, namely wider conservation issues, politcs and even the odd excursus into music.

Why Outlandish Knight? The phrase is from an old folk song "An outlandish knight from the North Country came...". It's quite atmospheric and the the phrase stuck in my head, particularly as I've moved to Chester from a job in Durham and I still live in York - which just about qualifies as the North Country.

What is the picture? It's an Outlandish Knight, or to be more precise it's a photograph of a memorial brass from my favourite war memorial (hasn't everyone got a favourite war memorial?), the Sykes Memorial in Sledmere, East Yorkshire. I ran the picture through Photoshop to tart it up a bit. It is close to the Waggoner's Memorial, a monument to those from East Yorkshire who were members of the Waggoner's Corps in WWI (hich is my second favourite war memorial).

Threat to forest in Finland

Reposted from Taiga Rescue Network:

"Ancient wilderness forests are being destroyed in Finland – please help to save these treasures of the Northern Taiga!The Finnish government is destroying the largest unprotected ancient forests in Finland. In Finnish Lapland the state owned logging company Metsähallitus started huge loggings in old-growth forests in November despite strong national support for their protection and despite several international biodiversity declarations signed by Finland . These unique ancient forests with up to 500 year old pine trees are being logged mainly for pulp and paper. The mills that use the ancient forests are Stora Enso pulp mill in Kemijärvi, Stora Enso paper mill in Veitsiluoto and Botnia pulp mill in Kemi.Logging and road construction has already started or is being planned in at least six areas.These loggings would permanently destroy unique natural values. The possibilities for reindeer herding and nature tourism on these areas would also be severely damaged. As the forests are situated at relatively high altitude in northern taiga the regeneration of the forests is also at doubt. All of these loggings are not even economically sustainable.Only 4,4 percent of Finnish forests are classified as old-growth forests. Still only about half of them are protected.

PLEASE TELL YOUR OPINION and ask for immediate stop to these outrageous loggings. Contact adresses and model letter below.More information about these forests and loggings with photo galleries can be found at:

Photos and info on Finnish forests are available at and

THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY:-Feedback page in the net: Korkeaoja, Minister: office +358 9-160 53300, Reunala, Chief of forestry: mobile +358 40 043 7222, office +358 9 160 53350, Peltonen, Forest department: office +358 9 160 52410, mikko.peltonen@mmm.fiSTORA ENSO OYJ:-Feedback page in the net:,,1_EN-1002-3142-7591_15804,00.html-Matti Karjula, Forest chief: mobile +358 2046 23009, Kallio-Mannila, Environmental chief: mobile +358 2046 24967,

GOVERNMENT:-Prime minister Matti Vanhanen: +358 9 1602 2001 (office), of the Environment Stefan Wallin +358 9 1603 9301 (office),

GOVERNMENTAL FOREST SERVICE METSÄHALLITUS:-Feedback page in the net: Jokinen, Director of forestry: mobile +358 400 290 491, office +358 205 64 4425, Kangas, Director general mobile +358 40 8430420, jyrki.kangas@metsa.fiYou can also contact the Finnish embassies in your countries.

Dear _____ _______,
Finnish state and the State-owned logging company Metsähallitus are destroying the largest unprotected virgin forest areas in Finland. In Savukoski and Kittilä six large wilderness forest areas are being logged or planned to be logged. Areas include Painopää, Jooseppitunturi, Isoselkä and Turjalaiset-Ahmatunturi in Savukoski and Raakevuoma and Pokka-Pulju in Kittilä.These forest areas are absurdly dropped out of all protection programs despite of their unquestionable natural values.I demand that the loggings in these areas are stopped immediately and proper protection planning process will be started.These loggings violate heavily the international commitments Finland has made: Countdown 2010- initiative of the EU and Convention of Biological Diversity CBD. Undersigning these agreements Finland is committed to halt the loss of biodiversity by the year 2010 and to protect all the large intact natural areas. Logging is also destroying important local livelihoods including reindeer herding and nature tourism.1. Do you think it is right to destroy the large intact forest areas of Savukoski and Kittilä? Do you think that Metsähallitus and Finland are following their international and national commitments for nature and biodiversity protection?2. What are you going to do to stop these outrageous loggings and make sure that a proper protection process is started?


New discoveries at Stonehenge

Information about major new discoveries at Stonehenge have just been released. The largest late Neolithic settlement site in mainland Britain has been discovered at Durrington Walls. It is clearly an important site, though as usual it will be interesting to see what has actually been found, rather than simply relying on often feverish speculation by the media. Interim reports of previous season's works can be downloaded here:

Details of the latest announcement can be found on the BBC News website:

You can also find further information from the website of the National Geographic, who have partly funded the excavations.