The photos constitute a different kind of problem. Some show well known pieces, such as finds from Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire hoard (most have better published photos elsewhere). However, many of the illustrated objects are new. In the foreword (page 24), we read: “The plates present images of important artefacts which in some cases have never been published before. Most of the objects have been held in private collections for many years and were not published at the time of their discovery; other more recent finds have been reported (eg to the Portable Antiquities Scheme) but are unknown outside users of that service”.
The last remark is disingenuous: the PAS database is accessible to anyone with access to the internet (finds.org.uk). On 23 of the 62 colour plates, objects are shown which are not published elsewhere, are unknown to specialists, and had not been recorded on the PAS database by April 2011. Some are too large and complete to have come from ploughsoil (eg in plates 31, 32) and may have been recovered from unrecorded digging of Anglo-Saxon graves. Several are made of gold, and depending when they were found should have been reported under the Treasure Act or the earlier treasure trove law.
An assemblage of rare and interesting objects, including a Coptic bowl and a glass palm cup, described as a burial group from Cadbourne, Lincolnshire, has been reported to the PAS, but no more details of the findspot are recorded there. Some plate captions give locations, usually broad (eg “Cambridgeshire”), but there are no details of findspots, discovery contexts, ownership or present locations. This material can contribute little to early Anglo-Saxon archaeology, except for details relating to the design of specific artefacts.
The perception that information resides in objects divorced of context, rather than in those contexts, has been strengthened by the publicity surrounding the Staffordshire hoard, and will be further encouraged by the legitimation apparently afforded unprovenanced and unrecorded finds by their appearance in this book. It may succeed in its goal of engaging a wider public with early Anglo-Saxon artefacts, which is very welcome. But it may also encourage the acceptance of unprovenanced artefacts as unproblematic.
Sarah Scott is lecturer in archaeology at the University of Leicester, with special interests in archaeological approaches to ancient art, and Romano-British villas and their mosaics
Special offer Unless otherwise noted, titles can be ordered from Oxbow Books, at 10 Hythe Bridge St, Oxford ox1 2ew, or oxbow @oxbowbooks.com, or tel 01865 241249. Mention British Archaeology to receive a 10% discount on prices of books reviewed in this issue
Roman Mosaics of Britain, Volume IV: Western Britain by David S Neal & Stephen R Cosh Society of Antiquaries of London Dec 2010 £160 pp470 hb isbn 9780854312948 Reviewed by Sarah Scott
Over eight years David Neal and Stephen Cosh have produced four volumes which catalogue and illustrate every Romano-British mosaic found to date. This monumental project, which has been funded by grants and donations from many institutions, societies and individuals, has assembled more than 1,700 illustrations, many drawn and painted by the authors themselves, in addition to photographs and historical engravings.
All the books follow the same format, with the mosaics arranged alphabetically by county and site. In each case the catalogue is preceded by an introductory section which provides some background to the region’s Roman period, as well as a detailed overview of the architectural contexts of the mosaics and a review of scholarship relating to stylistic analysis and the organisation of mosaicists. For each county there is a list of all mosaics, a brief review of the evidence and a catalogue. Each mosaic is described and illustrated, particular attention being paid to the iconography and
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decorative schemes. Whenever possible, plans of the towns, houses and villas have been included, with the locations of the mosaics clearly marked. For each entry in the catalogue there is a list of references, although these are selective rather than comprehensive. Volume IV also incorporates appendices with information about new discoveries made since the publication of the first three books, as well as short biographies of the mosaic artists whose work features in all four.
This final volume of the corpus covers a region that by the fourth century was one of the most affluent in Britain. For example, Corinium (Cirencester) became an important local and provincial capital, and there was substantial investment in the city itself as well as huge growth in the surrounding countryside. This volume therefore includes some of the most impressive and opulent villas and houses in Britain, such as the richly appointed villa at Woodchester (Gloucestershire) with its famous Orpheus pavement, possibly the largest figured mosaic to be found north of the Alps. The plan and mosaics from Woodchester were published in sumptuous volumes by the antiquary Samuel Lysons 200 years ago, and many of his engravings are included here alongside photographs and paintings by the authors; a real highlight is the beautiful foldout painting of the
Orpheus mosaic, which took Neal 18 months to complete.
The integration of information and illustrations from a wide range of sources, including details of the history of excavation and the context of the mosaics, are real strengths of all the volumes, as are the carefully thought out format and high production quality. The meticulous approach to recording and presentation sets them apart from catalogues for other Roman provinces, such as Gaul, and they will serve as a model for catalogues produced elsewhere and for other forms of classical art. Just as the work of Lysons is still an important point of reference for the study of RomanoBritish art, there is no doubt that these volumes will stimulate further research and become a fundamental reference source for anyone with an interest in Romano-British villas and their mosaics. Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe by Charles Freeman Yale University Press Apr 2011 £25 pp306 hb isbn 9780300125719
Becoming Neanderthals: The Earlier British Middle Palaeolithic by Rebecca Scott Oxbow Feb 2011 £50 pp234 hb isbn 9781842179734
The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology ed Helena Hamerow, David A Hinton & Sally Crawford Oxford University Press Mar 2011 £95 pp1078 hb isbn 9780199212149
The Picts by Jill Harden Historic Scotland Dec 2010 £4.95 pp80 pb isbn 9781849170345
Three Ways Wharf, Uxbridge: A Late Glacial & Early Holocene Hunter-Gatherer
Site in the Colne Valley by John SC Lewis & James Rackham MOLA Dec 2010 £25 pp228 hb isbn 9781901992977
Those of us familiar with British medieval churches may be only dimly aware of the importance of relics during the middle ages, as most have been removed during the Reformation or later. On the continent where Catholicism remained strong, however, we can readily see relics at every turn, both still in active use and displayed in museums. The complexity of the containers – reliquaries – reflects their significance. This book provides an engagingly written historical narrative supported by many
By the late middle palaeolithic (some 70–40,000 years ago) neanderthals possessed a suite of survival skills approaching those of Homo sapiens, but what they were doing during the early middle palaeolithic (in Britain, 300–200,000 years ago) is less clear. Scott focuses on the lithic technology of this era, successfully establishing it as critical to understanding how neanderthal adaptations evolved at the edge of their world. This included developing ways to make usable flakes and blades from cores, such as “Levallois”
detailed stories of how relics were relevant to theological, cultural, political and economic changes across medieval Europe. From an archaeological standpoint there is sadly limited analysis of the reliquaries themselves, or the effects of their use on the design and functioning of space within churches, cathedrals and monasteries. It is not a visual feast, though there are some illustrations, but the book might inspire you to search out those relics and experience them for yourself. Harold Mytum techniques which established a certain degree of control over the size and form of desired products. The Thames river terraces provide securely dated core sites with excellent lithic assemblages, some including refitting knapping sequences, and Scott’s exhaustive technological reconstructions bring neanderthal technology to light in an accessible way. Superbly illustrated, it is an excellent introduction to middle palaeolithic technology and neanderthal behaviour, and will be well thumbed by specialists. Paul Pettit
This book is desperately needed – we’ve waited 35 years for a new survey of AngloSaxon archaeology. What we’ve got is fantastic: comprehensive and up to date and, arguably, even good value. The editors and 52 well-chosen contributors have worked hard to help the reader with maps and indexes; the papers are accessible and friendly, yet scholarly and authoritative, and the writers’ passion and excitement shine through. Pithy “overviews”, one for each of the ten sections, highlight current debate and future research.
We’re also told what we don’t know – the mysteries which inspire new work – and unexpected topics are encountered, from literacy to wildness. There are inevitable gaps (I missed a discussion of transport and travel). The photos are horribly dark. Still, the Handbook will remind historians, art historians and literary and placename specialists of the importance of archaeology. Every Anglo-Saxon archaeologist, whether student or seasoned expert, will find it indispensable. Helen Geake
This attractive little book replaces an earlier one with the same title by Anna Ritchie, prompted in part by the recent redisplay of the collection of sculptured stones at St Vigeans: it includes a guide to that collection and the equally important one at Meigle. Sculptured stones constitute a large part of the evidence we have for the Picts, the inhabitants of eastern Scotland ad300–900. Historic Scotland looks after quite a lot of those stones, so the book aims to provide a
This is such a splendidly produced and important volume that one can almost ignore the fact that it has been a quarter of a century since the first excavation at the site. Five scatters of chipped stone artefacts and fragmented animal bones, dating to the late glacial and early Holocene, were meticulously excavated, and the site is of seminal importance to the period. With a few stops and starts, the 25 years involved palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, refitting, microware, studies of the taphonomy and cut context for viewing them. It is well written and has many good photographs. There is even a fair sprinkling of reconstruction drawings, though the use of five different illustrators, each with their own style, produces some discordant moments. Many of the book’s bold statements may well be true, though there is not a lot of evidence to underpin them. But if you like your archaeology largely devoid of uncertainties, this will appeal to you. David Clarke marks of the bones, and spatial analysis. All are superbly reported, leading to interpretations of the social organisation of those who butchered the reindeer and red deer on a low ridge overlooking a river valley some 10,000 years ago. This book is an exemplar of archaeological method, an excellent case study for students; it is a fine testimony to Lewis Binford, because his ethnoarchaeological-derived models are critical to the analysis and interpretation. Steven Mithen
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