Britain in archaeology
Two human skulls from east of Bridgwater (Somerset) have been radiocarbon dated to 8460–8275bc and 8445–8260bc, and thus came from the UK’s first known open air mesolithic cemetery. The skulls were part of a group of human remains recovered in 1928 from the now disused Greylake Sand Quarry, Middlezoy, said at the time to have represented at least five individuals. No artefacts were found with them that might have indicated their age, but local archaeologist Harold St George Gray suggested they may have been victims of the Battle of Sedgemoor (1685). The skulls have been dated by the county council's Lost Islands of Somerset project led by Richard Brunning, who described the dates as “just the result we were hoping for”. Large numbers of mesolithic flint artefacts have been found at the quarry site, which in mesolithic times would have been an island in what is now the Somerset Levels. The skulls have been displayed in the Admiral Blake Museum, Bridgwater.
DNA analysis by Ian Barnes, reader in molecular palaeobiology at Royal Holloway University of London, suggests 17 skeletons excavated in 2004 from a Norwich well are evidence for medieval Jewish persecution. Radiocarbon dated to the 12th or 13th century, the remains consist of 11 children aged two to 15 and six adults. Five of seven individuals successfully tested had a DNA sequence indicative of one Jewish family. Sue Black, forensic anthropologist at the University of Dundee's Centre for Anthropology & Human Identification, said, “We are possibly talking about ethnic cleansing” – murder or forced suicide. The study was conducted for a programme in the bbc2 series History Cold Case.
Continuing excavation at Vindolanda Roman Fort (Northumberland) has revealed a number of stone-built round buildings said to date from the time of emperor Septimius Severus’s Scottish campaign (ad208–211). Director of excavations Andrew Birley speculated that the Roman army had provided refuge for native farmers who had supported and traded with the soldiers, and were seen as “traitors and collaborators”. "These are very unusual buildings”, he added, “and it looks as though they may number into the hundreds”.
Odyssey Marine Exploration, says CEO Greg Stem in its latest financial report (noting a near quadruple revenue increase), is “looking forward to continuing… relationships with governments”. This vision may have stalled in the UK. On July 19 the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Culture Media & Sport published a report on HMS Victory, sunk off Alderney in 1744 and located by Odyssey in 2009. Odyssey had hoped to agree a deal that would allow it to profit from excavation and what it controversially called “preservation” (feature May/Jun 2009/106). After public consultation, however, the MoD and the DCMS decided to respect a UNESCO Convention annex and rely for now on in situ wreck management, aided by the charity Pro Mare which will monitor the site for the coming year.
Shane McLeod, a PhD student at the Centre for Medieval & Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia, examined 14 Viking burials in eastern England, identified by grave goods and bone isotope studies and all said to be male, and found six to be female. Among the latter were three from a mass grave at Repton, Derbyshire, one with a sword and shield. “Most of the data”, says McLeod, “gives the impression that Norse females were far outnumbered by males”. He suggests “female migration may have been as significant as male… including during the campaigning period from 865” (Early Medieval Europe Aug 2011).
8|British Archaeology|September October 2011 On July 24 the Sunday Times published a photo of a cave on the Gower, south-west Wales, and announced “Britain’s oldest example of rock art”. The engraved lines were discovered by George Nash, archaeology consultant and parttime lecturer at Bristol University, last September. Nash compared the find to Creswell Crags (Nottinghamshire), the site of the UK’s then only proven ice age cave art, dated to 13–11,500bc. Others had doubts, noting similarities between the new find and engravings recently reported from Somerset caves and claimed to be mesolithic (10–4000bc). On July 28, on his way to the Gower to collect more samples, Nash told this magazine that the first result of dating calcite above the engraving, conducted by Peter van Calstern and Louise Thomas of the Open University, had just come in at around 10,570bc ± 660 years. He believed the “speared reindeer” was “much earlier”, and noted that artefacts dating to 14–12,000bc had been excavated in the cave (whose name has been withheld). The project is administered by National Museum Wales and Forestry Commission Wales, and supported by Cadw.
The National Heritage Memorial Fund announced a £374,000 grant to help save the Roman town of Venta Icenorum, at Caistor St Edmund (Norfolk). The town is one of just three from Roman Britain, including Silchester (Hampshire) and Wroxeter (Shropshire), that were abandoned and never resettled, leaving the remains unusually well preserved in rural locations; exceptionally Venta was also occupied in Anglo-Saxon times. Other grants came from English Heritage, South Norfolk council and the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, which already owned part of the site. Taking the 22ha site (55 acres) into public ownership should protect it from farming and unauthorised metal detecting.
Oxford Archaeology announced that two incisor teeth from one of 51 skulls excavated in 2009 in a mass burial pit near Weymouth (Dorset) had been artificially grooved across their front. The remains, all male, have been radiocarbon dated to ad910–1030. Earlier teeth studies revealed isotope values consistent with Scandinavian countries; it is assumed the men, many of whose bones show signs of violent death, were Vikings. Filed Viking teeth have also been found in Denmark and Sweden.
The future of archaeological research has been boosted by two openings. In June the University of Winchester
(Hampshire) opened the Centre for Applied Archaeology & Heritage Management. Birmingham Archaeology (at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity) and MetroMOLA (part of Museum of London Archaeology) launched Birmingham-based MetroMOLA Central in July, to combine commercial archaeological services and research.
Excavations in York where new headquarters for the city council are to be built, have uncovered a Roman bath complex. The baths had been identified in the 1840s during construction of the railway station, and what was left had been protected from further development; finds included painted wall plaster. Nick Pearson, from On Site Archaeology, described the site as “some of the best quality Roman archaeology” seen in York in 20 years.
In a confusing time for the public image of museums, a gloomy report accompanied several major openings. A Museums Association survey published in July said 58% of polled UK museums had suffered cuts, leading to reduced staff, opening hours and events; nearly half expected things to get worse. “It’s a myth”, said MA director Mark Taylor, “that you can cut funding without affecting front-line services”. Meanwhile, long-standing developments reaching fruition included Glasgow’s new Riverside Museum (£74m) and Bristol’s new dockside museum, M Shed (£27m), which opened in June; and the Museum of Liverpool, which attracted over 12,000 visitors on its first day in July (£72m), and the new National Museum of Scotland, a merger of the old Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland, which opened to praise on July 29 (£46m).
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