NEWSLETTER 216: March 1989 Editor: Deirdre
Tuesday, March 7 DR. GRAHAM CAMPBELL on “The Vikings and Their Art” . Dr. Campbell is Reader in Medieval Archaeology at University College. He came to talk to us in 1987 on Late Celtic Art in Great Britain and Ireland. He gave us a fascinating lecture with excellent slides. We are sure that this too will be a most interesting evening and hope the audiences will be as good as they have been at our January and February lectures.
Tuesday, April 4 .HARVEY SHELDON on Recent Archaeological Investigation in Southwark.
Saturday, April 22 Afternoon Tour of Harrow School.
“CANARY WHARF IS FOR THE BIRDS” – Alec Jeakins reports on the February lecture
An artist’s impression of Canary Wharf was the final image of Alex Warner’s lecture on the London Dockland and its Archaeological Discoveries and Potential. Apart from showing the main 850-foot structure, in the background was the proposed road linking Canary Wharf to the start of the Highway at Ratcliffe Cross. The road will be built cut-and-cover, i.e. a deep trench that will be covered over. The route will cut through potentially important archaeological sites at Limehouse and Ratcliffe Cross (medieval docks and possibly Roman wharfs). These are areas that Mr Werner has identified in a series of research papers that he has written to alert his colleagues, the London Docklands Development Corporation and the planning departments in the London boroughs covering the Docklands. He also added a plea for £200,000 from the developers for archaeological work – from the £200 million budgeted to build the road!
That story encapsulates the archaeological problems of the Docklands – few planning restrictions, 50-60 planning applications per week, vast sites, some contaminated with hazardous wastes such as lead and transformer oil, totally inadequate resources which reduce the archaeologists to begging favours from JCB operators to cut them holes and trenches, and that’s assuming they can get on to the site in the first place.
Mr Werner was, in the opinion of some members, unduly protective towards one particular major developer by not naming the company, a company which has consistently refused assistance of any kind to the archaeologists.
As an example of the practical consequences of this scale of activities, in Southwark 34 excavations were undertaken in 1988 (Harvey Sheldon will no doubt tell us about them in more detail in April). They included the Cherry Garden Wharf which produced Saxon and Roman remains; Platform Wharf where a moated site, possibly a palace belonging to Edward II has been partly excavated, though the central area has still to be worked on (which in the 17th C was used as a “Delft” pottery); a site of what may have been Falstaff’s House that produced a fine piece of waterlogged medieval carved wood; a fascinating slide of Neolithic plough-marks that had been found below a warehouse basement; and also from Southwark existence of a Bronze Age barrow and the famous wooden-floored Roman warehouse.
Not surprisingly, with this quantity of excavation on the South side of the Thames, virtually no excavations have taken place on the North bank. This will change as projects like Canary Wharf Road get under way. Already tantalising glimpses are coming to light of wattle-laid medieval pathways through the Isle of Dogs. Evidence of the scale of the embanking of the Isle of Dogs has been shown by the quantities of -Delft” kiln wasters, clay, and kiln furniture from the Southwark potteries that have been found so far.
We were left with the feeling that whatever historical information is recovered from the Docklands will only be a fraction of what could have been found, had the redevelopment taken place at a less frenzied pace. What we let slip through our fingers is not only our loss but lost forever.
NEWS OF MEMBERS
Myfanwy Stewart will be speaking on Brockley Hill – Prehistoric Flintwork at the 26th Annual Conference of London Archaeologists, organised by LAMAS. (See February Newsletter). At 11.10 am, Myfanwy will be the first of a group of speakers on Recent Archaeological Research in London. The afternoon session consists of short lectures casting new light on aspects of Roman London.
The day of lectures will be held in the Museum of London Lecture Theatre, and tickets are obtainable from: LAMAS Archaeological Conference, c/o Museum of London, London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN at £2.50 (LAMAS members) and £3.50 (non-members of LAMAS).
Victor Jones and Brian Wrigley will talk on An Ice House in Hendon when they take part in a LAMAS “Members’ Miscellany” at the Lecture Theatre of the Museum of London at 6.30 pm on Wednesday 17th May. LAMAS says they “will be delighted to see any members of groups from affiliated societies who may be interested.”
“SUPPINC WITH THE DEVIL?” Jennie Cobban
Readers of December’s Newsletter may remember that, during the course of my “heartrending” account of High Street, Barnet, I referred briefly to an object discovered boxed within the exposed timber framing of 52 High Street (Louis Shoe Shop).
The original function of this wrought-iron, roughly spoon-shaped tool, 18* inches long, remains a mystery. It was duly sent to the British Museum experts for dating and identification, but they could offer no clue as to either its date or function. Since the object’s return to Barnet Museum, where it now sits smugly on display, puzzling everybody, it has started a “guess-what-it-was-for” game. Suggestions have included a heating iron for mulling wine, a thatching tool, a ratting spoon and an ancient murder weapon!
Having for many years been immersed in the study of the history of witchcraft and magic, and given the fact that the object seemed to have been deliberately concealed within the timber framing, possibly for magical purposes, I sent a photograph and information concerning the object to Ralph Merrifield, author of “The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic”, requesting his opinion.
Mr Merrifield very kindly replied very promptly with the following comments:
“Thank you very much for you kind words about my book. I’m glad you enjoyed it and only hope that it has some effect on the attitude of archaeologists who, unlike you, are at present unconverted … I have heard of an ordinary 17th century table spoon being found enclosed in the door lintel of a house at Waltham Abbey;’ it is now in the Museum of London.
The curious object from Barnet is, of course, quite different, and if it was enclosed as a charm, the reason may have been that it was made of iron, which in any form was supposed to repel witches and fairies. I would be interested to know precisely how and where it was boxed in. Somewhere near the chimney piece on the first’ floor would be the most usual place. With regard to its original function, I don’t much favour either the ‘ratting’ spoon or the thatching tool theory. The fact that it had a wooden handle, and was quite long suggests to me that it became very hot at the spatulate end when it was used.
I would therefore favour the heating iron theory. It could have been used in mulling wine or ale, or perhaps in some industrial process. It would even have been used for more general kitchen purposes as a stirrer – e.g. of the contents of a cauldron.
If it is a spoon, it must have been used for ‘supping with the devil’!”
The mind boggles. Bearing in mind the above comments, I contacted the builder who discovered the object, Mr. Bob Fairweather, who provided further information concerning the positioning of the object within the timber framing.
The object was first discovered within the first floor wall, placed carefully within a recess in the timber framing, and enclosed by the original plasterwork, which had not been disturbed. This indicates that the object was placed here at the time of construction, probably some time in the 17th C. (Many of the timbers used are apparently re-used 16th C ships’ timbers, according to Mr. Fairbrother.) Further, the object was indeed deposited very near to the chimney, as Mr. Merrifield predicted.
It would therefore seem reasonable to suppose that the implement was placed here deliberately as a charm to protect the building at the time of its construction. Placing it near to the chimney could protect the building against (a) the risk of fire and (b) against any malevolent entities entering the building by way of the chimney. The charm, if it is indeed such, may also have had a far more specific purpose, linked to its original function. If anybody out there in HADAS recognises its purpose, for goodness’ sake let me know at once and put me out of my misery.
My thanks are due to Ralph Merrifield for his speedy and informative response to my plea for assistance, and to Mr. Graham Javes of Barnet Museum for the photograph. Many thanks also to Bob Fairbrother, the building contractor in charge of work at 52 High Street, who has kept HADAS informed of progress and discoveries at the site throughout. What a pleasant and refreshing change!
MESSAGE FROM THE MEMBERSHIP SECRETARY PHYLLIS FLETCHER
With this Newsletter I am enclosing a reminder that subscriptions have been increased and are due for renewal as from 1 April 1989. As mentioned in the February Newsletter, members who pay by standing order should complete a new form and send this to your bank – if you have already done this, please ignore this reminder.
Thanks also for the subscriptions I have already received. I await hearing from you all, and thank you for your assistance.
After much delay, I have finally read Colin Renfrew’s book, “Archaeology and Language”, and hope it is not too late to add some comments, particularly as I believe Brian Wrigley’s remarks in last August’s Newsletter were unduly critical.
The views on the location of the Indo-European “homeland” and the date of dispersal from it which Professor Renfrew discusses in his early chapters are very speculative. They are based only on the common “core” vocabulary of the Indo-European languages and on vague estimates of the rates at which languages change. Attempts to match up the supposed migrations with the archaeological evidence (Beakers, Corded Ware, etc.) are not convincing. For many years the opinion of most linguists has been that the matter would be eventually settled by archaeological research, and that seems to be what is happening now, though in a rather surprising way.
What Professor Renfrew has done is to cut the Gordian knot by taking firmly the view that there were no Beaker or Corded Ware migrations, and backdating the Indo-European dispersal, therefore, to the last period in which there probably were migrations, namely the period in which agriculture spread. To me this seems a brilliantly simple idea, and much that was previously puzzling now falls into place. The longer time-scale and the slower rate of migration leave more time for the observed differences between the main language branches to have developed. And if the dispersal was from the south, it is easier to see why, before the Roman Empire, there was a fairly distinct north-south frontier between the Celtic and Germanic branches, which has always seemed difficult to account for if dispersal was from the east.
As Brian Wrigley says, Professor Renfrew’s model relies completely on the supposition that domesticated plant and animal species spread across Europe from a Near Eastern homeland. I am not too sure how well accepted this idea is in archaeological circles (or indeed the view that there were no Beaker or Corded Ware migrations) – maybe HADAS members can advise me on this point. it does not seem to me, however, that the model is totally dependent on the “wave of advance” theory of Cavalli-Sforza and Ammerman. Professor Renfrew only invokes it to account for his own objection that a non-hierarchic society, such as the late Neolithic, would not have had sufficient organisational ability to mount a planned migration. It does not, however, seem all that improbable that a planned migration should take place in this era. Somehow or other, these early farmers crossed the sea at several points, which seems to demand a degree of planning which exceeds the simple “wave of advance” model. This is not to argue that “wave of advance” is in itself suspect. It is really a statement of statistical fact rather than an archaeological theory, showing the demographic consequences of the fiftyfold increase in population which a change to a farming economy would make possible. As far as it goes, its main points can be verified in five minutes with a pocket calculator. It undoubtedly operates if the conditions are right – the only doubt in any particular case must be whether the conditions are right and whether other factors are operating as well.
As far as dispersal of the Indo-European languages in Asia is concerned, the situation is not quite the same as in Europe, because the existing theories (though over-romanticised) are more satisfactory. The languages of the Indo-Iranian group are more closely related to each other than are the languages of Europe, suggesting a later dispersal. Though there is no proof that the Indus Valley civilisation was overthrown by intruders, it did come to a sudden end. And although the Indus Valley script has not been interpreted, the balance of opinion seems to be that its language is Dravidian. Professor Renfrew’s case for linking the coming of Indo-European languages with the spread of agriculture is not made so convincingly as in the case of Europe, and it still seems distinctly possible that they arrived from the north-west in the second millenium BC. Hopefully the Indus script will be deciphered one day and throw some more light on the matter. If the language is Indo-Iranian, Professor Renfrew will almost certainly have been proved right.
It is now some time since Professor Renfrew’s book appeared, and presumably responses to it will have appeared in specialist journals. Do any HADAS members have knowledge of these?
The following sites, the subject of recent Planning Applications, could be archaeologically “sensitive”. Members living in the vicinity are asked to keep an eye on them and report anything of possible interest to the Site Co-ordinator, John Enderby, on 203 2630.
315 Wellhouse Lane, Chipping Barnet 48-bed Geriatric Unit with parking spaces
63/65 Wood Street, Chipping Barnet 2 storey offive building
Edgware Farm, Edgwarebury Lane Rear Extension
48 Brockley Avenue, Stanmore Front and rear extension.
Rosebank Farm, The Ridgeway, NW7 Extensive conversions to farm buildings
68, Francklyn Gardens, Edgware Extensions
NOTES FOR NEW DIGGERS by GEORGE SWEETLAND
Any archaeological excavation, whether amateur or professional, depends for its success on the humble digger. For those who have not yet given a hand at any of the past HADAS projects, these few words have been put together to given them some idea of what is required in practical terms, and to emphasise that we need not only the horny-handed, gimlet-eyed “old stager”, but the absolute beginners who are willing to give us a little of their time so that in the coming season we shall see many new faces among the volunteers.
First and foremost, the only real requirement is enthusiasm, although of course any experience is very useful, even working in your garden or allotment will mean you will have some familiarity with the use of the spade and trowel.
In essence, there are two types of dig. Usually the site is opened up by removing the more recent layers, which are often very disturbed. The depth of this varies enormously, from a few inches at rural sites to several feet in cities. This accumulation is not without its value, but the dictates of time mean that a certain amount of ruthlessness must be adopted, and in the case of professionally-directed digs, this whole layer is removed by a JCB machine. For amateur groups, however, picks and shovels and wheelbarrows are the only practical answer, used on carefully chosen and limited areas.
When the less disturbed and potentially more informative layers are reached, more finesse is required. Small areas are marked off, each digger being allocated a section, and she/he uses a trowel gently to remove the soil to a depth determined by the site director, carefully recording the three-dimensional position of each artefact found. The find may then be placed in a tray, or for more important pieces, in a plastic bag, together with its record card. A small shovel is then used to put the spoil into a bucket, which when full is transferred to the spoil-heap. Ideally, each load should be carefully sieved before disposal, but for several reasons this may have to be omitted, and therefore will be at the discretion of the director.
In both cases, common sense is an important factor. When using the pick and shovel, a sharp eye should be kept for interesting finds, (a bag of Victorian guineas, for example!) or the modern unrecorded water-pipe or cable. When trowelling, observation must be even more acute. A change in soil texture or colour might indicate the edge of a pit or feature which will need different recovery techniques.
In case of any doubt, the attention of the director or a more experienced digger should be brought to the anomaly.
Although “trenching” has been superseded by the investigation of sites layer by layer by professional archaeologists, trial trenching is an important tool for small groups with limited time and effort at their disposal. The siting of these trial trenches is obviously critical since, if you are unlucky, they could miss every feature, and therefore is the cause of many headaches to the director, but if chosen well, can give an insight into the potential of the excavation very quickly.
It may be that you are concerned with the equipment for your debut. If we start with the clothing, washable jeans are the best choice for everyone. On top, several layers are preferable (shovelling is hot work, trowelling isn’t), and are easily adapted. In changeable weather, a waterproof jacket and overtrousers are essential, and so are a good pair of wellingtons or boots. In dry weather trainers can be worn when trowelling.
Note-taking equipment is useful, as you will need to record the finds on the cards supplied. A notebook of your own will enable you to keep a history of your own contribution to the dig.
We now come to the trowel, the symbol of all archaeologists, and the tool all beginners should possess.
It should have a blade 3″-4″ in length and be in one piece (forged) or welded. Rivetted trowels are not recommended as they become loose, but for reasons of economy beginners might feel that as they are much cheaper, they may do as well to start with. “Texas” DIY shops supply quite acceptable varieties. Your own kneeling-pad might also be convenient (your spare woolly in a large plastic bag will often serve). All other equipment, shovels (small and large), buckets etc, are supplied by HADAS.
Every help will be given to new diggers on site, and at the end of the day, you will find that it has not been hard graft but a most enjoyable social occasion.
For anyone who would like to go deeper into the theories and practice of excavation, a number of books are available. One of which can be recommended is Graham Webster’s “Practical Archaeology”.
THE DERIVATION OF SILK STREAM (See p.8 of February Newsletter)
Bill Firth says “Only one member, Jean Snelling, came up with a full answer to the derivation of the name ‘Silk Stream’.
‘The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names’ (4th ed. 1960, Eilert Ekwall) refers to the Old English sulh meaning a plough, but also in the sense of ‘furrow’ or ‘gully’ – a narrow valley. Ekwall gives references to Silk Stream as sulh, sulc in 957 AD and sulh in 972 in the ‘Cartalarium Saxiconum’.”