CA 399 Letters – May

Your views on issues raised in CA.

Remembering Arnold Baker

I was delighted to hear of the rescue efforts in Sheffield that have recovered the aerial archives of Derrick Riley and Arnold Baker – quite why they ended up in a skip in the first place tells us a great deal of what universities think of Departments of Archaeology these days (‘Letters’, CA 398).

I can cast more light on Arnold Baker, as I used to work with him on Wroxeter, as is reflected in the Wroxeter Atlas volume of the Wroxeter Hinterland Project. I interviewed him at his home in Salisbury in 2009, five years before his death in 2014. To correct the letter in CA 398, Arnold was never a pilot, let alone a fighter pilot, in the Second World War. He had trained as an electrical engineer and, when war came, was swiftly signed up to aid the burgeoning development of Range and Direction Finding (RDF), better known under its American acronym Radar (RAdio Direction And Ranging). He was posted c.1941 to Worth Matravers in Dorset with the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), where he was one of the team that used the newly invented cavity magnetron to perfect Airborne Intercept radar in nightfighters. Soberingly, he told me that he was witness to the first successful interception of a Luftwaffe night raider using airborne radar. The team was moved to Malvern, and that became his permanent base. He learned to fly after the war, purchasing a share in an RAF-surplus DH.82A Tiger Moth, which he used to overfly the Welsh Marches from the mid-1950s to mid-1970s. A complete catalogued collection of his aerial photos exists in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham, and it is happily in the process of being digitised this year; it will then be available on the internet.

Roger White
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Eagle-eyed reader

I was interested to see and read about the copper-alloy disc brooch in CA 395’s ‘Finds Tray’. The bar on the back of the bird’s neck is certainly like a collared dove, but that species did not breed in the British Isles until the 1950s, and only reached Europe in the 18th century. The bird in the brooch appears to have a curved beak, so might it represent a bird of prey of some sort? I am not an expert in British birds and have no suggestion, but would be interested to know what it might be.

IMAGE: Durham County Council

Alan Beattie
Sittingbourne, Kent

A pigeon, perhaps?

Further to the disc brooch in ‘Finds Tray’, CA 395, it is very unlikely that the bird depicted is a collared dove. Collared doves did not appear in Britain till the 1930s, and did not breed here till the 1950s.

It is more likely that the bird is a wood pigeon, which, though lacking a ‘collar’, does have a flash on either side of its neck that, side on, can look like one – and it is indigenous to the British Isles.

Graham Dawson
Orpington, Greater London

Learning landsurveying

Your article on the British Cartographic Society and their study on benchmarks took me back to my youth. As a trainee land surveyor in the late 1960s, I learnt that the broad horizontal incision at the top of the benchmark was to enable the young surveyor to insert the end of his 6-inch scale rule into it, using his left hand, in order to support the levelling staff, which he was holding with his right. Of course, in those days all surveyors had a 6-inch scale rule in their top pocket, but then all surveyors wore jackets with breast pockets within which would be a pencil and a scale rule… always a pencil, not a pen, and I still regularly use a pencil rather than a pen. I’m pretty confident I could still use a Dumpy Level, not so sure about the Theodolite, but I remember the principles – essentially it was all only arithmetic.

Bob Britnell, FRICS
Canterbury, Kent

History of Heath Wood excavations

With reference to your news article in CA 397, my father, H B Wain, excavated several of the Viking Burial mounds at Heath Wood in 1941 and 1942 with a team from Burton-on-Trent Natural History and Archaeological Society. I was a schoolboy at the time, and remember the excitement of the discovery and of seeing that the cremated remains had revealed further evidence of Viking life.

My wife and I visited the site in 2001 – when it was covered in tiny birch saplings. Life begins again!

Richard Wain
Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire

(A) myriad (of) meanings

I very much enjoy Chris Catling’s ‘Sherds’ column, and it is usually the first item to which I turn when Current Archaeology arrives. I also enjoy discussions about the use of language and of how words change and develop, so I found the latest column in the May edition (CA 398) of particular interest.

I was somewhat taken aback, however, by his comment that myriad has ‘morphed’ to become a noun. I am one of a dwindling number of people who learned ancient Greek at school. I remember learning the word ‘μύριας’, transliterated as myrias, which is a noun meaning ’10,000’. It takes a genitive, so you might talk of ‘a myriad of Persian soldiers’. This was such a large number to the ancient Greeks that it acquired the sense of ‘a very large number almost beyond count’. Whether I would have used the word much as a child I rather doubt, but for the past 45 years or so I have thought of ‘myriad’ as a noun, as I imagine has everyone who learned ancient Greek in the past.

If ‘myriad’ is ceasing to be used adjectivally and is becoming a noun once again, I for one will raise a cheer that one word at least is looking back at its roots. If this is the start of a trend, it would be one to welcome. It would be interesting to reflect on what other words might usefully do the same. There perhaps is a thought to pursue in your next column.

Rob Baldwin
Lyminge, Kent

Reflecting on wrecks

I was most intrigued by the fascinating article around the wreck of the Gloucester in CA 398. I was struck by the similarities between the fate of the Gloucester, and that of its near-contemporary the Vasa, which sank in 1628 and which I have recently visited in Stockholm’s Vasa Museum (ABOVE).

IMAGE: Charles Broughton

There, I read about the great media and public interest that was generated by the raising and subsequent preservation of this ship – and thinking about the excellent Mary Rose Museum that we have closer to home in Portsmouth, and the historical significance of the Gloucester – I wonder how financially viable it would be to raise this latter wreck and house it, too, in a purpose-built exhibition location?

In our world of digital recreations, CGI, and virtual/augmented reality, where gaps can be filled in for a fraction of the cost, would there be the interest? In your Gloucester article, I enjoyed the in-depth analysis of the items recovered, which really gives a human side to the people who sadly lost their lives many years ago – something that also really came to the fore in the Vasa Museum; above all, you are struck by the fact that, although separated by centuries, there were not so many differences between us and them. However, you really cannot beat the presence of the ship itself really to bring history to life and make it ever more relevant to our experiences today.

In lieu of available finance for raising the Gloucester, or indeed any of the many interesting wrecks that pepper the coast of the UK and further afield, which I heard about at your recent conference, perhaps this is a question for Dr Daniel Pascoe, who spoke so engagingly on the subject at CA Live!, and who provided a wonderful insight into the ‘art of the possible’ in terms of visualising of these underwater time capsules from the comfort (and dryness!) of your own sofa.

Charles Broughton
Arundel, West Sussex

Edible archaeology

A cake made (and eaten) to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Archaeology Volunteer Network of the Lake District National Park at an event at Grasmere on 28 February.

Jeremy Rowan Robinson
Kendal, Cumbria

CA online

Dr Joe Flatman @joeflatman
The art of #archaeology: here’s a properly splendid piece of aerial archaeology and open-area excavation from @CurrentArchaeo 79 (October 1981), showing the Bronze Age barrow at #Sproxton #Leicestershire, at that time being examined by a team from what became @ULASarchaeology

Alison Douglas @Alison_Douglaz
Woop I AM in @GovanStones article in @CurrentArchaeo this month! Thanks @thegouck for pointing that out! Need to get a hard copy.

Conversation Kenge @fen_ken
That’s kind of glamorous site wear!

Alison Douglas @Alison_Douglaz
It is! I went for a wee visit and ended up – as you do – talking about topography, stratigraphy, and site formations! Ha – in my patent shoes.

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