CA Letters – April 2022

Your views on the latest issues in Current Archaeology.

Spheres of influence

Thank you for your magazine. I love where my body and imagination go while I am bouncing around in time and place in the pictures and words painted on the pages.

I have been fascinated by the stone balls (CA 380, ‘Neolithic stone balls found in Orkney tomb’, and CA 381, ‘Neolithic bling’) since I first read about the few that were known by the 1970s/1980s.

IMAGE: Mike Lawlor.

I have read that they seem to have no animal remains ground in, so they were probably not used for hunting. Besides that there would be too much chance of breaking or losing the things if they were being thrown for any reason except on a contest ground. So I asked myself: ‘What would I do with them?’

Because they are all relatively uniform in size and there are so few of them I have thought that they are clan or community signets. The ball would have been kept in the possession of the clan leader and passed around a meeting in the same manner as Native Americans for whom ‘he who had the eagle feather had the floor.’

A messenger may have carried a stone in conjunction with a visible banner for safe passage. It would have identified the bearer and given verity to the message.

But who knows? They could also be used as votes in the stoning of a societal miscreant: to throw or not to throw at the head or the body of a fellow bound to a post.

I like the signet idea better.

Steve Slute
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

The two Chamberlains

A very astute member of our organisation, the Victorian Society, found a small error in your article on the top ten most endangered Victorian buildings in CA 384. Icknield Street School in Birmingham was designed by John Henry Chamberlain – not Joseph Chamberlain, as the article states.

IMAGE: Stephen Hartland.

This is a common mix-up, as the Victorian statesman Joseph Chamberlain is a very well-known name in Birmingham, where he made his career. The waters are further muddied as J H Chamberlain designed Joseph Chamberlain’s house ‘Highbury’ (above).

The Victorian Society champions the conservation of buildings dating between 1837-1914, and coverage of the Top Ten Endangered Buildings List is very much needed to save these wonderful buildings for future generations.

The more exposure the plight of these at-risk buildings receive, the more likelihood there is of them being saved.

If any of your readers would like to learn more about what we do, they can visit for more information.

John Cowley
The Victorian Society

Church crawlers

Thank you for featuring the Church Crawlers group in ‘Odd Socs’ (CA 384). May I reassure you that we all love the name Church Crawlers and can’t see anything negative about it. If it was good enough for Betjeman, it is certainly good enough for us!

You may like to know that we have lots of Facebook pages that are offshoots of Church Crawlers Anonymous: Church Lych Gates, Church Porches and Porch Gates, Weather Vanes, Royal Arms in Parish Churches, Church Fonts, and Coffin Biers and Stretchers among them. We have been considering setting up another one for Church Doors, as people post lots of photos of some truly wonderful examples, and also one for West Galleries, my particular interest. The photographs that members post are very informative and as a result I have a large file of ‘churches I must visit’.

Linda Hall

A tribute to Neil

I was reading the latest issue with Andrew Selkirk’s lovely tribute to Neil Faulkner (CA 384, ‘Last Word’). It brought both a tear to my eye and a smile to my face.

I first met Neil about a dozen years ago, and since then we worked together on both Military History Monthly (now Military History Matters) and some military archaeology projects. It was four years ago that together we formed ‘King’s Lynn under Siege’, a project that is now coming to fruition ( Alas, although Neil and I remained in contact until just a couple of weeks before he died, he was unable to see this for himself.

He was an extraordinary man. His breadth of knowledge and his skills as an archaeologist and historian were inspiring, and at the same time he was incredibly kind and generous. It is safe to say that Neil had more impact on my ‘career’ as a military historian than anyone else. He was a colleague, a mentor, and, most of all, a friend. I will miss him greatly.

David Flintham

Thinking differently

As ever, CA 384 was a marvellous treasure trove of delights. I loved the DNA focus of ‘Family ties’ (Neolithic kinship links) and other articles. I offer two observations.

First, ‘Quarrying clues: the symbolism of Neolithic stone extraction’ is a tremendous attempt to recover Neolithic thought in relation to stone through reference to ethnographic data as well as deep reflection and speculation. Surely, though, to claim that ‘it is difficult for us to understand why such beautiful objects, so difficult to create… were broken and burned for deposition’ suggests we are still asking the wrong question from the wrong kind of mind.

I provide here one attempt to think differently: objects like axes may have been conceptualised as a necessary consequence of intrinsically violent human need (cutting down trees, processing animals, human attack or defence). These objects may have been empowered through ceremony to create a limited degree of ‘allowable harm’ (including to fellow denizens – humans, vegetation, fauna) during a specified period of use. Were this the case, their extraction from an intrinsic benign creator ’earth creator’ may have required ceremonies focused on apology and appeasement. If so, their return to the soil would inevitably require that they be broken beyond use for two reasons: (1) to forestall any possibility of continued harm by other humans beyond that already ‘agreed’ between humans and the earth creator, and (2) it could well have seemed deeply essential not to bury a functional human-made harmful object within the earth creator so as not to injure it.

Second, The World of Stonehenge creates a Wild West heroic narrative of ‘intrepid hunter-gatherers venturing back across the English Channel’. And yet we are talking of a period of 7,000 years during which the waters gradually flooded the Doggerland! We are thus talking of multiple generations undoubtedly making – to them – indiscernible advances over a huge span of time, perhaps just a metre or two a year, with quite a lot of back and forth depending on weather. We need to dissociate ourselves from our own historical narratives and mindsets when trying to interpret other epochs. This is all the more important when it comes to interpreting Neolithic possessions as necessarily connected to personal status and wealth. This is a reflection of our current world view. Rather, many possessions may have been held, and magically deployed, for the benefit of everyone in the community. This could have been through specially designated people, or perhaps everyone, in turn, could handle and utilise them at certain times.

Cathy Rozel Farnworth
Warleggan, Cornwall


I am new to CA, and I am loving all that I read about, including ‘edible archaeology’. We had a little family food challenge last year on WhatsApp, making Stonehenge for a fish finger supper. Obviously it was inaccurate, but I think our final effort got the right vibe.

Mary Fenske, Thanet

CA Online

Paul Duffy @PDufaigh
Three castles on a leather strap from our dig at George’s St (next to Dublin Castle). Hard not to think of the Dublin coat of arms. Also similar to a floor tile from St Mary’s Abbey – any other parallels gratefully received, @CurrentArchaeo @Archaeology_Irl #MedievalArchaeology

Deb Robinson @RooMum
Excited to share @PrincetonUPress’s author, Dora Ching (Visualizing Dunhuang) talk @CurrentArchaeo virtual online fair this weekend!… It’s free and fascinating! #archaeology #ancienthistory #buddhistart #dunhuangcaves

Dan Herbert @DanHerb10
Current Archaeology Live is just the best! So many great talks available online. Perfect for a wet Wednesday lunchtime @CurrentArchaeo

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