CA Letters – December 2021

Your views on the latest issues of CA.

Saving our churches

Chris Catling is right to highlight the threat to our parish churches in the coming decades in the face of ever-declining congregations (‘Sherds’, CA 381). There is, however, a part-solution, highlighted in the same issue’s ‘Odd Socs’: to set up friends organisations to support the parochial church councils. I am president of one such organisation, which we set up last year (shameless plug: www.friendsofreptonparishchurch.co.uk) at Repton in Derbyshire. It has its own charitable status and link to the Charities Aid Foundation to be able to recover tax from donations. We have already raised £5,000 and our first event attracted over 500 people from the local community. For our parish churches to survive, we have to draw in the wider secular community to help maintain them as assets for all to enjoy.

below Professors Mark Horton and Martin Biddle outside St Wystan’s Church Repton, at the Friends of Repton Church First Birthday Event.
Professors Mark Horton and Martin Biddle outside St Wystan’s Church Repton, at the Friends of Repton Church First Birthday Event. Photo: Mark Horton.

Professor Mark Horton
Gatcombe, Blakeney, Gloucestershire

Earlier evidence of Neolithic dairy farming

I was pleased to read about the excavations at Trellyffaint (CA 380), one of my favourite monuments in Pembrokeshire. The results are interesting and add to the growing corpus of information about the life of the Neolithic people who settled in the Nevern Valley in the 4th millennium BC.

I was not surprised to see that the analysis of residues in the Grooved Ware pottery from the site revealed that the pots held lipids, thus suggesting that they were used for cheese-making and hence that dairy farming was practised by the builders of the megalith: evidence for lipid residues in Neolithic pottery is becoming more frequently found on excavated material. But I was surprised to read the claim that this represented the earliest evidence for dairy farming in Wales. Just a few miles to the west of Trellyffaint lies Carreg Coetan Arthur, where the pottery I excavated immediately outside the tomb’s entrance also held lipid residues (Archaeologia Cambrensis 2012: 121-123). The charcoal within and around the inverted, round-bottomed Neolithic bowl was dated to 3620-3020 BC, some hundreds of years earlier than the Trellyffaint pottery. No evidence for arable agriculture was found on the site, but for animal husbandry and dairy farming, with leather-working knives, gloss on flint tools emanating from meat cutting, and the lipids indicating cheese-making, there was plenty.

ABOVE Carreg Coetan Arthur, a Neolithic chambered tomb in north Pembrokeshire.
Carreg Coetan Arthur, a Neolithic chambered tomb in north Pembrokeshire. PHOTO: Carreg Coetan burial chamber. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Richard Law – geograph.org.uk/p/1044642.

Sian E Rees
Raglan, Usk, Monmouthshire

Recusant landscapes

I read with great interest the article in CA 381 about peasant perceptions of the landscape. I am a landscape archaeologist and historian, and my PhD is on ‘Recusants in the Landscape: the English Catholic Community of the Weald and Downland’. I am looking at how the spatial dynamics of the Weald and Downland, which is a cultural province, affected the everyday lives of Catholics in the later 16th century. I am using both archival research and archaeological fieldwork. Just as the research on Ewelme looked at the Reformation of the landscape and found that ordinary people held on to their beliefs and rituals (and this continued to be reflected in the landscape), so too am I finding the same in settlements in the Weald and Downland where there were large numbers of recusant Catholics, such as Buriton and Harting (twin parishes either side of the Hampshire/Sussex border).

Also, a note on topographical names. My name Hàìghlèàgh Winslade is completely topographical. ‘Hàìghlèàgh’ is the Gaelic spelling of ‘Hayley’, which means ‘hay meadow’, and Winslade (pronounced ‘wine’s lad’, as in the place-name near Basingstoke, Hampshire) is Old English and means ‘stream of a person called Wine.’

Hàìghlèàgh Winslade
Horndean, Hampshire

A hint of flint?

In the article on excavations at the temple site at Caistor St Edmund (CA 380), it is suggested that the corners of buildings had been particularly robbed out, with the suggestion that this was ‘presumably because the nicest, best-shaped building materials had been used to build corners.’

ABOVE The Caistor Roman Project’s most recent ‘Temple Field’ excavations (CA 380) were primarily focused on an enigmatic ‘auxiliary building’ close to a Roman temple. This photo shows its north-west corner, which has been extensively robbed perhaps indicating that the most desirable building materials were used on the corners.
The Caistor Roman Project’s most recent ‘Temple Field’ excavations (CA 380) were primarily focused on an enigmatic ‘auxiliary building’ close to a Roman temple. This photo shows its north-west corner, which has been extensively robbed perhaps indicating that the most desirable building materials were used on the corners. Photo: Geoff Lunn.

Knowing Norfolk and its lack of naturally occurring building stone, could it be that the buildings had been constructed primarily of flint, of which Norfolk has boundless supplies? Of course, you cannot build flint walls with corners, and hence the use of brick or stone quoins. Perhaps, then, the robbed corners were shaped stone quoins easily reused elsewhere.

The particular difficulty of building in flint explains those characteristic round church towers found in Norfolk: they have no corners and thus no need of stone quoins.

R T Britnell
Canterbury

A happy horticulturist

I loved the article on ornamental lakes (CA 380): two of my favourite topics, archaeology and horticulture, in one go. I came across Capability Brown’s landscape ideas back in the 1960s in school. (No idea how, but I learnt more about him in the early 2000s when studying horticulture.) I also came across a dissenting voice in the 19th-century author Thomas Love Peacock’s satirical Headlong Hall (amusing, relaxing, and highly recommended). I also enjoyed Tobias Smollett’s 18th-century Expedition of Humphry Clinker, not least for its descriptions of now-lost public pleasure grounds like Vauxhall Gardens and the various landscapes through which Squire Bramble and his family travelled on a circuit of Britain.

History, landscape, amusement – all in one handy package.

Helena McGinty
Alhaurín El Grande, Spain

Edible Archaeology

The Sussex Archaeology Society is not the only one celebrating an anniversary this year. The Berkshire Archaeological Society is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Not with quite the fanfare and celebrations we had planned, but we have managed a virtual Garden Party and a commemorative Day School, complete with cake, which even if it does not match the ingenuity of some of the cakes you have featured, does show our badge with pride.

Catherine Petts

CA Online

NTS Archaeologist @NTS_archaeology
Great article on #Iona by @amaldon @UofGArchaeo et al in @CurrentArchaeo and a wee sneaky bit in the news section about our @TheGlenlivet whisky project @N_T_S

Current Archaeology @CurrentArchaeo
It’s #nationalpoetryday! Who wants to write us an archaeological rhyme? Some doggerel on digging? A limerick about a landmark or a haiku about heritage? Last time we threw down the gauntlet you didn’t let us down – you can still find some brilliant #archaeohaiku via that hashtag.

Joe Flatman @joeflatman
Beer + sandals ✔
Hi-vis + hard hats ✔
Examining the @CurrentArchaeo archive (162: May ‘99) for a future column on #Leicestershire I found some superb #archaeofashion on display when monks from Mount St Bernard Abbey visited excavations then under way at Stratford Langthorne.

Save the date

Current Archaeology Live! 2022 will be back on 25-27 February. Like last year, it will be a virtual weekend, full of great talks from archaeological experts about the latest finds and ground-breaking research. See Current Archaeology Live 2022 for the latest information about the programme, plus the people, publications, and projects that have been nominated for the CA Awards.

Write to us at: CA Letters, Current Publishing, Office 120, 295 Chiswick High Road, London, W4 4HH, or by email to: [email protected]
For publication: 300 words max; letters may be edited.