Digging up memories
I was delighted to see a reference to the 1974 excavation alongside the Mermaid Theatre in London (CA 386, ‘The triumphal arch’). I was one of the students working with Martin Millett on the site, while on vacation from my first year studying History and Archaeology at the University of Exeter. I still have my letter of appointment as a ‘Trainee’ (below right).
I had been keen to return to the Thames riverside after an exciting first-ever dig the previous year, on the nearby Custom House site where a young Tim Tatton-Brown had led the excavations (below left).
Peeling back the layers of medieval and Roman remains on these two sites, plus the unbridled enthusiasm of Tim and Martin, fuelled an ongoing interest in archaeology, including as a long-time subscriber to Current Archaeology.
Your March issue (CA 384) was a stunner, announcing two discoveries with a Northumbrian/Lindisfarne connection. You don’t say much about their literary and historical connections, and I hope you’ll forgive a few comments from a non-archaeologist. To my surprise, I didn’t see anything in your April letters, so here goes.
Both the ‘jar’ from the Galloway Hoard (CA 384) and the early medieval gold pendant cross (CA 384) take us into the world of one of the most-famous Old English poems, The Dream of the Rood, itself full of allusions to golden artefacts. The Dream, in its earliest version, is carved in runes on the 8th-century Ruthwell Cross (Dumfriesshire). In the poem, the Cross announces its name (‘Rood’) to the dreamer. It promises salvation to those who ‘bear in their breasts the best of signs’, which may be understood literally to mean the wearing of a crucifix. The similarities to the gold pendant with the name ‘Eadruf’ in runes are suggestive.
The rock crystal ‘jar’ with its gold filigree inscription takes us to King Alfred. You translate the inscription as ‘Bishop Higuald had me made’ (what was the original Latin?). Although the style is different, it immediately makes one think of the Alfred Jewel, another piece of rock crystal and gold-work, with its filigree inscription, Ælfred mec heht gewyrcan (‘Alfred had me made’). The Jewel is generally interpreted as one of the valuable ‘aestels’ that Alfred said he was sending to his bishops to accompany copies of his translation of Pope Gregory’s Cura Pastoralis (‘Pastoral Care’). The value of its advice for bishops was backed by a memorable gift (which would also keep readers’ dirty fingers off the clean parchment!). In his preface to the book, Alfred describes his wish to inspire a revival of wisdom and learning in Wessex to imitate that of Northumbria before the Vikings came to spoil things. Given the jar’s date (c.900 AD), maybe Alfred wasn’t just remembering past glories, but something more contemporary?
Editor’s note The National Museums Scotland (NMS) website states that the original (abbreviated) Latin reads: ‘+ H Y G V A L D E P : F A C : I U S S’, and there the translation is given as ‘+ Bishop Hyguald ordered [this] to be made’, a reading that has been confirmed by Elisabeth Okasha of University College Cork. For more information about the jar, see www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/stories/scottish-history-and-archaeology/galloway-hoard/sections/the-galloway-hoard-rock-crystal-jar/.
Remembering Alec Down
It is a myth to imagine that as volunteers in Chichester (CA 387) we were not paid – every day, Alec Down doubled our wages, except when digging layer ‘Z’: snow. The fact that the base rate was zero was irrelevant.
I dug with him 1969-1978, others much longer, and it was a real and genuine delight to see him again in your excellent article. Regardless of his lack of tertiary education, his output as director of digs in Chichester and in the country, and his ability to inspire volunteers (both local and from around the world) year after year, who submitted willingly to discipline derived from his seven years a Grenadier Guardsman, are testament to an extraordinary human being. Alec knew he, like the rest of us, was an amateur, yet his excavation reports are succinct and authoritative, and full of specialist contributions by professionals. As Barry Cunliffe said at his funeral in 1996, a call from Alec ‘launching into the discussion of some delicious archaeological problem…’ showed his willingness to take advice.
Cunliffe goes further in describing Alec’s work over some 25 years as ‘a staggering achievement’, made all the more remarkable by the fact that nearly all the work is published (above): some- thing yet to be accomplished by many major professional archaeological teams. It is with great sadness that I look back on the demise of the truly volunteer excavation.
Another bullet point
I picked up the May copy of Current Archaeology (CA 386), in large part as I noticed the inclusion of the excavation of a Second World War POW camp.
Within the report was a photo of a .303 round, suggesting it was spent. In fact, it is a .303 drill round, the fluting in the side being characteristic. The ‘headstamp’ in the base of the round would confirm the exact type, but it looks like a MkVI or MkVII. A drill round is inert and cannot be fired.
More information can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/britmilammo/-303-inch/-303-inch-drill and https://sites.google.com/site/britmilammo/-303-inch/-303-inch-drill-marks-vii-to-10.
Obviously this alters the interpretation, as its presence indicates rifle drill rather than the discharge of a weapon. Had a round been discharged (not possible with these drill rounds) then the bullet would not be in place and the casing empty.
The Luftwaffe ‘gull wings’ shown in the article are collar-worn rank indicators (similar to stripes for corporals or sergeants in the Army).
Dr Will Ward
In need of another chocolate challenge – and having just purchased a beautiful clay Willendorf Woman from Graham and Sarah at Potted History (https://potted-history.co.uk) – I made several chocolate copies for some very good friends.
Although the Willendorf Woman wasn’t originally gold, I thought she deserved some sparkle for being such a wonderful prehistoric woman!
I love the way the crackled greaseproof paper used to wrap her sets her off so nicely in this photo by Matt Pope of his Willendorf chocolate.
Dr Simon Elliott @SimonElliott20
Fab to see my pal John Reid’s feature in the May @CurrentArchaeo about the brill Roman Flavian and Antonine fort @TrimontiumTrust in the Scottish @BordersInfo and their ace new museum. Looking forward to seeing it while speaking in June at the @BordersBookFest! @kentiquity
@CurrentArchaeo Hi there, just wondering whether it is common to find conjoined round barrows/burial mounds/ earthworks in a figure of eight pattern? Thanks so much!
Adrián Maldonado @amaldon
Opened the latest issue of @CurrentArchaeo and thrilled to find this gracious review of #CrucibleOfNations by @Rusticulus_R. I can only hope it will ‘launch a hundred… Bachelor’s, Master’s, and doctoral projects’! @read_the_past the-past.com/review/books/crucible-of-nations-scotland-from-viking-age-to-medieval-kingdom/.
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