Letters from CA – August 2021

Your view on past Current Archaeology issues.

Feasting finds

I was pleased to see that recent analysis of ‘enigmatic burnt features’ in Anglo-Saxon settlements has confirmed their use for roasting large joints of meat or whole animals (CA 374). This confirms Tim Pestell’s and my interpretation of identical features excavated at the Snape Anglo-Saxon cemetery and published in East Anglian Archaeology 95 (2001, pp.259-261). We went one step further and undertook some experimental archaeology, using one of the excavated pits and its flints, together with locally sourced brushwood. In the best Anglo-Saxon tradition, we combined the experiment with a feast (aka the end-of-dig party). With hindsight, this somewhat diminished but did not wholly extinguish the scientific value of the experiment: ‘Although continued observation became less rigorous during the ensuing party, the feature maintained a high temperature for in excess of seven hours, sufficient to melt at least one wine bottle’. It demonstrated that cooking requiring a steady and high heat was possible for several hours, at Snape presumably in connection with ritual feasting accompanying a major funeral. And our feast, even without a whole roast animal, was indeed a fitting end to what had been a memorable excavation.

Photo: Suffolk County Council.

William Filmer-Sankey
Ealing

An antler to pick?

At the newly expanded Dorset Museum in Dorchester, there is a display of finds from the somewhat overlooked site of Maumbury Rings. Deep parallel grooves were found in a piece of chalk. Could this be for sharpening antler picks, perhaps with the help of sand sprinkled into the grooves? Has anyone actually tried digging out chalk with a blunt antler pick?

Richard Durrant
Poole, Dorset

Further pronunciation problems

I have only just started to read your January magazine (CA 370), so you may have had other readers north of the border telling you that, here in Scotland, a ‘kist’ (spelt and pronounced so) is traditionally what in the south would be called a ‘chest’. Richard Davis might be interested to hear this.

Jenny Martin
Edinburgh

A ‘Bountiful fairy’

Edith Pretty gave the nation a golden treasure (‘The Women of Sutton Hoo’, CA 374), but less well known is her gift of silver to the people of Winsford, Cheshire. It was while living at Vale Royal Abbey, Whitegate, near Winsford, that Miss Dempster, as she was known locally, became active in local affairs. The Dempsters had moved to Vale Royal in 1907, when Edith’s father, Robert Dempster, a wealthy industrialist from Manchester, leased the house from Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere, while the latter was living in Kenya. Robert Dempster died in 1925, and in April 1926 Edith married Frank Pretty, her long-time suitor. The local newspaper, in announcing the wedding, said of Edith that ‘for many years [she has] filled the role of “bountiful fairy” and her interest in all works of a charitable nature has won for her the highest regard’ (Northwich Guardian, 9 April 1926). 

Photo: National Trust Images.

One of Miss Dempster’s final charitable acts in Cheshire, before moving to Suffolk to be closer to her new husband’s business in Ipswich, was the gift of the Dempster Challenge Cup to Winsford Urban District Council. It was to be awarded annually to the plot-holder of the best-kept allotment at Over Allotments, Winsford. The sterling silver cup was first awarded in 1926 by Winsford UDC, two years after Over Allotments were established, and has been awarded most years since then. It is Winsford Town Council’s oldest community award, and is on permanent display in the town library, alongside a roll of honour and a history of the trophy. 

John Malam
Winsford, Cheshire

Comments on the Conquest

I know he is an expert in the field, but was Tim Tatton-Brown serious in saying the Norman invasion was ‘a good thing’ because of the beautiful buildings they put up (‘Letters’, CA 376)?

It is thought that 150,000 may have died in the genocide known as the Harrying of the North. Then there are the innumerable casualties of their violent take-overs of property and the associated casual thuggery, their invasions of Wales, etc.

Arguably we would also have avoided hundreds of years of warfare over lands in France if the aristocracy had not been Norman French.

Wasn’t it a fairly costly bill for a nice nave at Durham?

Laurie Shine
Milton Keynes

Continuing on the Conquest

I am afraid that I cannot agree with Tim Tatton-Brown that the Norman Conquest was ‘a good thing’ (‘Letters’, CA 376). Anglo-Saxon England was a much more equal country than Norman England, with inheritance between all the children instead of primogeniture, an established ecclesiastical parish system, well-developed laws (the first in Europe to be written in the vernacular), and an effective bureaucracy able to administer taxation efficiently (without whose records the Normans could never have produced Domesday Book). It took until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 for women to achieve the same level of financial and legal status that they had enjoyed in the Anglo-Saxon period. Women were able to inherit equally with their brothers and cousins, administer and then bequeath their own property as they wished, and their consent was required for their marriage. All this disappeared with the conquest by the Normans who, although of Germanic origin themselves, had unfortunately adopted Roman and Frankish customs, legal systems, and attitudes to women. And all that is not to mention the destruction, killings, and starvation deaths of the Harrying of the North, of which William the Conqueror repented on his deathbed.

I wonder how people who think that the Norman Conquest was ‘a good thing’ would feel if England were to be invaded now, as Hitler intended, and its citizens losing their lands and downgraded in status under the yoke of the conquerors simply to have ‘some of the biggest and most beautiful masonry buildings ever constructed’. And the Conquest did not lead to ‘the coming of Christianity’, which had actually reached England with Saint Augustine in AD 597, some 500 years earlier. Anglo-Saxon England was not isolated from Continental developments and it is extremely likely that we would still have had the beautiful masonry buildings, but without the suffering and loss of rights, property, land, and privileges entailed by the Conquest.

Dr Margaret L Faull OBE
Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Edible Archaeology

I have been told to send this photo of my mother’s 81st birthday cake. Last year we sent you the North Bersted Warrior cake (CA 364). This year we are sending you an inhabited Iron Age fort. Yvette Byrne, my mother, is well known in archaeological circles for her discovery of the Liss Roman Villa, and her more recent work on medieval church graffiti.

Deva Armstrong

CA online: what you shared with us this month

Becky Wragg Sykes @LeMoustie

Much excitement at THE AWARD for @CurrentArchaeo’s Book of the Year arriving! How beautiful it is!
Thank you so much to CA, the award sponsors & most importantly *everyone* who voted for #Kindred!

Northern Picts @northernpicts
Just received this in the post! Well done to the @LeverhulmeTrust, @HistEnvScot and @aberdeenuni funded team at @UoA_Archaeology Northern Picts HQ: 10 years of Pictish research – here’s hoping we can keep going at least another 10! Thx to @Current Archaeo for the trophy!

Julie Miller @millerswife67
Is it me or does this part of the #gallowayhoard look like the Viking equivalent of a Pandora? @CurrentArchaeo

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