Letters from CA March 2021/April 2021

A collection of letters, tweets, and anecdotes from our readers! Featuring, mosaics, Chactonbury Ring, and auto-generated subtitles

Mutilating mugs in mosaics

I was very interested to read the latest thinking on the Boxwood mosaic in CA 371.

The reconstruction drawing greatly assisted an appreciation of the themes involved. What it also clarified – in comparison with the drone view – were the areas most affected by damage.

Having travelled extensively in Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt, I am familiar with the defacement inflicted on ancient monuments, motivated by religious iconoclasm or superstition. The primary target is always depictions of the human face; and in some monuments, such as the temples of Hathor at Dendera and Khonsu at Karnak, it is hard to find a single intact visage.

It is interesting to note, therefore, that about half of the human faces on the Boxwood mosaic have been obliterated, and others nearly so. In some cases, this can be seen as part of a larger area of damage, but in others it looks quite targeted. Might this be the work of Christians who thought they were confronted with ‘pagan idolatry’?

Dylan Bickerstaffe
Loughborough, Leicestershire

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Sherds’ discussion (CA 366) of the myths and half-truths surrounding the metal from which Victoria Crosses are made highlighted recent research by Dr Andrew Marriott, which found that they were made from several sources. That the medals seem to have been made from whatever was at the time available seems to bring the courageous acts of the recipients into much sharper relief, and reduces focus on their cash value.

John Rumsby’s follow-up letter (CA 371) brings to mind the use of old barrels as ballast: ships carrying stone from the Dorset coast (e.g. Portland and Swanage) to expanding London needed to be rebalanced for the return journey, and worn-out, captured, or obsolete cannon were ideal. An early example of reuse/recycling?

Peter B Baker
Prestwood, Buckinghamshire

Natural disasters and Roman decline

Neil Faulkner puts the 4th-century decline of Rome down to over-extension of the empire and excessive taxation (CA 371). One event which could form one stage of the decline is the AD 365 earthquake and tsunami in the eastern Mediterranean. The grain-exporting Egyptian port of Alexandria was swamped. The result must have been that the city of Rome would have had to pay higher prices for its grain imports. If the money was diverted from the payment of soldiers, then that might explain the AD 367 mutiny of troops in Britain. The closeness of the dates is very suggestive.

Richard Durrant
Poole, Dorset

Wondering about a watercolour

This watercolour painting (right) of a chalk mound has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents were married in 1947 and went on honeymoon to Hastings, where they bought it. It was painted in 1946 and shows a large, circular mound with a bare chalk surface, a crest of trees on the summit, and a low-lying watery area at its foot.

We were always under the impression that it depicted Chanctonbury Ring. However, on looking at photos of this site it does not appear to match the painting. I was wondering if your readers could help me solve the mystery. Are there any images from that period of locations that could match this painting?

Tricia Hallam
Bicester, Oxfordshire

Pondering pet cemeteries

Reading the recent pet cemeteries article in CA 370 brought to mind two I have seen. One is at the National Stud at Newmarket, where the site tour includes the burial site of past horses which have been part of racing history.

The other was at a bird decoy near Crowland in Lincolnshire. I believe the site is managed by the RSPB but is not normally open to the public. In the 1980s, I joined a small party who were given a tour of the site and an explanation of how the decoy was operated in the past. This included the use of a trained dog, who was used to lure the birds up the ‘pipe’ into the nets for capture. Over the years, a number of dogs were used for this purpose, and we were shown a cemetery that had, perhaps, eight or ten buried dogs, each with its own named grave marker.

The site is in the middle of nowhere and I recall no buildings, and I believe the decoy workers would have lived elsewhere given the seasonal nature of the activity. Nevertheless, it shows how people have in the past cared for and respected their animals.

Andrew Goodliffe
Waltham Abbey, Essex

Shelters for sheep

I can’t claim much knowledge of sheepfolds – nor, indeed, of sheep – but among the impressive research projects undertaken by Archaeology on Furlough (CA 370) one item brought back a decades-old memory.

I recall, when I was a boy, an elderly man from Galloway telling me that circular sheepfolds were not built to contain the sheep (as one might expect). Rather, being circular, the wind, rain, and snow would whirl round the edge, always leaving a triangle of relative calm on the opposite side from the wind. It was there that the sheep would find their shelter.

The absence of any obvious gateway to the sheepfold in the Lammermuir Hills illustrated on p.34 of CA 370 would seem to bear this out.

My elderly friend added that one of Nelson’s admirals had come up with the design – a tempting idea that would be good to believe.

David Brooke

Embroidered archaeology

This 3D/aerial view of Maeshowe Neolithic chambered cairn, Orkney, is the second in a series of archaeology-inspired embroideries I have created. I used to work at Maeshowe, so it is a subject close to my heart!

Lily Hawker-Yates

You can see more of Lily’s archaeology-inspired embroidery on her Instagram @embroideringthemedieval.

Subtitle snafus

One of our final jobs before the conference talks went live on YouTube (many of them are still available to watch at www.youtube.com/c/CurrentArchaeology) was to check all the auto-generated subtitles and correct any hilarious/unfortunate mishearings that had been created – and there were some corkers! See if you can guess what they should actually say…

That well-known monument ‘Hatred’s War’…

…a site on Salisbury Plain that had previously been excavated by ‘philanderers from basic archaeology’…

…‘Bronze Age animations in a wheelchair’…

…the Ness of Brodgar’s monumental midden was ‘not just a rubber sheep’…

and the celebrated archaeologist ‘Watermelon Wheeler’!

What you shared with us this month

Sofia Roy @sofiaroy2004
Loving this year’s @CurrentArchaeo Live talks! Such a shame that they cannot be in-person this year, but having a great time accessing these from the comfort of my own home.
Hopefully we will all be able to be back next year, face-to-face #CALive2021

AOC Archaeology @aocarchaeology
Delighted that our work at Clachtoll Broch with #HistoricAssynt has been awarded Rescue Project of the Year in @CurrentArchaeo Awards. We’re so pleased to see HA’s hard work and dedication acknowledged in this way.

Northern Picts @northernpicts
News! Winners of @CurrentArchaeo (thx!!!!) Research Project 2021. Thanks SO much for all your votes and support over ten years. In particular to our funders @HistEnvScot @LeverhulmeTrust @aberdeenuni. Here’s to another ten years!
Go @UoA_Archaeology!!!!

Becky Wragg Sykes @LeMoustier
#Kindred has WON @Current Archaeo Book Of The Year!

Write to us at: CA Letters, Current Publishing, Thames Works, Church Street, London W4 2PD, or by email to: letters@archaeology.co.uk
For publication: 300 words max; letters may be edited.