Letters from CA – September 2021

Your views on previous issues of Current Archaeology.

Sentimental about slides

As someone else who has been involved in receiving, giving, and projecting for lectures for well over half a century, the reminiscences of Eric Houlder and John Kenyon prompted wry smiles (‘Letters’, CA 376). As archaeology students at Edinburgh in the early 1960s, we were treated to Byzantine lectures by Professor David Talbot-Rice, who was still using the 3¼-inch black-and-white slides of his excavations in the 1920s, but at least his wife Tamara had some colour ones to illustrate her Scythian lectures. And it was such a breath of fresh air when George Henderson arrived as a new lecturer in medieval fine art and treated us to glorious images of Romanesque sites he had actually been to and photographed himself!

However, both Eric and John omit one leviathan from their projectionist accounts – namely, the epidiascope. This monster enabled you to project not just slides but also images direct from the pages of a book by subjecting them to a bright – and very hot – light and bouncing the picture through the lens via a mirror. I dread to think how many book spines were cracked in the process.

Photo: Nesster, Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

I gave many WEA archaeology lectures in Norfolk in the late 1960s/early 1970s using one of these machines. My then girlfriend, whom I had first met over a Bronze Age cremation urn, did the projecting for me, often in a village hall with a pot-bellied stove blasting out even more heat than the projector. There was applause from the class when at the end of one session I announced that I had asked her to marry me: but I think I may have rather spoiled the moment by adding that it was the only way I could think of to keep a good projectionist. And I’ve kept her for over 50 years!

Tim Clough
Honorary Editor, Rutland Local History and Record Society

Digging at Dover

Your article on Dover Castle (CA 377) reminded me that I did a watching brief there during the particularly rainy and windy autumn of 1974. We recorded a trench dug for a new drainage scheme. At one point, the limit of the JCB’s scoop uncovered a tunnel cut into the chalk, which had been sealed for some 700 years, to judge by the pottery we found. You could also see the pickaxe marks in the chalk, and soot marks on the walls where, presumably, candles had illuminated the shaft. It was blocked at one end, but we assumed that it would have run to the walls. We didn’t have a site camera so a ‘man from the ministry’ came all the way from London with a huge wooden plate camera. It was one of those ones where you need a black cloth over the eyepiece. Even then it was technology out of the Ark!

Ken Dash

Chanctonbury watercolour

I was interested to read Janet Pennington’s letter in CA 377. I have in my collection a 19th-century watercolour by T C Leeson Rowbotham RI (1823-1875) entitled ‘Chanctonbury Ring from Wiston Park, Sussex’, which appears to be from a similar viewpoint. Keep up the good work! (My wife always looks forward to ‘Edible Archaeology’!)

Richard Longfoot
Ludwill, Wiltshire

Sutton Hoo correction

In ‘Sailing Ahead’ (CA 377), there is an error in citing the Sutton Hoo volumes: in writing about the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, ‘this huge three-volume work, published in 1947, has been our Bible throughout the project‘, the date is wrong. Rupert Bruce- Mitford published The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial: A Provisional Guide in 1947. It should have read: ‘published 1975-1983’.

When I became the founding Managing Editor of British Museum Publications (later Press) in 1973, one of the major tasks I took on was to begin to edit and produce the first of the three large and complicated projected volumes on the ship burial. It was a huge editorial project, and also a production nightmare, that under the direction of the Production Manager, Nicholas Russell; both of us were working in close collaboration with Rupert Bruce-Mitford and Angela Care Evans.

Volume 1. Excavations… was published in 1975; Vol. 2. Arms, Armour… in 1978; and Vol. 3. Late Roman and Byzantine Silver…, 2 vols, in 1983. The latter was published shortly after I had left the British Museum, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Rupert had made kindly reference to my contribution to the publications in his Acknowledgements.

Photo: MOLA.

Peter A Clayton, FSA
Boxmoor, Hertfordshire

Sutton Hoo Maths

‘Sailing Ahead’ (CA 377) was certainly an engrossing read. I can’t help wondering, though, what allowance is being made in the design of the new hull for the fact that when the original was buried the earthen fill must have slumped somewhat, under its own weight? This must have tended to flatten out the profile of the remains, and thus influence the profile of the projected hull. Is there a calculation which could overcome this?

Dennis Onions
Bicton Heath, Shropshire

Threw away the key?

As your article on the burial at Great Casterton (‘Special Report’, CA 377) suggests, there are many interpretations as to why the (valuable) shackles were still attached to the man’s ankles, such as deliberate demeaning of the body or, that old chestnut, ritual. But maybe someone had lost the key to the padlock?

Dr Peter B Baker
Prestwood, Buckinghamshire

Britain’s most south-westerly Neolithic henge

I found the article in CA 376 about the recent discovery of a lost Neolithic henge monument in Carmarthenshire, South Wales, interesting. The repeated claim that it was ‘Britain’s most south-westerly Neolithic henge’ is open to challenge, however! During excavations by Oxford Archaeology in 2005-2006, ahead of the dualling of the A30 road in Cornwall, a structure was discovered at Deep Tye Farm that the team described as a Neolithic wooden henge (it contained ten post-holes in its interior). Although it was smaller than the South Wales henge (12m in diameter against 18m x 13.5m) it was not hugely different in size, and the date obtained for the Cornish henge (early 3rd millennium BC) falls comfortably within the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age period for henges. The archaeological team suggested that it may have been used for ceremonial or ritual purposes, with a possible astronomical significance. I think that it should be definitely acknowledged as ‘Britain’s most south-westerly Neolithic henge’!

Cheryl Straffon
Boscaswell, Cornwall

Edible Archaeology

I have enjoyed Current Archaeology for many years, and look forward to the ‘Edible Archaeology’ feature each month.

My family knows this, and one of my daughters made a cake for Father’s Day as a gift. It was the perfect choice, as I trained originally as an archaeologist and have kept my interest for 45 years since leaving university. Skara Brae has fascinated me over the years, and I can’t think of a better gift for sweet-toothed dad and grandfather.

Cameron Butland
Penrith, Cumbria

Chris Whitwood @Chris_Whitwood
Truly delighted to see my letter published in the latest edition of @CurrentArchaeo!
I would probably have used a stronger term that ‘A Shame’ to describe the proposed cuts to Sheffield Archaeology Department, but my seven-year-old, archaeology-obsessed self is still thrilled!

Joe Flatman @joeflatman
Super @trowelblazers moment in @CurrentArchaeo 69 (Nov 1979): fieldwork in #Nottingham’s cave network led by the superbly named Lucy Lockett. Can anyone shed further light on her career, please? I’d love to feature it in my forthcoming column on the county!

Dr Simon Elliott @SimonElliott20
Nice to see @CurrentArchaeo including my tweet about Matt Symonds’ new ace book on Hadrian’s Wall covered in ‘CA Online’ this month!!! My first tweet about my own tweet!!! Twitter Will Eat Itself… sounds like a great Britpop band!

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