Current Archaeology #271 has a long interview with Mick Aston of Time Team fame. When asked how he got into archaeology, Aston paints a little vignette of the renowned High Medieval archaeologist, professor Philip Rahtz:
[At Birmingham in the mid-60s] Philip Rahtz had just been appointed, and was living in this lilac caravan on the university car park. There were all these letters about him in the university newsletter, asking “Who is this long-haired bearded hermit in the car park?” Anyway, Philip put up this little sign saying “Anyone who wants to go digging, come to me on Saturday”. I thought “That sounds good”. That was the beginning… and what an introduction!
I turned up early – as I was a young, enthusiastic man – and was offered a cup of coffee. So then I needed to go to the loo. The loo door was covered in pictures of various ladies, some of whom I recognised. I thought to myself, “This is a very interesting world I’ve dropped in on”. And then off we went in his little Renault camper van. Every time we went around a bend, a drawer in the kitchen unit opened, and it was full of every type of contraceptive you can imagine. Then we’d go around another bend and it would shut again! For several years, we spent our weekends and vacs and non-term time travelling from site to site that needed digging, because it was going to be destroyed. It was one rescue dig after another.
Rahtz’s 1993 Festschrift is titled In Search Of Cult, reflecting Rahtz’s work with Medieval monastery sites. I think you can imagine the pun it inspired.
British Archaeology #127 has a piece on laser scanning of worked stone, in this case the various stones that form Stonehenge. There’s rock art on some of them, and I believe this to be a very important methodology for documentation of such carved stones and outcrops. It offers some objective data to juxtapose with the valuable and necessary naked-eye interpretation of these often faint markings. This should considerably dampen the tiresome old post-modernist claim that all rock art studies are irreducibly subjective. The image above is built from digital 3D measurements, not photography!
Airborne lidar scanning of entire landscapes is essentially the same method on a larger scale, and a six-page feature piece lays it out very well. Vast areas of earthworks covered in trees can now be mapped in minutes at an unimaginably higher level of accuracy and comprehensiveness than before. The examples given are a hillfort and a lowland fort, a settlement site, faint traces of ancient fields, an early modern ironworks and a group of 1940 off-shore anti-glider poles.
Populär Arkeologi 2012:3 is an issue particularly rich in good content. My dear friend Kristina Ekero Eriksson reports on the on-going large-scale excavations at Old Uppsala, which she also covers on a daily basis in the somewhat under-publicised project blog. Another friend of mine, Sven Kalmring, writes with Lena Holmquist about excavations at the hillfort next to Birka’s sister town Hedeby near Schleswig. Björn Hjulström reports on the Ströja mead-hall excavation (covered here back in July), which is very dear to my heart. And Niklas Eriksson writes about the huge well-preserved 16th century man o’ war Mars that was located in 2011 at 75 meters’ depth off Öland.
Skalk 2012:5 though was not one of the best issues this year. In science, reporting negative results and failed replications are important (and all too rare) tasks. But in popular science, why spend five pages telling the readers that fallow deer bones found in a Jutish gravel pit have not in fact been modified by Neanderthals, as believed by a 1950s osteologist? And why illustrate the piece with much younger bones from other sites that have been modified? I did however enjoy Annette Hoff’s feature on Boller manor in the 18th century, with its brief mention of a syphilis epidemic that hit 50 people and was blamed on a farmer with a “promiscuous lifestyle”. Smoking gun evidence for rural mores, far from the salons of sophisticated urban libertines! If only Philip Rahtz could have driven his camper van there, made friends with the local milkmaids and handed out some latex.