Recent Archaeomags

Current Archaeology #276 (March) has a feature on excavations for a new container port that’s being built at Stanford Wharf near the mouth of the Thames. The Iron Age and Roman Period archaeology proved quite lovely, with waterlogged salt-making sites, remains of a boat house, loads of pottery, even waste from garum fish-sauce making. But the reason for the excavation is also interesting.

Consider the terms “nature reserve” and “nature preserve”. Most of us probably think of them as bits of particularly fine nature that are fenced in and preserved. But at Stanford Wharf much of the archaeology was done because they were going to turn farmland into a nature reserve and the process would destroy the archaeology!

The fields in question have long been protected from flooding by a sea wall. They could have been turned over to nature by just leaving them untouched. But that would have produced shrubland, not a type of nature perceived as interesting or valuable. Instead the land has been converted into a tidal marsh through the expedient of removing the sea wall and bulldozing away half a metre of topsoil. The aim was to attract wading birds. So this “nature” reserve is actually a type of cultural landscape that has cost a great big sum of money to create, all as part of the overarching port project.

British Archaeology #129 (March/April) has a feature by Bronze Age scholar Dot Boughton on a subject that’s been much on my mind in recent years: Bronze Age metalwork depositions. Most such collections of metalwork has a fairly tightly focused chronology, with almost all component objects dating from the same phase in the relative chronology. In other words: when depositing bronze, people rarely sought out antiques. But there’s been a small group of problematic or poorly documented hoard finds (Danebury, Batheaston, Salisbury) that hint at a rare custom of curating ancient metalwork and burying it in chronologically mixed hoards. In Sweden we see this for instance in the Härnevi hoard whose site I metal-detected to no great avail in 2011. Now, thanks to an intelligent metal detectorist, for the first time in England such a find has been excavated under controlled conditions, at Tisbury in the Vale of Wardour, Wiltshire.

The Tisbury hoard consists of about 114 objects: mostly weaponry and tools but also some jewellery and sundries. The latest piece dates from the 7th century BC which is past the start of the Iron Age in England. But the hoard is dominated by bits from the Late and Middle Bronze Age, the oldest being a piece of an Early Bronze Age flat axe that pre-dates even the start of the South Scandy Bronze Age (being roughly coeval with our Late Neolithic Pile hoard). Boughton suggests that the hoard may have been kept and displayed in a “communal museum”. It reminds me of ancient Greek temple treasuries.

Boughton’s thoughtful piece is an interesting read, but given what I’m working on myself I miss a discussion of the hoard’s landscape setting in relation to watercourses, settlement sites and monuments of similar or earlier date.

As I’ve commented sometimes here on Aard, I don’t care much for archaeology outside of Northern Europe. The best way to explain it is probably that few professional electricians spend their free time studying the plumbing in the building projects they work on. So I was pleased to find Current World Archaeology #57 (Feb/March) venturing into Northern Europe with five pages about Crusader castles on the shores of the south-east Baltic. The piece’s emphasis on palaeo-environmental work will make it a good read for anyone with such predilections.

Comments

  1. #1 Birger Johansson
    February 18, 2013

    (Off-topic) “Tree-ring data show history, pattern to droughts” http://phys.org/news/2013-02-tree-ring-history-pattern-droughts.html

  2. #2 Mu
    February 20, 2013

    Martin, is there a chance that these bronze hoards were an ancient version of the recycling bin? Casting high quality bronze tools must have been a skilled task not normally performed in every village, so it must have made sense to collect used tools for “trade-in” to the bronze smith.

  3. #3 Martin R
    February 20, 2013

    Yes, we know that they recycled bronze on a large scale. But this doesn’t explain why sometimes they buried such collections. And it was clearly rare for these scrap metal bags to contain 1000-year-old pieces, let alone be dominated by such.

  4. #4 Mu
    February 20, 2013

    I can see the gleam in the eyes of the reality-TV producers “Hoarders for a thousand years”. Image what their carriage shed must have looked like.

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