Thursday, 27 October 2011

The emptiness of a field

It is the time of the year when the community groups and research projects are fieldwalking over some ploughed fields up and down the country and all over Europe. I recently spent a morning in Loddington to see what is happening there with the Leicestershire community archaeology training fieldwalking project. I did my official training day last year in order to learn from the father of community archaeology and the systematic practitioner of the traverse and stint collection method Peter Liddle himself. It seems that I am not the only one to revisit Loddington since by coincidence there were two of us that had been doing exactly the same on the same day one year ago – and she was even then just coming to see what was happening and enjoying a chat with Peter, Paul, Richard and others.

p>Loddington on the Rutland boundary is actually interesting because the find levels ARE NOT very high. This suggests that this area may have been relatively peripheric during the pre-modern periods even if in places there are find concentrations. Unfortunately, not on the field the fieldwalking of which I participated in. This field was so empty one started to wonder if one’s eye sight has taken a turn to the worse once again. In addition, the really nice finds – i.e. two fragments of Roman grey wares and a nice blade core – were made by those guiding the ‘newcomers’. May be this was for the better since they had already covered one half of this field the day before and looked pretty miserable in the morning with the prospect of covering the other half. Or was it just the effect of the Leicestershire council consultation period to cut the costs further…

For the amateur archaeologists and the fieldwalkers the empty fields are a disappointment and very boring. However, for the people processing the finds professionally they are a partial delight. The processing goes quickly and you end up having real differences between different fields so you will be able to spot concentrations and land use changes between periods. However, there is very little to cheer about if you try to learn to recognize material or sort it out as an exercise. Luckily, a cultured walk over a field is also very good gentle exercise for you.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Female landscapes?

Are the interests of the female archaeologists different from the male ones and do female archaeological landscapes exist? Before and after gender archaeology the study of textiles has been popular among women archaeologists but it is unclear if the sex of a researcher affects the choice of sites or landscapes.

The Jewry Wall site in Leicester was excavated by Kathleen Kanyon, one of the famous female archaeologists of the recent times. Her activities coincided with the 1930s and the war time, which seem to have been the time periods for the women archaeologists to flourish. This was the time when Dorothy Garrod became a professor at Cambridge and the first female professor in Scandinavia, Ella Kivikoski, took her post at Helsinki. Garrod excavated at Mount Carmel in Palestine whereas Kivikoski carried out excavations at many archaeological sites in Finland and in the Karelia area. Garrod contributed to the study of the earlier periods of the Paleolithic whereas Kivikoski wrote the basic readers of the Finnish Iron Age. These topics were not very female but laying the foundations of different basic chronologies. They represented research that was widely respected.

Garrod worked with mainly female workforce recruited from the nearby villages and in this way created momentarily female archaeological spaces and landscapes. The interest in the qualities of the landscape, also female landscape, is more evident in the work of Ruth Whitehouse as part of the Tavoliere-Gargano Prehistory Project. She and her colleagues were inspired by the ideas of Christopher Tilley, often criticized for not showing due diligence to his data or research methods. Unlike him Ruth Whitehouse and her colleagues planned a systematic recording of different sensory experiences at prehistoric sites. She together with Sue Hamilton, her co-director of the project, and their team observed how voice can be heard and how sites are visible in this southern Italian landscape. This work, similarly to her ideas on the ritual caves, has been controversial but it truly embodies ‘alternative voices’.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Corporation and urban landscape

The reason one can admire Jewry Wall in central Leicester is that when the activities seized in the factory next door, the Leicester Corporation saw its opportunity and bought the site. There were plans to build public baths onto this site and the demolition work made the extent of the ruins obvious The importance and value of the standing structure had already been recognized and the Corporation sought to know more about its character through archaeological study. These were different times when there was no automatic system of planning requirements to deal with archaeology but any intervention was voluntary.

The original hope was that the plot next to the Jewry Wall would reveal the site of the civic forum but this turned out not to be the case. Instead of any modern baths the late 1930s excavations gave the city Roman baths the study of which continued in the late 1960s and early 1970s when this area went through an upheaval. At this time any hope that the area had at some point been a forum was abandoned. The standing wall itself was deemed to link with the bath complex and not be a temple as wished for by the antiquarians during the 18th and 19th century.

The laudable act of the 1930s excavation was later followed by the building of the St Nicholas circle, which cut Jewry Wall and its museum apart from the historic city centre. This made any connectivity with the Medieval and earlier Roman road plan difficult to perceive. Apparently, this placement of inner ring road was offset by the preservation of the New Walk, the 18th century promenade created south of the city centre. The brutality of the 1960s and 1970s had its momentary silver lining.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Trademarking heritage

While researching for the local sites of wider importance I found out the fact that the Bradgate Park Trust owns the trademarks for selected ruins. They say that “The Bradgate Park Trust has formal Trade Mark Registration of the names Bradgate/Bradgate Park/Bradgate Country Park, its logo and of a comprehensive range of images and outlines of Old John Tower/Ruins of Bradgate House. The Trust does not permit the use of any of these registered name(s) or design(s) by any third party without its prior written permission. Any third party wishing to use such name(s)/image(s), need to apply to the Land Agent & Surveyor at the Estate Office for a Licence. Action will be taken against any business/organisation/ individual infringing this copyright.” As long as I understand that the entities working for the benefit of the public have to be economically viable and use their assets for their own good, the ruins in this park are part of our common heritage, bequeathed to the people of Leicester and Leicestershire, and part of the body of evidence used by the archaeologists and historians to study our common past. Naturally, as landowners The Trust has an ownership of the area but would they really consider denying a right to publish a book on local history where the park is discussed? Could they ask for money for photographs taken by other people from outside the park that feature the tower? Naturally, they have copyright for the photos they display on their publicity material and have commissioned themselves. The boundaries, however, feel grey and muddled.

Apparently, the English Heritage has sent out letters and e-mails stating that “we are sending you an email regarding images of Stonehenge in your [website]. Please be aware that any images of Stonehenge cannot be used for any commercial interest, all commercial interest to sell images must be directed to English Heritage.” Probably the laws of the country where the photos and the web pages are are to take into consideration as well as there are differences – even inside the EU. Of course, the preservation and maintenance requires money but this definitely raises the question of who owns the past. Cannot a photographer sell photos he or she took and produced if they have Stonehenge on? As a World Heritage site it is recognized to be our common heritage, not just in Britain but in the entire world. Nevertheless, the request seems to have coincided with the funding cuts in 2010.

I do know from my own circle that the Superintendency of Pompeii has the rights to photos of the structures there. This has turned up as an issue when a friend of mine wanted to upload his photo project on one of the houses there onto the WWW. The payments are per photograph and his montage included tens if not hundreds or thousands of photos. Thus, other people could not appreciate his achievements. In some countries there is a distinction between the uses and the scientific ones are viewed differently from blatantly commercial interests. Nevertheless, in the countries where the State owns the monuments, naturally, the official bodies have a right to assess and regulate the work on their heritage. But it is a pity and quite sad when scholarly work remains unseen.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

M1 – improving your landscape?

When whizzing back yesterday on M1 I had a new viewpoint to consider. I found out that a famous conservationist had written in 1935 that some dull, rolling landscapes, not very attractive for a walker, could be improved by building motorways over them. The landscape could become alive with speed when especially younger drivers would develop a new kind of relationship with their rural countryside passing by.

From the beginning rural beauty was something to consider when motorways were planned. However, in the beginning there was little opposition to the plans until the first campaign against a route of a British motorway took place in Leicestershire in 1957 and 1958. The routing of the second phase of M1 through Charnwood Forest was opposed by ramblers and even by the Royal Fine Art Commission. The alternative route through the Soar Valley was opposed by the farmers who did not want to lose their valuable agricultural land. The current route was the compromise, which saved a chunk of National Forest.

It was fascinating to read Merriman's book that discussed geographically constructing, planning and designing M1 but did not really mention archaeology. The constructors must have ploughed through some archaeology. At least they seem to have recorded their building work meticulously. There were air photos, helicopter rides, even an artist painting motorway construction scenes. The locals sometimes recorded the landscape to be altered and to be vanished – in Northamptonshire the Camera Club did exactly this and in Luton local residents did the same. The locals also came to see diggers and to take photographs. There must be ditch sections visible in some of those photos.