Sunday, 27 September 2015

On Watling Street

It has been lately suggested that I should use a common hashtag, used by many archaeologists that study Roman roads. Call me old-fashioned but I just do not get myself using regularly items that contain a concept for rude movies and other adult entertainment. No matter if I am talking casually on Twitter about tombs or other things I feel passionately about. I do understand it is an inside joke and meant to emphasise the awesome qualities of the photo attached, but after testing it once, I have just decided to convey awesomeness otherwise. Not for me. No #tomb***, #road*** or #wall***, I am a Finnish feminist.

Earlier during the summer I was about to write about Roman roads, but then Syria took over. This week I did my casual Twitter following of a conference some of my friends were invited to give talks in. This Past Communities & Landscapes conference was all about my favorites, landscapes and identities, and it related to the EngLaId - English Landscapes & Identities project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and run at the University of Oxford. The project uses the data from different research collaborators, such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the National
 Mapping Programme of the English Heritage (now Historic England), Archaeology Data Service (ADS), British Museum and different Historic Environment Registers. It aims at analysing change and continuity from the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1500 BC) to the Middle Ages, up to the compilation of the Domesday book (c. AD 1086).

In his opening talk Chris Gosden presented a map that used the project data in order to present archaeological complexity. Here the density of different site types stand as a proxy for complexity in a long-term time scale covering the whole study period of the project. Thus, the key areas defined by the project as their main key study stand out - as seem to do the Roman roads of Watling Street and Fosse Way. The complexity of these two areas will come as no surprise and probably as a default, since the Roman roads were lined by rural sites, villages and inns, not to mention the hierarchical settlement pattern with luxurious villas and palaces for the top echelons of the society. However, it is interesting, how clearly this complexity can be picked up from a big data survey.

This summer I went for a picnic with my son to Wall village to see the local remains of Roman baths and mansio. The weather was not the best, but it was not raining. Nowadays, A5 bypasses the village, but the original line of the Roman road still runs through the village and from the slope next to the pub it was possibly to see how the modern busy road continues to join the different parts of England as it did two thousand years ago. This village was once a Roman minor aggregated settlement called Letocetum and had it been the right weekend (of course, I was there in the middle of the week), I could have entered the small volunteer-run museum.

From the graveyard to the ruins of Letocetum

Wall is a lovely place, worth visiting for the little Victorian church alone. This church of St John was drawn by Moffat and Scott and finished in 1843. Sir Gilbert Scott became the leading architect of the Gothic Revival and the tense atmosphere is clear on the spot.

The church of St John dominates the ruins

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