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Archaeology Blogs

This is an aggregated collection of entries from archaeology blogs. The list is comprised of blogs from:

  • Past Horizons - written by Maggie and David (BAJR)
  • BAJR - written by David (BAJR)
  • ArchaeoGeek - written by Jo Cook, Information Systems Coordinator, Oxford Archaeology
  • Online Archaeology - written by Steve White
  • Theoretical Structural Archaeology - written by Geoff Carter

If you want to nominate a blog to be included in this aggregated list please get in touch.

Archaeology Blogs
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Last week I attended the AGI (Association for Geographic Information) Scotland Showcase– the first in a series of events designed to jump-start the AGI’s regional and special interest groups. It was extremely well-attended, with approximately 140 delegates, which bodes well for future events! The venue was fantastic too- at the rather lovely Hunter Halls in the University of Glasgow.

Not un-surprisingly there was a distinctly Scottish theme to the papers, and my take-away thought is that the Scottish GI industry does seem to be doing things on its own, separate from what’s going on in the rest of the UK. It was interesting to see a demonstration of the Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure Metadata Editor, based on Geonetwork, and also to hear about the Crofting Register, and the unique challenges of mapping the crofts. I did see a few mapping portals full of so many bells and whistles, that their authors clearly need to goandreadthesearticles pretty damn quick!

I gave a workshop on using PostgreSQL and Quantum GIS, using Portable GIS as the platform, which went surprisingly well given the short timeslot that we had. The instructions, emergency powerpoint, and pre-prepped postgresql database backup that I used can be found here. Note that the database is designed to work with Portable GIS and consequently YMMV.

I was slightly frustrated by one paper that I sat in on, entitled “Open Source for the uninitiated”. It felt a little bit like being transported back to 5 years ago, talking about packages being almost as good as the proprietary alternatives, and bringing up concerns about the level of support that people might receive. To me, this feels like damning with faint praise, and it’s never going to win hearts and minds (mixing metaphors, sorry).The one good thing is that there’s obviously still a need to raise the profile of open source, and to demonstrate the true worth of the packages.

Finally, a big shout out to my boss, who did a stonking presentation on “doing something with all of this open stuff”, not about open source but about open data, which won the delegate’s best presentation at the event.

27 Nov 2014
Theoretical Structural Archaeology
Did the Scots Burn Roman London?
At some point in the mid 120’s much of London Burnt  to the ground, around the same time construction of Hadrian’s Wall was apparently abandoned, could these events be connected - just how bad crisis in Roman Britain?
“... under the rule of your grandfather Hadrian what a number of soldiers were killed by the Jews, what a number by the Britons”
Marcus Cornelius Fronto, letter to Marcus Aurelius, AD162 

It should be said at the outset, the use of the term “Scots” is generic for the people who still controlled the upper third of the island, and when Hadrian visited Britain the early second century,  were contending the middle third.   While we like to think of the Wall as a great triumph of Roman engineering, but at the time it may have been strategic disaster, a roman Maginot Line,  which was replaced by a shorter frontier further North by Hadrian’s successor. 
What we actually know about this period comes from a handful of references, inscriptions and archaeology,  thus it is quite possible to imagine a scenario where London was Burnt for a second time by rebellious Britons.  Like the possible disappearance of the IX Legion in this period, the early second century is full of potential mystery.  
Cause and Effect
Archaeologists in London as well as Colchester and St Albans are familiar with the layer of red burnt clay and charcoal left by Boudicca’s rebellion, but in the former there is a second destruction layer widely ascribed to the period 120s [1];  [St Albans suffered periodic catastrophic fires, so this not necessarily suspicious].   The fire may have been quite extensive, and was particularly evident along the line of Roman Cheapside, west of the Walbrook. The large public buildings initiated by Hadrian during his visit in 122 visit don’t seem to have been effected. [2]   It was clearly, a significant event, but there is no particular evidence of malice or loss of life, so it simply may have started accidentally in catillamen lane, but the inhabitants may have fled on either account.  
The temporary abandonment of the Wall building project perhaps more than once, [dislocations] [3], is widely accepted, the detailed study of the stonework by Peter Hill showed the work once resumed both the scale and quality showed a marked decline indicating a loss or shortage of skilled manpower. [4] There is a large army in northern England but it is spread out along a 80 mile frontier, the main legionary units are themselves probably split up into smaller units engaged in specialist construction work.   They face an over the horizon threat; while they have had political and military relationships with the lowland tribes for forty years, beyond these buffer states, the highland and Islands, even Ireland, are still something of unknown quantity, beyond their immediate scrutiny and reach.
It is thought that the northerners had lots of cavalry,[5], so a fixed barrier makes sense; while it possible to overpower it, making a breach takes time, allowing for a counter attack. The weakness in the wall was not only its length, but also the number a gates, while these allowed for mobility and counter attack, a Roman forte, they were also ready-made breaches in the wall.
The Temporary Wall
I have argued that the evidence demonstrates the existence of the temporary Timber and Turf wall with camps for the legions and the auxiliaries engaged in the construction and guarding the frontier [6].  Also, I contend that that the Vallum was dug a road foundation trench, work normally ascribed to slaves, and in this context probably prisoners of war; another complication when security breaks down, [7].  After securing the frontier with temporary works, construction of stone Wall started in the east, where the Romans probably had their strongest position.  It all seems to have gone wrong when they reached the the Tyne and were about to build section that the tourist now visit.  
The whole enterprise was predicated on the temporary defences, this is the WW1 tactics of holding a line at all costs, but as WW2 demonstrated, if the enemy achieves a significant break through, its game over for the battle plan.
It is my view that the Northerners broke through in this central section, which was unfinished, furthest from the coasts, and gives them the high ground in the centre with various options to head south.  While from a simplistic point of view the high ground looks an unlikely place to attack, it offers broken country and dead ground, and perhaps surprise.
In 63 AD the tribes of southern England had rebelled and burnt London and other towns to the ground, massacring their population; apart from taking on the army, that’s how rebellions went. So is it possible that having broken into England, the Caledonians would they head south and burn London?
The North-South Dynamic
History repeats itself because geography is slow to change, and it was April 1746 before the fighting in the North finally came to an end at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness.  This marked the end of the final Jacobite rebellion led by Charles Edward Stewart, and was probably close to the lost site of battle of Mons Graupius, where Tacitus tells us that Agricola defeated an army of 30,000 Caledonians, the high water mark of Roman power in the North [8]
Charles Edward Stewart, the Young Pretender, arrived in the Outer Hebrides on 2 August 1745, by November 8th he'd crossed into England, and by the 18th controlled Carlisle.  By 4 December, he was in Derby on only 125 miles (200 km) from London,  a determined effort could see them approaching London within a week; it is alleged that there was some degree of panic in London on Friday 6th, the day the Jacobite began their retreat.  The advance on London was achieved by bypassing serious concentrations of Loyalist Troops, including those of general General Wade based at Newcastle who still effectively held the East end of the Wall; [which he later had demolished to build his Military Road ].  
The point of this tale is to illustrate that London is not far from Carlisle, and a determined force can reach it in less than a month, especially if it avoids open battle and sieges.  Any loss of control in the north can have serious implications in the south.  
The following emperor the frontier was moved north, the Antonine Wall was shorter, easily supplied by sea, and closer to the threat.  This suggests that the Army's attempt hold and build Hadrian’s Wall had been a failure, quite what the consequences of this were may never be known, but not for the first time, or even the last, the future of Roman Britain was probably on the line. 

Sources and Further Reading.
[1]. G. C. Dunning, 1945,  Two Fires in Roman London', Ant. J. 25 (1945) 48-77.
Roskams, Steve & Watson, Lez 1981 `The Hadrianic fire of London - a reassessment of the evidence' London Archaeol 4, 1981 62-6
[2] Roman London By Dominic Perring P72.
[3] Breeze, D.J. 2003. "Warfare in Britain and the Building of Hadrian's Wall." Archaeologia Aeliana 32, 13 –16
[4] Hill, P. R. 2006. The construction of Hadrian's Wall. Tempus.
[5] Vindolana tablets ; . the Britons are unprotected by armour (?). There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.'
[6]Hadrian's Timber Wall - Free Download
[7] Reverse Engineering the Vallum
[8] http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Agricola 

05 Nov 2014
Past Horizons
British archaeologists fight with Italian farmer to save ancient aqueduct
In January father and son team Edward and Michael O’Neill discovered the headwaters of the aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Trajan, hidden beneath a crumbling 13th century church north of Rome. A sophisticated example of Roman hydraulic engineering, the aqueduct, known as the Aqua Traiana, was inaugurated in 109AD and carried fresh water […]
06 Jun 2010
All change!
As you may have noticed, BAJR Blogging has remained unloved since December. This is because of the shiney new BAJR Federation site… http://www.bajrfed.co.uk get along there and enjoy…  with news, galleries and forum to keep you up to date and … Continue reading
09 Feb 2010
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