If anyone is capable of introducing the casual reader to the landscapes of Britain it is Professor Francis Pryor. In a career spanning the last 30 years, he has brought to life lost environments, settlements, and human experience at some of the most ephemeral and enigmatic sites through his archaeological excavations – and, latterly, his books. His latest volume is an anthology of his experiences of various British landscapes, and his personal responses to them.
Review – The Outcast Dead: the effect of the New Poor Law on the health and diet of London’s post-medieval poor
Based on the results of the author’s MPhil research at Durham University, this volume examines an intriguing hypothesis: that the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834 had such a profound effect on the diet of the poor that it left visible traces on their bones. It does so by interrogating historical data, with an osteological assessment of the health of five buried populations.
This is the second edition of what has become a standard work on Roman art, and covers the period described as the Second Sophistic – a time that saw a seismic transformation in the art and architecture of the empire. Some of the illustrations and a chapter examining the influence of Roman art beyond the empire are new, but the older material has lost none of its relevance and power.
Almost a decade ago, the crumbling remains of Reading Abbey – once one of the most important medieval religious centres in northern Europe – were closed to the public. Now, following major conservation work, the site has reopened. Carly Hilts paid a visit.
This is another in the popular series of books that showcases finds largely recovered by metal-detectorists and recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The objects presented are mouth-watering. There is among them a quartzite bifacial hand axe of Lower or Middle Palaeolithic date, a Bronze Age bracelet of sheet gold, three torcs that represent the earliest Iron Age gold known in Britain, an enamelled souvenir pan from Hadrian’s Wall, the Anglo- Saxon Staffordshire Hoard, a medieval heraldic harness mount, and a post-medieval pocket sundial.
Almost a third of this book comprises a review of pre-Roman record keeping, before moving to the title period under headings such as ‘Archives and libraries in the Roman world’ and ‘Epigraphy’. The latter discusses, among other things, inscriptions on stone, writing tablets, and monuments, such as Trajan’s Column, as examples of forms of visual communication. Five appendices are preceded by a final brief chapter on the Theodosian and Justinianic Codes.
Any excavation carried out a stone’s throw from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and some of its attendant monuments – Durrington Walls, Woodhenge, and, of course, the eponymous monument – is going to be special. The archaeology uncovered at the former military site at Durrington, comprising (among other features) two post-hole alignments, a Late Iron Age defensive ditch, and evidence of Roman-period settlement, is no exception. The post alignments formed part of the ‘web of interconnectivity’ through the ritual landscape. The Iron Age ditch followed the orientation of the postholes, hinting at continuity of landscape organisation. A bluestone disc found in one of the ditches of the later settlement could represent a prized object collected from Stonehenge in the Roman period.
Presenting a broad analysis of the role of animals in Roman society, Cave Canem is largely based on the evidence from ancient contemporaneous texts and visual representations. The author adopts a culturally contextual approach to ordering and explaining the myriad references to animals known to the Romans, rather than a geographical, chronological, or animal-specific one. Given the thousands of depictions and written references to animals, this seems a practical framework for his data.
As you would |expect from CA’s Archaeologist of the Year, this is an extremely well-researched and well-written book. Split into three parts, the first deals with understanding writing and literacy in the Roman world. Part two tackles the data (inkwells), with a focus on metal types. The final section considers writing equipment in terms of identities and social context.
Skilled as they are at piecing together complex and often elusive clues to reconstruct a sequence of events, you might describe archaeologists as a kind of detective. (Certainly, these worlds collide in the field of forensic archaeology.) It is surely no surprise, then, that some archaeologists are also rather good at writing crime fiction. CA has previously reported on Francis Pryor’s Alan Cadbury novels, and now Nicola Ford – the pen name of Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site – has thrown her trowel into the ring with this zippy, clever, and entertaining read.