In my column on the ‘great excavation’ of Shapwick (CA 345), I included one of my all-time favourite Current Archaeology cover photos, that of CA 151 (February 1997), where a then broken-legged Mick Aston (injured tripping over a holy well!) is shown on site in Shapwick along with some curious local cattle. Over the years, CA has featured some memorable cover photos, and in my column in CA 321 (December 2016), I picked some of my favourites from the first hundred issues of CA between 1967 and 1986. I will pick up this ‘cover stories’ thread again over the next few columns, commencing here with some more of my favourites from the first hundred issues, and the stories behind them.
Author: Joe Flatman
Last month’s ‘great excavation’ explored prehistoric Somerset through the work of John and Bryony Coles along the Sweet Track. In this month’s column, I stick with the same county, but move to a different era and two very different ‘great’ archaeologists: Mick Aston and Chris Gerrard at Shapwick.
In my archival ‘excavation’ of Doggerland (CA 342), I mentioned that it was Bryony Coles who coined the name of this site and led early research into its landscape, and that I planned to return to her work in a later column. Here I make good on my promise, for hers is a story well worth exploring. Beyond Doggerland, Bryony Coles is best known for her work on the Somerset Levels in the 1970s and 1980s. It was here that she and her collaborator (later husband) John Coles led many seasons of fieldwork on a range of prehistoric sites. In the process, they effectively invented the formal discipline of ‘wetland’ archaeology.
In June and July this year, the archaeological organisation CITiZAN (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network) had two good pieces of news to share: firstly, they had won the 2018 Charity Award for Arts, Culture, and Heritage (see CA 342); and secondly, they had gained backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop the initiative beyond its initial three-year funding cycle. CITiZAN’s remit covers the coasts of England, but it has its roots in a more focused location, that of the River Thames in and around London (where it is headed by MOLA). In the spirit of my recent columns on ‘great’ excavations, here I explore the story of how fieldwork along the Thames dating back to the early 1990s grew into the flourishing success that is CITiZAN today.
In this latest excavation of the CA archive, I continue to explore some of the ‘great excavations’ reported on over the years by the magazine. Last month, CA 340 included news of a York Archaeological Trust (YAT) oral history project, which is capturing memories of the 1976-1981 Coppergate excavations; fittingly, it is to this site that I now turn, by any standards a ‘great’ excavation in terms both of its discoveries and its public engagement.
For this month’s contribution to the ‘great excavations’ mini-series, I turn to perhaps the greatest project in medieval archaeology: Wharram Percy. This archaeological site used to be as close to a household name as any in England, its importance drummed into generations of children by their history O- and A-levels. Nowadays, it is less well known, medieval archaeology being, alas, about as unfashionable as a subject can be in 2018 (moans this frustrated medieval archaeologist).
As this month’s contribution to the ‘great excavations’ mini-series, I turn my attention to a ‘great’ project of Anglo-Saxon archaeology: Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The site is one of the best-known in the country thanks to the stunning array of high-status grave goods recovered during the 1939 excavations and displayed in the British Museum since the late 1940s. But in this column I want to focus not on the objects but rather on the two great post-war phases of fieldwork undertaken on the site between 1965 and 1971, led by Rupert Bruce-Mitford, and then again between 1983 and 1992, led by Martin Carver. With CA having launched in March 1967, the timing of these projects coincides perfectly with the emergence and growth of the magazine.
In last month’s ‘great excavations’ mini-series (CA 337), I mentioned the then editor’s suggestion in CA 8 (May 1968) that ‘one of the Roman towns like Silchester or Wroxeter that are ploughed every year’ be excavated by the BBC as an example of public archaeology – Time Team before the Team, so to speak. With Silchester featured last month, it is worth turning to the other site mentioned, Wroxeter – a well-known Roman site near Shrewsbury. It is a site familiar, I am sure, to many readers of CA for its impressive upstanding remains.
In this latest column exploring ‘great excavations’ (a mini-series that we began last month), I turn my attention to the Roman period. Everyone loves a good Roman site – to visit as much as to dig – and CA can modestly argue to have set the ball rolling on the excavation of at least one such site. It is a challenger for the crown of ‘great excavation’: the Iron Age settlement and (from the mid-1st century AD onwards) Roman town of Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum). Located on the northern edge of Hampshire, it has been subject to nearly constant excavation by the University of Reading since 1974.
By any standards, one of the ‘great’ archaeologists of our age is Francis Pryor, a prehistorian who has featured regularly in the pages of CA and whose work – on site, in countless publications, on television, and more recently online – has profoundly shaped our thinking about the past. The site that Pryor is synonymous with, Flag Fen near Peterborough, first appeared in CA 87 (June 1983) – more on that later.