Have the Treasure Hunters won? For the past generation, treasure hunters have been the bÃªte noire of archaeologists, yet suddenly, everything seems to be going their way. There is a new Treasure Act; the BBC puts on a much criticised series; there are two new books and even the British Museum has put on a lavish exhibition on treasure. Just what is happening? We set out to review the books, the exhibition and the programmes, and to try to disentangle some of the varied feelings and emotions of archaeologists today.
The three great henge monuments in North Yorkshire known as the Thornborough Henges are perhaps Britain’s least known major archaeological site. Yet today they are threatened by quarrying and a group, known as the Friends of Thornborough, has been set up and they claim that if the present proposals go through, these three huge henges will be left isolated on islands in the middle of a lake. Since 1997, Jan Harding of Newcastle University has been excavating at the henges. What has he discovered? Are the threats real? Should the site be preserved? Current Archaeology investigates the full story: Certainly every reader of Current Archaeology who has not been to Thornborough should try to get there in 2004 and see the site for themselves.
There are many new discoveries in this latest issue. At Mellor, on the outskirts of the Manchester conurbation, a new hillfort has been discovered, lurking unseen in the gardens of The Old Vicarage. In 1998 Ann Hearle looked out of her kitchen window and saw a parch mark in the field opposite. Here we have the full story of how the Hearles’ garden is being dug up, flower bed by flower bed, to reveal this new earthwork enclosure.
Then up to Howick in Northumberland where a Mesolithic house has been discovered – and another in East Lothian. These are not just paltry huts but major houses, clearly intended for long term occupation. One of them has been reconstructed, and we look at how the Maelmin Heritage Centre was set up, and what has been reconstructed there.
We then return south, to Creeting St Mary, a little village in Suffolk, which in the Middle Ages had no fewer than three churches. St Mary’s still survives; All Saints lay in the corner of St Mary’s churchyard; but where was St Olave? Its name suggests that it was 10th century, but Nigel McBeth has been tracking it down and thinks he has found it, more than a mile away from the main village.
Finally, we move further south still, to Guernsey. Here Heather Sebire, the Island’s archaeologist, has been busy on all fronts. There are at least five Medieval sunken ships in the harbour mouth, lying directly under the path of the modern ferries and there is the magnificent but decaying Castle Cornet. She has been excavating a medieval priory on the little off shore island of Lihou, reputedly built to frighten away the witches; and last but not least she has found the westernmost example of the Linear Band Keramik pottery that is ubiquitous in Germany in the earliest Neolithic.
Another full issue, therefore, reflecting some of the many activities that make up archaeology in Britain.