Visions of the Roman North. Art and Identity in Northern Roman Britain

Iain Ferris introduces his forthcoming book, a study of the role of images and art in the northern regions of Roman Britain, and how art and identity interacted together to produce what is argued to have been a highly-distinctive visual culture.

My new book for Archaeopress-Visions of the Roman North. Art and Identity in Northern Roman Britain– is a study of the role of images and art in the northern regions of Roman Britain, and how art and identity interacted together here to produce what is argued to have been a highly-distinctive visual culture. The book is not concerned with the fine details of the chronology and history of the northern frontiers of the Roman province of Britannia or of the shifting military dispositions there. Indeed, much writing about the Roman north often has been caught up in a relentless specificity-this site, this building, this find-and shied away from the idea of overview. Forward motion and meaning perhaps thus became subsumed in descriptive practice, and I have deliberately avoided this in my book.

The study is not only a geography book, about a particular region, but it is also a political and ideological history, an admonition of sorts, an impassioned defence of the art produced here, and a quasi-memoir. The text, like the art, is full of mysterious eddies and cross-currents. While acknowledging the notion that the world as it is experienced is shaped by the forms of human thought and sensibility, at the same time  the birth of an age of images such as in Roman times would also seem to have involved a certain degree of bewilderment at the elusiveness of time, and anxiety about the dehumanising effects of the resulting artistic production. A new art reflected a new model of existence commensurate with the experiences of living in a frontier zone, an art whose creation did not require a breaking-away from old frameworks of presentation but rather their adaption. This new art was steeped in a physical sense of the Roman north: the landscapes, the forts, the streets of tombs, the resilient peoples.

Altar to Sol-Mithras from Carrawburgh, Northumberland. Third century AD. Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle. (Photo: Author).

Visions…’ is to some extent a long essay, a series of interconnected studies of particular aspects of identity formation explored by material objects, highlighting the dominant strands of artistic practice at the time. The roots of this practice are not explicitly explored, indeed only in so far as they can be seen to have reinvigorated and tested the potential of sculpture as a medium. The interworking of agency, gesture, and landscape make this very much a regional study. Looking at the art from the Roman north helps us to understand how this geographic space was conceptualized. People, materials, and environment served to emphasise the local context and the landscape acted as a medium through which agency and gestures were translated. The art of the region should be seen as the end result of active engagements with developing patterns of change which formed one crucial aspect of the contemporary experience. Art acted as a kind of mesh through which real life escaped, the overall assemblage of artworks being somehow greater than the sum of its many parts. By deploying new modes of representation it is argued that it is almost as if the Romans looked down from above on the northern landscapes which had not been seen in this way before and reinterpreted them through imagery. Looking at this art allows us to recognise the deep connection between social and geological territory, and between landscape and memory.

Relief of Roman legionaries from Croy Hill, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Antonine. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. (Photo: Author).

I also argue that northern Romano-British art between the first and early fifth centuries AD was in a sense a period of sufficient historical integrity to make it worthy of study in its own right and not just as a regional study. This art helped in the creation of a discrete social and psychological space in the north. The study seeks to question conventional polarities with regard to province and frontier. But there nevertheless remains a feeling that these resulting new visual narratives ultimately longed for some degree of constancy and integration in a broader whole. There is a sense that there was a struggle under way to envisage a new politicised landscape effortlessly spanning both the past and the present. The question addressed is whether the art produced was, ultimately, entirely successfully in doing so?

Visual experience was a vital and integral part of the character of the region as it was shaped by broad cultural and sociopolitical forces. Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall did not exist in a void: they lay within a broader landscape. The frontiers existed at a critical point where history and geography, architecture and topography met, or at least intersected; a region of perpetual exchange where economic, cultural, and political currents met in a zone of both contact and ideological, rather than actual, conflict. Perception and interpretation in such a zone can be, but need not necessarily have been, the same thing. Art and culture ultimately became the main arteries of connectivity and communication, drawing on repertoires of extraction and mobilisation.

Tombstone of the optio Caecilius Avitus from Chester. Mid to second half of third century AD. Grosvenor Museum, Chester. Painted Cast. (Photo: Author).

This bold and innovative northern art consequently made its own map of the region in a cartography of consequences whose transitory nature defied the rational lines and grids of conventional map-making. Conventional maps of northern Roman Britain would simply have failed to capture the essence and specifics of artistic production and consumption there at that time and consequently would have missed more than they managed to record. The northern landscapes should be understood as both physical and social spaces. The Antonine Wall distance slabs, discussed at great length in the book, are an exception, a series of conceits of uncommon force. They demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that as a means of expanding rather than circumscribing ideological practice art and craft were media for the exchange of different knowledge systems at the frontier. Contested borders and contested identities to some extent helped decentre the image of the human body here. In the event, abandonment of the Antonine frontier led to the sacrificing of the correspondence between art and fixed historical narratives in favour of a new fluidity.

Both artists and viewers experienced an alternative world to that created by historical writers on the province, a world that they themselves were creating and perpetuating. In many ways then this study marks an attempt to connect with a cognitive map of the northern region from the perspective of its cultural production over time. This kind of cartography could lead to all sorts of consequences, most importantly by allowing the art discussed to bring its past with it. This art was not just something to look at: it was communicative, performative, and constructive, and sometimes dwelled on its own form and formative power.

Tombstone of Aurelia Aureliana from Carlisle. Mid-third century AD. Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle. (Photo: Author).

These Romano-British artworks were very much about themselves or about the medium of art itself in some senses because what they did was reveal, demonstrate, question, and argue for a particular position on an ideological issue. This book proposes a means of looking at certain artworks in northern Roman Britain as having operated beyond what appeared to be their genre or their narrative, in that they can be thought to have been reflecting upon themselves. These artworks would appear to have asserted geography and chronology as their principal organisational concept. Oblivion and rescue were at best myopic tropes that served to define the later history of many of the artworks discussed in this study. As a body of works they appear to me endowed with a vivid, even epic, quality which somehow helps render them unique. The art of the northern region remains a reflecting glass in which we can see so much of Roman Britain and of the Roman world more broadly.

This is a study which is unashamedly regional but I hope certainly not parochial, based on data and evidence but still poetic in intent, revisionist but not iconoclastic. In the Roman north the concerns of Rome’s rulers, its soldiers, shadowplayers, civilians, traders, and those seeking help, salvation, or transcendence from regional or supra-regional deities came together in a heady cultural mix that defined a unique world. Boundaries between interior and exterior worlds dissolved.

Jet knife handle in the form of a dog from Binchester, County Durham. Late third, but probably fourth, century AD. Private collection. (Photo: Author).

For those who know the north we understand that it is a closed landscape, all of whose reference points draw us irresistibly towards the past. Though we might see things from variable angles-the individual viewing experience-or from receding perspectives-mediated by the knowledge that underpins the act of viewing-these variables nevertheless allow us to catch a glimpse of a completely novel conception of space here in the deep past, but in the end these glimpses remain no more than incoherent visions of a kind that require interpretation and careful analysis. What we are dealing with in trying to understand and empathise with the ancient viewer moving through the Roman landscape is absence and presence in time: the absence of an object becomes a presence that one can feel and experience. Viewers did not have to simply interpret the world, but rather the transformation of that world. Thus we have to try and understand from their perspectives a world which in many respects made itself.

I sing in praise of sandstone, of ‘this region of short distances and definite places’*, in the past as in the present. Hypnagogic sleep: visions of the Roman north.

Iain Ferris

* W.H. Auden 1948In Praise of Limestone.

Header image: The Cramond Lioness from Cramond, Edinburgh, Scotland. Mid-second to early third century AD. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. (Photo: Author).


Sincerest thanks to Iain for preparing this blog post.

Visions of the Roman North: Art and Identity in Northern Roman Britain will publish in May 2021, priced £35 in paperback, and from £16 as a PDF download.
Pre-order using this form to save 20% upon publication.

The complete introduction and first chapter are available to preview on our website now.

History of Siberian Archaeology: The Life and Works of Aleksei P. Okladnikov in 1961–1981

Yaroslav V. Kuzmin, from the Sobolev Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Novosibirsk, Russia), introduces A. K. Konopatskii’s book on the investigations of prehistoric archaeology of Siberia, Mongolia, and the Aleutian Islands (Alaska, USA), conducted by prominent Soviet scholar Aleksei P. Okladnikov (1908–1981) and his colleagues in the 1960s – 1970s.

Archaeopress is very pleased to have published Volume II of A. K. Konopatskii’s biography of Soviet archaeologist Aleksei P. Okladnikov as part of its ongoing Archaeological Lives series.

It is about the life and works of Aleksei P. Okladnikov in 1961–1981, when he was organiser (1961–1966) and since 1966 the Director of the Institute of History, Philology, and Philosophy, Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences, in Novosibirsk. This institute was a part of large-scale project of Akademgorodok (Academic Town) built in 1957–1964, the unique phenomenon of Soviet science (see Josephson 1997).

Okladnikov went to the Akademgorodok for the first time in 1960, and was invited to move to Novosibirsk permanently, in order to organise the institute devoted to the study of the humanities in Siberia. Okladnikov felt the necessity to have free hands in order to continue his archaeological and historical pursuits in Siberia, the Russian Far East and Central Asia; also, the possibility to become a member of the Academy of Sciences in the near future was another important factor in favour of a move to Novosibirsk. In 1961, Okladnikov arrived in Akademgorodok to settle down. The Sector (i.e. Department) of History of the Industry was created within the existing Institute of Economics and Industrial Production Engineering (IEIPE). Okladnikov brought with him several archaeologists, historians, and philologists. In 1962, the Sector became the Department of Study of the Humanities, still attached to the IEIPE. In December 1966, the new Institute of History, Philology and Philosophy (IHPP) was officially opened, and Okladnikov was appointed as its Director. It had 120 employees, and consisted of three departments – History (including archaeology and ethnology), Philology, and Philosophy. The main task of the new institute was not only to conduct research but also to coordinate efforts in the field of humanities for all Siberia and the Russian Far East.

In Novosibirsk, Okladnikov continued extensive fieldworks in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Of particular importance were surveys and excavations in the Lake Baikal region (both Pribaikal’e and Zabaikal’e), headwaters of the Lena River, Altai Mountains, Kuznetsk Basin, and Primor’e and Priamur’e regions. Active fieldwork were also conducted in Mongolia in collaboration with Mongolian archaeologists. The ability of Okladnikov to find new archaeological sites was legendary; some people truly believed that he could become ‘prehistoric human’ to understand where to set up camp or permanent settlement. Of course, this talent was the result of his vast expertise in the study of ancient sites, and his intuition. In the 1960s and 1970s, Okladnikov also widely traveled abroad for conferences and business meetings – to Japan, Cuba, Hungary, USA, North Korea, Poland, India, and Czechoslovakia.

Figure 1. Meeting with Oriental scholar O. Lattimore in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1971; from left to right: A. P. Derevyanko, O. Lattimore, D. Dorj, V. E. Larichev, A.P. Okladnikov and N. Ser-Odjav.

In 1964, Okladnikov was elected the Member-Correspondents of the Academy of Sciences, filling the quota of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1968, he was elevated to the title of a Full Member (Academician). As a matter of fact, Okladnikov was given carte blanche to conduct archaeological, historical and other related research in all of Siberia, the Russian Far East, and Central Asia. The IHPP scholars were also the main workforce of the newly created Faculty of Humanities, Novosibirsk State University.

From the beginning of research in humanities at the Akademgorodok, the compilation of multi-volume History of Siberia was put forward as one of the major tasks, and Okladnikov was the main motor of this enterprise. In 1964, the 700 pages prospectus of Volume 1 (Ancient History) was compiled, printed and distributed among scholars. In 1968–1969, five volumes of the History of Siberia were published, and this was the first comprehensive (for the time being) compendium on archaeology and history of a large region. Okladnikov contributed the lion share of editorial work for the whole collection, and wrote several chapters for Volume 1. In 1973, this fundamental research was awarded the State Prize, with Okladnikov as a co-recipient.

Figure 2. Joint US–Soviet team at the Unalaska Island (Aleutian Islands), 1974; from left to right: A. K. Konopatskii, W. S. Laughlin, A. P. Derevyanko, R. S. Vasil’evskii, A. P. Okladnikov and V. E. Larichev.

In 1974, Okladnikov and four of his colleagues from IHPP participated in trips and joint excavations on the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, USA, along with Prof. William S. Laughlin (University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA). This was a rare example of the real collaboration, that is joint expeditions and excavations. Campbell (1976: 3) noted:

The Aleutian project of 1974 constituted, both in intent and practice, quite a radical departure from the general pattern of exchange visits between North American and Soviet anthropologists, biologists and earth scientists, which, while they have resulted in very useful comparison of data and ideas, have rarely involved actual field research under the conditions which the visiting scientists enjoyed at home. Purely and simply, therefore, the Aleutian project amounted to honest joint field work, and was not a guided tour.

Figure 3. W. S. Laughlin and A. P. Okladnikov examine the skull of one of the D. Medvedev’s party of Cossacks massacred in 1764 at Chaluka (Unalaska Island), University of Connecticut, Storrs (CT), 1974.

Another of Okladnikov’s initiative in the 1960s – 1970s was to create an Open-Air (Outdoor) Museum, and bring to Akademgorodok the ancient stelae with inscriptions and pieces of rock art that are endangered by construction of large reservoirs or industrial development. A wooden church with bell tower from the abandoned town of Zashiversk in the Indigirka River basin, built in 1700 and the miraculous survivor of several fires, was rescued from the Arctic and brought in pieces to Akademgorodok in 1971. Today, this is one of the major attractions of the Open-Air Museum that was officially opened in 1981.

Figure 4. The wooden church and bell tower from the abandoned Arctic town of Zashiversk, Open-Air Museum, Akademgorodok, Novosibirsk.

Several foreign learning societies – British Academy (1973), Academy of Sciences of Mongolia (1974) and Hungarian Academy of Science (1976) – granted Okladnikov honorary membership. In 1978, Okladnikov was given the title of Hero of Socialist Labour (civil equivalent to the Hero of Soviet Union, the highest honour in USSR).

Most of Okladnikov’s biographies are panegyric, and only his achievements are described. It seems that L. S. Klejn’s opinions (see Klejn 2012: 334–338; Klejn 2014: 306–325) are more balanced. Okladnikov’s legacy is tremendous because of his many years of work in northern Asia where large tracts of land were previously unknown to archaeologists. Klejn (2012: 338) noticed about Okladnikov: ‘Not even his enemies deny his achievements, charm, and talent.’ Besides the rich artefact collections acquired throughout more than 50 years of research, Okladnikov also built a Novosibirsk school of archaeologists – including Z. A. Abramova, S. N. Astakhov, V. V. Bobrov, A. P. Derevianko, E. I. Derevianko, B. A. Frolov, Yu. P. Kholushkin, Y. F. Kiryushin, V. E. Larichev, A. I. Martynov, A. I. Mazin, V. E. Medvedev, V. I. Molodin, V. T. Petrin, R. S. Vasil’evskii, and others.

Figure 5. A. P. Okladnikov in his Director’s office with A. K. Konopatskii (right), Akademgorodok, Novosibirsk, 1978.

However, some scholars did not come along well with Okladnikov. He was quite suspicious about some Siberian archaeologists who were revising his chronology and periodisation of ancient cultural complexes – Yu. A. Mochanov from Yakutsk; G. I. Medvedev, M. P. Aksenov, G. M. Georgievskaya and other people from Irkutsk; A. A. Formozov and G. I. Andreev from Moscow; and Z. V. Andreeva from Vladivostok. Sometimes Okladnikov used his position to postpone publications of these researchers or push them from sites that he wanted to excavate by himself. It is obvious that Okladnikov had many ‘summits and bottoms’ in science; however, his achievements are probably more important today than his flaws and mistakes.

The book (including Volume I, published by Archaeopress in 2019) is for archaeologists, historians, and everyone who is interested in the history of scholarship (particularly the humanities) in the twentieth century, especially in the USSR.

Header image: A. P. Okladnikov examines the rock art at the Sakachi-Alyan site, Khabarovsk Province, 1971.

References

Campbell, J.M. (1976). The Soviet–American Siberian expedition. Arctic 29: 2–6.

Josephson, P. (1997). New Atlantis Revisited: Akademgorodok, the Siberian City of Science. Princeton, NJ & Chichester: Princeton University Press.

Klejn, L.S. (2012). Soviet Archaeology: Trends, Schools, and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Klejn, L.S. (2014). Istoriya Rossiiskoi Arkheologii: Ucheniya, Shkoly i Lichnosti. Tom 2. Arkheologi Sovetskoi Epokhi (The History of Russian Archaeology: Doctrines,Schools and Personalities. Volume 2. Archaeologists of the Soviet Epoch). St.Petersburg: Eurasia Press (in Russian).

About the Author

Yaroslav V. Kuzmin has been studying geoarchaeology of the Russian Far East, Siberia and neighbouring Northeast Asia since 1979 (PhD 1991; DSc. 2007). He has also assisted in translating and editing books on the archaeology of eastern Russia along with Richard L. Bland.


How to order

Aleksei P. Okladnikov: The Great Explorer of the Past
by A. K. Konopatskii, translated by Richard L. Bland and Yaroslav V. Kuzmin

Volume I: A biography of a Soviet archaeologist (1900s – 1950s):
PB: £24.99 | PDF: from £16.00

Volume II: A biography of a Soviet archaeologist (1960s – 1980s):
PB: £34.99 | PDF: from £16.00

The World of Disney

David Gill provides an introduction to the life of Dr John Disney (1779–1857), the subject of his latest biography.

Dr John Disney (1779–1857) is perhaps best known for his benefaction that allowed the creation of the Cambridge University chair of archaeology that continues to bear his name. What was his interest in archaeology, and what were his motivations?

How did the book come about?

My professional interest in Disney came through my time as a curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The ‘Disney Marbles’ (as they were known at the time of their donation in 1850) formed a key component of the sculpture collection and included imperial portraits as well as Roman sarcophagi. Part of this gift, as well as some subsequent acquisitions, were explored in a temporary exhibition ‘Antiquities of the Grand Tour’ (1990). I was invited to prepare a new memoir of Disney for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). This involved tracking down his papers in various record offices, as well as walking part of his estate in Dorset.

Sarcophagus with Dionysiac scene. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum. © David Gill.

On returning to the east of England I decided to choose Disney as the subject of my inaugural lecture as he had been involved with the creation of civic museums in Chelmsford and Colchester, and had stood unsuccessfully as Member of Parliament for both Harwich and Ipswich. After completing my biography of Dr Winifred Lamb (Winifred Lamb: Aegean Prehistorian and Museum Curator [2018]), the Honorary Keeper of Greek Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, I decided that the time was right for exploring this key figure in the formation of academic archaeology in the UK.

What is inside?

The Disney family were based at Norton Disney, between Lincoln and Newark. They had settled there following the Norman conquest; their origins lay in Isigny in Normandy. By the 18th century the family were living in Lincoln.

The central question was how the Disney family had acquired the classical sculpture collection at The Hyde. John’s father, the Reverend John Disney (1746–1816), was a Church of England cleric in Lincolnshire. He was part of the Feathers Tavern Petitioners who sought to be released from the perceived constraints of the Thirty-Nine Articles. He became close friends (and brother-in-law) of the Reverend Theophilus Lindsey. Disney resigned his Church of England living to become assistant minister of the Unitarian Essex Street Chapel in London where Lindsey was minister. One of the key benefactors of the chapel was Thomas Brand (Brand-Hollis) (c. 1719–1804) of The Hyde, near Ingatestone in Essex.

The Hyde, near Ingatestone, Essex.

Brand-Hollis died in 1804 and bequeathed The Hyde, its collections, and estates in Dorset to the Reverend John Disney. The classical sculptures had been largely acquired by Brand and his friend Thomas Hollis (1720–1774) during their Grand Tour of Italy. Among the pieces was a fine portrait of Marcus Aurelius that had been displayed in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. At least five objects were purchased for The Hyde in 1761 from the collection of William Lloyd of The Gregories in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Hollis bequeathed his fortune and estate to Brand, and Archdeacon Francis Blackburne of Richmond Yorkshire prepared the Memoirs (1780); Blackburne was father-in-law to both Lindsey and the Reverend John Disney.

Disney’s elder brother Lewis married Elizabeth Ffytche, daughter of a former president of Bengal, in 1775 and settled at Danbury Place in Essex. After Elizabeth’s death Lewis purchased the pleasure gardens, Le Désert de Retz, outside Paris; however, the events of the French Revolution forced him to flee France and he moved to Italy. Part of the Disney collection can be traced to his time in Naples. It was in Italy that his daughter, Frances, met (Sir) William Hillary, the future founder of the RNLI; they married on their return to London. Lewis’ other daughter, Sophia, married her first cousin John Disney in 1802. John had studied at Peterhouse, Cambridge before being admitted to the Inner Temple. In 1807 he was appointed Recorder of Bridport in Dorset, and his family moved to the former estate owned by Thomas Hollis.

The Reverend John Disney died in December 1816, and John Disney moved back to Essex. He became involved with the Chelmsford Philosophical Society and helped to establish the Chelmsford and Essex Museum in 1843 to display the society’s collection. Investigations in Colchester led to an interest in Roman archaeology and a Latin funerary inscription entered the Disney collection. In 1818 Disney started a detailed catalogue of the collection in The Hyde that later appeared as the Museum Disneianum (1846; 2nd ed. 1849); it drew on the catalogue that had been prepared by his father. This new catalogue included additional pieces that Disney had added to the collection during his travels in Italy.

Inscription from Colchester. Museum Disneianum.

In 1849 Disney turned 70 and he decided to offer his collection of sculpture to the University of Cambridge as ‘a basis for the study of Archaeology’. In 1851 he offered to establish a ‘professorship of classical antiquities’. The first professor was the Reverend John H. Marsden, the Rector of Great Oakley near Harwich. Marsden was a member of the Colchester Archaeological Association and later the Essex Archaeological Society. Disney was awarded an honorary DCL from Oxford in 1854, and was incorporated with the degree of LL.D. at Cambridge during the Archaeological Institute’s visit to Cambridge later that same year. Disney died in May 1857 and is buried in the family tomb in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin at Fryerning in Essex.

About the author

David Gill is Honorary Professor in the Centre for Heritage at the University of Kent, and Academic Associate in the Centre for Archaeology and Heritage in the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures at the University of East Anglia (UEA). He is a former Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome, and Sir James Knott Fellow at Newcastle University. He was responsible for curating the Greek and Roman collections at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University, before moving to Swansea University where he was reader in Mediterranean Archaeology. He returned to East Anglia as Professor of Archaeological Heritage at the University of Suffolk. He is a Fellow of the RSA and the Society of Antiquaries. In 2012 he received the Outstanding Public Service Award from the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) for his research on cultural property. His other books include Sifting the Soil of Greece: The Early Years of the British School at Athens (1886-1919) (2011), and Winifred Lamb: Aegean Prehistorian and Museum Curator (2018).


How to Order:

The World of Disney: From Antiquarianism to Archaeology is available now in paperback (£25) or as a PDF eBook (£16)

Also available: Winifred Lamb: Aegean Prehistorian and Museum Curator: Paperback (£30) / PDF eBook (£16).

Sincerest thanks to David Gill for providing this blog post. To submit an article for the Archaeopress Blog, please contact Patrick Harris.

Conversations in Human Evolution

Lucy Timbrell introduces an ongoing science communication project exploring the breadth and interdisciplinarity of human evolution research at a global scale.

Conversations in Human Evolution is an ongoing science communication project exploring the breadth and interdisciplinarity of human evolution research at a global scale. Through informal interviews (henceforth referred to as ‘conversations’), this project delves deeply into topics concerning the study of our species’ evolutionary history, covering the current advances in research, theory and methods as well as the socio-political issues rife within academia. This project also provides important insights into the history of human evolutionary studies. Overall, the Conversations in Human Evolution website has attracted around 8000 visitors from over 100 countries. Volume 1 (available from Archaeopress) is the result of the first twenty conversations, published online between March and June 2020. When we went to press, this subset of the conversations had been collectively viewed 6817 times since they were made available on the website.

The idea for Conversations in Human Evolution (CHE) arose in March 2020 during the escalation of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Following the cancellation and postponement of in-person events, CHE became a creative project to encourage engagement with human evolutionary research during this time of isolation and confinement. It was noticed that, whilst there is great public interest in this area of research, there are few freely accessible online resources about human evolutionary studies itself (though see the Smithsonian Human Origins Programme for a good example of a publicly available resource). What’s more, science engagement initiatives are almost always concerned with communicating exciting results and discoveries, and whilst this is obviously the most important aspect of science communication, it can lead to the neglection of the personal experiences of the scholars behind the science. Broader socio-political issues within subject-specific academic circles are also rarely discussed through publicly accessible communicative forums, somewhat depersonalising the science and perhaps even romanticising academia in certain ways. CHE fills this void by asking – what does it actually mean to study and research human evolution in the 21st century?

Human evolution studies, by definition, is a discipline concerned with the deep past. We explore the most pertinent questions about the evolution of humanity, such as the emergence of complex language and culture. The exploration of such issues allows researchers to look back into our species’ evolutionary history to better understand our present and our future. Yet, we rarely consider the role of history and personal experience in the shaping of human evolution research. Acknowledging that the history of our discipline and its historical figures deserve focus in their own right is a fundamental premise of CHE as, in the same way that human evolutionary research drives our understanding of our past, present and future selves, historical and personal contexts have driven modern approaches to the deep past. CHE bridges the gap between the research and the researcher, contextualising modern science with personal experience and historical reflection.

Themes:

Volume 1 is organised into five non mutually exclusive categories based on broad research areas: (1) quaternary and archaeological science, (2) Palaeolithic archaeology, (3) biological anthropology and palaeoanthropology, (4) primatology and evolutionary anthropology, and (5) evolutionary genetics. CHE features scholars at various different stages in their careers and from all over the world; in this volume alone, researchers are based at institutions in seven different countries (namely the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States of America, Germany, Denmark, India and China), covering four continents.

Quaternary and Archaeological Science

Section 1 features five conversations with quaternary and archaeological scientists, covering topics such as quantitative methods in archaeology, human-environment interactions, palaeoecology and geoarchaeology. Dr Enrico Crema discusses his research into evolutionary cultural change and prehistoric demography, with a particular focus on Japanese prehistory, as well as the importance of being a ‘π-shaped’ researcher with both domain-specific knowledge and analytical and computing skills. Professor Felix Riede builds on this idea, suggesting that ‘π-shaped’ researchers should learn how to ‘hold hands’ and work collaboratively. He also discusses his research projects attempting to understand how paleoclimates have interacted with past societies, and the role that archaeology can play in current discourse in contemporary climate change. Professor Ben Marwick details the importance of ‘open access archaeology’ as well as some of his many projects, mainly in Southeast Asia. Quaternary Scientist, Professor Chris Hunt recounts his work at the ongoing Shanidar Cave Project in Iraqi Kurdistan (among his many other projects), which has recently published fascinating results on Neanderthal mortuary practises. Professor Andy Herries also reviews his recent publications, such as the dating of the DNH 134 Homo erectus fossil. As well as discussion about his ongoing work in geoarchaeology and geochronology, he stresses the importance of working with local collaborators and communities.

A cartoon of π-shaped researchers that boast both knowledge (K) breadth and depth as well as statistical acumen learning to ‘hold hands’ and do archaeological team science, also with colleagues of other shapes. Image by Felix Riede.

Palaeolithic Archaeology

Section 2 features five conversations with Palaeolithic archaeologists working all over the world. This section highlights the ongoing research that is being carried out to further understand prehistoric human behaviour over a huge geographic area. Starting in Asia, Professor Shanti Pappu recounts her experiences of researching the Indian Palaeolithic, drawing special attention to the importance of her outreach programmes with local schools during excavation. Professor Michael Petraglia details his interdisciplinary work in South Asia and East Asia –  as well as Arabia and eastern Africa –  which has the overarching focus of understanding the origin and dispersal of our own species. Dr Shi-Xia Yang describes her recent work on the stone tools of Palaeolithic in East Asia, making links between hominin behaviours and climatic change in the region. Moving into African Stone Age archaeology, Professor John Gowlett explores his experiences working in eastern Africa, illustrated with amazing pictures from his personal archive. Professor Eleanor Scerri next describes her ongoing work in northern and western Africa. Like others in this volume, she encourages the development of new quantitative and computational methods for interpreting patterns in the archaeological record. Finally, coming into the European Palaeolithic, Dr Rob Davies describes his work at the British Museum looking at the archaeology of ancient Great Britain. As a mature student coming into archaeological research later in life, he provides an invaluable account of his experiences within academia.

The research team at the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education in action. Image by Shanti Pappu.

Biological Anthropology and Palaeoanthropology

Four biological anthropologists and paleoanthropologists are featured in Section 3, covering topics such as evolutionary medicine, comparative anatomy and the significance of new fossil discoveries. Dr Emma Pomeroy first describes some of her latest work in evolutionary medicine on the osteological indicators of body fatness (among other projects, such as the excavation of Neanderthal remains at Shanidar Cave), discussing the implications of her work on modern health. Professor Chris Stringer talks us through his expansive career in physical anthropology, including his PhD at the University of Bristol which led to the establishment of the Out of Africa hypothesis. Professor Katerina Harvati describes some of her most recent research at Apidima Cave on some of the oldest Homo sapiens fossils outside of Africa. She goes on to discuss some of the technological and methodological advancements that have revolutionized modern anthropological science as well as some of academia’s socio-political issues that still require attention, like the representation of women and ethnic minorities in human evolution research as well as sexual harassment. Finally, Professor Bernard Wood recounts his experiences working with Richard Leakey and other well-known paleoanthropologists during the ‘golden era’ of fossil discoveries.

Chris Stringer on his PhD trip around Europe (1971). Image by Chris Stringer.
Bernard Wood looking at newly recovered hominin fossils with colleagues, brought down to Nairobi by Don Johanson from Hadar in 1973, at the old Center for Prehistory and Palaeontology at the National Museums of Kenya. From left to right, Tim White, Richard Leakey, Bernard Wood and Don Johanson. Image by Bob Campbell.

Primatology and Evolutionary Anthropology

Section 4 includes three conversations with researchers working within primatology and evolutionary anthropology. First, Professor Susana Carvalho describes how she helped to establish the field of ‘primate archaeology’. She also outlines the progression of the Gorongosa Field School and Palaeo-Primate Project in Mozambique which she directs. Like many others, she also strongly advocates the training of local students to lead research in these areas. Then, Dr Isabelle Winder, a self-proclaimed ‘question-led researcher’, discusses the broad nature of her past and present projects, including some very interesting work in the modelling of non-primate species distributions in response to climate change. Finally, Professor Fiona Jordan discusses her work on the VariKin project which uses data, methods and theory from anthropology, biology, linguistics and psychology to explore kinship system diversity. Interestingly, in this conversation, she reflects on her experiences working in academic institutions all over the world.

Susana Carvalho with Rene Bobe and Zeray Alemseged at Gorongosa (2017). Image by Luke Stalley.

Evolutionary Genetics

The final section focuses on individuals working on evolutionary genetics as it features conversations with two population geneticists. First, Professor Eske Willerslev discusses the significance of environmental DNA for understanding biological activity in the past, a field within evolutionary genetics that he founded. He also discusses some of his biggest achievements, such as the first whole-genome sequencing of an ancient human genome and proposes some of the most promising avenues of future research for human evolution studies, such as proteomics. Second, Dr Pontus Skoglund addresses the interaction between archaeology and genetics, discussing some of the contentious issues between the two, such as the definition of ancestry. He also describes his research into the links between population migrations and the global transition to agriculture, archaic gene flow, early human evolution in Africa and more.

Eske Willerslev visiting the Northern Cheyenne Reserve in Montana, talking to members of the Cheyenne and Crow Native American Tribes. Image by Eske Willerslev.

About the author

Lucy Timbrell is an AHRC-funded PhD researcher in the Archaeology of Human Origins Research Group at the University of Liverpool. She was awarded her BSc in Evolutionary Anthropology from the University of Liverpool in 2018 and her MPhil in Biological Anthropological Science from Clare College, University of Cambridge, in 2020. Broadly, she is interested in the evolution of modern human diversity, with her doctoral research focussing on quantifying the population structure of early Homo sapiens in Late-Middle Pleistocene Africa. Alongside her PhD research, she organises the widely known University of Liverpool Evolutionary Anthropology seminar series. She has previously published and organised international workshops on the application of geometric morphometrics methods in biological anthropology and archaeology, and was awarded a global prize in 2018 for her undergraduate research that utilized these techniques. Lucy is also an advocate for open science and public engagement with human evolutionary studies.

Available Now!

Conversations in Human Evolution: Volume 1 is available now in paperback (£30) and as a FREE PDF download here.

Sincerest thanks to Lucy Timbrell for supplying this blog post. If you would be interested in submitting something for the Archaeopress Blog – please contact Patrick Harris.

An Educator’s Handbook For Teaching About the Ancient World

Dr Pinar Durgun discusses the context and background behind her innovative new handbook presenting ‘recipes’ for teaching about the ancient world.

How did the book come about?

The world has changed so quickly and so drastically around us in 2020. So has our teaching: online and open-access resources have often been the only way students and educators can access and share information, when libraries, schools, and cultural organizations have been closed for much of the year, and in many cases remain so. Even when they have re-opened, educators have been forced to teach in entirely new or hybrid formats.

Teachers (inspired by ancient Assyrian, Mayan, and Greek depictions holding teaching tools)  and students (holding various school supplies) in a classroom. The image imitates the style of painted ancient stone reliefs. The colors and details are worn. Cover artwork by Hannah M. Herrick.

Now that many of us are required to teach over digital platforms, can we expect our students to listen to us lecture for two hours and give us their undivided attention? The instructional designers I work with in preparing my online courses suggest that online lectures should be 10 minutes maximum. So do many other educators. This is how long your students can focus on your lecturing voice and your ‘floating head talking’ video. In the physical classroom, the maximum is around 15-20 minutes. So how do we communicate information and teach content for longer stretches of time while still enabling students to interact and engage?

Interactive classroom activities make learning undeniably more engaging and fun, in addition to providing students with physical dexterity, collaboration, critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. There are very creative educators among us who have been teaching about the ancient world in exciting ways using hands-on, project-based, and experiential activities. I wanted to use these activities in my classes. And based on dozens of activity exchanges with my educator friends, I was sure that other educators were also looking for new strategies to engage their students with the ancient world. This is why I created An Educator’s Handbook for Teaching About the Ancient World.

‘Live like it’s 3000 BC: Experimental Archaeology; students are flintknapping to produce an Acheulean hand axe. Brown University, 2018.

What is in the book?

The initial idea was to format the lesson plans into a cookbook, with teaching ‘recipes’, which include the materials, budget, preparation time, and level of students so that any educator could replicate these recipes in their classes. Some of these activities require materials, some do not. Some need to be prepared before class, some require no preparation. Some of the activities are very much tied to the culture, time period, or place, but some can be applied to any content. Some of the activities were written by a single educator, and some are a product of collaborative teaching. All of the activities, however, are tested in the classroom and peer-reviewed by other educators. More importantly, all activities are engaging, hands-on, immersive, and/or experiential. They are only a small portion of the endless possibilities of making teaching and learning about the ancient world fun, meaningful, and informative.

An example of the ‘recipe’ format: ‘Making Lions at Babylon’ by Anastasia Amrhein and Elizabeth Knott

In addition to these teaching recipes, this book also addresses some important issues in ancient world pedagogy: Why should we publish educational resources as open access? How can we effectively make use of museums and ancient objects in our teaching? Why should our research and pedagogy be collaborative? Our teaching has broader implications. These essays address such implications and provide great examples and case studies for educators to apply these methods and ways of thinking to their own teaching. I hope this book will be a resource where we can learn from each other about ancient world pedagogy regardless of the time periods, cultural or geographical areas, and subjects we teach.

Who is this book for?

Educators teaching about the ancient world. Students and parents learning how to teach about ancient world. Anyone who is interested in the ancient world and pedagogy. The activities in this book can be implemented online or in-person, in school, university, library, museum, or home classrooms. Every activity specifies the age/grade level of students for which the activity is appropriate. Many activities also have optional steps to make the activity work for other ages/levels. The activities and essays were written by school teachers, university instructors, and museum educators who teach about ancient objects, materials, peoples, and cultures.

Some of the activities were also written in different languages. Contributors and educators Leticia Rovira and Cecilia Molla from Argentina, who wrote their activity both in English and Spanish, say that this book is:

“a novel contribution to the didactics of ancient societies’ teaching. The main objective is challenging and enthralling: to go beyond the thresholds of academy and reach another very important audience –students at different levels- and try to capture their interest, drawing their attention towards our fields of study through a wide diversity of appealing didactic proposals.”

You can find out more about the Contributors here: https://pinardurgunpd.wixsite.com/teachancient

One of the goals of this book was to open up the conversation about ancient world pedagogy and create a hub for more collaboration. I encourage you to try out the teaching activities and share your photos and observations with other educators: https://pinardurgunpd.wixsite.com/teachancient/gallery 

You can also explore further pedagogical resources about ancient world pedagogy here: https://pinardurgunpd.wixsite.com/teachancient/copy-of-about

About the Author

Dr Pınar Durgun is an art historically-trained archaeologist with a background in anthropology, cultural heritage, and museums, passionate about outreach and education. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University and has been teaching for about a decade in universities, museums, and school classrooms about archaeology and the ancient world. As a dedicated public scholar and educator, Dr Durgun hopes to make academic information about the ancient world accessible, fun, and inclusive. Find out more about her work here: https://pinardurgunpd.wixsite.com/pinardurgun

Grab it and spread the word!

The eBook version of my book is FREE to download in Open Access. To download the free eBook or to purchase a printed hardback copy, please click on the cover image below:

Sincerest thanks to Dr Durgun for writing this article for the Archaeopress Blog. To submit an article, please send your proposal to Patrick Harris: patrick@archaeopress.com

Engraved Gems and Propaganda in the Roman Republic and under Augustus

Paweł Gołyźniak of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow presents an introduction to his new book which aims to place engraved gems alongside literature, architecture, sculpture and coins in discourse surrounding Roman propaganda.

Introduction

Fig. 1

How did the Romans effectively communicate their private successes? Whom did they set as examples to follow? How did they manifest their political affinities? How did the political leaders of ancient Rome employ the noble and luxurious art of gem engraving for their political purposes? How did their official seals contribute to the spread of information on their successes and help to build up a positive image within the society? These and many more questions are answered in my book, Engraved Gems and Propaganda in the Roman Republic and under Augustus (see fig. 1).

I think it is one of the most important books on Roman gems ever produced, and hopefully it will become a standard work in university teaching…

Martin Henig, Emeritus Professor at the Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford

How did the book came about?

The book deals with small, but highly captivating and stimulating artwork – engraved gemstones (carnelian, agates, amethysts etc. with images carved upon their surfaces). I began studying them a few years ago when I accessed a long forgotten but magnificent collection of intaglios, cameos and seals in the National Museum in Krakow. That assemblage, composed mostly of the gems gathered together by one of the most successful Polish art dealers and collector Constantine Schmidt-Ciążyński (1818-1889), was my first major study, resulting in the publication of the ancient part of the cabinet in 2017.[1] This study was, in fact, the initial spark for my more comprehensive work on the use of intaglios and cameos for self-presentation and propaganda purposes in the Roman Republic and under Augustus. In Krakow, there is a good selection of stones related to this issue. Besides this, engraved gems have so far been somewhat neglected in the analysis of Roman propaganda, with discourse focused mainly on literature, architecture, sculpture or coins. Intaglios and cameos had multiple applications in Antiquity (seals, jewellery or amulets), but despite their various function, the images engraved upon them offer snapshots of people’s beliefs, ideologies, and everyday occupations. Thus, they cast light on the self-advertising and propaganda actions performed by Roman political leaders, especially Octavian/Augustus, their factions and other people engaged in the politics and social life of the past. The major aim of the new book is to place glyptics in the interdisciplinary discourse mentioned above, and fill this gap in the studies of Roman propaganda.

What is inside?

On 618 pages and with the help of 1015 mostly colour illustrations in Engraved Gems and Propaganda in the Roman Republic and under Augustus you can find out how gems can show both general trends (the specific showpieces like State Cameos) as well as the individual and private acts of being involved in politics and social affairs, mainly through a subtle display of political allegiances, since they were objects of strictly personal use. Gems enable us to analyse and learn about Roman propaganda and various social behaviours from a completely different angle than coins, sculpture or literature. The miniaturism of ancient gems is in inverse proportion to their cultural significance. My book presents an evolutionary model of the use of engraved gems from self-presentation (3rd-2nd century BC) to personal branding and propaganda purposes in the Roman Republic and under Augustus (until 14 AD). The specific characteristics of engraved gems, their strictly private character and the whole array of devices appearing on them are examined in respect to their potential propagandistic value and usefulness in social life. Hence, you can see that self-advertising through glyptics did not come out of nowhere in the early 1st century BC. Individuals used to refer to their personal accomplishments as early as in the 3rd century BC as we read in Pliny the Eleder’s Natural History book 37: ‘Intercatia, whose father challenged Scipio Aemilianus, and was slain by him, was in the habit of using a signet with a representation of this combat engraved upon it’. [2] People used to set the heroes like Achilles, Theseus or Herakles as examples to follow or even to act as a comparison. The display of family legends and origio stories was another important aspect of self-promotion through glyptics. For example, it is plausible that Ulysses engraved upon an intaglio might have been a reference to the legendary ancestor of the gens Mamilia (see fig. 2). The very same depiction of him welcomed by his dog Argos appears on the denarii minted by C. Mamilius Limetanus in 82 BC (see fig. 3). Even though gems’ iconography is complex, and often it cannot be determined if it represents one specific narrative, still gems seem to be as vital in the promotion of personal or familial stories as were coins.

I tried, in the presentation of this book, to make good use of more than one hundred Roman Republican and Augustan coins (counting only those illustrated, many more are referred in the text) in order to prove the numerous connections between glyptics and numismatics, not only on technical and stylistic grounds, but most importantly in the propaganda agenda they both transmit. Coins sometimes compensate for important lost intaglios like in the case of the two seals of Lucius Licinius Sulla and they offer immeasurable help with portraits’ identification as well as dates. The first seal of Sulla represented the dictator seated on a raised seat with a bound Jugurtha kneeling beside him while before him kneels Bocchus, offering an olive-branch. The seal portrays Sulla’s first great victory, in which he ended the Jugurthine War (112-106 BC) and its iconography was most likely based on the sculptural prototype which was a gilded statuary group sent by Bocchus to Rome and installed on the Capitol.[3] That event enormously boosted his political career and for a nobleman seeking to raise his authority it was a perfect occasion to promote his success. There was no better way to illustrate his exceptional military and political achievement than upon a personal seal. The seal itself as well as the statuary group have not survived, but the seal’s iconography inspired the son of Sulla, Faustus Cornelius Sulla (questor in 54 BC), who in 56 BC minted a denarius presenting exactly the same scene.[4]

Fig. 4

However, the particular strength of gems if compared to coins and any other branch of art and craft is that they exhibit the real involvement of the society into politics and prove propaganda campaigns successfulness. This is due to the fact that they were strictly private objects; they carried images that people identified with. Hence, a portrait of a political leader like Pompey the Great or Julius Caesar upon one’s ring was a clear manifestation of support towards a patron (see fig. 5). Moreover, intaglios and cameos were both mass produced objects (especially glass gems) and the luxurious ones (for instance the so-called State Cameos). This makes glyptics particularly effective propaganda channel suitable for agitation and integration and reaching all social strata. The most effective with the employment of gem engravers for his political purposes was, of course, Emperor Augustus. He not only organised an imperial court workshop lead by the famous Dioscurides and his three sons producing intaglios and exceptional cameos for him, but was also quite influential on the whole glyptic production at the time of his reign.[5] This is clear from analysis of gems iconography since, for instance, many bear subjects related to the mythological foundations of the New Rome (see fig. 6). It seems that glyptics, apart from coinage and sculpture, was also another channel promoting Augustus successors because one finds their numerous portraits cut upon gemstones (see fig. 7).

Overall, the aim of my book is to offer new insights into the political and social affairs of ancient Rome. It should be of interest not only to those studying intaglios and cameos but coin enthusiasts will certainly find the exposed interconnections between numismatics and glyptics useful and interesting. I hope all those interested in Roman propaganda, archaeology and art will profit from the book as well.

Grab it and spread the word!

The eBook version of my book is FREE to download in Open Access. To download the free eBook or to purchase a printed hardback copy (£90), please visit: https://tinyurl.com/9781789695397

About the Author

Paweł Gołyźniak works as a Research Fellow in the Institute of Archaeology, Jagiellonian University in Krakow. His research interests include engraved gems (ancient and neo-classical), Roman Republican and Augustan numismatics, history of antiquarianism, collecting and scholarship as well as 18th century drawings of intaglios and cameos and the legacy of antiquary and connoisseur Philipp von Stosch (1691-1757). Author of two monographs (Ancient Engraved Gems in the National Museum in Krakow (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2017) and Engraved Gems and Propaganda in the Roman Republic and under Augustus (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2020)) and more than a dozen scientific articles, most can be found on his Academia.edu profile: https://jagiellonian.academia.edu/PawelGolyzniak


[1] Gołyźniak, P. 2017. Ancient Engraved Gems in the National Museum in Krakow. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag. See also an article providing an overview of the whole cabinet: Gołyźniak, P., Natkaniec-Nowak, L. and Dumańska-Słowik M. 2016. A nineteenth-century glyptic collection in the National Museum in Cracow: The cabinet of Constantine Schmidt-Ciążyński. Journal of the History of Collections 28 (1), (March 2016): 85-96 (DOI: 10.1093/jhc/fhu056).

[2] Pliny, Historia Naturalis, XXXVII.4.

[3] Plutarch, Life of Sulla, 6.1. However, Flower has suggested that Bocchus took the inspiration for his monumental sculptural group directly from Sulla’s ring device (Flower, H.I. 2006 The art of forgetting: Disgrace and oblivion in Roman political culture. Chapel Hill: 113).

[4] RRC, no. 426/1.

[5] Pliny, Historia Naturalis, XXXVII.8; Suetonius, Augustus, 1.

Out of Isolation: the Scythians are Back!

St John Simpson and Svetlana Pankova whet our appetites for the forthcoming proceedings volume, ‘Masters of the Steppe: The Impact of the Scythians and Later Nomad Societies of Eurasia’

We are delighted and relieved in equal measure to now offer you this blog announcing the forthcoming publication of papers arising from the major international conference at the British Museum which was inspired by and connected to our blockbuster exhibition Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia!

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Some of the gathered conference delegates.

The packed programme ranged from broad sweeping overviews to the latest excavation discoveries, scientific analyses of gold and anthropological analyses of cemetery populations. We also had many other papers accepted but, owing to an unfortunate combination of visa problems and personal health issues, some had to be delivered in absentia and others were not presented at all. However, we decided to include them, and expand our proceedings into an even larger volume which captures some of the richness of the archaeology of the Eurasian nomads of antiquity.

SONY DSC
This was a truly international gathering: here are some of the speakers from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Britain.

Nomads have an image problem but only amongst non-nomads. Today, people without fixed homes are viewed disparagingly in many societies, even though a tent or even the temporary shade of a tree may be considered a suitable home by those on the move or the so-called ‘homeless’. Herodotus gives a more nuanced world view: as an exiled Greek from western Anatolia staying in one or more northern Black Sea ports, he almost sympathises with the Scythians he describes as he attempts the first ethnographic description of where they came from, how they lived, what they ate and drank, believed and valued most.

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The conference accompanied the exhibition Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia.

The 45 papers by 51 contributors and co-authors in this volume capture some of the latest thinking and research on the early nomads of Eurasia, from present-day Romania, Ukraine and the northern Caucasus in the west to southern Siberia, Kazakhstan and China in the east. From them, we get a much richer, more varied and, occasionally darker, picture of life on the steppe. This was a hard but dynamic environment and these people understood how to exploit it. They took care of their appearance: women used scent and makeup, manicuring was surely not limited to the dead, and leather and fur preserved in the ‘frozen tombs’ of the Altai provide exceptional evidence for local and imported forms of dress. We also have papers on their horses, how they were cared for, saddled and dressed up for ceremonies. We have new scientific analyses looking at the sources and working of leather, including human skin, textile dyeing and weaving technology, bead production, the making of a ‘Scythian bow’, swords, and the various techniques used in working gold. There are papers on famous sites of different cultures, such as the Scythian kurgans of Alexandropol, Arzhan-2, Issyk, Kelermes and Taksai-1, the massive settlement at Bel’sk, an intriguing hoard from the fortress at Stâncești, and much later cemeteries at Noin Ula and Oglakhty. Surveys and GIS-based studies show how some of these were situated within their physical and socio-political landscape. Other papers discuss the development and possible reasons behind the development of ‘Animal Style’ art, as well as its many forms and applied media from metal and carved horn to rock art. And, of course, we have papers on kurgans: how and why they were built as monuments to the dead, and what forms of funerary feasting and even more macabre activities took place around them. Some papers re-examine the relationship of the Scythians with colonial Greek and forest-steppe communities around the Black Sea, another details changing directions of influence in the northern Caucasus, and yet others examine new evidence for interaction and mediation of motifs between nomads, Achaemenids and Greeks, and the penetration of new ideas into northern China. Close connections between peoples occupying the Minusinsk and Tarim Basins at a later date are the subject of one paper, and the dramatic effect the Huns had on the fortunes of the Sasanian and Gupta empires is the topic of another; yet others focus on the collections in the State Hermitage Museum and Royal Collection in London to retrace the original context of pieces which passed through private hands, the impact early discoveries had on ‘Scythian Revival’ decorative arts and Western scholarship.

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Visitors had an exceptional chance to see many objects from the State Hermitage Museum collection which were shown abroad for the first time (photograph: Benedict Johnson)

The adaptation of the horse from a herd and pack animal to a means of rapid transport revolutionised society. Greater mobility accelerated the pace of introduction of ideas, fashions and technologies: whereas before it might have taken a cart two years to travel the 4,500 km from the Black Sea to Tuva, a horseman could now theoretically go and return within a few months. It also created a new predatory approach to acquiring and controlling vast new resources which is reflected in the new weaponry and dynamic early phases of ‘Animal Style’ art. These people understood their animals and the available natural resources, and were highly skilled horse breeders as well as excellent riders.

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Incorporating new research into displays are an important way of disseminating what we do to a much wider public (photograph: Benedict Johnson)

The nomads moved camps seasonally and varied their activities accordingly. After shearing their sheep in the early summer there was plenty of wool for making felt items. This was also the ideal period to weave textiles although spinning must have been an all-year-round activity, and the same probably applies to whittling bone or carving small wooden objects. It was in the summer that many tribes sowed and harvested millet. Trapping and hunting were year-round activities. Some tribes also knew how to extract metal: some must have established base camps near the rivers where they knew placer deposits were present and spent part of their time patiently panning as well as probably fishing, whereas others returned year after year to camp near ore veins and extend their mine shafts deeper into the rock. The working of metals did not require large or complicated tool-kits and the variety of regional styles and quantity of metal in circulation prove they had ample access to metal, knew how to work it and supply it to the nearest settlements. The interaction between these different groups was much more complex than simply avoidance or conflict; there may have been regular tensions but each community relied to some extent on the other and carefully negotiated relationships must have been developed locally. Access to the different areas and types of resource on the steppe and in the valleys must have been jealously guarded by different tribes and sub-tribes. However, the weaponisation of Scythian society and level of inter-personal violence exhibited in the archaeological record illustrate how competition could easily lead to conflict with resolution through violence rather than tribal discourse. These were people with skills, traditions, beliefs and complex social structures. They developed a sustainable lifestyle which lasted for almost three millennia and one which continues to resonate strongly in the region today.

Sincerest thanks to Dr Simpson and Dr Pankova for providing this blog post.

The volume, Masters of the Steppe: The Impact of the Scythians and Later Nomad Societies of Eurasia edited by Svetlana Pankova and St John Simpson is available to pre-order now. Pre-order and save 20% using this special offer form.

Print ISBN 9781789696479. RRP £80.00.

PDF eBook ISBN 9781789696486. RRP £16.00+VAT (for personal use); £80.00+VAT (library/institutional use)

The Antonine Wall. Papers in Honour of Professor Lawrence Keppie

David J. Breeze introduces an edited festschrift volume, new from Archaeopress, where nearly 40 archaeologists, historians and heritage managers present their researches on the Antonine Wall in recognition of the work of Lawrence Keppie, formerly Professor of Roman History and Archaeology at the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow University

Antonine Wall - Keppie
Lawrence at Westerwood. Photo by the late Margaret J. Robb.

Arranging a Festschrift can be a fraught task. The organiser wants to honour the recipient, but if s/he is a university lecturer it is likely that the potential contributors will come from a range of interests, creating a rather disparate book, which in turn might have an impact on sales. With Lawrence, a former museum curator, the decision for Bill Hanson and myself was simple; the obvious focus of the volume was the Antonine Wall. After all, Lawrence had excavated throughout its whole length and curated its most famous artefacts, the distance slabs. Within a week of inviting all the archaeologists currently working on the Wall we had a full volume. Moreover, the 39 contributors, writing 32 papers, easily covered the wide range of Lawrence’s interests.

Antonine Wall - map
Map of the Antonine Wall as completed, based on currently available information
(copyright D.J. Breeze).

We start with looking at the Antonine Wall in its landscape and its impact on the indigenous population. The core of the volume are papers on the frontier and its artefacts, examining its building and occupation. The final section embraces Lawrence’s historiographical interests as well as the presentation of the Wall today and its role as part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site. Colleagues rose to the challenge of writing on Roman women on the Wall and on veterans for both of which there is so little evidence. There are papers here which we knew would interest Lawrence and acknowledge his major contribution to understanding Rome’s North-West frontier, including one on the structure of the Wall itself which goes to the heart of the monument as well as to Lawrencce’s investigations along its line.

9781789694505The Antonine Wall: Papers in Honour of Professor Lawrence Keppie

Edited by David J. Breeze and William S. Hanson

206x255mm; 494 pages; 166 figures; 15 tables; ToC

Paperback: £30.00

PDF eBook: FREE to download in Open Access

Buy or Download Here

Cover image: The Distance Stone of the Twentieth Legion from Hutcheson Hill (RIB III 3507) found in 1969 lying face down in a shallow pit immediately to the south of the Wall (copyright Hunterian, University of Glasgow).

The Discovery and Excavation of the Pioneer Burial: A case of Sheer Luck

Ian Meadow’s report on the Pioneer Burial is nominated for Current Archaeology Magazine’s Book of the Year Award 2020. Here, Ian relives the discovery and reminds us how serendipitous archaeological finds can be…

Background

The Pioneer Burial epitomises the serendipitous nature of archaeology and the reason archaeologists do what they do. We had been working in the quarries at Wollaston from 1993 and had recorded two sections of landscape totalling a length of over 2 kilometres and over 100 hectares which was dominated by the remains of Iron Age and Roman settlement: a series of land divisions and then numerous small farmsteads, including honey bees from an Iron Age ditch and the first proven Roman vineyard in Britain. The whole site was arranged along a droveway that had its origins in the Iron Age and became a Roman road (perhaps running between Irchester to the northeast and Towcester to the southwest.)

The scale of works by the quarry was reflected by the machinery that was used to open up the ground, D8 caterpillar tractor units pulling box scrapers each weighing many tonnes. The scale of works, and the intention to return the ground to agriculture once quarrying had finished, meant large stacks of soils were created to preserve the agricultural topsoil and subsoil. Guidance on soils advised that, whilst topsoil could be stacked directly upon topsoil, a subsoil stack would require the topsoil removing so that it was stacked only on subsoil, thereby avoiding contamination. Areas of the landscape were therefore cleared of topsoil to enable the storage of the subsoil ready for reinstatement.

D8s working
D8 caterpillar tractors at work.

The discovery and excavation

Throughout the project a detailed metal detecting survey was carried out by Steve Critchley, the project’s detectorist, not just of the excavation areas but also on the footprint of these areas for subsoil stacks. As it was agricultural land the brief was not to bother with ferrous signals as they were generally nails, horse shoes or bits of tractor. One lunch time Steve came to the shed having recovered part of a bronze bowl and a decorative mount. From our previous experience we recognised these fragments as part of an Anglo-Saxon hanging bowl, an object-type of which there were around a hundred known at that time and which are often associated with rich Anglo-Saxon burials. Steve said that in the same area there were numerous ferrous signals. When we all went to investigate we saw that the bowl fragments were found about 1 metre from the edge of the latest area to have its topsoil removed, exposing the subsoil. If the area had been only slightly smaller it would never have been found. We carried out some initial excavation which exposed a long iron object, the sword.

We were very aware of the significance that a bowl and a sword indicated this was probably a rich burial but as it was Friday afternoon we would not be able to complete the excavation and recover the objects. I decided we should stop digging and conceal the grave location as best we could. We gathered an oil drum, various pallets and other bulky pieces of rubbish that we stacked on the grave, hiding its location to anyone that did not know it was there.

On the Monday morning we commenced the hand excavation of what we knew was likely to be a rich Anglo-Saxon grave. The digging was slow and careful with small tools so as not to miss anything and slowly but surely the remains of a bronze bowl, a long iron sword, a small knife, three buckles and a rough jumble of ferrous material was defined along with a couple of lengths of long bone, part of a cranial dome and bunter cobble. As these things were being exposed I tried to ensure the conservator was available to deal with the items. I duly phoned, only to be told he was out of the office. On the Tuesday, while the excavation continued, I tried again and got much the same response and on the Wednesday I was told he was on holiday until the following Monday. Knowing we could not leave the finds in the ground we carried on the excavation and recording of the grave.

Helmet in plaster bandage
The rough jumble of ferrous material or ‘possible bucket’, wrapped in cling film and bandages soaked in plaster of Paris, ready to be lifted.

Once everything was exposed and recorded we lifted the sword on a plank of wood (upcycled from a skip) and, to hold it together, we wrapped the rough jumble of ferrous material first in cling film and then in bandages soaked in plaster of Paris (the bandages came from the site first aid kit). This object was quite large, about the size of a big Christmas cake, but its shape was not clear. Whilst we wondered if it might have been a helmet we thought, given there were then only three other examples, it was unlikely; as a result the bags of stray pieces were marked ‘possible bucket’. Once all lifted the finds were taken back to the unit’s office in Northampton but no one else was told what we might have recovered. On the following Monday the finds were taken to Leicester and when we got the rough lump X-rayed and saw the distinct outline of a boar crest – it was obvious that what we had found was no bucket!

From that point on this burial dominated our lives. The quarry company (Pioneer Aggregates) funded the conservation and PR and the grave and finds were on the news around the world. As it was such a rare object, we had offers of help and support (much of it for free) from numerous specialists without which we would never have got all the information that features in the report. We also had ‘interesting’ offers including one from a member of the public who said he could trace his ancestry back to the God Odin and offered us a DNA sample to see if he was related to the body in our grave.

Fig 1.6 group shot
Ian (centre) discusses the restored helmet with colleagues.

Given what we knew about the landscape in the quarry, a rich Anglo-Saxon grave was not something we would have anticipated and the fact it lay only just within an area stripped of topsoil shows how serendipitous archaeology is. We really were very lucky finding this grave that occupied only a couple of square metres in the hundreds of hectares we recorded and, ironically, the area stripped was ultimately not all used for stacking.

Fig 5.1 helmet&sword
The restored helmet alongside the hanging bowl and pattern-welded sword.

CA_Vote_PioneerBurial_2020Sincerest thanks to Ian Meadows for providing this article for the Archaeopress Blog.

Ian’s full report, The Pioneer Burial: A high status Anglian warrior burial from Wollaston Northamtonshire has been nominated for Current Archaeology Magazine’s Book of the Year Award 2020.

You can vote for Ian’s book here.

The book is available in paperback (£25) or PDF eBook (from £16+VAT) direct from Archaeopress.

9781789691191

Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement

Professor Howard Williams, University of Chester, introduces his co-edited volume stemming from the 2nd University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference, April 2017.

How should communities be engaged with archaeological research and how are new projects targeting distinctive groups and deploying innovative methods and media? In particular, how are art/archaeological interactions key to public archaeology today?

9781789693737We proudly present the brand-new book: Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement, appearing in the fabulous Archaeopress Access Archaeology series.

There remain surprisingly few edited collections in the field of public archaeology. Building on recent work, including the edited collection from 2015 Archaeology for All:  Community Archaeology in the Early 21st Century edited by Mike Nevell and Norman Redhead, and Gabriel Moshenska’s edited collection: Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, this new book helps to extend and expand critical discussions. It provides an outlet for an original and distinctive mix of fresh perspectives and approaches, specifically addressing art/archaeological intersections in public archaeology’s theory and practice. Our book focuses on UK perspectives and practices in public archaeology, although we feel many of the themes addressed are of global significance.

How did it come about?

poster2Following the 2nd University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference, 5 April 2017, Dr Caroline Pudney and I teamed up with former student Afnan Ezzedin to take the research presented forward to publication. We have crafted a proceedings which combines distinctive and select contributions from (undergraduate and Masters) archaeology students together with a range of original investigations and evaluations from academics and heritage practitioners.

For me, this has taken a huge amount of time, energy and personal sacrifices to get this done over the last 31 months or so. I’d also like to point out that this is part of a series of edited collections stemming from the Grosvenor Museum student conferences. I’ve now produced 2 of the 5 student conference volumes I’ve committed myself to. The first – The Public Archaeology of Death was out in January 2019. The third – Digging into the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Public Archaeologies – will be out in early 2020. The fourth is in production: The Public Archaeology of Frontiers and Borderlands.

What’s inside?

There are 22 contributions all told by 26 authors; many chapters are supported by colour illustrations.

Sara Perry writes an insightful and personal Foreword, using her own experiences as a means on reflecting about how we write critical public archaeologies which take our practices in new directions. Following this, there are two chapters by me. The first is an introduction which surveys pertinent themes and issues in public archaeology and art/archaeology interactions in particular, and the second, written to showcase the student presentations incorporated into the book as well as those that were not, reviews the conference and the development of the book.

The main body of the book is split into 3 sections. ‘The Art of Engagement: Strategies and Debates in Public Archaeology’ contains 8 chapters exploring different ways in which strategies are being deployed in public engagement and how we evaluate our practices. For example, I have co-authored a chapter in here which draws on the conference paper and essay by Rachel Alexander; we evaluate the much-lauded Operation Nightingale’s dialogues with early medieval warriors.

The second section – ‘Arts in Public Archaeology: Digital and Visual Media’, incorporates 6 chapters, each exploring different means of public engagement and evaluating their potential and challenges. My chapter in this section, for example, critically reviews my Archaeodeath blog from its inception in 2013 to the end of 2018.

The third and final section – ‘Art as Public Archaeology’ – has 4 chapters, considering different visual media as subject and strategy for public and community projects.

The Afterword by Dr Seren Griffiths identifies that all archaeology should have a ‘public’ dimension, and that creativity and playfulness must be key ingredients of good public archaeology.

Tell your friends, colleagues and libraries…

Afnan, Caroline and I hope you enjoy the book and appreciate its availability via open access as well as to acquire in print. The book is available now via the Archaeopress website, available to buy as a hard copy or download as a pdf free of charge.

Click here for a flyer offering 20% off a printed copy.

Libraries at least should definitely have physical copies to complement the online ones I think! Also, in case you weren’t sure, archaeology books as Christmas presents are definitely a thing!

Acknowledgements

educate-north-awards-2019-winner-badgeI duly acknowledge the hard work of the students and colleagues in facilitating the conference. I also recognise the help and camaraderie of my co-editors Caroline and Afnan, the enthusiasm and contributions of the authors, the generous guidance of so many of my fellow archaeologists, the critical insights of the peer-reviewers, and the steadfast support of Archaeopress. Together this team has shown commitment in creating a high-quality peer-reviewed academic publication with no funding and sparse other support. I’m therefore very proud that these conferences and their publications are recognised as a positive thing: it was great to receive the 2019 Educate North Teaching Excellence Award as a result.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Dr Peter Boughton FSA, Keeper of Art for West Cheshire Museums who had worked hard to facilitate the conferences taking place at Grosvenor Museum as public free day conferences in the heart of the city of Chester.

Header photo: The Heritage Graffiti Project during creation. Photograph: Ryan Eddleston.

Sincerest thanks to Howard for providing this article for the Archaeopress Blog. Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement is available now in print (£58) or as a free pdf download.

20191031_150717
A selection of Access Archaeology titles published since 2015.

Learn more about Archaeopress Access Archaeology in our recent article celebrating 100 titles in the range.