Recent Archaeomags

Skalk 2013:6 (December) has a nice piece about shell middens and Mesolithic oyster cooking, recalling a few points I made back on my first blog. You can’t open a fresh oyster without a steel knife. But if you heat the oyster even just slightly, it opens. I was also interested to learn about a harbour in a volcano crater off Iceland’s coast, containing the wreck of a Dutch trading ship that foundered there in 1659. And they’ve found another 8th century jewellery grave at the classic cemetery of Nørre Sandegård on Bornholm, with three of the domed oval brooches I wrote a big paper about in the mid-00s!

Current Archaeology #285 (December) reports on the big project on Early and Middle Anglo-Saxon burial fine chronology that has finally been published by my friends from the Sachsensymposia.* What everybody’s talking about is the absolute chronology, where radiocarbon has shown that furnished burial was abandoned in the 670s and 680s, earlier and more abruptly than previously thought. But this big book will also prove seminal regarding the relative chronology, offering comprehensive typological classification schemes for artefacts and Stufen periodisation for burial assemblages. No more will English archaeologists speak of intuitively conceived “6th century” types and assemblages!

There’s one annoying detail though in a short news item that needs correcting. On p. 8 there is talk about outrigger canoes – “a style of vessel depicted in Bronze Age rock art from Scandinavia”. No, no and no. Nobody in Scandy maritime archaeology believes in that outrigger interpretation. The 4th century BC boat from Hjortspring exemplifies the type of boat depicted again and again in the rock art. It has two curved prongs at either end, like elephant tusks: the lower one is an extension of the keel and the upper one is an extension of the gunwales. Those two lines in the rock art do not represent a hull and an outrigger.

From Current Archaeology #286 (January) I learned something entertaining about Glyn Daniel, the wine-loving Disney Professor and Francophile editor of Antiquity whose collected editorials and professional auto-biography are such a joy to read.** He lived for 18 years in a house in the same block as Old Divinity School in Cambridge, and excavations in the past decade have revealed that the Danielses’ garden sat on a Medieval hospital cemetery.

Current World Archaeology #62 (Dec/Jan) doesn’t just contain the piece by the man giving birth to a much better kind of battlefield archaeology than everybody else’s. It also shines a too-brief three-page light on Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, a fascinating site in Sinai. It offers a unique window on Israelite religion in the 8th century BC. Sure, Jews worshipped JHWH there. But also his wife Asherah. And his buddy Baal. In other words, they hadn’t become monotheists yet, still happily putting the plural into Elohim. Check out Ze’ev Meshel’s 2012 book.

British Archaeology #134 has a fine piece about two 1st century weapon graves and an associated ritual precinct at Brisley Farm in Kent. The photographs from the excavation reminded me of something discussed at a seminar on Late Iron Age settlements in Uppsala last week: digging in stiff clay is awful. Either you get sunshine, and then the stripped clay surface turns a homogenous grey and hard like concrete, making it impossible to see any colourations and causing finds to crack with the clay. Or you get rain, and then your excavation becomes a lake – particularly the deeper depressions such as graves and sunken-floor huts. And in either case, dry sieving is impossible and wet sieving is painfully slow. What you have to do is plan everything while stripping, before it dries out, then erect sun roofs over your most important features and install sprinklers. Very nice sword-spear-shield graves though, as seen above.

* Hines, J. & Bayliss, A. (eds). 2013. Anglo-Saxon graves and Grave Goods of the 6th and 7th Centuries AD: a chronological framework. Society of Medieval Archaeology Monograph 33. London.

** Daniel, G. 1986. Some Small Harvest. London. – Daniel, G. 1992. Writing for Antiquity. London.