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CA Live! 2021 – Q&A with speakers

42 mins read

This year’s Current Archaeology Live! conference ran from 5-7 March, and took place completely online. As we weren’t able to facilitate the usual live Q&A at the end of each talk, we asked you to instead submit your questions for the speakers via our online form. These were passed on to the archaeologists, and below you can find the answers we’ve received so far. We’ll be updating this page as we receive more!

Many of the talks are still available on our YouTube channel – click here for the full list, and links to watch them.


Professor Joanna Brück
Keeping the dead close: Bronze Age relics in context

Question:
Hello Prof Jo, Carol Lewis here, one of your past MA students from Bristol Uni. You mentioned in your talk about the C14 dating of curated body parts, and that they were sometimes considerably older (decades or even centuries) than the main body they had been buried with. Is there any chance that the dating process could have been skewed by contamination of the remains in situ, or post-death treatment that might have chemically affected the remains before they were finally deposited? Thank you!

Answer:
Lovely to hear from you, Carol! In terms of the contamination question, we were really careful to choose closed contexts that had been excavated recently, and had really good documentation on the context, soil conditions, etc. In relation to the post-death treatment question, we were aware that there is some debate around whether cremated bone can return erroneously old dates because of contamination from old wood used for the pyre. Because of that possibility, we didn’t include very many cremations in our study.


Question:
Is there any evidence for the curation of human bone in the Corded Ware culture burials of Europe or even back to the Yamnaya of the Pontic steppe ? Many thanks Rich.

Answer:
Thanks for the question, Rich. That is something I haven’t looked at, I’m afraid, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if similar things are going on elsewhere in Europe – there’s definitely evidence for curation of bone in Bronze Age Iberia, for example: see https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11759-018-9351-0


Professor David Breeze
Was Hadrian’s Wall an expensive folly?

Question:
If the Wall became an expensive folly, would it have served as a psychological barrier to the local indigenous population? After all it would probably be an alien building style.

Answer:
This is a very good question. Hadrian’s general policy appears to have been to stop the expansion of the Roman empire (perhaps because he realised that there were manpower shortages within the empire) and the physical manifestation of this lies in the frontiers he created, in Germany, Britain, almost certainly at this time in North Africa while also creating a sound defensive system in Dacia. For reasons which we can only guess at, Hadrian ordered the construction of a far more substantial frontier in Britain than was necessary. It seems to me possible that he sketched out his plan when interviewing the man he was about to send to Britain as his new governor when in the area of modern Romania. He had no personal knowledge of Britain which may explain why the frontier bears no relationship to the local topography, as I said in 1976. I suspect that it was when Hadrian came to Britain in 122, that he saw the problems of his sketch and ordered the main changes, including the placing of forts on the Wall line and strengthening the number of troops in the frontier zone. The position of the forts astride the Wall suggests that he was interested in projecting power beyond the Wall. As so often happened, the army responded to changing situations on the ground. In this way, the Wall became a back-stop to operations beyond the frontier. While that might be seen, in the words of CA, as an expensive folly, it would be a very expensive psychological barrier and I do not see it in those terms.


Question:
David, you and I have had many discussions about the presence or otherwise of a wall-walk on Hadrian’s Wall. My thoughts have developed since the 2019 Pilgrimage. An objection raised by you at Brunton turret that week was the need for a spear thrower to have to take an initial backward step to power the release of the javelin and the wall did not allow for that.

Later that week, we were at Arbeia looking over the parapet of the reconstructed gateway with Bill Griffiths, who said they wanted to check whether they had got the angle of the second defensive ditch right. Volunteers were given javelins and after 20 minutes practise ‘were able to cut the grass on the inner slope of the ditch’. I would argue that in the specific context of spear throwing from a wall, enough force would be acquired by gripping the parapet with one hand, leaning back and throwing on your forward lunge. Since the berm, with entanglements and the ditches are present almost everywhere along the wall, I feel that creates a case for considering that the original plan envisaged initial spotting and engagement of the enemy from the Wall until infantry and/or cavalry arrived from the nearest milecastle or fort.

The city walls of York are about 10 feet wide in many places, with an 8 foot walkway on which, even in these H&S conscious days the public happily go, often in quite large crowds, without any publicised injuries from falling off that I have heard of. I agree that the narrow wall is a different kettle of fish, but a simple wooden balustrade socketed into the top of the wall could have sufficed and the wall survives nowhere high enough to solve the argument by archaeological remains.

I was very interested in your views on the abandonment of the wall as an observation platform in its later life, connected to the abandonment of many milecastles. This might also help explain the presence of several cohors equitatae, useful in hot pursuit of fleeing enemies.

As always you gave a most interesting lecture. Who knew of the connection with Arthur Ransome for example? Many thanks,

Chris Snook, Archaeology Plus

Answer:
On cohortes equitatae, the Dura rosters show that outposts tended to be manned by both infantry and cavalry, it shows that the mixing of such troops was normal. I am happy to accept that I may have gone too far in suggesting that it was difficult to throw a spear from the top of the Wall, but as Collingwood pointed out a long time ago, each soldier was equipped with only 2 spears and once they were thrown, he had no more defensive weapons. Further, spears were thrown at the beginning of a battle when faced with a closely spaced force. What are the chances of soldiers on top of the Wall 15 ft above the ground hitting random enemies on the upcast mound 40 feet away? I would emphasise, that there is no evidence that the Wall was completed to its original width, but it was completed probably no more than 7ft 6in wide before parapet walls were added at the front and the rear. In the central sector the Wall was often only 5ft 6 in wide. Part of my argument is that once the forts were placed on the Wall line, the necessity to patrol along the top of the Wall disappeared and some time later many turrets were abandoned quite simply because they also had become superfluous.


Alex Fitzpatrick
Cave of wonders: ritual and funerary zooarchaeology at the Covesea Caves

Question:
Thank you for your interesting talk. Have you tried to compare the fish remains found in cave two with those represented in the Pictish (ie first millennium AD) carvings just outside the cave? There was a wider range of Pictish animal carvings represented in the caves at East Wemys in Fife that might also be relevant to any early medieval animal remains deposited in a cave.

From Lindsay Mair

Answer:
Thanks for the question, Lindsay! I will have to admit some bias here, as I did not get as involved in examining and interpreting the fish remains as some of the other faunal bones; most fish remains were likely natural deposits from non-human predators given the proximity to the coast, with only a few species that stood out due to their unusualness. In all honesty, I did not even realise that there were Pictish carvings of fish – I will definitely look into this, as it is very possible that some fish were human deposits and there are already some interesting relations between humans and fish during this period with regards to cultural practices and the lack of consumption of marine resources during the Iron Age (which my MSc thesis was actually about – check out the work being done at the Orkney site of Rousay!).


Susan Greaney
Rise of the mega-henges? A new chronology for Mount Pleasant Henge, Dorset

Question:
When you consider, as you say in your talk, the huge investment of time and energy by the people of the time in building these mega henges, l wonder what you imagine the degree of organisation was across their society and whether you believe that there was some inter or cross community cooperation? Also, given the spread of these monuments across Britain, does this imply a shared belief system and or an elite leadership who influenced and controlled the use of people power along with the resources?
Many thanks for your talk.
Colin Button.

Answer:
1) Hi Colin. I think that there was some form of cross community co-operation in building some of these major monuments – this is suggested by the amount of effort and time that went into them, and also the isotopic evidence from animal bones that appear to have been part of large feasts, which suggests that people were bringing animals from a variety of places to form part of these feasts. This shows that there must have been a certain degree of communication, co-operation and sharing of resources, but how this was divided between different monument complexes and areas of the islands is not known. However, just because communities were co-operating and sharing resources, doesn’t necessarily mean that there was a stable elite leadership – there are other societies known across the world that built megalithic monuments without a hierarchy or leadership. It might be that certain people or groups adopted a leadership or directional role during the construction, but at other times were not ‘in charge’. The monuments are found across large parts of Britian and Ireland, and to me this does suggest shared beliefs about origins, the skies, the underworld, and perhaps also shared language. Certainly, the practices (e.g. making Grooved Ware pottery) were very similar in lots of different places. However, major monuments were not built everywhere, and they are differences in the types of monument built and the activities, so I think there is a still a regional pattern of social organisation and monument construction. These are fascinating questions, and quite tricky to answer for sure!

2) Yes, that’s certainly one way that we could interpret the evidence for the ‘building frenzy’ at the end of the Neolithic period. Perhaps there was some sort of visible threat to their way of life and traditions, and possibly the arrival of new people from the Continent as you suggest. However, there are parts of Britain – I’m thinking particularly of Orkney here – where major monument construction appears to come to an end quite some time prior to the arrival of Beaker pottery, which is never found very frequently there at all. So here we have to come up with some other explanation, and that suggests that perhaps it isn’t the only explanation for other places too.


Prof Ian Haynes & Tony Wilmott
Maryport: investigating a cult centre on Rome’s north-west frontier

Question:
Thanks for the interesting talk. I would like to know more about the rectangular building to the right of the final reconstruction slide, and the adjacent pillar?

Answer:
Ian: The rectangular building had suffered extensive plough damage, but it is clear that there was a cobbled surface in part of it and these cobbles are consistent with those found in the wider cult area. We have considered the possibility that it gave access to the cult area, and that it served as a kind of ‘lodge’ in the Oxbridge college access building sense to the wider area, but we just can’t be certain of its overall function

Regarding the pillar or column. We have recovered the deep foundations of free-standing monument and can tell that it had a square base. There are various possible explanations, but we have asked the question here in the image as to whether it might have been a Jupiter Column.

The full arguments behind the image are given in our book on the excavations.

Tony: The rectangular structure we excavated, although it was almost ploughed out. A broad cobble path ran through it, and we interpret it as an entrance structure to the temple precinct. In the open area in front of the temples was a deep, solid, square clay and cobble foundation, which was unerlated to any form of structure. We interpret this as the base for a freestanding monument, but it was far too large for an altar. So-called ‘Jupiter Columns’ are a frequent presence in Jupiter sanctuaries in the northern frontier provinces, and we have speculatively interpreted the base as possibly intended for such a structure.


Professor Martin Millett
Roman Aldborough

Question:
Dear Professor Millett

Many congratulations on your work at Alborough. The results are fascinating. Its late roman ‘potential’ promises to be very revealing. I find your discovery of the 2 annexes particularly interesting. I would be very grateful if you could try answer some questions about them?

1) Are there any plans for further investigation of the annexes, perhaps GPR? Excavations?

The following questions probably can’t really be answered at the moment but would you be kind enough to share your thoughts/educated guesses? One thing for sure your answers will certainly be a lot better than any attempt by me!

2) The northern annex appears to show more ‘remains’ visible on the geophysics compared to the eastern. Is this an artifact of the survey conditions in each, perhaps the eastern one is ploughed out or never contained detectable artifacts?
3) Why 2 annexes (assuming they are contemporary). Would it not have been simper to make a slightly larger eastern one if space was the only consideration? Could it be something to do with the needs to be alongside the 2 roads?
4) Did the annex defenses replace the existing defenses behind them, or were both maintained in an ‘operational’ condition simultaneously?
5) The ultimate question – what on earth might they have been for? If they are unique, why Alborough?

Many thanks

Martin Parnham

Answer:
1) Are there any plans for further investigation of the annexes, perhaps GPR? Excavations?

​Nothing further currently planned.
The following questions probably can’t really be answered at the moment but would you be kind enough to share your thoughts/educated guesses? One thing for sure your answers will certainly be a lot better than any attempt by me!

2) The northern annex appears to show more ‘remains’ visible on the geophysics compared to the eastern. Is this an artifact of the survey conditions in each, perhaps the eastern one is ploughed out or never contained detectable artifacts?

​No clear evidence that the two are significantly different

3) Why 2 annexes (assuming they are contemporary). Would it not have been simper to make a slightly larger eastern one if space was the only consideration? Could it be something to do with the needs to be alongside the 2 roads?

​Evidently those building them felt there was a need for two, most probably associated with the needs of the roads

4) Did the annex defenses replace the existing defenses behind them, or were both maintained in an ‘operational’ condition simultaneously?

They are clearly built and maintained in concert with the main wall circuit

5) The ultimate question – what on earth might they have been for? If they are unique, why Alborough?

​Most likely for the storage and warehousing of goods that were in transit, whether commercially or as part of the taxation system.


Question:
Ref. the 2nd C smithy. How widespread might have been the use of coal as a fuel in Roman times? I have two shreds of evidence that coal reached the Ouse river system in Cambridgeshire.

Answer:
There is a lot of evidence for the use of coal in Roman Britain, usually on a modest scale. For the most recent general survey see:

Dearne, M., & Branigan, K. (1995). The Use of Coal in Roman Britain. The Antiquaries Journal, 75, 71-105. doi:10.1017/S000358150007298X


Dr Martin Papworth
New dating evidence at Chedworth Roman Villa

Question:
From Richard New. Thanks for the interesting talk. Two questions :-

1. Are the two bath-houses in the West and North wings in any way contemporaneous? If so, does not this point more to a sacred role for the “villa”, especially as both baths are very close to the nymphaeum?

2. In the lidar view of Chedworth site, there is a ditch/mound at the east end of the approach road, possibly on the other side of the river. Any ideas of what this might be?

Answer:
The bath houses of the West and North Ranges at Chedworth were both in use at the same time but performed different functions while they were in used. One was a dry heat baths and the other a steam heat baths but also with cold plunge baths of different sizes. They flank the Nymphaeum because this is the only source of water at Chedworth. The water drains across the site with dirty water being used to flush the latrine in downslope in the South Range.

The Nymphaeum it seems was used as a sacred place but also as a functional source of water for the villa community, an altar was found buried in the debris there in 1864 and stones marked with chi rho on three stones are interpreted as being inscribed on the octagonal basin within the Nymphaeum indicating that it may have been used as a Christian baptistry in the 4th century.

The mound at the east end and the south side of the entrance track across the pasture field east of Chedworth is a significant feature, perhaps a pavilion or temple. When the site was ploughed some years ago, building rubble and 4th century coins were found there. This is not National Trust land but I was given permission to carry out a geophysical survey there a few years ago and it indicated footings for a circular building here.


Question:
Fascinating discoveries Dr Papworth. I think the expression “rewriting the text books” is very appropriate.
I was wondering about how the sub roman economy might have worked? You frequently mention wealth and trade. I realise you can’t answer for sure but i would appreciate any thoughts / speculation you may have on the matter. Presumably by the dates you are suggesting coinage had fallen out use? Perhaps some retained value as bullion? Was it a barter based system? Fun to speculate how the builders of the wall and mosaic you uncovered were paid (assuming they were not slaves!).
Many thanks
Martin Parnham

Answer:
Thank you for your question. Yes, it is confusing to imagine a sub Roman economy without money. One argument is that the existing coinage continued to be used. On a number of ‘latest Roman’ sites 4th century clipped coins are found and this it is though might be and indicator of continued use. I excavated a Romano-Celtic temple at Badbury Rings and saw the way 2nd century coins were used for so long that the heads of the emperors were worn smooth. I remember the same thing on Victorian pennies still in use in the late 1960s. What is clear is that many wine and oil amphorae originating from the Eastern Mediterranean were entering the South West and Tintagel has large quantities of this distinctive traded pottery. Ports tend to have concentrations of exotic material which thins out as it is imported inland. Hegistbury Head in the Late Iron Age and Hamwih in the Saxon period are other good examples. Ken Dark ‘Britain and the End of the Roman Empire’ and Barry Cunliffe ‘Britain Begin’ provide good summaries. However, there is still a lot to discover and discuss and I suppose that it one of the most exciting aspects for this period. How a mosaic workshop flourished in this period is open to speculation at the moment. With best wishes Martin


Question:
This is a comment not a question, thank you to Dr Papworth for an indepth, accessible, wider historical, respectful noting that Iron Age folk lived on the site before, trade routes, geology, methodology, etc., etc., and the sort of study parameters which are sadly missing nowadays in some people’s expectation. So thank you Dr Papworth, it was a really superb talk.


Dr Miles Russell
In the footsteps of Vespasian: defining the fortress of the II Augusta at Wimborne Minster, Dorset

Question:
From Richard New :- Thanks for the very interesting talk. Are there any plans for more excavations at Lake Farm?

Answer:
Yes – we have already conducted limited investigation of some geophysical anomalies outside of the Scheduled area, but plans to excavate larger areas will largely depend on us resolving the post excavation assemblage from the 1950s – 80s, of which, sadly, there is quite a lot. We’re mindful that we don’t want to add any more excavated material to the already large and unpublished archive.


Question:
Thanks for the excellent talk.
You mentioned the evidence for a possible marching camp prior to the main fort being built or even whilst it was. I wondered if there has been any attempt to estimate the man hours required to do this and if there is any evidence of slave labour being used given that soldiers would still be having to carry out normal fighting, training and weapon maintenance?
Colin Button.

Answer:
Marching camps were put up extremely quickly and, given there was over 5,000 men in a legion to accommodate, there was a large number available to create them. Legionaries were well equipped and trained in the construction of such sites (and it was in their interests to complete them swiftly and efficiently) and this would have been well within their capabilities, even if some were required to be on guard duty or overseeing supplies. Not sure if anyone’s calculated just how many man hours it would take (Rebecca Jones published an excellent book “Roman Camps in Britain” – Amberley 2012) which I think does provide suggestions, though sadly I don’t have my copy in my lockdown retreat! There’s no evidence that the soldiers deployed slave labour in construction, which would perhaps be unreliable and difficult to control, and all contemporary images (such on Trajan’s Column in Rome) show legionaries in full armour involved in construction, rather than conscripted labour (although it could be argued that this was propaganda for a Roman audience).


Question:
Dear Dr Russell. Thanks for excellent discussion. Did the legion attack or use any hillforts in their campaign in the south and west?

Answer:
The evidence for the Roman army attacking hillforts in the south and west is, shall we say, ‘debateable’, although they certainly appear to have done so further north, at sites like Burnswark in Scotland (as reported in Current Archaeology). We’re currently reassessing the Maiden Castle database, which sadly isn’t as clear cut as Mortimer Wheeler suggested in the late 1930s. Most of the hillforts, certainly in Dorset, seem to have been long abandoned by the time the Romans arrived and the ‘battle evidence’ is really lacking. They certainly made use of hillfort sites, however, for the initial phases of conquest, however, as witnessed at Hod Hill and Waddon Hill, where command and control establishments were created to oversee rivers and lines of communication. Sadly at both sites, there doesn’t appear to have been any Iron Age settlement immediately preceding the building of these forts.


Jason Sandy & Nick Stevens
Thames mudlarking

Question:
The talk on Mudlarking was very interesting. It spoke to my inner child who liked messing about in mud. Do you ever give talks outside London?
The risk of disease from the river must be present even in a cleaned up version. what precautions do you take? Do you have to be innocuated against anything? I noticed that you dug stuff up with no gloves. I know wearing gloves can be awkward but how do you keecope with some of the less savoury river finds?

Answer:
Regarding disease from the river. In all my years I have never suffered any ill health or ever met or heard of anyone becoming unwell due to mudlarking in the Thames. Some mudlarkers like to wear rubber gloves as a precaution. I never have. I’ll only wear gloves during the winter when it can get bitterly cold.

In terms of unsavoury finds. These are rare and obvious advice would be if in doubt don’t touch. Otherwise the Thames is a very clean river with lots of wildlife. Even seahorses!
There is a well known tale of the Victorian toshers. A bit like the original mudlarks, they too were river scavengers. The toshers would enter the subterranean rivers and sewers at low tide and hunt for anything of value. It was claimed that the life expectancy of a tosher was longer than the average Londoner as their immune systems were so good after being constantly exposed to germs and bacterias in the sewers. How much of this is true I don’t know but it’s an interesting story nonetheless.
Regards.


Dr Matthew Symonds
Hadrian’s Wall: creating division

Question:
Thanks for your convincing and accessible summary of the ideas you have been evaluating on the stratigic thinking behind the original design for Hadrians Wall and the changes which brought about the “fort decision”. Can I ask two questions:
1) What do you see as the original intention of the milecastles? The towers as observation posts (as suggested by David Breeze in the earlier talk) seems logical but why milecastles at regular intervals even in locations where movement across the line of the wall is thwarted by terrain? If these were movement control posts should they not be clustered on the key existing tribal/pastoral routes?
2) If Hadrian’s Wall was modified early on to serve as counter insurgency infrastructure, what evidence is there in the layout of the later Antonine Wall to evidence these “lessons learned” ? I presume this second barrier would have needed to function in a similar way against the tribal insurgences which conceivably redoubled in opposition to yet further imperial expansion.

Answer:
1) Thank you for your questions. The first one in particular touches on a subject that has seen a huge amount written about it over the years, but my answer – and other ones certainly exist! – would be this. I see the milecastles and turrets as acting in conjunction to control the line of the Wall under the original scheme. As you say, some milecastles are poorly positioned for N-S movement, so that doesn’t seem to be the core concern. The placing of the milecastles and turrets seems to make most sense if the key desire was to have installations at (reasonably) regular positions of approximately 495m along the Wall line, presumably to prevent low-level infiltration. If the large double barrack blocks in milecastles 47 and 48 reflect the original intention, the garrisons were probably about 32 soldiers. Most likely, the garrisons for the neighbouring turrets directly to the E and W of the milecastle were also drawn from the milecastle garrison. If a third of the milecastle garrison was on duty at any given time, while the remainder rested, you’d be looking at about 11 soldiers fulfilling routine duties in each Wall mile – again fitting with low-level infiltation being the primary concern. Helpfully, the widths of the milecastle ramparts give a sense of where early work was underway on them, and intriguingly those milecastles with ramparts that were probably or certainly Broad Wall (ie earlier) in plan all overlap with areas where pre-existing routes through the landscape may have existed. That would also fit with an interest in controling movement. So the milecastle and turret chain were – in my opinion – primarily intended to prevent covert movement by small groups across the Wall line.

2) Hadrian’s Wall certainly influenced the design of the Antonine Wall in various ways. One development on Hadrian’s Wall that seems to come later in the building programme is that you get a few forts positioned at closer intervals. On the Antonine Wall – if it’s assumed that all or most of the forts were the original intention (and some scholars would certainly disagree with that) – you see a whole chain of forts positioned at intervals of about 3-5km. As closer forts would reduce response times and thereby aid the interception of elusive attackers, this approach would enable an enhanced low-intensity warfare strategy. That could easily be a consequence of lessons learned on Hadrian’s Wall, which were tailoured to the specific local circumstances encountered on the Antonine Wall.


Question:
I thoroughly enjoyed your talk. Not really a question, but a comment (I have a military background and counter-insurgency experience). I completely agree with your analysis, and counter-insurgency was exactly how I have come to think of the wall. I would expect there was extensive patrolling north of the wall (and auxiliary cavalry would be perfect for this), building intelligence and developing political contacts. South of the wall, improved security would have brought stability, as you pointed out; in counter-insurgency ‘protecting the population’ is a strategy to build confidence and deny support to the insurgents. It is likely that the population was one of the main targets for insurgents – stock raiding etc. The Tegart Forts and Tegart Line in mandatory Palestine might be of interest to you. I shall look forward to reading your book.

Answer:
Many thanks for your observations. Intriguingly, there is evidence for Hadrian’s Wall having an unusually well-developed (for a Roman frontier) intelligence gathering apparatus, and there are also signs that the Roman army / state took a keen interest in politics north of the Wall (including by issuing cash donatives / bribes to select groups – Fraser Hunter has done some fascinating research on this). There’s more on all of that in the book, but it’s encouraging that it fits with what you would expect to see. I will have to look into the Tegart forts / line – thank you for the suggestion!


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