Presenting the Heritage

3 mins read

The Awards for the Presentation of Heritage Research were a great success this year.

The awards, which are masterminded by Sebastian Payne, English Heritage’s Chief Scientist on behalf of the Royal Archaeological Institute and English Heritage and its congeners in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, are by tradition held at the Festival of Science of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, this year at Norwich on the 7th September. This year there was a large number of entries, 27 in all, which were whittled down by the judges to 12 finalists who each lectured for 20 minutes, to show both how good their work had been and also how well they could present it. The team of specialist judges, of whom I was one, reached their conclusion, but the audience, who were also invited to vote, reached a rather different conclusion, so we had to think again to reach a compromise between our views and those of the audience.


The very worthy winner was Kevin Leahy, the keeper of Archaeology at Scunthorpe Museum. In 1984, he began excavations at Cleatham in a field where a few Anglo Saxon pots had been ploughed up, and ended up five years later with over 1200 cremations and 62 graves — the third largest Anglo-Saxon cemetery in England — and all excavated entirely by hand with volunteers. Ever since then, Kevin Leahy has been engaged in writing up — and here he has been achieved a revolution, for instead of relying on typology, he was able to rely on stratigraphy — so many of the graves were inter-cut, and the excavation had been so detailed, that it was possible to construct a sequence of the urns, and once the urns had been sequenced, the grave goods could be put in order, thus providing a key to the early Anglo-Saxon period.


Te runner up was the New Buckenham project presented by Adam Longcroft, Tutor in Continuing Education at the University of East Anglia. New Buckenham is one of the ‘classic’ new towns of the middle ages: a castle was placed there in 1145, and a new town with a grid layout was laid out adjacent. Recently a team of local researchers, the Norfolk Historic Buildings Group have researched their own town and with the help of treering dating have demonstrated that the ‘Great Rebuilding’, normally thought to have taken place in the late 16th century, was already taking place in New Buckenham in the 15th century. They have published their work in a special volume of the Group’s journal, which is selling out fast (from [email protected]).


The separate award for the under 30s was won by Megan Dennis of the Norfolk Archaeological Unit who has been investigating the silver of the Iceni. She argued that the Iceni have been denigrated by modern historians who assume that they were all barbarians like their queen Boudica. But she looked at the coinage and other silver objects, and by using metallurgical analysis she argued that they were every bit as sophisticated as their neighbours.


There were many other outstanding papers — indeed I awarded full marks to no less than five papers — but then I am a notorious softie. Sally Mittuch for instance, has been looking at the bosses in the east walk of the cloisters of Norwich cathedral and argued that they tell a magnificent story of the soul passing through Purgatory on its way to either heaven or hell — read Dante, who was a contemporary of the bosses, for the full story.


Then Professor Bryony Coles of Exeter waxed lyrical about beavers. When, in her youth, she was excavating the Somerset fens, she tried to analyse the axe marks on some of the timber platforms only to realise that they were not axe marks but the marks of beavers’ teeth. Since then she has been pursuing her study of the beaver, once common in Britain till well beyond the Middle Ages, but is now extinct. She ended with a plea for the reintroduction of the beaver who by building their dams, would help retain water in the landscape and thus alleviate flooding. And contrary to popular belief, the beaver will not harm the fish stock because the beaver is a vegetarian.


David Johnson described how the Ingleborough Archaeology Group has been investigating lime kilns in the Yorkshire Dales, suggesting that the ‘sow’ kilns, generally dated to the 18th century, could in fact be a century earlier. Two of the kilns had ritual horse burials in their flues after they were abandoned. Then Helen Lloyd told us all about a big problem facing the National Trust: to dust, or not to dust? The Trust has been making ‘dirty movies’ to understand how dust moves, and has concluded that you should dust only where necessary, and not as a matter of habit.


Christine Hiskey told us all about Holkham Hall — not its Palladian architecture but about its sewers, water closets, and electricity generating plant: it was always in the van of progress. And finally Joan D’Arcy told us about her own house, a Prebend House near Derby which is listed grade II starred; but the reasons for the listing are all wrong, and it deserves to be listed grade one: little does she know the problems this will bring! All in all, an exhilarating if exhausting day, and we hope to bring you a number of articles based on some of the splendid presentations.




This opinion comes from CA issue 206

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