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....................NJS Reporting..............

 

The 2014 lecture series opened on February 3rd with an excellent talk by Dr Alison Sheridan of the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, entitled 'Green Treasures of the Magic Mountains: the amazing story of Neolithic jadeitite axeheads.'
The magic mountains, the source of the jade, are in Northern Italy. Local examples include those found at Cunzierton, Oxnam; Pendrigh's Smithy, Lauder and Greenlawdean in Berwickshire. This final example is on display in the NMS. The focus of attention to these beautiful green polished axes has been made by the French University of Besancon in their 'Projet Jade', funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche. Alison has been part of the project. In 2012, the findings of the research group were published in 2 magnificently produced volumes.
The axes seemed to have had iconic significance and owners may have believed the axes had magical properties. Ethnographical parallels in South America, China and New Zealand support this. They had other significance too. One kept at Traquair was enclosed in a travelling case in 1780. There was French influence in the tooling; the case was made in Edinburgh.
The axe distribution map shows clusters in East Anglia and in east Scotland. Early research sliced pieces off the axe, not exactly acceptable today. Petrological analysis shows the source to be torrent beds in the high Alps by Mt Viso, probably perceived as being dangerous places nearer the Gods. The investigators are the Petrequins family. Large boulders, known as boudins, were worked by cracking them with fire. A site has been found showing this technique. However, helicopter using vandals have raided the site, and uplifted the valuable nephrite rock. Experimental archaeology shows that 1.82g per hour can be sawn off the boulder, using a wood plane and sand. This would mean a time of 1000-2000 hours for an axe! As the site would be covered in snow for half the year, summer exploration would be needed. Other rock types used were eclogite and ophacicitite. The scientific technique of reflectance spectrometry has yielded spectacular results. An axe at Pitreavie House came from the same block of stone as 3 examples in Germany.
The second phase of investigation, 'Jade 2', is focussing on SE Europe, including Greece- more dots will appear on the map soon. The earliest appear 5500-4900BC, and become more widespread from 4900-4500BC. The main concentration is from 4600-3900BC, with a contraction of new production to 2700BC (many older examples were still extant). Copper axes replaced jadetite after this, with flint being widely used.
A concentration of finds is the Golfe de Morbihan in Bretagne, a magnet area in 4600BC. The Musee de Vannes has finds from the Tumulus St Michel. The burial here was of one man with his axeheads. There was a phallic element here in the placement of an axe and a bangle. The axe was left in the groin area. In this area, there seems to be a rich mythology connected with the sea. Rock carvings include those of sperm whales, cattle- and axes. This culture also built Carnac with its menhir causeways.
Passage graves followed on from his culture. The economy had shifted to more farming. Fish were no longer eaten. The Gavrinis tomb has groups of axeheads. They are often found in pairs, in watery places, with blades uppermost. A typesite is at Le Rohu in Morbihan at the foot of an alignment. The second site, in Eastern Europe, at Varna,Bulgaria, dates to 4500BC. It has much early gold, including a gold penis sheath and a jadetite axe. There are strong links between Bulgaria, the Alps and Bretagne.
In a chambered tomb at Cairnholy in Dumfries and Galloway, an axe fragment was found broken and burnt. It was centuries old by then, originally from the Alps. The date of internment was 3800BC.
The timeline of sites starts at c4300BC at Ferntes Cave, SW Ireland, a false start. From 4300-4000BC, the culture had spread from Morbihan as far North as Argyll. From 4000-3800BC, a movement occurred from the Pas de Calais to East Britain and on to Caithness.
Sheep, pigs and cattle were domesticated. Deer and boar were hunted, wheat, barley and flax grown. Long halls 24x13m were built. Locally, Doun Hill is an example, with an Anglian site buit on top of it. A similar site occurs at Lockerbie. Associated with carinated ceramics are axes which may be heirlooms, cherished possessions. Curragh boats were most likely used, transporting young animals eg piglets, lambs. Population pressure was created by success, but only 100s of migrants need to have been involved.
Regarding depositional contexts, 90/118 were 'stray'; of the rest, many were in special places eg above the Wookey Hole caves or Sweet Track causeway in Somerset.
Care has to be taken over finds. In Glasgow in the C19, axes were found in a supposed logboat.
The axes themselves may be deliberately broken and burnt, a ritual 'killing'. However, in Denmark, exact axe copies were made in flint. Also, the Great Langdale axe factory is up 'the magic green mountains' made of green volcanic tuff. The industry produced workaday and ceremonial axes, with a 'Cumbrian clubs' signature.
One axe in Kobnhavn equates with one in Garvock , Aberdeenshire. Both have a slight curve, indicating a thermal flake.
Concluding, she warned of faux amis, false friends. An axe found in Shannon in Ireland was found to come from New Caledonia, and a river Thames find belonging to the Maori culture. A Yorkshire discovery was provenanced to a Swiss lakeside village! These discoveries probably relate to dumping, possibly after a family loss.
For more information, use www.prehistoricsociety.org
The next meeting will be on Monday March 3rd at the Berwick Parish Centre, Wallace Green at 7.30pm. The speaker will be Jeremy Paterson, and the subject 'The Circus Comes to Town: Roman wild beast shows'.

 

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On March 3rd 2014, Jeremy Paterson spoke to the society on 'The Circus Comes to Town: Roman wild beast shows'. He compared the shows with Bertram Mills circus of his Hereford childhood, but emphasised changes in outlook over time which complicated attitudes somewhat.
The story of Androcles showed how a slave of the Roman governor of Egypt was mistreated and retreated to the desert, where he took a thorn out of a lion's paw. The scene then moved to Rome where he was treated as a runaway slave, as he walked around the city with his pet lion. There was a medieval fascination with this story, which found its way into Aesop's fables and Chaucer's tales. The fact that animals and humans could be friends stretched the ambiguity of these relationships.

The rest of the lecture carried a health warning!

A Pompeii inscription reveals that magistrates paid for spectacular games to celebrate their election. In the morning were wild beast shows, and at lunch, criminals were set on by animals, with a musical background. In the afternoon were gladiatorial shows.
As the Roman empire expanded, exotic animals were brought in to Rome. Triumphs put on show the captured species, the more different the better. Both animals and prisoners were exhibited, as well as new plant species eg the cherry from Asia Minor.
A plate from Southern Italy shows a scene from the invasion from modern Southern Albania by the Greek Pyrrhus in 270BC with an elephant, calf and howdah, used in battle. They were captured and put on show. The Carthaginians also used elephants in battle. The Romans soon worked out how to fight them. They had a large turning circle, and, at the last minute, the infantry would let them through their lines, and then attack them from the rear.
Creatures would be displayed in the Games for novelty. The first ostrich was taken from North Africa in 197BC. From Egypt came crocodiles, hippos, lions, tigers, wild bulls and rhinos, shown on a coin of Domitian. Cleopatra gave Julius Caesar a gift of giraffes. Nero even showed polar bears and seals. Elephants were especially loved by Rome, and became 'circus acts'. One was taught to write Greek in the arena sand. Nero used the animals in a tea party, 3 dressed in women's dress, the other three in togas. In Ostia, Rome's port, there is a mosaic made by shippers of elephants, importing them from Libya. Claudius had elephants tight rope walking from the circus roof, improbable as this sounds, and they were also taught to waltz. The wild animals were kept in a big stockade by the sea South of the Tiber, kept by imperial officials. Locals were terrified of escapes.
They were killed in the arena, involved in set-up hunts or attacked by bastiari, pygmies from the Lower Nile. In Pompey's Games in 55BC, 600 lions, 400 leopards and the first European lynx were slaughtered. As elephants died, Cicero wondered 'What pleasure is there in this?' Plutarch echoed this, that something was wrong, with a modern view in his 'On the cleverness of animals'.
At the opening of the Colosseum, 9000 animals were killed in 100 days.
After the Dacian campaign 0f Trajan, the triumph took 11000 animals in 123 days. Animals were set against each other, bear versus bull, having previously been starved. Men were set against tigers, whilst music was simultaneously played by bands.
The film 'Gladiator' did many things well. In addition, Commodus took pleasure in performing in the arena itself, shooting ostriches with arrows with a curved tip, which then ran on headless. Cassius Dio, then a young senator, reported that the emperor carried an ostrich severed head and waved it at the senators shouting 'This could be you!'
In terms of supply, many of the beasts were from North Africa. Novelty was important. The home of the Gordian emperors, El Djem, Thysdrus, in Tunisia was a centre, as was Leptis Magna in Libya, home of the emperor Severus. The latter named place has recently opened its mosaic museum One shows a tiger killing wild asses, another a wild owl. Symbols represent wild beast companies employing professional hunters in the mountains. The 'Magerius Mosaic' in the dining room celebrates the putting on of shows. Named tigers are being killed. Other symbols show 4 bags on a delivery plate with a 1000 denarii sign, indicating the cost. The mosaic also shows an unfunny Roman joke over gladiator Hilarinus who has failed to kill a tiger.
At Midday, ravenous beasts ate people, criminals, Christians or others who did not correspond with Roman rule. The crowd cheered those who did not shout out.
Near Carthage there is an arena with a shrine built in it. It is dedicated to the Christian St Perpetua, mother of an infant. Her diary was
written while waiting for the end, revealing ecstatic visions of the world after death. Her friend Felicity was pregnant ; she wanted to die next next to her friend. A wild bull attacked Perpetua three times and then gave up. She was then decapitated outside the ring.

The resulting species depletion and extinction changed the ecological balance especially of North Africa. Previously the wheatbowl of the Roman empire, the desert advanced. The water systems were abandoned, and villas left in the sand.

The next meeting will be on April 7th with the AGM starting at 7pm. Following, Ms Catherine Kent will speak at 7.30 on 'Mapping the Town: the Topography of Early-Modern and Medieval Berwick-upon-Tweed.'
The venue is the Berwick Parish Centre, Wallace Green.

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The April 7th 2014 lecture Catherine Kent , entitled 'Mapping the Town: the topography of early-modern and medieval Berwick-upon- Tweed.' It was very well attended, reflecting its local focus.
Little is left in physical remains. There is a datestone of 1589 and wall paintings both in the museum. Some pottery has been found, as have a padstone and marks of floor joists, plus of course, the walls.
Speed's map of 1562 shows much detail. It does have scale problems, but the buildings show individuality in their rooflines, and some show shingles or thatch. Marygate and Walkergate are shown, as are the Tollbooth and steps. A new pier is drawn, as are salmon fishers off Tweedmouth.
Tweed Street is included on the map of Roland Johnson, Crown Surveyor. Limekilns are shown near Windmill Bastion. He maybe drew the Eyemouth Fort map, as he seemed to also be a military spy, specialising in the blowing up of Scottish large houses!
The Survey of Berwick-upon-Tweed is held in the Berwick archives, and includes details of 460 tenements, listing size, value, title, and value of rental to the crown. The town belonged to the crown. The Council was of high status based on the military, including Governor, Chamberlain and Treasurer. The urban area is shown as being crowded. The building of the walls involved demolition of 40 houses. The military lost control of land ownership, evidenced by a fake seal in circulation. Tenements on Bridge Street (Briggate) numbered 15 on both North and South sides. According to the records, Margaret Hume lived there, but we do not know exactly where, as we do not know where the surveyors started work. Ravendale Chapel is named, as is the Maison Dieu by the bridge. The quay is mentioned; it may have originally been on the North side of Bridge Street, and the bridge itself been upstream from the C17 one. The Southside tenements have 50 yard depth, whilst those to the North extended 30 yards, showing precise planning by the Scottish engineers. Some plots were laid out before the walls were built. Vennels led down to the quay and jetties.
Walkergate is shown as a back lane between 2 blocks. 'The Grenes', Whitwell Tower are marked. Church Street is named as Soutergate, the road of the shoemakers.
Speed's map shows a gate into the church precinct at Wallace Green, opposite the military area occupied later by the barracks. Catherine showed her own map showing land values in pence per acre extracted from the town survey.
The turf Catwell Wall ran to the North of Bridge Street near the Southern end of Eastern and Western Lanes running to the SE. New housing is shown. Ravensdown is shown as Ratten Row, and houses as having 2 stories, and made of mud and stone. Tweed Street is named Windmill Hole.
The survey shows women involved in property, though maybe as tenants-at-will with few rights. Wydowe Dome held a house for Nicholas Florence, a soldier who had left for France. She built '2 roomies'. These 2 bays were likely to have been of cruck and ridgepole construction. Most buildings (14)were of 2 couples, whereas 2 were much larger at 5 couples.
In 1562, nothing had been built in 'The Grenes', yet by 1570 it was developed.
The talk fascinated the audience, and was very well received.
The next talk will be given at 7.30pm May 12th, by Dr Clive Waddington on 'Rescued from the sea: prehistoric discoveries at Low Hauxley', another lecture with local interest. As usual, it will take place in the Berwick Parish Centre, Wallace Green.


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The May 12th 2014 lecture of the BAS was given by Dr Clive Waddington who, 15 years ago, gave the first ever lecture to the society. His present topic was 'Rescued from the sea; prehistoric discoveries at Low Hauxley', and was given to a full house.
The site is on Druridge Bay and has a low cliff at the back of a rocky beach. It presents a textbook sediment sequence from the last glaciation to the present. It has been estimated that a breach in the sand dunes will take place in 15 years time, though, as a result of climate change, despite some sand control with sandbags and netting. However, the site is prone to episodes of coastal erosion, revealing the archaeology in the cliff face. Spring of 2013 was extreme, with 6 weeks of strong easterly winds.
In 1993, Tyne and Wear Museum conducted a dig with the University of Lancaster, revealing a Bronze age burial cist exposed in the cliff. Subsequently, activity was restricted by the recession, though volunteers such as Jim Nesbit monitored the rich site. Last year's activity was a result of a long wait, funded by UK Coal, Lottery money, and the EU Leader project.
The site included rock cut pits offshore, plus ancient peat exposures on the wavecut platform. On the cliff top, a mechanical digger was brought in to help with excavation. As luck would have it, the very warm and dry summer created problems, as everyday watering was needed. Even then, some ephemeral features may have been missed.
The cliff sequence revealed a Bronze age (BA) collapsed cairn at the surface, overlying an ancient soil horizon (dark humus material), with a base of glacial till. The buried soil has been radiocarbon dated at between 8000BC-1700BC, stretching from the Mesolithic to the early Bronze age. The dunes themselves are of mid BA date. What followed was Iron age (IA) / Roman occupation on top of the early dune, followed by further dune burial, and a possible tsunami deposit.
Loose flints indicated a Mesolithic hut stance, though not as robust as that found at Howick. Another more robust feature was falling in to the sea, but had no radiocarbon (RC) dating. Flotation revealed hazelnuts, the common food item of this period, but compared with Howick again, not as many. Pits containing charred wood and hazelnuts were found, maybe representing timber post holes. Flints included prismatic cores. Narrow blades were knapped off it to create microliths. One scalene triangle scraper has a beautiful milky patination. One has a possible Ahrensburgian point, which, if proved, would indicate a rare Palaeolithic artefact from this area.
In 9000BC, the Doggerland landbridge across the present North Sea still existed. The Baltic was cut off from the North Sea too. By 8000BC, sea levels were rising. Four sites of this period have been found in this region: Echline, by the new Forth Bridge; East Barns by Dunbar; Howick and Low Hauxley. There is another possibility in Co Durham. Dr Waddington's thesis is that as the flooding of the North Sea bight continued, people migrated North along the new coastline. These people were the Mesolithic hunter gatherers following big game. However, none of our sites have red deer bones, suggesting a more maritime outlook. Ian Shennan of Durham University has modelled the mean sea level. By 8000 BC, a lot of land had been lost, as temperatures rose rapidly. Hazel and alder dominated. A cultural assemblage appeared from 8200-8400 BC, containing 6m diameter huts with a scoop for a central hearth plus narrow bladed flints. It spread around Scotland and the West coast including Ireland. At this time, the NE coast was critical in terms of safety.
The '8-2' event of the Storegga Slide tsunami was of horrific proportion. 3600 square km of Norwegian continental shelf sheared off suddenly, equivalent to all of the sediment delivered by rivers into the sea per year! Doggerland, at a maximum 5m high, was quickly overwhelmed by a 30-40m wall of water. The cliff contains coarse material representing this deposit, the most Southerly find so far. The landbridge with Europe was severed and Ireland isolated.
The intertidal zone at Bondicarr was stripped by the 2013 storms, revealing peat with hoof and footprints in the sediment. It represented a soil of a woodland floor, sealed by sand. It is a post-tsunami late Mesolithic soil of c5200BC. Found were human footprints including those of children. Wild pig, aurochs and deer spoor were also imprinted. A red deer antler from the Neolithic was also found. Volunteers are now employed to walk the beach after storms, with the whole of Druridge Bay divided into 5 sections. This approach has delivered a discovery of a fresh exposure of oak tree trunks at Cresswell.
Peats revealed in the cliff represent an infilling of wetland. Recently, a find was made of stone at the base of the peat, with charred wood and flints. The recent dig cut away at the cliff, revealing an Iron Age roundhouse. Underneath,a horseshoe setting for a large hearth was dated at 3600 BC in the early Neolithic. Also found was a fine leaf shaped arrowhead. These people had an aversion to coastlines and seem to visit occasionally for resources. Maybe they had a folk memory of the power of the sea.
A cairn on the clifftop was found to be of Bronze Age Beaker type. It was 18m in diameter, though half eroded. It had a beautiful kerb, made of local sandstone. The cist slabs were nearly robbed out, and seem to have provided stone for a patio next to the Iron Age roundhouse! In the cairn centre was found the burial of a teenager, dated to 2400BC at the very start of the Beaker period. This may be a representative of the pioneers of metaI technology moving from present-day Holland. A later burial was buried with food vessels. Similar finds have been made near Amble and Edinburgh.A reused cup and ring marked stone and a whetstone were also found. It was cists revealed by coastal erosion that alerted archaeologists to the site in the first place. The cairn may have been an island at that time- the island of the dead maybe.
By chance, a beautiful Bronze Age rapier was found in a rockpool, probably washed out of the peat at high tide. At Blyth, an antler mace head was found recently.
The Iron Age roundhouse had hearth carbon that dated from 300BC to the early second century AD. In a drip gully, pottery was found including Samian ware.
Of more recent date, a big pit was excavated. It was circular, with vertical sides and very deep, it most likely a post Medieval coal shaft. In 2007, sea erosion on the wavecut platform revealed rectangular pits. Their use may have been as shellfish pots or salterns. However, once dug, coal slag was found, including a mason's mark on the rock.
Current erosion is at the rate of half a metre pa. However, a single easterly storm can remove much more than this, and the general rate is accelerating.
The local community was much involved in the dig, including the local school and the youth group based at RAF Boulmer. It attracted much media interest, including Time Team, Countryfile and The One Show, and also has been covered at international conferences eg Texas, Glasgow.
The talk was extremely well received by the audience.
The next lecture will be given by the club President, Kristian Pedersen on the subject of 'The Vikings'. The location is the Berwick Parish Centre, Wallace Green, at 7.30pm on June 2nd.

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June 2nd 2014. The last BAS lecture of the session took place on June 2nd, when Kristian Pedersen, President of the society, spoke on 'The Vikings: Expeditions to the North Atlantic.'
The first site to be considered was Norwick, Unst, Shetland, underlying the old kirk, dated securely to 700AD. The settlement was Scandinavian, most likely from present-day Norway. It has domestic artefacts, including those made from steatite soapstone. Three families lived there, maybe as a result of land grants made by Pictish kings. No documents are available to substantiate this though.
It took another century and a half for further expansion to the Faroes, and then on to Iceland, and Newfoundland. The Sagas have survived, primarily from Iceland, but they are not a reliable source. They were written 3-400 years after the event. Parts, however, are written in an older style, and may be more authentic. The Sagas are wrong about the settlement of the Faroes. Archaeological evidence points to 825AD, whereas the written sources state 850-70. The Sagas also state that the settlers were those who would not submit to Harald Fairhair's rule, though the migration is more likely to reflect economic expansion.
Climate change data indicate a Medieval warm period from 1000-1300 AD, followed by the Little Ice Age from 1400-1700, when depopulation occurred. Sites are easy to find on Faroe, as hospitable land is scarce. Irish monks settled before Vikings, as indicated by the placename element 'papa.' The term 'landnam' or land settling indicates these early settlers. Palaeoenvironmental evidence is critical here, as in other northern sites. Aberdeen University has been excavating here, and discovered traces of incomer beetles and snails, as well as sheep, goats, cattle, pigs and horses being kept. Core sampling in fjords has confirmed these findings. The land is inhospitable, but from northern Norway, it may have looked a good move! Excavations show use of an infield more intensively farmed (bour), and an outfield (hagi). However, after 2 generations, fertility fell.
At Toftnanes on Esturoy, a farmstead has been revealed of bow sided houses, built to deflect the wind, similar in shape to the later black houses of Lewis. Separate was the eld'hus, or fire house, the kitchen. Thick dry stone walls were built, with turf up the walls for extra insulation. Under the turf was preserved palaeoenvironmental material, also present in the silt in underfloor drains. Paved paths were also used. Finds included objects made of soapstone or steatite from Orkney or Norway. Loom weights indicating weaving and line sinkers for fishing were also found, as were twined juniper cords, indicating at least some tree cover. Hay is essential for survival, as livestock were the foundation of the economy. The alternative was being a tenant farmer. With 16-18 hours of darkness in winter though, life was tough, even though seas are warmed by the Gulf Stream.
Two generations later, settlement was taking place in Iceland. Ancient Greek writers wrote about a land of fire, likely to be Iceland. The island was colonised by knarr, large merchant vessels, built in Norway of pine and oak, both not available in Iceland. They were very seaworthy but were open to the elements. One example has survived as a wreck off Denmark. Husavik in the north is the oldest site, connected with the circumnavigation by Gardar Svarvarsson. Another expedition was to Vatnafjordur in the west by Raven Floki. In the east, there was a landing at Naddoddr. Huge swathes of territory were taken in a land grab, which became the enormous estates of magnate farmers. Small farms would not be viable- the comparison with the European carve up of Australia is valid. At Hofstadir, a hall has been excavated in a valley. Many cattle skulls were found, indicating a possible high status hunting lodge, with 2 subsidiary farms. This does not look like the egalitarian society depicted in the Sagas. However, where the Eurasian and American plates are splitting at Thingvellir, the Icelandic parliament met. It would have involved debating and decision making, as well as meeting, greeting and networking, with religious beliefs thrown in. Icelanders are very superstitious- the fairies and ghosts would be all around. The element 'thing' occurs too in British placenames eg Tingwall, Orkney; Dingwall in Rossshire.
Greenland is beautiful but brutally hostile. There is a touch of the Gulf Stream on the south and southwest coasts, but the coastal strip is narrow and living precarious at best. It is not far away from Iceland and can be seen in occasional arctic mirages. Erik the Red was outlawed and fled there from Iceland. Other settlers may have been influenced by the term 'Green', but it represents one of the propaganda swindles of history. There is no timber, but there may have been dwarf juniper. Drought is a problem; the icesheet is not warmed in the summer, at least until recently. Sheep and cattle were the economic staples, evidenced by finds at Brattahlid, Erik's estate in the south west. His house is still visible, and is similar in construction and layout to the Icelandic examples. Preservation is extremely good, but is represented in just 2cm of horizon, in which pollen is preserved. Bodies do not survive, as carnivores would take them eg polar bears, wolves. There is no evidence of contact with Inuit, and they may have coexisted side-by-side. The Inuit followed the game. Gardar on the east coast has also been investigated. It was the centre of an episcopal see in 1124 and the site of the Eastern settlement thing, located around a natural harbour. It failed around 1450, with Einar and his daughter Freydis in residence. We do not know whether they died or intermarried with locals. It is difficult to test Inuit for DNA as most have it from interbreeding with whalers later. It was critical that 15ha of fodder was available for feeding the 75-100 cattle needed for survival. When this did not happen, the community died.
The coast of Labrador is similar to that at St Abbs Head. It has only 30000 inhabitants today, of which 20000 are in a Nato base. It is very difficult to find any possible sites. However, the Vinland map of Columbus' time shows Labrador. It is likely that Basque sailors exploited the cod banks previously, and kept their discovery quiet! The discovery of L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland in 1960 seems to confirm the idea that the Vikings, and maybe Leif Ericson, reached the land of the vine. Wild grapes do grow as far north as just south of Maine, and it is quite possible that other Norse sites will be found. Leif Ericson is recorded as taking timber from Markland, but it is uncertain as to where this is. There have been several cases of hoaxes of sites as far south as Massachusetts but remain mere wishful thinking.
There is interesting proxy evidence from artefacts of the Dorset pre-Inuit culture of Baffin Island. A soapstone bowl of Norse style has been found. A piece of carved driftwood dated to c1000AD is of a cloaked figure with what seems like a cross on the chest. On Inuit sites, there is smelted copper, and also carved wood that would be attached to metal blades, imitating the design of Norse art. At Nungavik, Baffin Island, loom-spun arctic hare yarn and string has been found from the c10 -early c11. There seems to have been a lot of contact, implying trade and intermarriage.
The site of L'Anse aux Meadows itself has much affinity with those in Greenland and Iceland. Durham University has done much work here. There is a separate furnace hut, where bog ore was smelted into iron. Three longhouses with associated structures have been excavated. Sheep were important, as shown by loom weights found. Soil horizons correlate with soil exhaustion again.
The lecture was very well received by the audience.

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September 1st 2014 Dr Gordon Noble

For the first of the new season of lectures, BAS welcomed Dr Gordon Noble of Aberdeen University to Berwick. His talk was titled 'Discovering the Northern Picts: excavations and survey in Northern Pictland.'
Early Medieval Scotland had a mixture of peoples. The Picts were most powerful in the East of the country and were aggressive. They are famous today for their carved slab symbolic stones and decorative metalwork of silver chains and penannular brooches.. We know of some subdivisions of 7their territory; Cait (Caithness, land of the wildcat); Fortriu (the Moray firth); Ce (Aberdeenshire); Fotla (Athol); Fib (Fife), with the Anglian Bernicia to the South centred on Bamburgh.
The symbol stones are centred in North Scotland. They date from the C5-C7. Salmon are shown as are wild boar and deer. More enigmatic are crescent and double disc symbols, as seen eg on the Knocknagael stone in Inverness-shire.
Excavated sites include Portmahomack in Easter Ross, dug by Martin Carver recently, investigating a monastic complex producing vellum and bookclasps for manuscripts. There is also a fine collection of symbol stones housed in the museum. Burghead on the Moray coast is an example of a refortified site dating from the C5- C9. There seems to have been a reoccupation of Iron Age hillforts at this time as well as promontory forts development. Benne Ce in Aberdeenshire is an example of a well-fortified hillfort. Little is known about settlement however. It is likely that houses were built of turf and timber, leaving little trace. Knowledge is limited too of burial practice. At Garbeg, Inverness-shire, cairns have been excavated, but no artefacts found.

 

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November 3 rd 2014

For the November society lecture, at the last minute, Professor Maria Chester stepped into the breach as the expected speaker was ill. Her topic was 'The Maya: Children of the Corn Updated'.
The Maya lived in modern day Guatemala and later on the Yucutan peninsula. Their settlements are in the modern-day rain forest next to sink holes, the origin of which lie in the meteorite holes next to the huge impact crater of the Gulf of Mexico that caused the mass extinction of megafauna 65 m years ago. The Mayan culture is divided into the Pre- Classic 2600 BCE-250 CE; Classic 250-900 CE, when they left for Yucutan and Post Classic 900- 1521 CE.
The cities were not peaceful places, fighting against each other for supremacy, though they formed a confederation when threatened, similar to the city states of Greece or Italy. Between 250 and 900CE. each built pyramids facing each other on manmade platforms. Buildings were covered in stucco, red iron oxide ochre paste and Maya blue eg at Tikal.
Though the Maya did not use the wheel, well engineered roads were built, 20-50m wide and 4m deep, white in colour. All carriage was by humanpower. Polished cacao beans were used as currency. The beans were also mixed with chilli powder. Jade beads were used as nasal ornaments. The rulers used jaguar pelts as clothing, and quetzal feathers of blue, green and purple as headdresses. Polishes obsidian volcanic glass knives were high status objects.
The society structure was strictly vertical, like that of India recently. Slaves were at the bottom of the pyramid, and nobility at the top, who spent much time hunting. The military and the civil service provided the middle. Soldiers were trained not to kill. Captives were sacrificed later by shamans, as shown in bas reliefs. This strategy may be seen to be weak when the Spanish conquistadores arrived, bringing with them germs, mastiffs and firearms.
The Maya practiced bloodletting. Blood was mopped up by paper and burned outdoors as a libation to the gods. Women had their tongue punctured, and men their genitals.
Passing quickly on, Maria turned to vases and their decoration. These show detail of textile in dresses and furnishings. On an artificial island, small figures have been found representing generals, soldiers and priests. Ceramics show smiling figures during waterlily and tobacco enemas. Again, we moved on. The Maya used semi-precious stones inserted in carved teeth, ornamental if not painful. They also used casts for broken bones. Limestone stela 3-4m high show carvings of individuals with quite baroque, almost oriental fashion. Scribes are shown sitting on cushions. Everything was written down on zig-zagged folded books, only 3 of which survived the Spanish conquest. One is named the Dresden Codex. The paper was covered in starch and a thin layer of calcium. The Popol Vuh is the book of creation and is similar to the bible in some ways, Adam and Eve for example. It is now believed to be an independent work.
There are over 800 glyphs, read the same way as we do. Numbers were deciphered first, including the concept of zero, followed by syllables. Dr David Stuart has been prominent in this work; his parents were archaeologists.
The Aztec, Olmec and Maya cultures all had similar calendars.
Recent study of the pyramids has revealed that they were not all built in the Classical period; one was much earlier. Three 'small' pyramids were often built on a fabricated platform creating a triadic structure, next to a reservoir. La Danta is 70m high. LADAR technology has been used in the rainforest to reveal more sites. Mounted in aircraft, it can strip away vegetation to reveal stone walls. Glyphs have been found in flooring, and also representations of the creation myth, with swimming figures. There is no Spanish influence here. The ruins are now covered in stucco to preserve them, with windows incorporated to allow study.
A recent NASA space photo shows red lights indicating land burning on an enormous scale. In the centre though is the oasis of the Mirador National Park. Professor Richard Hanson of Idaho State University has been instrumental in establishing and publicising the park, opened in 2010. The area would have sustained 100,000 people in the Mayan prime. Crops grown included tomatoes, cinnamon, cacao and the staple maize. Now the figure may be nearer 100. Decline was rapid; tree clearance led quickly to land degredation, a lesson for us today. The last city state of Tayasal fell in 1697. There are 7m descendants today in Mesoamerica.
The lecture was very well received by the audience.
The next lecture will be on December 8th at 7.30 in the Berwick Parish Centre , Wallace Green. The speaker will be Dr. Andrea Dolfini and the subject 'The Origins of Metallurgy in Europe: new insights from Italy.'

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December 1 st 2014

The last BAS lecture of 2014 was given by Dr Andrea Dolfini of Newcastle University, entitled 'The Origins of Metallurgy in Europe: new insights from Italy.'
The subject has been long debated, with 2 models being considered. Firstly, the diffusion model was proposed by Professor Gordon Childe in the middle of the last century. He had all technological invention spreading out from the Fertile Crescent, including modern day Iraq and Syria. The idea was reignited by research at Durham University by Roberts et al in 2009, who proposed a single invention centre in Anatolia and the Near East.
The alternative hypothesis of independent innovation in South Iberia and the Balkans was proposed by Professor Colin Renfrew and published in his book 'Before Civilisation' in 1973. Two centres have been since excavated. Belovode in Serbia has produced the earliest slag in the world, of copper dating to the late 6th millennium BC. The South East Spain rescue dig at Cerro Virtud has been dated to the early mid 5th mill BC.
Dr Dolfini was at pains to point out the problems with this analysis however, as human interaction may render matters more complex. The question of what metallurgy actually is was discussed. Is it merely ore procurement, or smelting? The production of artefacts may also be necessary. In addition, technological change may not be universally accepted immediately. He cited the example of the use of mixer taps in Europe, whereas the UK sticks with hot and cold! The example of the use of IT, by no means universal across the population, is another case.
Italy is rich in ore sources, with the Eastern Alps, Tuscany and Sardinia being especially important. Calabria, East Sicily and Corsica also have deposits, but much of the East is devoid. The ores themselves are malachite (very pure) and chalcopyrite (including iron and sulphur.), the latter being difficult to smelt. Other ores also include arsenic and cobalt. Antimony ore occurs in the mineral stibnite, the metal resembling silver. It looks like there was independent invention in many places in prehistoric times.
At the Golfo de Baracti an Etruscan town sits on massive iron reserves. The area, a picture postcard today, was heavily polluted until the C19. In the last century, it was found that the slagheaps were worth resmelting, with the result that they have entirely gone! The point was made that many earlier diggings have been destroyed by later exploitation, and are difficult to date. However, at Monte Loreto in Liguria, ancient galleries and shafts have been discovered, dating to the 4th millennium BC.
In terms of artefacts, it was thought that metal objects of Neolithic age were no more than a few trinkets. But now grave goods including 18 copper awls and several small jewels have been found. The hafted awls are likely to have been used for retouching flint implements. There are late Neolithic (4500-3800 BC) excavated sites at Botteghino in the NW and at Lipari off NW Sicily revealing copper slag. These could be the product of ceramic production. Final analysis results are awaited
The first copper axes imitated the Neolithic stone axes of the period, thus giving the objects meaning in society. Finds have been made in Central and NE Italy. At the end of the Neolithic, 3800-3600BC, radiocarbon dates suggest an intensification of metallurgy, including new products such as daggers found in burials.
The Copper age itself, 3600-2200BC saw the development of flat axes, halberds and arrows, as well as daggers and awls. These 5 categories of artefacts were repeated indicating little experiment. Metal containing pure copper, antimony, silver and arsenic has been found. 30 sites are known, including underground and smelting types with casting moulds. Reconstruction of the 'hole in the ground' technology shows the luck involved in finding sites eg La Capotelle be Broun smelting pit in SW France. The ceramic tuyere may survive; there are no big slag heaps.
In terms of our understanding, there are now 4 models of technological diffusion. Firstly, the idea of spread from the East Mediterranean, Gordon Childe's Ex Oriente Lux is criticised because of no comparability between Early Aegean and early Italian metalwork. The distribution is also strong in the Alps.
Secondly, the hypothesis that Iberia was the centre is refuted by the knowledge that the finds in France and the Balearics are over 1000 years later.
Christian Strahm has proposed the Balkans as the focus, emphasising trade.
The most accepted model now is that of spread from the East Italian Alps. By the time of the Copper age, the technology had been accepted into society with strict cultural norms.
Dr Dolfini concluded by comments on the need to explore Central Italy, Corsica and S. France in more detail .His lecture was beautifully illustrated and seemed like a tourist board advert! He also circulated samples of ore and of copies of artefacts. The talk was very well received.
The next lecture will be at 7.30pm on February 2nd given by Stuart Campbell of the National Museum of Scotland. The subject is 'Treasure Trove in Scotland; medieval and other discoveries from the Scottish Borders.' The meeting place is the Parish Hall by Wallace Green, Berwick.

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