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Kent Archaeological Review extract
 

Book Reviews.
by Wendy Dolphin and Alison Borthwick.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL THEORY AND PRACTICE edited by D E Strong (Published by Seminar Press London and New York, price 5.50). Reviewed by Wendy Dolphin.

On the occasion of Professor W F Grimes' retirement from his post as Director of the Institute of Archaeology, University of London, a number of his colleagues produced essays on various aspects of their research projects and put them together in this book which has been published as a dedication to him in honour of his great contribution to the field. The wide range of topics covered in these papers testifies to the scope of his activities although he is better known to the general public as the discoverer of the Mithraic temple of the Walbrook -- the end product of yearly excavations since 1946 for the Roman and Medieval Excavation Council.

The book does not present light reading and even the briefest glance though the chapters brings home the fact that years of painstaking research have been carried out by all the authors in their own specific fields. As previously mentioned the range is wide and covers numerous problems which arise in modern scientific archaeology. Apart from comments on aspects of the field there are site histories, discussions on several topics of general interest, research projects and new theories to help excavation.

"Archaeological Science -- Whose Responsibility?" by G W Dimbleby stresses the fact that with more and more sites being destroyed each year our research facilities are far from adequate to cope with the vast quantities of material being produced for study. To quote the author "Once it is realised that sites are irreplaceable and that they are disappearing at an ever increasing rate, the necessity to extract everything from those that are left becomes paramount." The DOE has funds set aside to promote excavation but there are no funds made available for scientific investigation of samples -- and none for the preparation of reports which is such a vital part to the success of any excavation. These problems are put forward with a sense of urgency which is usually so lacking in volumes dealing with research and not only does the author state the failings in this field but he also presents some sound ideas for improvement.

Prehistory seems to be a favourite topic of study and many of the papers in this book deal with early man -- these include "Old and New Views on Primate Fossils" by I W Cornwall, "The Late Middle Acheulian Industries in the Swanscombe Area" by J d'A. Waechter, "Constellation Analysis of Burins from Ksar Akil" by M H Newcomer and F R Hodson to quote but a few. "Some Light on Prehistoric Europe" by J G Nandris is an intriguing report on lighting arrangements in the home of early man, while "Bronze Age and Earlier Language of the Near East: an Archaeological View" by J Mellaart deals with a somewhat controversial subject and is no doubt of great interest to the expert.

Among the articles which would most interest site directors in this country is one entitled "Sherd Weights and Sherd Counts -- a Contribution to the Problem of Quantifying Pottery Studies" by J D Evans -- a possible answer to the problem of studying the vast quantities of pottery found in many excavations. "The History of the Fibula" by J A Alexander is also of great interest and there are three chapters on specialised photography which, again, are mainly of interest to the expert in this field.

The Romans are also dealt with at some length and papers on the subject include "Roman Soldiers in Roman London" by M W C Hassan, "Wages and Prices" by R Reece -- a look at Roman wages, money and prices around the year AD 300 in an attempt to analyse the household budget and "Roman Museums" by D E Strong -- a study of the museums and art galleries of ancient Rome. Generally speaking this book is compiled for the expert and as such contains a wealth of valuable material and is a worthy tribute to a man who has played a prominent part in nearly every National Society concerned with Archaeology.

BEYOND STONEHENGE by Gerald S Hawkins (Published by Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., price 3.75). Reviewed by Wendy Dolphin.

For centuries man has been both bewildered and humbled when he finds himself dwarfed before the brooding, mysterious complex of Stonehenge -- those vast standing stones, 82 of which were rafted from Prescelly 250 miles away for a reason which has long been lost and forgotten. We know many facts about its construction, the three phases of its development before it arrived at its present form and can even establish the period of prehistory in which it was built, but why prehistoric man undertook such a colossal feat of engineering is a question we find difficult to answer. That it had some sort of ritual significance is certain and judging by the amount of effort involved in a construction of such proportions, both mental and physical, its function must have been of great importance to its builders.

Gerald S Hawkins, a distinguished British-born astronomer has carried out much research into the theory that Stonehenge was an observatory for tracking the paths of the sun and moon across our skies. His previous book on this subject. 'Stonehenge Decoded' raised a great deal of criticism and scepticism, mainly I rather suspect, from those who hadn't actually read it. Perhaps one of the most startling facts to emerge from his computer assisted study of the Aubrey holes and stone alignments was the hitherto unknown 56 year moon eclipse cycle. Who were these Neolithic builders who could teach our present day astronomers? Was it chance that Stonehenge, latitude 51.2 degrees north, required a rectangle of stones for the sun-moon lines, while move the monument either north or south and the figure becomes distorted to a push-over parallelogram.

These ideas, first put forward in 'Stonehenge Decoded', are sorted through yet again in 'Beyond Stonehenge' and this time Mr Hawkins presents the views held by critics of his theory and discusses them. He also literally goes beyond Stonehenge to examine other mysteries of the prehistoric and ancient world and his search takes him as far as the Nascan desert in Peru where miles of parched plateau are covered with geometrical patterns and pictures on a scale so vast that they are almost unrecognisable unless one is in an aeroplane flying over the site. From South America he moves on to the New World, the cave drawings of southern Europe, the Pacific islanders and the sun-religions of ancient Europe.

The book itself is totally absorbing and written in a simple witty style which captures the imagination. Not only is the content of the book excellent but the lavish supply of illustrations and photographs which accompany the text are beautifully and artistically presented. Having devoured the ideas in "Stonehenge Decoded" I found this follow-up on the subject well worth reading. Stonehenge -- spectacular in itself to the casual visitor, takes on an entirely new and staggering concept through reading this book.

ARCHAEOLOGY BY EXPERIMENT by John Coles (Published by Hutchinson and Co. Ltd., Price 1.90). Reviewed by Alison Borthwick.

Experimental archaeology has been carried out to a greater or lesser extent for some 150 years both by individual pioneers and in more recent years by interested bodies under controlled conditions, but the methods and results of these experiments have never been properly brought together in any one volume. Dr Coles has corrected this error. He provides a highly readable, often amusing, and fascinating account of varied archaeological experiments. He draws on the work of experimenters throughout the world often using modern day examples as comparisons to ancient techniques and frequently drawing on ethnographical studies.

The book is clearly laid out under three headings: Food production, Heavy and Light Industry. Under these topics he covers everything from forest clearance, food storage and earthwork erosion to painting and musical instruments. Dr Coles wisely confines most of his comments on the aims, methods and results of experimentation to his Introduction and Conclusion, and readily admits to the limitations of his subject. As he says experimental archaeology "cannot and does not pretend to prove anything" it deals mainly with "the elements of subsistence and technology and therefore does not encompass the whole range of human culture." Most important, the result of any experiment can only postulate, never prove, the purpose of, or reason for, the original object or evidence.

There is such a wealth of material in this book that it is impossible to pick out any one experiment as an illustration. It does not attempt to be a reference work but provides a comprehensive and full bibliography for those wishing to follow up their interest in further detail. The one criticism I would make is that the photographic plates and the drawings do not do justice to the text either in quality or quantity, but for a modestly priced paperback this is perhaps understandable, and a minor point. Dr Coles' comment that experimental archaeology "can yield not only answers to questions asked but answers to questions unasked", makes this book essential reading.

 
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