Thursday, 25 October 2012

University landscapes

Universities seem to mingle and intertwine with their surroundings in different ways. Many older universities concentrate in certain areas and have central buildings but are ultimately integrated to the fabric of the cities where they are located. This is true for example with the Universities of Bologna, Groningen and Helsinki. Some towns ARE basically universities, such as Cambridge or Oxford, that are synonymous with their universities, even if there are other higher education facilities in these cities.


Many universities have separated campuses, either physically in a different location outside urban area, as Keele or Birmingham are. Some of these campuses are engulfed by the city, but separated by a wall, as is “La Sapienza” at Rome. Some newer universities are slotted in different locations and are actually more regional outlets, like the other Cambridge University the Anglia Ruskin with a second campus in Chelmsford. Then, there is the Open University that may engage its students remotely, but has very physical locations at Milton Keynes and different regional centres. Good old-fashioned buildings in brick and mortar.

It is easy to recognize that the main building of the University College London is special and the Cambridge and Oxford colleges represent different modes of college building. In one city the buildings is more open and in the other more fortress-like, but they both are clearly buildings with a certain function, easy to classify apart, even if one was a Martian on one’s first trip on the Earth.

University Library, Cambridge

Nevertheless, no matter how much different universities try to move their libraries online, rationalise their collections, introduce cafeteria and retail areas and cut the book spending, a feature that epitomises scholarly research is a library. Even if I have passed there many times, the long, narrow corridors of the University Library at Cambridge still impress me with the sheer number of books and nothing makes you feel more like a real scholar than sitting on one of the chairs in the main reading room of the American Academy in Rome, when the windows are open with the early summer wind blowing through and you are tapping away with your laptop. The same awe of surroundings and the situational appropriateness fills you in the Bodleian Library. This does make a university a mental place, but defined by the physicality of its buildings and surroundings - not to mention its objects.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Community archaeologist has gone – long live community archaeology!?

It is somewhat ironic that the surge in job placements in archaeology in community archaeology is a simultaneous development with the disappearance of the dedicated community archaeologist post in Leicestershire. Throughout the eighties, nineties and noughties Leicestershire county council gave support to local groups so that local communities could come together and study the past of their villages. Community archaeologist gave training to volunteers, paid visits to different groups in order to check the finds and teach the members to recognize different materials and provided materials in order to record and storage the finds. These were deposited to the local museum for safekeeping.

Community archaeology has not completely disappeared from Leicestershire but the remit has been joined with the other duties of the county council’s museum service archaeologist. With the new round of savings coming and such measures discussed as the ‘temporary’ closure of the Market Harborough Museum, it is questionable how the new archaeology officer has time apart from an occasional visit to see one of the larger and more active excavating groups in action or help with the deposition of the most important finds together with some general communication duties. After all, the new officer is also responsible for all the collections that are presented in different museums from Snipston to Charnwood and Market Harborough to Melton Mowbray. One person cannot do all – and there is the Festival of Archaeology coming up every year, too!

Nevertheless, the local community archaeology and fieldworking groups have a first class asset in Leicestershire Fieldworkers. Nor has Peter Liddle left archaeology, but he works as a freelancer. The severance of the permanent link with the county council and the financial benefit it brought means that the ways of communication between fieldworkers are changing towards e-mail and internet-based interaction, whereas previously the newsletter was posted to every member. This new situation also means that the groups have to take greater responsibility over their activities and probably also deal with the cost. The Fieldworkers as an organisation guarantees – at least as long the current chairman and Peter Liddle are active – the support the groups need and a way to provide professional assistance to the groups in order to guarantee that the high-quality work continues.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The way we live today

After getting an offer on Phil’s Victorian terraced house we have been looking at the properties and visited a series of homes locally, mainly in different local estates. Naturally, coming from abroad, my perception of normal family home is somewhat different from a normal English one since I did live in apartments all my life in Finland. A flat with a living room, a kitchen and a couple of bedrooms together with a balcony was what I and my friends called a home. Many people aspired buying a plot of land and ‘building’ their own homes – or purchasing a detached house package from one of the providers – something my brother is doing right now. My dream home was in one of the early 20th century stone town apartment blocks with their high ceilings and Jugend/Art Nouveau features.

Your average new development

In recent weeks I have seen a series of detached or semi-detached houses with a living room and a dining area behind in front of the patio windows. You could not have patio windows in the northern climates where you could only have a proper large window and a door next to it with proper insulation. Then it is upstairs to the three bedrooms and the pokeyish family bathroom. Some of the boxrooms are decent but some have the stairwell eating into the room with all kinds of shelf and cupboard solutions built on top of them. The standard living space seems often small and these houses suddenly have made the Victorian pokiness seem less so.

The newer the estate the smaller the gardens. Some of the plots are ridiculously small, when you consider these houses were meant to be family homes from the beginning. The fences have to be relatively low in order to allow sun properly onto the small plots, so you will get to know your neighbours in these locations. In some estates there is a huge front garden, mostly taken up nowadays by car bays. In one front garden there were two white vans and a normal car. In these cases the front space is in good use, but sometimes you wonder, if a larger proper garden or a larger house could have been a better solution.

Then there are the garages. They are not used as garages anymore but feature freezers, washing machines and extra dressers and cupboards together with all kinds of clutter. The modern houses are clearly too small, when the things we really need do not fit in into their small kitchens. Some of the dining areas can hardly fit a table for six and can feel claustrophobic, if the large patio doors lead to a very small garden. All the light but no space.

This economic use of space is nothing new. Already the Romans were building type houses and blocks and flats with repeated floor plans. The ancient Ostia has plenty of these buildings that can be explored by modern visitors. These rooms seem to have been relatively dark, although this is sometimes difficult to clarify due to the partial preservation of the remains. The large villas and town houses were lavish and spacious, but the flats could be very pokey. Money talks – and did talk.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Coins in a context

The Hallaton treasure gives us an unparallel insight into the deposition of coin hoards, even if it presents a special case with the late Iron Age shrine it is connected with. Vicki Score (2011) and a series of specialists have published lately a full volume to present different aspects of the hoard. Even if it is clear that more cartographic presentations and reconstructions will follow taken the emphasis on textual representation in presenting the context and interpretations, the volume shows us how the coins entered into the treasure.

Iron Age coins from Hallaton Treasure

Approximately 64 % of the coins originated from properly excavated stratified contexts. Out of over 5000 coins only 149 were Roman and 116 from other Iron Age areas outside north-east Corieltavi. Most stratified finds were related to an entranceway or to the Roman helmet. The latest Roman coins struck were from early Imperial period from the reign of Emperor Claudius AD 41/42. This confirms the exceptional nature of these deposits originating from a time when ‘the Romans were coming’.

The excavators could count 14 separate hoards in the entranceway area, several of them in clustered appearance, clearly been put into ground in ‘purses’. The make-up was very similar and the coins came from the same circulation pool. They were deposited over an extended period but Leins in the volume assumes they were buried in c. AD 43-50, during the early post-conquest period when the East Midlands was falling under the Romans. The coins buried with the helmet, presenting two different areas of deposition, nevertheless seem to form a single act of deposition. There was a discreet group of coins in the north-eastern part of the helmet pit but there was a number of coins alongside the helmet. The chronological distribution of the helmet coins was consistent with the reign of Emperor Tiberius.

In comparison, only a tiny number of coins came from ditches or other contexts. However, the composition of the ditch contexts was different with 50 % of coins being unstruck early types. These coins represented only a few percent of the entranceway or helmet deposits. There were other metal objects from the ditch, including a silver bowl and silver and silver and copper alloy ingots. The ditch deposits were partly destroyed by a land drain so a detailed reconstruction of the ditch fill contents is not possible.

The general trends in chronological composition were very similar, if not identical to the Scole and Warmington hoards. However, the Hallaton distribution peaks at 89-80 BC that is considered peculiar to the site. A number of coins from the stratified contexts and especially from unstratified ploughsoil are from later Roman periods. There were coins from the Flavian period and the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian but a higher number from the late Roman times, especially the late 4th century AD. These finds seem to avoid the Iron Age ritual area, though.

The Hallaton promontory hillock overlooking the rivervalley

The coin deposits follow different logics. The early ditch deposits were lying on the left-hand side when going in, whereas the entranceway deposits were on the left-hand side when going out. In addition, the feasting deposits were buried outside the boundary. Score suggests a social distinction between the participants inside and outside. The location of many of the hoardsites near the hilltops suggest that the rituals were highly visible to those who were not directly participating in the acts.

Score, V., 2011. Hoards, Hounds and Helmets. A conquest-period ritual site at Hallaton, Leicestershire. Leicester Archaeology Monograph 21.