Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Seminar report: "Forget about "Heritage": Place, Ethics and the Faro Convention

On November 27th, Professor John Schofield, head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, addressed the UCD school of Archaeology about what heritage means in terms of place and the perception from different people. Professor John Schofield is also the Director of the Centre for Applied Heritage Studies as well as a member of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
The critical point that Professor Schofield emphasized was that Heritage was a universal right for everyone. This principle is also mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27 that was declared in 1948 in the United Nations (UN). It addresses that an ethical approach to heritage should be in accords with moral principles, specifically this link to heritage and human rights.

To address the concept of heritage as well as issues face with it, the Faro Convention considers the value of heritage to society and seeks to make it available for everyone to participate it in. This European convention works to put the people and human values at the centre of heritage sites based on the principles that a historic environment is a shared resource and that everyone should be able to participate. The need to involve everyone involves, as Professor Schofield describes, finding creative ways to get the whole community involved. This concept led to the interesting idea of having the homeless community as well. The reason for this was that it is typically associated that the homeless do not have a home and there for cannot offer insight into heritage. However, heritage, as Professor Schofield says, is about place, and should be for everyone. 

Through a group called Common Ground, an organization founded in the UK, they seek to promote local distinctiveness among communities as well as to promote heritage engagement among everyone. Heritage engagement involves places and our relationship with them, which Professor Schofield remarked, changes from person to person because of what they perceive as aspects of their heritage important to them. A way to demonstrate this was by asking people to draw Parish maps within their community. The maps were designed by various communities, each one distinctive in how they portrayed their sense of place, some maps having a more aerial view of the village, while others would have text written by different places, which would tell different stories about the site, offering a history of the place as well as its significance to the community.

An example of a Parish map that Professor Schofield highlighted was one drawn by a young black musician named Pyro from Wavertree, Liverpool, UK. Wavertree has had a history of gang fighting within its community, leading much of the community into poverty. Despite his poor education, Pyro drew a Parish map of places that the found important to him within his own sense of place, offering insight into the activities of the community.

Professor Schofield also talked about a project that he worked on  Turbo Island in Stokes Croft in Bristol. As a way to get the community involved, Professor Schofield extended the offer to the homeless as well to help participate in the excavation of the site, which was helpful in identifying material culture that the homeless identified with because it is a part of their lifestyle. The excavation itself lasted only 3 days but through this, Common Ground was able to extend understand from different perspectives from the homeless their concept of place and heritage while also making it available to them as a universal right.

By Mary Cain

Seminar report: Missing Persons? Formal disposal and funerary practices in Prehistoric Britain

On the occasion of the Inaugural Lecture of the Society on November 20th, Professor Chris Scarre, head of the University of Durham addressed the gathered audience about funerary practices and the disposal of the dead through a project of his called Invisible Dead. The aims of the project were to analyse the how burials appear and disappear in the record of various regions across Britain from the Neolithic to the decline of the Roman Empire as well as understand the changes in burial customs and the relationship between the living and the dead. Professor Scarre highlighted that the treatment of the dead is critical not just for archaeologists in finding remains, but also for understanding the society it reflects, funerary practices echoing a “self-awareness” within the culture.

                Using the Baysian method for collecting a vast range of data, Professor Scarre was able to note changes in burial practices across different eras in Britain as well as different regions. For example, a majority of funerary practices in Southern and Eastern England during the Late Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age consisted of a single grave under a round mound. He noted that in terms of space, there was a segregated funerary space, possibly for ritual. In contrast to this, the Middle and Late Bronze Age produced more cremation burials, which was becoming a more widespread practice throughout Europe at the time.

                As well as addressing the dead buried in funeral customs, Professor Scarre also addressed the issues of finding the dead in ‘non-funerary’ customs such as victims of warfare or bodies disposed in other manners. As an example, he talked about a skull found in the River Thames that was dated from the Bronze Age. He remarked that because of this deviation from traditional practices, it does not give archaeologists an accurate sense of how the dead were treated.

                From the transition between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, his project revealed the growing shift in burial practices with a rise in inhumation graves. In some of these graves, chariot remains were uncovered, however he believes that the incorporation of a chariot in the grave was not a continuous burial custom. It is also at this time, his data revealed there is a slight decline in cremation graves, which raises questions as to why there was a change in customs but also challenges assumptions of ‘normative burials’.

                From the Roman Conquest of Britain in 43 AD, the Invisible Dead project estimated that the population within Britain at the time would have consisted roughly of 3.7 million people! Based on this number, it was estimated that 25 per thousand per year would have led to 22 million deaths. However, despite these estimations, only .05% of these burials are known from the English Heritage Database. This raises the issue of what happened to the rest of the population? Through this project, Professor Scarre hoped to address this issue, stating that this was only the first half of the project and that he hopes that he can continue this project to provide a clear answer. 

By Mary Cain

Seminar report: Green Treasures from the Magic Mountains

On the 13th of November 2014, the Society welcomed Dr Alison Sheridan from the National Museum of Scotland. She was speaking to us about "Projet Jade", a pan European research project funded by the French government. The project was led by Dr Pierre Petrequin and the University of Besancon and took 3 years to complete.

Dr. Sheridan began by explaining the aims of the project, which are laid out below.
1.       Discover the provenance of the jade and the axes
2.       Discover the working areas associated with these axes
3.       Outline the manufacturing process and how it was organised
4.       Map the European wide distribution of the axes
5.       Formulate a database for all jade axes larger than 14cm
6.       Establish a European wide typomateriochronology

The axes were made from 6500 BC to 2500BC; they were manufactured in the Alps and then transported across Europe. These axes had a ceremonial role and Dr. Sheridan believes that axes in the Neolithic obtained a sacred status due to their importance in clearing the land for agriculture.
It was originally believed that the jade originated in Asia, however, this was disproven. The working theory following that was that the jade was mined from boulders brought down the mountains in rivers and streams; as it would be much too difficult to climb the mountains, just for some jade.
However, when Dr. Pierre Petrequin studied native tribes in New Zealand, he observed that obtaining stone for ceremonial goods required a great deal of effort, and was in and of itself a ceremony. The stone was considered sacred due to the difficulties in obtaining it. When he returned to France, he applied this logic to the European jade axes, and spent the summers climbing the Alps with his wife searching for the source of the jade. In  2002 they discovered working sites for jade axes high in the Alps, proving his theory.

So how would Neolithic people have discovered these jade sites? Dr. Sheridan explained that it was likely that they found the jade when climbing the mountains in the summer with sheep or goats. She recounted her own experience climbing to the top of the Alps and described the summit as seeming otherworldly, Neolithic shepherds would undoubtedly have felt similarly humbled. This added extra value to the jade, not only was it difficult to get but it also came from an isolated area, high above the clouds, which may have seemed divine to Neolithic people. The jade axes were “pieces of places”, their sacred origin added value to a sacred object – the ceremonial axe.

The axes originated in Italy, and gradually spread to Switzerland, France and throughout Europe, reaching a peak at 4600-4400 BC and then becoming rarer from 4200-2700BC when copper axes rose in popularity. The jade axes were difficult to make, and would have taken hours to shape and perfect. They were not finished in the mountains, but were brought down to the valleys were they were completed. They obtained their polish throughout their life, not necessarily during their manufacture. 

By Patricia Kenny