The gentle violence of the clouds caressing the hilltops,
I carefully look back through the mists of my youth,


Hedge Britannia

I’ve been going all a bit pastoral of late. I’m reading about the medieval field systems around Cambridge and even been dipping into the writings of Richard Jefferies. And now as I lie in bed as still as a Devon Bank (which is nowhere near as effective as it’s Cornish counterpart) Radio 4 are about to serialise ‘Hedge Britannia’ by Hugh Barker as their Book of the Week.

Alas, I have not read this esteemed volume, what with my busy Life in the Fields of Cambridgeshire, but after just the first episode listened to, I may, and this is in no way a promise dear readers, get myself a copy.

Mr Barker starts his book looking at the start of his life wherein he asserts one of the first things we learn as children is that boundaries exist. His external boundaries were walls, fences, roads, alleyways and at the bottom of his parent’s garden, of course, a hedge. The ancients knew a hedge as a hecg, hegge, haga or even a haw; but what indeed is a hedge? A line of closely planted shrubs or trees is the dictionary’s answer, the law goes on to say this forms a screen or a barrier but does not necessarily mark a boundary, disconcerting. Are a couple of bushes a hedge? What happens to our non-boundary barrier hedge when a few holes appear? If a hole becomes a gap? Is there some metaphysical hedge that hides behind the real, asks Hugh.

A hedge has an element of human agency behind it, rather than just being a random collection of bushes. This could be from assarting, the historic clearing of woodland often leaving a relic forest as a hedgerow; planted hedges as boundaries; or a fence row hedge which brings us back dangerously close to our beloved Cornish Banks. And on we go through Hugh’s historic hedges from Caesar to more recent colonial collisions on the battlefields of Europe.

Over the next four days the BBC assures us we will learn how modern humans are practising the ancient art of coppicing invented by our Neolithic ancestors which led to their fall from grace and our own ecological endangerments, how topiary became so fashionable, how to annoy the neighbours with hedges and other more mundane uses of the parochial hedgerow.

And finally, Hugh reminiscences about returning to England and seeing the checkerboard of field and hedgerow from the aeroplane window as it was coming in to land. This echoes my own experience of returning from a 6 month sojourn in the russet orange heat hazed mountains of Spain, my sunbaked eyes were soothed by the subtle shades and hedgey hues not of Jerusalem, not of Blake’s England but of our own landscape of green and pleasant pastures.

Being the widely read, polymath renaissance being that I am I was recently reading an article on the BBC News website about supersymmetry,  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14680570.

Rather liking the image further below of the particle collision tracks,

I dragged it to my Google search bar and used the ‘search visually similar images’ function to generate a page of results, here, and what a result! A cacophany of pinks and purples predominate with some vague, and not so vague, hints at circles and spirals.  I’m going to have a look at these this afternoon and see if I can put into words the fascination I feel towards these pictures. It must have something to do with the various objects and textures shown, from woolly scarves to bins, deer and quiches!

Prehistoric Cornish Pasties

Been a while so lets warm up with something amusing…The Cornish Pasty has been granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, meaning it must have been produced in the county. This is good, one of only 19 foods in the UK to have such status, but following this the BBC News website refers to the classic cave paintings on the Lizard showing a prehistoric woman eating a pasty. ‘What cave paintings?’ You may ask, well yes, good question Les Merton author of the The Official Encyclopaedia of the Cornish Pasty apparently knows about them, anyone else? I shall email him.

See ya soon.



Using an iPad at Pompeii

As the Google tricycle tricycles around Rome Apple is off to Pompeii. A new advertisement on the Apple website shows a team of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati under Dr. Steven Ellis using 6 iPads helping to record the findings of a new site near the main thoroughfare of Pompeii.

I’m a little worried for my chum Joseph over at Digital Finds who has had an on-site digital recording system ready to go in 6 months for the last 3 years. However I’m sure he’ll manage to pick at least a few holes in using (the) iPad for just this sort of thing.

I haven’t used iDraw but can’t really imagine drawing detailed 1:20 plans with my stubby finger on a nice shiny screen especially when the British winter starts to hit. Two of the photos are used for reference – wall construction techniques and ‘to establish the chronological context of  pottery’ using a program which seems to draw Harris Matrices. Well, I’m sure it’s nice to have something to help one remember the difference between a wall that’s squared random to one that is squared, built to courses  but a couple of days on an urban or industrial site will hammer that sort of thing home. I’m not sure, however, that the fellow using (the) iPad for his pottery analysis really needs to be leaning on a wall on site, surely those finds’ people like being tucked up inside somewhere with a bit of Radio 2 gently eroding their sanity, but there you.

I suppose the main problem with this is that I’m just jealous. I did have a quick play with (an) iPad in Sydney airport recently and got bored relatively quickly I did however leave this venerable blog as the homepage on its browser so maybe some good will come from these overgrown iPhones, we shall see (but probably not on site in the UK in the next few months).

So back in Britain after my sojourn in the antipodes has left me jobless down in Cornwall. I popped into the Cornwall Historic Environment Service to ask for some volunteer work with them but ironically they were too busy to get me started. Sso off to an interview with the RCAHMS in Edinburgh I went  to work on a Historic Land Use Assessment project which, as I found out yesterday, has left me jobless for a little longer, there we go.

Suffering from insomnia, not from the economic uncertainty of being without an income or the larger problem of any Giddensian existential uncertainty about, well whatever, I watched a bit of BBC News 24 this morning. And how exciting it was, there was an archaeological headline (well, almost) about Rome, or some insidious multinational taking pictures of Rome anyway. There they were, people, like the above photo, peddling around in a rather wobbly fashion going where no (tri)cycling paparazzi has gone before, the Roman Forum. Apparently this will be more detailed than ‘either Stonehenge or Pompeii’, we shall have to wait until the end of the year for the results. Hopefully it means I won’t have to actually go to Rome and can enjoy the world of tourism safely from my kitchen.

Here is a short video of the Google tricycles in action (with a rather snappy soundtrack),

The BBC story  is available here.


It’s been a while since I came to Australia and there’s not been alot of posts, but I’m back (if the digital realm conforms to spatial metaphors). I arrived in Sydney about four months ago and stayed there for 4 days. I didn’t like Sydney that much, the Opera House and harbour were nice but generally it is quite a bland, generic western city (apparently one of the reasons it was used in the Matrix).  Being more of a countryside person this may be to be expected but I did quite like Melbourne which I visited recently and shall be returning to soon. The one particular thing I noticed about Sydney (unlike most modern European cities) was the lack of churches.  Possibly it was just the lack of older buildings, churches being the most obvious representations of this.  Oh yes and Sydney introduced me to the Australian phenomenon of hideously annoying pedestrian crossing sirens.  These are only my immediate impressions as I rapidly departed for Albury, a country city (sic), on the banks of the River Murray.

Indigeneous Excavation

I’ve been working on a  bypass section of the Hume Highway which connects Sydney to Melbourne. A walkover survey was previously conducted for the collection and recording of Indigenous artefacts. In this area of New South Wales the huge majority of these are made of quartz and consist of knapped cores and flakes with a few blades of chert and the occasional pieces of hammerstone.  The areas identified are referred to as ‘Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Sites’. An anthropological survey, with local elders, was also undertaken which sought ‘Aboriginal Cultural Sites’ which, I understand, are known from social memory and were avoided by the highway expansion.

The Aboriginal cultural heritage sites were generally found on spurs of land jutting into the floodplain of small creeks, all on post-contact cleared  farmland used for grazing.  We dug 1m² squares at 15m intervals along 5m offset staggered transects down to Pleistocene clay deposits which mark the beginning of local human habitation. This was done by professional archaeologists and an equal number of Aboriginal cultural representatives, reps, who ‘have an interest in the heritage of the area’. The test pits were dug by hand in bulk, initally, with all the excavated material sieved  with water and the artefacts found kept, given a basic analysis and counted. The pits with larger than average,  amounts of quartz flakes, cores and debitage, for that site,  were enlarged 1m² at a time and in spits determined by the depth of the underlying clays, these were referred to as  ‘open areas’. The length of time spent increasing the sizes of open areas was not dependent on declining numbers of artefacts but on the time allocated to each site.

This project finished last week, and to be honest I was rather glad. Everyone I worked with was friendly, but the lack of features was disappointing especially after the novelty of digging metre square holes in fields wore off. I did learn more about stone artefacts which previously I knew little about and my sections, previously ok,  have have improved to an almost ridiculous degree. I may come back with some gripes about the methodology later but am currently travelling about Tasmania in a campervan and it’s dinner time. The next post should not be so long in the writing, thanks loyal readers!


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