Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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.


Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Google Streetview

Well, Google have been busy recently. I noticed Martin, from Liverpool Landscapes, had found  Google has added Stonehenge to it’s Streetview, here at least there probably won’t be any complaints form locals about privacy, although there’s a policeman somewhere near the entrance to the tunnel who you can’t quite see. There is similiar way of experiencing Stonehenge if you use Microsoft’s Photosynth which I prefer; you can move around more freely and even go along and take your own photos and upload them.

Both of these types of visualising landscapes are surely a step in the right direction but both of them create a rather disjointed experience. I have been to Stonehenge and thus use these websites more to jog my memory and enhance it’s visual aspect over the purely mental or emotional but I’m not sure how cohesive a sensation it would be for someone not to have previously visited the stones. Luckily Google have added the ruins of Pompeii to Streetview as well. And yes, it is a little disorientating (I haven’t been to Pompeii), especially with the blurriness as the image pans along. The mini map in the corner helps, although I found it hard to actually find the ruins in the first place (try searching for “pompeii, italy ruins”). However, my feeble criticisms aside, these are great tools.

Google in Iraq

Google have also been busy in Iraq, they will soon begin digitising artefacts and documents from Iraq’s National Museum. 14,000 digital images will be available next year for free to view, however it isn’t made clear what further uses the images could be used for. It’d be great if rather than just taking traditional photos they could use some Photosynth-like method so you could ‘move’ round the artefact and see it from all directions. We’ll see.

France in Iraq

I also read an article last week about France’s involvement in Iraq. I have only found other references to this in online Chinese newspapers which seems odd. The news is that French and Iraqi ministers have signed two cooperation agreements on defense, culture and science which is good, but the last paragraph mentions archaeology directly,

“According to French analysts, France needs an aiding center in Iraq to help French entrepreneurs who are interested in making investment in Iraq, as well as provide supports to French research in agriculture and archaeology in the country.”

I don’t often see archaeology gaining such a profile but maybe Sarkozy is getting the bug, I hear he recently visited the excavation of an Australian and British First World War group burial site at Pheasant Wood,  Fromelles, northern France, although I’m sure this was a matter of politics rather than pure interest.

Update: I have been informed by who I presume to be the Fromelles Project Manager that President Sarkozy hasn’t visited Pheasent Wood. I’ll have a word with my supposed sources!

Read Full Post »

Ventures and Adventures in Topography

I recently had a look what was going on at Resonance FM which I haven’t done for a while. I found a series of programs by John Rogers and Nick Papadimitriou, Ventures and Adventures in Topography. Nick is better known as one of Will Self’s friends from his psychogeographic meanderings. Here they follow the walking guides from the early 20th century based around London and the South East.

In the most recent program they follow Pathfinder’s ‘Afoot Round London’ (published in 1911), and a days walk from Grange Hill Station to Loughton. They’re basically there to see what has changed from the days of the mysterious Pathfinder to today, the results are not wholly unexpected, the tracks are now roads and busier with cars. However, it’s a nice idea and attempting to follow an old walking guide seems a more useful and objective mission than some of the more usual psychogeographic accounts. It also makes me wonder about the similarity to these methodologies and their relationship to phenomenological accounts in mainstream archaeological literature.

The radio program is quite light and enjoyable, there are some readings from the original Pathfinder text, which is almost poetry and the music behind by Fabrizio Paterlini is very nice.


Voice On Record

Also on Resonance FM is episode 9: Dialects: From The Dawn of The English Language of Voice on Record. A series taking old vinyl recordings of the human voice and the environment, they’re just rather quaint to listen to. In this episode there’s a modern and original recitation of some Chaucer, and a nice old man recalling his days as a wheelwright and another chap’s earlier days as a lad drinking cider on the farm and hiding the smell from his mother by chewing parsley on the way home!


Harvest (2009) for terrafon, traditional music ensemble and cropland

Finally I found this recording and video by Swedish composer Olle Cornéer. He has built a large gramophone horn attached to an old plough, the ‘terrafon’ which is then pulled along through a field by the members of a  ‘traditional music ensemble’. The sound of the plough is thus amplified as the plough cuts the land, giving an auditory aspect to the texture of the field, it seems quite bonkers but it would perhaps have pleased John Evans (2003).


Evans, J.G. 2003. Environmental Archaeology and the Social Order. London: Routledge.

Read Full Post »


I recently watched the 1975 film ‘Winstanley’, the leader of the ‘True Levellers’ or ‘The Diggers’ who took over common land during the reign of Oliver Cromwell to grow crops on. The film was historically accurate in regard to it’s aesthetics, indeed only animal breeds known to exist at the time were used to add to the realism. To be honest it is rather slow and without any surprises but was interesting to watch.

For a film made primarily in the countryside there was a distinct lack of traditional landscape shots which would seem strange for an English film representing a piece of English history. The only landscape scene is of a rather uninspiring vista showing a path to the taken over common land which is generally used by the antagonists of the plot. Most of the film is of a repeating sequence of taskscapes, the most prominent being that of the makeshift village of the Diggers; the houses reminded me of the Welsh hafodydd described by Girald Cambrensis as being ‘made of twisted boughs fit for habitation for just a year’. This village was not used for long but represented a locality in space and English history which is still known today, but I wonder how easy it would be to recognise this settlement in the archaeological record?

So the Diggers took over the common land to grow crops communally. They failed. However over the last few years there has been a growing interest in growing one’s own food. I remember, as a lad, allotments being regarded as rather antiquated and being only fit for old men as as an escape from their wives. However if one searches for “allotment chic” via Google you receive (if that’s what you get from Google search?) 171 results. If you remove the quotation marks this jumps to 34,100 pages, with quotes like ‘[a]llotments are terribly chic now’ (www1), or ‘allotments are becoming hip’ (www2). I think this is great and I did myself start a collaborative allotment in Cardiff a few years ago, I wonder what happened to it? Anyway, allotments are gaining in popularity, and now, possibly one of the reasons for this, a Mr Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has started up a project, Landshare. Here people who want some land, as allotments are now in short supply, can find others with spare land so they can use it for horti/agricultural purposes. In my area there are 34 Landowners and 89 Growers, not bad. But wait, this craze for growing on other peoples land goes further, look to Todmorden, Lancashire for instance where we have the Incredible Edible Todmorden project. Local people have been growing vegetables on sites around Todmorden for a about a year and herbs for longer. They have generally had permission but in not all cases. However the council have been helpful in letting them use the fire and railway stations, the Lidl car park is now under vegetable attack and planning consents have been changed to make similar approaches easier. This is great, people are encouraged to pick some herbs while waiting for the 11.29 to Burnley!

I reiterate, this is great! People are following in Gerrard Winstanley’s footsteps but under a modern rubric of sustainability, minimising carbon footprints and reconnecting with the seasons all with their own work. It also makes me think about dominant frameworks of tenure and how the localised uses of land in Todmorden could be understood both economically and socially, but that’s for later. For now, get digging!

www1 Allotment wars flare up as gardening gets competitive. Found on

http://property.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/property/gardens/article5968124.ece accessed 13.10.09 originally in The Times 29.03.09.

www2 Chic Sheds and Short Cuts: Allotments are becoming hip – and this is bad news. Found on http://www.paulkingsnorth.net/plot6.html 13.10.09 originally in The Economist July/August 2006.

Landshare http://landshare.channel4.com/

Incredible Edible Todmorden http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/

Winstanley at IMDb http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073911/

Read Full Post »

four stone hearth

Hello everyone! It’s A Place Odyssey‘s turn to host the biweekly blog carnival Four Stone Hearth! I’m very excited and have rumaged up a couple of new blogs from friends I’ve met as a site assistant (digger) round Britain, I hope you find them interesting.

Let’s kick off then…

Liverpool Landscapes – Exclusivity: which parts of the city are Yours?

Since A Place Odyssey is primarily about landscape archaeology I thought I’d start off with a post reflecting this. A friend of mine who works for English Heritage is intersted in the Liverpool’s past.  Martin talks about exclusivity of place and uses example from his own history of Liverpool and the different areas he knows and likes. I quite agree with him, not about Liverpool – only been there once, but places are imbued with distinct characters derived from many avenues. Maybe next Martin you could see if this is reflected in the archaeological or if the town planning of Liverpool reflects any specific examples of exclusivity?


Digital Finds – Improved GPS coverage across Europe

Hmm, my mate Joe at Oxford Archaeology is researching how to incorporate digital recording techniques to field archaeology, there’s always a trial round the corner! This sort of thing causes quite a debate between site assistants in Britain, one that won’t be resolved until more of us have had some experience using this sort of technology. Here Joe discusses the new and improved EGNOS GPS coverage across Europe. Joe once undertook an experiment mapping peoples walk across a city with GPS, then asking questions about what landmarks they noticed in particular. It was quite interesting, I wonder if a certain Prof. Tilley ever got to hear about it? Maybe Joe could do another similar thing with EGNOS system and put the results up.


Community World Heritage – Saving Britain’s Past, Blaenavon, Heritage and Tourism

Cloe’s studying for a PhD whilst working at GGAT in Wales, she must be a busy lass, but find time to knock some interesting insights into how our past is used by modern communities and the ethical dilemmas around them. In this example she’s considering the World Heritage status of Blaenavon, south Wales. I went to Blaenavon on a field trip as an undergraduate a few years ago, it’s quite a well preserved industrial site, made infinitely more interesting by the Time Team sign thats ben stuck up next to the tiny teashop. Personally I think it’s odd, this is one of the oldest iron smelting works in the world and demonstrates the way this area was key to the industrial revolution that changed the world, and it’s got a tiny teashop and a Time Team sign, great. Stonehenge on the other hand, hugh carpark, visitor centre even it’s own tunnel, and they might (one day) move a road so it looks nicer in the landscape. And we don’t even know what Stonehenge is/was, odd. Anyway, go and see what Cloe has to say…


Neuroanthropology – Sympathy for Creationists

Greg at Neuroanthropology is attempting to understand the encultured brain and body in regard to people’s perceptions of creationism, which he equates with the lack of understanding of Star Trek. If he’s talking TNG, DS9 and Enterprise, I’m in, otherwise, oh could have an argument on our hands here! Greg admits he is stirring the pot when arguing that evolutionists have similar tendancies to faith and closemindedness as their more biblically inspired counterparts. I like the approach, at least if you say something slightly outlandish it’ll get people talking, so go and have a gander.


Ad Hominin – The pelvis of Ardipithecus ramidus

Ciaran at Ad Hominin is discussing the pelvis of Ardipithecus ramidus a 4.4 million year old hominin. I hope that is the correct terminology for these early people, I must admit this sort of thing is not my speciality. However it’s interesting stuff, the change in pelvis, argues Ciaran, denotes a move from the tree dwellers found in our long history to going for more of a stroll on the ground. I wonder how this would have affected the ways in which people interacted and their relationship with the environment?


The Spittoon – Life on the Fringe: Shrews and Voles Reveal Clues to British Prehistory

Anne at The Spittoon is discussing the evidence that later prehistoric movements of people into the British Isles is shadowed by the movement of shrews and voles! It doesn’t mention whether they were being kept as pets, I can imagine some Bronze Age chief developing iron as it would make a better collar for his favourite rodent! Hmm, anyway, yeah it’s interesting stuff, I don’t think it’s the end of the story though. Who were the Celts anyway? I think using such loaded terms might be slightly confusing these days with talk of transitions, migrations and/or enculturation but maybe I’m just being argumentative like Greg!


Aardvarchaeology – Marzipan Gold Hoard

Martin the sceptic, Swedish archaeologist and creator of Four Stone Hearth has been inspired by the goings on at Staffordshire. Both myself and Joe at Digital Finds have mentioned the gold hoard found in the Midlands of the UK, whilst Aardvarchaeology I think must have been feeling a bit peckish. Here Martin has a couple of photos of a gold hoard made from marzipan. I haven’t had marzipan since I was a child but remember not liking it too much, however if it looked this good I might give it a bit of a taste!


The Primate Diaries – Anthropology Human Freedom

Over at the Primate Diaries Eric is considering the anthropological attitude to capitalism, the free market and whether there is a total, timeless social economic system that is right. I think we would all agree that these things are culturally determined, but judging which are better or worse moves us towards an absolutionist position which maybe hard to justify. Go and have a look, there’s already a rather impassioned comment to get things started!


A Place Odyssey – Archaeologists for Global Justice

Archaeologists for Global Justice

And so we turn to my own blog. I just handed in my MA dissertation yesterday and so was a litle worse for wear today. I was looking into how late medieval people picked certain localities for the placings of their upland, possibly seasonal, dwellings in North Wales. It’s quite interesting and I’ll put something up soon but wanted to use this opportunity to give some time to Archaeologists for Global Justice.

Archaeologists for Global Justice arose as a response to the widespread and ever increasing injustice affecting our world. It was conceived and put into motion by archaeologists at the University of Sheffield (UK), and inspired by the actions of Archaeologists Against the War in opposing British involvement in the Iraq conflict. The idea of forming AGJ was initially voiced to a wider audience during a session entitled `An eternal conflict? Archaeology and social responsibility in the post-Iraq world´, convened at the conference of the Theoretical Archaeological Group (TAG), held in Sheffield in December 2005. The group is a culmination of numerous discussions and interactions, and represents a desire to give voice to our opposition to injustice.

There is a Facebook group and a mailing list hosted by The Unversity of Sheffield, but available for anyone to sign up to. Both of these sites have more information, principles and a manifesto, go and have a look, better still sign up. It would be especially good if more people involved in commercial archaeology got involved to discuss certain issues. One that I think of immediately is that we ‘will not collaborate with development plans which are not based upon principles of sustainability’. A tricky point for diggers working on a Barrett’s housing development indeed. There are pehaps no clear answers but AGJ is good place to start.



So there we are, quite a crop of good stuff. I’m sure some will be more interesting to more or less people. I’m opening up contributor positions to A Place Odyssey to the latest students on the Landscape Archaeology MA at Sheffield University tomorrow, we’ll see if they bring any exciting things here. I’d like to thank Martin Rundkvist for letting me host this fortnight’s Four Stone Hearth and hope you have seen something you like. The next Four Stone Hearth host blog is vacant at the moment so why not email Martin at martin.rundkvist@gmail.com and have a go yourselves. Thanks, Pete

Read Full Post »

ShELP, OSM and Lines

osm lines 3

So another new page for The Sheffield Environs Landscape Project is up, using a map, go and check it out ‘ShELP, another view from above‘.

Using Open Street Map (OSM) was an obvious choice, for the ethics behind open source software and the usage of the data, but it also lead me to a few thoughts about how Tim Ingold (2007) thinks about maps as I’m reading ‘Lines: A Brief History’ at the moment.

For Ingold the lines on a map create a network of points which the surveyor has created from their appropriaton of space as they transport themselves and their equipment from survey station to survey station. This creation of maps since the early modern period has distanced people from a thorough embedded knowledge of the world (ibid.: 80-89).

However, when creating the OSM map one wanders(wonders?) about the world as she/he goes. They are not transported along, point to point but move in a series of traces more akin to wayfaring. Through doing this they more fully inhabit their world as they may stop to look at something interesting or to speak to someone. Because this bodily gesture, movement, is automatically recorded on a GPS it frees the OSM creator to ‘walk, listen and feel as they go’ (ibid.: 78). The inaccuracy of a mapping level GPS comes in handy here, if you’d like to pop over the road to look in a shop window but are keen to create a representation of the street you’re on it doesn’t really matter as 10m here or there probably won’t matter, thus further emphasising the embodied manner of mapmaking with OSM.

This changes Ingold’s argument; since the final product of an OSM and, for example, a 1:50,000 urban OS map will be very similar can he make such judgements to how people ‘read’ a map? If the OSM creator is creating his meshwork of inhabited places why is that not what the map reader is digesting as they follow the map around? Surely they’ll not be blindly counting their steps in scale with the map, they’ll be looking and thinking about how the map relates to the place they’re in, the same way as the mapmaker when creating the OSM. Thus if the map is the same and the reader of the map uses it in a similar way, the method of creation is not as important as Ingold states; maps can be more than ‘points cutting across the world’.

Open Street Map available at  http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Main_Page

Ingold, T. 2007. Lines: A Brief History. London: Routledge.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »