Tour 8 This week’s backroom tour by Director Adrian Green is about Heywood Sumner. Salisbury Museum is fortunate in having originals of some of his exquisite work.
Sumner was born in Old Arlesford, north of Winchester, in 1853, studied law, but became a painter and illustrator of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Sumner’s earliest contributions to archaeology involved surveying the prehistoric earthworks of Cranborne Chase, riding his bike from his home at Cuckoo Hill (Gorley, near Fordingbridge) in the Avon valley. The results of his fieldwork between 1911 and 1913 were published in a collection entitled The Ancient Earthworks of Cranborne Chase. Adrian shows us extracts from these in a first edition copy. In 1917 he published a companion volume The Ancient Earthworks of the New Forest. In 1921, he also published work on archaeology in the Bournemouth area.
If you like his stylised drawings and paintings, facsimile copies of his books, such as Cuckoo Hill and his illustrations in John R Wise’s The New Forest, can be purchased from Amazon.
Tour 7 Museum Director Adrian Green has taken us behind the scenes again to perhaps the most compelling part of the museum, The Wessex Gallery. We are shown some of the finds from Stonehenge, including Adrian’s own favourite of all the wonderful items there…
Director of The Salisbury Museum, Adrian Green, continues his tours of the museum. These are wonderful opportunities to see objects which are often kept in store and to hear an expert tell us about them.
Dr Phil Harding’s talk – based on questions from the public – broadcast yesterday as part of Salisbury’s Big Weekend and available on ‘catch up’, is everything you would hope it would be. Highly enjoyable and informative.
If you are having trouble finding SBW’s ‘catch up’, you can access Phil on YouTube
Tucked away in a cabinet entitled ‘Hunters and Gatherers’ in The Wessex Gallery of Salisbury Museum is a rather innocuous object, a white patinated handaxe of a type classified as bout-coupé, dating to about 50,000 years ago (Fig 1). It was found beneath the bones of a mammoth at Futcher’s Pit (for extracting clay) at Fisherton Anger in 1874.
In archaeology, a bout-coupé is a type of handaxe that is used as a ‘style marker’ of the Neanderthal Mousterian culture of the Middle Palaeolithic which occurred between 100-35 thousand years ago. Bout-coupé handaxes are defined as being roughly symmetrical, cordiform (shaped like a heart), with a straight or slightly convex butt and two clear angles at the junctions of the base and sides. This type of hand axe is geographically restricted to Britain and to some sites in Northern France. Such sites are of national importance in understanding hominin colonisation and settlement processes. This particular handaxe was therefore made by a Neanderthal and is the only evidence we have for Neanderthals in the Salisbury area.
I was reminded of this this week (beginning 13th April, 2020) when I was listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4, ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects – The story of the Olduvai Handaxe’ (Fig 2), which was being described by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.
Found in the Olduvai Gorge in 1931 by Louis Leakey, and crafted of a green volcanic lava called phonolite, this handaxe represents a tradition of tool-making which began about 1.6 million years ago.
MacGregor asked the rhetorical question, “When you go on holiday, what do you take with you” and answered it by saying that for most people it would be – most importantly – a toothbrush, followed somewhat further down the list by excess baggage. However, he pointed out, that for much of human history the only object one would really have needed was a stone handaxe. For over a million years this was literally ‘the cutting edge of technology’, It was the ‘Swiss Army knife of the Stone Age, being used for cutting skin and meat, for scraping flesh and even for woodworking.
MacGregor commented that he was struck by how close handaxes were to the size and shape of the human hand and asked Sir James Dyson, an expert in ergonomic design, for his views. Dyson commented that he was struck by the fact that the Olduvai handaxe is not a very practical implement; it is slightly too large to fit into the hand and, having a cutting edge all the way around, would be difficult to use without incurring injury. He suggested therefore that this particular handaxe may have been made as a status symbol perhaps to attract mating partners, or indicating power. The Olduvai handaxe may even have been a purely decorative object. As an object of undoubted beauty, does it represent the beginnings of what we call ‘art’?
It is known that humans spread out of Africa and that the makers of handaxes were the first humans to spread across Africa into Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Handaxes therefore reflect the first great spread of humans and a way of life in which we recognize the beginnings of humankind.
Handaxes were first being made in Britain some 600,000 years ago and were still being used by Neanderthals only 40,000 years ago. As I said earlier, Salisbury Museum’s bout-coupé handaxe dates from about 50,000 years ago. No other humanly-made object has ever been manufactured over such a long period and, before the 20th century, no other object has spread over such a wide geographical area. One mystery is how these traditions of manufacture were passed on from one generation to the next over such huge distances and vast lengths of time.
One clue is derived from modern hospital scanning equipment. From 2013 archaeologists have been using techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to scan the brains of expert flint knappers as they were engaged in shaping such stones. It was found that the same areas of the brain were activated as are involved in speech production. Moreover, the overlap is greater the more sophisticated the toolmaking techniques are. Thus, there was little overlap when modern-day flint knappers were making stone tools using the oldest known techniques, dated back to 2.5 million years ago, known as the ‘Oldowan technology’. However, when knappers used a more sophisticated approach, known as Acheulean technology and dating to as much as 1.75 million years ago, the parallels between toolmaking and language became more evident, Symmetrical handaxes, such as the bout-coupé from Fisherton would have required considerable planning and skill.
So the existence of stone handaxes may reflect the emergence of the ability of early humans to communicate in order to exchange ideas and plan, as well as merely to gossip and form ‘society’. With all these new skills Man was no longer tied to his immediate environment; travel became possible and, as Man moved northwards so the first Britons evolved. Early Man arrived in Southern Europe just under one million years ago and in Britain about 500,000-600,000 years ago.
One Salisbury Museum Volunteer has been using her knowledge of ancient things, to produce some interesting items.
Claire Goodey, who volunteers at the museum with Wil Partridge, the Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer, has long and wide experience and expertise with archaeology, including work at Stonehenge and on many excavations.
Two years ago, several of the PAS (Portable Antiquities Scheme) volunteers had the chance to make bronze axe heads using what are thought to be the ancient techniques. Claire was there.
During this period of social distancing, Claire decided to try and haft her axehead. She writes:
“How did I make it? The handle is hazel with the bark stripped off and then very carefully with the smallest chisel (a modern one made of iron!) making a hole shaped like the axe which has flanges and curves – not easy – it took me probably 4 hours to do.
….we probably don’t know how they hafted them, as wood normally rots. Bronze Age axeheads come in many differing shapes, some have a loop of metal through which you could thread sinew so obviously they were bound on. We have two in the Neolithic Houses at Stonehenge which are hafted into a piece of wood that looks like a duck’s head because it is taken from a branch that has a right angle and the axe makes the beak – those are both bound and stuck. I wanted to make one of those but despite looking for such a piece for the last two years I never found one suitable. (As per photo attached).
This I am sure of: Neolithic glue is formed of 50% pine resin and 50% beeswax with a pinch of powdered charcoal.”
Claire has also produced a bull roarer:
“(It is spun) round the head – produces a spooky sound, deeper if the bullroarer is hardwood, used in ceremonies around the world especially by shamans. Earliest known bullroarer dates from 17,000BC, found in the Ukraine”.
And a bow and drill set:
Now, how about some experimental archaeology for the members of your household….?
Thanks Claire, for sharing some interesting and clever creations!
I became intrigued by the stone slips, found with numerous skeletons, which are identified as ‘bracers’ used by archers to protect the inside of their wrists from the lash of the bowstring. My wife and I have both been told separately by archers that the bracers will not work because the string will catch behind the near end of the stone. Intrigued and persuaded by their comments, I investigated.
We have seen three designs: one with two holes, three examples (Figa 1,2,3) one hole at each end and one with six holes, three at each end Fig 4, both in Salisbury Museum, and one with four holes, two at each end, in Devizes Museum. Internet research revealed similar ‘bracers’ and some with even more holes, some of which were filled with rivets. The only one we have seen that might be in situ is with the “Amesbury Archer”, and that one might be on the outside of his arm and is associated with a large pin. Once again, internet research revealed that others have been found on the outside of the forearm, which is not the place for a wrist guard. From the outside of the display cases, we cannot see any sign of wear (witness mark) around the holes that might have resulted from movement of a cord or thong.
One must be careful not to read too much into the position of artefacts in graves. They can be moved and/or they might have been placed in the grave without reference to their function in life. Indeed a second bracer is near the “Amesbury Archer’s” feet. The “Stonehenge Archer” might have been buried with his ‘bracer’ in place but his grave had been badly damaged by animals and the photo does not show where the bracer was found.
For a bracer to be effective it must deflect the bowstring without snagging it, as this would disturb the arrow’s release and deflect the arrow. It must be easy to fit single-handedly, be comfortable and non-encumbering.
I have made simulations in wood of both the two and four-holed versions. It is easy to devise suitable means of attachment using a simple loop of string but I needed a helper to put it on. The two hole version stands up and snags the bowstring most of the time. The four-holed version fitted more snugly to my wrist but it still snagged the bowstring far too often. Both types protected my wrist effectively, most of the time but not often enough. I received string lash to my wrist when the bracer snagged the bowstring and to my thumb and the fletching cut my top knuckle. If this were my bracer, I would make a better one. In particular, I would want some kind of glove or mitten to protect my thumb and knuckle; which seems to be an impractical modification to the bracer as normally shown, Fig 5 The example with the Stonehenge archer is so small it would provide little or no protection. In short, used as shown in Fig 5 would be inconvenient, useless and an encumbrance.
Protection might be provided in numerous ways, e.g. by binding the arm with a leather sheet or sleeve. In this case, the stone slip might have been used as a fastener, rather like a cleat, and/or a spreader/stiffener to stop the leather from creasing. This could explain finding them on the outside of the arm. It might also explain the absence of wear in the holes, since it would be rather static. The Amesbury Archer’s pin is unexplained. Clearly, the thumb and knuckle guards could be incorporated with the sleeve; this construction would also have helped to keep the sleeve taut.
I have no explanation for the six-holed version, there seems to be no advantage in having the extra holes. However, some multi-hole ‘bracers’ have rivets closing the holes so, maybe, the extra holes were ornamental or perhaps it was a two hole version later modified. Possibly, some ‘bracers’ were purely ornamental; there are examples of such developments, e.g. officers’ epaulets which were once protection from downwards sword cuts and the small silver shield that was worn by army officers on a silver chain around the neck is a vestigial breastplate.
Clearly, all of this is speculation based on incomplete evidence and looking from outside the display cabinets. Of the various options proposed above, the hand guard plus sleeve with a buckle/tensioner/stiffener seems to give the best design for the equipment and is within the capabilities of Neolithic people. Which raises the question “Why use stone, why not wood?” I suggest that making a flat wood version rather than using flat slate or similar stone would have been more difficult and a round stick would have got in the way. Of course, all of this is speculation and could well be wrong! All we can only ever say is that this or that explanation is consistent with known facts; of course, if it is inconsistent, it is wrong.
For a more information see:
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74, 2008, pp. 109-140
‘Bracers or Bracelets? About the Functionality and Meaning of Bell Beaker Wrist-guards’ by HARRY FOKKENS, YVONNE ACHTERKAMP, and MAIKEL KUIJPERS1
The Bell Beaker bracers, or wrist-guards, are traditionally thought to have functioned as archery equipment, protecting the arm against the sting of the bowstring. Their position on the body is therefore thought to have been on the inside of the lower arm. Through analysis of the position in which wrist-guards are found, we have come to the conclusion that they were, however, more often than not fastened to the outside of the arm, which leads us to consider a range of new possible uses and meanings for the bracers. With combined information from archaeological and ethnographic surveys we have come to think of the stone wrist-guard as an artefact that was associated with a martial, ideologically-laden activity in the Bell Beaker culture.
It may be seen online.
My major comments on this work are given below, they state:
“The surprising conclusion of our survey (Of the positions of “bracers” in Neolithic graves.) is that, while the majority of the bracers were indeed positioned on the lower arm, generally the left arm, they had been worn on the outside. —- only eight out of 30 examples were located on the inside of the arm, with 17 definitely on the outside. Even if we leave — the position that is hardest to interpret – out of the equation, still c. 60% are positioned on the outside of the arm. That was, in fact, wholly unexpected and is difficult to explain as evidence for a functional position. It is also clear that this position on the outside of the wrist is not exclusive, so both a functional and a non-functional or ornamental position are possible, although the majority appear to be ornamental.”
I suggest that it is wrong to suppose that the functional position must be on the inside of the arm. It seems to me that that they are the fastener for the wrist guard and therefore the outside of the wrist is their functional position. So why were some found on the inside? For that, I have no good answer, perhaps movement of the bracer occurred after death. For example, the arm may have withered allowing the bracer to slip round during the burial ritual.
Skeletons of the “Amesbury Archer” and the “Companion”. Personal observations by Keith Rodger
There are many interesting thing to tell visitors about these two individuals. Chemical analysis of teeth and bones tell us that the Archer probably came to the Amesbury area from the central European Alps whereas the Companion was born here, perhaps two generations later, travelled to central Europe and then returned to die in his mid-twenties. This says much of the ability to travel in the late Neolithic. We can also learn a lot by simple observation through the glass of the display cabinets.
The archer has lost the patella (kneecap) from his left leg, Fig 1. Comparing the bones of his two legs, we can see that the left is slimmer than the right. However, be careful, their orientations differ and the difference is less that it appears. This asymmetry is consistent with the theory that the archer favoured the injured limb by limping. This would have caused the muscle of the left leg to diminish and that in turn would cause the bone to waste.
Further examination shows that the right tibia (shinbone) has a thickening consistent with a healed fracture Fig 2. It is possible that the longitudinal cracks in the bone indicated in Fig 3 are the result of this healing; however, this must be treated with caution without detailed examination by an osteo-archaeologist. He was an adult when the fracture occurred.
The cause of the archer’s injuries are of course unknown, but one notes that he was buried wearing a boar’s tusk. Were these two injuries received at the same time and caused by a hunted boar?
The companion is only represented in the Museum by two gold ornaments, similar to those found with the archer, and a boar’s tusk. However, reportedly (I have not seen his skeleton.) he and the archer shared an anomalous structure, called a talocalcaneal coalition, in the skeleton of the foot. Anatomically this feature is a kind of extra joint: Fig 4 shows a normal foot X-ray and Fig 5 the skeleton of the archer. This condition is unusual, about 1:1000, rather than rare, and it is inherited. This does not mean that the companion was a direct descendant of the archer, although the proximity of their graves might hint at that. The nature of the inheritance of the anomaly is such that it is common in families not associated with the sex genes (autosomal dominant) but scarce in the wider population. Thus, it might be quite common in a particular group, less so in near neighbours and almost unrepresented further afield. It seems reasonable to suppose that the archer arrived with kin and near neighbours and that the companion is a descendant of one of that group.
Here we note that Wikipedia states that:
“A male skeleton found interred nearby is believed to be that of a younger man related to the Archer, as they shared a rare hereditary anomaly, calcaneonavicular coalition, fusing of the calcaneus and of the naviculartarsal (foot bones).”
Clearly, this is wrong: the archer does have a “coalition” but between the talus and the calcaneus, the anomaly does not involve the navicular bone nor has it fused (“synostosis” is the correct medical term for a fusion). Fusions are indeed rare, coalitions much less so, it its quite likely that the reader will know someone with a “coalition” it is very unlikely that they will have met anyone with a “fusion”. (However, I have – so there!!) Generally, a coalition has little clinical significance; there may be a slight tendency to sprained ankles due to a slight loss of flexibility and possibly arthritis in old age, but it is unlikely that the archer experienced any problem. They occur on the medial (inside) of the foot.
I am indebted to my wife, a retired radiologist, who proof-read the above and ensured that the long words are in the correct places. The text however represents my personal observations and any error is mine alone.
A photograph can contain the equivalent of thousands of words of information.
Many decades ago I cut out the attached newspaper item.
I have always been wary of archaeologists’ claims. Their claims, by their very nature, are usually difficult to confirm by scientific experiment.
An archaeologist friend was involved in a task surveying Grimm’s Ditch across Martin Down Nature Reserve. Their equipment showed that there was a piece of metal six feet down at the base of the filled in ditch. It took a number of days to carefully excavate the ditch at this place. There was no sign of any disturbance of the ground for hundreds of years. Thus there was great excitement as they dug closer to the metal object. Would it be a piece of Celtic jewellery or an implement from the bronze age? They found the metal item and carefully excavated it. It was a toothpaste tube.
In my youth, tooth paste tubes were made of metal, not plastic. The disappointed archaeologists were about to consign all their note taking concerning this episode to the bin when my friend said “No. It is vitally important that we record this. This is indisputable evidence that dating an object by the layer it is found in, can be wildly wrong. How many other times has evidence such as this been destroyed leading to people having confidence in ‘dating by layer’ by saying that no evidence has ever been produced that this method might not always be valid?”
Due to my late friend, the outcome was an experiment in the New Forest. A number of items were buried at various depths in a number of different places. The experiment would be that these items would be excavated at future times. Some 10 years later, some 50 years later, some 100 years later, in order to see how their depths had changed. Current evidence is that a grain and a coin dropped at the same time, soon separate. The coin gets trodden in and sinks lower whereas the grain tends to float up each time it rains or the soil gets very wet. Darwin is even credited with investigating how much the action of earthworms would have on the sinking of stones at Stonehenge. The action of ants on removing the sand beneath patio slabs and causing the slabs to sink is well known. The dissolving of the Salisbury plain chalk by water (rain) was thought to be slight until the solubility of chalk in water was found to depend upon the concentration of carbon dioxide.
Now back to the newspaper cutting. The considered opinion of the archaeologists is that it shows a Celtic chieftain buried with his chariot. To me it shows that the Celts had the safety bicycle long before the reinvention of cycling via the penny farthing. More details can be found here.