20th January 2012
Annual General Meeting and members' evening
The AGM took place as planned, with no problems to solve, the only change to note being the retirement of Gaynor Wood as chairman, having completed her 3-year stint, and the introduction of David Swindlehurst as the incoming chairman.
Following closure of the AGM, the members enjoyed some short presentations on a variety of topics:
17th February 2012
Haslingden Grane - a valley, its landscape and people.
The valley known as Haslingden Grane is superficially a monotonous stretch of rough moorland, with few obvious features (apart from the reservoirs), which the motorist on the Grane road aims to traverse as speedily as possible. in reality it is an amazing palimpsest of centuries of use and modification by generations of people. Dr Crosby treated us to a masterly presentation of its history, with his usual mix of erudition and humour.
The main features in the valley show (to the trained eye) how:
Subsequent to the demolition by the water company of the abandoned buildings within the catchment area (on "health and safety" grounds), an archaeological examination of the remains revealed that there had been a number of illicit stills, not previously known to history!
The slides which Dr Crosby showed in support of his presentation will return to mind when we next visit Haslingden Grane.
Dr Alan Crosby
16th March 2012
What did the Romans really do at Walton-le-Dale?
This was the title of an interesting talk that was much enjoyed by an audience numbering an impressive 52 members and guests. It was still a relevant question at the end of the talk as it remains a mystery as to what was really happening at Walton-le-Dale.
There have been 2 major excavations close to the confluence of the Rivers Ribble and Darwen, on a site recognised for over a hundred years. One, north of Winery Lane, was dug in the 1980s and is now a green field. The other, to the south of Winery Lane, was excavated in the 1990s and is now the car park for the Capitol Centre. The sites produced evidence of a lot of industrial activity, but very little evidence of people living there. There are very few personal effects and the coins are all very low value, indicating the presence of people of low status, possibly even slaves. The sites were used from late first/early second century to late third.
King Street, the Roman road that ran from Wigan to Lancaster to the west of the current A6, passed through both sites, and was well surfaced. It formed an axis, with large warehouse-like wooden buildings on either side, gable end to the road. Many contained furnaces, although, with the exception of a pottery kiln that was last fired in AD 285, and a small blacksmith site, their function is unknown. The buildings were rebuilt more than once. There were wells scattered all over the sites. On the south site there are several square pits that appear to have held water and to have been connected by shallow channels. It has been suggested that they could have been used for tanning, or for steaming timbers to build boats. A pile of broken, but not worn, imported Samian ware and an area with several imported quern stones (for milling grain by hand, although no grain was found on site) indicate that goods were imported and then probably moved elsewhere by road.
The Ribble was navigable up to Ribchester in Roman times, and the Darwen would have allowed a good mooring protected from the main effects of the tides. The complex was probably under the control of the military, but so far no fort has been found nearby. Kirkham was only a short distance downstream, but was only short lived. Ribchester, which lasted a long time, was further away and would have taken longer by boat because of the bends in the Ribble. So we are left with the question "What were the Romans really doing at Walton-le-Dale?"
20th April 2012
Viking DNA and the North of England project.
Professor Harding started by explaining how DNA can be used to trace peoples' possible ethnic ancestry. DNA forms genes in the chromosomes which carry the blueprint to make each living thing, including people. Most genes are found in the cell nucleus, people have 22 pairs of normal chromosomes and a pair that determines their gender. Women have two X chromosomes and a man has an X and a Y, he will inherit the X from his mother and the Y from his father. As Y chromosomes are only found in males, they pass, normally unchanged, from one generation to another. However, over thousands of years there are slight changes or mutations. These are then passed on and as mutations will vary in different ancestral lines, they can sometimes be used to trace men's possible paternal ancestors. It is complex, the results are not always straightforward and the interpretation may not be clear cut. There is another form of DNA which is found in mitochondria outside the cell nucleus. As sperm is formed from little more than a nucleus, people only inherit mitochondrial DNA from their mother. This can be used to trace maternal ancestors of both women and men. DNA is collected from people by using a swab inside the cheek.
The Y chromosomes of many Norwegians are similar to those from people of Eastern Europe and different from people further west, including from most Germans, Danes, French and Spanish. Recently, more refined techniques have shown differences in some of the Y chromosomes of these latter nationalities, though it is not yet possible to distinguish Germans from Danes. When the DNA of the British has been studied, most English have been shown to be closest to the Germans and Danes, while those living on the 'Celtic fringe' are closest to some populations living in north Spain, and their ancestors are likely to have come in by sea during the Bronze Age.
It is known from historical records that the invaders, who the Anglo Saxons called 'Viking, came from two places. Those that came into the east of England were from Denmark or nearby. However Vikings from Norway came round the north of Britain, into the Shetlands, Orkneys, north west Scotland and the Western Isles. In these places most men have either Celtic or Norse DNA. By looking at men's mitochondrial DNA it seems that they brought their wives, and presumably families with them. However when the Norse colonised Iceland they took with them women mainly from Celtic areas, probably Ireland.
The Vikings also had a strong presence in Ireland and in 902 a group were driven out of Dublin and allowed to settle in the Wirral. There are a lot of place names of Scandinavian origin on the Wirral and in West Lancashire, such as those ending in 'by' (a farm or settlement). Professor Harding (who originally came from the area) and other researchers were interested in seeing if the markers for Norse DNA could be found in the Wirral and West Lancashire. They tested over 1000 men whose grandfathers had lived in the area. As there was a lot of movement during the industrial revolution, they separated those whose surnames (also inherited in the male line) were found in documents before 1600 (referred to as medieval). Overall in Britain about 1% of men have the common Viking DNA marker, it is found in 3-4 % of 'modern' men in the Wirral and West Lancashire and 14-17% of medieval men from these areas. The project is now being expanded to Lancashire north of the Ribble, Cumbria and North Yorkshire. Further research in this new area of 'archaeology' should give us more information on how our ancestors moved around. (Report by Janet Edmunds).
Dr Stephen Harding - Professor of Applied Biochemistry, University of Nottingham
18th May 2012
The Annual Dinner - Amelie's Restaurant, Preston Road. Coppull.
A small assembly, numbering 14 persons, gathered at Amelie's, despite certain confusion regarding timing, and enjoyed an excellent meal (again), of not-expensive good food, beautifully presented and served, and equally excellent company.
Those misguided folk who elected not to be present, and those others who could not avail themselves of the opportunity, missed a very pleasant evening.
9th June 2012
Excursion. A Study Day in memory of the late Ben Edwards.
The programme was arranged by the Centre for North-West Regional Studies and the speakers were chosen to try to represent the full range of Ben's interests, and the significant impact that Ben had on the development of archaeological and historical studies in his chosen part of England. MC for the day was Dr David Shotter, who gave a brief introduction for each speaker in case there was anyone in the audience who needed it! The University staff provided an excellent service of information and audio-visual aids in the Faraday Lecture Theatre, and refreshments as appropriate.
The speakers were:
Organised by CNWRS, Lancaster A&H Society and C&WAS.
14th July 2012
Visit to Castleshaw Roman Fort, and including the Saddleworth Museum and Standedge Tunnel.
The day's programme of events was designed (and reconnoitred) by Mavis and Bill Shannon to provide a wide range of items of archaeological and historical interest. Most of the activity was outdoor, which could have been disastrous, given the recent unseasonal weather, but the gods were kind, the weather was benevolent and a splendid turnout of nearly 30 folk all enjoyed a splendid day.
We began our day by visiting the Saddleworth Museum, a community facility which, although small, is a very good example of its kind. It has an excellent series of displays showing the history and culture of the area, which was a major producer of (originally) woollen and (later) cotton goods in the handloom weaving era. It is situated in Uppermill, a small village which itself is almost a museum piece, with a superb collection of 18th and 19th Century buildings and which is worth a visit for its own sake.
Leaving Uppermill, we drove a few miles to the site of the Roman fort(-let) at Castleshaw. The fort is situated on top of a hummock on the western slope of the Pennine ridge, and the associated free car park is cunningly situated at the bottom, which therefore necessitates a longish climb up a steepish slope. This caused a slow ascent for some of the older folk in the party, but all succeeded and were thus able to enjoy the ambience of what would have been the worst military posting in the Roman Empire, except for Hard Knott. There were a few drops of rain while we were on the fort, but not enough to wet us. The descent back to the cars was a more gentle but roundabout route, accomplished without incident.
The final element of the trip was a visit to Marsden, only a few miles further on, which is the location of the entrance to the Standedge Tunnel. Some of the more adventurous members of the group indulged their masochistic urges by taking the boat trip into the tunnel, whereas the others were content to enjoy a sample of the cup that cheers and a look at the Visitor Centre.
Although each of the venues for the excursion was individually not of major interest, together the collection proved to be well worth while, and made for a very enjoyable day. There are photographs here, from Bill Shannon and here, from Fiona Mair
15th September 2012
Excursion to Liverpool's earliest docks, and tunnel ventilation shaft.
When first suggested in committee, the first response of the writer was "that's not archaeology!" - but on the grounds that any material remains of past human activity is archaeology, we went ahead - and were richly rewarded.
The first Mersey Tunnel, known as Queensway, was opened in 1934, a joint venture between Liverpool and Birkenhead Corporations. The tunnel was five years in the making, and employed 17,000 workers to dig, working from both ends towards the middle (and getting it spot on!). The original plan involved a two-tier tunnel, with motor vehicles at the higher level, and tram tracks below. In the event, arguments over Birkenhead Ferry's monopoly of the river crossing meant that the lower half remains empty - and is kept so today in case an emergency evacuation is ever required. Accompanied access is also allowed to such as our intrepid party, who braved the cold, dirt and wet, and climbed down all those stairs to get not just below the Mersey, but below the carriageway of the Tunnel.
Prior to going underground, we had first gone up what is in effect a very fancy chimney, the Georges Dock Building, where giant fans pump out the foul air and pump in fresh. Amazingly, the fans were installed before the building was erected around them - and are still today working perfectly after eighty years, and making no more sound than a whisper. No money was spared by the City Fathers on the building itself, which was build in the then latest Art Deco fashion, with neo-Egyptian details, reminding us of the impact that the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922 had on the imagination of the public and architects alike. Altogether, a fascinating day, and well worth a visit if you ever get the chance.
19th October 2012
Bronze Age Burial Practices in North West England
Samantha, a PhD student at UCLan, gave an interesting talk about her research into early Bronze Age (about 2,200-1,500 BC) burial practice in north west England, especially Lancashire. These might be inhumations (whole body burials) normally laid on their side in a crouching position, or cremations in which burnt bones were buried in pots. Earlier burials were more likely to be inhumations, later ones cremations. Both types were frequently buried with grave goods. Inhumations seldom survive in Lancashire because of the acid soil. She has analysed the results of many earlier excavations of Bronze Age barrows and stone cairns, which are considered to be the burials of high status individuals. Barrows frequently have several burials:- a primary one; others that may be buried at the same time or soon after, before the barrow was raised; and others buried into the barrow later. In one barrow, the carbon dating showed burials occurred over a period of possibly up to 600 years.
In the past people assumed that the primary burial was of a man, but Samantha has shown it may equally be of a woman. The amount of cremated bone that was placed in the pit varies, and people have assumed that the more bone that was collected from the funeral pyre, the higher the status of the individual. It was also thought that higher status people have more grave goods with them. However she has shown that there is no correlation between more bone and grave goods. They seem to be different burial practices.
Few grave goods are gender specific, the main exception being bronze daggers which are only found with men. A complete age range of individuals has been found from children to adults. The average age of women was older, but it is not known if this is because they lived longer or because women had to be older to reach the status needed for a barrow or cairn burial. Men were normally better nourished, and had teeth disorders associated with a high meat diet. In Cumbria children were buried with an adult of either gender, in Derbyshire they were normally buried with men, but in Lancashire they were buried in their own graves. Samantha is showing that whereas previously there was considered to be a standard Bronze Age burial practice throughout Britain, usually based on evidence from graves from southern England, there was in fact a range of regional variations in how different groups buried their dead.
16th November 2012
Dispute maps in Tudor Lancashire
Bill Shannon's talk featured some forty large-scale manuscript maps of parts of Lancashire from the National Archives, originally produced in connection with disputes heard in the court of the Duchy of Lancaster at Westminster during the Tudor period. These local maps are a rich, but underutilised, documentary resource that can give a remarkable insight into the early-modern landscape of the county. Their prime purpose was to present and explain to the court what must have seemed an alien landscape of mosses and moorlands. The maps showed the court then, and show us now, aspects of land ownership, land use, woods, streams, houses, churches, mills, wayside crosses, rights of way, turbaries and lime pits, landmarks and many other features including even ancient monuments. They may now be the only surviving source for the existence of some of these features.
The sheer number of these maps is of special interest: there are more dispute maps for this one county, Lancashire, than the sum total of all the local maps which survive for the entire country before 1500. The post-1500 explosion in map production and use is well known, but these Duchy maps illustrate and allow fairly close dating of several major cartographic trends within the century. First, the evidence of the first map in the set shows that from early in the century (and possibly from long before), do-it-yourself sketch-maps were being drawn, in the expectation that other people would understand what such a map depicted. However, through to the 1570s picture maps become the predominant type, initially made for rather than by one of the protagonists, but from the mid-years of the century increasingly commissioned by the court itself. Then, around 1580, a major change occurred, with the introduction of the scale map and by implication the associated arrival of the professional map-maker, with this study highlighting the need to explore further the possibility of a 'Lancaster School' of later-sixteenth century surveyors.
Dr W D Shannon
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