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When that is by not any means that exclusive to the particular U. H., the game

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THOUGHTS ON THE SUITABILITY OF DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY FOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORDING

Photography has been fundamental to archaeology since at least the late 19th-century and it is still one of our principle means of primary data gathering. Indeed, in certain branches of archaeology, such as aerial work, the photographic record can represent the dominant, or even sole, source of data. Its value often lies in the fact that it produces, in as much as is possible, an objective pictorial record, whereas secondary illustrative techniques, such as plan and section drawings, at best involve an element of (possibly mistaken) interpretation and, at worst, are open to subconscious or even deliberate falsification.

For most of its history photography has been a photochemical process which exploited the readiness of silver-halide salts to break down when exposed to light. The result was an image composed of metallic silver particles, which could itself be replaced by dyes in the case of colour and chromogenic (C41 colour process compatible) B&W films. In recent years, however, we have seen the rapid rise of photoelectric processes, most of which use CCD (Charge Coupled Device), or similar technologies to produce digital pictures. Digital imaging is hardly new. My own career began as an archaeological photographer in the early 1980s and it was starting to appear even then. We have been using scanners for around twenty years but, although digital cameras have been available for a similar period, it is only in the last few years that they have really started to come of age. Now, however, we are starting to see many archaeologists, including a number of aerial workers, making the transfer to digital. But some of the reasons given make one wonder whether this has always been done with proper consideration of the potential ramifications. Indeed, one is sometimes left with a feeling that the process is being, at least partly, driven by fashion and a “toys for the boys” attitude. In other words, digital photography and digital cameras are currently, to use the vernacular, “cool”, and it is tempting to wonder whether some archaeologists are adopting them so as not to be seen as old fashioned, rather than because they have decided, after due reflection, that they do the job of archaeological recording better than traditional technology.

Of course digital photography has a number of clear advantages and no one could object to its use in archaeology. In particular, the images are obtained instantly. This allows technical aspects such as focus and exposure to be checked on the spot so that failed pictures can be re-shot: something which might no longer be possible after the delay imposed by film processing. Less obviously, though, it can also permit instant access to data which might help to guide the progress of an excavation. For example, I have long used a technique of elevated photography in which a camera, fired by its self timer, is used to shoot vertically downwards into a trench from the end of a long telescopic pole (Woolliscroft 1989). For the most part, this is just an economical way of producing more helpful plan view images, but it occasionally reveals subtle features before they had been noticed on the ground, so that the ability to view the pictures immediately, on site, allows such features to be more fully investigated. Modern communications technology also allows digital pictures to be transmitted to and from site which can be useful in consulting finds and conservation specialists and in communicating quickly with heritage bodies, other scholars and the media. The fact that digital photography is archaeologically useful is, however, a very long way from meaning that it should be relied on as our prime or only means of photographic recording. Indeed, given the current state of the technology, there are powerful reasons why this is not the case, and is not likely to become so in the immediate future. The first is the question of resolution.

Archaeological records should, of course, be as comprehensive as possible, which means that features should be photographed at all stages of excavation and in such a way as to bring out maximum detail. Yet for the last few decades, much of archaeology has already seen something of a retrograde slide in this area. Cookson, in his classic 1954 book ‘Photography for Archaeologists’ (chapters 2 & 3), took it almost for granted (albeit not entirely realistically) that archaeologists would seek to use large format cameras whenever possible; with medium format, and especially 35mm, being useful only as a poor second best when nothing else was available. It is true that film has improved a good deal since that time, but not to the extent that a modern 35mm negative can even begin to compete with the resolution of Cookson’s full plate work. Nevertheless, 35mm is now the default photographic medium on most archaeological sites including, I admit, my own. Likewise, much early aerial photography was conducted using large format film. For example, much of the late Prof J.K. St.Joseph’s work used 12cm square negatives. Some of his pictures are now almost sixty years old and yet their quality can still beat air photographs taken today, despite our better films and lenses, simply because most workers now use 35mm or, at best, 6cm negatives.

This much might be bad enough, but digital photographs usually represent a further marked diminution in quality. The two technologies are not directly comparable, but the resolution of a 35mm frame is thought to equate to that of a digital image of somewhere in the region of 12-20 megapixels, depending on the grain size and sharpness of the film being used, and the ISO setting of the digital camera, which effects its signal to noise ratio. On the other hand, most current generation digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras have resolutions of only around 6MP: less than half that of an average 35mm film, and poorer still when compared to medium format. In fairness, there are many applications where this tends to matter less than one might expect. For example, the difference is barely noticeable on a standard 6″ x 4″ imprint and most published archaeological photographs are reproduced at this size or smaller using half tone printing technology which, even at its best, will further lower resolution. Nevertheless, archaeological archive photographs (especially air photographs) are often used under high magnification, where their full resolving power can be exploited and we would thus seem duty bound to ensure that this should be as high as possible. In particular, archaeological features are sometimes visible only as slight changes in soil texture, rather than colour, and very high resolutions are often needed to record such changes.

Of course, there are a few digital cameras that can now match at least 35mm resolution. At the time of writing Canon make a well thought of 16MP SLR, whilst a 22MP digital back is available to fit certain medium format cameras. These are, however, frighteningly expensive (at present £6,000 and £20,000 respectively) and although costs will no doubt fall in the future, they remain out of reach of most archaeologists. They also represent a great deal to invest simply to be able to do something by another means that we have anyway been doing for decades. Most archaeologists do, after all, already have access to high quality film based equipment and so, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, the money might be better spent elsewhere. Moreover, simple angular resolution is not the end of the story. Archaeological recording is heavily dependant on the ability to distinguish very subtle colour/tone changes, be they in soils, crops or artefacts. Yet digital cameras are inherently limited in this respect, since they record tones as a fixed series of (albeit fine) discrete steps. Traditional film, with its infinitely variable tonal rendition is thus again a potentially superior medium.

Another issue is what is sometimes called “total cost of ownership”. The price of professional quality digital cameras may be high, but it is often argued that digital running costs are lower, since there is no expenditure on film and processing, and only those images deemed necessary need be printed. In practice, however, a good site or aerial archive should contain at least imprint sized versions of all the pictures taken and, on this basis, digital costs can actually be higher than film.

True objectivity in archaeological recording, although perhaps not a completely attainable goal, has always been an ideal to strive for, and here again there are advantages with film. No one who has worked in a dark room could accept without reservation the old adage that “The camera never lies”, but it is certainly a great deal more difficult to falsify a traditional negative than it is a digital file. More seriously, digital imaging can produce visible noise and processing artefacts which might accidentally falsify data or be misinterpreted as archaeological data by the unwary. In fairness, negative faults can be similarly misleading, but they do, at least, tend to be relatively large and highly localised and are thus easier to spot and discount.

Next, come a number of issues which, although not necessarily inherent to digital photography do raise questions over the suitability of current equipment. The first is the fact that most digital SLR’s are based on the latest generation of autofocus film cameras, which are themselves not particularly well suited to archaeological work. Fast reacting autofocus systems have been a godsend to sports photographers and to parents trying to photograph energetic children at play. For the archaeologist, however, autofocus is just one more thing to go wrong with delicate equipment under tough field conditions. At best it is largely valueless and at worst it becomes an active nuisance. On excavations, for example, depth of field is usually far more important than any specific point of focus, since we generally want entire features or trenches to be rendered sharp. Here, so called “hyperfocal” focusing becomes crucial, with the aperture and depth of field scale being used together to produce the desired result. Sadly, few autofocus lenses have depth of field scales, which means that, although some control is possible, it is largely a matter of guesswork, and precision is hard to obtain. Likewise, autofocus can be a major problem in the air as it has an irritating tendency to lock onto to any part of the aircraft that comes into shot, leaving the ground as a distant blur. There are also times when critical point focusing is vital in situations where autofocus might not be reliable in its target selection: particularly in macro and finds photography. Yet, although many autofocus cameras do allow manual focusing, few have the precision viewfinder aids (split prism rangefinders etc) needed to exploit this facility properly. Furthermore, digital and autofocus film cameras are completely battery dependant, whereas many older film cameras only need power for their light meters. This can be a major issue on remote sites and digital cameras suffer particularly badly because most run on rechargeable batteries with only enough power for a few hours use. This may be more economical under normal circumstances, but it leaves them totally dependant on ready access to the mains.

With a few exceptions, the sensors used by current digital cameras tend to be markedly smaller than a full frame 35mm negative. This tends to make them noisy, since the minute signals from their tiny individual light gathering sites require greater amplification, but it can also have serious consequences in a discipline like archaeology which relies heavily on wide angle lenses. For the smaller the sensor, the smaller the angle of coverage of the pictures becomes, which means that digital cameras tend to decrease the angle of view of the lenses used. Digital SLR’s are generally designed to use the manufacturers’ normal 35mm system lenses. This may seem to save money for users of existing systems, but the lenses will most emphatically not behave in the way that they did with film. The cameras usually quote a lens correction factor, a focal length multiplier which will …

ROMAN GLASS FROM THE NORTH OF SCOTLAND

As part of a continuing attempt to identify and re-evaluate un/under-published Roman material from Scotland north of the Antonine Wall, the writer was able to reanalyse a quantity of glass from the legionary fortress of Inchtuthil and the Gask system forts of Ardoch and Bertha. All three assemblages came from 19th or early 20th century excavations or surveys and had only previously been published in the most cursory form. In view of modern advances in the study of this material and especially in the light of the forthcoming reports on the glass from Newstead and Cardean (Hoffmann forthcoming a & b), it seemed worthwhile making a full re-examination of the finds and comparing them with the corpus from the rest of Roman Britain. The author wishes to express her gratitude to Mr F. Hunter of the National Museum of Scotland for locating the material and making it available for study.

The Glass from Inchtuthil

31 Fragments of glass have been deposited in the museum from the 19th century excavations at Inchtuthil (Abercromby et al, 1902). No fragments of cast or mould-blown glass survive. The assemblage is divided as follows:

  • colourless: 1
  • fragment greenish: 2
  • fragments blue/green: 12
  • fragments Bottle glass: 10
  • fragments objects: 2
  • fragments window glass: 2

There are also two modern fragments in the assemblage.

Only eight fragments warrant closer attention. One is an indented colourless fragment (1), which probably came from an indented beaker or cup, popular in the second half of the first century. Both types are occasionally decorated with wheel-cut or abraded lines, and tend to be of a cylindrical or slightly convex shape over a flat base or pushed-in base ring (Price and Cottam 1998, 85-88 – Cool & Price 1995, 70). These beakers were extremely popular throughout the Roman world and occur in blue/green and greenish glass, as well as the colourless glass used here. Parallels from the North of Britain include similar blue/green cups from Corbridge (Charlesworth 1959, 166 fig. 22, 1-3 – Allen 1988, 293 fig. 132, 41), York Blake Street (Cool et al. 1995, 1571 fig. 740, 6040), Doncaster (Buckland 1986, 17 fig. 11) and Castleford (Cool and Price 1998, 146; 159 fig. 54, 91). A greenish-colourless indented beaker was found at Strageath (Price 1989, 198 Fig. 100,7). As the latter originated from the Antonine occupation of the fort, it is debatable whether it belongs to this group or a later version of the indented beaker. It shares with the other quoted examples the rim treatment (knocked-off and ground smooth) and the wheel-cut lines, both of which are common in Flavian beakers. That indented beakers were available after the Flavian period in the North of Britain is documented by the Housesteads specimen, which is dated to the later second century (Charlesworth 1971, 35-6 fig. 6). At Vindolanda indented vessels were found in unstratified contexts during the excavation of the third century vicus buildings and none are yet known from the Flavian levels. It cannot be ruled out, therefore, that the single indented vessel from Newstead may belong to the Antonine period rather than to the Flavian occupation. (Cool and Price 1998, 145 on post-Flavian indented vessels).

The other piece of tableware recovered is part of a yellow/green long-necked jug (2). Even though the general shape of the body has not survived, the handle-attachment with its nicked extension of the central rib suggests that it originally had a conical body similar to the Turiff jug from Aberdeenshire (Thorpe 1934). These jugs exist in a number of varieties, differing in colour, shape and decoration. The pale yellow/green example from Turiff shows some diagonal ribs on the body, but nothing suggest that the Inchtuthil specimen was similarly decorated. While the strongly coloured examples of this jug appear to be mainly limited to the second half of the first century, some colours (viz. yellow/brown, blue/green and yellow/green) appear to continue into the third quarter of the second century AD, with the yellow/green example from Felmongers-Harlow (Price 1987, 193-5 fig. 3,20) being the latest closely dateable example (from a context dating c. AD 160-170).

Further yellow-green conical jugs are known from the Pre-Flavian levels at Usk (Price 1995, 179 fig. 46, 100), from a pit dated AD 70-130 from Chichester (Charlesworth 1978, 269 no. 30 fig. 10.23), from Richborough, pit 122 (dated c. AD 130-150: Bushe-Fox 1949, 148 pl.67, 367), two near complete vessels from pit DD II 29A at Alcester (dated AD 150-60), Towcester, Park Str. (Price 1980, 66 fig. 15, 7-8 (dated c. AD 155-165)), and from the Antonine levels at Strageath (Price 1989, 198 no. 9). A further possible Antonine piece comes from Carlisle, The Lanes (Price & Cottam forthcoming I,13) dating to period 8), as well as unstratified handle fragments from Corbridge (Allen 1988, 289 fig. 131,6), Watercrook (Charlesworth 1979, 232 fig. 93, 169), Doncaster (Allen 1986, 103 fig. 24, 1), Shepton Mallet (Price and Cottom forthcoming b) Verulamium, King Harry Lane (Price 1989b, 45 fig. 27,305) and Colchester (Cool & Price 1995, 124 fig. 8.3 no. 895). Three possible pushed-in base rings from Caersws (AD 100-130+): Cool & Price 1989, 39 fig. 21, 34), Baldock (?: Charlesworth 1986, 193 fig. 84, 876) and Puckeridge-Braughing (Price & Cool 1988, 83 fig. 35, 10), as well as a yellow-green ribbed neck and shoulder from Gorhambury (Neal et al. 1990, 203 fig. 163, 22) may all belong to similar vessels.

Fragments 3 and 4 form part of prismatic containers. These storage vessels, most commonly square in section and often decorated with geometric (or far more rarely figural) patterns on the base, became the most common glass vessel on Roman sites. They appear to have been used mainly as storage containers for liquids, although some large examples have large enough openings to allow the storage of small objects (e.g. eggs). Neither rims nor bases of these vessels survive amongst the Inchtuthil material, but the fact that 10 sherds out of 30 probably came from glass containers, either of this type or the slightly earlier circular variety attests to their frequency in Northern Scotland. The majority of such containers are found in contexts dating to the middle of the first to the end of the second century AD (Price and Cottam 1998, 194-202).

Reuse of materials, especially of glass is a common enough feature on Roman sites but the dark blue fragment (5) appears to have been reworked into a squarish shape, which is slightly unusual. The most common form of reuse of glass fragments appears to be their conversion into gaming counters, e.g. from Carlisle (Cool & Price 1991, 176 fig. 155, 684), but the unusual diameter of this piece and its shape makes appear look unlikely for the Inchtuthil ‘counter’.

The material also contained one glass melon bead. Dark blue melon beads are a less common variety of the ubiquitous frit melon beads. Both types appear particularly common on military sites of the first and early second century, and then seem to continue in very much reduced numbers into the later second and third century AD on both military and civilian sites (Guido 1978, 100). They are often associated with horse harness (Böhme 1978, 288-9), but also occur on other forms of military equipment. One of the highest concentrations of melon beads within the province appears to be Newstead with over 129 melon beads (both frit and glass) recorded to date (Hoffmann forthcoming).

The remaining two fragments are Roman window glass, both showing the characteristic combination of matt/glossy finish that comes from casting the material. Recent experiments conducted during the making of the BBC television program ‘What the Romans did for us’, showed that this process most likely involves a bun of hot glass being pulled into shape with tweezers and then being reheated in the furnace. This process could be repeated until the desired shape was achieved. Window glass of this type is first recorded in a Claudio-Neronian context in Colchester (Harden 1947, 306) and appears to have been gradually replaced by the thinner blown window glass during the third century AD (Boon 1966). The occurrence of window glass at the fortress of Inchtuthil (a further piece was recovered by Richmond’s excavations) suggests that even in Scotland glazing in at least some windows formed part of Roman fortress design from the start. The prime candidate for such ‘luxury’ would have been the hot room of the bath block. However, as none of the fragments can be associated with an exact find spot, it is impossible to confirm or deny this.

Comparison with other glass material known from Inchtuthil

The excavations within the legionary fortress in 1952-1968, produced a further 75 fragments of Roman vessel glass and another melon bead, as well as the one fragment of window glass already mentioned. The glass recovered belonged to various forms of vessel glass, including a pillar-moulded bowl, a hemispherical cup, a further five long-necked jugs (including a yellowish green discoid jug), an unguent bottle, one square bottle and six cylindrical bottles. With the addition of the current indented cup, a further jug and another 2 prismatic (square?) bottles. The assemblage now presents a good cross-section of the most popular glass vessels on northern military sites of the late first century. The omission of the facet-cut beaker, known from other contemporary sites, may be due to the comparatively small number of fragments recovered from the fortress overall. Only the hemispherical cup found in the 1952-1968 excavations still forms an unusual marker and is hard to explain on a site that presumably started only in 83-89, as these beakers are usually associated with sites in occupation in Britain in the Pre-Flavian period and possibly extending into the early seventies, although an heirloom should perhaps not be ruled out. In fact in many ways (e.g. the high number of long-necked jugs and the indented beaker) the Inchtuthil glass assemblage would also not cause comment in a fort that had an Antonine as well as a Flavian occupation (compare, e.g. Strageath (Price 1989)), although no indicators for such a reoccupation have been found in the case of Inchtuthil.

Catalogue

1. FY 156/11 1 body fragment, colourless. Indented beaker. One indent surviving. no bubble. No weathering. Dims: 25 x 19 Th: 1.5 EVE: 0.20

2. FY 156/29 1 body fragment, yellow/green. Conical long-necked jug. Lower handle attachment of Handle with central rib, Handle drawn out over body and nicked in regular intervals. Elongated bubbles. No weathering. H(ext): 57 W(handle): 30 EVE: 0.14

3. FY 156/21 1 fragment, body. Blue/green. Straight sided prismatic container. One edge preserved. Small bubbles. No weathering. S: 45 S2: 11 H(ext): 87 EVE: 0.14

4. FY156/24 1 body fragment, blue/green. PrismaticBottle. Dims: 40 x 32 Th: 2 EVE: 0.14

5. FY156/27 1 fragment. Dark blue, transparent. Round glass object, chipped into shape rectangular section. Scratched. One small bubble. No weathering. D: 46 Th: 14.

6. FY156/31 1 Glass melon bead, dark blue. Grey surface. L: 21 D: c.30 D (int): c. 7

7. FY156/13 Window glass. Dims: 21 x 37 x 4

8. FY156/25 Window glass. Dims: 29 x 67 Th: 3

Surface finds from the Roman fort at Bertha

The NMS preserves 14 fragments of Roman glass from the fort at Bertha, near Perth. The majority of these were deposited on March 13, 1781 by Mr Anderson and Mr. Marshall of Perth. As to their find circumstances the following information is given in the ‘Account of the Institution and Progress of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’ (Smellie 1782,

‘The remains of some Roman cinereal urns of yellow clay, and some fragments of glass vessels, of a bluish colour, lately dug up on the north bank of the river Almond, near its influx into the Tay, where there had been a bridge built by Agricola over this last river, of which some remains still exist.’

The claims that these glass vessels belong to the remains of Roman burials is hard to verify, especially as the find spot is likely to have been long since eroded …

AGRICOLA: HE CAME, HE SAW, BUT DID HE CONQUER?

The last decade has seen something of a resurgence of interest in Roman Scotland and this paper will discuss a number of chronological issues that have arisen as a result. Since 1995, the writer’s own contribution has been through the Roman Gask Project: a long term research program whose remit is to study Roman Scotland north of the Antonine Wall, although, as the name suggests, its principle focus has been on the system of military works on and around the Gask Ridge in Perthshire.

The Gask line is a fortified Roman frontier (albeit without a running barrier) and consists of a chain of turf and timber built forts, fortlets and watch towers, strung out along the Roman road to the Tay. At present, some 37 km are known, stretching from Glenbank, to the north of Dunblane, to Bertha just upstream of Perth, on the Tay (fig 1), and more probably awaits discovery. It is, however, only part of a much larger system, for there is a further series of forts to the north, along Strathmore and the southern highland fringe, whose lynch pin lies at the legionary fortress of Inchtuthil (fig 2). The entire system was probably designed to control the strategic, potential invasion corridor through Strathmore, Strathearn and Strathallan and, although the more northerly forts are often called “glen blockers”, as though their principle role was to guard against direct attacks from the Highland massif, they may have been just as useful as a means of preventing any force moving down Strathmore from outflanking the main frontier by using the maze of interconnecting passes which link Loch Lomond and the Tay, Earn and Teith valleys within the hills. The frontier may, thus, show a greater strategic appreciation than has often been realised but, at first sight, there is otherwise nothing particularly remarkable about it. It belongs to a familiar class of early Roman frontier defences which also includes the Wetterau Limes in Germany and, although good work had been done, few archaeologists had paid it much attention. It was certainly noted as the earliest Roman frontier in Britain, for there was evidence to date its construction to the Flavian period, around forty years before Hadrian’s Wall. But its attractiveness as a research target suffered partly because it was seen as less glamorous than the two wall frontiers and partly because it was thought to be slightly later than the German frontier. The 1990’s, however, saw a thorough reexamination of the dating evidence for the birth of the German Limes and it now seems to be generally accepted that it was not built until 15 – 20 years later than had been thought, in the early years of the second century, and the reign of the Emperor Trajan. This puts it later than the Gask which means that, against all expectations, Scotland’s Cinderella system can now claim to be the prototype Roman land frontier and a monument of international importance. It thus became vital that a more systematic study should take place, hence inter alia the Roman Gask Project.

Interestingly, the Project’s own results have been equally unexpected, if in the opposite direction and, again, the shocks have concerned dating. The traditional chronology revolves around the activities of Britain’s most famous Roman governor: Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Agricola is well known because his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, wrote an account of his life and as one of the few detailed sources for the history of Roman Britain, this little book has been subjected to more analysis than almost any other non religious text. Nevertheless, the gist is that Agricola took over as governor late in 77 AD and immediately began a series of military campaigns, first in North Wales and then into what is now northern England and Scotland. By 79 he had reached the Tay and then, after a few years of consolidation, he advanced further, up Strathmore and on as far as the Moray Firth. In 84 he won a decisive victory against the Caledonians at an unknown place called Mons Graupius, before being recalled to Rome by the Emperor Domitian at the end of an unusually long 7 year term of office. Tacitus then tells us, rather cryptically, in his “Histories”, that “all Britain was taken and then immediately thrown away”, suggesting that Agricola’s conquests were abandoned shortly thereafter.

Not surprisingly, archaeologists have seized on this text, because it seemed to explain so much of what we find in northern Scotland. To date Scotland north of the Forth-Clyde line has yielded a frontier, a remarkable collection of over 70 temporary camps, a legionary fortress and 14 auxiliary forts, most of which seem to date to roughly this period, and with coin evidence to suggest that the area was indeed abandoned in the mid 80’s. There has been much argument over detail, but it has usually been assumed that the northernmost forts (including Inchtuthil) were built after Mons Graupius by Agricola’s, as yet unknown successor, and were thus only in use for the remaining few years of the Flavian occupation, whilst at least some of the forts to the south of the Tay might be Agricola’s own work and thus occupied rather longer.

The Gask itself, has often been seen as shorter lived still, perhaps lasting for as little as a single year, partly because it was once thought unlikely that it would have coexisted with the glen blocker line and partly because, although the forts on the Gask have shown signs of two Flavian structural periods, suggesting a long enough occupation for repairs and rebuilding to become necessary, only a single period had been recognised in the towers and fortlets. This led to a number of suggestions for stages within the Flavian incursion where a short chronology Gask might be fitted, of which the most popular was that it represented a last ditch attempt to hold onto Fife, in the late 80’s, when the rest of the north was abandoned. The entire story became a model of the way in which archaeology and historical texts could be used in combination and the writer, for one, believed it implicitly. Almost immediately, however, the Gask Project began to throw unexpected doubts on the traditional chronology, because there was simply too much archaeology to fit.

The Project’s work began with excavations at the three Gask towers of Greenloaning, Shielhill South and Huntingtower and, instead of the single phase that had been expected, all three produced signs of at least two and possibly three structural periods. In other words, instead of being built, occupied briefly and then demolished, the towers had needed to be completely rebuilt at least once and possibly twice during their service lives. Moreover, a CFA excavation at the Gask tower of Blackhill Wood soon produced a similar picture and, in each case, the evidence took the form of a replacement of the towers’ main structural posts (fig 3). There was thus suddenly evidence for a more prolonged Flavian occupation, although how prolonged still remains open to question. Much probably depends on how long substantial timber uprights (up to 40cm in diameter) could be expected to last before needing replacement, and this, in turn, depends, at least partly, on what they were made of. For the Romans did sometimes use far from ideal timber in military structures: alder for example, which tends to rot fairly quickly once set into the ground. Environmental analyses from Gask sites have suggested that virtually the only trees in this landscape in Roman times were water loving species, such as alder and willow, around the rivers, with the rest of the area virtually treeless and devoted to grazing. But the Project’s analysis of wood fragments from the postholes of Roundlaw tower, coupled to earlier evidence from Raith, would suggest that the structural timber actually used was oak and this could have been expected to last for years before needing replacement. Likewise a number of sites also showed signs of ditch re-cutting, but not before a considerable depth of silt had formed in the ditch bottoms. Indeed some of the ditches had silted almost back to the original surface before they were re-dug and this again must have taken some time, especially as Glenbank fortlet, had its ditches cut no less than three times. The result was a clash between a historical model which tells us to expect between 1 and 7 years of occupation and archaeological evidence for significantly more.

Of the remaining excavated Gask installations, most were studied by 19th and early 20th century methods and were not well enough recorded for phasing to show. Nevertheless, one more tower, Moss Side, does show signs of rebuilding. Furthermore Westerton, the only other tower to have been excavated by modern methods, proved to have two posts in the one post hole studied and, although their relationship remains unclear, this could be an indication of the same process.

More interestingly, there is evidence that at least one of the frontier sites was rebuilt as a completely different installation type, for the fortlet of Midgate, when excavated, in 1900, was found to sit so close beside one of the watchtowers that the two sites’ ditches come to within 13m of one another. There was obviously little point in placing lookout points so close together and so these two cannot be contemporary, which means that at some point the Romans replaced a tower with a fortlet here, or vice versa. Unfortunately, the ditches stay just far enough apart that their upcast does not overlap to provide a stratigraphic sequence, and so it has not been possible to show which site came first. There may, however, be another of these double sites, at Raith. One of the normal Gask towers was found on this spot during the construction of a water tank in 1901. But air photographyhas since revealed a possible fortlet ditch, which instead of sitting next to the tower, as at Midgate, actually surrounds it. Indeed, Raith might actually be a triple site since both installations lie inside a newly discovered Roman temporary camp (fig 4). This site should thus be able to tell us the building sequence, although as yet the Project has been unable to get access to the land. Nevertheless, the very existence of these double sites provides additional evidence for prolonged occupation.

The Project has also been able to compare ancient pollen trapped in the turf used in Roman ramparts (which preserves evidence for the immediately pre-Roman landscape) with that from Roman period ditch silts. This has revealed evidence that farming intensified during the occupation, presumably in response to Roman, supply needs, which would probably have been met by some mixture of taxation and purchase. But, as the same pollen evidence also shows that native farming in the area was almost wholly based on stock rearing, this is something that could not have happened overnight. Building stock numbers takes a lot more time than increasing arable cultivation and so again an extended occupation seems to be needed.

Things become even more complex when we look beyond the Gask to the forts of Strathmore. These lie north of the Tay and so, on the current chronology, they should only have been in use for perhaps 2 years, but again signs of rebuilding are emerging. For example, A.S.Robertson’s large scale excavations at Cardean during the 1960s and 70s are currently being prepared for publication by B.Hoffmann who has shown that all of the major excavated buildings have evidence for at least one rebuild. Inchtuthil may also be longer lived and more complex than is often thought, for an extra ditch and rampart defence was discovered to the east of the fortress in 1901 (close to the so called “officers compound”) which may represent another phase. This was ignored in the report of Richmond’s post-war excavations, as were two long rectangular buildings which could be associated with this structure. There may even be signs of Roman activity on the …

ARCHAEOLOGY VERSUS TACITUS’ AGRICOLA, A 1ST CENTURY WORST CASE SCENARIO

In 1425 Poggio, the Pope’s secretary and book-collector in Rome, got a letter from the monastery of Hersfeld in Germany, informing him that after checking his list of desiderata against the books preserved in their library, a volume of hitherto unknown works of Tacitus had been identified. In the ensuing correspondence it became clear that these ‘new’ works were the Dialogue on the Orator, the Germania and the Agricola.

It took another 30 years for this manuscript to make its way from Germany to Italy, where it seems that, from the 1470s onwards, a number of people made hand-written and printed copies, before the original manuscript vanished, only to partly resurface in the early 20th century in Iesi in Northern Italy.

Given the problems that the Germania and Agricola in particular have caused, there must be quite a few Romanists, who wish that the manuscripts might have gone astray in the post en-route to Rome, but instead the Agricola has risen to become one of the most read volumes of Roman history in Britain.

The text itself is, according to most of its editors, a form of funeral eulogy for Tacitus’ father-in-law. It is full of the ingredients of a gripping historical tale: a good story, a believable main character, and a battle scene, indeed – only the happy ending falls far short of expectations. The same ingredients now make ‘Meet the Ancestors’ such a success on television, and we should not be surprised that from at least the 18th century onwards, it became a popular pastime of vicars and military personnel to try to find the location of the reported events, usually by associating them with ‘Roman antiquities’ in the fields of their parishes.

By the nineteenth century Agricola had made it into the children’s book section in a walk-on-part in Puck-of-Pook’s hill and into folk songs, still popular today among Romanists and certain Northumbrians alike. More importantly he had become a stock character and the stuff that school books are made of and it now seems impossible to write a history of Britain without him. Agricola’s musings on invading Ireland even ensured him an honourable mention in textbooks on the Irish Iron Age.

In the period from 1963 to 1981 a series of comprehensive histories of Roman Britain appeared. All gave a general account of the history and archaeology of the province and all have become core text books for Roman Britain courses. The first, Ian Richmond’s Penguin history, treats the Agricola as a historical account and reproduces its story-line more or less unchanged, usually without reference to archaeology.

Sheppard Frere’s “Britannia” is probably the longest account and includes the historical data, rarely critically assessed, but with some added ideas about the chronology and archaeology. The latter are usually hedged with ‘perhaps’, ‘possibly’ and any number of subjunctive clauses, suggesting a possible association but staying clear of straightforward equation.

Peter Salway’s “Roman Britain” is slightly more critical of Tacitus, but still reproduces the main sequence of events. The archaeology is now used to provide clear indicators as to where the action actually took place, but still some doubts are raised.

The peak of this development was reached with M.Todd’s Fontana History of Roman Britain of 1981. In eight pages he gives us a seductively written account of Agricola’s exploits following Tacitus and sometimes exceeding him, as when he provides a description of the weather. The archaeology is seamlessly integrated into the narrative. Most doubts are stilled. The locations are clearly identified and any surviving ‘shoulds’ are easily overlooked. Indeed one wonders, why nobody made a film out of this: ‘General of the Glens’, the lead played by Oliver Reid or even Russel Crowe and accompanied by beautiful long-panned views of the Highlands.

With this background it is hardly surprising, to find that Agricola is probably the second best known Roman in Britain and that lecturers find it increasingly hard, to put the ‘critical’ back into the student essays on the topic. But is this really, how the history and archaeology of the late first century should be handled? What has in effect happened is that historiography has been culled for the dates and events whilst archaeology has been mined for the places and material. Together a beautiful story emerges. Archaeology the handmaiden of history, history the quarry of archaeology and all in one nicely packaged story.

As a result, research in the last 20 years has often been concerned with the ever finer differentiation of the picture. ‘Perdomita Britannia, statim missa’, well of course, this must mean a quick and sudden evacuation of Northern Britain…and the numismatic research obliges us with the date: 86 AD, or perhaps early 87. The large temporary camps leading up to Durno must surely, we are told, be associated with the run-up to Mons Graupius, and hey presto: a series of large marching camps all dated to exactly 83/4 AD. Season-exact dates, who could possibly beat that? Perhaps if we could go back to the text, or more likely the Penguin translation we could reread it again and get the exact time of day it all happened…….

The reader must excuse the sarcastic tone here, but what I have just described is in fact the worst case scenario for our discipline. It is seductive and easy, and unfortunately wrong, and it happened because historians tried to work with archaeological data and archaeologists with historical sources when both were unaware of the limits of the others’ material.

I believe there is a better way of approaching the evidence, but it demands either the co-operation of specialists from different disciplines or the thorough training of students in both subjects. After learning about C14, dendrochronology and other archaeosciences, archaeologists have in the last 30 years come to understand the value of specialist knowledge and the need to secure it for their own work. There is one field, however, where this has not been the case: Historical archaeology.

In the long bygone days of Haverfield and co. Roman archaeologists tended to be trained historians and often also philologists. They learned to deal with texts and the relevant critical apparatus and assumed that most people interested in the subject would read the texts in the original and understand the finer nuances. Archaeology was for getting your hands, or more to the point – somebody else’s hands, dirty in the summer. Archaeological methodology was often in its infancy – context was something that happened to Tacitus, but not on site.

Since then the situation has changed somewhat. Both subjects have developed their own very specialist theories and methodologies to deal with their source material. Some of them require in-depth training and are not easily accessible to the uninitiated, but are nevertheless essential. A proper inter- or rather cross-disciplinary approach is rare, but when it happens it can be extremely fruitful.

So let us see what we can do when we disentangle the different disciplines and ask the specialists to make their own independent contributions to the study of late first century AD Britain.

Let us begin with the archaeology. Traditionally, and under the influence of the texts the first century history of the North of Britain has always been portrayed as follows. Until the late sixties northern England was only partially integrated into the province of Britannia, while most of it was run as a semi-independent client kingdom under Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes. At the end of Nero’s reign the kingdom became unstable and eventually the Queen had to be rescued by Rome. After a brief violent exchange the client kingdom was incorporated into the province. At this point Agricola became governor of Britain, and it is traditionally him, who is credited with the original foundation of any site north of a line from Chester to York.

Interestingly Tacitus’ Agricola is far less explicit about Agricola being the first governor in this area than a lot of his commentators and fans, think it is, and careful reading should have prepared the archaeological community for what was to come.

In the late 1970’s excavations in Annetwell Street, Carlisle produced large timbers, which when dated by dendrochronology produced felling dates of 72/73 AD. The early date was corroborated by finds of early Flavian Samian pottery and coins from elsewhere in the city, including the fort. Together, this left very little doubt that here was one fort, that was definitely built before Agricola became governor in 77 or 78 AD. Having established such a date for one site and the cultural assemblage to go with it, further studies quickly showed, that other supposedly ‘Agricolan’ bases like Ribchester, Blennerhasset, Castleford and possibly Papcastle produced similarly early material.

David Shotter has since singled out a number of forts even further north that have also produced comparatively large numbers of early coinage, pointing to activity at the sites in the early seventies AD, including Castledykes, Newstead, Camelon, Strageath and Cardean.

Indeed, only Camelon and Strageath have produced equally high levels of Domitianic coinage, suggesting that at these five forts, occupation may have started much earlier than is traditionally assumed.

Nor is the coinage the only finds’ group to produce unusually high levels of early material. The site of Drumquhassle near Loch Lomond has yielded Terra Nigra, a pre-Flavian and very early Flavian type of pottery that was imported from Gaul. At sites like Carlisle, Newstead, Inchtuthil and Castleford glass vessels have been found which are 20 years behind the times for an assemblage of the 80s AD. Traditionally these have been associated with heirlooms or traders dumping old-fashioned material on less discerning customers in the North, but in view of the Carlisle date there are easier ways of explaining this glass.

It might be argued that a lot of this material culture made its way into the North as the possessions of British civilians living on the site of the later forts, and thereby ‘rescue’ the traditional account, but unfortunately, there is yet another strand of conflicting evidence. In the last five years the work of the Roman Gask Project and others north of the Antonine Wall, have discovered multiple structural phases on a number of Flavian military sites. The phenomenon is best known from the series of fortlets and watch towers on the Gask Ridge between Doune and Bertha, but recently two distinct building phases have also been recognised in the fort of Cardean and there are indications that Strageath may also had an earlier phase. All this suggests that the period of occupation in the North was substantially longer than the ‘traditional’ short chronology envisaged in the aftermath of Agricola’s victory at Mons Graupius, instead the associated material suggests that occupation started well before the time suggested by Tacitus.

This archaeological evidence must subtract from what we have traditionally seen as Agricola’s achievement, for it now appears that a number of northern sites, from Manchester to Strathmore, may already have been in occupation during the early 70s. The fact that these dates have been acquired purely by the use of dendrochronology and the analysis of the surviving archaeological record, show that the information in Tacitus’ text presents difficulties. They do not mean that Agricola never existed or that he just sat in London twiddling his thumbs, but that the story told in the Histories of Roman Britain certainly needs re-evaluating.

Having established that simply combining the text and the archaeology in the manner of Frere, Salway and Todd is no longer possible; the next question is, what is wrong with the text? Is Tacitus actually lying?

So far we have dealt with the Agricola as an interesting framework providing useful chronological data and historical snapshots, but this is not what the Agricola was written for. First and foremost the Agricola is a piece of Latin literature; it is not a simple list of important events in Britain from 77 to 84. Are we perhaps trying to do the equivalent of reconstructing French history with the help of The Three Musketeers?

Under the …