Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle

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Hidden amongst the Shropshire hills stands the 4,000 year old Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle : a Bronze Age monument around 27 meters in diameter, consisting of approximately 30 stones of which only about  half are visible today.

The low-standing stones are only visible once you are nearby, most of them were probably as high as the middle piece (standing at around 180cm) before being damaged by time. The circle itself is in a shallow basin surrounded by a hummocky landscape. This concealment was probably intentional, with the idea that the supposedly religious activity that would take place there could be done quietly and without being deranged by every day activities. It is likely that there was the idea that mundane and spiritual activities should not mix.

 The location is also linked to the nearby Corndon hill, where picrite was present and used to make Bronze Age axes. Picrite sources were often chosen and used in consideration to the difficulty to reach them. Therefore there could be direct symbolic link between Bronze Age religion and picrite, a vital material for the time.

There are two other stone circles in the area, the Hoarstones (1½ mile NE from Mitchell’s Circle)  and the Whetstones (½ mile east from Mitchell’s Circle).The hillside around Mitchell’s circle is also filled with burial cairns. All these monuments tend to show that the region had great religious significance. According to folklore, a local cow who gave unlimited milk was milked dry by a witch, who was punished by being turned into stone and was surrounded by other stones to imprison her.

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As we arrived to the monument, we read the short text about the stone circle and listened to the professor as he gave more information about the circle and its surroundings. We then walked around the premises to fully comprehend it, took pictures, and talked about the monument. By going to this site, I was able to grasp the full scale of the stone circle. I was also able to clearly see its position, in link to the surrounding geography. Indeed, a stone circle’s location is of great importance and is rarely random. Visiting an archaeological site enables to grasp these things, unlike photographs or film ; by walking on their footsteps, we are able to better understand people of the past.

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Sources :

http://www.bbc.co.uk/shropshire/features/halloween/mitchells_fold.shtml

http://www.shropshiretourism.co.uk/attractiondetails.php?estid=2705

http://www.shropshiretourism.co.uk/south-shropshire/mitchell_fold/

http://www.peoplescollectionwales.co.uk/items/8938

http://www.bbc.co.uk/shropshire/content/articles/2005/07/12/nature_corndon_hill_feature.shtml

http://www.cpat.org.uk/walks/corndon.pdf

 

By Martin Kirsch

Team Constantinople does the British Museum – 8/5/14

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Despite the rain, some failed attempts to blow a middle Byzantine horn and a genuine mummified ear, the Constantinople project groups managed to have a successful handling session at the British Museum. The aim of the trip was to further educate us on the physical objects within the Byzantine Empire and their cultural impact. While this was also achieved, when informed that the ear attached to one of the earrings we were passing around was in fact real none of us passed out, unlike some past tour groups, so I would say we distinguished ourselves most of all as the memorable Team Constantinople.

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Reading panegyric odes to ancient artefacts is one thing. Being handed a centuries old intricately carved ivory horn that weighs as much as a toddler with a chuckle and ‘watch out you don’t drop this – unless you have £1.75 million spare’ is quite another. The appreciation to detail on each and every gold, silver or ivory treasure we were privileged enough to handle was genuinely unbelievable. If we had just read Byzantine accounts of the hundreds of almost imperceptibly tiny metal strands woven together to create a single earring, it would’ve been easy to dismiss this as exaggeration.

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To actually be taken to a handling session where we not only saw the artefacts but could hold and nervously strain not to drop them was a fantastic experience. Especially interesting was the effect that lighting had on the ivory triptychs, something you have to see to believe. To get a glimpse behind the scenes at the British Museum was also brilliant as the wonderfully charismatic Chris Entwhistle shared his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Byzantine and probably inspired some job applications too – hearing tales of armed artefact escorts and guards with Uzis certainly peaked our interests and I’m sure a few of us had to take a second to re-evaluate how prepared we would be for the Indiana Jones like excitement of Museum Curatorship. Ultimately, Team Constantinople had a great day out led by the indomitable Ruth Macrides, who has been a wonderful teacher despite 9am classes and a few yawning students.

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By Jessica Walsh

Duxford Imperial War Museum

 

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On Thursday 27th February 2014, nine students spent a day at Madingley American Cemetery and the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire.  The students, a mix of History, American Studies and War Studies, all taking the 3rd Year, Advance Option module. ‘USA and World War Two’ were given a guided tour of Madingley American Cemetery by Arthur Brookes, a volunteer there, and, after lunch, were given a talk about Second World War era planes at Duxford, by their tutor Dr Vicky Henshaw.  Madingley American Cemetery is the only World War Two American cemetery in the UK and contains 3,909 graves in 30.5 acres of grounds, as well as 5,127 names on the Tablets of the Missing.  The Imperial War Museum, Duxford, contains the American Air Museum which was created as a memorial to the 30,000 American airmen who died flying from British bases during the Second World War.  It houses the largest collection of American military aircraft in Europe.  Some of the students comments about the trip include; “It provided a visual and emotional experience of the course”, that “experiencing the material put ideas into context” and “the trip helped with imagining the reality of what we learn through our module work”.

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Environmental Archaeology Outside the Lab, Field Trip 2014

            The aim of this trip was to gain practical fieldwork experience in the field of environmental archaeology and to learn basic botany, as well as to explore the history and development of the sites we visited.

 

Llanymynech Rocks

Llanymynech Rocks is a series of quarries on the border between Shropshire, England, and Powys Wales. It is a rare habitat where butterflies and orchids can be seen, as well as a wealth of other plants and animals. This diversity is what made it a perfect destination for our trip.

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The quarry cliffs at Llanymynech

We were tasked with identifying as many different species of plants and animals as possible; this was competition between groups of us. We were all given a guide to identify the plants, and told that we would be given more points if we could identify the species and give its scientific name. At first we were sceptical that we would be able to get more than 100 points. Our three groups in fact managed to rack up scores of 136, 128 and 105 which, David said is very respectable. My team actually won.

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There was a great variety of plant life to be seen on our walk up to the quarries, and our identification guides proved very useful, as did Dr. Smith’s expert eye. As we progressed, a few different strategies developed. Two of the groups sped ahead to try and see as much as possible, while the final group opted for a slow detailed approach to find as many species as possible in each area before moving on. After the task we headed up to the viewpoint for lunch, looking out over a landscape shaped by the lime quarried from the Rocks we were exploring.

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We were lucky to see the Early Purple Orchid in flower
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The view towards Wales
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Lunchtime, and a variety of different lunches. Pasta, leftover toad in the hole, curry sandwiches and cold pizza (and some boring ham sandwiches)
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Slow Worms were one of the most interesting sightings of the day.

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle

 

Next we took a trip over to this Bronze Age monument. While standing amongst the stones we considered its place within the landscape, the proximity to one of the major mines for the production of Neolithic Stone Axes. Also the way it offers commanding views over the landscape, while remaining secluded.

Here we heard the story of how the damage to some of the stones was caused by the tradition of newly married miners dynamiting the stones, and how the remaining stones were nearly uprooted by a farmer desperate to discourage a group of travelers who had taken up residence on the common land around the circle.

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Caer Caradoc Hill Fort

We made the rather arduous climb up to this fort from the minibus, but the views from the top more than made up for this….

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Here we saw the remains of Iron Age defensive ditches, and discussed how their extension in the pre-Roman period may have had more to do with wealth and status, than the practical need for defense. Having assaulted the hilltop ourselves without having to deal with any ditches or defenders, we can confirm that it would have been very well defended without the need for more ditches.

By Alex Moore

For more photos from this trip click the link to David Smith’s Student Trips 2014 Flickr page:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/123418600@N05/

Special Subject Trip to London, V&A and The Museum Of London

At the start of the spring term our special subject class: A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects traveled to London to conduct our class at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of London. The purpose of this Material Culture course is, through extensive collaboration, to devise a collection of 100 objects and artifacts that create a history of what life was like in Tudor England.

Each week we are provided with a theme and corresponding lecture by Tara Hamling, Birmingham’s own noted material culture expert, before we are sent to work to find, research, present, and vote on objects that fit those themes. Whether we are linking King Arthur’s Round Table to propaganda in the Tudor dynasty or heatedly discussing how the codpiece relates to masculinity, every week has brought new insight into the lives of England’s favourite monarchs.

Our class was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to London to see some of these objects we had discussed and to explore the museums in search of new objects to add to our collection. We began the trip at the Victoria and Albert Museum to look at objects and art that were considered “high culture” or otherwise objects of great value or prestige that would have been own or commission by the elite.

The V&A is a must-see for anyone in London, as it is expansive in size and content and free to the public. However, to explore the Tudor and Stuart England sections, trying to spot objects we had seen in class while Professor Hamling provided her own expertise, was an experience each and every one of us felt lucky to be a part of.

The highlight for all was seeing the Great Bed of Ware, a massive four-poster bed that is said to sleep twelve comfortably. In Tudor times the bed was on display in the main room of a pub and was used as a tourist attraction. For us, however, it was a piece in our collection and a topic in our readings that had come alive as a tangible form of living history.

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After two hours, we left the world of luxurious items and fantastic examples of Renaissance artwork and craftsmanship to see a collection of very different kinds of objects at the Museum of London. Here we focused on “low culture” or the simple, everyday objects that would be much more common for a layperson in Early Modern England. The museum has thousands upon thousands of artifacts, most of them broken, rusted, frayed, decayed, or otherwise damaged, that had been found in archaeological digs throughout London.

The collection at this museum was filled with pins found in the ruins of the Rose Theatre, artifacts used in medicine, charred and ruined objects from the Fire of London, pieces of spoons, pots, and other household items, and plenty more. Where the V&A had objects that represent monarchy, dynasty, renaissance, reformation, wealth, art, and learning, the Museum of London showcased a different part of Tudor history, like domesticity, social unrest, fire, plague, and war.

The contrast between the two museums underlined a major theme in our course: in order to fully create a history of the Tudors, we need to look at all aspects of Early Modern life. Historians have too often neglected the every day object in favor of the extraordinary, but that paints an incomplete picture, we need one in order to understand the other. Although generally speaking, historians have also too often neglected objects as a way to understand their subjects. If we have learned anything from this course, and more specifically this trip, it is that the study of objects and material culture as part of history opens doors that documents and accounts simply do not. When we consider the significance an object had on the life of a person from Tudor England we step into their world and for one moment, history comes to life.

By Danielle Alesi

The British Museum, Vikings: life and legend

When we think of Vikings, most of us tend to see the stereotypical Viking raider, wearing his horned helmet, sword in hand, battling his way through medieval Europe. Although we know the horns are fictional, warrior culture was very important to the Norsemen, but in ‘The Viking World’ we’ve learnt that they were much more than that – traders, diplomats, priests… Above all, they were people, complicated, not a simple cartoon.

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As a student of medieval history, the British Museum’s ‘Vikings: life and legend’ exhibition turns hours of reading and discussion into a tangible reality (and a brilliant way to celebrate handing in dissertations). As we entered, the start of the exhibit was filled with readings of Old Norse, which immersed us in Viking culture from the very beginning. Out of such an exciting exhibit, it is hard to decide what to discuss. The hogback stone, a phenomenon unique to Scotland and England, helped to convey the sheer scale of some of the industry; intricately carved throughout and just under two meters wide, it would have taken skill and strength to create and deposit in its original home in Glasgow. There were examples of runic script – not just the careful engraving on the back of a massive gold brooch, but also as graffiti, for example the ship on a stone from Dublin. Near the end of the exhibition, there was an example of a sorcerer’s staff, from the late 10th century, a physical example of the role myth, magic and religion played in pre-Christian society. Alongside these and many other pieces were quotations painted on the walls from sources about the Vikings – from sagas to foreign writers like Ibn Fadlan. All of these showed the impact of a people who were much more than simple raiders.

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Yet all of these amazing pieces were secondary to the main event. Like the Viking Age, the foundation of the exhibition was a Viking long ship: Roskilde 6, the largest ship of its kind to be found. At 37 metres in length, double that of the average war ship, Roskilde 6 is presumed to be an early 10th century royal construction – either as tribute or part of a royal fleet. It’s easy to imagine the kind of ships that were used – we get ideas of plastic toys or cardboard models made at school.  It’s one thing to be discussing the concept of Viking warriors sailing to war or new lands inside a boat, but another to stand in a hall filled with the remains and reconstruction of one. The whole day was not only fun and informative, but also brings to life a society long dead, helping us as historians to gain a new perspective.

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 By Lucy Guest