`Foule and Flabby Quagmires': The Archaeology of Wetlands

By Gearey, Benjamin R. | Antiquity, September 2002 | Go to article overview

`Foule and Flabby Quagmires': The Archaeology of Wetlands


Gearey, Benjamin R., Antiquity


FRANCIS PRYOR with J.C. BARRETT, S.D. BRIDGEFORD, D.G. BUCKLEY, D.G. COOMBS, C. EVANS, C.A.I. FRENCH, P. HALSTEAD, J. NEVE, J.P. NORTHOVER, M. ROBINSON, R.G. SCAIFE & M. TAYLOR. The Flag Fen basin: archaeology and environment of a Fenland landscape. xxiii+475 pages, 337 figures, 72 tables. 2001. Swindon: English Heritage; 1-85074-753-9 hardback 75 [pounds sterling].

TOM LANE & ELAINE L. MORRIS (ed.). A millennium of saltmaking: prehistoric and Romano-British salt production in the Fenland (Lincolnshire Archaeology & Heritage Report 4). xvi+509 pages, 145 figures, 106 tables, 17 plates. 2001. Heckington: Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire; 0-948639-32-6 paperback 22.50 [pounds sterling] (+7.50 [pounds sterling] p&p).

D. HODGKINSON, E. HUCKERBY, R. MIDDLETON & C.E. WELLS. The lowland wetlands of Cumbria (North West Wetlands Survey 6). xviii+362 pages, 90 figures, 10 tables, 60 plates. 2000. Lancaster: Lancaster University Archaeological Unit; 1-86220-082-3 (ISSN 1343-5205) 38 [pounds sterling].

STEPHEN RIPPON (ed.). Estuarine archaeology: the Severn and beyond (Archaeology in the Severn Estuary 11). viii+214 pages, 77 figures, 17 tables. 2001. Exeter: Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee; ISSN 1354-7089 paperback.

BARBARA A. PURDY (ed.). Enduring records: tile environmental and cultural heritage of wetlands. xviii+302 pages, 194 figures, 13 tables. 2001. Oxford: Oxbow; 1-84217-048-1 hardback 48 [pounds sterling] & US$85.

STEPHEN RIPPON. The transformation of coastal wetlands: exploitation and management of marshland landscapes in North West Europe during the Roman and Medieval periods, xvi+332 pages, 83 figures, 18 tables. 2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 0-19-726229-5 hardback 35 [pounds sterling].

Despite the fact that comprehensive study of the archaeology and environments of the wetlands of England can be traced back the best part of three quarters of a century to the pioneering work of Sir Harry Godwin and his collaborators in the Fenland Research Committee (formed in 1932), it is arguably only in the last decade or so that `Wetland Archaeology' has, for better or worse, emerged as a sub-discipline in its own right. This is reflected, for example, in the dedication of an edition of Current Archaeology to the subject and the recent launch of The Journal of Wetland Archaeology. The publication of Monuments at risk in England's wetlands (Van de Noort et al. 2001), a document that forms the basis for the production of a policy framework for future work by English Heritage, reflects the time and resources that continue to be directed towards this area. Indeed, three of the books in this review are the result of work funded wholly or partly by English Heritage.

The six books this review will cover include excavation reports and syntheses (Flag Fen basin, A millennium of saltmaking), survey reports (The lowland wetlands of Cambria), conference proceedings (Estuarine archaeology, Enduring records) and research projects (Transformation of coastal wetlands). The focus of these publications is on England's wetlands, although Enduring records contains a range of international papers with a slight bias towards the Americas, whilst Transformation and Estuarine archaeology include north European studies.

As French observes in Flag Fen basin, this area is one of the most intensively archaeologically investigated parts of lowland England. Despite this, it is sobering to note that the same author points out that despite three decades of research at and around Flag Fen, `much is still based on inferential linkage and wider analogy' (p. 400). This volume reports on survey, excavation and analyses carried out since the first major report on the site (Pryor et al. 1986). The bulk of this consists of work funded by English Heritage between 1989 and 1992, but also included are results from commercial excavations carried out by Cambridge University Archaeological Unit and Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit amongst others.

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