Antiquity and the Old World. (Special Section)

Article excerpt


As with its treatment of world archaeology as a whole, ANTIQUITY's coverage of Old World archaeology has been encyclopaedic. All the important sites, excavations and discoveries are there, from Stonehenge to the frozen tombs of Siberia, and from the Acropolis to Old Zimbabwe. In addition to site-specific contributions there have been many invaluable syntheses of evidence, such as Dilip Chakrabarti's review of the beginning of iron-use in India (1976), or the numerous articles dealing with plant and animal domestication and the transition to farming (e.g. Higgs & Jarman 1969). A wide range of issues affecting Old World archaeology--and equally applicable to the New World--have been covered, with much attention being paid to heritage management topics such as the problem of looting and the restitution of cultural property (e.g. Daniel 1971: 246-8). Methodological advances, and in particular developments in absolute dating techniques, have been followed closely. But perhaps most interestingly, the pages of ANTIQUITY provide us with a chronicle of the development of Old World archaeology itself, with accounts, anecdotes and obituaries concerning the great figures of the day, and also generous references to young scholars of note. Much of this information has been conveyed in the witty and often acerbic Editorials, which have provided an invaluable and unique insight into the world as viewed from Cambridge.

I do not propose to offer a statistical analysis of ANTIQUITY's Old World content, or to attempt a distillation of 75 years' contributions. Rather, I have chosen to highlight some of the topics that have particularly entertained and informed this reviewer over the years and which, arguably, reflect Old World preoccupations, namely: sex, alcohol, scandal and the eccentricities of the British. All have featured prominently in the pages of this august journal.

The Cerne Abbas giant

My first `case-study' manages to combine three out of these four topics, and concerns a male, ithyphallic, club-wielding figure cut into a chalk hillside in Dorset (FIGURE 1). Archaeological opinion has been divided as to its date, although many favour the view proposed by Stuart Piggott (1932) that it probably dates to around the 1st century AD, was carved by Roman-influenced natives, and may well represent the god Hercules (see Darvill et al. 1999 for a recent debate). As well as being a schedfiled ancient monument, it has long been popular with courting couples, and folk belief has, for obvious reasons, attributed fertility powers to it.


Professor Glyn Daniel's Editorial in volume 50 (1976b: 93-4) refers to a Home Office file concerning this figure, dating to 1932. This well-thumbed document is headed Obscene Publications: the Cerne Abbas Giant, and concerns a letter of complaint written by a Walter L. Long of Dorset. Mr Long had appended a sketch, and had covered this with a paper flap. He wrote:

If this sketch offends, please remember that we have the same subject, representing a giant 27,000 [sic] times life size, facing the main road from Dorchester to Sherborne.... With the support of the Bishop of Salisbury ... and representatives of other religions, I appealed to the National Trust [who care for the monument, asking them to cover the offending section, but the National Trust] ... does not consider [that] the obscenity of this figure is a matter on which I can act ... If the Cerne Giant were to be converted into a simple nude, no exception would be taken to it. It is its impassioned obscenity that offends all who have the interest of the rising generation at heart, and I ... appeal to you to make this figure conform to our Christian standards of civilization.

The Home Office's response is a model of British diplomacy and Civil Service-speak. They approached the National Trust and even wrote to the head of the Dorset Police, seeking his view, before replying to Mr Long that, since the figure was a national monument, `the Secretary of State regrets that he cannot see his way to take any action in the matter'. …