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623.  Fri Oct 24, 2003 6:47 am Reply with quote

Thanks very much for taking the time to post that. So the explanation proposed is that, in the absence of sanitation, urbanisation shortens life expectancy - which makes intuitive sense, I suppose. I imagine that the opposite effect might be encountered if the urbanisation was a symptom or cause of economic prosperity, because then you'd expect fewer people to starve or be malnourished - and at some point this positive effect would overwhelm the negative hygiene effect. If you mapped life expectancies over time in an urbanising society you could expect normally to get a hook-shaped graph.

I'm just making this up as I go along, though.

626.  Fri Oct 24, 2003 8:30 am Reply with quote

the fact that those bodies are buried rather than burnt might imply that they were 'different' anyway.

Or it may have something to do with the time of year at which the person died, Frederick. Over here in Maine the cemetaries close from November until late April because the ground is frozen too hard to dig. My husband's mother died in December 2001 but her funeral wasn't until the beginning of May 2002. Bodies are kept in cold storage until the ground is diggable.

Although the ground doesn't freeze as hard because temperatures don't generally drop so low in Britain, the technology for digging would have been less good then, one presumes. The ground is frozen enough to defeat a modern backhoe over here. They don't do building work that involves digging in the winter either.

629.  Fri Oct 24, 2003 8:54 am Reply with quote

What did the Romans ever do for us? (cont)

My bedtime reading at the moment is a QI book about leylines called "The New View Over Atlantis" by John Michell (Thames & Hudson, 1983).

In what might produce an interesting question for the TV show, it makes clear that the Romans did not invent straight roads, but merely resurfaced the immemorial routes first plotted by who knows whom.

There is clear archaelogical evidence for this, the book asserts, and the idea is given further weight by the fact that there are plenty of similarly straight roads in Ireland (which, of course, was never conquered by the Romans).

632.  Fri Oct 24, 2003 9:21 am Reply with quote

Leyline enthusiasts will tell you that they are properly called "leys" and that the "line" suffix is tautological. The term was coined by one Alfred Watkins in the 1920s. He limited himself to playing join-the-dots with prehistoric sites, churches, crossroads, mountain tops, etc in Herefordshire, and thought he had discovered a network of straight trackways, as you say. It was only in the 60s that people started to interpret them as lines of "natural energy" or whatever. In my own area (Wiltshire), Sir Norman Lockyear spotted at the beginning of the last century that Stonehenge was aligned with Old Sarum, Salisbury Cathedral and Clearbury Ring, and since then others have extended this particular ley to include a tumulus on Durrington Down and the iron age hillfort of Frankenbury Camp near Fordingbridge, a distance of 18.5 miles, running almost north-south.

Agreed that the pre-Roman straight road thing would be an excellent question for the show.

Frederick The Monk
633.  Fri Oct 24, 2003 9:21 am Reply with quote

You're damn right there Jack. There was certainly a dense network of roads in the late Pre-Roman Iron Age and probably long before. The main difference seems to have been that Iron Age roads serviced local communities (as you would expect) and thus had a filligree appearance across the country, whereas Roman roads were trunk roads between large centres. The reason for this is that the Roman road system, contrary to popular belief was not a fab free gift the Romans gave to their conquered people to help them 'get' civilisation but simply infrastructure for the army and the taxman. As these roads were built by local levies I think it's fair to assume that existing tracks were used as their basis wherever possible, and as that track network was extensive, this was most of the time.

Last edited by Frederick The Monk on Fri Oct 24, 2003 9:23 am; edited 1 time in total

634.  Fri Oct 24, 2003 9:23 am Reply with quote

And, as Sellars and Yeatman have pointed out, it stopped the Britons from hiding round the corners.

643.  Fri Oct 24, 2003 9:55 am Reply with quote

Ha! Very funny, Flash.

Not just the question oven-ready for the TV show then, but Stephen's witty 'ad-lib' as well!

Frederick The Monk
842.  Wed Oct 29, 2003 4:51 am Reply with quote

Corners were of course something of a novelty to the Britons of the early Roman period. For some reason nearly all Britons eshewed corners in their houses - preferring them to be round - until the Roman's arrive. Even then the majority of homes remain round, (such as the Roman site of Chysauster in Cornwall) whilst only the wealthier elite adopt the Roman style with new-fangled 'corners'. In some cases, in the southeast, those who wanted the best of both worlds actually put a square Roman front on their roundhouse, impressing any passing Romanophiles whilst retaining the age-old confort of a more circular way of life behind the scenes.

Oddly enough there had been some houses with corners in the Neolithic, particularly in Scotland, but somehow they didn't catch on.

I could at this point go on to a discussion of round houses as modelling prehistoric cosmologies but there are others on this forum better qualified than me to talk about that.

844.  Wed Oct 29, 2003 5:07 am Reply with quote

God, that's marvellous Fred.

And I'd like to know who here's more of an expert on prehistoric cosmologies than you are...

Frederick The Monk
849.  Wed Oct 29, 2003 7:27 am Reply with quote

Well I can think of someone here who was taught by the great anthropologist Stephen Hugh-Jones - who worked on house cosmologies amongst the Barasana of Amazonia. Admittedly that's modern house cosmology but it's recently been applied to the Scottish Bronze Age. And why not.

(see Hugh-Jones, Stephen. (1979). The palm and the Pleiades: initiation and cosmology in northwest Amazonia. New York: Cambridge University Press)

850.  Wed Oct 29, 2003 7:35 am Reply with quote

Fred, my husband is an architect, and we visited Orkney this summer and saw those Neolithic stone houses at Scara Brae. His view is that it is technically far easier to build with unmortared stones in a round shape rather than a square because of the technical problems inherent in building corners.

The houses in Scara Brae are truncated cones like beehive shapes - the stones lean in all the way around the circumference and this makes the structure strong and stable. Corners make a structure more difficult to build because they create differences in structural stresses between the corners and the middle of the wall. They are also more complex to build soundly than a round shape. If you don't put the stones together exactly right, they are more likely to fall apart than those in a round shape. It could be that the Neolithic people knew this by the simple fact of attempting to build other shapes and finding they didn't work as well - the proof being that the stability of the shape of the houses at Scara Brae has led to them lasting this long.

Frederick The Monk
854.  Wed Oct 29, 2003 10:22 am Reply with quote

It's a good point, particularly when you consider that some of the earliest houses at Skara were oblong and these were replaced with rounder houses later, perhaps because the construciton technology was better. It doesn't however explain the survival of non-round types elsewhere. In the immediate vicinity (i.e. on Orkney) there are the houses at the Knap of Howar which are oblong and seem to have survived in use in that form for some 500 years. Their corners are not sharp right angles, but they are definitely corners. At Lismore Field near Buxton in Derbyshire there are also the remains of neolithic settlement based on oblong rather than round houses. Admittedly the paucity of neolithic settlement sites so far discovered makes it difficult to look much beyond these but it perhaps suggests that there is a cultural as well as a structural reason for the shape. I'm in danger of beginning to waffle on about the bronze age reformation now so I'll shut up.

859.  Wed Oct 29, 2003 12:56 pm Reply with quote

But the bronze age reformation is interesting!

862.  Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:22 pm Reply with quote

This is all good stuff. Fred, is it the case that you can tell when farmers kept livestock because of the shape of their field walls, ie they needed corners where the gate was, so as to herd the animals into the corner? I've heard 'tis so and it makes sense, but I don't know if there's evidence. Also, and weirdly, modern livestock farmers do not seem to do this - gates around here aren't in the corners of the fields at all.

Frederick The Monk
864.  Wed Oct 29, 2003 3:34 pm Reply with quote

Extraordinary Flash - how the hell did you know about that? - its obscure even by QI standards. Oddly enough I know a little about prehistoric fields thanks to my old friend Francis Pryor who is not only an first rate archaeologist (and sometime president of the Council for British Archaeology) but also a sheep farmer. It does seem to be the case that early british fields have their entrances in the corners and this has been used to suggest that the majority of early farming in Britain was not cereal growing but livestock rearing. Now you say modern farmers don't put gates in the corners of fields which I find puzzling because I'm sure Francis told me that this is the way you herd sheep in and out with a dog - i.e.funnel them into the corner. Francis has a lot more to say about early farming and I'd recommend his very excellent 'Farmers in Prehistoric Britain' published by Tempus - not only a seminal work on the subject, but actually funny and hence almost unique amongst archaeological works.


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