HEIRnormous fun and activities at “Social Animals – LiveFriday”

Originally posted on Historic Environment Image Resource (HEIR):

After the successful launch of our crowd-sourcing web platform HEIRtagger – heirtagger.ox.ac.uk – on Thursday 14th May at Harris Manchester College, the HEIR team has taken their message to the public on LiveFriday at the Ashmolean Museum.

“ A wonderful idea – to tap into the general public – use their eyes…”

The evening started with a blast of the past. Clad in Victorian costumes (including a fake stuffed bird and a profusion of red feathers) Sally and Katharina took visitors on an idiosyncratic journey from Oxford to Constantinople in 1880. Baedeker and Murray guides at the ready, the adventurous ladies braved floods, fleas, and other fiendish foes to quench their thirst for adventure and knowledge.

Our lantern-slide show     The audience

Having arrived back at the present, the public got stuck straight into trying out their tagging skills on several iPads, thereby helping us to keyword our thousands of historic images…

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April 1911: ‘The wind…is inclined to blow my camera over’

Originally posted on Historic Environment Image Resource (HEIR):

Postcard from GLC: 1910

Looking through Professor Haverfield’s photograph album, our eyes were caught by this postcard from ‘G.L.C.’ (anyone know who this might be?) which is a reminder that taking photographs was a tricky and time-consuming process. G.L.C. was probably using a collapsible field camera, which would still have been a heavy piece of equipment. The camera would have been screwed onto a tripod base to give the camera the stability needed while the glass plate was exposed to light.


G.L.C. writes:

Having splendid weather here except for the wind which is inclined to blow my camera over. The mosaics have quite converted me and I am looking forward to those in the Tunis museum which are said to be better. Hotel Giyimo Rue de l’Eglise Tunis if you care to write before April 14th

The postcard seems to have been redirected to Haverfield on the 11th from his address in Headington, Oxford, to Devon…

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Cornwall and the Archives


Blog by Roelie Reed

During a recent visit to Cornwall, I visited St Enodoc Church, Trebetherick. The church itself was well worth the visit; it was built in 1430 but parts of it date back to the 12thC, as does its font.

font 2


The church is situated in the dunes at Daymer Bay on the River Camel Estuary and was almost buried in sand during the 18th and 19th C during which time the priest was lowered through the roof into the church to carry out its annual service so that he could keep his stipend!  


A Celtic Cross is in the entrance porch which was relocated to the church from a nearby location. On the adjacent Brae Hill there are three Bronze Age burial mounds.




There are some tenuous links with the Archives; Sir John Betjeman was a friend of archaeologist Stuart Piggott (he wrote a poem about Stuart – there is a signed copy in the Piggott archive); Sir John first came to Trebetherick in 1910; his father owned several properties in the area. He retired to the village where he owned a house on the 12th hole of the golf course, wrote several poems about the area and Cornwall, and he is buried in the churchyard.

We’ve also found some beautiful images of Cornwall in our glass plate photographic archive. This site was identified for us by a Twitter follower as Polruan:

Wylie: harbourside town with ships at anchor

We haven’t found any old images of Trebetherick though – yet!

It was a very poignant experience to sit on the bench where Sir John must have sat often, admiring the view over the estuary; the beach and see the waves breaking over the rocks in the distance.


St Endodoc


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The Historic Environment Image Researcher, Dr Janice Kinory, has been thinking about a particular image…

‘As a guest blogger, I’d like to use this venue to write about how old images in the HEIR Project collection can provide a fresh perspective on things we think we know as archaeologists.

I first learned about the innovative Roman rotary quern from text books. Having excavated at several Roman sites I have even found bits of rotary querns. I’ve seen complete rotary querns in museum showcases. I even had a fully developed mental model of the use of this implement, envisioning it being used by a solitary individual, possibly a slave, working indoors, grinding grain. In short, I thought I “knew” about rotary querns.

HMC: Palestine: "HOLY LAND."   "28. Women Grinding."

This image, showing a scene from 1930s Palestine, hit me like a thunderbolt for several reasons. Clearly, the presence of the working rotary quern at that date was the first shock, making me think of the Monty Python movie “The Life of Brian,” in which the question what have the Romans done for us is answered at length; the quern clearly needed to be added to that list.

The second thought was that grinding was shown as a social activity, with the two women, possibly a mother and daughter, sharing the work, each with a hand on the wooden drive handle. My third insight was that the work was clearly being performed outdoors, which undoubtedly minimised the inhalation of flour dust.

Most importantly, though, was my final thought: the recognition of the organic mat and cloth beneath the quern on which to gather the flour being produced. I’d never thought about needing a containment mechanism for the flour. I had virtually no chance of finding an organic mat of any type with a quern fragment in an archaeological context and had never seen one included in a museum display beneath a quern. This was, as they say, a paradigm-shifting moment for me.

This image came from the collection of Harris Manchester College at the University of Oxford. It was part of their collection of pictures from the Holy Land, with many of the pictures in that group showing sites associated with Christianity. Some, such as this one, focus on the people living in that region in the early to mid-20th century.

The picture leaves many questions unanswered; we do not know whether or not the photographer was aware that the grinding process dated back to the Roman period, nor do we know whether this was an illustration of contemporary 1930’s life or a staged representation of how things were done when the older woman was a child. Was this an activity for the household, or was the grain being ground in sufficient quantity so as to produce a saleable surplus, generating cash income? The longer one stares at the picture, the more questions come to mind.

With almost 10,000 images already available, I believe that the HEIR Project images have the potential to shift many paradigms. I would love to hear from those who read our blog with their thoughts about this picture.’

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A teaser: ‘Living off the Romans in the 19th and 20th centuries’

We are looking forward to a talk by our researcher, Dr Janice Kinory, who will be exploring the relationship between commercial photographers in the late 19th century and the Roman ruins they photographed. She will be showcasing many of the beautiful slides from the HEIR database:



If you are a member of the Roman Discussion Forum, we look forward to seeing you at the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford next week, but if not, Janice will be blogging about her talk here in the near future (and no doubt there will be a paper forthcoming…)

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No spelt, please, we’re Saxon

Originally posted on Not Just Dormice - Food for Thought:

Guest blogger Mark McKerracher considers the fate of foodstuffs after Roman rule…


The boats safely beached, four Germanic feet touched the sands of old Britannia. The heavily moustached faces of Hengest and Horsa looked out over these strange new shores, littered with imperial detritus. A limp, decaying sack lay at Horsa’s feet.

‘Spelt flakes,’ it read, ‘naturally rich in Romanitas.’

‘Pah,’ muttered Horsa. ‘Foreign muck.’


Behind this stirring vignette of the birth of England lies a real archaeological conundrum: why didn’t the Anglo-Saxons eat more spelt? The facts are simply stated. When charred crop deposits are excavated from Romano-British settlements, the wheat component is practically always dominated by one type: spelt wheat. Yet from the 5th century AD onwards, in deposits from Anglo-Saxon settlements, bread wheat takes its place, dominating the wheats to the near-total exclusion of spelt – as it has done, pretty much, ever since…

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Lost views: ‘Palaces of Mechatta’

This image from our lantern slide collection is labelled “PALACES OF MECHATTA: ON EDGE OF SYRIAN DESERT, CARVING” “SYRIA (6th AD) “XEm”


The monumental unfinished palace of Qasr Mshatta was discovered and excavated in 1840, and lies about 30km south of Amman in Jordan. It probably dates to the mid 8th century. The huge intricately carved southern facade, illustrated in this image, was given as a gift to Kaiser Wilhelm II and transported to Berlin in 1903. A significant proportion of the carvings have been reconstructed and are now on display at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, having suffered damage from bombing during WWII.

In an article of 1908, P. Siméon Vailhé described the site as: ‘this fairytale palace, pearl of the Syrian desert, before the facade was taken to Berlin’. He also added that ‘the legendary palace of Mechatta has been measured, drawn and photographed to the last detail’, and noted that the 24 extremely good, large format photographs allowed the facade to be studied as it was when it was still in place.

HEIR, the Historic Environment Image Resource, contains many evocative images which provoke a debate about how and why ancient sites have changed, whether changes are beneficial or destructive, and how the treatment of material culture in the past and present represents a complex interplay of political, social and cultural attitudes. Change is inevitable, and the value of a resource such as HEIR is the opportunity it gives to study lost views of the past, as Simeon Vailhe noted.

P. Siméon Vailhé (1908) Chronique byzantine et médiévale de Palestine (Vizantijsky Vremennik, xiv p462-482)

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