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Re: Latest on Newport Tower dig

Subject: Re: Latest on Newport Tower dig
From: "Uwe Müller"
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2006 17:12:30 +0100
Newsgroups: sci.archaeology
"Eric Stevens" <[email protected]> schrieb im Newsbeitrag
news:[email protected]
> On Wed, 29 Nov 2006 23:02:42 +0100, "Uwe Müller"
> <[email protected]> wrote:
>    --- snip ---
> >> Let's get this straight. An area outside the tower has been explored
> >> with ground penetrating radar and tests of electrical conductivity
> >> have been made. On the basis of the results the team have excavated
> >> and found - the remains of 19th century paths. After consulting old
> >> maps they have reached the conclusion that it is these old paths which
> >> have been detected by their measurements.
> >>
> >> Now, what conclusions can you draw from that as to the builders of the
> >> Newport Tower?
> >
> >First: there are no other worthwhile disturbances in the ground, that
> >be connected to the building or use of the tower, otherwise they'd have
> >there.
> This was the source of my original complaint. There is a distinctive
> rectangular area of disturbed ground near the tower and it seems not
> to have ever been explored.

If there is nothing linking it to the building of the tower, why should it
be excavated?

> >If you can track a garden path, you would surely find pits for mixing
> >mortar, latrines of the work crew etc.
> I think it goes without saying there would have been not just pits for
> mixing mortar, but the remnants of the carpentery entailed in building
> the heavy formwork for the arches, one or more heaps of sand, rock
> piles, a pile of unwanted stone rubble, a  heap of burned lime,
> possibly even the remnants of the fire where the lime was burned, but
> none of these have been found. I am sure you will agree that its not
> the searching which matters but the finding.

Sorry to say, but no, I would not agree. They have used modern equipment to
scan a large area for traces, that could help answer the question who build
it. They did not find any. Full stop.
You could argue, that the lack of building infrastructure points to a local
origin, at a time, where building materials etc. where available locally and
not fashioned at the site itself. If there are colonial artefacts found in
the foundation trenches, the case is clear as far as archaeology goes. A
modern style research could, afaik right now, not add to that.
But it illustrates how important it would have been to leave parts of the
foundation trenches unexcavated, for further studies.
> >You can question the personal and
> >scientific integrity of the parties involved, or the validity of the
> >applied, if you see reason to do so. But what we know about the results
> >clear on this point.
> I have absolutely no desire to question the integrity of the people
> concerned although, with the benefit of hindsight, I would question
> their failure to discover the maps of the old paths before they
> started to dig.

I tried to describe how futile it is normally to use old maps to pinpoint
excavations. If you don't believe me, there is no further comment I could

> >
> >Second: up to now we know that nothing has been found, that indicates a
> >norse or precolonial origin or use of the building. That could leave room
> >for the absence of evidence rule. What we do not know yet is, if there
> >post-colonial finds from structures directly connected to the building.
> >there are such finds, the absence of evidence bit is overruled by 'the
> >youngest find gives the date'.
> That's the most relevant statement anyone has made to date in this
> thread. I don't know if this current expedition has found any evidence
> of the original construction. Failing that it does not at all surprise
> me that all the artifacts they found date only from the colonial
> period or later.
> We should not overlook the fact that in 1950 Godfrey excavated what
> seemed to be the foundation trench for the tower and found only
> artifacts dating from the colonial period. A most telling finding was
> the impression of a square heel-print in the bottom of the trench. As
> far as I have been able to determine, square heels were only newly
> fashionable in colonial times so it is very unlikely to have been left
> by a pre-colonial shoe.
> Having said that, there are some peculiar things found in the the
> trench including the finding of fragments of mortar and plaster. It is
> not usual to construct a building while the foundation trench is still
> open for debris to fall into.

That is judged  from todays point of view. There is no such rule for
medieval building sites. Quite the contrary often enough they started laying
foundation for only a part of the buiding, and started building on that,
adding foundations for next years work in the next year and so on. I would
not call it unusual to have mortar in a foundation trench.
And on top of that, often enough the plan for a building was changed before
completion, so you'd have open trenches in one part while there were high
walls or even a roof on another part.

>In fact, in the case of the Newport
> Tower, it would be quite dangerous to do so. Nor is it usual to erect
> such a building to a stage that you can plaster it while the
> foundation trench is still open and then, still with the trench open,
> strip off the plaster so that fragments can fall into the foundation
> trench.
> These and other peculiarities have caused the nature of what it was
> that Godfrey excavated to be questioned, and theories to be proposed
> to the effect that work in colonial times was not the construction but
> the refurbishment of an already existing structure.

If there are no signs left from a possible older building in the ground,
you'd have to look at the structure itself. There are a number of expert
building historians, that would be able to tell you all about the building,
assumed alterations or the refurnishing of such a structure.

I heard a nice presentation about a tower here in Brandenburg, that was for
a long time argued about, when it was build, by whom it was build, how long
it took to build it etc. He could tell the number of brick layers involved,
changes of plans during the construction, how long it took etc.

The idea, that a non specialised crew of farm labourers, seafaring voyagers
or whatever could build such a structure is farfetched, but not impossible.
The chance, that such a structure would remain standing for centuries is
minimal, at best. But building such a stucture without leaving traces in the
ground, without trained personell and without the building collapsing after
a few generations due to neglect, is practically nil.

> My own view is that there are aspects of Godfrey's findings which are
> hard to explain irrespective of whether the tower was constructed in
> colonial times or constructed at an earlier date and then refurbished
> in colonial times.
> >
> >We'll have to wait for the final excavation report to find out.
> ... the final report of this excavation.       :-)

Never take a newspaper article as the final truth, never ever base your
judgement on what a papers prints about matters neither the journalist nor
the editor fully understands. They are humans, and they can't be
knowledgeable in every field.

have fun

Uwe Mueller

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