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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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The Lady of Birdlip

Just before Christmas 1999 I received the following e-mail, triggered by reading Boudica - the case for Atherstone and Kings Cross .

From: "John Fletcher"
Subject: The Lady of Birdlip
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1999 18:51:59 -0700

Dear Mr. Trubshaw,

Could you please tell how to find more information about the Lady of Birdlip? I am very interested in the Iron Age in Britannia and would like to read the article(s) about this discovery. Thankyou.


John Fletcher
Calgary, Canada

Frankly, I'd forgotten even mentioning the Lady of Birdlip, and had no recollection of my sources. So I posted to the BRITACH e-mail list and promptly received the following replies.

To: Bob Trubshaw
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999 10:57:22 GMT0BST
Subject: Re: The Lady of Birdlip

The original publication appears to be in the Proceedings of the Cotteswold Nat.Club, vol20 (1918?) pp.21-8. For what it is worth there appears to be a plate of a single skull.

I would try the Royal Commission Vol on IA & Roman Gloucs (/Cotswolds) first. - don't have the bibliog details I am afraid.

Happy hunting.

Peter Webster

and, even more interesting:

From: Malcolm Watkins
To: ""
Subject: RE: The Lady of Birdlip
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999 13:14:28 -0000

Hi, All,
This is a notion that I started a couple of years ago, when we were preparing an exhibition of the Birdlip Grave Group. It is a long and complex story, but in essence boils down to the following: In the late 19th century local antiquarian, John Bellows, (in my opinion the father of Gloucester archaeology) heard of a discovery by a couple of men digging stone for road-mending, on the scarp overlooking the Vale of Gloucester, at Birdlip. Bellows investigated, and recorded that three graves had been found in a row, with the central grave containing the skeleton of a woman, who was accompanied by an ornate bronze mirror, a massive necklace of amber, shale and pyrophillite, two turned and spun bronze bowls, a silver-gilt brooch, a handle in the form of a (probable) capped-horned bovid, a pair of tweezers, a small handle, a drop handle, a tubular expanding bracelet, and five cast bronze rings (not jewellery). The larger of the two bowls was inverted over the 'woman's' face. These are now housed in the City Museum and Art Gallery, Gloucester. The grave is generally assumed to date from the middle part of the 1st century AD (sorry - I'm Christian).

In the year in question a plan had been formed to reconstruct the face of the 'woman' and to mount an exhibition aroung her as part of the International Year of Women.

I have always been suspicious about the sex of the skull (which came to the museum many years later), which people have generally calimed to be male in character until hearing about the context, when it miraculously undergoes a gender change. I thought that making the presumption that the figure was female because of the grave goods was highly questionable - not to say sexist, and eventually reached the conclusion that they represent the stock-in-trade of a shaman. Subsequently I also decided that the skull is probably wrong, but that's a different matter....

Regarding Boudica, I was asked by a journalist if I could shed light on who this 'princess' was, and said that it was clearly an individual of some wealth and status. If you were looking for a named individual a possible candidate muight be Boudica, since we don't know where she was buried, and there are some tangible links with East Anglia in the grave group - the amber for example. We don't know the gender of the two companions, so they could easily have been her daughters... We also have locally named currency in the name of the mysterious Bodvoc which could suggest name links, and we don't know Boudica's tribal origin - it could have been Dobunnic, and she might have fled back to her home-land. It is all unlikely, but the purpose of archaeological research is to raise questions and seek answers, so this is a possible question and answer. It was that simple.

Surprisingly, after nearly 2 millennia, I got some hate mail and calls for daring to suggest that Boudica was in Gloucestershire when everyone knows she is (insert preferred choice). Equally surprisingly, I received one letter saying that it is interesting that there is a preponderance of Dobunnic currency in East Anglia as imported currency, so there could be something in the links.

Sadly I never published the draft catalogue (which discussed the various points more fully), and have subsequently erased the files from my computer, so my pearls of wisdom have been lost ..... If anyone is interested, I would be happy to elaborate on the shaman notion.

To my amusement, the story of the gender took a weird turn in the facial reconstruction. I had asked the people at York, when they sent the data to Bradford for analysis, not to mention the source. In due course I heard that the head had been sculpted and she was quite good (she is). I said 'so Bradford thought it was a female skull then'? 'No - they thought it was male - until we said it was the Birdlip skull'!
So there you go.
Malcolm J. Watkins

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