Monday 10 March 2014

Monuments Men and Binchester

There has been lots of press recently about the new George Clooney film Monuments Men about the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program at the end of World War II, which saw a select group of art historians and archaeologists working alongside the army to protect historic artefacts and, as the war came to an end, finding and returning art that had been stolen by the Nazis.

Pleasingly, Binchester has a direct connection with these "Monuments Men", as one of this elite bunch was none other than Kenneth Steer, who was both an undergraduate and post-graduate at Durham University and completed his PhD on the Roman remains of County Durham. This included some key excavations at Binchester - indeed we have partially re-excavated one of the trenches which he dug at the site. Following graduation from Durham he was appointed to the post of Assistant Archaeologist with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in Edinburgh and in 1941 he was commissioned into the British army. Initially working in the Intelligence Corps, like many archaeologists, he became involved in the interpretation of aerial photographs and was head of the Air Photographic Interpretation Service for the 56th Division in Italy. After a brief time fulfilling a similar role in Germany he was transferred to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives programme, North Rhine Division based in Düsseldorf.

After the war he returned to the RCAHMS, where he had a successful career, finally retiring in 1978. He was major figure in Scottish archaeology, and became the President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and gave the prestigious Rhind Lectures.

He died in 2007 at the grand age of 93; sadly just a few years too early to see the resumption of more work at Binchester.

For more about his work with the FMAA click here

For his obituary from The Scotsman

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