Before the days of English Heritage, Cadw and the like, many scheduled ancient monuments across the UK came under the remit and protection of ‘the man from the ministry’ – the Ministry of Works.

In an early version of today’s ubiquitous information boards, signs were erected at many sites, giving often very brief information, but warning that the site was under protection, and that any damage would be punishable by law. These signs were often made of long-lasting cast iron, and many can still be seen today around the country.

A Ministry of Works sign at the Rollright Stones, in Oxfordshire, vandalised in 2007.

A Ministry of Works sign at the Rollright Stones, in Oxfordshire, vandalised in 2007, and now removed.

In a celebration of these old signs, Sue Greaney, an English Heritage Historian, has recently launched a new Facebook Group, the “Ministry of Works Signage Appreciation Society“,  with a view to collecting as many photos of the surviving signs, and their latter day replacements as possible.

The group is open for anyone to join and contribute photos or reminicenses. We would encourage all those interested in the history of our ancient scheduled monuments to join in.

We haven’t had a Quote of the Week for ages, but something in the Yorkshire Times prompted us to start it again.

It’s from an article that poses the question “Are there too many wind farms in East Yorkshire?”. If you’re worried about global warming, you’d probably say no. If you’re a windfarm developer you’d probably say no. If you’re a farmer wanting to make oodles you’d probably say no. And if you are a local who wants cheap local electricity and increased employment opportunities you’d probably say no.

But what if, actually, you think some (though not all) heritage sites and their settings need preserving or treating with respect so that some (but not all) can be passed to the future unscathed, what then? What if you think the pendulum has swung a bit too far in favour of people who want to make gazillions and against those who want to preserve some (but not all) such heritage assets? What if you feel that since  East Yorkshire has the highest density of wind turbines in England (226 turbines over 50 metres high have been built, approved or are pending a decision), enough is now enough?

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Dr Peter Halkon, an archaeologist and a lecturer at the University of Hull, has spoken for them:

“The landscape of East Yorkshire is varied and subtle. It possesses a beauty of its own. There are very few parts of our region which have not been shaped by human activity since the first farmers some 6,000 years ago. Most of these changes however were in keeping with a landscape created by centuries of settlement and agriculture. Despite intensive use many monuments still survive making this one of the most important archaeological regions in the UK, a heritage which includes the Rudston monolith, Britain’s tallest standing stone, great prehistoric burial grounds and the network of massive linear earthworks.”

He said one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the region is between Market Weighton and Sancton, containing long barrows built five and a half thousand years ago and now home to one of the area’s largest windfarms.

“The views down valleys like this are very important. Now all one sees looking down them towards the Humber are the massive blades of wind turbines. No amount of predevelopment archaeological prospection or excavation can make up for the loss of the visual and symbolic connection between the wider landscape and these significant monuments to past human activities.”

He said he has no objection to small scale, carefully sited single turbines on farms, but said any more large developments “will wreck this beautiful historic landscape”.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Cadw have been at pains to emphasise that without solid evidence of a prehistoric date they will not consider scheduling the Bancbryn stone alignment.  The same diligence does not appear to have been afforded to other assessments. The most cursory of glances reveals that the schedule is littered with curious anomalies and during the coming months I hope to look at some of these and discuss the implications for our understanding and appreciation of the tangible remains of the past.

Does it matter that so many of our cherished sites are poorly understood, and is an inadequate and at times laughable Schedule of Ancient Monuments bad for our archaeology?

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No hard evidence exists to support the alleged prehistoric date of this mound yet in common with many others it is scheduled.

Huge numbers of monuments do not have any evidence to support their inclusion in the schedule beyond the fact that a particular feature or group of structures looks like or resemble similar sites for which there is conclusive evidence.  This may sound dreadful, but in reality this is a sensible way of ensuring the protection of our heritage without the constant need to damage sites by checking their credentials.  The result is that sites are assessed by looking at them and comparing them with the known resource. So a pile of stones on a hilltop is interpreted as a Bronze Age cairn and a stone standing alone in a field as a prehistoric standing stone. No evidence to support the dating is sought and the cairn and standing stone are happily added to the schedule despite the lack of conclusive evidence to support their interpretation.

Turning to a more enigmatic site type – lines of stones leading from mounds are generally interpreted as stone alignments and the case is even stronger if the line of stones in question sits comfortably within and makes sense of that prehistoric landscape. Dating evidence to support a prehistoric date for most stone alignments is entirely absent and therefore using Cadw’s “Bancbryn scheduling assessment method” they should also fail to meet the grade for protection.  Sadly, the bar has clearly been set very high for the Bancbryn stone alignment. At Bancbryn proof of a prehistoric date is seen as essential pre-requisite to scheduling whereas most other “prehistoric” archaeology has been added to the schedule without the same level of scrutiny.  This shocking lack of consistency must surely concern those who care passionately about our heritage and its protection.

by Nigel Swift

You’d think a country that hasn’t regulated metal detecting would at least be vociferous about what is and isn’t acceptable. But no, it seems not……

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Night vision.

What do YOU think?! Is it OK to sell night vision items in Britain’s largest metal detector shop? Are they (as the makers say) just a ” must have’ for Treasure Hunters who need to scout out sights at night“? or (as one detectorist says) “for  guarding my metal detecting sites from night hawkers“?  Or is their main use likely to be for nighthawking itself? I think we all know the answer!

But how can it be happening? Well, it’s because this is Bonkers Britain and hardly anyone has complained about it. How do I know that? Because if they had, Regtons would surely have desisted.

So here’s a wide open opportunity for ordinary members of the public to get involved in community archaeology and make a contribution towards site protection. Please contact sales@regton.com and tell them what you think. Let’s see how long it is before those pages are deleted. We’ve previously demonstrated to The Establishment that muscular outreach can be more effective than limp-wristed appeasement. A second demo straight from the community would be good.

Update: NB, the correct email address is sales@regton.com

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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We’re holding a Heritage Journal picnic at the Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire on Sunday 14th September. All are welcome. Just pop along from about midday and bring lots of food and chat – and some megalithic books to swap if you’d like.

See you here! [Image Credit: Jane Tomlinson, Heritage Action]

“X” marks the spot! (or we’ll be at a local pub [to be announced] if the weather is poor).

This will be our 8th public Megameet since 2003 and the first one we’ve held away from Avebury. If you haven’t been, The Rollrights are a fascinating place to visit, 3 sites within a couple of minutes walk from one another with a unique atmosphere and a host of myths and legends.

Picnic anyone?

Picnic anyone? See you on Sunday 14th September!

In the meantime, don’t forget the Rollrights Open Day (see below).

NOTE: Established 2500 BCE !

NOTE: Established 2500 BCE !

Saturday 26th July:

Chipping Norton Amateur Archaeology Group presents Exploring the astronomy of special places.

10.30am
—1.00pm Tours of the Stones and Dowsing (led by members of The Rollright Trust)
1.30—4.00pm Talks about astronomy, folklore & ancient sites (Venue: Long Compton Village Hall SP2885 3230)
1.30pm Introduction
1.40pm A Story Walk through the Heavens, Lizzie Bryant. (Professional storyteller)
2.20pm Archaeo-astronomy: finding out how and why heavenly bodies mattered at the Rollright Stones and other special places, Professor Clive Ruggles (Leicester University, expert archaeo-astronomer)
3.00pm, Astronomy: discovering special places in the heavens, Dr Chris Lintott [TBC], (Oxford University, presenter of BBC’s Sky at Night)
3.40pm Questions
4.30—6.00pm Demonstration: Site surveys for astronomical alignments (led by Clive Ruggles Venue: The Rollright Stones)
All Day Demonstration: Telescopes and other astronomical equipment (led by members of CNAAG Venue: The Rollright Stones)

For years the Government has facilitated the targeting of large areas of green space (including heritage site settings) for housing development on the basis that there is insufficient usable brownfield land. (Many people suspect that the real reason has more to do with the “advice” they’ve been getting from the big builders who coincidentally can make far bigger profits by building in picturesque locations. Who knows)

Lately the Government seems to be coming round to the idea that there ARE such sites but it remains vague about how many. Now the CPRE has launched an interesting campaign to establish and demonstrate to them just how many usable yet undeveloped brownfield sites and buildings are going to waste across England. As they put it: ever helpful, we want to show them just how much potential there is”. Accordingly they’re asking the general public to nominate suitable brownfield sites that may have been overlooked in official plans and submit them for inclusion in the CPRE’s ‘WasteOfSpace’ map of England.

If you know of one (or more!) please send them a photo, ideally with a short description and an address or postcode. You can send the image by:

  • emailing wasteofspace@cpre.org.uk
  • tweeting @CPRE with the campaign hashtag #WasteOfSpace
  • posting to the Facebook group #WasteOfSpace

Every year, up and down the country, field schools provide the opportunity for students and volunteers to ‘get their hands dirty’ by becoming involved in real archaeological excavation work. It can be tough, rough, uncomfortable but ultimately satisfying work, and the benefits it brings to the rest of us in terms of the increase in knowledge of the past are innumerable.

Many of these exploratory or research digs are run by universities or local archaeology societies, and often include an Open Day near the end of the season, for interested memmbers of the public to see what’s been going on and why, what’s been found and how it’s been interpreted.

For those of us who are geographically separated, or maybe not quite so mobile or flexible as we once were, many of these digs provide regular updates via their site diaries, published in blogs online. This provides a degree of outreach, and allows inclusion of many people in the project who may not be able to physically take part or visit. To this end, here’s a very brief overview of some of the 2014 digs that have caught our eye this summer.

Durotriges Project (Bournemouth University Big Dig) Project Page Dig Diary

Run by the Faculty of Science & Technology at Bournemouth University, the Durotriges Project is an archaeological investigation studying the transition from the late Iron Age to the early Roman period in southern England.

Caerau (Cardiff University)

We’ve reported on the Caerau Project extensively in the past.

Silchester (Reading University) Project Page Dig Diary

Silchester © LozWilkes on Flickr

Silchester © lozwilkes on Flickr, via Creative Commons

Now in it’s 18th (and final) year, the dig at Silchester has been directed by Prof. Martin Fulford. Visitors are always welcome – there’s even an iPhone app available!

Binchester Project Page Dig Diary

Since 2009, an international team has been excavating the Roman fort and town at Binchester and surveying its place in one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world.

Ipplepen (Exeter University) Project Page Dig Diary (Facebook)

This year’s fourth season at Ipplepen in Devon, run by the University of Exeter, will return to the Roman road and associated burials revealed in 2011, and a complex series of enclosures and structures thought to be part of the largest Romano-British settlement in Devon outside of Exeter.

Vindolanda (Charitable Trust) Project Page Dig Diary

Vindolanda, © johndal on Flickr, via Creative Commons

Vindolanda, © johndal on Flickr, via Creative Commons

The Vindolanda Trust has been accepting volunteers on to its excavations since its foundation in 1970 and over 6400 people have benefited from this challenging experience so far.

Lyminge (Reading University) Project Page Dig Diary

The Lyminge Archaeological Project is an ambitious programme of village-core archaeology. It is directed by Dr Gabor Thomas of the University of Reading.

Leiston Abbey (DigVentures) Project Page Dig Diary

DigVentures run crowd-funded digs, this is their second year at Leiston Abbey in Suffolk.

Sedgeford (Community Project) Project Page Dig Diary

Overseen by Dr. Neil Faulkner, the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP) is one of the largest independent archaeological projects in Britain, and firmly rooted in the local community.

More comprehensive lists of fieldwork for 2014 can be found on the CBA website, and the British Archaeology and Current Archaeology magazine web sites.

by Sandy Gerrard

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cart.

During 2012 Cadw considered the Bancbryn stone alignment for scheduling.  In October, some 9 months into the process, they were approached by the “South Wales Guardian” for an update. The people of South Wales were informed that: “No evidence was discovered to support the firm dating of the feature, but investigations concluded the most likely interpretation is that this is a relatively modern grazing boundary or route marker.”

Recently it has to come to light that at the time this statement was released the assessment process had not even started. Amazingly it would appear that Cadw published their conclusion before they had even started the assessment. Might this be the reason they appear to be unwilling to accept the prehistoric interpretation?

Sadly, as well as being somewhat premature the Cadw statement completely ignores the investigations reported in the Heritage Journal here which demonstrated that the interpretations favoured by Cadw were utterly untenable.  Is Cadw in the habit of ignoring the evidence that does not suit them or is this a one off?

Either way an explanation would be appreciated.

Last month we suggested Glasgow University’s Encyclopaedia entry on nighthawking is incomplete as they quote only four categories: Not declaring potential Treasure finds, Searching without permission, Detecting on scheduled monuments and Not disclosing finds to a landowner (except if prior-agreed). In our opinion they’ve missed a fifth, very significant one: Not disclosing the true value of finds to a landowner (constituting theft).

It really matters. Consider this: The Establishment encourages each landowner to sign a “finds agreement” giving away much of  his property in advance “to avoid future disputes over ownership” even though he already owns it all so there can never be a dispute. Worse, they have left it to detectorists to compose the agreements and unsurprisingly they’re mostly excruciatingly unfair, decreeing they alone can rule whether to show and share each find depending on whether they alone judge it worth over £300 (or £2,000 under the awful rule used by Central Searchers.)

Incredibly, that’s the basis on which most artefacts, tens of millions of pounds worth a year, end up 100% owned by detectorists with the landowner never having seen them. It beggars belief why anyone would think it was fair to ask a landowner to agree to such a system. The detectorist may be honest but some are not and the agreements are a perfect way to steal, simply through grossly undervaluing  finds (just in their own minds, not even out loud!) as a means to avoid showing or sharing them. Who could doubt that false valuation is likely to comprise the dominant (and most convenient and lucrative) element of nighthawking and the one that causes most cultural damage (for having stolen the items the culprit is hardly likely to report them to PAS!). Well, Glasgow University, it seems!

Moral philosophy at a Central Searcher's Rally....

Moral philosophy at a Central Searcher’s Rally….

Their Encyclopaedia stance certainly looks pretty irrational: not disclosing finds is nighthawking, not disclosing value isn’t! Explain that to the poor old landowner! It also has damaging consequences for the rest of us as it renders comfortable The Establishment’s silence-cum-complicity in the whole unregulated finds agreement system and causes the knock-on consequence of finds not being reported to PAS. Maybe the University will reconsider. The omission isn’t merely academic it has real-world negative consequences in real-world Bonkers Britain. Everyone knows that scrofulous behaviour often gets ignored for political reasons but surely academia is above all that?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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