by Sandy Gerrard

Cadw record that scheduled monument BR226 “Standing stone near Traeth Bach” is at SN 96388 25380. Trouble is there is no standing stone at this location.  Adjacent to a modern ditch there is a large horizontal slab, but no standing stone.

he standing stone near Traeth Bach is said by Cadw to be here.

The standing stone near Traeth Bach is said by Cadw to be here.

About 105m north west of the scheduled area there is a small standing stone. Perhaps this was Cadw’s intended target, the local archaeological trust certainly believe this to be the case although the Royal Commission do not record this second stone as benefitting from scheduling protection.   I guess the dimmest of lawyers would have no trouble persuading a jury that the mix up caused by the scheduled monument being shown in entirely the wrong location was wholly responsible for the unfortunate accident that befell this antiquity.

This stone standing near the scheduled area may have been Cadw’s intended target.

This stone standing near the scheduled area may have been Cadw’s intended target.

Moving on and assuming that it was indeed the standing stone rather than the recumbent one that was assessed by Cadw in the first place it is worthwhile examining the reasons why Cadw attempted to schedule this feature. Sadly, an examination of the available documentation reveals that there is actually no evidence to corroborate its alleged prehistoric origin and indeed according to the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust it is listed by the Royal Commission in the Boundary Stones section in the Inventory. A further clue to the true purpose of this stone may be gleaned from its position adjacent to a small clapper bridge across a leat. The stone could have alerted travellers to the presence of the bridge and it is therefore much more likely to be a waymarker than a prehistoric standing stone.

The setting of this stone suggests that it is much more likely to be a post-medieval waymarker than a prehistoric standing stone.

The setting of this stone suggests that it is much more likely to be a post-medieval waymarker than a prehistoric standing stone.

The small clapper bridge (denoted by the ranging rod) across the leat is close to the standing stone and it would therefore seem more likely that the stone was erected to guide travellers to a suitable crossing point.

The small clapper bridge (denoted by the ranging rod) across the leat is close to the standing stone and it would therefore seem more likely that the stone was erected to guide travellers to a suitable crossing point.

Clearly this is not definitive proof of a mundane post-medieval explanation, but without any evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation this would seem to be only logical explanation on the table.  The stone after all stands next to a low bridge which would not have been visible from a distance.  It’s odd that this evidence has been “overlooked”.

Elsewhere Cadw choose not to schedule a site because there was “insufficient evidence” to support a prehistoric interpretation. This excuse looks increasingly fragile as it is clear that Cadw are content to schedule sites without providing any evidence to support a prehistoric date, when indeed a careful examination of the context of the site would have revealed that another explanation was a whole lot more likely.

Why are sites with a decent post-medieval context being scheduled as prehistoric, whilst those with a decent prehistoric context are dismissed as post-medieval? An inept, biased and subjective scheduling assessment process might be the answer!

As if failing to regulate artefact hunting isn’t embarrassing enough there’s now further humiliation for Britain: the French are complaining that increasing numbers of English people are travelling to France to metal detect. Jean-David Desforges (Head of “Stop the Pillage”) says they come “in search of  a nice little earner” despite it being a crime in France. The French Culture Ministry has a very clear opinion on the activity: “These uncontrolled digs are a real problem because it is a catastrophe for science.”

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Ed the hero

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Makes yer proud to be British don’t it?! Last month the nation was informed by Country Life magazine (briefed by the Portable Antiquities Scheme?) that critics of the British system are “scholars of the old school” (in other words, out of touch and wrong) and that Dr Lewis, Deputy Head of PAS, “actually welcomes” the activities of metal detectorists. Stupid French. And Irish.  And indeed every other country on the globe. They just don’t understand the lack of need to regulate artefact hunting like the British do (“a catastrophe for science” indeed! Damn fool French Culture Ministry!) so us sending our artefact hunters over to impose our Truths – a bit like we used to send missionaries – is exactly what they all need.

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V SIGN

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Well OK it’s a false headline, she was actually fined €600 for stubbing out a cigarette on the pristine beach of Alghero in Sardinia but it reminded us that we hadn’t finished ranting about how we British allow Stonehenge to be disrespected. Compare and contrast her cigarette stub with this…..

Solstice litter

How did we sleepwalk into a position where we tolerate treating our national icon in that way in full view of the rest of the world? On one day of the year only (no-one would dream of dropping a molecule of litter there on any of the other 364). There has to be a way to stop it and it’s clearly up to those who say they respect Stonehenge most to come up with a clear, practical proposal to achieve it. (Clue: numbers!)

Update 1 September 2014
EH has just announced the date for the next few Round Table meetings. Believe it or not there will be nine of them before next year’s summer solstice…..

Thu 2 October 2014
Thu 6 November 2014
Thu 4 December 2014
Thu 8 January 2015
Thu 5 February 2015
Thu 5 March 2015
Thu 2 April 2015
Thu 7 May 2015
Thu 4 June 2015

“Believe it or not” is an appropriate phrase because if they are like the ones held for the past decade they’ll only be concerned with minor matters or with endless, fruitless variations of “give us more access” followed by polite refusals (because agreeing to do so would conflict with EH’s statutory duty to protect). Not one of them, probably, will be concerned with the one thing that’s needed: restricting numbers so that adequate control can be maintained.

We didn’t quite believe it when we first heard it, but we’ve found a video of it. Look what happened at this years soltice gathering:

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The shock isn’t the one person dancing on top but the thousands cheering him. They clearly aren’t druids or pagans or megaraks or archaeologists or EH staff or anyone that gives a damn about Stonehenge, they’re just there for a laugh. That would be OK if the number allowed into the circle was just at the level that allowed EH to exercise some control to prevent not just that sort of incident but also other things that happened this year – chalk, candle wax and resin on the stones and excrement near them.

Next year solstice will be at a weekend so numbers will be higher still so here’s an idea. Why not cancel all those “Round Table” sessions and let all who care for Stonehenge (Druids, pagans, megaraks, archaeologists and EH staff) have a single meeting to decide the reduced number of people inside the stones they will all co-operate to bring about next June? That would certainly deliver increased protection to the stones, an enhancement to the reputation of genuine druids and pagans and a boost to EH’s international image as an efficient guardian of a world heritage site. It’s pretty simple, if you oppose “restricted access” you are putting the welfare of Stonehenge second. Who can deny that’s true?

by Sandy Gerrard

A recent news feature in the Dundee Courier highlights a basic problem with the way that the destruction of heritage is viewed. The story concerns the discovery and excavation of human remains in Stirling. The cemetery is being excavated in advance of a housing and retail development with building work due to commence later in the year. The discovery is variously described as exciting and fascinating and clearly much new and potentially important information will be gleaned.

This much is not in dispute – it is excellent that the archaeology is being looked at and the remains treated with respect. At the end of the process the archaeology will inevitably have been destroyed and all that will remain is the record compiled by the archaeologists and the human remains hopefully reburied with the absolute respect mentioned in the newspaper.  This is the inevitable result of progress and indeed many of our wonderful archaeological palimpsests are a direct result of our understandable need to change our surroundings. So would it not be more honest to admit that sometimes the past must be sacrificed in the interest of the present and future. In Stirling the spin put on the destruction of a small part of the city’s heritage takes some beating. According to one of their councillors:

“The development of this key city centre site is clearly important, but it is also important that we preserve and protect the city’s rich past in the way that is happening now in the excavation phase of the project.”

It is difficult to understand how the complete destruction of heritage can ever be remotely described as preservation and protection. Taking this approach to its logical conclusion Stirling’s rich past would be best served by destroying it all but making sure to place the artefacts in a museum and the records in an archive. The idea that destruction can ever be seen as a way of preserving and protecting our heritage is one that needs to be challenged at every opportunity.  Our understanding can certainly be enhanced by destruction, but every time a site is destroyed tangible remains are lost and the chance to learn more using enhanced investigative techniques in future has also vanished. We need to face this reality and stop hiding behind the idea that somehow because we have made a record of what was there that is somehow miraculously preserved and protected – it is NOT, its gone and its gone for ever.

The point of optimum learning

This is destruction not preservation or protection.

Dear Colleagues,

Tolstoy ploughing

A while back a farmer said about a detectorist: In 3 years he has amassed a fine collection of habob and baler tines, mower blade, rotaspreader flails, hedgetrimmer flails chinese lanterns and drinks cans, but nothing of even minimal value“. This week a detectorist showed his finds from a field to another farmer who responded: “Do you know, I’ve had about 16 detectorists on that field over the past twenty years, and not ONE has showed me a thing. I thought they weren’t finding anything.

None of them has ever found anything? Sure! But the big question is how many others are there who have been systematically ripping off farmers and the public? Two things suggest there are lots: first, the Erosion Counter is massively higher than the number of artefacts reported to PAS and second the NCMD “Model” finds agreement asks farmers to agree to let detectorists not show a lot of finds if they alone judge them to be not very valuable. Hardly a sign of straight dealing is it? In fact you’d have to question the motives of anyone who wrote or offered you such a blatantly unfair contract.

So please be careful. Insist on nothing being taken home without you seeing it and let no-one onto your fields without solid documentary proof they’ve been reporting lots of finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme for a number of years (which is a basic indication at least of whether they are acquisitive and dishonest yobs or not). If you ask any archaeologist or PAS or DEFRA they’ll say that’s a very, very good idea. I’d heed their opinion if I were you.

Best wishes,

Silas Brown
Grunter’s Hollow Farm,
Worfield,
Salop

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Just to remind you. On Sunday 14th September you have a choice:

You can pay £13.90 to slowly circumnavigate Stonehenge at a respectful distance with thousands of others in a scene reminiscent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow but less cheerful…

napoleon

Or you can pay just a pound to walk right inside the much more complete, much more atmospheric Rollright stones and then sit down next to them for a picnic of quails eggs and truffles (maybe) and a chinwag and book-swap with a bunch of fellow megalith enthusiasts.

Tough choice. Up to you. And whilst Stonehenge is the focal point of a World Heritage Site, don’t forget that the Rollrights also has a wealth of prehistoric sites within easy reach.

Please be at Stonehenge or our Rollrights picnic about midday.

cide

Remember “Cider with Rosie no more?” last year? As we said at the time: “If you’ve been there, you’ll know it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that building 150 new houses at the entrance to the Slad Valley near Stroud in Gloucestershire would be one of the most vandalistic actions that could be committed in the whole of rural England. Not just because it is an incomparable Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but also because it was immortalised by Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie”.

Well, just sometimes in this game things go right, money doesn’t win, the community does and it looks as if it’s happened there. “Only a bit of pottery” had been found in the developers’ trial trench, they announced to the world, carefully avoiding the fact they were keen to drive their greedy bulldozers straight into the spirit of a jewel of English literature. Stroud District Council told them to go to Hell or something like that but more polite. Undeterred, they appealed but now it has just been announced the appeal has been dismissed by a planning inspector!

Celebrations to mark the centenary of Laurie Lee’s birth have been just been taking place and this news has come as an ideal climax. In the words of Andy Dickinson of the Slad Valley Action Group, it was a “fabulous result” and “gives us real hope to preserve the valley for the future.”

by Sandy Gerrard

A short distance south of the car park for Usk Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons at SN83322835 within an area of improved pasture stands a large stone known by the name Gwern Wyddog. This stone is a scheduled ancient monument and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) describe it as “a lozenge-shaped standing stone, 2.3m high by 1.2m by 1.4m” whilst the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust (CPAT) description records it as: “A massive lozenge-shaped stone is aligned NE-SW and measures 1.3m long x 1.3m wide x 2.2m high. The stone is sited on a slight south-east facing slope in a pasture field. Small stones surround the base, and there is one large block on its NW side. All these stones lie within an area of slight sheep scour.”

Photographs of the stone available on the internet confirm these descriptions, but raise possible doubts regarding the explanation that the stone was erected in prehistoric times. There is no published information to confirm its prehistoric credentials and furthermore no other remains of a similar date are currently recorded in the vicinity. It may indeed by a standing stone erected during the Bronze Age – but what is lacking is any evidence to support this position. An alternative explanation that it represents a glacial erratic together with a few later clearance stones would on the face of it have as much credence. Can Cadw be certain that this stone is not entirely natural in origin? Alternatively if the stone has indeed been placed in its present position could it be a rubbing stone, boundary stone or a waymarker? The lack of evidence to confirm the structure as being of prehistoric date does not appear to have been an obstacle to its scheduling. Should it have been? or does it make sense to schedule sites where there is an element of uncertainty?

Gwern

Large it certainly is but no evidence currently exists to prove that this rock was erected during prehistoric times. Despite a total lack of evidence regarding its date or function it is scheduled as an ancient monument. How could this be? After all Cadw claim they don’t schedule prehistoric sites where there is “insufficient evidence to confirm the structure as being of prehistoric date”. So do Cadw schedule prehistoric sites where there is insufficient evidence or not? It would appear they do – despite their protestations that they don’t.

It is indeed a funny old world with perhaps just a soupçon of inconsistency and a pinch of double standards thrown in for good measure. A fair selection process would ensure that all sites were treated identically and the criteria applied consistently. Sadly such fundamental principles seem to be entirely absent from the Cadw scheduling process. Sometimes inconvenient but pertinent evidence is ignored whilst on other occasions the lack of any evidence is not seen as an obstacle in this surreal decision making process. Consequently, just how robust is the Welsh Schedule of Ancient Monuments?

Yesterday the Artefact Erosion Counter passed 12 million. “Nonsense!” many will say. No matter, it’s a lot. More to the point, Professor Gill’s famous question, “by how much would it need to be wrong to make the losses acceptable?” remains unanswered. Indeed, it is not the Counter but the ongoing failure to answer his question that hangs over the whole debate. On what basis of thinking can a country “compromise” with a damaging activity yet fail to specify how much damage it will settle for?

In any case, Dr Bland of PAS dismisses both the Counter – it “lacks credibility” and us (witheringly!) -“How impressive to be so certain on so little evidence”!  He’s right to say it is simply an estimate but it’s worth bearing in mind why we’re pretty sure it’s not wildly wrong. It’s because it has highly respectable constituent parts. It simply takes just 70% of the finds rate per detectorist revealed by the official CBA/EH survey and then multiplies it by Dr Bland’s own estimate of the number of detectorists. That’s all it does! So let no-one be in doubt: you can dismiss it as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” but you should be aware it’s effectively a tale told by CBA, EH and Dr Bland.

Update 19 August 2014: Spin it how you like, a PAS database approaching one million reported objects looks pretty limited compared with 12 million objects (i.e. 11 million unreported objects) on the Counter. And even the one million has been liberally boosted by data that has nothing to do with those to whom it is constantly attributed, the metal detectorists. Here’s the latest instance of that: 30,000 items from a card index founded in 1913 but including much earlier objects. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/aug/18/volunteers-british-museum-crowdsourcing-archeology As the dodgy PR announcement says:

“The information will be added to the huge Portable Antiquities database – recording archaeological finds made by members of the public, mainly with metal detectors – which will soon record the millionth object since it was launched as a pilot scheme in 1997.”

Hmmm.  Doesn’t that sound just a tad like a taxpayer funded organisation fiddling with reality for the benefit of itself and detectorists? Meanwhile, the eleven million are still missing, possibly under the beds of people who don’t give a damn about all that “please report what you find” malarkey.

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