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Sometimes a real jewel pops up in the overcrowded blogosphere and Clonehenge is just such a site for anyone that likes megaliths.

As they say –
“It is a celebration of those first builders who erected Stonehenge as we understand it today, whose idea has turned out to be the ancestor of all icons, so powerful in image that five thousand years later people feel compelled to emulate their achievement, often in the most unlikely places and unsuitable media. It is also a celebration of the ingenuity and mad genius of those people today who decide, usually for no reason except fun and the challenge, to make Stonehenges out of anything they can lay their hands on. Hurray for the builders!”

Paju City Stonehenge (South Korea). Image Credit; Sonja J.Freeman

Paju City Stonehenge (South Korea). Image credit Sonja J Freeman

Each clone is given a score in “druids” out of ten (yes, they do know the druids didn’t build it!). The one above scores 7 druids and this one scores a well deserved 8½…

Nunica Henge, Michigan. Image Credit; Daniel E.Johnson

Nunica Henge, Michigan. Image credit Daniel E Johnson

Two of our favourites are the UK’s Foamhenge (having been inside it we’d give it 9½ druids for sheer power and atmosphere) and Straw Echo henge , built temporarily by a farmer in the summer of 1996 right next to the original, for it’s sheer exhuberance, the pleasure it gave to visitors and the fact it had no function other than to pay a quiet local tribute to the genius of the original. Perhaps our least favourite is Privy Henge  where for once Banksy was off form.

The site also has many small-scale tributes and of these Beach Henge that once stood fleetingly in Wales, is one of the nicest.

Altogether, Clonehenge is well worth a visit. We’re sure they’ll welcome more nominations.

A Landscape Revealed: 10,000 Years on a Chalkland Farm by Martin Green. Tempus Publications. ISBN 0 7524 1490 9. £17.99.

I loved this book mostly for its patient uncovering of a host of fascinating facts, the marvellous illustrations of how life might have been in the Neolithic and bronze age, the illustrations giving a vibrancy to the text.

Martin Green has devoted a lifetime to patiently exploring and excavating the prehistoric sites on his farm. It was here at the Monkton Up Wimborne Neolithic Complex that the bodies of four individuals were found, three children and a woman aged about 30 years old. DNA analysis revealed that this small group had probably come from the Mendip Hills, some forty miles away to the north-west. Of the three children, two were unrelated to the women but were probably brother and sister, the third child was the daughter. What the chemical ‘signatures’ of these four revealed was that the women had travelled to Cranborne Chase ‘acquired’ the two children and then returned to the Mendips where she gave birth to her daughter. They then returned to Cranborne and met their death there. The specialist work was sponsored by the BBC during the making of a Meet the Ancestors programme. 

Publisher’s Review;  “The Down Farm landscape (where the author’s family have farmed for generations) is one of the most carefully studied areas in western Europe. The farm is part of Cranborne Chase, just South of Salisbury (where coincidentally, the famous General Pitt Rivers began his pioneering work in the 1880s). It not only contains the Neolithic Dorset Cursus, numerous long barrows and Hambledon Hill, but over the last 30 years henges, shafts, plastered houses, land divisions, enclosures and cemeteries have been identified and excavated.”

Foreword by Richard Bradley; “The story he has to tell is an exceptionally interesting one in which the development of Cranborne Chase is interwoven with an account of his own fieldwork. It begins with chance discoveries that could have been made on any part of the chalk of southern England and it ends with a unique programme of research, in which Martin plays a pivotal role, involving no fewer than five universities and a major field unit.”

Plunder

Archaeologists are forbidden by law from selling our history for profit. These are not archaeologists. Nor are they nighthawks.

The detectorists’ breakaway unofficial recording organisation, UKDFD, has issued a Statement criticising the recent Nighthawking Report, alleging inaccuracies about what it said about them – and suggesting these “raise doubts about the validity of the report’s findings” about nighthawking. (That they were exaggerated, presumably, though why the members of UKDFD should be worried about that completely escapes us!).

We are sure the authors of the Nighthawking Report will respond to the allegations so there is no point anyone else passing comment until they do. What is worthy of comment though is that this UKDFD statement contains one self-evidently false assertion: that the PAS and others “introduced a Code of Practice, which, by implication, brands those detectorists who record with the UKDFD as irresponsible”.  That is simply not true. No-one has ever said recording with UKDFD is irresponsible.  All that has happened is that The Code of Responsible Detecting (co-written by the two detectorists’ organisations) simply said responsible detecting means reporting all finds to PAS. Providing that is done then recording with UKDFD as well is perfectly responsible (as is recording on a wall or anywhere else!)  

We suspect (in fact we know, since they have said so and lobbied for it) that UKDFD wishes for the definition to be changed so that it says recording with them instead of PAS is deemed to be responsible.

We suspect they will have a long wait. In fact not until the Devil goes metal detecting on skates. And quite right too. A whole bunch of heritage organisations and indeed Society as a whole is entitled to declare what they regard as responsible behaviour and it would be a sad and chaotic day if those who don’t want to conform are given leave to re-define the term to suit their own, different behaviour!

There really is nothing more to be said.

Badgers' entrance on East Kennet Long Barrow

Badgers' entrance on East Kennet Long Barrow

We are used to thinking of badgers as enemies of archaeology, pests that burrow into ancient banks and barrows and do great damage – as indeed they do. But we were intrigued by a piece in the admirable North Stoke blog which provides a reminder that in the wider scheme of things they have a place – and an ancient claim to ownership of these monuments that is just as strong as ours.

A tale: Once many thousands of years ago a great barrow was raised by men over their dead, nature grew its flowers and trees over the barrow, birds came and went, the little bones of their deaths adding to the fertility of the soil. Foxes, badgers and deer sheltered in the shade of its trees and bushes. All around the great downs stretched, softly rounded, giving semblance of the goddess that may once have been worshipped a long time ago.
But we are not concerned with the affairs of man,  for they are soon over, it is the barrow, decaying gently over the years, the purple of violets and pale primroses in the spring, that would have grown on this mound under the shade of the trees. In the hot summer months, the scarlet poppies, the pale blue, butterfly blue of the cranesbill, the white ox eyed daisy would be seen in the fields around, and the sweet smells of crushed thyme on the path, the yellow of ladies bedstraw as it laced its way through the wheat, would perfume the air on hot afternoons. Flowers drifting through the seasons, then their lives spent, seed would fall to the ground, and the cycle would go on. Nature moving through time.
Many years ago, badgers moved into the barrow, this was a slow process, for badgers are territorial and home-loving and take many generations to build their small clans. They must create a great burrow deep in the earth, warm and dry with the roots of the trees hanging from the earthen ceilings. Their bedding would be the soft dry hay of the meadows, arranged in a soft comfortable pad for daytime sleeping. Coming out at night to hunt, they would raid the nearby farms, rustling through the gardens of the sleeping village below the hill on which they lived. Drink from the clear flowing river that wound its way past the church and the manor house…
As the generations of badgers grew in the mound, they would expand the tunnels deeper into the barrow, going down beneath the soft dark earth, through the layers of white chalk till eventually they came to stone. Now badgers are strong creatures, and if you look outside their entrances you will see the small stones dragged out of their setts. But for our badgers in the mound these stones were enormous, like the walls of the houses in the village below.
They would eventually dig round the stones, finding themselves in a small stone cave, unvisited for thousands of years, a sepulchral space, bones would be scattered on the floor. Luckily for the badgers they would be indifferent to such a find, bones are just bones, the last remnant of a living creature. We humans on the other hand, would be given to excited speculation, a reverence for our past ancestors that would make an animal look with complete astonishment at such foolishness.
But stop. Aren’t we more intelligent than the dumb brain of our black and white friends, we have a right surely to know everything that there is about the world. Inquisitive and curious we pry and turn over any new find that passes our way, and so we acquire learning, though where it gets us goodness knows.

An open letter from Heritage Action to Maeve Kennedy of the Guardian

 

Dear Ms Kennedy,


We listened to what you had to say here –

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/audio/2009/feb/16/archaeology

and are in agreement. As a conservation group we have paid attention to the issue of metal detecting for some years. May we offer you our own perspective?

 

In essence, we feel Britain has adopted a simplistic view which results in overall damage to the archaeological resource by detectorists on a scale far greater than that caused by nighthawks. This failure to acknowledge the main problem dates from the inception of the PAS, since which time much of the press, all detectorists, many archaeologists and PAS themselves have promoted the view that nighthawks are bad but by default non-nighthawks are mostly both responsible and harmless.

 

While it is perfectly true that non-nighthawking is legal, it is certainly not true that most non-nighthawking is not damaging. This is clear from PAS’s own statistics and has been confirmed by Dr Bland: only a minority of non-nighthawking, legal, detectorists report what they find to PAS, ergo they are responsible for destroying historical data and cannot be described as either “responsible” or harmless by any available yardstick. The percentages involved are a matter of dispute and in our view PAS, which has a vested interest in ensuring its continued funding, has been guilty of some questionable statistical gyrations to present as high a figure of reporting detectorists as possible but by every measure non-reporting, “irresponsible”, damage-creating (but legal!) detectorists are in a majority. On this basis we contend that it is they who cause most damage, not nighthawks. Our views are laid out here – 

http://www.heritageaction.org/?page=heritagealerts_metaldetecting

You will see from our Erosion Counter how dire we think the problem is. All detectorists (and most US importers) say our figures are wildly exaggerated. Roger Bland dismisses them as speculative. They are certainly the latter, since no-one can know what an individual person finds in a field or what they do with it. But no-one has offered an alternative and our contention is that even if our figures were five fold too high they would still be unacceptable. Not that we think they are too high – there are many pointers – PAS’s figures of how many people report to them (and how many therefore don’t) being one – and at every stage we took a conservative view of the likely damage, well aware the figures would be attacked. One example – Bill Wyman thinks there are 250,000 detectorists. We assumed 10,000.

There is a further reason why we feel Britain has sleepwalked into a situation where “legal” is erroneously equated with harmless. Most detecting takes place on ploughsoil and is therefore claimed to be on contextless, archaeologically sterile land. The reverse is true. Detectorists, to a man and woman, are keen to seek out the most “productive” sites where finds-rates are maximised and take great pains to research for these in the literature or aerial photographs. These are naturally archaeological sites (why else would the find-rate be high?) – not the 30,000 plus scheduled sites but the vastly greater number of non-scheduled sites that have been identified by English Heritage – not protected but with contexts and horizontal scatters of artefacts that are perfectly capable of being damaged or destroyed by removal without reporting.

As you will know, few of the above problems arise in Eire where the hobby is banned. As you will also know, the same applies in Northern Ireland where it is strictly licensed. In neither place is there either large-scale legal damage OR nighthawking (the latter being often claimed to be the scary inevitable consequence of a legislative solution in Britain). We tend to the view that one or the other solution over there is the only proper answer in Britain and that either could be made to work over here. What isn’t working is the status quo in which both detectorists and officialdom present most detecting activity as harmless and the press largely repeats the message to the public (how could they not when Britain has created a situation in which both sides have a strong vested interest in promoting it?)There is hardly a press article or official document relating to metal detecting that doesn’t lean over to say most detectorists are responsible, It has become a mantra, deliberately inserted into every account whether pertinent or not. We have little doubt that as a journalist it will have been offered to you constantly. Yet the truth is the opposite and plainly on display to anyone who looks at PAS’s figures. Britain has got itself into a financial and conservation mess and both sides are pretending otherwise.

Other than ourselves and a few individuals no-one is saying the emperor is unclad. Indeed, anyone who says so is accused (by both sides) of disrupting the bridge-building process between detectorists and the rest of us whereby, in time all will become responsible. We would accept the accusation but for the fact the process has lasted ten years, has not achieved what it was meant to and has instead actually provided official blessing to ten years of damage by the majority. Only if “most detectorists are responsible” could it be wrong in fact or action to point out the emperor has no clothes. They simply aren’t and he hasn’t.

Efforts to persuade EBay to prevent nighthawked items being sold strike us as less than frank and a powerful silent manifestation of the mantra. Most unprovenanced British items on Ebay come from “legal” detectorists who don’t report what they find yet tend to be immune from criticism in most quarters. Yet even acknowledging this would not reveal even half of the story. Most legal detectorists don’t sell on EBay at all but build up legal private collections while legally telling no-one and legally creating even more legal damage to the archaeological record. Behind every item on EBay are many others, just as unreported. Should not The Nighthawking Report have been re-titled as The Metal Detecting Report and been given a remit to investigate the far greater scale of damage to our archaeological resource that is happening entirely legally during the day? Should not this be what happens next?

Period Images (paintings, prints, photographs and sketches) can not only be attractive in their own right but often show how a site looked in years gone by. The hand-coloured engraving below is the first in a series of period images the Journal will feature. If you have a period image which you would like to see published on The Heritage Journal please send it to our editorial team at Heritage Action.
copy-of-trevethy-stone-by-charles-knight-circa3
Trevethy Stone by Charles Knight: circa 1845

By Jon Parton

The East Kennet Long Barrow is little regarded compared with its celebrated and far more visited neighbour, West Kennet Long Barrow. This inequality is unjust, firstly because East Kennet is enormous – a cathedral to the parish church that is West Kennet – and secondly because, unlike the opened, eviscerated West Kennet, graffitied, tealit and crassly modernised, robbed of its bones and mystery, East Kennet has not been opened.

 
This makes it very special amongst the Wessex monuments which have been repeatedly exposed in the name of science or greed, with another neighbour, Silbury, being the most famous example. Unlike in that case, no endless succession of inquisitive seekers has bored into East Kennet in pursuit of that which they destroyed and no-one has felt the need to apologise by writing “Bones of our wild forefathers, O forgive, if now we pierce the chambers of your rest”. Everything – and everyone – within East Kennet lies safe and secure, just as intended by those who sealed it 250 generations ago. Uniquely, miraculously, East Kennet hugs within itself a last precious cache of unsullied mystery.
 
Should it be opened? Of course! say some. “Who knows what treasures might be revealed for the enjoyment of all instead of remaining pointlessly hidden forever more? Who knows what knowledge might be recovered about those who built it and lie within it, providing them with a form of immortality rather than eternal obscurity?”
Therein lies the obvious answer. And yet…
 
For me the choice is the reverse, and clear. For surely, all the gains combined could not compensate for one particular loss: the loss of the last and greatest of Wessex ’s jewels – the last, true, flawless mystery. Where is the wonderment at West Kennet ? What poet can sit alone on its turf and fancy he hears ancient whispers in rustling leaves? Who can visit the mysterious past by pausing at a display case of bones? Who can stand by poor Silbury without an uncomfortable feeling we have betrayed real people who created a private wonder and that we owe them a profound apology? Are we to assert that this is our time, not theirs, our hill, our barrow, our heritage, our mystery? Do we flout the wishes of other humans on the simple grounds that they are dust, we want to and can? Is this the future we want for ourselves?
 
But mostly, it’s the mystery. Let us not shatter it, as we have all the others, to satisfy our present, self-serving vulgar curiosity. Let us leave it pristine and unattainable forever and thereby of value beyond the wildest dreaming of those with eager or righteous spades….
 
While we welcome articles and reports on heritage-related subjects to The Heritage Journal, the opinions expressed therein and the accuracy of the reporting lie solely with the originators of the report.
Mural on one of the interior walls of the Takamatsu Zuka Kofun

Mural on one of the interior walls of the Takamatsu Zuka Kofun

A guest feature by Littlestone 

 

Should places like East Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire, England be excavated or not? The issue is presented here for consideration. 

In the early 1970s a small kofun (tumulus) was excavated in central Japan; inside was a single stone chamber containing nothing more than a bronze mirror, lacquered fragments of a coffin and a few human bones – nothing more that is other than spectacular paintings on its four walls, and a gold and silver-studded star chart on its ceiling. The tumulus is known today as the Takamatsu Zuka Kofun and it is unusual in one way more than any other – most of the imperial tombs of Japan (the great Keyhole Kofun surrounded by water) still remain out-of-bounds and unexcavated after some two millennia. Compare this with China’s more open policy of excavating and uncovering its ancient past – perhaps most spectacularly represented in the 2nd century bce imperial complex in Shanxi Province with it’s Terracotta Army.

 

The Sutton Hoo Tumulus

The Sutton Hoo Tumulus

In 1937, a middle-aged lady sat at her window and looked out across a night-cloaked lawn to a tumulus in her grounds. She was Mrs Edith May Pretty, and from her window at Sutton Hoo it is said she could see warriors in ancient armour riding around the mound. Mrs Petty commissioned the local archaeologist Basil Brown to excavate the tumulus and from its depths there came one of the most extraordinary archaeological finds ever made on English soil: the Sutton Hoo longboat and treasure. The Sutton Hoo dig was to revolutionise our understanding of Anglo-Saxon England, its arts, crafts and its culture. It was a defining moment in the clarification of England’s beginnings. Beowulf sprang to life with each artefact uncovered, cleaned and conserved – that great saga from our Anglo-Saxon heritage suddenly had a visible and tangible link to both our past and our present in the Sutton Hoo finds of helmet, buckle, whetstone and dozens other artefacts.

 

 

East Kennet Long Barrow

East Kennet Long Barrow

On a hillside close to the hamlet of East Kennet in Wiltshire there is a long barrow. Other than some minor excavations in the past the barrow has never been thoroughly explored – unlike its more well-known sibling of West Kennet Long Barrow a couple of miles away. Some believe that the East Kennet Long Barrow should be excavated, both to advance our knowledge of the period when it was constructed and also to save it from the intrusive tree cover that must be ever contributing to its demise. Some are vehemently opposed to the idea fearing it will become yet another tourist trap like West Kennet Long Barrow. But what are we protecting here? The contents within (if there are any) or the ancient sanctity that you will find there if you visit the place. There are no easy answers, at least not for this writer, who is torn between a longing to know more about our past and the need to keep back from the hurry of it all a place here and there to dream what might or might not have been.

 
If you have any views on this feature please feel free to express them by clicking on the Comments link above.

The Nighthawking Survey,

an investigation of those who use metal detectors to steal objects from the ground to sell them for personal profit, has finally been published. See lots of press reports here

It reveals that the activity is rife yet both prosecutions and penalties are at a derisory level – and that only 14% of landowners even bother to report it when it happens since they lack confidence that the police will act or that a prosecution will be successful. Even when someone is convicted the fines are tiny – from as low as £38 – and of no consequence compared with the value of what may be stolen in a single night. As one detectorist commented about a recent case – “They’ll be back out tonight on another site to get the goods to pay the fine.”

That the problem is rife will come as no surprise to many farmers. We recently highlighted the case of Mr Browning whose farm had been targeted 150 times – and in some regions most farmers have either been victims or know neighbouring farmers who have been.

Amongst the key recommendations of the report are to provide guidance to landowners on how to combat the problem, to increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances, to urge EBay to be more vigilant and to set up a central database of nighthawking incidents.

Most hopeful of all however is the recommendation that the police and courts should be prompted to take the crime more seriously, the central improvement being that the penalties should be greatly increased. It is a crime that is very hard to detect and gather sufficient evidence for but if getting caught has dire consequences the instances are bound to plummet, as some of us have been saying for years. It looks like it is finally going to happen. It is a nasty, mean-spirited crime for it is committed not just against farmers but all of us. The penalty should fit the crime.

There is something else that can be done that the report didn’t mention. All the other detectorists claim they despise nighthawks. Yet they widely and repeatedly admit they know many of them and share clubs and forums with them but are reluctant to expose them. This tribal loyalty is utterly childish and damaging. Let metal detectorists back up their words with actions and expose all their criminal colleagues. Anything else is outrageous – as indeed has been their response to this survey – out of ten thousand of them only 13 reported cases of nighthawking!

Finally we feel we owe ourselves a modicum of self-congratulation since no-one in the establishment looks to be preparing to offer us any….

We noticed that despite the situation in mainland Britain, the report reveals that nighthawking in Northern Ireland is virtually unknown. We have for some time been advocating the adoption of the Northern Irish regulatory system in England, Scotland and Wales.

Sometimes mere ordinary members of the public can see beyond all the talk and claims and can see what’s right and obvious better than those in positions of responsibility. Perhaps the crystal clear implications of this report will be taken on board. There is a simple, speedy and perfectly fair way to put an end to nighthawking so that it is “virtually unknown” throught Britain, not just in a small part of it.

a british druid by william stukeley

 The National Secular Society believes that the National Trust and English Heritage have abdicated their clear responsibility to the nation to turn down the requests from the Council of British Druid Orders (CoBDO) an unelected and unaccountable group,  for the reburial of ancient human remains at the Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury.

So say The Secular Society in their response to English Heritage’s public consultation. CoBDO’s claim is of course an absurd assumption, because it is impossible to claim ancestral links that far back. We know little of the funerary practices, use of barrow monuments, or ritual beliefs of the old ‘stone age’ people.

Archaeologists have sparse knowledge from what little evidence remains; that we can look on these monuments and preserve them, and treat ancient old human bones with respect is of course the right way forward, but to tangle the argument with modern day Druidism and its newly found rituals is a foolishness.

Not that any religion or belief system should not be given the respect it is due today, that is not the argument, it is the interference and the supposition on the part of a small group of Druids that they consider they have a right to interpret a past religion.

Science has come a long way forward in understanding human history, through the study of bones we know more about our past. Even archaeologists, whose job it is to ‘delve and dig’ feel that moment of direct connection with the bones of the individuals that they may encounter, here is part of a letter published in the current edition of British Archaeology.

“We don’t know much about the religious beliefs of these people, but know that they wanted to be remembered, their stories, mounds and monuments show this. Their families are long gone, taking all memory with them, and we archaeologists, by bringing them back into the world, are perhaps the nearest they have to kin. We care about them, spending our lives trying to turn their bones back into people. We look at the things they made and used, and, by enjoying the things that they enjoyed, human hands and minds touch over the centuries. Their bones give us direct evidence of who they were, where they came from, how they lived and even what they looked like. The more we know the better we can remember them.”

This surely shows that we all have a common humanity, a respect for the dead, the issue is complex, ancient bones reside in museum showcases and in archaeological storehouses, their fate must be decided by more rational means than a sentimental response, or perhaps more importantly, a modern belief system that wishes to usurp an old belief system that we know nothing about.

Judgment always walks a fine line, the argument has many strands leading to its centre, but it is well to remember that our lives are short lived, our belief systems vanish with the winds, all that is left are the old stones, monuments to a past way of life. Religions on the other hand are balanced on words, the need of humanity to express itself in a different form.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.19819n

 
 
 

 

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