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The Four Stones are situated in the centre of the Radnor Valley or Walton Basin in Powys, an area surrounded by hills and exceptionally rich in prehistoric heritage including two cursuses, six standing stones and the largest neolithic enclosure in Britain. Small wonder that the area attracted the attention of Alfred Watkins and indeed the monument and its surroundings were central to the development of his theories about ley lines.
Watkins suggested that six lines could be drawn from The Four Stones and he was particularly impressed by one he believed could be drawn from the Stones up to the churchyard of St Stephen’s in Old Radnor…..
The church and churchyard contain several features that have been cited as pointing to possible pre-christian usage including a massive font hewn from an erratic bolder that some say may have been used in prehistory, traces of a round churchyard and possible standing stones built into its boundary wall. Most intriguing of all is this stone, carved as a gravestone in the twentieth century but of unknown previous origin.
Nowadays there’s no direct line of sight from that stone to The Four Stones down in the valley as a modern house has been built at the crucial point. It is quite likely there could have been previously though – here is the view from a few yards nearer the church….
The trouble is, considerable zoom had to be used on that image and “in the flesh” you would need the eyes of a hawk to spot the monument – even if there were no intervening trees (which is quite an assumption in itself). The essence of the theories proposed by Watkins (the original ones, not the New Age interpretations!) was that sites could be seen, one from another. However, while St Stephen’s church can certainly be easily seen from The Stones it’s less certain that any prehistoric structures around it would have been – and it is clear to all who look that The Stones themselves would be very hard to spot in the opposite direction.
Here is the first possible suggestion we’ve had for using Stonehenge more extensively. See our original article here in which we asked for ideas.
Following our recent article about this weekend’s Megalithic Portal event of free guided walks and talks with archaeologists and prehistory experts in the Peak District, Andy Burnham has provided the following amended details:
Hello, thanks for the nice write up of last year. I have realised that the postcode given in my summary above takes Satnavs to the wrong end of Birchover Road so could I correct the directions and parking as follows:
The hall is at SK 236 621 (Postcode: DE4 2BL). Suggested parking is along the road ‘The Mires’ as you come in to Birchover from the B5056. Please note there is NO parking immediately by the hall. Parking for Stanton Moor is at the east side of the village at SK 241 625. From here follow the footpath from the rear of the car park, which is a 500 m walk downhill to Birchover.
There are still plenty of places on Tim’s Nine Stones Close walk, Jamie’s Stanton Moor walk and Guy’s Stanton Moor walks but please note there are only 60 seats in the hall so I think it’s going to be very full up for the more popular talks. There may only be standing room if you can manage that. We will get a bigger venue next time but the location where we are is so good that we had to go for it.
There should (phone signals permitting) be live tweeting on the day – join in with hashtag #megplive
Stonehenge will soon be released from its fences and clutter and re-united with its landscape. So might it be time to release it from its perceptual limits as well? It’s one of the world’s most iconic gathering places yet is barely used or known for gatherings other than for solstice and equinox. What about the rest of the year and the rest of the stakeholders? Might it be a good thing to celebrate and utilise it in lots of ways? Isn’t public engagement a good way to promote public protectiveness?
The recent Fire Garden event showed the way. “A comfortable friendly gathering” said Mike Pitts (and much else) but there are lots of other events that could be held there, quite a few each year – why not, if they were self-financing? So we’re asking for suggestions for possible events that English Heritage and the National Trust could be asked to consider. Not pop festivals (enough already!) or motorcycling and not this…..
…. but events that aren’t necessarily connected with Stonehenge but would benefit from being held there and of course wouldn’t be harmful to it.
If you have any suggestions please let us know, bearing in mind the following basic criteria that we suspect the responsible authorities would regard as important:
Entry by ticket only (thus avoiding overcrowding and making for an easily managed event)
Tickets to cost sufficient to cover the cost of the event plus a modest profit (why not?! Why should the taxpayer pay?)
Events to take place on “slow” visitor days or times of year or after hours or when normal visiting needn’t be suspended (to ensure they don’t cause a reduction in visitor revenue)
The stones to be used as a backdrop for the gathering, not as its location and the dignity of Stonehenge not to be compromised.
For suggestions about how Stonehenge could be used put New Ways in the search box
This weekend in Birchover in the peak district, the Megalithic Portal are holding their second weekend of free guided walks and talks with archaeologists and prehistory experts. Last year’s day at the Bullring was very well attended with a lot of prehistory enthusiasts talking shop and well worth attending. This year they have added guided walks and an extra day, so it should be even better. The highlight for us being Heritage Action’s very own Jamie Stone guiding a walk up Gardom’s Edge on Sunday morning!
Full details are below:
The Megalithic Portal Live in the Derbyshire Peak District, Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th July 2012.
A free weekend of guided walks and talks with archaeologists and prehistory experts. With displays, book stall and refreshments in Birchover Reading Room, near Stanton Moor. There are dozens of ancient sites within easy walking distance, check the map on our web site.
Birchover Reading Room, Rowtor Lane, Birchover, nr Matlock, Derbyshire
The hall is at SK 236 621 but there will be NO parking immediately by the hall. Parking for Stanton Moor is at SK 241 625 (postcode near DE4 2LR for sat navs). This is a 500 m walk from the hall and will be signposted, or please park considerately in Birchover village.
See here for the latest details and schedule for the weekend
For any questions please email: email@example.com
Contact Tel or Text, including on the day: 07910 900298
Living in North London as I do, Hertfordshire is the first county I usually hit when travelling – the M25 being my nearest motorway junction. Welwyn Garden City is also on a direct train line from home, so when I saw a conference advertised (one of the first events in this year’s Festival of Archaeology) there, it seemed like a ‘must attend’ event.
The conference was organised by the Welwyn Archaeological Society with the title “Archaeology in Hertfordshire: Recent Research”, and was held in honour of founder Tony Rook’s 80th birthday. We previewed the event here on the Journal last month.
I headed off early for the train, entrance fee in hand and arrived at the Terrace Suite in the Campus West complex in good time – in fact, I was the first attendee to arrive! At least I assured my place, having failed to pre-book.
In no time at all, the room filled up nicely – 65 people attended, and Kris Lockyear, Director of the Society kicked off the proceedings with his introductory message. This was followed swiftly by John Baker with the first talk of the day: “Hertfordshire Hundreds: Names and Places”. Unfortunately this was cut short less than 10 minutes in by the building fire alarm sounding! We were all evacuated to stand in the car park in the rain. A fire service vehicle attended and after 15 minutes or so, we were allowed to return to the room, where John bravely continued his talk, an interesting look at some of the known and likely early ‘hundred’ places in Hertfordshire for early forms of government, first documented in AD939, but possibly utilising much earlier gathering places.
Stewart Bryant from the Herts HER then gave a talk: “A nice place to live: settlement and landscape in Hertfordshire from 1500BC to 100BC”. The period chosen was looked upon as the ‘formative period’ for settlement within the county, and the point was made that the number of known settlement sites has increased by some 300% since 1990 – roughly equal to the period of Developer-funded Archaeology. Much was made of the geology of the area, very few sites having been found on the London Clay areas – as Stewart said, “Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow, we have the same for clay!” but Tony Rook later in the day commented that “distribution maps only show where archaeologists have been”. The fact remains that a great deal of evidence of the later prehistoric in Herts survives. Much more than we currently know.
After a short coffee break (strong coffee!), Isobel Thompson posed the question “When was the Roman conquest in Hertfordshire?” The standard answer is ‘AD43′, but Isobel’s talk centered on several facts that suggest this is wrong. For instance, burials have been found in early Verulamium dated to AD43-53, but burials were not allowed inside Roman towns, so it could not have been ‘Roman’ at this time. It was suggested thatVerulamium may have originally been founded to control distribution of iron ore from the west – overlaying later Roman roads on an Iron Age map of the Herts area strongly suggests some re-engineering of earlier trackways. An amusing postcard was displayed, dated from 1907, showing Britons surrendering to Caesar, and for some reason the Britons are all dressed as Vikings! But as to the original question, no definitive date can be given, and AD43 “cannot be considered a useful marker”.
A team of three shared the next talk, which covered the “Dig Where We Stand” project, funded by the HLF. Sarah Dhanjal gave an overview of the project, which covers not just archaeology but all aspects of community heritage. Gabe Moshenska then gave details of the Hendon School Project, where students were given the chance to do ‘real archaeology’; surveying, digging and post-ex. Finally, Kris Lockyear explained how setting up a ‘Handling Archaeological Finds’ course held locally provided experience of different aspects of post-ex, and coincidentally provided a good opportunity to sort the finds archive! The point was pressed that local archaeological societies are community heritage.
Leading up to lunch, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews gave a talk entitled “Local landscapes for local people? The significance of the Baldock bowl”, and highlighted several sites within the Baldock area including the earliest monument in the area, a 7m wide (narrow) cursus, and a 55m diameter henge which if considered an early ‘formative henge’ is the most easterly yet found. The concentration of neolithic monuments and finds in the area prompted Keith to say “it’s like someone dumped a lump of Salisbury Plain in Hertfordshire!” Of course, the ‘R’ word was used and it was suggested that the area may have been somewhere that communities came together for various purposes.
After a shortened lunch (due to the earlier evacuation), Anne Rowe provided an insight into the history of tree use with “In praise of pollards – living archaeology”. Pollards are trees which have their branches ‘harvested’, usually around head height or so, on a regular basis over many years. As Anne said, “wielding an axe at the top of a ladder is not easy, or so I’m told!” It was interesting to hear of the vaste swathes of pollards mostly now gone, which were used to provide fuel, and to see examples of many surviving pollard areas – something to look out for when travelling around as many pollarded hornbeams and some oak still survive.
Simon West, in “Out of Town, and on the Edge?’ evaluated recent findings and evidence for Romanisation within the Verulamium area, particularly concentrating upon the situation of the Folly Lane burial and its continued importance into the Roman era.
Tony Rook, guest of honour on the occasion of his 80th birthday, then made an appearance and regaled us with entertaining tales of his early years at Lullingstone Villa. His later important finds in the Welwyn Garden City area, using what he described as ‘Snatch and Grab’ archaeology: “I’ve come about the drains…” were also covered in some detail, giving a brief snapshot of some highlights of his career. Kris Lockyear made a small presentation to Tony on behalf of the Welwyn Archaeological Society, which led us nicely into the afternoon tea break.
Suitably refreshed, Pete Boyer provided some details about “Recent excavations at Station Road, Watton-at-Stone”. The dig covers many eras, with prehistoric flints and pottery, a Roman ditch, and an Anglo Saxon ’enigma’ all coming to the fore. 4.5Kg of AS pottery (mostly dated 600-800 AD) is a significant find for the Herts area. The dig provided lots of funerary evidence, but no sign of an associated settlement – maybe this was lost under the nearby railway line?
Finally to close the day, Kris Lockyear told us about his dig close to the last presentation, “The late Iron Age and Roman site at Six Acres, Watton-at-Stone”. After a collection of nearby metal detector finds, the field in question had been used for teaching geofizz and showed some interesting results. sadly, as Kris noted, “the only constant in archaeology is Sod’s Law” and a modern water pipe dissects the junction of 4 promising features. but there is a lot more work still to do on the site which has provided a selection of Roman pottery.
…And that wrapped up an enjoyable and educational day. I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t know there was such a breadth of archaeology in Hertfordshire – it’s all too easy to focus on the visible and forget about the rest, but the signs are there if you know what to look for! There are plans to issue the conference proceedings at a later date, watch the society website for details of that.
National Trust says it ain’t necessarily so:
The National Trust has recently been in trouble for mentioning that the Giants Causeway had featured in early debates about evolution. Some people felt that was giving succour to modern-day creationists and young-earthers. Now however they are to reconsider their display material and have issued a statement clarifying that they consider that there is no scientific debate about the age of the earth! Hurrah! It would be nice if the government confirmed that view and told the creationists that currently want to set up a school here to go to a fictitious place of torment.
English Heritage still doesn’t get it!
English Heritage has been jubilating about the Olympic torch coming to Stonehenge:
“Stonehenge is a cultural institution, older than the Games themselves. And they are both the focus for great communal gatherings. The Olympic Torch and Stonehenge are two of the great symbols of the world. To bring them together is profoundly exciting.”
Ummm yes, Dr Thurley but you didn’t bring them together in a great communal gathering, did you, that’s the problem. It all happened as a private event at 5.00am, witnessed only by press photographers and English Heritage employees. They might have found it “profoundly exciting” but most people didn’t as they weren’t allowed to witness it.
Encouraging news from West Penwith
A few months ago we reported in a Guest Post about some worrying development on a field adjoining the Merry Maidens in Cornwall. The latest on this story appears to be that the Planning Inspector has visited the site and has dismissed the application for an appeal, the occupant now has six months to restore the field to its original condition. So by early next year, the peace at the Maidens should be restored. Here’s hoping!
[For more Cheers & Boos, type Cheers in the search box]
The latest participant in our series is Kris Lockyear, Lecturer in Archaeology at IoA, UCL and director of the Welwyn Archaeological Society in Hertfordshire.
Having worked in commercial archaeology before and between his degrees, taken at Durham, Southampton and UCL, Kris joined UCL as a researcher on the “Celtic Inscribed Stones Project” in 1996. It was a surprising job for someone specialising in Roman coins and eastern Europe, but Kris’ field skills, photographic knowledge and computing expertise were what was needed. In 1999 Kris became a Lecturer in Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, where he still works. He teaches courses on various aspects of the Roman world, as well as practical archaeology courses. In 2002 he returned to the county of his birth, Hertfordshire, and subsequently became director of the Welwyn Archaeological Society in 2009. Each year Kris contributes towards the US National Park Service course on Remote Sensing in Archaeology, as well as running his own projects in Romania and Hertfordshire.
The 10 Questions:
What sparked your interest in Archaeology?
Every four years my junior school used to visit St Albans and then put on an exhibition about the town. In my class we were looking at different periods of the town’s history, and I decided to work on the Roman period. From there on, I was hooked.
How did you get started?
I joined the Welwyn Archaeological Society in December 1975 at the age of 11 and went on my first excavation the following Easter. I worked with the Society from then on, and also spent my summers from 1980 to 1984 digging with Philip Barker at Wroxeter.
Who has most influenced your career?
That is a difficult question! Quite a few people have had a big influence on me, but a passing comment by Andrew Burnett in 1990, then Keeper of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, changed the course of my career enormously. He mentioned that the Dacian copies of Roman Republican denarii were an interesting and difficult problem. That comment led me to research in Romania where I have been almost every year since 1992.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
Another difficult question! My project at Noviodunum, in eastern Romania, is probably the most exciting one so far. We were investigating a late Roman to late Byzantine fortress on the Danube and its hinterland. The excavations recovered huge quantities of material including a tonne and a half of medieval pottery and 200,000 fish bones! Over the ten years the project ran about 300 people worked on it to whom I am very grateful. I am now working on writing up the project and processing the Roman ceramic building materials.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
If we can think of a piece of landscape as a ‘site’, I would pick the area between the villages of Watton-at-Stone and Datchworth in Hertfordshire. This small part of the county contains a Roman road, Iron Age enclosures, a Roman cremation cemetery, a bronze age “deposit”, a medieval chapel and associated earthworks amongst other things, and we are still discovering new stuff. It is also beautiful in an understated way. It is the first place I worked in 1976, and I have gone back to working there more recently. It also goes to show what a team of dedicated amateurs can discover given access, time and hard work.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
The development of competitive tendering. Perhaps I should explain. I attended an Institute for Field Archaeologists conference in the 80s which included a session on the development of competitive tendering. In that session a representative of Ove Arup, a major developer, stood up and said he could not understand why archaeologists were going down this route. He went on to explain that they put tasks such as putting in drains out to tender, but they simply commissioned other aspects of developments from firms they trusted, for example the architects for a project. He, and his colleagues, had seen archaeology in the latter category rather than the former, and would have preferred to keep working in that way. As it is, competitive tendering has forced commercial units to cut costs, and therefore the quality of their work, and keep field archaeologists on pitifully low wages. Although the development of PPG16 and its successors has resulted in a huge increase in the amount of work undertaken, the cut-throat nature of much commercial archaeology has its negative impacts.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
Working out some way of improving the funding available to field units so their staff can be paid a living wage. We lose so much expertise simply because people can no longer afford to keep working in archaeology.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
I’d like to highlight the damage the current austerity measures are having on local museums, and how once we have lost them it will be extremely difficult to get them back.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
I have no idea! Archaeology has been part of my life for so long I find it difficult to imagine what else I would do. I may have gone into computing, perhaps.
Away from the ’day job’, how do you relax?
I am a very keen amateur photographer and like to combine that with my love of walking in the English countryside.
Many thanks to Kris for his participation and prompt response to our invitation. We’re always looking for more willing subjects, so if you work in the Heritage or Archaelogy arenas and would like to be part of this series, please email us on info (at) heritageaction (dot) org (dot) uk
To see other entries in the series, use the Search box on the left, entering ‘Inside the Mind of…’ as the search term.