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Last Monday Amesbury Town Council said they were cancelling the event “due to problems with access to the planned starting point at Stonehenge, predicted traffic problems and rising costs.” Congratulations then to Councillor Fred Westmoreland and the Trustees on behalf of Amesbury Museum, for doggedly facing up to and overcoming a series of objections and obstacles.
The route has had to be changed but as Councillor Westmorland said: “It would be a different route and not involve Stonehenge but it is better than nothing. It would be cheap, cheerful and local. It is short notice but I’m sure that people would want to be part of it and it would be a shame not to have a lantern parade at all.” As big fans of the parade we totally agree. The precise nature of the “problems with access” at Stonehenge is unclear and it’s a real shame the Stones won’t be included this year but so far as we understand it EH are in favour of the parade in principle so the important thing is that there will be a parade, the tradition has been established, and hopefully it will include Stonehenge next year when the new access arrangements have bedded in.
It’s no secret why we are such fans of the parade. We think that public engagement with Stonehenge should involve a much wider spectrum of the public than at present. In addition, we think holding solstice celebrations in what may well be the authentic spot at the authentic time at minimal public cost is far preferable to holding them at the wrong spot at the wrong time at horrendous public cost. The fact that this year the former gathering will be absent and the latter one will be taking place is pretty hard to defend.
Today is a big day for Oswestry. English Heritage are meeting the Town Council to discuss the Hill Fort. It’s a worry because the Council’s wish to hide behind someone else is shining like a beacon and EH sound like they’re up for a compromise for they say they aren’t against the revised plan “in principle” because “it would only affect views from the Oswestry Town side of the hillfort”.
The question arises though, how does only affecting views from the Oswestry side make the development alright? EH’s own Guidance Paper on the setting of heritage assets states that: “The significance of a heritage asset derives not only from its physical presence and historic fabric but also from its setting – the surroundings in which it is experienced….” Is it not the case that 90% of the surroundings in which this asset is experienced are on “the Oswestry Town side of the hillfort”?
Let’s hope it all works out fine. Today is a good day for a good result because it’s now less than two weeks until the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre opens, stage one of a project to restore the stones to their “splendid isolation”, something that EH will rightly enjoy worldwide praise for. At Stonehenge it will never be said new development is OK as it’s only on one side of the monument!
Finally, as we said before, if the Council wants to stand up for “no new houses round the hill fort” (and pass it on to the future unscathed by the current ephemeral scrap of doctrinal policy that will by then be long-forgotten dust) they’d better say so plain and simple and not be persuaded to support “some new houses round the hill fort”. Posterity is watching them!
by Nigel Swift
Brian Taylor (in The British Journal of Sociology – Amateurs, Professionals and the knowledge of archaeology) references the view that in the first half of the 20th century it was considered that the core defining characteristics that distinguish professions were:
However, Mr Taylor suggests an “alternative conceptualization” whereby amateurism is considered “a self-legitimising component of the vocabulary of professionalism itself.”
It’s quite a proposal, but very much in the spirit of the times, when the emphasis is on outreach, partnership, inclusivity, community archaeology and (on the quiet) filling the gaps left by funding cuts. But can it be valid? Can amateurs be seen as somehow closer to professionals than they used to be? Without question, yes. They are. Yet it’s also clear the above defining characteristics of professions are still valid whereas most amateurs patently lack the full range of characteristics to qualify as professionals.
So how has the trick been achieved? How have those who clearly lack the defining characteristics of archaeologists come to work closely and often effectively with archaeologists? The answer is hardly a secret. The most effective amateur archaeologists “borrow” the core defining characteristics of archaeologists by working in ways directed by or approved by professionals. There is no other way.
Which is the quarrel I have with artefact hunting and Britain’s failure to regulate it. Most amateur archaeologists borrow the defining characteristics of archaeologists whereas artefact hunters reject them. That really matters if Archaeology is seen as a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible and I challenge anyone, including the Culture Minister and the Head of PAS, to deny that metal detecting ought to be conducted in accordance with the core defining characteristics of professional archaeology.
Take just one of the defining characteristics, a code of ethics. Archaeologists (and hence most amateur archaeologists) have one. Artefact hunters don’t, which is tantamount to them shouting from the hilltops: “we are not prepared to accept that Archaeology is a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible”. Well actually, I tell a lie, they DO have codes of practice but they are not the same as the ones that bind archaeologists and amateur archaeologists. They are camouflages – codes designed to divert the attention of landowners from the fact that those who cite them are not willing to behave like archaeologists or amateur archaeologists.
Number of detectorists who have adopted our suggested Ethical Detecting pledges:
Number of detecting clubs who insist on their members adhering even to the severely emasculated standards of the Official Responsible Detecting Code:
Number of detectorists and detecting clubs who say they are committed to the NCMD, FID or similar detectorists’ “Codes” none of which even require adherents to report all finds to PAS:
ALL OF THEM.
Next time you hear talk of heroism or what a lot of finds PAS has recorded please bear in mind those three numbers – zero, one and “all of them” and ask yourself why – and how much loss of knowledge they hint at.
Last Friday the Local Council of Xaghra on the island of Gozo, Malta sealed a twinning agreement with the Councils of Mergo in Italy and Chevaigné in France. It’s a nice place, Xaghra, it’s a shame a comparable British town with a similar obligation to protect a nearby ancient site hasn’t twinned up with them. Oswestry for instance…
Alas, that could never be, as there seems to be a bit of a cultural gulf between the two places. At Xaghra you see, two brand new two-storey terraced houses are being proposed in the buffer zone of the Xaghra Stone Circle, which forms part of the Ggantija complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site and there’s an awful stink being kicked up about it. (Yes, you read it right, two!)
Heritage Malta (a sort of Maltese English Heritage) has objected to the development saying that any development in this buffer zone would not only endanger the world heritage status of the Ggantija temples but of all six Megalithic sites in Malta and Gozo. So naturally a town which seems likely to be about to reject two new houses in a buffer zone is going to be less than keen to twin with a town where Government planning rules enable someone to try their luck with an application to build 188 right next to a world famous hill fort – with a sporting chance of getting at least some of them approved!
The above stunt, created nine years ago by The Real Countryside Alliance at the Uffington White Horse, caused no damage but because it was unauthorised by its National Trust guardians it was deemed a bad thing.
On the other hand, the one below (promoting Big Brother in 2003) was considered a “good stunt” to start with (presumably, since the Trust accepted £2,000 for allowing it). But then, after complaints about the lack of respect for monuments and the bad example it set, their spokesman announced “we might have got this wrong”.
Then in 2012 when Paddy Power did this at Uffington it was deemed a bad stunt but not for the Big Brother “lack of respect” reason but for the Countryside Alliance “lack of permission” reason. For their part, Paddy Power dealt with criticism by donating some penance money to charity whereupon they seem to have been forgiven.
Thus it seems the “respect for monuments” complaint is sometimes but not always recognised as valid by the Trust. The latest example of that uncertainty is that the Trust has recently allowed a moustache to be added to the Cerne Abbas Giant because it was in aid of charity.
Two important questions arise: do stunts carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere and if so do “charitable purposes” justify taking such a risk? It would be good if the Trust clarified their policy.
Update 28 November:
This theoretical image produced by Paul Barford raises issues of principle that would need addressing if the Trust is to formulate and publish a clear policy:
No doubt (these days) a proposal to brandalise a hill figure by a pro-hunting group would be given short shrift and the same would apply to artefact hunters (bearing in mind the Trust doesn’t allow metal detecting on it’s land). But what if it was in order to advertise a metal detecting rally “in aid of charity” (as so many are these days) – maybe even the very charity the moustache stunt was in aid of? Do the means justify the ends? Our conviction is no, in the case of both detecting rallies and brandalising, but it seems it is a matter that is yet to be fully addressed by the Trust.
One of hundreds of paintings by Heritage Action Founder Member Jane Tomlinson who will be holding another exhibition of her work this weekend at her home in Eynsham near Oxford and at other venues in the village.
Now that millions of pounds worth of new infrastructure is in place at Stonehenge is it time to consider if the way it is used should be expanded? It’s going to remain a mass tick-box for the world’s tourists of course, plus it will host Solstice and Equinox gatherings, but is that it? Shouldn’t it now be used for a whole range of events and interactions?
We’ve previously suggested some new ways Stonehenge could be used. However, as Sarah May has pointed out there’s always a tension at heritage assets between the need for conservation and the perceptions and aspirations of the many groups that see them as theirs: “There is a process by which buildings, places and objects come to take this more distant role permanently. They are extracted from the lived landscape. No longer available for the kind of rough and tumble interactions they may have enjoyed, they become objects of veneration.“
However, if that tension can be resolved (and surely it can be by applying a test that few would criticise: does the event conform to the need for conservation and safety?) then isn’t there a strong case for expansion? If it’s everyone’s monument then isn’t everyone entitled to use it in a way they would like, not just some people? It’s hard to see a downside to that proposition (except that the monument needs to earn its keep, but that can no doubt be worked round by adjusting the where and the when of events). Also, it’s a proposition that has already been tested with great success: the lantern procession seems set fair to become an established part of the cultural calendar and the Fire Garden event last year was a great success (prompting Mike Pitts to write: “Like summer solstice but with gentility…. The stones close and personal and erratically wrapped in flames and paraffin smells in the growing darkness, thousands of people politely queuing, one man making gentle electronic music surrounded by a quiet crowd, a comfortable friendly gathering …. Soft, arty French eccentricity from La Compagnie Carabosse”).
This is not to say that anyone should be deprived of their current usage. They have a right (subject to the need for conservation)- but so does everyone else and at present the range of options is narrow – for no obvious reason other than the fact that that’s how it is.
Three years ago we suggested that anyone who googled Crosby Garrett helmet would think “the reported circumstances of its alleged discovery, form, removal, provenance, secrecy, find spot, restoration, marketing and reporting are mighty rum“. Things haven’t changed it seems. If you want a flavour of it all you could look at Paul Barford’s site. He has devoted several dozen postings to it and you can read them, most recent first, here. You might well conclude that he has a bit of a point. In fact many.
Recently though things have moved on. The helmet has finally turned up at the local museum (on loan) and there has been a conference about it and a booklet and a report. Yet still an awful lot of things that would normally have been put into the public domain remain unexplained. It is not just Paul that has been raising concerns. Professor David Gill for instance has also made many postings about the affair on his Looting Matters blogspot, the latest being here and here. Here’s an extract from his latest, a few days ago, making reference to the study that has just been published. What’s going on?
“Professor David Ekserdjian in his introduction to the newly published study of the Crosby Garrett helmet draws attention to the newly surfaced Resurrection of Christ by Titian [see BBC]. Imagine if the Titian was sent for a quick clean and touch-up in a workshop under the railway arches in London. I would hope that Ekserdjian would be in the vanguard of those raising their voices in protest.Yet when “a hauntingly unforgettable work of art”, to use Ekserdjian’s description of the Crosby Garrett helmet, was sent for a hurried restoration before its sale at auction, the silence appears to have been almost overwhelming.”
Incidentally, it’s worth recalling that this whole mess began because something different was (metaphorically) put on top of the helmet. What we are seeing is the “else”.
The above is from The Oswestry Town Plan, “an informed and influential guide to developers, setting out what matters most to local people” which expresses The Town Vision in which “important open spaces are protected and enhanced”.
So what does it show? An important open space that should be protected, for sure. But the setting of the hill fort? Absolutely not. Settings aren’t perfectly round. Nor can they be drawn on a map (they shouldn’t be confused with buffer zones round World Heritage Monuments) – they exist within the judgements of Planning Inspectors not on maps. Thus whoever drew the circle had neither the authority nor the ability to represent it as the setting – and didn’t claim it was.
So WHY did they draw that line just there, perfectly round (and offset so it is further from the hill fort in the North than the South?) What “informed and influential guide to developers” was it providing? In what way was it “setting out what matters most to local people”? We don’t know. But to repeat, it isn’t the setting for the reasons given and also because a setting as tiny as that for “one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation” would be a grotesque joke. By any basis of judgement the setting of that monument is far larger and building houses almost touching that circle as if it did portray the setting would be terribly wrong, don’t you agree campaigners and councillors? ‘Course you do! And yet ….
How did that happen? Where did the developers (and perchance some councillors) get the idea that building houses just there would be acceptable and would reflect what matters most to local people?