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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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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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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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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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by Nigel Swift

One of Satan’s pals – Belial I think it was – recommended that they should just sit tight in Hell as in due course they might all become inured to the fiery pain. I think that’s what has happened in Britain over artefact hunting. Because it is so ubiquitous the authorities no longer worry about the damage it causes. Nevertheless sometimes Reality comes knocking and can’t be ignored, as has just happened. An important group of Archaeological associations (the Australian, Canadian, European, Pan African and Indo-Pacific ones plus ICOMOS and the World Archaeological Congress) have produced a statement on “The Excavation of Archaeological Material in the Popular Media” expressing concern over TV programmes that celebrate destruction of the archaeological record and have said what every British archaeologist knows:

“Excavating an archaeological site is an unavoidably destructive process. Archaeologists mitigate this destruction through the use of careful excavation techniques, documentation, preservation, and reporting procedures that have been developed over the past century, and are updated as new technologies become available [...] To excavate a site without following such protocols is unmitigated destruction of the archaeological record…

That’s all I have to say really. Just banging on, lest anyone forget. All those archaeologists abroad say excavating without following archaeological protocols is unmitigated destruction and shouldn’t be on the telly. Yet here in Britain you can legally target, damage and denude any non-scheduled site (which is 95% of them) and if you simply say you report what you find the authorities will (a.) pat you on the head, (b.) the Culture Minister will come metal detecting with you and (c.) a specialist quango will make peak time TV programmes about Britain’s Secret Treasures, jubilating to the public about what you find.

Awful innit? Still, you don’t think about the loss if you keep looking at the shiney-shiney. Oooh, and soon there’s to be a metal detecting sit-com. Yes, a comedy. Metal detecting is something to smile about in Belial’s Britain. But as Milton said of Belial, he “counseled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth,  not peace”.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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In answer to an enquiry from a user of The Modern Antiquarian forum English Heritage have made their position on climbing onto the stones at Stonehenge crystal clear. They point out they have no choice or discretion about not allowing people to touch the stones as they are “bound by the monument’s own government regulations under which the monument is protected” and that touching the stones is “a contravention of the regulations” and crucially, that the situation applies at all times without exception: “These regulations are still in place during the managed open access of the Solstices and Equinoxes”….“The law is clear: it is illegal to touch the stones and those who do so are committing a criminal offence”.

800px-Stonehenge84

As everyone knows though, at summer solstice when tens of thousands are crowded inside the circle English Heritage is simply unable to prevent scores of people clambering on the stones, as is always shown the next day in the world’s press. Some argue that the law is an ass and that touching is no big deal. On the other hand we heard recently that damage had been done at every one of a run of ten successive summer solstice gatherings. No doubt EH will clarify if that’s wrong.

There is probably only one long term solution, which is to limit the number of people inside the circle (although in the meantime it might be good for EH to grumble about the stone-clamberers the next day rather than announce everything went very well!). It’s all about restricting the number of people inside the circle to a manageable (and also a financially affordable) amount, and allowing everyone else to celebrate near but outside the circle.

But that in itself is a problem. While a lot of those who are truly devoted to Stonehenge – some Druids, pagans and others – might well be persuaded to support such a move what about the less committed – the thousands of one-off, slightly tipsy party-goers? Would they behave or would they see it as a return of Mrs Thatcher and insist on their “right” to go inside the stones to see the sunrise?

Who knows? It’s rather up to the committed people, the Druids, pagans and others to take a lead in proposing a “limited access” solution rather than endlessly banging on about “free and open access” which is quite clearly an impractical notion. It would certainly beat endless bellyaching about how badly EH runs the place and how hard done by they all are – and those of us who have to foot the enormous annual bill for the current shindig would be grateful too!

Incidentally, this year’s event was a right old shambles – see the latest Round Table debrief – including 3 lots of damage:

Curator of stones reported that someone has used a resin to draw a couple of numbers on the stones which is proving very difficult to remove. We need to focus on people doing this. Also in the last hour or so,chalk drawings were made on the stones. Lots of candle-wax, but even more worrying that people  were sticking chewing gum on the stones. Also excrement and effluence in the stones area.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/stonehenge-law-planning-library/eh-summer-solstice-2014-debrief/566597433446707

“Well ‘Skip Jackson’, who put your name on the Heelstone, you certainly have your immortality now, don’t you? It certainly was a bit of a shambles this year in particular, with some baggy-tracksuited drunk prancing on top of the stones for a while, and a nastier atmosphere than last year, perhaps because of more sotted youngsters. It has been getting progressively worse damage-wise, anyway–last year someone holding a ‘ritual’ poured oil onto the Heelstone, which sank into the porous sandstone,left a big mark and killed the lichen…”

By Sandy Gerrard

The Welsh Schedule of Ancient Monuments includes a “Burial Chamber at Pen-yr-Alttwen” just outside Pontardawe. This is scheduled as GM 514 and the grid reference is given as SN 7315 0331. According to the Royal Commission the monument stands “on the scarp edge of a south-facing slope, on the edge of a track terraced into the hillside.”  The Royal Commission report continues:

“From the track the site presents in much the way described by Cadw. One large slab surrounded by leaning and fallen smaller slabs and blocks, supposedly a collapsed chamber, and a second adjacent slab with similarly disposed blocks suggesting a second, smaller, chamber to the immediate NW.

When seen from below, that is downslope from the track, the structure appears to be eroded outcrop. The larger slab seems to be a block dislodged from the exposure along a bedding plane. If the track is followed a short distance to the S it is seen to be formed on levelled outcrop. It is therefore hard to avoid the conclusion that this site is no more than a fortuitous arrangement of stones created by surface levelling. But by the same token a former built structure may have been shifted by the same process resulting in the disturbed remains visible today. There are no traces of a cairn, and if the site is genuine the location would have afforded little prospect of one, unless the subsequent landscaping was so radical as to have altered completely the configuration of the local ground pattern.”

The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust’s Archwilio entry for the site helpfully adds “The interpretation of this feature as a monument is not entirely certain; it could be a natural landform, but the question is unlikely to be resolved in the absence of excavation. It consists of a pile of very large slabs of sandstone embedded in a steep hillslope, one of which looks as though it might be a capstone, although most of the rest look like a natural geological formation.”

So the Royal Commission and the local archaeological trust have voiced concerns regarding the identity of this monument, but Cadw were happy to schedule it and have retained it on the schedule despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever to support a prehistoric interpretation.

When Cadw was asked to schedule the Bancbryn stone alignment they responded saying that “there was insufficient evidence to propose scheduling the feature as a prehistoric stone row”

Fair enough, I hear you cry, but then why is Cadw happy to schedule sites for which there is absolutely no evidence of date or indeed whether it is even archaeology at all? It is indeed a funny old world.  Perhaps a smidgen of double standards!

Viewed from certain angles this pile of rocks (elsewhere in Wales) resembles a chambered tomb.  In common with the Burial Chamber at Pen-yr-Alttwen no evidence exists to support a prehistoric interpretation.

Viewed from certain angles this pile of rocks (elsewhere in Wales) resembles a chambered tomb. In common with the Burial Chamber at Pen-yr-Alttwen no evidence exists to support a prehistoric interpretation.

Here is one of the holes that appeared one night last year 40 yards from the Staffordshire Hoard findspot.

Here is one of the “detector accessories” on sale less than 10 miles away in Regton’s, Britain’s biggest metal detecting shop.

item

Out of 8,000 detectorists only ONE has responded to the Journal’s invitation to tell us they have complained to Regtons about them selling products which are useful to nighthawks. On the other hand, one has taken the trouble to write: “Regtons is a buisness, it needs to make a profit to survive, if they can make extra income selling such accesories good luck to them I say.”

What can landowners deduce? Well, two things for sure:
1. Some detectorists are not very bright.
2. Despite their loud talk about hating nighthawking, a lot of them aren’t overly bothered about it (or, presumably, about history or conservation).

If you’d like to know who is really at your door as opposed to who someone at your door says they are you could use this terribly simple “Detectorists’ IQ and Morality” test (DIM):

Please provide me with a complete list of everything you’ve had recorded by PAS.

If there’s ANY hesitation, or if the list looks a bit thin you might wish to draw some conclusions. By the way, the Government and every archaeologist and archaeological organisation bar none will approve the use of a DIM test (ask them) so no worries there.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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The Long Barrow at All Cannings is a columbarium or place for cremated remains in urns to be kept. It is being built in 2014 in the style of a traditional long barrow in natural materials, but made relevant for today in its internal layout. It is aligned to the sunrise of the winter solstice when the sun will illuminate the internal stone passageway.

The long barrow is for anyone. It is for those of any religion or none. The field it is in is being restored to native chalk grassland and will be kept as natural as possible for visitors to enjoy its beauty and solitude.

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All Cannings.

See more here.

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