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by Sandy Gerrard
In March last year 18 questions relating to the archaeological situation on Mynydd y Betws were asked. During May the answers provided by Cadw were published here. I also asked my local Assembly member (Mr Rhodri Glyn Thomas) to ask the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the same questions and he kindly did this on my behalf. Having had no response in October I asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a copy of the DAT response and this was passed to both Mr Thomas and myself shortly afterwards. A commentary on the DAT response was then produced and sent to Carmarthenshire County Council. This series of articles present DAT’s responses in black and my own comments upon them in green. See part 1 of the series here.
GENERAL POINTS (continued)
In terms of the planning responses made by this Trust it is important to remember that the stone alignment, which is at the heart of Dr and Mrs Gerrard’s concerns, was not discovered until early January 2012. The original field work was carried out much earlier.
This recent discovery was only achieved because of mountain fires the previous summer and we are certain that the stone alignment, buried in tall heather and vegetation, would not have been discovered earlier if it had not been exposed by fire.
This issue is central to the whole debate. I believe that once planning permission had been granted the substantial area highlighted for destruction should have been looked at thoroughly and to do this vegetation that was going to be lost anyway should have either been cut or carefully burnt. This would have provided both archaeological and ecological benefits. The area could have been checked for “hidden” archaeology and the resultant fire-break could have represented the start of more positive management of the heather in the area. Instead no search was conducted of an area which was about to be destroyed and which both the Trust and Cadw had previously described as archaeologically important. Whether the stone alignment is prehistoric or not is not the main issue. The main issue is that no attempt was made to locate or record archaeological remains of ANY date in advance of a permitted development.
It is wholly wrong of Dr and Mrs Gerrard to criticise many other field archaeologists from a number of organisations for failing to make this discovery in the prevailing circumstances of dense vegetation cover. By January 2012 the stone alignment was very clear in a charred landscape and would have been easily observed by anyone walking in the area.
I am not aware that I have criticised anyone for failing to see the stone alignment in the “dense vegetation”. I have challenged the evidence for the hill being covered in dense vegetation as photographs taken at the time indicate a mosaic of different vegetation conditions. I have also asked on several occasions why a proper search was not conducted. My criticism is that nobody looked for or was asked to look for earthworks in these areas. Is dense vegetation seen as a valid excuse for not conducting a thorough search of areas about to be destroyed? Why is it wrong to criticise when such work was clearly not done? To do such work in future would mean more employment for fellow archaeologists and ensure such mistakes do NOT re-occur. If as fellow professionals it is wholly wrong to criticise how will understanding ever progress? Academically in ALL fields of research criticism of currently widely accepted views has shown they are often inaccurate. This comment is therefore blatantly insulting and shows scant regard for an understanding of how knowledge is obtained. Also to then add ‘anyone’ walking in the area would have spotted it after burning is clearly intended as a put down, but actually reinforces the main point I have been making from the start. If they had removed the vegetation obscuring the archaeology then indeed according to DAT it could have been spotted by “anyone”, but instead they choose to “sign off” the area without a proper examination simply because it happened to be covered in dense vegetation on the day allocated for the fieldwork. This is what is wholly wrong. Just because they didn’t bother to look for archaeology in the areas covered in dense vegetation, does not give them an excuse to treat with contempt those who did make the effort to have a look and honestly report their findings before it was too late. The fencing contractors and other operatives also failed to notice it, but of course anybody could….
For previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.
Whatever your views on building windfarms in sensitive locations, you’ll find this short video by Sandy Gerrard well worth viewing. There’s an unmistakeable and powerful symbolism to it. Welcome to the future!
With the DigVentures project in full swing, I felt it was time to pay Flag Fen a personal visit and see what was going on there for myself. We set out from London early on Saturday morning, and arrived just in time for public opening (10:00am) to find the car park full to bursting!
Inside the visitor centre, the staff were friendly and helpful, sorting out a electric scooter for my partner, who was then able to join me on my perambulation around the site. A tour group were preparing, and I spotted Brendan Wilkins (Project Director of DigVentures) and said hello. He explained that questions were welcomed on site, the many volunteers (Venturers) being only too happy to explain what was going on in the various trenches and test pits. Raksha Dave (Project Manager, DigVentures) was also there, and I told her how her response to our ‘Inside the Mind’ series is one of our most visited pages here on the Journal, which pleased her immensely. Also in the building was Francis Pryor, discoverer of the Flag Fen site, who was leading a special organised morning tour.
Having had a cup of tea and brief chat with Raksha and Lisa Wescott-Wilkins (Managing Director of DigVentures), we headed out onto the fen grounds to see for ourselves what was going on. The field school for the project runs from 23rd July – 12th August, so two weeks into the project, the trenches and test pits are well established.
The first (main) trench is to the south-east of the site, across the line of the wooden causeway. As I approached, one of the diggers was showing some recent finds from the trench to a young family including a 7-year old girl who was fascinated by the archaeology on show – a future YAC member perhaps? Post holes, and other features including the line of the main causeway were pointed out and explained, and a lot of hard work was obviously being undertaken in the background by the Venturers.
I moved on to the nearby test pit, where discussions were under way on the best way to possibly lift some of the fragile timbers which have been exposed by the excavation.
After a look inside the Preservation Hall, which includes a display of some of the finds from the area along with some interesting interpretation boards, we’d hoped to look at the second trench, but this was covered by a tent which was closed off, so we moved on to look at the reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse, which had obviously been used by the Venturers for some evening entertainment judging by the lingering smell of wood smoke, which all made it very evocative of a much earlier time.
At this point, disaster struck as my camera batteries refused to function any further! Added to this, the next part of the route around the site across the arena and alongside the mere, was all ‘off path’, and quite dangerous for the electric scooter which dipped and tilted several times on the uneven ground – a warning for any other disabled visitors hoping to visit this part of the site.
Outside the Iron Age roundhouse, another reconstruction showing the difference in styles between the two ages, was another test pit. This was much deeper than the first we saw, attempting to find the edge of a ‘platform’ which the causeway crosses. Unfortunately, nothing has yet been found in this pit and we moved on to the site museum.
Unfortunately, it looked as if many of the interpretation boards and displays were being updated and replaced, which is good news for future visitors who will have much better access to the latest information. Outside the museum is a reconstructed Roman Herb Garden, sited on the path of a Roman Road which runs alongside the much earlier wooden causeway.
Having finished most of our circumnavigation of the site (but missing the Big Dig Tent! How did that happen?) we headed back to the main visitor centre, and just in time as the heavens opened with a downpour of biblical proportions! Trapped in the visitor centre, we undertook some retail therapy and took the opportunity to ask Francis Pryor to sign a copy of his 2005 book about the site, Flag Fen: Life and Death of a Prehistoric Landscape. In turn, he took the opportunity to mention his more recent e-book about the site, Flag Fen: A Concise Archæoguide, so we came out even on that one
Eventually the storm broke, and we returned to the car, wondering about the possible damage done to the trenches by such a downpour which had partially flooded the carpark in the space of some 10-15 minutes.
So what did we bring away from the site? An admiration for the dedication and enthusiasm of all the volunteers and amateur archaeologists taking part, many taking part in a dig for the very first time. A perception that crowdfunding really can work as a concept. And the realisation that every excavation, though essentially destructive by it’s very nature, can add to our knowledge of the distant past. That’s especially true in the case of Flag Fen as so little of the site has been fully excavated, and while the site is slowly drying out, the irretrievable loss of further knowledge this would cause is a very real possibility. Did you know that the earliest recorded wheel was found at Flag Fen, purely because of the anaerobic conditions found in the wetlands there? What else can the site tell us before it’s too late?
Do visit the DigVentures and Flag Fen web sites (see links above) for more information, and try to get along to the site for a personal visit that I think you’ll find both educational and rewarding.
STATEMENT: PRIDDY CIRCLES.
Following a detailed investigation by English Heritage and Avon & Somerset Police into the circumstances surrounding damage to one of the Priddy Circles, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a local man has been summoned to appear at South Somerset and Mendip Magistrates’ Court on 19th April 2012 for an alleged offence in connection with works to a Scheduled Monument without Scheduled Monument Consent contrary to section 2(1) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
Priddy Circles, near Wells, is a scheduled monument of four large Neolithic circular earthwork enclosures.
Issued by English Heritage Communications
4 April 2012
Sandy Gerrard writes:
18 vital questions regarding the construction of a windfarm on the Mynydd Y Betws archaeological landscape are yet to be answered. Here are the first eight:
On the slopes of Bancbryn (forming part of Mynydd Y Betws) there is an incredibly rich multi-period archaeological landscape the importance of which has in part been recognised by Cadw’s designation regime. To all intents and purposes this looks like an important ceremonial/ritual landscape with a stone row forming its focus. The hillside is further enhanced by the survival of a range of historic features highlighting the importance of the area in more recent years. This impressive landscape now has a large road cutting right through its heart and shortly will have two substantial wind turbines towering 110m above it. The setting of this significant landscape will be compromised for years to come and even after the turbines have been dismantled the archaeology lost in their construction will be gone for ever. It is just not possible to replace archaeology once it has been destroyed and for this reason and quite rightly so there are legal constraints in place to ensure that archaeology is recorded before it is destroyed. This has not happened at Mynydd Y Betws and it is therefore surely appropriate that an explanation of this lamentable situation is forthcoming. To provide a focus I would suggest that answers to the following questions are needed:
Question 1. Why was no earthwork survey ever conducted?
If this work had been carried out the archaeological remains of many periods would not have been destroyed before they could be recorded. The Planning Inspector observed that there was unrecorded archaeology within the development area and despite this no measures were taken to remedy the situation. The plan below is an unofficial survey of the archaeology and evaluation trenches. It took 2 days to produce and on many levels is more informative than the evaluation work carried out as part of the planning conditions. A survey of this type would have provided a context for the archaeology within the development area and allowed a properly targeted and effective mitigation exercise.
Question 2. Why was no watching brief carried out when a fence was erected on the very edge of a scheduled monument (see image below)?
Question 3. Why was no archaeological watching brief being conducted on 16 th January 2012 when a large digging machine was removing topsoil adjacent to a scheduled monument (see image below)?
Question 4. Why despite the fact that Evaluation Trench 36 (see below) was cut straight across the stone row was the stone row not identified?
Question 5. Was the possibility of protecting the row below the new road even considered?
At Rotherwas, near Hereford, English Heritage insisted that the Rotherwas Ribbon, a linear feature (see below) of unknown significance be protected in this manner when a road was built, thus preserving it in situ…..
Question 6. Why was no evaluation trench placed across the obvious linear hollow labelled on the map as a hollow way (see below)?
Given that a length of this earthwork was going to be destroyed by the new access road why was no trench actually placed across this very obvious earthwork and instead positioned on apparently level ground next to it? Why was this very obvious archaeological feature within the permitted development area ignored by the evaluation report? Does not this oversight confirms that the evaluation was not carried out to adequate standards, as graphically illustrated by the fact that most of the feature within this photograph was subsequently destroyed?
Question 7. Why was no evaluation trench placed across the three cairn-like features between Evaluation Trenches 38 and 39?
The photograph below shows a probable cairn partly within the permitted development area below the bucket of the digger. This feature was not located during the archaeological mitigation works.
Question 8. Why was the bank with associated ditch near to Evaluation Trench 40 not examined and why was the trench not excavated on the site of the earthworks? The feature has now been cut through by the road and is clearly visible in the section formed by the newly constructed road ditch – see below.
…… whereas the surviving ditch and associated bank can still be seen beyond the permitted development area (see below):
The remaining 10 questions will be published shortly but the following comments are relevant to them all:
Three main agencies are involved in this matter and some of the questions are more pertinent to Carmarthenshire County Council than others. However, as the authority responsible for firstly approving the scheme of works and more importantly for discharging the planning condition it is clearly justifiable for the public on whose part they are acting to ask why so much of the archaeology has been ignored in the process. Nowhere does it say that most of the archaeology should be disregarded or ignored, but sadly this is clearly what has happened and an explanation would in the circumstances seem appropriate.
For previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box
The Wrekin in Shropshire is visited by countless thousands of people and erosion due to footfall is an ongoing problem. Particularly affected is “The Barrow between Heaven and Hell’s Gate” close to the summit. Volunteer restoration teams have recently been at work to protect it.
Pete Lambert, from Shropshire Wildlife Trust explained: “We are covering it with matting and then sowing it with grass seed to protect it from further damage. It was starting to become very exposed so we needed to seal in that bit of archaeology.”
The Wrekin was once home to the Celtic Cornovii tribe which built the fort and called it their capital. It sprawled the summit of the hill and covered about 20 acres. Mr Lambert added: “Hell Gate, the earthwork entrance created by the Cornovii, has also suffered extensive erosion and is being restored“. More here.
Remember how the Rotherwas Ribbon had a road built over it thanks to the pressure from quango, Advantage West Midlands plus the reluctance of English Heritage to schedule it? You’d think that was the end of it and that things couldn’t get worse for this world-unique monument, yet they just have. Chancellor George Osborne has just announced that the Rotherwas Business Park has been granted Business Enterprise Status.
There are a couple of stunning Ribbon related facts about that: Firstly, it seems that one of the key reasons that Enterprise Status has been granted was “the benefits of the new direct road link to the A49 from Rotherwas” – and that’s the very road that was driven (without good economic reason said the Government Inspector at the time) over the Ribbon! Secondly, the rest of the Ribbon (still not scheduled! EH said it would “take some time” to decide and that was years ago) curves several hundred yards towards (and actually into) the Business Park – which, as an enterprise zone, will be expanded onto the land surrounding it using “lower levels of planning control”. So one must wonder: is the Ribbon “in the way” again and if so what will happen to it?
Because the Ribbon wasn’t scheduled at the time, a road was built over it.
Because the road has been built, enterprise zone status has been conferred.
Because enterprise zone status has been conferred the rest of the Ribbon might now be under threat.
Pretty awful, is it not, for a monument that the County Archaeologist said was comparable in importance to Stonehenge before he suddenly desisted? We could perhaps start a petition calling for it to be scheduled… but somehow that doesn’t seem likely to happen now.
Or ever, don’t you agree?
Full article here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14503302
See also Boudicca’s lost tribe .
Many politicians have called for an end to Regional Development Agencies and The Taxpayer’s Alliance is scathing, to say the least, about one in particular - “Advantage West Midlands”. It’s really worth a look …
We aren’t fans either. You may recall it was Advantage West Midlands that insisted on building a road (that a government Inspector twice said wasn’t needed) over the Rotherwas Ribbon (that the County Archaeo said was as important as Stonehenge). See here… Of course, that’s all old news now, the road went ahead sweet as a nut, English Heritage having declined to schedule the Ribbon in time.
All that being so, we aren’t overjoyed to see on Page 67 of English Heritage’s just-published Annual Report and Accounts that Advantage West Midlands are listed as one of the 26 “Grant Making and Public Bodies” that have given EH money. No doubt there are some technical or accounting reasons why that should be but at first sight the fact that taxpayer-funded heritage wreckers are handing over taxpayers’ funds to support taxpayer-funded heritage guardians is a bit irritating to anyone that supports heritage guardianship - or pays tax.