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by Nigel Swift

Sad Day For Wales2.

As the CBA says, the best way to extract evidence is via “controlled, high-standard archaeological excavation“. So it follows that the proper role for archaeologists to adopt towards metal detecting is to encourage people to mitigate their damage, nothing else. Yet the Welsh Museums (aided by PAS and the Lottery Fund) have just launched a project that effectively promotes artefact hunting providing it’s done well (or in their words, creates “a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting”.) The law of unintended consequences needs noting. Promoting detecting done well also promotes detecting as a whole, so what they regard as applying a conservation brake is actually pressing an exploitation accelerator. There are better actions they could take. For example:

“Images show hundreds of people, including gunmen, taking part in the excavations from dawn until night in many cases. Dealers are present, and when they discover an artefact, the sale takes place immediately.”

That’s a press report about Syria of course but apart from the guns it describes exactly what has been happening in Wales (and England) routinely on unprotected archaeological sites for donkey’s years. PAS outreaching hasn’t stopped it (at rallies PAS often has a stall next to the artefact dealers, for goodness sake!) and nor will the latest stance by the Welsh museums. Welsh archaeologists and heritage professionals might be better employed persuading the Government to put a stop to that before they try to “create a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting.”

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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O Canada.

So why have we gone all Canadaphile? Well, it’s because they’re so refreshingly keen to protect Canada – see above. And they really mean it, for look at this ! Doesn’t that sound great?!  Two Americans targeting Canada’s archaeological sites for a populist, far from professional reality show and Canada’s archaeologists stepping in and saying no, you can’t do that without an archaeologist being present! Basically they’re saying Canada’s buried heritage belongs to everyone, not two people. As one of them puts it: We need accountability and we need an on-site archeologist appointed by the province and for the treasure hunters to cover the cost.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, not two but hundreds of Americans target our archaeological sites annually without archaeologists being present (they come on organised detecting holidays specifically catering for them) and other detectorists from scores of countries across the globe attend detecting rallies here, also without archaeologists present. (One wonders just how much of a United Nations gathering the recent archaeologist-free rally to remove objects from the site of Weyhill Fair was?!) And of course relentlessly, week after week, thousands and thousands of British people are out (legally) targeting (unprotected) archaeological sites either in groups or on their own without an archaeologist being involved or even informed.

But have you heard lots of British archaeologists demanding “We need accountability, we need on-site archeologists and we need treasure hunters to cover the cost”?  Nor me. Canada stands on guard for its buried heritage. Britain doesn’t.

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milton.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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We’ve repeatedly expressed opposition to public guardians (including the National Trust) allowing modifications to monuments, even for innocent reasons. The fear is that there could be damaging copycat behaviour either at the same place or at somewhere completely different. This week there’s news that a poem in the form of a massive rock mural  that the National Trust allowed the National Theatre of Wales to paint on Snowdon hasn’t faded away but has baked on – and will now take a lot of removal. National Theatre Wales has apologised and said it will rectify the problem. A National Trust spokesman expressed the opinion it was “a small issue” as it will soon be sorted out but we don’t really agree and nor do some others.

Elfyn Jones, the British Mountaineering Council’s officer for Wales said “We have sympathies for the artistic endeavors involved but what is left is no more than graffiti in a semi-wild landscape in a national park. It’s unfortunate to say the least” . In addition, a warden for Natural Resources Wales said on this videoI’m concerned that this will be here for some time but more concerned about what sort of message it’s giving to the public – that it’s acceptable to do this sort of thing…

Bravo! That last point is very important in our opinion and something that neither The National Trust nor the National Theatre of Wales seems to have considered. So come on National Trust! You can’t say that you allowing artistic events at Snowdon (on what is supposed to be a protected site) and charitable brandalising of the Uffington White Horse (on what is supposed to be another protected site) WON’T have contributed to the next case of vandalism there or elsewhere. So how about desisting?.

by Sandy Gerrard

The Planning Inspectorate in Wales has recently rejected an application to erect three wind turbines at Bedlinog on the edge of an area containing a large number of multi-period archaeological sites. Most significantly the main reason given for the decision is the impact the development would have had on the historic environment.  Indeed this concern is eloquently expressed so: the introduction of very large modern moving structures into a landscape which had not significantly changed since the pre-industrial age would cause significant and extensive harm.”

Hooray. The landscape that is going to be protected is very similar in character to the one at Mynydd y Betws.  Essentially it is a multi-period palimpsest some of which is scheduled. There are however also some important differences:
> The nearest scheduled site would have been 570m from a turbine rather than the 72m at Mynydd y Betws
> Three turbines were proposed rather than fifteen.
> The turbines were to be built on enclosed land near to the moorland rather than on the moorland itself.
> The turbines were to be built to one side of the archaeology rather than in its midst.

When the Planning Inspectorate considered the Mynydd y Betws proposal, where the impact of the proposed scheme was considerably more intrusive and damaging to the historic environment than at Bedlinog they stated:
“The turbines would be large man made features of far greater scale than anything which currently exists. However they would be, if allowed, by their nature a temporary feature with a permission for 25 years.”
“the effect on the setting of those Monuments within the site, whether they are burial cairns or more recent upland farmsteads, would not be unacceptably harmful.”

Hopefully this radical change of heart means that in just a few short years and on the back of the lessons learnt at Mynydd y Betws the desecration of irreplaceable archaeological landscapes is no longer to be tolerated.  Certainly this decision should help those fighting to safeguard our heritage and should be warmly welcomed by everyone with an interest in our uplands.

“the introduction of very large modern moving structures into a landscape which had not significantly changed since the pre-industrial age would cause significant and extensive harm.”  Planning Inspectorate (2014).  An example of significant and extensive harm at Mynydd y Betws.

“the introduction of very large modern moving structures into a landscape which had not significantly changed since the pre-industrial age would cause significant and extensive harm.” Planning Inspectorate (2014). An example of significant and extensive harm at Mynydd y Betws.

There’s not much doubt the graffiti at the Millenium Circle at High Ham Country Park near Yeovil was deliberate – see here  – as the words “Stoner was here” were daubed on one of the stones. However, 2 days later 200 miles away there was a different sort of incident at The Nine Ladies Circle - see here.

pink

Is dressing stones up in bright pink material and causing no physical damage an act of vandalism? Especially if you do it as an “act of love and gratitude for their eternal being”? And you leave a note saying you did it as a  response to previous vandalism there and you believe the Universe must be realigned”?

It’s a moot point but this chimes with one of our bugbears. Best not to mess about with ancient monuments AT ALL lest copycats do harm at another one.  “No physical harm” and “in a good cause” doesn’t make it OK (National Trust at hill figures please note!)  Simple really!

Well OK it’s a false headline, she was actually fined €600 for stubbing out a cigarette on the pristine beach of Alghero in Sardinia but it reminded us that we hadn’t finished ranting about how we British allow Stonehenge to be disrespected. Compare and contrast her cigarette stub with this…..

Solstice litter

How did we sleepwalk into a position where we tolerate treating our national icon in that way in full view of the rest of the world? On one day of the year only (no-one would dream of dropping a molecule of litter there on any of the other 364). There has to be a way to stop it and it’s clearly up to those who say they respect Stonehenge most to come up with a clear, practical proposal to achieve it. (Clue: numbers!)

Update 1 September 2014
EH has just announced the date for the next few Round Table meetings. Believe it or not there will be nine of them before next year’s summer solstice…..

Thu 2 October 2014
Thu 6 November 2014
Thu 4 December 2014
Thu 8 January 2015
Thu 5 February 2015
Thu 5 March 2015
Thu 2 April 2015
Thu 7 May 2015
Thu 4 June 2015

“Believe it or not” is an appropriate phrase because if they are like the ones held for the past decade they’ll only be concerned with minor matters or with endless, fruitless variations of “give us more access” followed by polite refusals (because agreeing to do so would conflict with EH’s statutory duty to protect). Not one of them, probably, will be concerned with the one thing that’s needed: restricting numbers so that adequate control can be maintained.

by Sandy Gerrard

A recent news feature in the Dundee Courier highlights a basic problem with the way that the destruction of heritage is viewed. The story concerns the discovery and excavation of human remains in Stirling. The cemetery is being excavated in advance of a housing and retail development with building work due to commence later in the year. The discovery is variously described as exciting and fascinating and clearly much new and potentially important information will be gleaned.

This much is not in dispute – it is excellent that the archaeology is being looked at and the remains treated with respect. At the end of the process the archaeology will inevitably have been destroyed and all that will remain is the record compiled by the archaeologists and the human remains hopefully reburied with the absolute respect mentioned in the newspaper.  This is the inevitable result of progress and indeed many of our wonderful archaeological palimpsests are a direct result of our understandable need to change our surroundings. So would it not be more honest to admit that sometimes the past must be sacrificed in the interest of the present and future. In Stirling the spin put on the destruction of a small part of the city’s heritage takes some beating. According to one of their councillors:

“The development of this key city centre site is clearly important, but it is also important that we preserve and protect the city’s rich past in the way that is happening now in the excavation phase of the project.”

It is difficult to understand how the complete destruction of heritage can ever be remotely described as preservation and protection. Taking this approach to its logical conclusion Stirling’s rich past would be best served by destroying it all but making sure to place the artefacts in a museum and the records in an archive. The idea that destruction can ever be seen as a way of preserving and protecting our heritage is one that needs to be challenged at every opportunity.  Our understanding can certainly be enhanced by destruction, but every time a site is destroyed tangible remains are lost and the chance to learn more using enhanced investigative techniques in future has also vanished. We need to face this reality and stop hiding behind the idea that somehow because we have made a record of what was there that is somehow miraculously preserved and protected – it is NOT, its gone and its gone for ever.

The point of optimum learning

This is destruction not preservation or protection.

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…”

Following our recent moan about Northumberlandia being decorated for a good cause comes another instance ….

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keep wilts(See the Facebook Group “Keep Wiltshire Frack Free“)

Once again it will no doubt be suggested that it’s OK as it’s a good cause but since the cause could be promoted elsewhere, please indulge those of us who feel “good cause” isn’t an excuse to do whatever comes to mind and don’t do it. In the words of Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Friends …….

Sorry, I don’t agree with using monuments for advertising no matter how much I agree with the sentiment of the protest. It demeans the site, encouraging people to use it merely for any reason without respect for the importance of the monument. We have had incidents of individuals daubing paint on the stones themselves not that long ago. Protest about fracking, I’ll gladly stand at your side, but do it where there isn’t a monument.

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