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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…”

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.

As the Old Oswestry Hillfort Campaign has said…..

The day has come, dear reader. Shropshire Council are taking the Sam Dev report to Full Council this Thursday [that's today], and have published the results of the consultation on soundness which a lot of us responded to. There is a lot to read, if you follow this link then scroll down to no. 22 the papers are all there. Interestingly enough, despite many of us asking for notification to attend this meeting I don’t know of anyone who had been contacted, and I only found this by accident last night….

You might think that because there’s a lot to read the decision will be very complicated. But no, it couldn’t be simpler. Either Shropshire Council will vote to damage the setting of the most important ancient heritage site in Central England or they won’t. Either they’ll reject the views of a whole raft of independent experts or they won’t. Either they’ll ignore the clearly-expressed views of local people (which the Government says must be taken into account) or they won’t. Fingers crossed we don’t hear phrases like “equitable compromise in all the circumstances” or “regrettable but unavoidable”. For the avoidance of doubt, damaging the setting of the hill fort is no more unavoidable than this was ….

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Whoever did this should be ashamed ..... but at least he didn't claim expenses for doing it!

Whoever did this should be ashamed. But at least he didn’t claim  expenses for doing it.

naff

There are some who think Northumberlandia is a pretty naff monument, a way in which a mining group avoided the expense of putting their slag back in the hole, and there are those who think decorating it in a particularly naff fashion (see A Landmark puts on a Bra for Charity) is no more than it deserves.

However, as our headline indicates (borrowed from here, with thanks), there are those (including us) who think it’s a bad idea. While 99% of people can see there’s a clear difference between using a public monument to make a point in a harmless way and doing the same thing in a damaging way…  there are some who can’t.

F4J

Most people will be pleased to hear that the recommended maximum fines for fly tipping have been greatly increased. However, it’s interesting to compare the new fines for temporary and reversible damage to the physical environment with fines recently imposed for permanent and irreversible damage to the historic environment…..

 

chart1

Summer solstice in Cornwall was an occasion of glorious weather, and a large degree of celebration, with the completion of the raising of Carwynnen Quoit (full story to follow).

Sadly, elsewhere the summer sun obviously went to someone’s head, as they decided to dig a hole, approximately 2-3 inches deep and some 4 inches across, directly below the central stone at Boscawen-Un, near St Buryan in West Penwith.

20140625-214124-78084641.jpg

Despite the best efforts of the CASPN monitoring team, it seems as if this wonderful site, one of my personal favourites, is the target of an attack every summer. A few years ago, a wax ‘talisman’ was found buried in the same spot, under the stone which leans at an acute angle. Wooden stakes with Christian slogans were also buried around the stone in an attack.

This time, the apparent intent seems to have been to dig a receptacle for a posey of flowers, and some crystals – an ‘offering’ of some sort? Certainly none of the Pagans of my acquaintance would endorse such a move! Maybe these were ‘wannabe’ pagans (small ‘p’), or someone looking to discredit Paganism? Either way, it’s a crass thing to do, as it harms our heritage in more than just a physical way, sending out signals that this kind of damage is in some way ‘acceptable’.

CASPN are aware of the damage and mitigating measures will shortly be undertaken by their team of volunteers.

20140625-214125-78085001.jpg

Update 27/06/14:

Although I’m no longer in the area to personally verify, there has been a report on our Facebook page -

Visited today. Someone has dug under one of the recumbent stones which may been part of a cist or a dolman. They placed a tatty necklace with a childlike fairy on the stone. To make matters worse someone had pitched a tent between the circle and the surrounding wall. I waited, but owner did not return while I was there.

So I’ll repeat the question I added in the comments a couple of days ago. “How much damage is acceptable?”  When do we say enough is enough?

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naxos

Looks familiar? This time it’s not in Britain or Ireland,  it’s on the Greek Island of Naxos. It is the sacred path of  Za, created thousands of years ago by the inhabitants of Naxos in order to reach the top of the sacred mountain of the ancient Axots, Za which was dedicated to the god Zeus. Thousands of tourists walk the ancient path every year but in early May an individual with a bulldozer destroyed much of the trail for about 600 meters, in order to facilitate access to his fields.

The incident triggered strong reactions from the local community and foreign clubs, while the Naxos Environmental Movement accused the police and the Forest Service of negligence.

There however the similarity ends. Unlike at Priddy and Offa’s Dyke the culprit will have to pay the full cost of restoration!

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http://www.thetoc.gr/eng/news/article/ancient-path-vandalized-on-naxos

Actually, as has just been demonstrated, it can’t be done. If you’re in a state of ignorance and have a bulldozer you’re always liable to wreck things. But what the Welsh Government is looking for are ways to ensure that ignorant acts don’t go unpunished. See here.

CONSULTATION

The loophole written into the 1979 Act is this:
“it shall be a defence for the accused to prove that he did not know and had no reason to believe that the monument was within the area affected by the works or (as the case may be) that it was a scheduled monument. “

The Consultation has recently ended. It’s a shame the culprit didn’t do his flattening while it was on, they’d have got a much bigger response, albeit many of them calling for some cruel and unusual measures. Maybe the Welsh Government could re-open it for a short period? In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions to make we’ll be glad to print them here. (Here’s one we made earlier)

Following the interview under caution of a local man and a nine-month inquiry, North Wales Police have announced that no further action will be taken over the flattening of a 50 yard stretch of Offa’s Dyke as “there was insufficient evidence to prove any criminal offence and the matter is no longer being investigated”.

The announcement may come as a surprise to readers of Wales on Line, 16 August 2013 :

“….. people living nearby have reported seeing men with a large digger clearing scrub and weeds along the dyke, close to the A5 between Chirk and Llangollen. Over several hours, they flattened the embankment and filled in the ditch to level it. Jim Saunders of the Offa’s Dyke Association said: “We had a report that quite a well-preserved part of the dyke had been damaged by the new landowner….. One witness said: ‘I don’t think the men who cleared the hedge and weeds realised the significance of what they were doing. ‘ A Cadw official who came to inspect it said what they had done was like driving a road through Stonehenge.’ The owner of the field, who claims to have bought the site last month, told the Daily Mail he had ‘no idea’ the area was of historic importance. The man, who gave his name only as ‘Danny’, claimed: ‘I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never heard of Offa’s Dyke. ‘We bought this from a bloke next door and want to put stables on it. Nobody said anything to us about a historic monument, it wasn’t mentioned.’ “

The fifty yard downward spiral: first Priddy, where the culprit was fined a fraction of the value of one of his string of racehorses, then Offa's, where the perpetrator was fined nothing ... next, Avebury, above? Will they be given a lottery grant?

The fifty yard downward spiral: first Priddy, where the culprit was fined a fraction of the value of one of his string of racehorses, then Offa’s, where the perpetrator was fined nothing … next, Avebury, above? Will they be given a lottery grant?

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