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Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.
From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).
We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plain, the Hillfort Glow experiment, the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag, the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!
Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology - do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers. A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at email@example.com).
Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.
In which we conclude our look back at the past twelve months and come up to date.
The ongoing story of the earlier desecration of Priddy Henges encountered more delays, whilst news reached us of the destruction of a possible henge and later settlement in Hertfordshire and we looked at three different approaches to museum closures.
Several of our recent series continued throughout the month: we got Inside the Minds of James Gossip and Tim Darvill, continued questioning the Scheduling System and had some further thoughts on Priddy.
Pip Richards gave a guest round-up of the summer dig at Carwynnen Quoit, and we reprinted what we think is a classic essay written for us by our member Tombo in 2004 soon after Heritage Action was formed.
On a more unsavoury front, we reported on recent threats made to our Chairman by members of the metal detecting fraternity.
We also started a new series, ‘Postcards from a World Heritage Site‘ presenting short vignettes from and about the Stonehenge and Avebury areas.
Well, that brings us up to date in our look at the highlights from this year, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as we’ve enjoyed producing the Journal this year. Keep following us next year for more news, views and stories about our ancient heritage, and the threats to it.
We continue our look back at some of the stories that we’ve highlighted during 2012.
We kicked off the month with an article about the Young Archaeologists Club and their appeal for funds. Sadly, with the ongoing cuts more branches than ever are in danger (Southampton Archaeology Unit has recently been identified as a victim of government cuts) so please give them your support where you can!
We highlighted the Tangible Benefits of Time Team style community archaeology and raised a question about the possibilities for a ‘Heritage Crime’ app for smartphones. Despite some useful comments, we’ve seen no tangible results of that discussion as yet. Has anyone got something they would like to tell us on that front?
We wrote about the newly restored Devil’s Quoits at Stanton Harcourt, looked at some often overlooked sites that are Hidden in Plain Sight and continued our Olympic Campaign to get the Torch to stop at Silbury Hill.
Heritage Crime was covered with the announcement of a series of talks on the ARCH initiative, a hammer attack on the Lia Fail standing stone at Tara in Ireland and we advised on How to Report Dumped Rubbish or Damage.
July is always a month of meetings and get togethers, many as part of the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology. There was our very own Megameet, held every year in Avebury and well attended again this year, the Megalithic Portal event in the Peak District with one of our own leading a guided walk up to Gardom’s Edge, and a talk at the Thornborough Henges.
In addition to the above highlights, as ever we also continued our usual coverage of news items about archaeological heritage and crime, metal detecting and planning inconsistencies.
As the year draws to a close, it’s traditional to look back at what has been, and possibly to look forward at what’s to come. 2012 was a busy year for the Heritage Journal, so join me as we look back and recall some of the highlights, month by month…
Our series looking at Local Archaeological Societies, begun in December 2011 was now in full swing with 4 areas covered throughout the month. We also peeked ‘Inside the Mind of…’ Mike Heyworth, Director of the Council for British Archaeology as part of an occasional series which has continued throughout the year.
We celebrated 25 years of Meyn Mamvro magazine and gave some advice on What Not to Do at Heritage Sites which proved a very popular article. We continued the write up of Scubi’s Scottish Adventure series, which had commenced some six months previously. But the big news story which was to continue throughout the year was the discovery of a threatened stone row at Mynydd Y Betws.
We continued with our in-depth look at the situation at Mynydd Y Betws, and finished off the Local Archaeological Societies series.
A personal highlight for me was attendance at the Current Archaeology Live conference, having been lucky enough to win a ticket in a contest on Facebook!
We gave some advice on How to Best Preserve Ancient Sites and How to Become an Archaeologist, the latter as an introduction to the DigVentures team’s attempt at crowd-funding a dig at Flag Fen later in the year.
Richard Mortimer and Carenza Lewis played nicely for ‘Inside the Mind’, and we provided a brief insight into the history of Heritage Action.
This month, with the Olympics on the horizon we campaigned for the Olympic Torch to stop for a photo opportunity at Silbury Hill. Alas, our pleas fell on deaf ears, and a chance to highlight an iconic British monument was lost.
Raksha Dave and Rachel Pope featured on ‘Inside the Mind of…’, where Raksha’s responses turned out to be our most popular post of the year according to the WordPress statistics on the site!
As usual, we also continued our campaign for responsible and ethical metal detecting throughout the year, as well as our regular news items, travelogues and opinion pieces.
…to be continued in Part 2.
Today we are launching our new public forum. It will be for the discussion of anything relating to ancient heritage promotion and protection and we intend it to be lighthearted and polite at all times.
This will be our second attempt at a public forum, the first crashed and burned but taught us a few lessons. We’ve codified those lessons into some simple rules of behaviour: Be polite at all times, no discussion of metal detecting, no anonymous proxies and the moderator is always right!
So if you can stick to those, please pop along, we’d love to see you…
You can register at www.heritageaction.org.uk/forum.
We have been asked by another website to supply a brief history of Heritage Action and the Heritage Journal and we thought, as we approach our ninth anniversary it would be appropriate to publish it here.
As it says on our ‘About Us‘ page:
Heritage Action is a rallying point for anyone who feels ancient heritage places deserve greater protection. We believe this generation holds its heritage in trust for future generations and we think it is right to promote an appreciation of the value of these places, highlight threats to them, and encourage the public to become involved in responsible but vigorous action to preserve them. We are not a bureaucracy or a commercial organisation, simply a collection of ordinary people throughout Britain and Ireland who are unified by a common concern. If you value these places you are already one of us!
The organisation began life as a collection of individuals on an online forum on The Modern Antiquarian website, set up by Julian Cope after the publication of his book of the same name. Several of us got together for a meeting in July 2003 at Uffington White Horse at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt (“Treaclechops”).
We soon discovered we all had similar ideas about ancient sites and the need for a grass roots voice promoting their appreciation and preservation and by November 2003 Heritage Action was born.
At this time some high profile sites were suffering badly – Silbury Hill was in a parlous state of collapse, and the surroundings of Thornborough Henges were about to be further quarried. Heritage Action were vociferous in their attempts to ensure that these sites were looked after properly and that the public shouldn’t be marginalised, even suggesting at a very early stage and in the face of official dismissal that grouting should be the preferred method of stabilising Silbury Hill – a method that English Heritage some years later came to accept as appropriate.
Initially the group was intended to be a rallying point for those interested in protecting sites in danger, the idea being that local campaigns would provide the impetus, while Heritage Action would show the depth of feeling for endangered sites across a wider area, providing templates for letter campaigns and other advice. It became apparent though that harnessing sufficient local support was often problematical (other than in exceptional cases such as the Thornborough campaign run by our member George Chaplin which was calculated to have directly reached four million people). We concluded that in many cases our most effective role is in raising awareness of sites since public awareness is the best protection of all. This strategy is encapsulated in what we believe is a wonderful article by one of our early contributors called ‘Reclaiming Prehistory‘.
Erosion of the archaeological resource
At the same time, there had been a number of major finds by metal detectorists but also an unrecorded depletion of the archaeological resource which we felt was unfair, avoidable and plainly wrong. We created the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter to give a broad demonstration of what is happening and it continues to do so. No-one has yet come up with a serious challenge to it and it has been treated as a significant and credible measure in several academic articles.
Thus our current day twin planks – Raising awareness of our pre-Roman heritage and campaigning against the depletion of the wider resource by metal detectorists and others came into being.
Megameets and Minimeets
In 2006, another picnic was mooted, this time to be held in Avebury during the summer, and deemed a ‘Megameet‘. These informal gatherings, which usually involve discussions and a short ramble to nearby sites of interest, are well attended and 2012 will see the 7th such meeting, which now traditionally is held in the NE Quadrant in fine weather, and in the bar of the Red Lion if inclement. Another recent tradition of these meetings has been the bookswap, where unwanted books of archaeological interest are able to find new homes. In addition, ‘minimeets’ have been held elsewhere outside of the main megameet on an ad-hoc basis, notably in Cumbria and Cornwall.
To the Present, and Beyond!
In 2009, we relaunched with a new web site, the ‘Heritage Journal‘ which continues to this day to document sites in danger, argues against anything other than ethical metal detecting and aims to educate new readers about the prehistoric sites of Britain with ways to learn about and enjoy them whilst minimising damage.
We are ‘ordinary people caring for extraordinary places‘, why not join us?
OK, so here we are a short time on from the HA Cornwall Minimeet. What did we learn from the event?
- Make sure you have some form of identification (even if it’s only a megalithic themed book in plain sight. Apologies to Mike for not spotting him earlier…) and ensure you’ve met at least one person previously – or at a pinch have seen a photo of someone before the meet.
- If possible, make the meeting somewhere known, that’s easy to find – we struggled to get enough seats in what was actually quite a small bar.
- Try to ensure a good mix of people, so that discussion is as varied as possible.
- Make sure there is enough to see locally. We only covered the Hurlers, the Pipers and Rillaton Barrow during the meet, but Trethevy Quoit and a host of other sites were all available locally if time had permitted.
So how did it go? All in all, the meet was successful. Several of us (plus my partner and two doggy companions) met on the day, and conversation ranged from discussion of why the sites were built, how they could have been used and whether they’ve changed significantly in layout and construction since first being built. Conservation and neglect were also discussed and ideas were exchanged on how to find some of the more obscure local sites, for later use. A small book swap was negotiated, and a draft of a possible future book about Trethevy Quoit was passed around for comment. Although I was on holiday, I’m fairly certain that those people local to the meet will be arranging to get together again to continue the discussions, and to visit some of the sites together again, forging new friendships.
If Cornwall is too far for you, why not try to organise a meet in your local area, or an area you’re holidaying in? It’s much simpler to arrange than you’d think, and Heritage Action would be happy to help publicise it for you. All it takes at a basic level is to decide where and when your meeting will be held. The Cornwall meeting location and date was arranged on some of the ‘stoney’ internet forums. Once you’ve decided when and where, advertise the Minimeet on the various forums (see the Links menu on the left), and let us know about it so we can mention it here too.
The meetings can be any format of course, but our most successful meets have been held in pubs close to a cluster of ancient heritage sites. After a drink or two, walks can then be taken (weather permitting) to actually see some of the sites that may have been discussed. If you have a local archaeological/history society, try contacting them in good time before the date. They may be willing to send someone along to give a short 5-10 minute talk on a relevant topic, or just to offer local advice within the discussions. We were lucky enough to have Mark, a Blue Badge Guide and HA member, attend and give us the benefit of his experience and knowledge of the area when asked.
Although our annual Megameet attendance increases in numbers each year, a Minimeet really has no minimum number below 3 people. So why not give it a go, and let us know how you get on?
Heritage Action members recently had a meeting in Stony Stratford with Dr Mike Heyworth, Director of The Council for British Archaeology. Various areas of common interest were discussed at length including heritage protection, the Treasure Act, metal detecting/artefact hunting and the over-arching current concern for everyone – the funding crisis and the government’s wish to fill the gap by encouraging the development of The Big Society.
All in all it was a fruitful meeting with much common ground being evident and a considerable degree of agreement on the way forward.