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A guest post by Philip I. Powell. First published at
http://www.facebook.com/megalithicmonuments.ireland, reproduced with permission.
TOORMORE WEDGE TOMB
RMP No. CO148-001
A colleague, on a recent visit to a wedge tomb in west Cork, was shocked to find it being used as an out-house, containing trash bins, old rubbish and strewn with litter. I find this totally unacceptable, to see such callous disregard for a national monument and deeply concerned about what we really think about our national heritage. Is it that, unless it is given national attention via the state & independent media networks, we actually don’t care! Or are we saying that certain monuments deserve protection and others are perhaps not worthy of such protection.
All recorded archaeological monuments are protected under the National Monuments Acts 1930-2004 and this applies to every single one of them and not just the high profile monuments such as Newgrange, Poulnabrone, the Hill of Tara and many, many others. It is for that reason that each monument is entered in the Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) as established under Section 12 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 1994. A unique identifying number is assigned to each monument and place in the record and, as such, gives it legal, statutory protection. When the owner or occupier of a property, proposes to carry out, or to cause, or to permit the carrying out of any work at or in relation to a Recorded Monument, they are required to give notice in writing to the Minister 2 months before commencing that work. This is to facilitate the NMS (National Monuments Service) time consider the proposed works and how best to protect the monument in question. Breach of these requirements is an offence. It is also an offence under the National Monuments Acts to dig or excavate anywhere near such monuments without a licence.
It should be a personal privilege to have any such monument on your property and not some sort of burden and yet some regard it as an inconvenience, which infringes on their lives. I, for one, would love nothing more than to have that privilege or as some may see it, that inconvenience. Our heritage and our national monuments are not just for the here and now. They and it are for the generations that follow us, not just on our island but for the whole world. This island of ours is one of the richest places on earth for prehistoric archaeology and is regarded by eminent archaeologists worldwide, as a haven for the study of the development of human society from the early Neolithic period to the late Iron Age and beyond.
The NMS is reliant on landowners and the general public, to help it fulfill its role in the protection and preservation of our national monuments & our archaeological heritage.
If you wish to report possible damage to a monument please contact the National Monuments Service by phoning 01 8882000 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. Thank you folks.
The Bartlow Hills in Cambridgeshire date back to early Roman times and are the largest burial mounds north of the Alps. The barrows (many now sadly destroyed) were probably built by wealthy, high status Iron Age chiefs. This is one of Bill Blake’s stunning kite aerial photographs of the Bartlow Hills – click on the link below the photo for more.
Pastscape describes Castilly Henge in Cornwall thus:
An oval earthwork enclosure 70 metres by 60 metres featuring a bank with internal ditch, and opposed entrances to the north and south. Excavations in 1962 recovered very little artefactual material (some flint flakes and a few Medieval potsherds), but suggested that while the northern entrance was an original feature, the southern was not. It was suggested that the site had originated as a henge, and had been remodelled in the Medieval period as a plain-an-gwarry. Further possible use as a Civil War gun emplacement was also suggested.
You would think that a site with such a vast range of history, encompassing the Neolithic, Medieval and Civil War periods would be of some importance, but the site today is overgrown and seemingly forgotten. It can be seen from the A30 as a clump of greenery just southwest of the junction with the A391.
The henge from the north
© Alan S
Looking closer, the bank and ditch are still very much in evidence, and the northern causeway is still traversable – though the bracken is quickly sprouting and will doubtless be impassable in high summer. The ditch is still quite substantial but completely overgrown, even in springtime when I visited. I suspect it will be completely hidden from view later in the year.
The NW ditch
© Alan S
It would be nice to think that the landowner could find the time (and local volunteer labour?) to perform a bit of land clearance so that this heritage site could be seen in all it’s glory, rather than, as at present, a shabby piece of scrub ground.
Looking in from the N causeway
© Alan S
Figsbury Ring, NE of Salisbury is an enigmatic monument in dire need of some care. Partially excavated by the Cunningtons in 1924, based on that excavation the site was classified as an Iron Age Hill Fort. But within the extent of this hillfort is an enigmatic inner ditch, separated from the outer rampart by a berm of up to 30 metres in width. It seems likely that the site is actually much earlier and may have begun as a late neolithic henge monument, or an even earlier Causewayed Enclosure.
When Figsbury was considered within the context of the wider landscape and a range of other nearby monuments it appeared possible that the site may have begun as a Causewayed enclosure. This may then have been modified into a Henge monument in the later Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. There is certainly sufficient evidence to state with some degree of confidence that the site was occupied, (albeit temporarily or intermittently) towards the middle of the third millennium BC. Further modification of the site appears to have taken place during the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. – Wikipedia
The site can be clearly seen on Google Earth.
Look to the East and NorthEast of the monument, at the inner ditch. See all that white stuff? That’s chalk, dug out and spread by the present incumbents of the inner ditch, a large colony of rabbits. Some of the burrows are large, implying that this is a long standing problem. Also, where the dog-walkers climb the outer bank, the soil is badly eroded, exposing some of the earlier attempts at damage limitation – the use of buried chicken wire in an attempt to stabilise the surface.
Today, the site is in the ‘care’ of the National Trust and is mainly used by dog-walkers exercising their animals. Access to the site is free and largely unrestricted (there is a gate on the access path but I’ve never seen it locked on the several occasions when I’ve visited the site). I say it’s in the NT’s ‘care‘ advisedly, as the name of the organisation also includes the word ‘Trust‘, implying that the public have placed our trust in the organisation to look after our nation’s heritage. Just how often do the NT visit/inspect the site, are they aware of the problems, and do they have any plans to tackle them?
Of course, the main issue may be lack of finance. That’s not to say that there should be a charge for entrance, but the money generated by some of the properties owned by the NT – stately homes etc. – should perhaps be spread more widely to maintain and preserve all our heritage, not just the revenue-generating sites.
But back to Figsbury. Whilst grubbing about in the spoil from the burrows, I chanced upon a round chalk boulder, about the size of a large egg. This was completely out of character from the rest of the spoil, which was mainly broken chalk marl with some flint included.
This was the only one I saw and it intrigued me enough to pocket the item for FLO inspection. Was it a possible slingshot weapon? Or even an offering of grave goods from a very early burial (remember the Causewayed Enclosure suggestion)? Sadly no. The ‘official word’ is that it’s a natural flint nodule. A bit disappointing, but it will now be returned to the site on my next visit.
But the question still remains: can we trust the National Trust to care? The damage has been reported but there has been no response to emails to date…
Following our recent story about the damage being caused to Tregeseal Circle by the cattle being allowed to roam on the heathland, video evidence of the instability of the stones has been posted on YouTube. We think the video speaks for itself:
It’s obvious from this footage that allowing cattle (large, longhorns at that!) anywhere near the stones is just plain wrong.
You might be forgiven for suspecting that the government hasn’t merely been saving money on archaeology but has actually declared war on it. Museums closing, archaeology units closing, English Heritage being squeezed so they’re having to give up doing a lot of things they’ve been doing… etc etc.
Unkind people have been whispering that the Big Society is all about rich folk saying “We want Small Government”. But we couldn’t possibly comment. But for megalithic site enthusiasts the effect of “No Such Thing as Society Mark Two” is disastrous as prehistoric stuff tends to get overlooked at the best of times – so it’ll be virtually abandoned now times are tough. Planning is to be “streamlined”, decisions will be “localised”, spending will be dodgily “philanthropised” and guardianship will be “rationalised” …in other words, mining companies, developers, councillors and vandals will all find things easier…
But there’s no point in spending time being resentful about the government planning to partly abandon its duty of care towards our heritage or in quoting Anna Coote of the New Economics Foundation: “It is madness to imagine that civil society can fill the gaps left by a retreating state…” After all, we are talking about what some people want, not what society needs.
Instead, perhaps the people that care about prehistoric sites can set aside the resentment and become an organised “Big Society for stones” until such time as our country once again takes central responsibility for the task it has led the world in performing since the days of Sir John Lubbock in the nineteenth century. It must be possible, for instance, for the concerned public to fill the gap between what the statutory guardians are charged with doing specifically for scheduled prehistoric monuments and what they now can do with their reduced funding – simply by visiting each one on a formal, regular basis and be the eyes and ears of the statutory guardians?
We know that many do that already with regard to many sites (and formally in Cornwall for instance) but it seems to us that with a bit of organising and allocating amongst the users of the various megalithic websites it would be possible to achieve regular viewings of almost every site, including the infrequently visited ones. It seems that the government is thinking of tackling heritage crime and vandalism but there’s no reason why ALL potential damage shouldn’t be tackled, and by a much larger body of people. The responsible authorities could be alerted very quickly if anything was going wrong (and, if desired, people could also send us a photograph of the problem).
Just a thought anyway. It’s up to TMAers, Portalers, Stone Pagers and the rest of our Big Stone society. But as the saying goes, “If not us, who?”…
One dark night in 2005… Paint splashed all over the Rollright Stones. Had there been a Big Stone Society, and had a member of it been driving by and noticed a car in the layby and alerted the police, could this have been prevented?
Image credit Heritage Action
And then a voice called to us to make our way back home.
A thousand points of light or shame.
From The Stone Crosses of the County of Northamptonshire (1901) by C A Markham
Mike Pitts in a Guardian article on Sunday the 25th April highlighted the danger of an Anglo-Saxon carved stone cross shaft being sold in the saleroom of Bonhams auctioneers. The cross dedicated to Saint Pega (who died in AD 716, and was England’s first female hermit) was from Peakirk in Northamptonshire. As an invaluable piece of our heritage, that it should go on to the open market, with the danger of it being exported abroad, raised alarm bells in the archaeological world. Two things came to light about this stone, firstly that although the chapel and house in which it had been housed were listed buildings under English law, the stone was not, and of course stone as a material is not covered by the Treasure Act.
Professor Rosemary Cramp, a leading expert on Anglo-Saxon history said she had worked hard to “stop a market in these monuments from being created”.
It was indeed unfortunate that the owner of the house in which the stone had been kept for the last few years, had merely decided to sell the stone on a whim, rather than with a profit motive in mind.
But the seventh cavalry came charging in at the last moment, and it can be revealed that, “it was the Guardian wot won it”. In an article on Thursday 29th, Mike Pitts, ever so slightly victorious, wrote that Bonham’s had withdrawn the cross from sale on Tuesday evening, in no small part to letters of protest written by Janet Gough (director of cathedrals and church buildings for The Church of England) and Mike Heyworth (director of the Council for British Archaeology).
So the cross is saved, its’ future not known at the present time, though it would obviously be preferable that it ended up in Peterborough Museum for public display. For more information the following links lead to the two original articles and the link below raises a more serious question as to the legality of selling ‘ancient stones’….
“Bonhams established it [sc. the cross] was not part of the listed building, which would have prevented the sale: the church had simply sold it with the house without restrictions, and it’s not physically attached… But there is a more important issue here.
“Has the cross been “removed from a building or structure of historical, architectural or archaeological interest where the object has at any time formed part of the building or structure”? Would the cross be protected under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003?”. Looting Matters blog
Save Our Anglo-Saxon Stone Mike Pitts – Guardian Article; 25th April 2010
Has the stone been saved? Mike Pitts – Guardian article; 28th April 2010
Paul Barford’s excellent blog also highlights the perils.
One of two stones at the entrance to Fryerning Lane, Ingatestone, Essex
souls of our ancestors
Once in a circle to the seasons
sure security to all who saw them
Buffer stones now on a busy street
where juggernauts thunder by
their secret story
to a few
For the rest
just buffer stones
where our history lies dusty
at the feet of rubber wheels
and on the piled desks
of an immovable
See more on Ingatestone and The Ingatestones Campaign here – http://www.heritageaction.org/?page=theheritagejournal&id=200
The Bartlow Hills in the 18th century