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A Stonehenge puzzle
The new Stonehenge land trains will carry a maximum of 900 visitor per hour whereas up to 35,000 people have turned up at summer solstice previously. So what’s to be done? Well presumably while most visitors will soon be asked to co-operate in the “splendid isolation” project by parking some distance away and using the land train and those who take part in the winter lantern parade happily use shanks’ pony, summer solstice attendees will be provided with a convenient, free car park close to the stones, opened up specially for them. If anyone can explain this puzzle please leave a Comment below. There’s a prize.
Government speaks out at last!
The Government of Belize has condemned the deliberate bulldozing of a 2,300 year old monument as “ignorant and unforgivable” and says that such cultural landmarks should be protected at all costs and that the “disdain for our laws and policies is incomprehensible.”
The millionaire culprit will offer to finance research into what is no longer there and be given a £4,000 fine and a slapped wrist. Oh no, sorry, that last bit applies to the bulldozing of Priddy Henges, a monument in southern England that’s twice as old!
A waste of time
Metal detectorists are running a petition against the use of contaminated green waste on fields. Quite right if it’s a health hazard. However they also complain that bits of metal in the waste is ruining their hobby. The Government isn’t likely to lose any sleep over that and Environment Minister Richard Benyon has just delivered some bad news for detectorists by pointing out that stringent limits on physical contaminants such as metals, plastics and glass “were revised down from a total of 0.5% of dry weight to 0.25% in 2011. They are now the toughest in Europe.” In other words, they’ll deal with breaches that cause health hazards but there’s no chance they’ll be changing what’s considered acceptable levels – which includes one part in 400 being metal. That’s a lot of beeps. And it’s legal innit! (To coin a phrase).
PS… Perhaps (says Paul Barford) the petition signers “would be better employed getting more fellow hobbyists applying best practice more frequently to their hoiking“. Depends what best practice means though doesn’t it? “Do no harm to the public’s interest” would be an appropriate definition since they reckon that’s what the petition is about but how much metal detecting conforms to that?
Plan to demolish Avebury ….
“It would be an irreplaceable loss” says a protestor and we wholeheartedly concur with their opinion that “Demolition is permanent, and once destroyed, a place is lost forever“.
Scottish firm “preferred bidder” to supply Stonehenge transport system.
Dunfermline’s Greenfold Systems has been named as preferred bidder to provide 15 carriages for the new Stonehenge land train.
Britain triumphs over the rest of the world!
A while back the public had to raise £3.3 million pounds to give two people a “reward” for finding and handing over national treasure that never belonged to them. Now, 4 years later a team of archaeologists has been paid to visit the site a second time to find more of it and they’ve done so. So another public appeal is having to be made in order to raise a further £57,395 to pay to the same two people. Nothing wrong with that. Nor with the fact the two new millionaires haven’t renounced their right to receive it. It’s the British way, and it’s the law innit? As is everything that is done legally in the name of metal detecting in Britain.
Be proud! It’s the rest of the world, which foolishly imposes clear, fair, rational, conservation-related statutory rules on all elements of metal detecting, that is utterly misguided.
A better Round Table?
A lot of people are unhappy about the Stonehenge Round Table, the monthly meetings to discuss solstice and equinox access to the stones. The cost of petrol… the distance …. the failure of English Heritage to give people what they want….
“It is a joke really The Round Table is only 1 and a half hours, to discuss EVERYTHING, It takes 4 hours to get to Salisbury, English Heritage are having a laugh at everyones expense !! a total waste of money, time !! When English Heritage and the attendees that think English Heritage are there friends start thinking about the all, i might go back one day, Until then there Round Table meetings are FAKE and not GENUINE.”
For their part English Heritage probably find the cost of laying on the meetings a bit burdensome too, so here’s an idea: do it online! That would save lots of petrol, time and money and would enable far more people to take part and get heard in a controlled, comfortable environment.
“Hurrah!” [says the taxpayer!]
A Bronze Age raft
Talking of Bronze Age boats and transporting blue stones …. here’s another interesting video, this time of the restoration of a remarkably preserved bronze age river raft in Brigg, Lincolnshire
A Stonehenge miracle?
There’s talk of the main A303 past Stonehenge being made into a dual carriageway – although the mayor of Amesbury wisely said the town was “not holding its breath”. English Heritage said they welcomed the possible upgrade, but that it was important the improvements were done in a way that was “sensitive to the ancient setting of Stonehenge and other parts of the historic environment that might be affected”.
And that’s a problem, for what sort of miracle would it need for loads of interesting and unique sites, integral to the understanding of the whole complex not to be discovered in that location as the works progressed? EH are good with words. Does being “sensitive to the ancient setting of Stonehenge” include landscaping and preservation by record? Yes it does. But does it preclude physically destroying everything that’s found on the line of the widened road? No it doesn’t. They’d have used different words if they’d meant that.
A (BBC) History of British Archaeology
It seems our recent article may have managed to unwittingly get the jump on the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation. Thursday March 7th saw the first of a three part series entitled “Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past“.
Charting the birth of the heritage movement and the first arguments of radical thought, from figures including John Lubbock MP, Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, Charles Darwin and John Ruskin. These remarkable individuals asked important questions and came up with the building blocks of a new world that valued the past. Their actions led to the first piece of legislation to safeguard prehistoric and ancient structures which until then had often fallen prey to the short-term interests of farmers and landowners.
The blurb above for the first program suggests the ideals that the Heritage Protection legislation, 100 years old this year, strove for. Unfortunately, many of the same problems still exist today, and it will be interesting to see if this aspect is covered in the series, or whether it will be merely a case of ‘haven’t we done well?’
Green belt busted
On the subject of protection, remember when the Green Belt was said to be safe? But look at this ……. Bath’s original draft core strategy proposed building 11,500 houses across brownfield and some greenfield site but avoiding any incursion into the Green Belt. A Government Inspector has said that wasn’t enough and it has now been revised to include building hundreds of new houses in the Green Belt around Bath, Keynsham and Whitchurch. Anyone who knows Bristol and Bath will find it had to believe all the brownfield sites have been used up and that half-million pound executive homes in the green belt are what are really needed to solve the housing shortage. But then, since the government allowed the major housebuilders to design the policy it’s hardly a surprise what a housebuilder-friendly solution they’ve come up with.
Heritage Action asked to sell it’s soul for £50
We just got a message……. “We are looking to promote a competition to win a metal detector on your site. I was hoping that the competition would be of interest to the metal detecting audience, which would fit with the audience of your site (please correct me if I have got this wrong). Would you accept £50 for placement?” We’ve put in a counter offer: we’ll run a free advert for them if they’ll stop selling metal detectors.
Hearty congratulations go to the team from Exeter University and the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, Cornwall. Their replica Bronze Age boat, which has been under construction for the best part of a year was successfully launched on March 6th and had a short trip around Falmouth harbour. A good crowd turned out for the event, which was also featured on a web feed by the good folks at http://www.falmouthphotos.com – from which the screen grab below was taken as the boat shot past the camera position. Watch the video for the full build and launch process in condensed form!
Crime and Puzzlement
A graffiti vandal has been given a conditional discharge for 12 months and ordered to pay £285 compensation to English Heritage to cover the cost of specialist cleaners. Is that right? So that means he was asked to pay for the damage but not actually punished? That seems surprising. Although didn’t much the same thing happen at Priddy?
The Cleveland Museum of Art has just hired a full-time “provenance researcher“. Seems a good idea. She can make sure they have nothing they shouldn’t. So should all museums and collectors use someone similar to make sure they don’t buy in dodgy gear? Or would it be simpler for them to just make every supplier sign a piece of paper giving the name, home address and telephone number of the person they got it from? Or if they dug it up themselves, the name, home address and telephone number of the landowner on whose land they found it, together with a letter from him saying he knows about the sale and the price being paid?
Best possible taste?
We’re saying absolutely nothing. But do watch out for this on the telly!
Britain’s Scary Future
Abroad the headline “LiDAR survey allows public to discover new sites” would be a cause for huge celebration but maybe not here. The survey carried out in a small area of Caithness in advance of a wind farm development is certainly spectacular…. a billion points of light captured, showing field boundaries, walls and ancient monuments in unparalleled detail, even in heavily forested areas (no chance of missing a prehistoric stone row there then!) 300 new sites were discovered in the small area addressed by the survey and the images obtained are truly stunning. A dedicated website has been set up to showcase it all (paid for no doubt by the wind farm developers – Gawd bless you Sirs for your selfless kindness to the ‘umble public!)
But here’s the scary bit. The website account talks of archaeologists already working on the next project to open up data recovered from projects such as this to “citizen scientists across the globe.” Sounds great. But not in the British context sadly. Here we don’t just have citizen scientists looking to discover new sites do we? Uniquely, we also have a huge army of legalised “citizen artefact hunters” who have repeatedly shown they are more than happy to utilise every last bit of data archaeologists make available to them in order to locate, target and exploit for pleasure or profit every non-scheduled site they possibly can.
Imagine a future in which lots of unselfish developers provide ever-more sophisticated means for thousands of unselfish people to unselfishly help themselves to the contents of the archaeological record! That’s what you get if you leave a dodgy laissez faire policy unchanged for 15 years – technological advances (such as LIDAR and deep-seeking detectors) come along and make your policy look shameful and stupid in the eyes of the rest of the world!
Who’d a thought it? A lot of Heritage Crime is preventable!
“It’s an irreparable tragedy“ (said a Bulgarian archaeologist, looking out at a moonscape littered with shards of ceramics or glassware destroyed by the diggers). Irreparable yes, but also avoidable for although Bulgaria is currently powerless to prevent the rape of its ancient sites that wasn’t always so. “Ancient sites were protected during communist times by a strong fear of the omnipresent police and harsh punishments for any law-breaking activity.” And here’s more proof closer to home that a lot of heritage crime is preventable: “Church metal thefts down by 50% in Devon!” Why? Because of “more roof alarms, government funding and work by Devon and Cornwall Police”
Found something? Keep it quiet!
Of course, not all heritage loss is easily fixed. Here’s US detectorist Dick Stout (who continues to display our Chairman’s alleged home address presumably in the hope he’ll come to harm despite knowing not just some of Britain’s thuggiest but also some of Britain’s finest are monitoring his website) advising his readers how to avoid “battles” with the authorities:
“I hope most of you who visit here will refrain from sharing your finds online, especially the relics. Coins to me are no big deal, but it seems that whenever we post photos of relics we find ourselves battling city hall and the archaeological community. I and the majority of detectorists will always share items of historical interest and always make them known to the local community and/or museum. It’s the casual find that seems to garner the attention of our detractors, and it might behoove us to think twice before announcing them to the world….”
Anyone who can show how that doesn’t mean he knows some of his pals’ finds are illicitly or immorally acquired should drop us a note. There’s a massive prize on offer (find spot redacted, to avoid a “battle” with the authorities!) Just in case anyone remains in any doubt about his attitude he has just clarified further:
“I am also disappointed in those detectorists who continue to “grovel and beg” for acceptance into their [archaeologists'] small minded world. Then again if you find sticking flags in the ground to your liking, have at it…..”
Hurrah! Winter won’t last forever!
On a happier note, a million geographical, intellectual and ethical miles from the above gruesome nonsense, here’s something to cheer you up despite the snow – poet Giles Watson causing no harm and taking nothing for himself on a walk in High Summer along one of Europe’s oldest roads, The Ridgeway. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9sq1a7wjxs
Alan Titchmarsh a complete muppet says Cabinet minister
According to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, Alan Titchmarsh is “a complete muppet” for criticising the Government’s policies towards the countryside as he has “missed completely everything we’re doing”. Or is it that Mr T. has done the reverse and has noticed the plan to build thousands of executive homes on the green belt in preference to brownfield sites. He wouldn’t be the only one. Presumably Mr Paterson would call The National Trust complete muppets as well.
Judge embarrasses archaeos
Speaking during the trial of some nighthawks in Northampton, Judge Richard Bray regretted they could only be prosecuted for Theft and said “I think there should be some form of cultural heritage act which could be used to protect sites of archaeological importance”. He has a huge point. If you steal something of cultural importance that happens to be worth only tuppence the only crime you’ve committed is the crime of stealing tuppence, whereas the harm you’ve caused can be immense.
So who can argue? There should be a specific offence of cultural theft. Trouble is, ALL metal detecting without reporting what you find would need to be included. We’ve been saying that should happen for years so it’s nice that an eminent judge is now saying it. What remains to be seen though is whether the Archaeological Establishment gets behind his call or whether it defends the right of metal detectorists to be free to choose whether they steal historical knowledge or not. If you jump on an illogical horse the dismount is bound to be tricky. And embarrassing. But that’s no reason to stay on it forever, is it?
Our customers too dumb to stay long imply Stonehenge tour operators!
Tour operators are complaining, at this late stage, that 2 hours will be too long for some of their customers to spend at Stonehenge so they may drop it from their itineraries. But we rather agree with David Andrews, Chief Executive of VisitWiltshire, that “Stonehenge is iconic enough that coach operators have to include it and they will have to change their programme.” Indeed, maybe Stonehenge can well afford to be without the sort of visitor that can’t devote two hours to it!
Tristan Stone on the move? Again?
An ancient stone monument marking the grave of a king’s nephew who inspired one of the greatest love stories in British history is to be moved – to make way for a housing estate. Local Councillor Biscoe has condemned the decision to shift the ancient obelisk as ‘cultural violence’ and one of the ‘worst attacks on heritage in the world’.
Whilst that may be considered by some to be overstating the case, sadly this isn’t the first time that the stone has been relocated, and we can’t help but think that every move sets a precedent that chips away at the importance of the heritage behind the stone.
Bedd Morris back in place
In better news, the Bronze Age stone of Bedd Morris near Newport, Pembrokeshire has been restored to it’s rightful place after being toppled in an incident with a car earlier this year. The Bedd Morris stone on Dinas Mountain near Newport has been a landmark for around 3,500 years.
Planning Minister goes mad!
Building on 1,500 square miles of English countryside will not make much difference says Nick Boles, Planning Minister, son of a previous Head of the National Trust.
Mr Boles is also famous for calling for all pensioners to be stripped of their winter fuel payments, free prescriptions and bus passes – presumably on the basis that also wouldn’t make much difference – and for charging the taxpayer for his lessons in Hebrew so he can communicate better with his Israeli partner – which would presumably make a big difference to his breakfast-time conversations.
So where shall we start building on this 1,500 square miles Nick? Surrey? Your constituency in Lincolnshire? The Lake District? Avebury? Just tell us, precisely, don’t speak in generalities.
A man has just been prosecuted for scaling a 19th Century Whitehall statue of a Grade II listed statue of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (pictures of him doing it here), causing £5,000 worth of damage by breaking off its sword.
According to Wikipedia, the Duke (who some might think was a bit of an embarrassment to the modern Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, who is both a modern man and an army officer ) “earned a reputation for being resistant to doctrinal change and for making promotions based upon an officer’s social standing, rather than his merit. Under his command, the British Army became a moribund and stagnant institution, lagging far behind its continental counterparts” and the statue is “ somewhat ironically, positioned outside the front door of the War Office that he so strongly resisted”. So not London’s best loved statue then!
The suggestion that the man, who has a degree in tourism, had mental problems was rejected even though, despite the cold weather, he stayed up there completely naked for 3 hours and he broke his own teeth biting the statue. Next month, no doubt, the sword will be mended and the statue will be made as good as new but the man has been jailed for 12 weeks.
No point in labouring the issue but it is surely worth asking how does that all fit in with Priddy where rather more than a sword was broken, there is zero prospect of any repair and the monument was vastly more significant and well-regarded and four thousand years older?
A turbine that safeguards archaeology!
An interesting statement by the Inspector at a wind turbine appeal at Lifton, Devon:
“There may be unknown assets within the site but a condition requiring a programme of archaeological work prior to any development would safeguard any archaeology on the site.”
That’s OK then. It must mean that if they come across a prehistoric enclosure they’ll stop digging and cancel the project!
Stonehenge not like Avebury
According to the latest draft minutes of Avebury Parish Council, “Members commented that damage done to the sports field at Solstice had been compounded by Avebury Rocks. Some money should have been put aside from the proceeds of the event to cover the costs of repairing the damage.” An interesting view as Avebury is part of the same World Heritage Site as Stonehenge where the cost of security, policing and clearing up after solstice events is met by the taxpayer. So which arrangement is right?
A coded rant?
PAS’s head man, Roger Bland, has just been quoted in the press as follows [our translations into plain English in brackets]:
“Metal detecting rallies, where hundreds of people congregate on a site at the same time, create a major challenge. There’s no law against it but archeologically it’s very, very difficult to respond to the biggest events where there might be 1,000 people in one area over two or three days and our resources are very limited” [They're lawful but awful] “Even if five of our people are able to go there for that weekend, we can never be confident that we’ve seen everything that’s been found” [Despite 15 years of outreach we suspect a lot of people don't get it that not reporting finds is wrong - and can't even be bothered to queue]. “In an ideal world, we would have more regulation of these events.” [Big rallies are awful and shouldn't be lawful].
It’s a bit rich talking of an ideal world though. Every archaeologist and quite a few detectorists think such events are vandalistic and if only someone, Mr Bland, would lead them in telling the public the uncoded truth and called upon the Government to sort it then perhaps it would be. Not doing so is quite insulting to landowners actually. It implies landowners who agree to holding massive rallies are uncaring about heritage protection whereas many of them may care quite a lot but only get information from rally organisers, not from Mr Bland!
If PAS (or any other archaeological body) doesn’t like big rallies let them take out a quarter page ad in the Farmers Weekly saying precisely why, in plain English. Job done. If they’re embarrassed or frit of the reaction of artefact hunters let them send us the money – we’ll do it!