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Last Friday the Local Council of Xaghra on the island of Gozo, Malta sealed a twinning agreement with the Councils of Mergo in Italy and Chevaigné in France. It’s a nice place, Xaghra, it’s a shame a comparable British town with a similar obligation to protect a nearby ancient site hasn’t twinned up with them. Oswestry for instance…
Alas, that could never be, as there seems to be a bit of a cultural gulf between the two places. At Xaghra you see, two brand new two-storey terraced houses are being proposed in the buffer zone of the Xaghra Stone Circle, which forms part of the Ggantija complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site and there’s an awful stink being kicked up about it. (Yes, you read it right, two!)
Heritage Malta (a sort of Maltese English Heritage) has objected to the development saying that any development in this buffer zone would not only endanger the world heritage status of the Ggantija temples but of all six Megalithic sites in Malta and Gozo. So naturally a town which seems likely to be about to reject two new houses in a buffer zone is going to be less than keen to twin with a town where Government planning rules enable someone to try their luck with an application to build 188 right next to a world famous hill fort – with a sporting chance of getting at least some of them approved!
The above stunt, created nine years ago by The Real Countryside Alliance at the Uffington White Horse, caused no damage but because it was unauthorised by its National Trust guardians it was deemed a bad thing.
On the other hand, the one below (promoting Big Brother in 2003) was considered a “good stunt” to start with (presumably, since the Trust accepted £2,000 for allowing it). But then, after complaints about the lack of respect for monuments and the bad example it set, their spokesman announced “we might have got this wrong”.
Then in 2012 when Paddy Power did this at Uffington it was deemed a bad stunt but not for the Big Brother “lack of respect” reason but for the Countryside Alliance “lack of permission” reason. For their part, Paddy Power dealt with criticism by donating some penance money to charity whereupon they seem to have been forgiven.
Thus it seems the “respect for monuments” complaint is sometimes but not always recognised as valid by the Trust. The latest example of that uncertainty is that the Trust has recently allowed a moustache to be added to the Cerne Abbas Giant because it was in aid of charity.
Two important questions arise: do stunts carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere and if so do “charitable purposes” justify taking such a risk? It would be good if the Trust clarified their policy.
Update 28 November:
This theoretical image produced by Paul Barford raises issues of principle that would need addressing if the Trust is to formulate and publish a clear policy:
No doubt (these days) a proposal to brandalise a hill figure by a pro-hunting group would be given short shrift and the same would apply to artefact hunters (bearing in mind the Trust doesn’t allow metal detecting on it’s land). But what if it was in order to advertise a metal detecting rally “in aid of charity” (as so many are these days) – maybe even the very charity the moustache stunt was in aid of? Do the means justify the ends? Our conviction is no, in the case of both detecting rallies and brandalising, but it seems it is a matter that is yet to be fully addressed by the Trust.
Three years ago we suggested that anyone who googled Crosby Garrett helmet would think “the reported circumstances of its alleged discovery, form, removal, provenance, secrecy, find spot, restoration, marketing and reporting are mighty rum“. Things haven’t changed it seems. If you want a flavour of it all you could look at Paul Barford’s site. He has devoted several dozen postings to it and you can read them, most recent first, here. You might well conclude that he has a bit of a point. In fact many.
Recently though things have moved on. The helmet has finally turned up at the local museum (on loan) and there has been a conference about it and a booklet and a report. Yet still an awful lot of things that would normally have been put into the public domain remain unexplained. It is not just Paul that has been raising concerns. Professor David Gill for instance has also made many postings about the affair on his Looting Matters blogspot, the latest being here and here. Here’s an extract from his latest, a few days ago, making reference to the study that has just been published. What’s going on?
“Professor David Ekserdjian in his introduction to the newly published study of the Crosby Garrett helmet draws attention to the newly surfaced Resurrection of Christ by Titian [see BBC]. Imagine if the Titian was sent for a quick clean and touch-up in a workshop under the railway arches in London. I would hope that Ekserdjian would be in the vanguard of those raising their voices in protest.Yet when “a hauntingly unforgettable work of art”, to use Ekserdjian’s description of the Crosby Garrett helmet, was sent for a hurried restoration before its sale at auction, the silence appears to have been almost overwhelming.”
Incidentally, it’s worth recalling that this whole mess began because something different was (metaphorically) put on top of the helmet. What we are seeing is the “else”.
National Trust gives vandals ideas…
The National Trust has allowed a temporary moustache to be put on the Cerne Abbas Giant for charity fundraising. Sorry to be spoilsports but it’s a bad idea and NT have a terrible previous record. Next time they go to the police moaning that a public asset in their care has been permanently damaged by graffiti perhaps they’ll think about this temporary “bit of fun for a good cause”…
Staffordshire Hoard gives people ideas…
Two years ago we suggested having a “dig pit” where people could search for treasure with a detector at the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition in Washington DC wasn’t a very good message. However it was pointed out it was an American idea, not one that had come from the team in England. However, a Staffordshire Hoard Exhibition over here will spend the next three years touring community venues throughout the West Midlands and at it visitors can “try their hand at detecting for treasure”. Minelab and the other detector manufacturers will be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of all those new recruits…
Detectorists’ leader has no idea whatsoever!
A gentleman known as “Remic” (who is the “rep” for the NCMD – the “recognised voice of metal detecting”) has been making some pretty extraordinary claims. Holes dug by alleged nighthawks at Whitby Abbey were actually dug by archaeologists trying to discredit the hobby. Coins “planted” at a rally and identified as such by PAS were also put there by archaeologists. Now he’s excelled himself. All those nighthawking holes we’ve been photographing at the Staffordshire Hoard field were dug by an archaeologist (Paul Barford!)
Talk that a lot of detectorists are deeply embarrassed by the ongoing antics of their rep are not exactly exaggerated. In addition, sooner or later one of his colleagues will quietly point out to the hapless Remic that in saying archaeologists dug the holes he is defending not detectorists but nighthawks!!
(We should stress however that it is not known whether it is true that when last week he inadvertently stood next to ten short planks he was seen to exceed their width by quite a margin.)
They don’t get a penny in rewards or much mention in telly programmes yet they queue up all over the country to do their bit. All they seem to want is to do Archaeology right, just because it’s there. We mean of course the amateurs, the foot-soldiers of archaeology who are desperate to learn and who clamour for a role, no matter how humble in exchange for – well, absolutely nothing.
This week there has been some good news for them. The Heritage Lottery Fund has just awarded the CBA £500,000 to provide a further 24 Community Archaeology Training Placements, thus equipping would-be community archaeologists with the skills to work with voluntary groups and hence have a big impact on the thousands of amateurs involved in archaeology. (More details about the scheme and a video of it in action here).
CBA Director Mike Heyworth explained how it will have a good effect and will facilitate a new initiative relating to an issue of particular current relevance – getting young people interested in Archaeology: “This week’s decision means we are now able to more than double the number of bursary placements for the last two years of the project and also to introduce a youth-focus to the project in the additional bursaries we can now offer.”
These days there are numerous petitions on line but the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Charter to Save our Countryside is particularly important and if you only sign one petition this year we hope it is this one. As they say….
England’s countryside is beautiful, irreplaceable and finite. Yet increasingly it is being destroyed by badly planned developments, while local communities are left powerless to protect the places they love. We must stand together to stop the destruction of England’s countryside. Support our three demands.
Don’t sacrifice our countryside
Our open spaces are being destroyed unnecessarily. Previously developed brownfield sites should be re-used first.
A fair say for communities
The cards are stacked in favour of developers. We want a democratic planning system that gives local people a stronger voice.
More housing – in the right places
The country needs affordable homes. They must be sensitively located, with excellent environmental standards and high quality design.
Needless to say, everything they say about the current threats to the countryside also applies to heritage sites so please add you voice here
Rather than needlessly upsetting a sizeable proportion of global visitors to the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre that will inevitably be offended by a display of human remains, let alone the spectacle being posed disrespectfully upright like a titillating prop in a fairground Ghost Train,….
…. wouldn’t it be simpler (and cheaper) to purchase Budget Bucky? for £182.75 ?
P. S. – Buying Bucky might have another advantage as well. The new “Stonehenge Social Media Content Executive” (part of whose job will be to help manage “the reputation of the English Heritage brand”) may find life a lot easier!
RESCUE –The British Archaeological Trust has issued a powerful statement in response to the latest report on Local Authority staff resources and in particular the ongoing loss of specialist professional advice in the fields of archaeology and building conservation.
“RESCUE believes that the country is close to reaching a point at which the provision of services designed to safeguard our historic environment is no longer adequate to meet the challenges that present themselves on a day-to-day basis. The report reviewed here is the fifth on such issues and the information that it contains is paralleled by the experience of other heritage organisations. The catalogue of losses continues to mount in spite of the publication of such reports and expressions of concern at the worsening situation. At what stage will we decide to act collectively to support under-resourced and vulnerable services and thus ensure that our historic sites and landscapes receive proper protection through the planning process?”
Beware the philanthropists bearing gifts!
Dr Simon Thurley says the wealthy must start to fund our public buildings. Seems a good idea. The philanthropy solution to the retreat of the State. But one thing is a worry: what if “the wealthy” are wealthy landowners or wealthy mining companies? (As they may well be). What if they generously offer to give money towards the upkeep of a castle in one part of the country but also happen to want permission to build executive houses right up to a hill fort in another part of the country? It would be good if it could be explained how rich people who pay pipers in one place won’t call the tune to make themselves richer in another. Let’s face it, this idea probably originated with the Government so it’s worth asking the question!
How good is this!
It’s from the introduction to a teaching aid issued by English Heritage. Prehistory being given prominence in the curriculum. We like that. As our colleague “Tombo” wrote for us in 2004 in “Reclaiming Prehistory: it’s time for “the myth of barbarism to be lifted from our prehistory and for our ancient places to be given the care they deserve.”
Naughty but funny…
It seems English Heritage has launched a new push to get more volunteers ….
Good luck to them, they have always relied on an army of dedicated volunteers. But note the timing, 28 June, just 2 days after Simon Thurley’s upbeat message to members announcing how he was “delighted” that half of EH was to be floated off as a charity. EH can’t say so of course but things are going to be very tough for them. It doesn’t need much working out to know the sums won’t add up unless the number of unpaid workers is increased and even then they won’t add up (there’s a limit to how much more you can charge for already over-priced carrot cake!)
On the same theme (that the Big Society actually means if it doesn’t get done for free it won’t get done at all), see this http://www.museumsassociation.org/download?id=1010822 : Are you a trained curator with an appropriate postgraduate qualification? Want a part time job at a salary of £0 p.a. ?
Perhaps it’s precisely because there are so many people willing to give their time for free that the Government has dealt so severely with EH and the heritage sector, who knows? It seems as if a massive earner of tourism revenue is becoming largely manned by Middle England for a lot less than minimum wage!