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Saturday 26th July:
Chipping Norton Amateur Archaeology Group presents Exploring the astronomy of special places.
The above is what someone has just done to Lia Fáil, “The Stone of Destiny” which stands on top of the Hill of Tara.
Mr Jimmy Deenihan, Ireland’s Arts and Heritage Minister, has made all the right noises on behalf of his Government: “This act of mindless vandalism, on one of our premier archaeological sites, is truly shameful …. The national monuments at Tara, which include this standing stone, form part of our national heritage and history.”
But you can’t help reflecting that the Irish Government hasn’t always treated Tara with such reverence. Not long ago there was a little matter of them driving the massive M3 Motorway past it! And remember this …
(See also the previous Journal article by our colleague Gordon Kingston – Tara, the damage forever done)
Could it be that Governments (on both sides of the Irish Sea) are a bit selective about which bits of heritage they cry about? Culture Minister Jimmy Deenihan certainly seems to be. In 2012 he led a Government deputation to Europe arguing for the interests of turfcutters rather than heritage on a protected bog, saying: “My sympathies are first and foremost with the turfcutters, including members of my own extended family on Moanveanlagh. Part of me wishes that the portfolio had been kept to arts, sports and tourism, but that wasn’t the case and I have to accept responsibility on behalf of the Irish State on this issue.”
It’s not the first time that the Lia Fáil has been vandalised. Two years ago someone attacked it with a hammer and took pieces away. There were plenty of official noises about that too but the best and crucially most sincere commentary on it appeared in The Herald. It’s not clear who wrote it but the level of sincerity and passion suggests it wasn’t anyone from the Irish Government. (Or the British one – can you imagine the Environment Minister and MP for Oswestry, Owen Patterson, speaking with such passion about the vandalising of the setting of his local hill fort?!)
“The stone carried writing from a time we can barely imagine. A time when Ireland was filled with mystery and myth. It caused visitors to realise just how small they are, in the long, long story of this island.
Until someone took a lump hammer to it. Some anonymous vandal struck the monument at least eleven times. Oh, the power that vandal must have felt, destroying history with each blow. And the secret power the vandal may still feel, clutching some of the pieces chipped off the stone. Souvenirs to be boasted of with drinking buddies, or maybe just savoured in private to prove how heroic the vandal is, in his own eyes.
For many, this was a “whatever” moment, rather than a shock-and-awe issue. And now, some expert will assess what can be done and the majority will forget about it, because we have more immediate fish to fry. We’ve lost monuments before and their loss hasn’t done us enormous harm. But …. Ireland’s story is told in song, in story — and in stone. That some fool with a lump hammer destroyed one of the great stone chapters in our history is stupid, shameful — and sad.”
Great stuff, eh? (Mr Patterson’s equivalent is: “Like my predecessor I have a strict rule about not getting involved in planning in my constituency. I am a supporter of localism and the local plan. I am very keen that local people have a say in planning in their area and have never tried to second guess the decisions of councillors.”)
As part of our occasional series looking back at previous articles here’s what was in the Journal on this day 9 years ago in May 2006, an account of a very enjoyable weekend many of us spent in Derbyshire.
How did our neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors transport massive stones? Many theories have been put forward but none of them truly satisfied Gordon Pipes, a carpenter from Derbyshire, and member of Heritage Action. So he formed a group of interested amateur antiquarians called ‘the Stonehengineers’ and staged a demonstration (appropriately, at the National Tramway Museum) of a method he believed may have been used. He called it “stone rowing” and his idea was that by lifting the stones on levers and moving them along in a series of short steps would involve less friction and therefore require less effort than hauling them on rollers – so far fewer people could have been involved.
Elaine Swann of Heritage Action was there. She said: “The levers and fulcrums were put in place and it was all hands on deck. Gordon stood at one end and on his word we pressed down on the levers taking the weight of the 12 ton concrete block. We all stepped in one direction and, wow, the stone moved effortlessly in the other…”
Steve Gray, an engineer and also a member of Heritage Action who was there, said: “I’m sure with practice we could easily get up to 100 yards per hour and our ancestors who would have known all the things we were trying to learn could have done it very much faster.”
Gordon thinks an additional advantage of the method is that by using it large stones can be transported just as easily uphill, downhill or across uneven, scrubby land, which is very problematic when hauling them on rollers. But the greatest advantage is the fact that so few people are needed. The demonstration used less than 30 people which is certainly food for thought considering the concrete block they moved weighed as much as 3 or 4 Stonehenge blue stones! Could the bluestones have been brought by teams of just 8 people?
The Stonehengineers went on to try other methods (including enlisting the services of a super-fit tug o’ war team to apply the traditional hauling methods. It became clear that hauling could be made far more efficient than had previously been demonstrated, particularly by using far smaller rollers. In the end the consensus was that both methods might have been used – hauling for level, solid ground and rowing for when the ground was problematic or steeply sloping. It was certainly felt it would be difficult to imagine stones being manoeuvred around corners or over streams or lined up to precise positions without a degree of rowing being used.
Early Day Motion on Government Planning Policy tabled yesterday
Primary Sponsor: David Anderson
And so says everyone! Who in their right mind would want to lose open countryside if there’s a perfectly viable alternative?
(Other than those who stand to make vastly more dosh out of building executive houses – of which there is no shortage whatsoever – and who advised the Government on the policy!)
It’s the new Heritage Planning Case Database. You can now very easily search for appeal and call-in decisions relating to planning permission (that affects a heritage asset), listed building consent and conservation area consent. Try simply searching on setting….
At present it has just 123 cases on it but the sky’s the limit. So how will it make things better? Well, how about improving democracy, openness, consistency, justice …. and heritage protection? Carbuncles can now be properly assessed, a bit more like doctors do it….
The remains of a two thousand years old Roman wall (yes, Roman – we’re thinking of extending our remit beyond the prehistoric) in Winchester has been removed and “turned to rubble” to make way for new houses. “It’s desperately sad” said Colin Cook, of the Winchester Area Tourist Guides Association. “As far as I can see it’s gone away on a lorry. There is no possibility of rebuilding it anywhere else.”
A Council spokesman said “preservation of part of the surviving remains of the city wall within the site is not possible” and earlier Professor Martin Biddle, a world-renowned archaeologist had said that so long as the site was fully excavated and recorded, he did not feel the wall was necessarily worth preserving. “Cities are living things” he added.
Indeed, but a 2000 year old wall? Couldn’t the 14 new houses have been built further out where perhaps a 1950’s toilet block or a wooden bus shelter could have been sacrificed to progress? Was there nowhere else where Winchester’s housing stock could have been expanded by 14 except in the heart of the city where houses prices (and profits) are sky high? Was preservation of part of the surviving remains of the city wall truly “not possible”? It all seems a bit Oddwestry.