by Katharine Range

Castlerigg © Copyright Clive Hirst and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Castlerigg © Copyright Clive Hirst and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick in Cumbria, is one of the most beautiful stone circles in Britain. It stands on a superb natural plateau commanding a panoramic 360 degree view over the surrounding fells. The slightly oval-shaped ring is among the earliest raised in Britain; about 3000 BC during the Neolithic period. To give a bit of context, this was slightly after the construction date of Newgrange in Ireland, thought to be about 3200 BC and about the same time as the earliest phase of Stonehenge; several hundred years prior to the structure we know today. Cumbria is rich in the stone circle department, having some 50 in number which range from the dramatic, large circles, such as Castlerigg at just over 32 metres, to the diminutive Castlehowe Scar at just 7 metres. There are 38 stones in a circle approximately 30 metres in diameter. Within the ring is a rectangle of a further 10 standing stones. The tallest stone is 2.3 metres high. They are all un-hewn boulders, although some have fallen in the 5000 years since they were raised. It has been estimated there were originally around 41 stones, so Castlerigg is relatively well preserved when compared with other circles in the British Isles.

Map courtesy of  Ordnance Survey - Get-a-Map service

Map courtesy of Ordnance Survey Get-a-Map service – click to embiggen.

Castlerigg Stone Circle was one of the first sites to be covered under the Ancient Monuments Protection Act in 1888 and in 1913 it was acquired by the National Trust through the efforts of Canon Rawnsley. The circle was first brought to public notice in 1725 by the antiquarian William Stukeley, who recorded that the circle was “very entire, consisting of 50 stones, some very large.” But in 1849, in his Guide To The Lakes, Jonathan Otley reported the current 38 stones. The original purpose of the site is unknown. It could have been used as a trading post. Three stone axes have been discovered inside the circle. In the Neolithic period axes were made from volcanic stone quarried in the fells. Current thinking has linked Castlerigg with the Neolithic Langdale Axe industry in the nearby Langdale fells: the circle may have been a meeting place where these axes were traded or exchanged. Ritually deposited stone axes have been found all over Britain, suggesting that their uses went far beyond their practical capabilities. Exchange or trading of stone axes may not have been possible without first taking part in a ritual or ceremony.

Other possible uses include a meeting place for tribal gatherings, a site for religious ceremonies and rituals or even an astronomical observatory. It is important to archaeo astronomers who have noted that the sunrise during the Autumn equinox appears over the top of Threlkeld Knott, a hill 3.5 km to the east. Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various lunar positions.

Excavations in the inner ring in 1882 provided very little in the way of archaeological finds, although quantities of charcoal were discovered. What subsequently happened to the samples of charcoal is unknown, other than they are now likely to be lost or, if not, too contaminated to be worth modern scientific analysis. Nevertheless, Dover’s excavation is the only one to have been carried out at Castlerigg. A wide space to the Northern end of the circle, framed by two large stones may have served as an entrance to the site. In the early 20th century, a single outlying stone was erected by a farmer approximately 90m to the south west of Castlerigg. This stone has many linear ‘scars’ along its side from being repeatedly struck by a plough, suggesting that it was once buried below the surface and also why the farmer dug it up. It is not possible to say whether this stone was originally part of the circle, or just a naturally deposited boulder.

Castlrigg © Copyright David Baird and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Castlrigg © Copyright David Baird and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

There is a legend that it is impossible to count the stones of Castlerigg; that each attempt will result in a different answer. However as with most legends, there is a small kernel of truth here. Over the years, smaller stones have “appeared” next to the larger ones.This is due to erosion of the soil around the stones through time and visitation by we humans. These stones seem to be “packing” stones, used to support the large stones when the circle was erected and would have been buried originally.

Another story involves one well-documented sighting of a strange light phenomena. In 1919, a Mr. T. Singleton and a companion watched as white orbs travelled slowly over the stones. Strange lights are a recurring theme at many ancient sites all over the world and may well have been one of the reasons our ancestors built monuments in specific places. Although there is plenty of speculation, it is thought to be most probable that they are caused by natural processes related to fault lines.

It has been noted that many of the stones of Castlerigg seem to reflect features in the surrounding hills, as though the landscape site is an interplay between the sacred space and the landscape beyond. Although open to criticism, it seems as though there are many features at Castlerigg that still have to be examined in the context of how ancient man would have experienced the site.

Castlerigg © Copyright Ian Greig and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Castlerigg © Copyright Ian Greig and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

I have to remind myself, somewhat enviously, that ancient man was so much more in tune and aware of what was around him in nature. Even though he could master it, he was still part of it. Today most of us have no concept of that, caught up as we are as to whether we remembered to “check in” on Facebook while visiting Starbucks or Castlerigg. When I visit somewhere as breathtaking as Castlerigg, I am humbled. And this for me, is the heart of why these sites should be protected and cared for as most precious.

It’s been a while, but Sue Brooke has once again managed to get a response from one of the prinicpals on the Caerau dig. In a departure from our usual email response format, Sue actually managed to sit down with Niall Sharples for a chat at Caerau. Here’s her report…

Over the last 8 days I’ve been popping up to the CAER Heritage Project excavations. I’ve seen lots of exciting things in the ground, held some beautiful items, learned a lot and generally have thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’ve met Professor Niall Sharples quite a few times before and he has always stopped to chat. I emailed him to ask him to do a little ‘Inside the Mind of…’ article but really had got nowhere fast. Fair enough though, he has been quite busy during the digging season. However, having seen him a few times up on the hill I decided to ask if he would sit and answer my list of 10 questions. ‘Yes, of course, tomorrow’, he would say. Tomorrow would come and I would bump into him just as he was leaving and I was arriving or, just as I was leaving and he was arriving. Still, undeterred I kept my list of questions tightly tucked into my bag. On day 8 I arrived on site and yes, he was there. Unfortunately so were the BBC, following him around with their television cameras. In the distance I could see him being filmed on the edge of a trench, arms waving as he did his press relations thing. Ah well, I thought, not today.

Since this is a community dig that involves lots of visitors there were a group of local young people attending. Some were digging, some were sieving and others were helping to clean the finds. Some young people were making pots out of clay, learning how these were made and the skill that it took. I wandered around the site to see how things had progressed in the trenches and eventually sat to watch some pot making, keeping well out of the way of the telly cameras.

After a while Professor Sharples appeared and asked if I wanted to ask my 10 questions. Oh yes, right! We found a couple of chairs quite near and sat in the sun. I’m not sure how I thought this would work. I had questions, I had paper and a pen (well 3 – just in case) so I just asked the questions and made notes about the answers. We chatted about some things that came up, discussed things I hadn’t thought of and generally made our way through the questions. It was all rather laid back but, for me, very interesting.

NiallSharples

What sparked your interest in archaeology? was the first question on my little list of ten. Well, apparently it was women – ‘there was a better class of women involved in the archaeology course’. Although this was said, kind of tongue in cheek, I got an inkling that there may be just a little grain of truth in that comment! Niall did however go on to talk about how, when he was younger, he had an interest in what he described as the ‘weird mysteries’ to be found in books such as those written by Erich Von Daniken. Inside my head I could hear a nice little sigh of relief. Having spent quite a few days up at the dig I had chatted to the Cardiff University students who gave me the impression that Professor Sharples was ‘fierce’ and that he ‘knew everything.’ So here I am, sat with the fierce guy, in the corner of a Welsh hillfort, who ‘knows everything’. When he mentioned Von Daniken I was delighted as I had read him too. I knew what he was on about! That felt like a good start.

Niall described how he had initially started at Glasgow University studying archaeology, maths and Scottish history. He didn’t actually learn geography but had an interest in it. Niall described how archaeology was a really interesting subject and one that allowed him to combine history and the geography that he enjoyed. He dropped maths after a couple of months. Niall felt that history was something that ‘could actually be open to interpretation and although an academic subject is not actually based on anything scientific’. Archaeology, in his view however, “…has to have an evidential base. Links between research and the actual archaeological evidence is clearer and therefore provides a far better connection to the past”.

So, how did he get properly started as a ‘real’ archaeologist rather than just a class based student? It was after he had gained student experience on the Glasgow University digs led by Leslie Alcock. Niall worked and learned on digs such as that led by Alcock during the later part of the 1970’s at Dundurn in Perthshire. Niall described one of his own early but exciting finds. It became clear as we chatted that Leslie Alcock really stimulated Niall’s original interest in archaeology. We spoke briefly of the digs Alcock had directed locally to Caerau at Dinas Powys and of course, at Cadbury Castle. He also talked about working on digs alongside David Clarke, now of the National Museum of Scotland. Niall found David to be what he described as an ‘interesting guy’ and together they worked on such sites as that at the very well known Neolithic site at Skara Brae. Niall credited Leslie Alcock as ‘probably the person who has most influenced my career’.

Niall has been recently found working on Ham Hill in Somerset so, excluding that site I asked which other site had he thought of as his most interesting project. Niall talked about Bornish, in the Outer Hebrides, a Iron Age and Norse settlement. I was a little surprised at his very obvious enthusiasm for the Vikings but Niall explained that the site there ‘…integrated different categories of evidence. There were structures, ditches, stratification, all giving up lots of chronological evidence and providing a very complicated story’. It is this kind of complication that clearly holds Nialls attention. I got the impression that he would find absolutely no fun at all in going onto a site, digging it and finding archaeology that all fitted nicely into a neat story. A little bit like his ‘weird’ Von Daniken mysteries – there clearly has to be that little bit of an extra challenge, to stretch him just that little bit more.

We talked about what Niall felt was his favourite British site, at which point he threw up quite a few names. Maiden Castle, on which of course Niall famously worked, and Mousa an Iron Age coastal Broch in the Shetlands, which was a site not familiar to me at all. Finally, Avebury a placename recognizable to most. When I asked him to explain why he simply stated that they were ‘spectacular’.

My next question was about what Niall felt was his biggest archaeological or heritage regret. He described his feeling that archaeology had gone downhill. He spoke with passion about the lack of available resources, the way museums were no longer being valued and what he described as the ‘quality of the experts’ available. He accepted that everyone, with experience properly gained, can become an expert but stated that today’s archaeologists are valued more and more for their ‘ability as good administrators’. Archaeology had become privatized and ‘heritage is not now being looked after as it should be’. The opinion now tends to be more that private companies will pay. There is a real sense of over commercialism. Such emphasis was placed by Niall on this subject that I struggled to keep up with writing my notes.

Moving on I asked if you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation then what would it be. He answered quite simply that “Archaeology should be returned to the care of the government and they should be investing more in their heritage”. My next question was if you could address Parliament for 30 seconds what would you say – referring to his answer from the previous question he stated, and I can quote, “It would be that!”

Grateful that my next question changed the subject I then asked Niall if he hadn’t made it in his archaeology career then what did he think he would be doing now. He gave it a little bit of thought and said he quite fancied being a film producer or director. I commented along the line of this being rather different to what he did now but he disagreed. He made the comparison with the dig up at Caerau saying there were lots of people there to organize and that, at the end of the dig, they were hoping to be able to tell a story. Just like making a film. He quickly pointed out that he had no ambition to be a film star, which I could understand since we were chatting immediately after he had been filmed over and over for a news item.

The questions were almost done. My last question was, away from his day job what did he do to relax. He talked about how he likes to simply watch TV and films. He still likes his mystery books only now preferring crime novels and murder mysteries by authors such as Ian Rankin and Denise Mina. He pointed out though that he does read ‘literature’ too, particularly admiring the work of Gabriel Marquez on South America.

Once the questions were out of the way we chatted a little bit more about the finds up at Caerau and I thanked him for answering the questions for me. As we got up to leave a young person who had been washing some finds came up with a wet pebble. Niall took it from her and said, “Ah yes, that could be a games piece. Although it’s a pebble it’s water worn and shouldn’t be up here. Where did it come from? Was it the river? Was it used to play games with?” The young lady took back her discovery and just stood looking at it. I just loved it!

Many thanks to Niall (and to Sue). Previous articles in this series can be found here or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

by Sandy Gerrard

Much has been made of the lack of conclusive evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation for the stone alignment at Bancbryn on Mynydd y Betws.  All of the alternative explanations lie in tatters but still Cadw will not even accept the idea that the prehistoric interpretation remains the most plausible explanation. Instead they prefer to stick with the line that there is “insufficient evidence to propose scheduling the feature as a prehistoric stone row”.  Cadw will not say what they think it is, preferring instead to emphasise the lack of positive evidence. In many ways this is an understandable position.  They are essentially saying that as we have no definite proof that it is prehistoric it would be unwise to add the site to the schedule of ancient monuments. However, this position would seem to contradict their usual “modus operandi” where mounds of stones, hummocks, single standing stones or indeed even lines of stones have happily been added to the schedule with no conclusive evidence being provided to justify their interpretation.

Indeed one does not have far to look to see an example of this apparently inconsistent behaviour.  No conclusive evidence currently exists to support a prehistoric date for the scheduled cairns at Bancbryn. No finds or other dating material has been recovered from any of them and indeed the entry in “Coflein” the Royal Commission’s online database notes:  “The scanty remains of 14 to 17 cairns, most of which have central mutilations, suggesting that, although no structural elements are apparent, the cairns may have been ritual in nature. Alternatively the cairns may have been claerance (sic) heaps, robbed in the hope of their being sepulchral.”

Coflein also helpfully publishes an extract from the scheduling documentation which states: “Remains of an extensive burial cairn cemetery, probably dating to the Bronze Age, situated within open moorland on the summit of Bancbryn. “

So despite considerable doubts about the identification and date of the mounds at Bancbryn, Cadw were happy to schedule this particular monument without any actual evidence to support its date or function.  Insufficient evidence was not an obstacle in this instance so why is the same level of proof not being applied to the associated stone alignment? The Cadw scheduling process seems somewhat haphazard. Sometimes hard evidence is needed but on other occasions no evidence at all. This inconsistent approach to the protection of our heritage should be a concern to us all.

One of the scheduled cairns at Bancbryn. This cairn is scheduled despite a lack of hard evidence to confirm its date and function.

One of the scheduled cairns at Bancbryn. This cairn is scheduled despite a lack of hard evidence to confirm its date and function.

On Friday a detectorist wrote:
“recently i went to a 2-day all expenses paid conference at York university dedicated mostly to pre and early medieval coinage. The archies were praising the efforts of detectorists big time, as the finds recorded on the PAS database are giving a insight into our history that simply would NOT be possible with conventional archaeology. Me and my fellow detectorists came away very proud of our hobby and the recognition it was receiving by the academics. There was also talk of adding MD training to archaeology degrees!!!”

For the avoidance of doubt amongst artefact hunters:
1. The archaeologist is yet to be born who thinks the way most detecting happens – collecting for personal benefit and not reporting – is praiseworthy. So please don’t confuse utilising the data that a minority produces with being supportive of the behaviour of the majority.
2. Any talk of  “adding MD training to archaeology degrees” would have been about the use of detectors in structured archaeological surveys, NOT about training undergraduates to exploit the common inheritance in a “random”, “selective” or “secretive” fashion for personal fun or profit.

It’s likely the academics made that clear at the time – or thought they did. However, the lesson to be learned is that it’s important to explain things VERY clearly to artefact hunters. If they come away from an academic conference (an academic conference, for goodness sake!) feeling “very proud of our hobbythere must have been a pretty dire communication failure.

Site of the University of York Faculty of Metal Detecting. Funding is proving problematic.

Site of the University of York Faculty of Metal Detecting. Funding is proving problematic.

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Update: Actually, Paul Barford has just pointed out the list of speakers at the Conference (including a number from PAS and a US dealer for whom provenance tends to be too unimportant to mention on his website). Judging by that perhaps I was too hasty. It’s quite possible the detectorists who attended were told that metal detecting was a fine hobby and no downside was mentioned. Britain isn’t just barmy it’s stupid and deserves to be ripped off to the tune of nearly 12 million bundles of history.

Update 2: Paul asks “Now, why is a dealer offering unprovenanced artefacts  with no indication upfront of either licit origins or licit export, invited to speak at a professional conference in Great Britain alongside archaeologists and museums people?” I don’t know Paul. I also don’t know why a metal detectorist went there “all expenses paid”. Nor do I know why none of us who are taxpayers and stakeholders who think the behaviour of most detectorists stinks and is causing great damage to history weren’t invited to attend. All I know is something is very wrong and it doesn’t happen abroad.

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BTW, I was unable to get out and about for Friday’s “Day of Archaeology” – but I spent most of the day composing and tweaking the above article. They also serve who sit and moan. Someone has to.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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We like to think of our ancient monuments as silent, unchanging sentinels, but this isn’t always the case, sometimes they go walkabout!

One of the delights of visiting Cornwall is the chance to catch up with friends who live in the area and on a recent trip Philip, a friend of ours who knows of my penchant for old stones, presented me with the gift of an old Francis Frith postcard. In a slight diversion from my usual prehistoric focus, the postcard depicts the old cross at Cross Common, Landewednack, a short distance east of Lizard town.

For those that don’t know, Cornwall is littered with old crosses of various forms, many of which date back to medieval times (9th-15th centuries). Whilst many remain in, or near their original positions, many crosses have been discovered in various odd situations: used as gateposts, fireplace lintels and church benches or built into church walls, hollowed out and used as feed troughs (ref. Sithney Church cross). The cross at Landewednack, just east of Lizard town, indicates the road down to the church and the postcard shows the cross as it was in 1907 when the photo was taken.

Lizard Postcard

Arthur G Langdon, in Old Cornish Crosses (1898) describes the cross at Landewednack as follows:

The cross stands on the right-hand side of the road leading from Lizard town to the sea.

The edge of the stone is outlined by a bead, and there is an entasis on the left side only of the shaft, the right being slightly concave.

Dimensions. — Height, 4 ft. 11 in. ; width of head, 1 ft. 11 in. ; width of shaft, 1 ft. 4 in.

Front. — On the front is a Latin cross, nearly the full height of the stone, formed in a similar manner to that on the cross at Pradannack, Mullyon. Within the bead on the head is the upper portion of the cross ; it is equal-limbed, and extends to the neck. At this level the bottom of the lower limb is suddenly narrowed, and for the remainder of the distance is indicated by two widely incised lines. Between these lines and the bead on the angles are two plain surfaces, the upper ends of which, where they terminate at the neck, are rudely shaped to the narrowed parts of the shaft.

Back. — On the head is an equal-limbed cross in relief having widely expanded ends.

On the postcard, which presents the view looking back toward Lizard town, the cross is in exactly the same location noted some nine years previously by Langdon. On the Ordnance Survey 6″ map, Cornwall Sheet LXXXIV.SE & XC.NE, published in 1908 the location of the cross is clearly marked to the south of the road.

LizardMap1908

Curiosity got the better of me as I couldn’t recall having seen this cross in my travels, so I revisted the area. Today the view presents a much different story. Taking a comparison photo from roughly the same location shows that the cross is no more. The rough stone wall on the left is still there, as are many of the same buildings and rooftops:

LizardNoCross

The reason for the lack of the cross is evident on a Google Streetview image – the cross would have been located roughly where today’s junction lines are painted, close to the wall. This would present an obvious safety hazard.

Google Streetview image of the location of the cross in 1907.

Google Streetview image of the location of the cross in 1907.

However, the cross has not moved far, just a few yards northeast of its previous location onto a grass verge on the opposite side of the junction. The Pastscape entry for the monument describes the cross as “just about in situ” again after several moves. This assertion is repeated in the English Heritage description of the monument. If this is true, and the cross is now ‘back where it belongs’, then the postcard is an interesting relic in the history of the cross.

There is just enough space to squeeze between the cross and the hedge to take a facsimile of the original postcard, showing the extent of the shift in location:

LizardCross

If anyone has any information about when or why the cross was moved, we’d be interested to hear it! A good resource on Cornwall’s old crosses is Arthur G Langdon’s original ‘Old Cornwall Crosses‘, available for free download in various formats from the Internet Archive. Alternatively a more up to date listing can be found in Andrew Langdon’s (no relation) excellent series of booklets available from the Old Cornwall Society.

For information on some more ancient stones on the Lizard peninsula, see our brief tour.

naff

There are some who think Northumberlandia is a pretty naff monument, a way in which a mining group avoided the expense of putting their slag back in the hole, and there are those who think decorating it in a particularly naff fashion (see A Landmark puts on a Bra for Charity) is no more than it deserves.

However, as our headline indicates (borrowed from here, with thanks), there are those (including us) who think it’s a bad idea. While 99% of people can see there’s a clear difference between using a public monument to make a point in a harmless way and doing the same thing in a damaging way…  there are some who can’t.

F4J

PRESS RELEASE 8th July 2014

01209 831718 07789600941 @giantsquoit @sustrust
see The Sustainable Trust or Carwynnen Quoit on Facebook
Zactly's_better_than_not_quoit_small

IMAGE CREDIT: Jacky Nowakowski, Cornwall HES

The Sustainable Trust at Stithians Show
For anyone who missed our fabulous Solstice ‘Rock on at Carwynnen Quoit’, we are holding the last exhibition in this phase of the project next Monday.

To celebrate the Festival of Archaeology, the Council of Archaeology’s annual event, we will be showing new footage of the restoration along with a photographic exhibition of the project. Stithians Agricultural Association have kindly accepted us as one of their featured charities this year and we relish the opportunity to bring this project to a wider appreciative audience.

Visiting children will be able to make a pop up quoit card, a thaumotrope and a pocket book about the history of this 5000 year old monument, written in both Cornish and English. It will be a chance to talk about your memories of ‘The Frying Pan Field’ and the ‘Devil’s Quoit’ and hear about our re-creation of the famous 1925 picnic and future plans.

Pip Richards, director of sustrust said ‘We have been astounded at the amount of people who have shown appreciation for our work at Carwynnen. This field has now become a focal point for the community with its iconic megalithic structure. It feels symbolic that we have managed to restore one of the first man made landmarks during this time of recognition of Cornish identity. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible’.

 

As July rolls on, it’s time look again at the ‘Festival of Archaeology‘, co-ordinated once again by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA)  running this year from 12th to 27th of July, and preceded by this year’s Day of Archaeology on Friday 11th, where archaeologists from all over the world blog about what they’ve been up to, showing the sheer diversity of activitities in the archaeological world – it’s not just about digging!

DayofArch14

The CBA has been organising an annual UK-wide celebration of archaeology and heritage since 1990. The ‘Festival for British Archaeology’ grew out of ‘National Archaeology Week’ (NAW). Before that, the event took place over one weekend and was called ‘National Archaeology Days’ (NADS).

FofArch14

The Festival includes hundreds of special events individually organised and held by museums, local societies, national and countryside parks, universities, and heritage organisations across the UK. The Festival presents everyone the opportunity to learn about their local heritage, to see archaeology in action, and to get involved, from formal lecture sessions to hands-on archaeology to family fun events.

To this end, the CBA have once again updated their website for the festival, allowing searching for events across the country. The headline suggests over 1000 events are available to chose from, but the actual number from the search results seems to be down on my recollections of previous years. Running an open search on a region by region basis shows a total a little shy of 600 events, so unless the total (‘over 1000′) includes multi-day events such as museum exhibits, there is something wrong once again with the search algorithm.

The region with the biggest number of events is the SouthWest with 109 – no surprise there as I suspect it’s the biggest region – followed by the East Midlands with 73. I could find no results for Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man.

Looking at our main focus here on the Heritage Journal – Prehistory, there are 152 events listed across the country, which is a good percentage compared to previous years!

Once again, the range of events is wide, from talks, walks and excavation visits, through re-enactments, demonstrations and exhibitions to hands-on activities and family fun. So there really is something for everyone to enjoy. Why not take a look at the website and see what’s on in your area?

flintknappinga

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

On Mynydd Bach Trecastell, a pair of stone circles, at least one stone alignment and one cairn stand spectacularly on a gentle north facing slope offering extensive views over Mid Wales and the Brecon Beacons.  The stone circles stand close to each other and are very different in character.  The northern one measures 23m in diameter and includes 21 stones and five socket holes. The southern one is 7.9m in diameter and includes four uprights, three recumbent and a number of socket holes.

The Northern stone circle

The Northern stone circle

The site receives a mention in the Preliminary Statement for the Bancbryn stone alignment produced by Cotswold Archaeology in 2012. In this report  it is noted that: “An alignment of stones was also noted at Mynydd Bach Trecastell in proximity to a pair of prehistoric round cairns. This ‘stone alignment’ was interpreted as representing a former postmedieval field boundary. The reason for this interpretation is unclear, but appears to be due to the much smaller size of stones compared to the Saith Maen example cited above, and largely recumbent.”

The authors of this report appear to have confused the stone circles with round cairns. The stone alignment leads from the southern stone circle and is a long way from the nearest cairn. The stone alignment includes at least five stones leading directly north eastward towards the smaller stone circle. The alignment formed by the stones is also directly orientated towards the nearby cairn situated some 175m to the south west.

Detail of the five stones forming the alignment

Detail of the five stones forming the alignment

Cairn at SN 83140 30992. The line of stones leading from the southern stone circle is aligned on this cairn.

Cairn at SN 83140 30992. The line of stones leading from the southern stone circle is aligned on this cairn.

The reason for the post-medieval field boundary interpretation is certainly unclear.  All the other boundaries in the vicinity include a ditch and bank.  It is also difficult to understand why a boundary would respect the stone circle stopping as it does a few metres short.  The idea that it may have not been accepted as a stone row because the stones were small is interesting.   If one starts from the premise that all stone rows consist only of large stones then of course those with only small stones must be something else.  This blinkered approach has obvious dangers and here the result is that a line of stones leading from a stone circle in the precise direction of a cairn has been interpreted as a post-medieval boundary despite the fact that all the other boundaries on the mountain consist of a bank and ditch.

Post medieval boundaries in the vicinity consist of a bank and ditch.

Post medieval boundaries in the vicinity consist of a bank and ditch.

It makes no sense to me to imply that the post-medieval farmers on this mountain chose to devise a completely new way of building boundaries when they arrived in the vicinity of prehistoric archaeology and instead chose to place stones in a line leading from a stone circle to a cairn. Perhaps we need to embrace the idea that stone alignments can consist entirely of small stones in order to avoid further silliness. Why do archaeologists working in the South West of England not have a problem with this idea?

A line of stones

A line of stones leading towards a stone circle is usually interpreted as a stone alignment.

by Nigel Swift

It’s usually safe to ignore anything US detectorists say about UK detecting as their lack of knowledge is obvious. However, I’d like to correct a blatant piece of misinformation just offered to them by an English detectorist as I suspect it refers partly to us. He talks of “the dictum of archaeology’s ‘Hard Left’ faction” (that’ll be us no doubt, we’re often portrayed as commies or Nazis) “who promote the notion that all land, artefacts, and collectibles should belong to the People”.

Now if you’re in Britain you’ll know that’s nonsense as neither we nor anyone else advocate nationalisation of land or artefacts or collectables, but for the avoidance of doubt: we don’t advocate nationalisation of all historic artefacts! We don’t even advocate the nationalisation of historical knowledge – for the simple reason it already belongs to the public! All we want is for detecting to be regulated so that thousands of people stop stealing the public’s knowledge by not reporting their finds. How Hard Left is that!

And, until the law changes, here’s another crazy left wing idea: let reasonable detectorists join with archaeologists to declare that just as nighthawks are artefact thieves, so non-reporting detectorists are knowledge thieves – who cause far more cultural damage – and that neither group should be allowed into detecting clubs or onto the fields. Any takers? No? (There weren’t the last time I proposed it!) So Britain will no doubt remain bonkers and history-taking will continue on an industrial scale despite both sides knowing perfectly well it’s avoidable and profoundly wrong……

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The two types of heritage thieves. Only in Britain are the public not told they are equally contemptible.

The two types of heritage theft,  one criminal and relatively small-scale, one legal and massive …….  Communist propaganda or the plain truth?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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