by Nigel Swift

One of Satan’s pals – Belial I think it was – recommended that they should just sit tight in Hell as in due course they might all become inured to the fiery pain. I think that’s what has happened in Britain over artefact hunting. Because it is so ubiquitous the authorities no longer worry about the damage it causes. Nevertheless sometimes Reality comes knocking and can’t be ignored, as has just happened. An important group of Archaeological associations (the Australian, Canadian, European, Pan African and Indo-Pacific ones plus ICOMOS and the World Archaeological Congress) have produced a statement on “The Excavation of Archaeological Material in the Popular Media” expressing concern over TV programmes that celebrate destruction of the archaeological record and have said what every British archaeologist knows:

“Excavating an archaeological site is an unavoidably destructive process. Archaeologists mitigate this destruction through the use of careful excavation techniques, documentation, preservation, and reporting procedures that have been developed over the past century, and are updated as new technologies become available [...] To excavate a site without following such protocols is unmitigated destruction of the archaeological record…

That’s all I have to say really. Just banging on, lest anyone forget. All those archaeologists abroad say excavating without following archaeological protocols is unmitigated destruction and shouldn’t be on the telly. Yet here in Britain you can legally target, damage and denude any non-scheduled site (which is 95% of them) and if you simply say you report what you find the authorities will (a.) pat you on the head, (b.) the Culture Minister will come metal detecting with you and (c.) a specialist quango will make peak time TV programmes about Britain’s Secret Treasures, jubilating to the public about what you find.

Awful innit? Still, you don’t think about the loss if you keep looking at the shiney-shiney. Oooh, and soon there’s to be a metal detecting sit-com. Yes, a comedy. Metal detecting is something to smile about in Belial’s Britain. But as Milton said of Belial, he “counseled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth,  not peace”.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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In answer to an enquiry from a user of The Modern Antiquarian forum English Heritage have made their position on climbing onto the stones at Stonehenge crystal clear. They point out they have no choice or discretion about not allowing people to touch the stones as they are “bound by the monument’s own government regulations under which the monument is protected” and that touching the stones is “a contravention of the regulations” and crucially, that the situation applies at all times without exception: “These regulations are still in place during the managed open access of the Solstices and Equinoxes”….“The law is clear: it is illegal to touch the stones and those who do so are committing a criminal offence”.

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As everyone knows though, at summer solstice when tens of thousands are crowded inside the circle English Heritage is simply unable to prevent scores of people clambering on the stones, as is always shown the next day in the world’s press. Some argue that the law is an ass and that touching is no big deal. On the other hand we heard recently that damage had been done at every one of a run of ten successive summer solstice gatherings. No doubt EH will clarify if that’s wrong.

There is probably only one long term solution, which is to limit the number of people inside the circle (although in the meantime it might be good for EH to grumble about the stone-clamberers the next day rather than announce everything went very well!). It’s all about restricting the number of people inside the circle to a manageable (and also a financially affordable) amount, and allowing everyone else to celebrate near but outside the circle.

But that in itself is a problem. While a lot of those who are truly devoted to Stonehenge – some Druids, pagans and others – might well be persuaded to support such a move what about the less committed – the thousands of one-off, slightly tipsy party-goers? Would they behave or would they see it as a return of Mrs Thatcher and insist on their “right” to go inside the stones to see the sunrise?

Who knows? It’s rather up to the committed people, the Druids, pagans and others to take a lead in proposing a “limited access” solution rather than endlessly banging on about “free and open access” which is quite clearly an impractical notion. It would certainly beat endless bellyaching about how badly EH runs the place and how hard done by they all are – and those of us who have to foot the enormous annual bill for the current shindig would be grateful too!

Incidentally, this year’s event was a right old shambles – see the latest Round Table debrief – including 3 lots of damage:

Curator of stones reported that someone has used a resin to draw a couple of numbers on the stones which is proving very difficult to remove. We need to focus on people doing this. Also in the last hour or so,chalk drawings were made on the stones. Lots of candle-wax, but even more worrying that people  were sticking chewing gum on the stones. Also excrement and effluence in the stones area.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/stonehenge-law-planning-library/eh-summer-solstice-2014-debrief/566597433446707

“Well ‘Skip Jackson’, who put your name on the Heelstone, you certainly have your immortality now, don’t you? It certainly was a bit of a shambles this year in particular, with some baggy-tracksuited drunk prancing on top of the stones for a while, and a nastier atmosphere than last year, perhaps because of more sotted youngsters. It has been getting progressively worse damage-wise, anyway–last year someone holding a ‘ritual’ poured oil onto the Heelstone, which sank into the porous sandstone,left a big mark and killed the lichen…”

By Sandy Gerrard

The Welsh Schedule of Ancient Monuments includes a “Burial Chamber at Pen-yr-Alttwen” just outside Pontardawe. This is scheduled as GM 514 and the grid reference is given as SN 7315 0331. According to the Royal Commission the monument stands “on the scarp edge of a south-facing slope, on the edge of a track terraced into the hillside.”  The Royal Commission report continues:

“From the track the site presents in much the way described by Cadw. One large slab surrounded by leaning and fallen smaller slabs and blocks, supposedly a collapsed chamber, and a second adjacent slab with similarly disposed blocks suggesting a second, smaller, chamber to the immediate NW.

When seen from below, that is downslope from the track, the structure appears to be eroded outcrop. The larger slab seems to be a block dislodged from the exposure along a bedding plane. If the track is followed a short distance to the S it is seen to be formed on levelled outcrop. It is therefore hard to avoid the conclusion that this site is no more than a fortuitous arrangement of stones created by surface levelling. But by the same token a former built structure may have been shifted by the same process resulting in the disturbed remains visible today. There are no traces of a cairn, and if the site is genuine the location would have afforded little prospect of one, unless the subsequent landscaping was so radical as to have altered completely the configuration of the local ground pattern.”

The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust’s Archwilio entry for the site helpfully adds “The interpretation of this feature as a monument is not entirely certain; it could be a natural landform, but the question is unlikely to be resolved in the absence of excavation. It consists of a pile of very large slabs of sandstone embedded in a steep hillslope, one of which looks as though it might be a capstone, although most of the rest look like a natural geological formation.”

So the Royal Commission and the local archaeological trust have voiced concerns regarding the identity of this monument, but Cadw were happy to schedule it and have retained it on the schedule despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever to support a prehistoric interpretation.

When Cadw was asked to schedule the Bancbryn stone alignment they responded saying that “there was insufficient evidence to propose scheduling the feature as a prehistoric stone row”

Fair enough, I hear you cry, but then why is Cadw happy to schedule sites for which there is absolutely no evidence of date or indeed whether it is even archaeology at all? It is indeed a funny old world.  Perhaps a smidgen of double standards!

Viewed from certain angles this pile of rocks (elsewhere in Wales) resembles a chambered tomb.  In common with the Burial Chamber at Pen-yr-Alttwen no evidence exists to support a prehistoric interpretation.

Viewed from certain angles this pile of rocks (elsewhere in Wales) resembles a chambered tomb. In common with the Burial Chamber at Pen-yr-Alttwen no evidence exists to support a prehistoric interpretation.

Here is one of the holes that appeared one night last year 40 yards from the Staffordshire Hoard findspot.

Here is one of the “detector accessories” on sale less than 10 miles away in Regton’s, Britain’s biggest metal detecting shop.

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Out of 8,000 detectorists only ONE has responded to the Journal’s invitation to tell us they have complained to Regtons about them selling products which are useful to nighthawks. On the other hand, one has taken the trouble to write: “Regtons is a buisness, it needs to make a profit to survive, if they can make extra income selling such accesories good luck to them I say.”

What can landowners deduce? Well, two things for sure:
1. Some detectorists are not very bright.
2. Despite their loud talk about hating nighthawking, a lot of them aren’t overly bothered about it (or, presumably, about history or conservation).

If you’d like to know who is really at your door as opposed to who someone at your door says they are you could use this terribly simple “Detectorists’ IQ and Morality” test (DIM):

Please provide me with a complete list of everything you’ve had recorded by PAS.

If there’s ANY hesitation, or if the list looks a bit thin you might wish to draw some conclusions. By the way, the Government and every archaeologist and archaeological organisation bar none will approve the use of a DIM test (ask them) so no worries there.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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The Long Barrow at All Cannings is a columbarium or place for cremated remains in urns to be kept. It is being built in 2014 in the style of a traditional long barrow in natural materials, but made relevant for today in its internal layout. It is aligned to the sunrise of the winter solstice when the sun will illuminate the internal stone passageway.

The long barrow is for anyone. It is for those of any religion or none. The field it is in is being restored to native chalk grassland and will be kept as natural as possible for visitors to enjoy its beauty and solitude.

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All Cannings.

See more here.

by Alan S

The Twittersphere was busy yesterday, trying to identify the ‘gentleman’ in a YouTube video, allegedly caught red-handed metal detecting on land without permission in the Purbrook Heath area nr Waterloovile, Hants (PO7 postcode area). PC Andy Long, Heritage Crime Officer for Essex Police (Twitter @PCAndyLong) is keen to speak with this individual if anyone knows who he is.

Apparently a complaint has been raised to YouTube, and the video may have been withdrawn by the time you read this, although stills from it are available on a number of websites. Interestingly, whether he was “dayhawking” or not there has been outrage from all camps over his yobbish behaviour and ignorance, an uncommon ‘coming together’ so let’s see if he can be identified and hopefully given some muscular outreach.

On the other hand it’s worth keeping in mind that thousands of detectorists get farmers to sign agreements under which they alone decide if tens of thousands of finds are to be shown or shared. If you think people who do that have the least right to lecture that bloke on treating farmers fairly we’d have to disagree rather strongly.

Update & clarification, 11 August 2014:
There really are none so blind as those who will not see. A detectorist has responded to the above article by writing:
“Some of the publicity the clip received from a certain few archaeo-bloggers is disappointing to read. It just seems that at any opportunity they will use something like this to make out that all detectorists behave like mindless, thuggish, oafs such as the chap on the video”.

He has it wrong, but not in the way he thinks. Our assertion is not that thousands of detectorists act like “The Muppet” but that a lot of detectorists act worse than him by treating farmers’ rights with the same contempt as him and in addition by collectively causing vastly more cultural damage than nighthawks through non-reporting. Deliberately contracting to give yourself the formal right to decide what you show and share with the owner and what you don’t cannot possibly be interpreted as otherwise. If it could be it would be but it can’t. Being “disappointed” about us saying it is neither here nor there. That must be clear enough to anyone that hasn’t a personal motivation for denying it is true.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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If you’re in a Planning Department and you’re going to let a utility company dig up a probable archaeological site without making provision for an archaeological watching brief, it’s best not to do it at the end of the street in which the Director of the Council for British Archaeology lives. The danger being, he might trudge home after a long, hot day in the office and spot some pottery and the fragments of a Roman era leg bone and a jawbone with teeth in it lying on a pile of soil…  Which is exactly the nightmare that happened recently up in in York !

nightmare

Dr Heyworth said the incident shows up the “black holes” that are appearing in local authority archaeology services, with planners taking decisions without any specialist advice. He notified both the police to inform them that human remains had been discovered and the local authority, and work has now been suspended while an archaeologist investigates the site.

The worrying aspect is that not every street has a Dr Heyworth living in it so it’s a moot point how many similar issues go unnoticed up and down the country. Coincidentally, EH has just revealed that the number of archaeological specialists in local authorities has declined by 9.5% in the past year. The full report is HERE.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Walking down the Bancbryn stone alignment, distant but focused views of Hartland Point in Devon are enjoyed. This short article illustrates the nature of this phenomenon and suggests that this evidence together with other aspects of the site that were overlooked by the previous scheduling assessment could justify a review of the earlier decision. 

View from the Black Mountain illustrating the wider landscape within which Bancbryn should be viewed. The red line denotes the line of sight between the cairn at the top of the row and Hartland Point.

View from the Black Mountain illustrating the wider landscape within which Bancbryn should be viewed. The red line denotes the line of sight between the cairn at the top of the row and Hartland Point.

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Tor Clawdd blocks views to Devon from Bancbryn and it is the juxtaposition between the two hills and the distant Hartland Point that creates the extraordinary visual treat which is emphasised and celebrated by the upper course of the stone alignment. The red line denotes the line of sight from the cairn to Hartland Point.

Tor Clawdd blocks views to Devon from Bancbryn and it is the juxtaposition between the two hills and the distant Hartland Point that creates the extraordinary visual treat which is emphasised and celebrated by the upper course of the stone alignment. The red line denotes the line of sight from the cairn to Hartland Point.

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Bancbryn stone alignment showing position from which the photographs of Hartland Point were taken.

Bancbryn stone alignment showing position from which the photographs of Hartland Point were taken.

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1. View from the cairn at the upper end of the alignment. Hartland Point is just visible peeking out from behind Tor Clawdd. The precision of this visual relationship cannot be over-estimated. If the cairn had been positioned a mere 5m further east Hartland Point would not be visible at all. How likely is it that this is a coincidence?

1. View from the cairn at the upper end of the alignment. Hartland Point is just visible peeking out from behind Tor Clawdd. The precision of this visual relationship cannot be over-estimated. If the cairn had been positioned a mere 5m further east Hartland Point would not be visible at all. How likely is it that this is a coincidence?

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2. Hartland Point is clearly visible from this point on the alignment.

2. Hartland Point is clearly visible from this point on the alignment.

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3.  Hartland Point remains clearly visible. The orientation of the alignment relative to slope on Bancbryn and the blocking effect of Tor Clawdd ensures that the focussed view to Hartland Point is maintained.

3. Hartland Point remains clearly visible. The orientation of the alignment relative to slope on Bancbryn and the blocking effect of Tor Clawdd ensures that the focussed view to Hartland Point is maintained.

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4. The slightest deviation in the route taken by the stone alignment would have meant that this significant visual observation would not exist.

4. The slightest deviation in the route taken by the stone alignment would have meant that this significant visual observation would not exist.

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5. As one continues to walk down the stone alignment the view to Hartland Point is maintained.

5. As one continues to walk down the stone alignment the view to Hartland Point is maintained.

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6. As one descends the hill the sea visible between Hartland Point and Tor Clawdd slowly diminishes, but the headland remains clearly in focus along the axis of the alignment.

6. As one descends the hill the sea visible between Hartland Point and Tor Clawdd slowly diminishes, but the headland remains clearly in focus along the axis of the alignment.

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7. Very little sea is now apparent between the headland and nearby hill, but the alignment is still clearly focused on Hartland Point.

7. Very little sea is now apparent between the headland and nearby hill, but the alignment is still clearly focused on Hartland Point.

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8. Visually Hartland Point now protrudes from the lower slopes of Tor Clawdd.

8. Visually Hartland Point now protrudes from the lower slopes of Tor Clawdd.

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9. After 300m Hartland Point is disappearing back behind Tor Clawdd. From this point onwards the focus of the row is no longer on Devon.

9. After 300m Hartland Point is disappearing back behind Tor Clawdd. From this point onwards the focus of the row is no longer on Devon.

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Why is this important?

The significance of visual relationships is a frequent feature in the archaeological literature concerning prehistoric funerary and ritual landscapes.  There is an acceptance that considerable care was taken positioning features and whilst the precise reasons are not always apparent there is consensus that the siting and distribution of funerary and ritual monuments was far from random and indeed positions were often very carefully selected.  The upper 300m of the Bancbryn stone alignment points at the far distant Hartland Point in Devon. The chances of this being a coincidence are remote especially when one considers that:

  • The cairn at the upper end of the alignment is positioned with perfect precision to ensure that Hartland Point peeks out from behind Tor Clawdd. This significant visual relationship exists only at the exact spot where this cairn was erected.
  • A deviation of as little as one degree from the course of the stone alignment would have meant that the visual relationship illustrated in the photographs above would not exist.
  • The slight shifts in the stone alignment’s orientation can be explained as a response to the changing form of the profile of Tor Clawdd relative to the undulating slope of Bancbryn and position of Hartland Point.
  • The care and attention to detail with which the view to Hartland Point is maintained illustrates a strong element of deliberation beyond any reasonable doubt.

Normally powerful evidence such as this would be enough to support the strong possibility of a prehistoric date.  Cadw’s reluctance this far to even consider this evidence is disappointing. Particularly as they have stated that the reason for not scheduling the site is because of “insufficient evidence”. Shame too therefore that during their assessment they were unable to locate the cairn at the top of the row and the fallen terminal stone at the lower end. Perhaps there is only insufficient evidence because many of the crucial details were disregarded.

It’s nearly a week since we pointed it out but Regtons, Britain’s largest metal detecting shop, is STILL advertising a range of sophisticated night vision gadgets and describing them as “metal detecting accessories”.

Are you happy about that? Are you convinced that legitimate metal detectorists need such things? If not, you might care to ask anyone who knocks on your door this weekend asking for detecting permission if they’ve contacted Regtons to protest.

You could ask them to leave a comment here on The Heritage Journal confirming that they have. (So far, out of 8,000 metal detectorists, not one has – although some have left messages abusing us.)

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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Before the days of English Heritage, Cadw and the like, many scheduled ancient monuments across the UK came under the remit and protection of ‘the man from the ministry’ – the Ministry of Works.

In an early version of today’s ubiquitous information boards, signs were erected at many sites, giving often very brief information, but warning that the site was under protection, and that any damage would be punishable by law. These signs were often made of long-lasting cast iron, and many can still be seen today around the country.

A Ministry of Works sign at the Rollright Stones, in Oxfordshire, vandalised in 2007.

A Ministry of Works sign at the Rollright Stones, in Oxfordshire, vandalised in 2007, and now removed.

In a celebration of these old signs, Sue Greaney, an English Heritage Historian, has recently launched a new Facebook Group, the “Ministry of Works Signage Appreciation Society“,  with a view to collecting as many photos of the surviving signs, and their latter day replacements as possible.

The group is open for anyone to join and contribute photos or reminicenses. We would encourage all those interested in the history of our ancient scheduled monuments to join in.

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