Piety and Impropriety: Harold’s Stones revisited.

Pi-e-ty/ˈpī-itē/Noun: The quality of being religious or reverent.

It seems that (according to Wikipedia) Piety can be either genuine, in that it springs from spiritual piety, or false, in that it is an attempt to exhibit the signs of piety for their own sake, or for some other reason, (such as propitiation or public esteem).

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that whoever recently deposited the nasty little straw-stuffed goddess-cum-teddy on top of this 15-foot-high standing stone at Harold’s Stones, Gwent, was guilty of false piety.

Forensic examination of the scene suggests they must have expended quite a lot of effort in spoiling other people’s experience of the place. It might have taken ten or more attempts to throw the thing up and get it to stay. Or maybe they used a ladder. Or climbed on the shoulders of a fellow iffyofferer. Or worse (and most likely) clambered up the sloping side of the stone.

Whichever. May their deity decline their dippy donation.

On the other hand, less than a mile from Harold’s Stones in Trellech village can be seen this on the base of a sundial inside the church of St Nicholas…

Which means that at Trellech there has been a representation of a pagan “temple” tolerated and celebrated in a Christian place since 1689 (although admittedly the original stonemasons would have thought the stones dated to the Saxon king, Harold, not to pagan times).

In addition, there’s no doubt at all that the maker of this hassock knew very well that the Three Stones are from pagan times. Good for them. Pious people, sufficiently mature and comfortable in their beliefs to leave room for respect for the perceptions of others.

All in all it’s tempting to think that some modern pagans, particularly the literati, far from saying modern Christians are doctrinaire and inflexible (as they often do) could do with taking lessons from them. Who can possibly deny that  Pi·e·ty/ˈpī-itē/Noun doesn’t mean chucking straw-stuffed goddess-cum-teddies on top of scheduled monuments but that it does come from having a bit of awareness of the perceptions of others?

Does this look familiar?


No, it’s not a metal-detecting rally, it’s hunt supporters. But the intention is identical. In one case trying to persuade the public that an activity which nearly 90% of them oppose is a Good Thing, and in the other trying to persuade the public that an activity which has a net malign effect on the buried archaeological resource is a Good Thing.

Perhaps the charities which accept such tainted support should be made aware of the true nature and motivation of their donors? The Portable Antiquities Scheme has made it clear that misbehaviour by metal detecting rallies cannot be excused by citing charitable intentions. Wrong is wrong.

The British Museum is becoming very sensitive regarding where it gets its money from so a clearer, louder statement about charity washing is surely overdue?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

by Nigel Swift

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of my article “Recent nighthawking activity on the Staffordshire Hoard field” followed a week later with “More nighthawking on the Staffordshire Hoard field“.

I’ve not been fit to go there since then but I’m betting that metal detecting has been going on there ever since and whatever wasn’t found by the archaeologists (and they admit there would be some) has been being gathered by yobs with far better equipment. How much has been found? No-one knows as no-one would dare report finds from there.

In my opinion, it’s a bloody scandal. particularly since officialdom has kept quiet about it. And all the time, just a mile away …


A massive statue of an heroic digger of black gold presides over Brownhills Town Centre while in a world-famous field less than a mile away other diggers, criminal metal detectorists, are repeatedly mining for real gold.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

English Heritage has tweeted that the Green Comet has “appeared over Stonehenge

Stonehenge @EH_Stonehenge

“A comet last visible during the Stone Age has appeared for the first time over Stonehenge. The last time the green comet, called C/2022 E3 (ZTF), was visible from Earth was around 50,000 years ago, long before the stone circle was built.”

They have even published a picture of the event but we have doubts that a casual observer could have seen it readily, without binoculars or special photographic equipment and techniques. So we think the photograph of the comet, without explanation, is misleading. To put it mildly.

English Heritage, of course, has a long track record of misleading text and images of Stonehenge. Some of the examples are here.

26/03/2013 in Avebury, Postcards, Stonehenge (Edit)

Stonehenge by Henry Mark Anthony, 1817-1886

So far as I can recall I managed to live more than fifty years without really hearing of Avebury. Well, apart from a small black-and-white photo I saw of it when I was about eight in the tattered volume of “1001 Wonderful Things” that served as our version of television in those days – and for some reason I assumed the stones were only about a foot tall so I instantly dismissed them from my thoughts. As for Silbury, I definitely hadn’t heard of that.

Wind forward to the first day of the twenty first century and I’m driving west on the A4 from Marlborough with a friend, exploring. We go round a bend and up pops Silbury right in front of us. “What the hell is that?” were my very first words on the subject of British prehistory. If you’re going to start, you might as well start like that. I was amazed – like all who first travel along that route, including the Romans no doubt.

Later we drove on for our very first visit to Stonehenge. We were shocked rigid by the adjacent squalid visitor centre – so much so (and it was maybe a bit childish and out of character for a couple of otherwise respectable fifty somethings) that we went away and returned with two large placards asking people to write to their MP or Congressman about the state of things! We were chucked out of the car park and had to risk all by standing in the busy road but everyone seemed to agree with us.

But now, thirteen years later things are about to change. The road we were told to stand in will soon be gone and much else will change for the better. Restoring Stonehenge to something closer to “splendid isolation” has to be one of the best things ever achieved in the name of heritage. I’m so glad it’s happening in “my” time.



But now, a tragedy for the ages looms.

A metal detectorist who found a hoard of Roman coins in Shropshire is keen for it to stay in the county so is asking people to contribute to Shrewsbury Museum’s crowdfunding appeal to help them buy the coins. “I would love to be able to visit them in the museum,” he said. But one worries for him. What if the crowdfunding falls short of what he wants to get for it and he is “forced” to sell it for a higher price to a private bidder elsewhere?

One also wonders if there’s any possible way he and other detectorists can make certain their finds go to the local museum? After all, they’re only in it for the history, are they not? If YOU can think of a solution please tell the museum or the Portable Antiquities Scheme or the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group. Maybe they can think of something.

Meanwhile, we’ll all have to keep hearing this unpleasant British sound …


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

You may have heard the pro-tunnel lobby say (ad nauseam) how the scheme will improve the Stonehenge landscape.

Well, every time they say it please keep in mind how they improved the landscape of the Hill of Tara:


The new Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act will reduce the number of dogs allowed to be used for flushing out a fox (or other mammal) to two, spelling the end for traditional fox, hare, and mink hunting throughout Scotland.



ABOVE: Conrad Jones, Lanarkshire & Renfrewshire huntsman.

(New hobby sought.)

Driving along the A303? Wanna see “a must-see” monument (as we constantly call it)? It’ll cost yer a packet. Still, it’s us what’ll get the dosh so it must be a good thing, mustn’t it?



“These meetings provide a great opportunity to hear about progress with the National Recording Scheme, find out the latest developments in moth research and conservation with fellow recorders.”

“The National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS) is based upon a national network of County Moth Recorders. These skilled and dedicated volunteers act as the central point for moth recording in the county or counties that they cover. They receive records, verify (check) and computerise them, and maintain a local database.”

I mention this as a reminder that not all recording schemes involve exploitation, depletion, misreporting, personal gain, large rewards or endless praise. Britain isn’t entirely bonkers.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


February 2023

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,808 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: