As most people know, it’s normal practice for archaeologists to examine 100% of the artefacts uncovered during excavations. So it was a shock to archaeologists to be told recently by Highways England that they were only willing to fund the sifting of from 4 to 14% of the ground displaced in constructing the new road.

Experts believe half a million artefacts are likely to be unearthed – which means up to 480,000 artefacts will be ploughed back underground forever, unexamined. In case you have difficulty visualising the scale of that loss to science, here are 480,000 dots!



Mr Jim Hunter of Highways England commented: “We are confident we can deal with the archaeology in an appropriate way”. Mr Hunter was talking nonsense.


To British ears the dialogue at Bears Ears National Park is depressingly familiar. Massive heritage damage is “heritage enhancement”. Carving 1.1 million acres (85%) off the protected area is being presented by the Trump administration as “a blueprint to protect the awe-inspiring natural and cultural resources that make this monument nationally significant”.

Meanwhile, the British heritage yes-bodies have jointly proclaimed that driving a mile of new dual carriageway over the Stonehenge World heritage landscape will also be a great enhancement. Really? No, really?!

If you believe that, you might as well believe him:


Who in their right mind wants egg collecting back? And yet the Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme has recently given a conference talk titled “Making Artefact Hunting Great (Again)?”

Damage-wise, egg collecting is far preferable (the parent birds may lay some more eggs) whereas in artefact hunting what’s gone stays gone – and if the finds aren’t reported (which PAS admits the great majority of detectorists fail to do) the knowledge is gone too

Dr Lewis justified his theme by calling for detectorists to be more “archaeologically minded”. However, the terrible trouble with that is that PAS has been advocating exactly that for 20 years and still most detectorists don’t report most of their finds.

It’s high time the PAS stopped pretending outreach will ever get through to the majority of detectorists and admitted that the only solution is compulsion. Sainsbury’s don’t employ an army of shoplifting advisory officers so why should Britain employ an army of Knowledge Theft Advisors?






Lyulph Avebury, the descendant of Sir John Lubbock, has sent us this comment in response to yesterday’s article (Stonehenge – a disposable hero):


In January 1883, A C Smith of the Wiltshire Archaeological Society wrote to John Lubbock advising him of a scheme by the London & South Western Railway to put a new track close to Stonehenge. He took up this cause in opposing the idea and spoke against it in Parliament. In Stonehenge’s defense, he argued that the nearby cursus (prehistoric banks and ditches) would be destroyed but also “the whole aspect of this solemn and mysterious scene …” would be “… irreparably destroyed”. This shows that he had a modern outlook for considering not just the monument itself but the landscape in which it sits. It is a shame that there are many that still do not think this way.

The likes of English Heritage and Historic England are very much into their heritage heroes and none more so than Sir John Lubbock, our greatest prehistorian, who introduced the Ancient Monuments Act which set up a system of scheduling and state guardianship which has prevailed to the present day and has been replicated worldwide.

But our present-day “heritage champions” only revere him when convenient. When the road lobby comes calling they disregard him entirely and massive new damage is repackaged as “worthwhile improvement”. Yet who can deny that Sir John would be appalled at the “worthwhile improvement” English Heritage and Historic England are promoting at Stonehenge at the behest of the Government and in defiance of UNESCO?

If you’re in doubt, consider whether he would ever deny – or they would ever acknowledge – the immutable truth of his words to the Anthropological Institute on 15th of January 1872:


“The continued destruction of prehistoric monuments is a fact which I am sure we all deeply regret, and which reflects little credit on us as a nation.”


Lest anyone remains unconvinced that the conservation stance of the Government (and its yes-bodies) owes more to convenience than principle, Arts minister Rebecca Pow has placed a temporary export bar on Turner’s masterpiece, The Dark Rigi, the Lake of Lucerne (1842) saying:

“Turner is one of Britain’s greatest ever artists and The Dark Rigi is a beautiful and emotive work painted at the pinnacle of his career. This work is of national importance and if it were to go abroad it would be a terrible loss to the country.”

Perhaps. But it’s worth remembering that even if the Dark Rigi is lost to the nation millions will still be able to see the actual Rigi mountain….



Not so at Stonehenge. Turner’s painting of its iconic landscape is safe for the nation in Tate Britain but the actual vista it depicts will soon be hidden from almost everyone save for a few English Heritage and National Trust rangers. Ms Pow and the Government are determined that travellers should see only this:



That would be an even more “terrible loss to the country”, surely?

As we recently pointed out, for many years nighthawks have had at their disposal far deeper-seeking machines than were used by the original finder or during the two subsequent archaeologist-organised searches. The implications are clear. But we’ve heard not a word from officialdom (even though in 2012 they wrote asking us to keep them informed).

Now we have something else to tell them: 23,700 detectorists on the largest detecting page (X% of whom aren’t saints) have just been told they can buy a simple clip-on gizmo on EBay, the ” Firefly Stealth Device“, which stops their machine making a noise, and is useful for those who wish to detect at night. (The Geordie oik selling them would say they’re not meant for nighthawking but if so why market them as stealth devices?)

Do the authorities care? Or is it easier just to jubilate to the public about the recovered hoard and not admit to them there may be loads of it still in the field being gradually harvested by criminals?



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Remember this which we reported exactly 10 years ago in August 2009?

A local mayor in Alabama reckoned destroying this 1,500-year-old Native American ceremonial mound and using the dirt as fill for a new Walmart retail warehouse store called Sam’s Club would be fine, and memorably announced: “What it’s going to be is more prettier than it is today”


Of course, Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust aren’t rednecks. But if you strip away their high falutin’ talk, that’s exactly what they’re saying about the Stonehenge short tunnel project! So pure redneckery on both sides of the pond!

UNESCO has just confirmed its firm opposition to the tunnel scheme so the public will be puzzled as to why so called “conservation” bodies are supporting it. In the case of English Heritage the possible motivation is clear: it stands to gain a monopoly on the viewing of the stones if the tunnel goes ahead (see our complaint about this to The Competition and Markets Authority). A monopoly! By what right? Whose heritage is it anyway?! Yet they have form – see the suggestion that was made in 2011:

“The magic of Stonehenge could be shared every evening with all who pass, many of whom can’t afford a ticket, just as it was a magical place thousands of years ago, sometimes with the Moon and clouds shining as well. With subtle lighting sunk well out of view and endless possibilities of solar energy, the monumental power of ancient man’s achievement in another age would inspire all who pass by.

“Perhaps in depressing times a cocktail of cost-free magic is the very least we can expect from the guardians of the national heritage.”


An interesting idea, at least for a few days a year. “A cocktail of cost-free magic, for free“. But no. English Heritage hasn’t done a thing about it. Maybe they sided with archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles: “It would spoil the dark skies over the monument at night” (that’s the monument no-one can see because it’s dark!!). Or maybe they cited previous road accidents during floodlighting (yet didn’t explore measures which could obviate them). But maybe they also didn’t like the fact that, even for a few days a year, more people would have a free view?!

To repeat: Whose heritage is it anyway? It categorically isn’t theirs, mere functionaries, hired to look after ancient monuments, nothing else.

They’ve just said we’re “completely out of touch” and not “looking at the wider picture” for opposing the short tunnel scheme and that most others are wrong too: “The majority of people against doing something about the A303 past Stonehenge, do NOT live where we live!” We’re grateful, as they’ve given us the opportunity to explain some fundamental realities to them:

1. It’s true, most people who object to the scheme do NOT live in the local villages. They live in 195 countries world wide and while none of them wishes for the local villages to be blighted by rat running, all of them think the Stonehenge landscape shouldn’t suffer as a solution to that.

2. They have the sense to know a longer tunnel would prevent both the rat running and the new landscape damage and that the cost of that is tiny relative to BREXIT and HS2.

3. They also know that if this was a bland agricultural area, a few square miles with little character, there’d be no problem. But it isn’t. It’s a World Heritage Landscape, Europe’s greatest prehistoric area.

4. Hence, if STAG is supporting a short tunnel as a solution to traffic in the villages it is they not we or the people of 195 countries who are “out of touch with the real world, focusing on one thing without looking at the wider picture”. If they were campaigning for a longer tunnel which caused no damage to the World Heritage Landscape they wouldn’t be out of touch, they’d be rational and well-informed. But they’re not doing so. Blaggarding the many thousands who are doesn’t make STAG rational or well informed. Quite the reverse. It should change. It could tip the balance.


August 2019
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