By Dr. Sandy Gerrard.

Following the discovery of the Bancbryn stone row in 2012 the Welsh archaeological establishment set about characterising it and after much deliberation concluded that it was not a prehistoric stone row for six main reasons:

  1. Rows are less than 200m long (Consultant reporting to Dyfed Archaeological Trust 14th February 2012).
  2. The overall alignment of the Mynydd y Betws alignment is sinuous in a form which is not typical for prehistoric ceremonial/ritual stone alignments which are….. predominantly straight’ (Cotswold Archaeology Report).
  3. The variable size and shape of the stones (Cotswold Archaeology Report).
  4. The stone density varies along the row, from stones every metre or so through to 10-15m gaps. (Cadw 24/01/2012).
  5. “Inconsistencies in the physical appearance of the stone alignment when compared with currently accepted Welsh prehistoric examples (Cadw response 15/08/13).
  6. The stones were not in sockets (Cotswold Archaeology Report).

Bancbryn stone row

Following the completion of a long term project looking at all the extant stone rows in Great Britain, it is now possible to access all the single rows using the same Welsh style criteria used at Bancbryn to find out how their unorthodox approach to interpretation affects our understanding of British stone rows.

A total of 174 accepted single rows most of which are scheduled as ancient monuments were put through the Welsh style interpretative mill and unsurprisingly only 32 were found to meet their strict criteria. The remaining 142 failed to clear at least one hurdle and many were rejected for several reasons. It is worth having a quick look at some of the fallers. Read the rest of this entry »

The North of the Tyne Detecting Club re-assures landowners: “We work closely alongside the portable antiquities scheme and urge all members to be aware of the rules regarding reporting treasure & artefacts. Please familiarise yourselves with the Official Code”. But is it true? Well …

1.) We work closely alongside PAS. Why not “we report all recordable finds to“?

2.) We urge all members. Why not “insist“?

3.) To be aware of the rules. Why not just “keep to“?

4,)  Familiarise yourselves with the Official Code”. Again, why not just comply with?

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Four such “accidents” are clearly no accident, but if you’re still in doubt keep in mind almost every other club uses almost identical tricky words and also promotes a substitute Code to farmers rather than the official one. We’ve dubbed it The Dishonesty Code as it establishes 5.) “we don’t have to report all recordable finds to PAS” and 6.) “we don’t have to show you anything unless we judge it to be unusual”

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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The Examination has closed. The Examining Authority is preparing its recommendations. Now is the time to define exactly what’s at stake. The line of the road is now unlikely to be changed so whatever archaeology is revealed during the current trial pits will be lost and preserved only “by record”. That’s often reasonable, for without preservation by record nothing could ever be built. But in a World Heritage landscape? The clue’s in the name. Isn’t true preservation owed here – else our promise to the world is broken.

There are loads of examples of true preservation in the World Heritage Site. Woodhenge, The Sanctuary and the Stonehenge mesolithic posts are marked on the surface with posts or slabs and visited by millions, but are still truly preserved underground and available for future research. Here’s Woodhenge:

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and here’s another, yet-to-be discovered, unfortunately positioned, possible Woodhenge. Let’s call it Unluckyhenge ….

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and here’s how Highways England will protect Unluckyhenge and all the other unlucky archaeology that lies in the way of the new road ….

That, in essence, is the issue. Should Britain tell the world “preservation by record” is justified in a World Heritage Site, in order to deliver the cheapest version of the vote-catching policy of a Prime Minister-but-two ago? Let’s hope the Examining Authority says no.

Here’s Tintagel as depicted by William Trost Richards in 1879: wild, mysterious, accessed only via a small aesthetically unobtrusive bridge at low level:

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And here it is today, fully accessible (if you pay loads) via a high-level, avant garde bridge, justified on the grounds it “reinstates the original route when there was a natural connection” but which is entirely foreign to the monument. Who can pretend the essence of Tintagel has been “improved”?

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So it’s been made into a cash cow, by expert milkmaids, forced to be self-financing by the government. Which brings us to Stonehenge: if the A303 upgrade goes ahead English Heritage will have a virtual monopoly on seeing the stones and their visitor numbers and revenue will soar. Hence, despite their role as heritage guardians, they are telling everyone the work will “enhance” the monument!

Such a position might well be termed “Tintagelism”!

 

Next month the Society of Antiquities will hold a conference about the Staffordshire Hoard. For us, the most significant part will be the last session, which asks “where should Hoard studies go from here?” It’s no secret where we have long thought hoard studies should go next – up the A5 and turn left at Hammerwich and slowly walk around Mr Fred Johnson’s field with a Minelab 5000 to see if there’s more of the hoard still to be found.

As is well known, we’re confident the machines used in the official searches were nowhere near the capability of the ones available to every night time scruff who fancies a bit of searching. But here’s something new: we’ve just found out we’re not alone, here’s the testament of Warren, an eye witness detectorist, about the final official search in December 2012:

“I popped over to have a chat with the detectorists, and they were not very talkative. All the one guy said to me was that they were doing a survey for English Heritage. I noticed their detectors were of many different makes and abilities. There is no way that land is sterile yet, the latest detectors will give more depth and better results. I noticed a couple of the guys had XLT, which is a good machine but not up to the depth and recovery rates of the new machines.”

So now it’s not just us. We do wonder whether CBA, English Heritage, APPAG, and Rescue will continue to look the other way about this …. ?

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PS: for the avoidance of doubt, the above sets of footprints lead not from a gate but from a fence surmounted by barbed wire and terminate in two excavated holes, so there’s no way they were made by the farmer, bird watchers, dog walkers or Historic England inspectors.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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This weekend in Britain many thousands of archaeological artefacts will be dug up and retained, unreported, by the finders. Meanwhile ….
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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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The widespread availability of metal detectors in the 1970’s was the beginning of a lot of problems for portable antiquities, as we have covered here on a regular basis for the past 10 years or more.

However, the problems arising from the collection of portable antiquities are not new, as an article from Old Cornwall[1] magazine from over 80 years ago relates.

Despite specifically referring to flint finds, some sections of this are worth highlighting as still relevant today to fieldworkers and metal detectorists alike:

  1. “The loss to Cornwall has been incalculable”
  2. “…a detailed record of the exact place…” … “It is not enough to give the name of the farm, or even of the particular field, it must be sufficiently accurate to enable the exact spot to be fixed.”
  3. “It is not desirable that the finder should indulge in any ‘digging’ for flints. His work may prove to be more damaging than helpful.”
  4. “…objects should not be discarded too freely”
  5. “It cannot be too strongly emphasised that flints are of no intrinsic value; what is of value is the record of where flints have been found.”

References:

1: Old Cornwall Magazine Winter 1938 Vol III #4, p166 ‘On Flints’

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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As we’ve said many times, and as the attendees at our megameets prove time and time again, we are (largely) a collection of ‘Ordinary people, caring for Extraordinary places‘. Very nice people, it has to be said, but in the main we’re not showered with professional archaeology qualifications. Luckily, we have access to several ‘tame’ archaeologists, who provide advice and help to steady the tiller when needed, and mostly so far we have avoided espousing what has become known as ‘Bad Archaeology

Over the years, we’ve had many submissions which we’ve had to turn down from often well-meaning but dare we say it, deluded, people espousing their own favourite pet theories as to why certain monuments are where they are, or proposing some outlandish original use, often based upon very little true science (other than half an hour scouring Wikipedia!) Where we have proposed daring new theories – and Dr. Sandy Gerrard’s preliminary work on stone rows is a good example here – they have been backed up by the scientific method, utilising the full range of available academic information. Information all too often denied to the amateur researcher due to academic firewalls, cost etc.

And yet these theories often see the light of day, and even get published as pseudo academic papers or books, without any proper scientific scrutiny. Even worse, they might illustrate their great discovery with quotes and images without context, referencing and copyright approval. It is therefore no wonder that academics and professionals have little enthusiasm for wading through offering after offering by such authors, convinced they have solved some unimaginable riddle connected with Stonehenge, Avebury or some other well-known and well researched site. The author may even ramp up attention by involving the media or the blogosphere in some self-serving paranoia, which will reign forever in the cyber world of amateur truth versus professional conspiracy. Thus the academic obliged by convention, cannot respond without facing a potentially long drawn out distraction of no value or interest other than to the originator.

With this in mind, we have drawn up the following basic guidelines for those who wish to give publicity to their pet theories in such ways, and without following the proper review process:

1. Be yourself, you are not [insert famous archaeologist’s name here] unless it states so on your birth certificate.

2. For whom or what are you writing? Yourself (likely)/ something the world needs to know (unlikely)?

3. Where did you get your information? Credit ideas, state origin, reference [insert famous archaeologist’s name here]’s books and papers in full.

4. No matter how fascinating you think you are, you aren’t, tell us your idea, give references, keep it short then shut up.

5. Take up another hobby, in our opinion writing amateur (pseudo-)archaeology is for self-obsessives and jerks!

Whilst preparing this article, I came upon a quote in Old Cornwall magazine, from 1934. Leiut.-Colonel F C Hirst, writing about ‘Elements of Cornish Archaeology’. He states:

…there is often a tendency to assume that probable incidents suggested by such (antiquarian) studies are facts on which we can rely. Archaeology only deals with that which can be proved to have occurred in the past, and anything that is based upon speculation is foreign to that science.

He goes on to conclude:

…facts and legends have become so mingled in Cornwall, that many quote the latter as archaeological facts. Such people do a great disservice to Cornish Archaeology. Only one kind of antiquary exists, and he is the orthodox type.

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

The press tend to manoevre people into inappropriate poses, as this recent image of archaeologists at the site of the Battle of Worcester demonstrates. In this case it’s particularly regrettable as it’s highly artefact-centric, which Archaeology isn’t but metal detecting is.

 

Two archaeologists and some people who aren’t

 

There are hundreds of thousands of pictures of metal detectorists posing exactly like that (e.g. see inset) but very few of archaeologists doing it. There’s a reason. For detectorists the aim is to possess the find for themselves but for archaeologists the aim is to gain archaeological knowledge – for everyone.

The danger of blurring la différence is clear: farmers may mistake the former for the latter. (Although, there are other ways of telling: if they arrive saying We’m hamatcher istoricides hain’t us” they’re probably not archaeologists!)

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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In 2012 we shamed Regtons, Britain’s largest detecting shop, into abandoning their support for the dishonest National Council for Metal Detecting Code in favour of the official responsibility code. Sadly they’ve now gone back on that.

It’s sad but also symptomatic of how things are. Almost every detectorist and detecting club and pay-to-dig outfit tell farmers they follow that NCMD code and are therefore to be trusted. Yet, for the avoidance of all doubt, here are the two carefully crafted con-tricks that code embodies:

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1.) “Report all unusual historical finds to the landowner”
“Unusual”, see? Instead of “recordable”. Which leaves the detectorist free to decide which finds, if any, he reveals to the landowner.

2.)Acquaint yourself with current NCMD policy relating to the voluntary reporting of portable antiquities”
“Acquaint yourself with”, see? Not “comply with”. And to be doubly sure, the NCMD policy doesn’t insist on reporting all recordable finds to PAS anyway.


 

Clever, n’estce pas? Every day, thousands of detectorists tell thousands of farmers they’re “responsible”, not by pledging they’ll follow the official code but by waving a shameful, self-serving piece of paper which hides the two messages “we don’t have to show you anything unless we judge it to be unusual” and “we don’t have to report all recordable finds to PAS.” It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if PAS, CBA and Rescue pointed this out to farmers and explained that only the official code will do. Any chance?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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