A video calling for metal detecting to be legalised in Ireland has just been published. It claims that unlicensed metal detecting in England and Wales is a triumph and uses the familiar tactic of highlighting some positives (in this case that Norwich Castle Museum is replete with detecting finds!) to imply that detectorists in general conform to good practice (“mutual respect and a closely forged partnership”!) If only that was true! We could be campaigning for artefact hunting to be on the national curriculum and for the whole population to be doing it for the national benefit!” Maybe the Norwich archaeologists should be calling for that?! Or maybe they should talk to CBA, EH or even PAS who are in a rather better position to know the wider reality of the activity?

Unfortunately it rather looks as if they’ve been dragged unwittingly into personally endorsing the introduction of unlicensed English-style detecting in Ireland, merely on the basis of their local experience – even though nationally most English and Welsh finds don’t get reported to PAS and the resultant net knowledge loss is scandalous (which neither CBA,  nor EH nor PAS will deny). It seems a bit like someone being manoevered into appearing to say “shoplifters don’t come in my shop so it can’t be a problem elsewhere and laws to control it should be ripped up in an adjacent friendly independent country!”

I suspect if editorial control had been in Norwich some acute embarrassment would have been avoided. Indeed, just a bit of wider enquiry would have avoided it. Looking at PAS’s statistics would have been enough. The fact CBA, EH and PAS weren’t appearing on the video was another huge clue. There was also an even more massive warning light flashing in plain sight – a public comment made by none other than the author of the video, Mr Nolan, about another recent video titled “Ireland’s First Metal Detecting Rally“. That video documented a recent blatantly criminal event in Co Wicklow which appalled Irish archaeologists. The comment he added to it was “Well done everyone!

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“Well done”?

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(Image Source) In the words of Robert M Chapple http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/sixty-three-thousand-euros-or-twelve.html , Irish archaeologist:

In the words of Irish Archaeologist Stuart Rathbone (as quoted by Robert M Chapple) :  “One of the 15 participants at the Wicklow rally busily committing heritage crime. Apparently the participants donated 150 Euro’s to a local charity after the event. Hopefully they will soon be making far larger ‘donations’ considering the maximum penalty for illegal Metal Detecting is a €63,486 fine”

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. After a brief Introduction, part two discussed the Greenland rock carvings. We then considered the Sheep Hill forts. In this final part, we now look at the evidence for a link between the two sites, and what the future may hold.

Were the two sites linked?

The construction of the timber-framed dun is such an obvious explanation for the prehistoric damage suffered by the cup-and ring rock that it may reasonably be adopted as a working hypothesis, albeit one that has to be tested (below). One clear implication of it is that the great double disc symbol on a flat surface exposed by the ancient quarrying had to date to the 10th or 9th centuries BC at the earliest and this is extremely surprising if the majority of such rock carving took place in Neolithic times (Burgess 1990). Yet it is not impossible; such skills could have been handed down for many centuries by families of specialist carvers who could have practised their skills occasionally on existing carved rocks; it would probably be quite hard to detect such additions under normal circumstances. Also there is no doubt that the double disc symbol was known in the Late Bronze Age as it occurs on a few socketed bronze axes in Scotland and NE England (MacKie 1991, 147, pl. 10); these are known as the Sompting type (Schmidt & Burgess, 1981, 243-44).

However the most exciting aspect of this hypothesis is surely the social one. It is hard not to infer that the damaged and re-carved rock means that there were two distinct social groups in the area in the Late Bronze Age – namely the timber-framed fort builders and the descendants of the Neolithic peoples who had venerated the rock carvings for centuries and who retained some of their carving skills. The fort builders could have been a new elite – either local or immigrant but armed with new bronze weapons and evidently with little respect for the local traditions. The re-carving of the rock with a fine double disc after it had been badly damaged suggests a defiance of the new order but in a relatively harmless manner. A parallel with invading Normans and defeated Saxons might be appropriate. The phenomenon of Sheep Hill and the Greenland rock carvings is to my knowledge unique in the British Isles and the sites should surely be preserved for that alone.

Testing the hypothesis

Fortunately the hypothesis can be tested and clear proof of it could be forthcoming. If it is correct there should be on Sheep Hill many fragments of the heated sandstone of which the carved rock is formed, a few perhaps with cup-and-ring carvings on them. A thorough rescue excavation before Sheep Hill is quarried away should find this evidence. However I hope it will never come to that; it might be awkward for archaeologists to find such evidence who had been hired by Thompsons of Dumbarton, especially when there is a suspicion that it was such a group which in 2013 wrote (anonymously) and circulated an attempted refutation of my views on the two sites. In fact it would be easy to find the evidence without disturbing the interiors of the forts. There is just under the turf a vast pile of stone debris at the foot of the cliff-like northern side of the summit the lower part of which should be the debris of the timber-framed wall; it could be explored quite easily. It is already known that rocks were imported on to the site to build the timber-framed wall. Its boulder foundation was exposed during the original excavations and two of the boulders were identified as imports, one of quartzite and the other of sandstone (MacKie 1991, 146 & pl. 9).

Illus. 7. Map of the area westwards from Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, showing how the proposed heritage trail might be laid out. [1] is the Roman fort, [2] the length of Antonine Wall on relatively low, flat and open ground where a section might be excavated add the barrier reconstructed, [3] is the proposed footpath connecting the Roman remains to Sheep Hill fort [4] and the cup-and-ring carved rock [5].

Illus. 7. Map of the area westwards from Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, showing how the proposed heritage trail might be laid out. [1] is the Roman fort, [2] the length of Antonine Wall on relatively low, flat and open ground where a section might be excavated add the barrier reconstructed, [3] is the proposed footpath connecting the Roman remains to Sheep Hill fort [4] and the cup-and-ring carved rock [5].

A possible archaeological heritage trail at Old Kilpatrick?

If Sheep Hill can be preserved from being quarried, the cup-and-ring rock – now stored in the National Museums in Edinburgh – could eventually be re-assembled in its original position and this unique pair of sites could be brought together again. Alternatively a replica could be built there. The quarry’s licence apparently expires in the early 2030s so their future should be safe after that. The existence only 2.5 km to the east of the western end of the Antonine Roman wall – now a World Heritage Site – suggests that the West Dumbartonshire Council could then organise what would surely be one of the most interesting archaeological trails in the country. Illus. 7 shows how it might be laid out; the numbered points on the map are identified below.

The fort at the western end of the Wall [1] is in Old Kilpatrick and, though excavated, is largely inaccessible under a housing estate. However a visitor centre could surely be set up nearby with a car park and could house some of the finds from the site and replicas of the Roman inscribed stones which were found there. A footbridge over, or a tunnel under, the dual carriageway immediately to the north (the A82) could be constructed to lead to the open ground there where the Antonine Wall and its ditch curve round to the east [2]; about 100m of it there might be excavated and reconstructed, thus providing (so far) an unique insight into what the northernmost frontier of the Empire looked like when it was intact. A footpath [3] could then run for 2.5 km westwards along the lower slopes of the Kilpatrick Hills up to Sheep Hill [4] with a short extension northwards to the Greenland 1 rock carvings [5]. Needless to say signposts and explanatory notice boards would be essential.

One intriguing aspect of such a tourist trail is that it could be presented as a step-by-step journey into the past. The Antonine Wall was built during the second Roman invasion of Scotland, from about AD 140 onwards, and was the northernmost formal frontier of the Empire in Europe. The fort at Old Kilpatrick defended the western end of the Wall where it ran down to the river Clyde and this may well have been the time at which the second fort on nearby Sheep Hill was abandoned – either out of caution or because it was attacked and destroyed by the Roman Army. Any future excavations could look for signs of that. Thus Sheep Hill 2 is a vivid example of a later native stronghold of the pre-Roman Iron Age. The primary timber-framed fort takes us back to the Late Bronze Age – perhaps in the 9th century BC – with all the various possibilities of the arrival of newcomers armed with bronze swords. We now know that cup-and-ring carving skills were very probably still present in the area at the time and were exercised then, possibly in defiance of the newcomers after the carved rock had been damaged by them. The original carved surface takes us right back to Neolithic times.

The present situation concerning quarrying.

Sheep Hill was scheduled as an ancient monument by the then Dept. of the Environment in 1970, after brief accounts of my excavations were published. I do not know when the cup-and ring rocks were scheduled but they were de-scheduled by Historic Scotland at the quarry firm’s request, probably soon after 1984 when I was asked to record them. In 1994 the carvings were sawn off and taken to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. Sheep Hill was de-scheduled in about 2005, again at the quarry company’s request. At a meeting with Historic Scotland in Edinburgh Thompson’s representative apparently argued that there were no signs of human activity on Sheep Hill. My verbal assurances that there were, and the preliminary account of the excavations I published in 1976, were evidently not enough and a member of Historic Scotland was sent to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow University to examine the finds and the records. Descheduling went ahead anyway, but the quarry failed to take advantage of this and the hillfort automatically became a scheduled monument again five years later. Now Thompson’s have to re-apply for de-scheduling prior to quarrying and there does not seem to be any doubt this will be granted again; if it is not granted the quarry firm will demand full compensation and it seems that no-one is willing to pay this. One understands that Historic Scotland is expected to accede to what the Scottish Government wants and the Minister for Local Government and Planning – Derek Mackay – has made it quite clear that no compensation will be forthcoming from that quarter. The only obstacle now is that West Dunbartonshire Council now have legal powers to issue a ROMP (Review of Mineral Permission) in which it could set new conditions that the quarry firm would have to abide by – for example to limit the environmental damage in some way. The only realistic hope now is that the archaeological uniqueness of the sites becomes more widely known and appreciated, and that consequent protests from the public will cause the Minister to think again. In the year of the referendum for an independent Scotland it would be sad if the present Scottish government allowed the destruction of such a unique pair of Scottish sites.

Our foremost chronicler of prehistoric rock carvings in Scotland, Ronald Morris, wrote of the Greenland carvings, “This is one of the finest examples of these carved rock surfaces in Scotland.” (1981, 103). It is surely nothing short of a national scandal that this priceless treasure was broken up and removed to make way for heaps of quarried rubble and I fully accept that I should have objected much more strongly about it at the time. The whole episode is an interesting example of how even professional archaeologists can simply assume that the public bodies that are supposed to protect our heritage are always able to do so. I have learnt the lesson and – being retired and less vulnerable – do not propose to let Sheep Hill go without vehement objections.

Bibliography

  • Bruce, J 1896 ‘Notice of remarkable groups of archaic sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 30 (1895-1896), 205-209.
  • Burgess, C 1990 The chronology of cup-and-ring marks in Atlantic Europe. Revue Archaeol Ouest, suppl. no. 2, 157-71.
  • Cowie, T (forth) Ceramic material associated with metalworking from Sheep Hill, Dumbarton. In MacKie forthcoming.
  • Davidson, J M 1935 A Bronze Age cemetery at Knappers, Kilbowie, Dunbartonshire. Proc. Soc. Antiq Scot 69 (1935-36), 352-82.
  • Davis, A 1991 Part 2: the metrology of the carvings. Pp. 150-55 in MacKie 1991.
  • MacKie, E W 1976 The vitrified forts of Scotland, in D.W. Harding (ed) Hillforts: later prehistoric earthworks in Britain and Ireland. Academic Press: London. 205-35.
    –– 1991 New light on Neolithic rock carving: the petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dumbartonshire. Glasgow Archaeol Journ 15 (1988-89), 125-56 (with A Davis).
    –– 2008 The broch cultures of Atlantic Scotland: origins, high noon and decline. Part 1: Early Iron Age beginnings c. 700 – 200 BC. Oxford Journ Archaeol 27(3) (2008), 261-79.
    –– forth. Trial excavations on Sheep Hill, West Dunbartonshire,in 1966-70; a possible timber palisade, a late Bronze Age timber-framed dun and a small Iron Age hillfort. Scott. Arch. Journ.
  • Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway). Oxford.
  • Schmidt, P K & Burgess, C B 1981 The axes of Scotland and northern England. Prahistorische Bronzefunde, ab IX, band 7. Munich.

We are indebted to Dr MacKie for permission to help build awareness of this remarkable site.

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. Please read the Introduction first. Part two discussed the Greenland rock carvings. We now move on to consider the Sheep Hill forts.

The Sheep Hill forts

Timber-framed hillforts tend to be situated on the north-east, south-east, south-west and western fringes of the Highland zone and Sheep Hill is one of the few close to the urban areas of Central Scotland (MacKie 1976, fig. 6). In addition an analysis of the strongholds by size shows that most are true hillforts, even if occasionally quite small (MacKie 1976, 233 ff). There are three situated within the highland zone, where arable land is in much smaller patches than in Aberdeenshire, which are of roundhouse size and enclose from about 100 to 200 square yards. The primary stronghold at Sheep Hill is not as small as that and encloses about 1350 square metres but it is better classed as a largish stone dun rather than a hillfort; it was probably roofed along the inside wall face and was doubtless suitable for the residence of a chiefly extended family and its followers. The destruction of this dun by fire and probably by later demolition was complete; a small length of vitrified wall core was found on the south-west margin of the area enclosed (marked ‘v’ in Illus. 5) and this gave a clue to how far the dun had extended in that direction; it seems only to have occupied the summit of the hill, an area marked in yellow on Illus. 5. A trench across the probable northern part of the wall, at the top of the north cliff of the hilltop, failed to find a clear occupation layer.

My limited excavations of 1967-69 revealed that a larger and more complex hillfort defended by ramparts, was built after the dún was destroyed and that masses of the heated stones from the original building were used in it. In 1969 there was no reason to study the geological origin of this debris but I recall that it was – as one would expect – mostly of basalt fragments. The later hillfort is not easy to date (as explained below two C14 dates for it probably relate to the first fort) but it may well have gone out of use when the Roman Army established itself on the north bank of the Clyde nearby. Finds were fewer than in the dún midden (below) but included a large number of fragments of shale bracelets, as well as many pieces of shale which showed that a bracelet workshop existed on the site – a very rare find. Shale ornaments can be given a black shiny surface by polishing and were popular in the Iron Age.

Illus. 5. Contour plan of Sheep Hill showing the positions of the fortifications and enclosures. The approximate outline of the Phase 1 vitrified (timber-framed) dun is in yellow and the ramparts of the Phase 2 hillfort are in blue. The southern entrance of the second fort is protected by a triangular annexe with its own entrance, which is itself protected by a short traverse. The excavated trenches are marked. The wall of both fort seems to have run along the same track at the top of the steep northern edge of the Hill.

Illus. 5. Contour plan of Sheep Hill showing the positions of the fortifications and enclosures. The approximate outline of the Phase 1 vitrified (timber-framed) dun is in yellow and the ramparts of the Phase 2 hillfort are in blue. The southern entrance of the second fort is protected by a triangular annexe with its own entrance, which is itself protected by a short traverse. The excavated trenches are marked. The wall of both fort seems to have run along the same track at the top of the steep northern edge of the Hill.

The southernmost rampart of the hillfort was cut through and revealed a midden underneath its core, which evidently continued in use after vitrification, presumably by survivors who seem to have camped on the southern part of the hill top for a while. The reason for supposing this, and for not inferring that the midden was simply a refuse tip for the dun, is that a rim sherd of gritty Dunagoil ware was found in the midden which had itself been partly vitrified by intense heat; in other words the sherd had been heated when the dun was set on fire and partly vitrified and was then swept into the midden with other later material. The date of the midden was ascertained by two methods – a C14 date and dateable mould fragments.

Firstly another Dunagoil ware rim sherd was recovered of the kind of Early Iron Age carinated pottery that has been well dated to about 700-500 BC in Orkney (MacKie 2008, 265). Organic residue on this sherd gave a date of 2490 ± 30 bp, or 780-500 BC (SUERC-26969) at a 92.1% level of confidence).

Illus. 6: rim sherd of Dunagoil ware from the midden under the rampart on the southern edge of Fort 2. It has been severely burned and vitrified into a coke-like substance, presumably when the timber-framed dun was destroyed by fire.

Illus. 6: rim sherd of Dunagoil ware from the midden under the rampart on the southern edge of Fort 2. It has been severely burned and vitrified into a coke-like substance, presumably when the timber-framed dun was destroyed by fire.

This seems likely to reflect the destruction of the timber-framed dun. Secondly there were fragments of moulds for casting bronze tools and weapons in the midden, including types consistent with the Ewart Park phase of the Scottish Late Bronze Age metalwork sequence, which is dated to about 1000-800 BC. (Cowie forthcoming) (MacKie 1976, Fig. 3. This suggests that the bronze moulds date from a an earlier time than the carinated sherd – to one when the timber -framed dun was intact and occupied. The midden was therefore probably used both during and after the occupation of the dun.

That the actual construction of the timber-framed dun took place during the Ewart Park phase of Late Bronze Age metalworking is shown by one of two more C14 dates obtained in 2012 from charcoal which was actually found on the floor of the second hillfort, just within its southern main rampart. Since one date was slightly older than that for the stratigraphically earlier sherd in the sub-rampart midden it would seem to follow that large amounts of charcoal from the burnt wooden elements of the original dun were strewn about the site and became incorporated into the later floor levels. The charcoal could either be from wooden parts of the original building or from later constructions; the extensive timber-framing of the stone wall surely makes the former more likely (all date spans are expressed in terms of a confidence level of 93.5%). The dates are 2485 ± 30 bp, or 780-490 BC (SUERC-20968) and a more accurate one of 2605 ± 30 bp, or 830-760 BC (SUERC-26966). In addition a charcoal sample resting on rock, and which probably belongs to an earlier occupation (perhaps a palisaded enclosure ), gave a date of 3095 ± 30 bp, or 1440-1290 BC (SUERC-26967). All things considered a date for the construction of the timber-framed dun in about the 9th century BC, or perhaps the 10th, seems most probable.

Next: Were the two sites linked? 

Nixon

News release from Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort:

Post-election announcement on hillfort housing could be on the cards

Officials may be keeping a lid on the outcome of controversial proposals for housing close to Old Oswestry hillfort in Shropshire until after the election, say campaigners.

The speculation follows further delays to the expected publication of Inspector Claire Sherratt’s findings on SAMDEV, Shropshire Council’s development blueprint to 2026. The plan includes a fiercely opposed bid to extend Oswestry’s urban edge into the hillfort’s Iron Age landscape for the construction of a large housing estate.

Campaign group, HOOOH (Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort), was originally told that the modified plan would appear by around the middle of February for final consultation. But publication continues to be delayed, with administrators now saying it won’t be until ‘at least the end of April’.

John Waine of HOOOH said: “It’s fair to say that we are very disappointed with the delays in the modified SAMDev plan. It seems that publication may not come through until after the election and people will make up their own minds as to whether this move is politically-motivated or not.”

He added: “From the point of view of HOOOH’s campaign, now coming up to two years, we believe that the case for removal of OSW004 is overwhelming, and we have provided clear evidence to that conclusion with growing support from all quarters.”

Thousands of people, including 8,000+ petition signatories, have voiced their opposition to the hillfort estate during several stages of public consultation across three years. HOOOH believes the protracted delay in a decision on the bitterly contested development is stretching public faith in localism to the very limit. Campaigners say it would be a highly cynical move to postpone what is a politically incendiary planning judgment into post-election safety.

Campaigner Neil Phillips said: “Shropshire Council has refused to take notice of the overwhelming consensus against this very short-sighted development. Not only will it be extremely damaging to the hillfort’s heritage significance, it will also erode its tourism value which creates jobs and brings spend to the County.”

He added: “If we think our voice is not being heard in public consultation, we can always use our 2015 election vote on candidates that can demonstrate they are genuine and active heritage champions.”

Mr Waine said: “Going forward, it is clear that Old Oswestry hillfort is a precious heritage asset of national and international significance, and as such, requires protection from some form of heritage greenbelt.  The well-received BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Making History’, which was partly recorded on the hillfort, is recognition of the fact that it has a worldwide audience keen to know more.

“Whatever the outcome, the campaign will continue to work hard to protect, promote and celebrate the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ and the ancient heart of Oswestry for the town, the county and the country as a whole.”

Speaking on the ‘Making History’ programme, the esteemed archaeology academic and author, Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, and MP Tim Loughton MP called for the wider protection of heritage landscape.

Professor Cunliffe is among 12 eminent academics who have signed an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, and Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, objecting to OSW004. In it they write: “If the bar for acceptable development under the NPPF does not protect the setting of even our most significant heritage sites, then we set a potentially calamitous precedent for the greater part of the nation’s historic environment.”

As well as thousands of objectors via petition and on social media, the hillfort housing bid is opposed by numerous stakeholders, heritage and environmental groups. They include Oswestry Town Council, Selattyn & Gobowen Parish Council, RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust), Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), The Prehistoric Society, The Society of Antiquaries of London,  Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology Group, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Heritage Action (Heritage Journal), and Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, director of The Council for British Archaeology (CBA).

ENDS

More info from Kate Clarke on 01691 652918 or 07835 924069 or John Waine on 07972 113619,

Twitter: @OldOswestryFort
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort
Web: http://oldoswestryhillfort.co.uk/

Open letter from senior British academics: http://www.britac.ac.uk/news/news.cfm/newsid/1209

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. Please read the Introduction before we look closer at the Greenland rock carvings.

The Greenland rock carvings

The recording work for Historic Scotland undertaken in 1984 involved de-turfing the outcrop and was the first time that the full extent of the Neolithic cup-and-ring carvings had been exposed, although much of the turf had been rolled back by John Bruce in 1895 (Bruce 1986, 205-08: MacKie 1991 Plate 1) who found them while examining the nearby vitrified fort (then called Ardconnel Hill. He also commented on the fresh appearance of the double-disc symbol which contrasted with the weathered condition of many of the others. The late R WB Morris exposed many carvings probably in the 1970s; indeed his map of the site is very similar to the one made in 1984 (Morris 1981, Fig. 64; MacKie 1991, Fig. 3). Details of the kinds of symbols present, and their numbers, are in the latter report. A statistical study of the sizes of the carved rings was carried out and it appeared likely that a unit of length of 2.07cm had been used to lay out the symbols of both phases of carving (Davis 1991). This study was based on tracings of the carvings and on the assumption that most of the rings consisted of a number of carefully drawn arcs rather than true circles.

Illus. 3. The two phases of carving on Greenland 1. The left view is of the double disc symbol with, on the right, one of the rock surface immediately to its right. The slight overlap between the pictures can be seen in the appearance in both of the rather rough cup-and ring mark immediately to the right of the double disc. The much fresher appearance of the double disc is apparent, as is the more weathered condition of the symbols to its right. Likewise the surface on which the double disc is carved is flat and has clearly been exposed by the splitting off of slabs; the more rounded and uneven glaciated original surface is clear on the right. Slight damage to the double disc was caused later, evidently by more slab removal 

Illus. 3. The two phases of carving on Greenland 1. The left view is of the double disc symbol with, on the right, one of the rock surface immediately to its right. The slight overlap between the pictures can be seen in the appearance in both of the rather rough cup-and ring mark immediately to the right of the double disc. The much fresher appearance of the double disc is apparent, as is the more weathered condition of the symbols to its right. Likewise the surface on which the double disc is carved is flat and has clearly been exposed by the splitting off of slabs; the more rounded and uneven glaciated original surface is clear on the right. Slight damage to the double disc was caused later, evidently by more slab removal

The most important feature of Greenland 1 was not appreciated for some months after the fieldwork had been completed – namely that the carvings had been done in two distinct phases; this is a good example of how orthodox views – and deductive reasoning based on them – can subconsciously prevent even an archaeologist who prides himself on being unorthodox when necessary from seeing what is right in front of him. The general view of the sandstone raft in Illus. 2 shows the two phases clearly. The original surface of the rock, on which most of the symbols occurred, had been smoothed and rounded by glacial activity, presumably during the last ice age; the symbols on this surface were somewhat weathered.

At an unknown later date the rock was subjected to extensive quarrying which removed some of that primary surface and exposed, flatter fresher surfaces, reflecting the horizontal stratification of the sandstone. A few carvings were found on these later surfaces, including the finest on the site – a large double disc symbol which had presumably come into fashion after the first phase of carving (Illus. 3, left). But that was not the end of the story; a further episode of damage took place which opened up an even lower rock surface next to the double disc and removed a small part of it . Several clear illustrations of the two phases of carving have been published (MacKie 1991 Plates 4a and 4b, Plates 6 & 7), and the first two are reproduced here (Illus. 3: the original captions were reversed.

Illus. 4. General view of Greenland no. 1 being de-turfed in 1984 with the quarry in the background.

Illus. 4. General view of Greenland no. 1 being de-turfed in 1984 with the quarry in the background.

As far as I am aware this is an unique situation among the cup-and-ring carved rocks of Britain, and it immediately raises the question of when the quarrying, and the second phase of carving took place. The obvious solution is, assuming the original carvings to be of Neolithic age (Burgess 1990), is that the arrival in the area of the fashion for single grave burial in the Early Bronze Age created a demand for a large number of flat slabs from which to make the short, lidded cists (stone boxes) which the new rite required. This explanation has the advantage of not needing the secondary carvings to be much later than the primary ones. This option was considered in the report but there are no such cists close to the Greenland rock carvings; the nearest known (poorly recorded because of destruction) were in a sand quarry at Knapper’s Farm about 5km to the SSE (Davidson 1935). This hypothesis could of course be tested by examining the composition of the cist slabs of any other reasonably near single graves but as far as I am aware this has not been done.

There is a more obvious alternative explanation for the damaging of the carvings which is that it coincided with the construction of the timber-framed dun on Sheep Hill about 200m to the south. A timber framed drystone wall needs skilful construction anyway but the availability of the hardened sandstone nearby may have led the chief for whom the stronghold was being built to require the certain parts of the wall – around the entrance passage perhaps – were built particularly neatly. The implications of this hypothesis, if correct, are profound, not least because the secondary carvings have to be many centuries later than the primary one..

Next: The Sheep Hill forts

People often ask why we’re so strongly opposed to laissez faire artefact hunting, especially rallies. It’s evidence and logic mostly, but sometimes it’s emotion.  Here’s our article from ten years ago about a full frontal assault on our beloved Avebury:

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ten years ago.

Unfortunately little has changed since then and in the subsequent ten years there have been many more rallies and club digs near Avebury and about 30,000 more nationally. Since PAS says most metal detecting finds aren’t reported the information loss from those rallies has to have been vast. The most PAS can bring itself to say is that they “aren’t fans” of big rallies whereas what they mean is they oppose them. Of course they do, they conflict with all notions of conservation good sense and public morality worldwide.

How much longer will it be before educated Britain is told exactly that by officialdom? Will we have another ten years in which they continue to be presented with a false picture, as typified by this soothing but wildly inaccurate claim by an academic at the UCL Institute of Archaeology: “metal detecting without reporting finds is nearly as reprehensible and harmful to heritage as excavating without publishing. Fortunately the Portable Antiquities Scheme and its hard-earned relationship with the metal detecting community offers a practical, pragmatic and proven solution to this problem Reprehensible and harmful but fortunately solved by the existence of PAS? Hardly. He really should go to a rally, preferably near Avebury or indeed at any of the unprotected archaeological sites that are invariably targeted by rally organisers (as they can make more money that way), or familiarise himself with the rules of detecting clubs, almost none of which make reporting obligatory (why???) or simplest of all, talk to a PAS staff member in private.

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction.

Quarrying may destroy two uniquely linked prehistoric sites of different eras

Summary

On the north bank of the Clyde a few miles west of Glasgow there are two scheduled prehistoric sites of considerable archaeological interest. Sheep Hill is a small two period hillfort on a prominent volcanic plug which is threatened with destruction by the local quarry; one of the finest cup-and ring carvings in Scotland used to be two hundred metres to its north but at the demand of the quarry the carvings were sawn off in 1994 and are now stored in the National Museums in Edinburgh. Historic Scotland allowed that to happen and is now prepared to let the hillfort go. In theory the carvings could be restored to their original site when the quarry’s licence expires. It seems that neither the local authority in West Dumbartonshire nor the Scottish Government is willing or able to pay the required compensation to the quarry company to save Sheep Hill. I carried out excavations on Sheep Hill in 1966-69 and recorded the rock carvings for Historic Scotland in 1984 and am convinced that not only are the sites worth saving in their own right but that they were actually connected in ancient times. It seems that when the first, timber-framed, stronghold was built in about 900 BC the nearby carved rock was quarried for building material, destroying many carvings; however the Neolithic tradition of cup-and-ring carvings was still alive locally and new ones were cut on to the freshly exposed surfaces, including a very fine double disc symbol. This hypothesis could be tested in any future excavations and if correct would make the two sites unique in Britain. The mere possibility of such a relationship means that Sheep Hill must be preserved.

Euan W. MacKie

Illus. 1: view of Sheep Hill fort – on the flat-topped summit in the centre – from the village of Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire. The scene shows how devastating to the environment the quarrying of the volcanic plug would be; the view of the Kilpatrick Hills from the south has remained unspoiled until now. Dumbarton Rock is just to the right of the church tower.

Illus. 1: view of Sheep Hill fort – on the flat-topped summit in the centre – from the village of Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire. The scene shows how devastating to the environment the quarrying of the volcanic plug would be; the view of the Kilpatrick Hills from the south has remained unspoiled until now. Dumbarton Rock is just to the right of the church tower.

Introduction

Sheep Hill is a two period hillfort situated on a volcanic plug of basalt on the Kilpatrick Hills north of the river Clyde in West Dunbartonshire, Central Scotland; it was partially excavated by the me in the late 1960s (1976). This conspicuous site (Illus. 1, above) overlooks the western end of the Antonine Wall at Old Kilpatrick – the northernmost frontier of Roman Britain which was built in about AD 140 under the emperor Antoninus Pius and functioned for about twenty years. The fact that neither of the two phases of Sheep Hill produced any Roman finds, despite the proximity of the Old Kilpatrick terminal fort, suggests that the hilltop was abandoned before the Romans established the frontier in about AD 80, using a line of forts more or less along the track of the later wall. The original fortification on Sheep Hill was a small dun with a timber-framed stone wall, enclosing a roughly oval area on the summit of about 40 by 43m; the stronghold came to a violent and fiery end when the timber -framed wall was burned. The consequent ‘vitrified fort’ was, according to the available radiocarbon dates, probably built in the 9th century BC and destroyed perhaps two centuries later.

The vast quantities of heated basalt fragments which were on the hilltop after the fire were later re-used to build a larger enclosure with earth and stone ramparts. The builders of Sheep Hill 2 made use of the natural terraces of the basalt summit to produce an enclosure containing several smaller enclosures; the central part of the hillfort seems to have been the summit of the hill, more or less the area enclosed by the earlier timber-framed wall. The southernmost rampart – together with a rubble stone pavement immediately north of it – was found to overlie a midden which had evidently accumulated downhill from the timberframed dun after it had been destroyed, this providing useful stratigraphical proof of the two distinct occupations. No signs were seen suggesting that the hillfort had been destroyed; it seems just to have been abandoned. Sheep Hill was scheduled as an ancient monument in 1970, and a summary account of the excavations was published a few years later (MacKie 1976, 211-14). The full excavation report will appear soon in the Scottish Archaeological Journal.

The Kilpatrick Hills slope steeply upwards from the Clyde and Sheep Hill is at the top of this slope (Illus. 1 & 7); immediately to the north however is a slightly lower area of flat ground, itself surrounded by slightly higher hills. In this natural amphitheatre was an outcrop with one of the most complex and spectacular cup-and-ring markings in southern Scotland, known as the Greenland (after a nearby farm) or the Auchentorlie (after a nearby house) cup-and-ring carvings (Morris 1981, 98-103). This may seem surprising in view of the prevailing basalt rock – highly unsuitable for carving – but the two groups of cup-andring marks are in fact on what are known as ‘rafts’ of sandstone which floated into their positions on rivers of lava in the eruptions of millions of years ago. The sandstone blocks of course were heated and hardened in the process and thus made more suitable for carving.

Illus. 2: high angle view of the main Greenland carved rock (no. 1) – a metamorphosed sandstone raft which was detached from its parent outcrop and floated to its present position by volcanic activity in Carboniferous times. It can be seen that the outcrop has been quarried in ancient times, presumably because the heat-hardened sandstone – which clearly breaks off into flat slabs – was useful for building. The old glaciated surface of the rock, bearing the more weathered carvings, occupies most of the rock next to the vertical edge at lower right. Pieces have clearly been hacked away on the left hand side (and probably also along all the lower edge), leaving flatter surfaces on which are the fresher, younger carvings. The most spectacular of these is the double disc symbol at top left which is shown in close-up in Illus. 3. Further damage to the rock was evidently done after this symbol was carved; part of one of the discs is missing at a step which defines an even lower area of rock on the left.

Illus. 2: high angle view of the main Greenland carved rock (no. 1) – a metamorphosed sandstone raft which was detached from its parent outcrop and floated to its present position by volcanic activity in Carboniferous times. It can be seen that the outcrop has been quarried in ancient times, presumably because the heat-hardened sandstone – which clearly breaks off into flat slabs – was useful for building. The old glaciated surface of the rock, bearing the more weathered carvings, occupies most of the rock next to the vertical edge at lower right. Pieces have clearly been hacked away on the left hand side (and probably also along all the lower edge), leaving flatter surfaces on which are the fresher, younger carvings. The most spectacular of these is the double disc symbol at top left which is shown in close-up in Illus. 3. Further damage to the rock was evidently done after this symbol was carved; part of one of the discs is missing at a step which defines an even lower area of rock on the left.

Unfortunately for the national archaeological heritage, in about 1972 the quarry firm Thompsons of Dumbarton acquired the Auchentorlie estate from its previous owner, Cdr. Alexander-Sinclair, presumably because of the availability of the hard volcanic rock. A few years later operations began just to the north of Sheep Hill and the owners eventually applied to Historic Scotland to remove the main carved outcrop as they wished to use the space for storage. This was agreed to and in 1984 I was asked to record the rock carvings (MacKie & Davis 1991). In 1994 the carvings were sawn off and the pieces taken for storage to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Now Messrs Thompson wish to quarry away Sheep Hill itself and Historic Scotland has also agreed to this in principle. I am trying to prevent this on the grounds that, if the Hill is preserved, then when the quarry’s license runs out in about 2040, it would be possible to restore the rock carvings to their original position close by, using either the originals or exact replicas of them, and thus to preserve an unique pair of sites. Their uniqueness is not just a matter of the propinquity of two radically different types of prehistoric monument just north of the Roman wall – although this alone should make them an interesting attraction for tourists if proper access was arranged – but because there might well have been a link between the two sites in ancient times which, if genuine, would make the pair the only one of its type in Britain.

Illus. 3. The two phases of carving on Greenland 1. The left view is of the double disc symbol with, on the right, one of the rock surface immediately to its right. The slight overlap between the pictures can be seen in the appearance in both of the rather rough cup-and ring mark immediately to the right of the double disc. The much fresher appearance of the double disc is apparent, as is the more weathered condition of the symbols to its right. Likewise the surface on which the double disc is carved is flat and has clearly been exposed by the splitting off of slabs; the more rounded and uneven glaciated original surface is clear on the right. Slight damage to the double disc was caused later, evidently by more slab removal 

Illus. 3. The two phases of carving on Greenland 1. The left view is of the double disc symbol with, on the right, one of the rock surface immediately to its right. The slight overlap between the pictures can be seen in the appearance in both of the rather rough cup-and ring mark immediately to the right of the double disc. The much fresher appearance of the double disc is apparent, as is the more weathered condition of the symbols to its right. Likewise the surface on which the double disc is carved is flat and has clearly been exposed by the splitting off of slabs; the more rounded and uneven glaciated original surface is clear on the right. Slight damage to the double disc was caused later, evidently by more slab removal

Next: The Greenland rock carvings

So where HAVE they gone? Speculation has been rife since they were spirited away “for servicing” [what, all of them?] and possible “design improvements” and English Heritage announced, unhelpfully, that “they have all gone for the moment. They went about a week ago. We do not know when they will be back”. One bystander suggested they were going to be converted into luxury holiday cottages for Druids. Someone else thinks they are going to be tipped up to create a new and lucrative attraction to be called Trainhenge.

Me, I have another theory. It’s about the fact that down in Cornwall, as Sandy Gerrard has explained,  Historic England have hit on a moneymaking wheeze. They have said yes to planning permission saying that one reason is that it will result in finance to benefit the monument that is being damaged. Not a bribe you understand, just basing a decision on monetary benefits. As Sandy says, once housing developers get to hear that Historic England will support the destruction of the historic environment in return for a promise to care for what remains, it will be open season on our heritage. 

So maybe that’s where the land trains have gone …. Historic England have got ’em, have given them a new paint job and are going to drive them up and down the country bringing the good news to developers?

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HE Planning

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Leeden Tor stone alignment in the Meavy Valley on Dartmoor is examined.

LeedonMap

On the eastern slopes of Leeden Tor is a single stone row leading downhill from a somewhat maltreated cairn at SX 56524 71473. The alignment is at least 165m long and includes twelve stones, most of which are recumbent. Much of the damage to the cairn was probably caused during the Bronze Age when a reave (field boundary) was built over it. Lack of respect for antiquities is not a modern phenomenon but in this instance at least this behaviour has enabled us to establish with certainty that the cairn and row are earlier than the reave which is of Middle Bronze Age date. We can also be fairly confident that the ritual practices connected with the row had fallen from favour and now the area was being brought into agricultural use and the old rituals abandoned. We have already seen this type of behaviour at Hook Lake and it is clearly part of a widespread pattern. The evidence for the stone alignments being damaged in the Middle Bronze Age serves as a poignant reminder that changing beliefs and attitudes have consequences. What was once so important to the people living on Dartmoor became an irrelevance and the previous special places became mundane and disposable.  The Middle Bronze Age people on Dartmoor had no time for the rituals of earlier generations although perhaps an element of superstition ensured that the fabric of the earlier beliefs was not entirely swept away – for this we should be grateful.

The Leeden Tor alignment stands within an incredibly rich archaeological landscape including large numbers of cairns and stone alignments as well as Middle Bronze Age settlements, enclosures and field systems. The stone alignments at Hart Tor and Stanlake are visible from here and indeed seem to share noteworthy visual inter-relationships, some of which are considered below.

LeedonPlan

Simplified map showing the relative positions of the Leeden Tor, Stanlake and Hart Tor stone alignments. The Middle Bronze Age settlements in the vicinity are shown in black.

 Leedon01

 The lower end of the stone alignment. View from the north.

 Views from the alignment

A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the lower end (east), the second from the point mid-way along the length of the row and the third from the cairn at the top of the alignment.

LeedonGE01

Standing at the lowest point (eastern end) of the row a very restricted view towards the sea is visible.  It is hard to convey in words just how fleeting this sight of the sea is.  A few metres upslope (west) from this point the view is lost behind the lower slopes of Leeden Tor whilst about 20m to the east the sea vanishes behind Sharpitor.  We cannot be certain that the row terminated at this point but it is at this point and only at this point along its entire length that a view of the sea exists. This would suggest a very strong element of deliberation and provides further evidence to support the crucial link between alignments and the sea.

LeedonGE02

Ten metres west of the bottom of the alignment the sea is no longer visible.  Another huge coincidence or is the alignment acknowledging a link to the sea?  If so, the views to the sea must have been special to those who built the alignment and could have played a part in the rituals.

LeedonGE03

The sea remains hidden from view at the top of the row. An alternative view towards the east provides a further insight into why visual connections are likely to have been important to those who built and used the alignments.

LeedonGE04

From the top of the row the alignments at Hart Tor and the double row at Stanlake are visible (shown red).  The Stanlake row would have been particular impressive because from this position it would have been silhouetted against Raddick Hill. It may also be more than a coincidence that the Leeden Tor alignment points directly at the cairns at the southern end of the Stanlake alignment. This pair of clear visual links between the stone alignments provides further evidence of precise visual connections and these may have been important.

Leedon02

The lower eastern end of the alignment. View from west.

Mapping the Sea Triangles

LeedonView

The very restricted view from the bottom of the alignment provides a focussed view towards the sea. During the winter months at around 1.00pm a bead of bright light similar in character to the “Baily’s Beads” associated with total eclipses of the sun will be visible on clear days.

Source

Butler, J., 1994, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume Three – The South-West”, 50.

Previous articles in this series:

As we were saying, PAS publicizes good detecting practice but rarely bad practice (for fear umbrage will be taken presumably). It’s a dubious strategy – for ignoring misbehaviour rarely reduces it and anyway PAS has no mandate to offer an inaccurate picture to the public. Also, the strategy is demonstrably damaging.

Here’s why: landowners are the sole group with absolute power to allow or disallow detecting so they are pivotal gatekeepers both metaphorically and literally. If they aren’t made aware of bad practice (or the fact PAS’s statistics show it is very widespread) they aren’t equipped to make informed, heritage-friendly decisions or to curate the history in their fields on our behalf.

So here’s some “advice to landowners”. We’ve sent it to the PAS management with a polite request that they publish something similar on their website and in the farming press. We are certain that if they did it would make a huge difference to conservation. We’ll let you know how they respond.

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Bad practice in metal detecting: what landowners need to know:

“Bad practice” in metal detecting is any behaviour that results in loss of historical knowledge (such as digging in sensitive places or not reporting all archaeological finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme). In Britain it is not usually a crime but it invariably damages the interests of the rest of society. As such it is strongly opposed by the Government and every archaeologist bar none. Please don’t allow metal detecting bad practice on your land.

What you can do:

1. Good and bad practice are defined in The Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales which is supported by all the main archaeological and farming organisations. Please make sure any detectorist on your land adheres to that code and no other. There are numerous other codes and assurances in existence and it’s vital you do not confuse them with the official one or assume any of them are officially sanctioned. They are not.

2. Before granting permission please obtain from the detectorist two things:
a.) Written proof that they are in a detecting club that insists on all members adhering to the official code, no other.
b.) Contact details for the local Finds Liaison Officer and Local Archaeology Service so you can check on both the detectorist and the suitability of the land as necessary.


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The Gatekeeper, Pyronia tithonus. Like landowners, blissfully unaware that bad metal detecting practice has absolutely nothing to do with nighthawking.

The Gatekeeper, Pyronia tithonus. Like landowners, it is left blissfully unaware that bad metal detecting practice has absolutely nothing to do with nighthawking.

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