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Not for the first time The Beeb is supporting a false image of metal detecting. Prof Michael Wood makes 3 statements in the latest offshoot of BBC History Magazine which we feel should be challenged:. .


“Metal detecting was once frowned upon. Now it is a valuable tool”.
Actually, it was always a valuable tool, but always sadly misused by tens of thousands of people. It still is.

“By properly recording their finds and liaising with archaeologists, metal detectorists are placing vital material in the hands of historians.”
Actually, the great majority don’t and are therefore destroying that vital material by their silence.

“The exciting prospect is that – as long as things are properly reported and recorded – there is much, much more to be found.”
Actually, see above. There’s no call for excitement as there’s no evidence that most finds won’t continue to go unreported and be lost to science.


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We get it that a proportion of artefact hunters act “responsibly” within a charitable definition of the term – the fact has been trumpeted ad nauseam for 20 years – but, as Dr Sam Hardy has so clearly established – more than 90% of British recordable detecting finds are still  being lost to science. Surely a public service broadcaster (and a professor of Public Archaeology) should be conveying that true reality to the public?

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Our article on Tuesday drew Tweets from a commercial archaeologist who questions: “So it’s ok for academics to destroy archaeology at Blick Mead, is commercial archaeology so bad?”

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In response we would underline that we are discussing what happens within the boundaries of a World Heritage site (WHS).

At Blick Mead 100% of excavated material is sampled from comparatively small trenches, the project is painstakingly carried out so time consuming and labour intensive.

Where the Blick Mead project has taken years to progress, the commercial operation at the nearby eastern portal saw a large number of trenches excavated over a huge area and backfilled in a matter of days (pictured).

Commercial archaeology has its well deserved place, indeed we gladly point out that some of the most eminent academics researching in the WHS honed their skills at the sharp end, but within a WHS this comparison of slow microsurgery and speedy results surely speaks for itself.


 

It’s high time the British press recognised that blatant Government attacks on protected places wasn’t something that only happened in “Trumpland”. See this, an American report in the Guardian:

“Just weeks into his presidency, Trump hamfisted the Dakota Access Pipeline through the graves and homelands of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.
Now, thanks to a leaked memo from interior secretary Ryan Zinke, we know the president plans to shrink protected areas and lift restrictions on extractive developments at 10 national monuments across the country – including the sacred Bears Ears national monument in southern Utah.”

That phrase “shrink protected areas” is precisely what links President Trump with English Heritage, Historic England, The National Trust and Highways England – for that is exactly what they are pushing to happen at the Stonehenge World Heritage Site – to shrink the protected area. (Let them try to deny it if they dare). There’s one difference though: in percentage terms they are trying to shrink the protected Stonehenge landscape to a far greater extent than the President is trying to shrink the Bears Ears national monument!

Please read this.
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It says excavation = learning. Therefore excavating a large swathe of the Stonehenge landscape of all places for a road, against UNESCO’s wishes, should be welcomed.
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We are only amateurs but we profoundly disagree. It seems to us to be a worryingly damaging stance.

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But …..
In December they spooked local villagers by concocting and publishing an embarrassingly inappropriate peak-time traffic relief route directing all the A303 traffic straight through a small local community and announcing it in an apparently innocent, chirpy fashion:Stuck in traffic on the A303 Stonehenge? Our planned upgrades will ease congestion, making journeys faster and more reliable(and they had to apologise within days) ….

Then in June, just before the solstice celebrations, we had “Delays expected on A303 ahead of Summer Solstice/Highways England is warning drivers of the risk of potential delays/ Congestion can be expected/a 40mph speed limit will be in place on the A303 between the Countess roundabout and Longbarrow roundabout/ lay-bys closed/ dual carriageway between Countess roundabout and Stonehenge Cottages will be reduced to a single lane” … and so on.

….. and now, days after their preferred route has been confirmed AND with their fiirst”drop in” session about it starting today, we have “Misery for motorists as stretch of the A303 closes for weekend” ….. The closure’s expected to have an impact on traffic in Durrington, Tidworth and Ludgershall. Amesbury, Salisbury, and Andover are also likely to be affected. It’s expected to have even more of an impact due to the existing roadworks in Larkhill and Durrington.”

Can you believe it?  130 Tasmanian Aboriginal relics have been seized after a tip off that they were being offered for sale. Under the Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Act, it is an offence to destroy, conceal, remove or sell Aboriginal relics and the maximum penalty is $795,000.

Compare and contrast the (maybe) 300 mostly legally acquired but unreported British relics held on average by each of 24,000 British relic hunters. Clearly, whatever concerns exist about cultural damage due to the digging up of 130 Aboriginal relics in Australia, the damage is utterly inconsequential compared with Britain where the number of cultural losses is demonstrably more than 50,000 times greater.

But here in Britain we don’t legislate. We ingratiate. It’s the best way, don’tcha know!

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In a recent survey this view from the brow of a hill  on the A303 outside Amesbury was voted the third best in Britain. Some believe it’s THE best.

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tunnel

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Countless travellers have enjoyed it for millennia for free – so it could be said to be “forever, for everyone”, or ought to be. It is as much a part of our shared heritage as the monument itself and consequently must be just as deserving of protection. Yet now there are plans to obliterate it.

What sort of country does that to it’s own heritage? None to our knowledge. And how can it be justified? As to that, it’s significant that Historic England, English Heritage, The National Trust and the Government haven’t even tried! This project is by no means a foregone conclusion so please let the National Trust know their stance is in direct contravention of their founding principles and sign the Stonehenge Alliance petition here.

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PS: here’s Simon Jenkins, ex National Trust Chairman:

I love this view, as I do the distant sight of Lindisfarne or Arundel or Dover. Motorists are as entitled as paying visitors to delight in the English landscape.

Damage to the landscape and a risk of loss of World Heritage status are not the only consequence of Britain’s main heritage bodies defying UNESCO’s advice at Stonehenge. There could be wider consequences arising from their effective message that your judgements are valid if YOU alone believe they are!

Didn’t Shropshire Council take exactly that line when it voted to damage the setting of Oswestry Hill Fort? And haven’t Pegasus Group said much the same over destroying a Jacobean ceiling in Bristol: “Pegasus Group are ….. content that the works needed to be carried out to respect the safety of the building, and were done so lawfully in association with ongoing refurbishment works, irrespective of the outcome of the submitted planning application.”

English Heritage weren’t coy about seeing the Shropshire decision as regrettable and Historic England were equally upset about not being consulted at Bristol: “Had we been able to continue with our planned inspection of the building, before the ceiling was deliberately removed, we could have had constructive discussions with the owner about managing changes to the building in a way that respected its remaining historic features.”

But irony of ironies, both those organisations are blatantly ignoring UNESCO’s views at Stonehenge! How far will the ripples from that travel? Who in future will feel obliged to listen to either of them if it’s feared their advice would be inconvenient and they have already indicated that your judgements are valid providing YOU alone believe they are and it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore superior advice?

 

The Government has today announced it supports an amended short tunnel (see details here). Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust, who have faithfully supported a short tunnel from the start, have reacted precisely as expected – with tricky words intended to cover their shame:

“It is now critical to ensure that the benefits of this new route can be realised through careful design and mitigation of archaeological risks”.

Note, no more pretence that the route would do no harm if carefully designed.  There must be “mitigation of archaeological risks” which, with the route now decided, actually means mitigation of actual damage.

Our three main heritage bodies can no longer hide behind ifs and buts: they are openly supporting massive new damage to the World Heritage Site in defiance of UNESCO’s wishes.

Update:
Meanwhile, Tony Robinson puts the whole scheme in a nutshell (and consequently  highlights the awfulness of the HE, EH, NT posturing):

The Scheme is “The most brutal intrusion into the Stone Age landscape ever….. Archaeologists have understood over the last 10 to 15 years that Stonehenge isn’t a monument, Stonehenge is a landscape. Unesco understood that, which is why they made the area into the World Heritage Site. What’s happened is that the Department for Transport is literally driving a thousand coaches and horses through the World Heritage Site ……. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

Bravo. The stone cold truth.

 

A friend of the Journal, Eve Boyle, recently documented her visit to Clachtoll Broch in North West Scotland, and has given permission for her story to be published here. So, it’s over to Eve:

Scottish Archaeology is all abuzz just now about the excavation of a broch at Clachtoll, on the west coast of Sutherland. On Tuesday, I was on the phone to Roland Spencer-Jones, chair of NOSAS, who tells me he’s spent a week digging at Clachtoll. “It’s wonderful!” he says, ”You should go”. On Thursday morning, Strat Halliday, once my boss, now retired (as if that were possible!) waltzes into my office to say he’s just been to Clachtoll “It’s fantastic! You should go.” That evening, Matt Ritchie, Forestry Commission Archaeologist, texts me – “Just been to Clachtoll. It’s amazing! You should go!”

So yesterday I drove the 270 miles north and this morning (Saturday) stood on Clachtoll. And you know what? It is wonderful, and it is fantastic, and it is amazing. And you should go!

Why?

Imagine, children, that you are gathered round the TV on a Saturday evening, watching Strictly. Dad’s in the kitchen, cooking dinner (he pretends not to like Strictly, but he’s watching it too, on the wee kitchen TV). And then (perhaps because he’s distracted by Louise Redknapp) a spark catches – your house is on fire – you all rush out – but, before the fire brigade arrive, the roof and the upstairs floor all catch fire, burn and collapse, followed by the walls, which collapse and dump hundreds of tons of stone onto what used to be your living room. Luckily, you all escaped (including sheepish dad), but the house is trashed. And, you know what? It’ll be two thousand years or more before anyone tries to dig it out and find your stuff.

And that, kind of, is what seems to have happened at Clachtoll. Set into the floor is a stone mortar, filled with grain; all carbonised; that was meant to be someone’s meal, but it didn’t happen: they all left in a hurry and the fire burned the grain, still in the mortar.

Fifteen years ago, I spent a tremendous week surveying this broch with my friend and colleague Ian Parker. We peered and poked as much as we could into what was largely a huge pile of stones. I crawled into spaces to take measurements (I was a bit more sylph-like then, but still had to be pulled out by the ankles once or twice), and we wondered what might lie under all that rubble. Historic Assynt, who lured us up there for that survey, have spent years trying to make this project happen, so it was just fabulous to be there today.

Take a bow, then, Historic Assynt, and their professional partners in this project, AOC Archaeology Group. You can read much more (and see much better photos than mine) on their websites:

https://www.facebook.com/historicassynt/
https://www.facebook.com/aocarchaeology/


Many thanks to Eve for that report. If you’ve visited an excavation or heritage site during the summer, why not drop us a line or two about it so we can spread your story?

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