A short report of a visit earlier this year to the Tair Carn Isaf cairn cemetery in Carmarthenshire, by our very own Dr Sandy Gerrard. 

On a spur on the western slopes of Tair Carn Isaf is a small cairn (SN 68063 16834) composed of “fresh” looking rubble. Examination of the surrounding heather indicates that it once extended a bit further, but compared to its neighbours it is rather inconspicuous and is probably overlooked by most visitors to the area. The neighbouring cairns are much larger and more prominently positioned on the nearby higher ground. What this cairn lacks in size is more than made up by its very special setting.

A very precise visual link to a neighbouring cairn together with another to a sea triangle are particularly noteworthy whilst the spectacular views of the Gower, Lundy,  Caldey, St. Govan’s Head and Preseli further enhance the atmosphere and contribute to the feeling that views were important to the people who built this cairn.

The sea view and more distant views will be considered in the future. This time, the very precise visual links between this cairn and another, Tair Carn Uchaf III (SN 69249 17378) are presented. For those who are sceptical about the importance or even the existence of visual links in Neolithic/Bronze Age studies, this example may help overcome these doubts. This cairn was carefully positioned to benefit from a multitude of visual treats at the limit of visibility and it is hard to believe that this could not have been deliberate. The very particular view of Tair Carn Uchaf III and the manner in which it alters dramatically as you move around the cairn are similar to those encountered at stone alignments and further emphasises the importance of special, particular and evolving visual links. Logic tells us that given the care taken to create these treats that these must have played some part in the beliefs of these people.  The photographs below attempt to illustrate the phenomenon, but sadly cannot replace the on-site experience.

Tair Carn 1 context

Photograph showing the viewpoints from which photographs A – D below were taken towards Cairn 1 (Tair Carn Uchaf III).

Tair Carn 2 W edge

Photograph A. View from point A towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the western edge of Tair Carn Isaf A. The cairn is clearly visible silhouetted against the sky.

Photograph B. View from point B towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the southern edge of Tair Carn Isaf A and is the same view as from the centre of the cairn. The cairn is now clearly and perfectly framed by two separate hillslopes. This framing feels deliberate and represents powerful evidence for the importance of particular and special views on the limit of visibility.

Photograph B. View from point B towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the southern edge of Tair Carn Isaf A and is the same view as from the centre of the cairn. The cairn is now clearly and perfectly framed by two separate hillslopes. This framing feels deliberate and represents powerful evidence for the importance of particular and special views on the limit of visibility.

Photograph C. View from point C towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the south eastern edge of Tair Carn Isaf.  Approximately half of the distant cairn has vanished behind the foreground slope of Tair Carn Isaf. The rapid disappearance of the distant cairn happens over a handful of metres and emphasises a particular visual treat created by movement.

Photograph C. View from point C towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the south eastern edge of Tair Carn Isaf.  Approximately half of the distant cairn has vanished behind the foreground slope of Tair Carn Isaf. The rapid disappearance of the distant cairn happens over a handful of metres and emphasises a particular visual treat created by movement.

Photograph D. View from point D towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the eastern edge of Tair Carn Isaf A.  Within the space of less than 10m the perfectly framed Tair Carn Uchaf III has vanished behind the near slope.  This remarkable series of photographs provides evidence of a recordable visual link between these two cairns. It is hard to believe that this was a coincidence given that if the cairn had been positioned a metre further to the west this visual feast would not happen.

Photograph D. View from point D towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the eastern edge of Tair Carn Isaf A.  Within the space of less than 10m the perfectly framed Tair Carn Uchaf III has vanished behind the near slope.  This remarkable series of photographs provides evidence of a recordable visual link between these two cairns. It is hard to believe that this was a coincidence given that if the cairn had been positioned a metre further to the west this visual feast would not happen.

Acknowledgements

The precision and character of the visual link between the two cairns was identified by Simon Charlesworth who generously shared his discovery with me taking the time to show me what he had found. I am very grateful for his help and trust I have not misrepresented his ideas.

 

So, EH, HE, NT and CBA are all willing to support new damage to Stonehenge and to imply UNESCO and ICOMOS support a short tunnel when they’ve said no such thing.

However, the biscuit is most certainly taken by the latest edition of British Archaeology which states that ICOMOS essentially approves the short tunnel “subject to details of portals and cuttings”. As we stressed previously, the truth is that ICOMOS has major concerns about the position of both ends of the tunnel so that absolutely, categorically can’t be taken as evidence that it essentially approves of the proposed length of the tunnel, quite the reverse. In addition, saying that it sees the position of those ends as mere “details” is equally misleading. They are crucial and ICOMOS has most definitely not signaled it thinks otherwise.

We have three questions-cum-accusations for EH, HE, NT, CBA and British Archaeology. 1.) If the short tunnel is such a benefit for Stonehenge how come you weren’t all calling for it until the Government decided it wanted it? 2.) And what was it that convinced you? Have you all, like CBA, “revisited earlier documents”?   3.) If so, that’s fine, but can you please tell the public precisely what you found in them to cause you to change your opinions? Where, in any of the earlier documents or indeed in the current ones published by ICOMOS or UNESCO have you found justification for your support for imposing the following scene on Britain’s and Europe’s leading prehistoric World Heritage Site? Precisely, chapter and verse please.

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Hindhead

By all accounts the vast majority of metal detectorists voted “Brexit” and this morning they’re cock-a-hoop. With good reason ….

  • European funding for Countrywide Stewardship Schemes (which have always been strongly opposed by detectorists because they prevent them detecting on archaeologically sensitive land), will cease. Anyone who thinks the British will fund the schemes themselves hasn’t been observing the British Government’s actions towards environmental and heritage matters.
  • The moral influence of our close neighbour Ireland will be diminished and their view that “Archaeological objects must be excavated in a structured scientific manner, with careful recording of their association with other objects, structures, features and soil layers. Failure to expertly record the context from which an object has been removed results in an irreplaceable loss of knowledge of the past” won’t be characterised in Britain as other than “misguided”
  • The “nightmare scenario”, as detectorists label it, of Europe influencing Britain on the subject of portable antiquities has been removed at a stroke. Here, in the words of  the European Assembly is what detectorists have gained, and the rest of us have lost:

The Assembly….

is concerned at”…. “the growing threat to the archaeological heritage caused by the increasing marketing of metal detectors in Europe and their uncontrolled widespread use”,

“regrets in particular”….” the notion of “treasure hunting” applied to the search for this heritage and all advertising to this effect”,

insists on” ….“the need for the strict observance of archaeological practice in any excavation, prospection or other disturbance of traces of human existence”,

is concerned”….“that existing legislation in most member states, or its implementation, is far from sufficient to prevent or control destruction of the archaeological heritage, or even stem its increase”

and recommends that the Committee of Ministers :

consider adopting” …. as a matter of urgency, recommendations to governments for the licensing or registration of users of metal detectors”

and ask member governments”….. “to supplement existing legislation to ensure, where still necessary, the full protection of all archaeological remains, surface included”

and to examine critically”…. “the wisdom of permitting advertising or any other incentives to hunt for archaeological treasure”

So what we’re left with is the Portable Antiquities Scheme pretending, through gritted teeth, that British metal detecting is a net benefit to the resource and misrepresenting a pathetically low level of find reporting as praiseworthy. There’s really no argument, Europe’s view of portable antiquities is protective and civilised (and you won’t find a single archaeologist who privately disagrees) but sadly Europe’s standards are no longer even a possibility for Britain. It’s a great day to be a metal detectorist, and it will be for many years to come.

In Part 1 we highlighted how EH, HE and NT were supporting a short tunnel (and implying ICOMOS were too). Until very recently CBA hadn’t joined them. Indeed, in July 2005 they had signaled they never would, saying they were resolutely opposed to the proposals for a short tunnel, which removes the A303 from the immediate vicinity of the stones but only at the cost of major damage to the rest of the World Heritage Site.”  Now however they’ve “revisited earlier documents” and concluded about the long tunnel that “despite its widely-acknowledged benefits, there may be elements of a reasoned case against it”. Amazing what you can find in documents if you re-visit them!

In fact, their re-visiting has revealed to them reasons to go even further. They now say burial of the A303 in a tunnel would itself cause some damage, but that solution could eliminate current sources of degradation elsewhere in the WHS”. That’s pivotal, for it endorses the central contention of EH et al that there’s such a thing as “beneficial damage” at Stonehenge and hence plays into the hands of the short tunnel lobby with a clarity it could only have dreamed about.

Also like EH et al they cite UNESCO in support of their revised stance: UNESCO policy now advises that WHS management should ‘embrace initiatives that deliver mutual benefits to the property and its surroundings that may not seem essential to the protection of the OUV, but may prove important in the long run because they tie the property into its context in a positive and enduring way, thus favouring its long-term survival”. However, that UNESCO document (Managing Cultural World Heritage) is vastly more complex and nuanced than that and deserves better than cherry-picking. For instance, it also says “The link between heritage and sustainable development is interpreted in different ways, depending on the specific perspectives of the various players, and a certain degree of ambiguity exists”

To put it gently, UNESCO has NOT said it supports a short tunnel at Stonehenge and it is wrong to say it has. Nor should it be said, as CBA has, that any damage should be “minimal”. That sounds virtuous, but in truth it’s a surrender to the central agenda of the short tunnel lobby. Surely damage should simply be opposed, as the Stonehehenge Alliance has, not offered for negotiation? What has the Government’s wish to build a short tunnel got to do with CBA’s previous resolute opposition to such a thing?

22 years ago (at an International Conference mounted by English Heritage and the National Trust) Sir Angus Stirling, Director General of the National Trust, spoke for both organisations, saying: “We have concluded that ….

The only

Yet now their successors say a short tunnel will do. It makes no sense, for those “essential requirements” haven’t changed and never can. So we have to conclude that what has changed is the willingness of the two organisations to support breaching those requirements. Worse, there are efforts to paint ICOMOS as supporting a short tunnel too. However, the post-visit report from ICOMOS contained several crucial phrases  which really can’t be  spun as supportive of damage to Stonehenge’s “Outstanding Universal Value” ……

icom2

So the unspun reality is that ICOMOS has major concerns about the position of both ends of the tunnel and that must mean  it also has major concerns about the length of the tunnel. That’s plain trigonometry and flies in the face of the public messages coming from EH, HE and NT.

In 2014 we asked whether “Metal detecting” has fallen prey to kakistocracy – government by the most unqualified or unprincipled citizens. Far be it for us to cast aspersions but it is now more than two years since Central Searchers took over the Federation of Independent Detectorists and that Federation’s Code of Conduct still doesn’t say a word about reporting finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Central Searchers still runs rallies with a notorious crook-aiding rule (farmers get no share of any find worth below £2,000, as secretly judged by the detectorist!)

Add to that the fact that an official from the only other detecting organisation, the National Council for Metal Detecting, recently advised his colleagues to lie to French farmers about what they were looking for, and it’s hard to see how kakistocracy doesn’t rule the activity.

And all the time the Archaeological Establishment pretends it hasn’t noticed. Bizarre. Would they do that if members of their own profession were interacting with the archaeological resource in that way?

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ignoring.

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How about visiting The Rollright Stones?

…………… or Menac, Carnac?!

Megameet 2016.

The annual Heritage Journal Megameet – for members, friends and supporters of the Journal and anyone else with an interest in prehistoric sites – will return once again this year to the Avebury WHS. The first one was in 2003 so we think this will be the thirteenth,  but we’ve slightly lost count.

Anyway, everyone’s welcome to come and chat or walk around the henge, the museums or further afield with kindred spirits, be they novices or knowledgeable. We’ll be near the two large portal stones and the beech trees at the southern entrance. Bring a picnic and maybe a couple of books to swap. We’ve yet to hear anyone say they didn’t have a good time so see you there.

Jim Rayner of website www.stonehengepilgrim.org.uk and the author of ‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to Stonehenge’ shares his thoughts on how, where and when the solstice should be celebrated at Stonehenge.


Stonehenge – Opening up monument field and restoring the sun gap

English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust (NT) have promised to open up monument field and reconnect Stonehenge with The Avenue by finally removing the old A344 northern stock boundary fence. Yet, no further details about exactly when this is going to happen have been released. EH may well argue that this is because the newly seeded grass areas (along the line of the old road and old visitor centre car park) need further time to establish. EH may also state that the fences need to remain whilst any changes to the shuttle bus turning circle are being constructed (the planning decision is due in mid-July 2016). For further details about this and the ‘permissible route’ for walkers and cyclists along the line of the old A344 please see www.sarsen.org . and in particular http://www.sarsen.org/2016/05/summer-2016-planned-improvement-to.html. If this proves too difficult, then new line of access could be established around the edge of the current fences to the east and along the line of the long abandoned track way running across the avenue.

The creation of a larger monument field is integral to developing the summer and winter solstices celebrations as more ‘authentic gatherings’. During the summer solstice celebrations people are especially bunched-up against the old A344 fence and the centre of the circle is overcrowded. The best view of Stonehenge is from the avenue and this location is paramount to witnessing the midwinter sunset and possibly the midsummer shadow cast by the Heel Stone right into the heart of the monument. It would also help if EH and the NT started negotiations with Ministry of Defence about removing a small section of mainly coniferous trees on the horizon in order to recreate a ‘sun gap’ for the summer solstice sunrise. This and the removal of the old A344 fence would provide the extra space needed and a visual focal point for managed open access to develop in a more positive direction for all concerned.

Police recently raided an alleged nighthawk’s house in Kent. However, the possibility that that nothing will come of it prompts a wider question: why are there so few successful prosecutions? A story from The South Shropshire Telltale may provide a clue…….


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Shropshire “nighthawks turn out to be innocent!
A row has flared in Worfield. A well-known notional octogenarian farmer declared his local policeman “so useless his face isn’t worth sunburning”. Pig farmer Silas Brown was incensed after police released two men from custody the day after they had been detained on his fields at 3.00 am carrying metal detectors and 2 bags of artefacts.

PC Dwight Wash explained that they had responded to a call from “an agitated, confused elderly gentleman but when they arrived it quickly became clear that no offence had been committed. “It turned out they were travelling metal detector salesmen whose car had broken down and they were simply walking home on a footpath which crosses the farm. The artefacts were the props they used when they give talks on amateur archaeology at primary schools. Oh how we all laughed at the station when we realised! They were released without a stain on their character or hobby”.

Mr Brown was less certain. “We have a saying in farming he said, “if it walks like a duck but it squawks like an archaeologist it’s probably a duck. I’ve sent the police an identification guide. Maybe it will help raise the prosecution rate.”

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archaeoduck.

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