Figure 1. The stone row excavation. The large hollow beside the nearest stone was formed by flowing water, probably in the period immediately after the last glaciation (Scales 1m and 25cm).

In January 2012 a long line of small stones was identified amongst the prehistoric cairns on the southern slope of Bancbryn in South Wales. Survey work revealed that it led for 717m from a small cairn and terminated in a now recumbent boulder (Figure 2). In all 173 stones were identified and whilst many were recumbent most were edge set. The stone row was discovered just as the work on a new wind farm started and it was cut in two places by access roads. The timing of the discovery was unfortunate and rescue excavations carried out at the time predictably failed to reveal any dating evidence. The report produced by the excavators suggested that the feature was more likely to be of post-medieval date, but the evidence cited to support this contention was inaccurate, selective and just plain wrong.

Figure 2. Plan of the stone row showing the position of the excavation trenches.

Over a period of years, the arguments deployed by the excavators have been successfully dismantled, whilst at the same time detailed characterisation of the site and extensive research into stone rows nationally has resulted in a strong case to support its prehistoric origins. It was possible to demonstrate that this form of row is found only in SW Britain with examples recorded on both sides of the Bristol Channel (Figure 3).

Perhaps the most exciting discovery at Bancbryn was the very precise visual relationship with Hartland Point in Devon.  Work elsewhere has now demonstrated that precise visual relationships with prominent natural and broadly contemporary artificial sites is commonplace and indeed a characteristic of the longer rows.

Figure 3. Distribution of long stone rows greater than 100m long consisting mainly of small stones.

So, from the fiasco at Banbryn some good has come as it has spawned both renewed interest in this enigmatic type of site and provided a new focus permitting a better understanding of the rows.

In 2017 there was an opportunity to have another look at the Bancbryn stone row. Funding from the Section 106 wind farm agreement provided resources for an examination of a small number of sites on Bancbryn and as well as the stone row, two cairns and a solitary stone were partly excavated. A report on the work is now available and can be downloaded here. A shorter guide to the archaeology on Bancbryn and vicinity is available here. Both reports are published by Dyfed Archaeological Trust who organised and carried out the excavation work.

One of the cairns was found to have a kerb and is probably of Bronze Age date, another was probably early medieval in date, had ard marks below and surprisingly contained some Roman glass. No dating material was found associated with the stone row, but it was possible to refute the previously suggested historic interpretations and demonstrate that the surviving evidence was entirely consistent with a prehistoric date.

The lack of dating evidence, whilst disappointing, was not a surprise as stone rows are notoriously difficult to date and it is worth remembering that none of the Welsh rows have been dated either. Indeed, only the row at Cut Hill on Dartmoor has been dated with any degree of precision. Most importantly nothing was found to disprove the prehistoric interpretation, whilst at the same time the form, character and context of the row is entirely consistent with a prehistoric date. Hopefully this work will now mean that this incredibly fragile and enigmatic monument will receive the care and consideration that it deserves.

There’s a welcome new innovation at Avebury – a second hand book shop. Named Cobblestones second-hand books, after the cobbled floor of the old stables in which it is housed, it has been launched by The National Trust after volunteers who sold pre-loved books at the Avebury site persuaded the Trust to do so.

Jan Tomlin, general manager of the National Trust Wiltshire Landscape said: “We’re absolutely delighted with Cobblestones second-hand books, and hope people will enjoy browsing through the wide selection of books on sale. The dedication, professionalism and enthusiasm of our wonderful volunteers has driven this project forward and it’s resulted not only in the partial refurbishment of this lovely building, but the money raised will also help the National Trust to look after Avebury and our other Wiltshire sites as well.”

We wish the new venture well and especially if lots of prehistory books can be provided. In our experience people who are enthusiastic about ancient sites have a huge appetite for books about the subject and we have held a book swap at our Avebury Megameets for many years. We haven’t yet visited Cobblestones and would  be grateful to hear from any readers who have.

WEXIT is short for turning your back on the world by damaging a World Heritage Site when UNESCO doesn’t want you to. The short tunnel lobby (Highways England, English Heritage, Historic England and the hapless, internally-dreadfully-conflicted National Trust) would have you believe they’re wexiting for the good of Stonehenge but there’s evidence it’s because the Government wants them to. For example, take a look at Highways England’s two current proposals about “views”:

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.   (1.) They say views are essential and they intend to create lots of new ones: New plans for roadside beauty spots to stimulate drivers, combat fatigue: Motorways and larger A-roads, often derided as brutal, empty concrete spaces, will be redesigned to offer panoramas of the countryside. Highways England, the government-owned company, has published a ten-point plan to guide the design of the strategic road network in which roads will be better moulded into their natural surroundings.”

   (2.) Yet they also say the very best view, this one long enjoyed by tens of millions of travellers, isn’t essential and they propose to eliminate it!

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Tangled web eh? How can that be explained other than by thinking the short tunnel lobby is out to serve the Government’s agenda not the welfare of Stonehenge?

The unfragrant British inspired European Council for Metal Detecting have taken their plea for Europe to adopt the British model of laissez faire detecting to the European Parliament. Here they are putting their exploitative case to Janusz Lewandowski, Poland’s EU Commissioner.

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Why him? Well, basically, he’s crazy. Here’s one of his famous quotes:

“The thesis that coal energy is the main cause of global warming is highly questionable,” the commissioner said. “Moreover, more and more, there is a question mark put over the whole ‘global warming’ as such.”

Let’s hope he becomes an advocate for unregulated metal detecting too!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Christopher Beasley:
Treasure doesnt come about often. But with other finds our club has a contract with farmer only single find worth over 2 grand are to be shared with farmer. So theres no point in hideing your find on our group”
https://www.facebook.com/groups/AFUDGE/


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Imagine! What a marvellous in-it-for-the-history heroic metal detecting club that must be (and there are many others) that says a find of £1,999 doesn’t have to be shared with the actual 100% owner “so theres no point in hideing your find!

But (asks a cynic, not a detectorist or employed by PAS): would all who are sufficiently lacking in a sense of fair play to join such a club and to operate such an agreement always tell the farmer the truth about a find worth £10,000+?

Of course they would. They’re all bound to be fine people – or at least, all but a tiny number of them. In metal detecting only nighthawks are devoid of morality or are criminals. That’s so important to remember. Ask PAS. They’ve been telling you and the Government so for 20 years!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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“A Stonehenge Tunnel that only goes under National Trust land and ruins the World Heritage Site either side? REALLY?

 

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(Many thanks to Stonehenge & Avebury World Heritage Site Friends for getting to the heart of the matter so succinctly. Bear in mind the Government said the Trust’s support for the short tunnel was “pivotal”. In other words, without the Trust it may not have progressed at all!)

Number 27 comprises Highways England publishing a plan showing Blick Mead in the wrong place and then explaining the mistake by saying “The document in question is a land ownership boundary plan. The plan shows indicative general features and was never intended as a geographical map.’

Well, we’d perhaps be more inclined to believe them (slightly) if it wasn’t for the other 26 instances of public bodies misleading the public about the Stonehenge tunnel that we’ve highlighted in the Journal. But as things stand we prefer the interpretation of Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust: “They are either negligent, lying or incompetent”

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The above plan “shows indicative general features and was never intended as a geographical map”.

Where the public once heard from a genuinely independently formed group of 21 eminent archaeologists highlighting shortcomings of the A303 tunnel scheme, there is now “the Stonehenge Scientific Committee – a body of leading independent archaeologists”.
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Independent? The membership was not selected independently (as UNESCO wished with ‘both ASAHRG and academic researchers fully involved’). Membership was sounded out by the control group known as HMAG (Heritage Monitoring and Advisory Group), which recommended the Scientific Committee’s membership list that Highways England recruited and attend their meetings.  Although chaired by Wiltshire Council, HMAG is made up of the National Trust, Historic England and English Heritage – who all want the tunnel.
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Interestingly, on first meeting and before being brought to heel this Stonehenge Scientific Committee asked for the western tunnel portal to be relocated outside the World Heritage Site, resulting in the tunnel being 2km longer. Unless searched for the public wouldn’t hear of this, instead the Highways England press release 8 February 2018 implies that the Stonehenge Scientific Committee supports the current scheme:
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“Since the last consultation in September, Highways England has continued to work with heritage groups such as the National Trust, Historic England and English Heritage, as well as experts in the field, including the Stonehenge Scientific Committee – a body of leading independent archaeologists – to ensure a new route is built sensitively to the World Heritage Site”.
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Muzzled by Highways England, sat on by HMAG, the Stonehenge Scientific Committee has no bark or bite. “Good doggie – listen to your Master’s voice!”
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President Trump has at last derided the claim that trophy hunting is about conservation: ““will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.” In stark contrast, The National Trust persists in saying trail hunting is compatible with conservation. Suspiciously, they say it 4 times:

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  • “The Trust does license trail ‘hunts’ in some areas and at certain times of the year, where it is compatible with our aims of public access and conservation.”
  • “Our updated approach aims to further safeguard conservation and access by producing a clear, robust, and transparent set of conditions for licensing.”
  • “We believe the overwhelming majority of hunts act responsibly, and we hope our clear, robust, and transparent set of conditions will allow participants to enjoy this activity in compatibility with our conservation aims.
  • “We therefore always look to welcome people to our places and to host the broadest range of outdoor activities on our land. We believe this should include trail ‘hunting’, where it is consistent with our conservation aims and is legally pursued.”..

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How long can they hold out with their fake news? Another charity, The Woodland Trust, which is clearly not infiltrated by the hunting lobby, recently re-iterated it’s stance that no hunting of any sort is allowed on its land. It prompted the following comment which the National Trust would do well to note:

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Very impressed with the @WoodlandTrust and their recent stand against hunting on their land. So much so that my husband and I became members today!
What we saved by cancelling our @nationaltrust membership will go to a braver, more forward-thinking charity.”
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Britain is considering banning the sale of all ivory on the grounds there’s no way to know which is legal and which isn’t. At last, sanity, despite the PM having recently tried to oblige her personal contacts in the antiques trade by keeping part of the trade legal, defying the rest of the world. In anticipation of the ban the BBC is considering stopping featuring all ivory on the Antiques Road Show. Who but crooks could possibly object?

On exactly the same basis shouldn’t the showing of all metal detected items be banned at auctions? Who but crooks could possibly object? Was the object dug up legally at point A or illegally and without the farmer’s permission at point B? No-one can say. Charles Hanson of Bargain Hunt runs quarterly auctions of metal detecting finds. He tells us he ensures all the items are legitimate, by checking they’ve been reported to PAS. How naive (or knowing?). He can’t possibly know. Laundering by find spot misdescription is one of the easiest and safest crimes there is – and highly lucrative as if you have an agreement to share with one farmer you can decide you found it on the land of another farmer with whom you have no such agreement.

Just how much of the PAS record is corrupted that way? They have no idea but they have quietly admitted it “happens”. Don’t they owe it to the Government, the taxpayers, the stakeholders, their database users and the farmers to be louder and more forthcoming about that?

Incidentally, just how easy it is to sell items without saying where they came from was just summarised by a detectorist: The best thing to do is take an object along and say it belonged to your Great grandfather”. Who but crooks could possibly object, and who knows how many of those there are? How many “legal” detectorists are looters?


Update: Comment by Paul Barford:
Actually, huge numbers of finds on the PAS database could have totally false findspots because the PAS uncritically accept what the finders tell them, and do not demand to see documentation of title, signed by the landowner when they accept items for recording. This leaves any FLO handling such material (or holding it in their office) with the responsibility of handling stolen material, and I really do not see why the PAS is so apparently oblivious to this danger. This is especially the case when on many sides there are calls for the commerce in portable antiquities to be more transparent and accountable with documentation of provenances and collecting histories, yet the single Scheme responsible for liaising with members of the public and collectors cannot be bothered to set any kind of an example by applying it to their own handling of the material.”


Ed: Is PAS really oblivious Paul or is in anxious to tell Government, academics and taxpayers that its database is meaningful when there are clearly major problems with it of of unknowable severity? Plus, as always, isn’t it a case of IFTOD – incurably frit to offend detectorists.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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