Yesterday National Trust Archaeology celebrated #WorldHeritageDay with this attractive image of Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall. It’s excellent but we couldn’t help reflecting the management of National Trust doesn’t treat ALL World Heritage sites with such appreciation. Imagine if they’d campaigned to inflict a massive scar at Sycamore Gap like at the Stonehenge World Heritage site …

Lest anyone is in doubt about the nature of today’s event taking place right now, here are two recent announcements by the organiser:

The value of finds that don’t have to be shared with the landowner has been increased to £3.000 “because that’s only fair”.

If a “treasure” reward is paid then: “if our farmers stick to the agreement we make with them they should only keep half of anything over £3000 so if it’s under and they get paid they should pay the finder the money they received.”


This week, without fanfare, pay-to-dig detecting rallies were allowed back on Britain’s fields. There are no such events anywhere else in the world, no matter how backward..

Let’s Go Digging has one at 9.00am tomorrow in Gloucestershire. We can’t tell you exactly where. as you have to ring the night before to find out. (Why? So local archaeologists don’t have time to check if it will be damaging and get in touch with the farmer?)


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

The first subject in our ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ series is Heritage Action chairman, Nigel Swift. So without any delay, let’s get directly into his responses to our questions…

* What is/was your day job?

(Was) Chartered Surveyor and lecturer.

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

Pootling along westwards out of Marlborough in 2001, suddenly seeing Silbury loom up and exclaiming “What the #### is that?!”

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

It came from wonder.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

The older the better. 

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

I suppose, since The Journal has its origins in people chatting on The Modern Antiquarian forum, I should say Julian Cope’s book of that name.

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

A couple of Burls, Stukeley Illustrated and a map of Ancient Britain.

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

Best unvisited site: Callanish. Best visited one has to be Silbury as I’ve yet to get over the shock of first seeing it in 2001, bearing in mind I knew nothing about ancient sites at that time. As a small child I’d seen a picture of the Avebury stones in “1001 Wonderful Things” but Spinal Tap-like, I thought they were only a foot high!

What is it about Silbury that attracts and obsesses? Two things, the sheer size and the sheer mystery. It inspired me to pen a poem which expresses it and, come to think of it, probably explains my conservation enthusiasm. The sites aren’t ours to mess with.

Silbury Hill

Ask in vain!
For we, the dead,
Speak not a word to you.
This thing was ours, not yours.

Gaze, in awe.
On what we wrought,
There is no clue.
This thing was ours, not yours.

We, whose fingers bled,
Whose passions burned,
Care not for you.
This thing was ours, not yours.

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

Just about everything, as I knew nowt and I’m still struggling with Marxist archaeology and the bipolarism that exists between the processual and post-processual debates!

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I have lots of theories, but not many I’d bet my house on as so many theories in archaeology end up wrong. But one of my ideas is that sarsen can be highly polished but the shine weathers away entirely in two decades (I’ve checked), leaving no evidence at all. Plus, there was an Age of Timber, or many, prior to stone circles and rows but again the evidence has largely disappeared. And a third one, a fantasy rather than a theory, that one day, deep in a cave, there will be discovered (preferably by me) a neolithic wheel.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

I like to think the sites are shared, so leaving anything at them, even for a day, seems an unwarranted extension of our time there and just mean to those who come after us.

As for long-term changes, I’m not a fan of mantras such as “sites must change over time, nothing can be preserved in aspic”. I only agree with those if the changes are inevitable and aren’t imposed for ignoble and transitory human reasons such as to make someone richer or to provide cut-price road solutions, and certainly not if presented as an enhancement to the visitor experience, if you get my drift. I also think hiding from view is tantamount to demolishing.

The thing is, if a site has lasted for a hundred generations it’s right that we try to make it last another hundred generations, without changing it radically during our petty and blinkered spans. To do otherwise also seems just mean to those who come after us.

Many thanks to Nigel for sharing his megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above.

Stonehenge Alliance points out there’s much lofty talk about “reuniting the landscape” (12.7K Google hits!) But is the claim valid? See below, a little-seen impression from the proposed Green Bridge 4″ towards the western portal, “requested by the Examiners but not shared by the scheme’s supporters” as far as SA is aware:


So is that “returning dignity to Stonehenge and its landscape” or is it pure baloney? A brand new cutting, far deeper, far wider, and far more visually shocking than the existing road, will reunite the landscape? How?

Well, the claim rests entirely on building some “green bridges” over the new dual carriageway. Not green at all as they’ll comprise concrete with grass on it, nothing else, and they’ll have no connection with the ancient landscape on each side. So an awkward question hangs in the air for English Heritage et al:

If “reuniting the landscape” is so darn important to you, why haven’t you ever pushed for green bridges over the existing road? Or some pedestrian tunnels under it? And saved all this vast amount of damage and expense? And reply came there none.

Paul Barford has analysed the National Council for Metal Detecting’s latest attack on the proposed Institute of Detectorists. They seem to have two main objections.

1.) They hate the idea of a step towards licensing. But why? Why would people object to a country having a say in how people exploit what belongs to it? It’s the loft clearance model again: “trust us, we’ll clear your granny’s belongings and you can be sure we’ll behave well”.

2.) But even more they HATE the idea that they themselves may be circumvented when it comes to informing landowners. Oh the horror! The idea that the very people whose land it is should be given proper information and not left to be solely informed by an unregulated, self-interested random bloke at their gate!

The NCMD have form on this matter and ALWAYS oppose reform. Right now, they’ve refused to sign the official Code of Responsible Detecting – how much clearer a confession could there be thast they should be out of the loop? But look at this from 2010, our list of the things they had resisted by then:
“Don’t criticise us or we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t tell us what to do or we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t undertake surveys of nighthawking else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t let PAS dominate us else we’ll stop reporting” (and later: “Don’t reduce PAS’s funding else we’ll stop reporting”), “Don’t impose a Code of Responsible Detecting else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t discuss licensing us else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t ban inappropriate rallies else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t impose restrictions under stewardship schemes else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t tighten up EBay else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t ever, ever, ever short change us on the Treasure rewards else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t abate our Treasure rewards for not calling an archie out else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t talk of using some of our Treasure rewards to finance proper excavations of our findspots else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t write to farmers without us dictating what is to be said else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t extend the items covered by the Treasure Act beyond exactly what we say else we’ll stop reporting.” (Rich, is it not, when the majority of detectorists….. don’t report!)

So isn’t it time that Britain imposed it’s own rules on what happens to it’s own buried heritage and gave the raggle-taggle self-interested NCMD army zero say in the matter?

Sarah Palin, 2007: There is no evidence there are fewer polar bears these days”. NCMD has been talking damaging nonsense for much longer.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

You can’t get much meaner than removing traces of a country’s history, obliterating it’s past. Yet, as the pandemic restrictions are eased, thousands are poised to pick up their metal detectors and do exactly that once again.

Yes, collectively they report many finds, and that’s a dividend. But how does that compensate a country for collectively failing to report the rest? To claim a small gain makes up for a large loss is the maths of a fool.

And yes, the PAS has insufficient staff to record everything, but is it so impossible for them to be at least SHOWN what is found? Of course not, a brief look at seven artefacts an hour by each Finds Liaison Officer to pick out anything significant is perfectly possible – and indisputably desirable.

So British historicide is entirely avoidable. But instead we allow it and have coined a phrase to make up for the fact, “responsible detecting”, meaning “the minority who report”. If only we were honest and talked of “moral detecting”, meaning “they who don’t obliterate history”. Calling a spade a spade would surely have done more good than more than two decades of pretending? Maybe, one day …


The Finds Liaison Officer who stood up and used the phrase “moral detecting”


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

When early colonists in North America tried to participate in the old English sport of fox hunting they had no luck as the local gray foxes are one of the very few canids that can climb trees and often make their dens high up in a hollow branch. So when chased they run straight up the nearest tree.

British red foxes can’t do that so are prey to those who pretend trail hunting isn’t hunting. So maybe there’s a solution. Does anyone have some gray fox semen?


Over the past nine years or more on the Heritage Journal we have profiled many archaeologists, asking them questions in a series we called ‘Inside the Mind‘. This series proved to be very popular, and the entry highlighting Raksha Dave has become our most popular post ever! Indeed, it still receives dozens of views every month, despite being first published nearly nine years ago!

Now it is the turn of the committed archaeological ‘hobbyist’. We’ve been asking a new series of questions to people who have demonstrated a passion for prehistory and related sites, but who are not professional archaeologists, meet ‘The Antiquarists’.

As regular readers will know, Heritage Action was created after discussions on the Modern Antiquarian web site, and we began by asking several of our early members a new series of questions about their megalithic interests. We’ll be presenting their replies, and those of other amateur hobbyists over the next few weeks – some make interesting reading! We’ll be kicking off with Nigel Swift, Heritage Action chairman, in a few days time so keep an eye on the Journal!

The questions we’ll be asking are as follows, so if you’d like to join in, please contact us with your answers, and we’ll feature them in a future article:

  • What is/was your day job?
  • How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?
  • Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?
  • What is your favourite time period or era?
  • Which book has had the most influence on your interest?
  • Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on site visits?
  • What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?
  • Which archaeological words or phrases caused you most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?
  • What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?
  • What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

We look forward to presenting the responses we’ve received so far, and also to receiving your responses to these questions!

Soon, tens of thousands of people will resume metal detecting “for charity”. Farmer Silas Brown was spot on yesterday: in most cases neither the farmer nor the charity nor the archaeology benefit as much as they should, and that’s putting it diplomatically, so the case for reform is overwhelming.

We think a simple notice on farm gates expressing what Silas suggested would do more for farmers, charities, and heritage protection than anything currently being done. Simple, sensible, equitable, and very, very effective.

The fact that metal detecting rally organisers will be vehemently opposed whereas the Archaeological Establishment, including PAS, will be fully supportive (albeit not in public) is all the endorsement the idea requires.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


April 2021

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