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M3 Motorway“The Tara landscape has been nominated by the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society (MAHS) for inclusion in UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites (WHS) currently being drawn up by the Department of the Environment.”

The controversial motorway that has been driven through the landscape around the Hill of Tara has provoked much anger and sorrow for this act of vandalism by the Irish government. In an effort to stop further development,  a proposal was made by Tara Campaigners  to put Tara on a tentative list of proposed World Heritage sites…

The Meath Archaeological and Historical Society have now put foward their submissions as well,

“…the landscape is a unique archaeological, historical, ceremonial, political and cultural landscape focused around the Hill of Tara complex, which served as a necropolis, sanctuary, ritual and royal centre for successive peoples over thousands of years.

“Apart from the dense and varied collection of archaeological sites on the Hill of Tara itself, the Tara landscape comprises a rich and diverse collection of archaeological sites and complexes from the prehistoric to the early historic and medieval periods, including burial monuments, habitation sites, ritual and religious sites and complexes, hillforts, enclosures, souterrains and linear embankments, all testifying to continuous settlement and ceremonial use by different cultures over the millennia…”

See press report here

Whatever the outcome, nothing can be done to retrieve the despoiled landscape round the Hill of Tara from the intrusion of the new motorway, but at this late stage at least a recognition of its importance to world heritage can be recorded, and further development stopped.


“On the 4th of Feb 2009 the Executive Committee of Somerset County Council resolved to close the Peat Moors Centre at the end of October 2009. The decision is due to be ratified by the full council on 18th February”




This marvellous educational centre, just outside Glastonbury, is home to reconstructions of our prehistoric past. Huts, looms, bee skips, a boat carved from a single log, and much more can be seen here over the summer months. So why must it be closed down? Somerset Council has in its advertising literature of the Centre the following words,

“Travel back in time to prehistoric Somerset and discover first hand how our ancient ancestors made their homes in the centre of an extensive wetland. Three full size reconstructions of Iron Age roundhouses have been created to give an insight into living conditions the unique Glastonbury Lake Village.”

The area around Glastonbury is unique with its peat lands which often produce evidence of our past prehistory. Excavations have uncovered one of the oldest roads in the world – the Sweet Track laid down around the year 3807  bc, also the Iron Age Glastonbury Lake Village settlement, dated 300 bc, it was found in the 19th century by Arthur Bulleid, who successfully excavated  and then covered it once more for future archaeologists.

Such rare finds are of great importance, and the Peat Moors Centre highlights our past in an imaginative way, making the past come to life for its many visitors. It would be a terrible shame that such a place could be closed in the face of the present economic climate.


Update from Tuesday 17th Feb

Fury of Peat Moors Centre Closure

Closure final; see Heritage Action article at;

2:30 pm, Saturday, 21 March, 2009

A lecture by renowned archaeologist Aubrey Burl at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes.

South-west quadrant

Avebury: south-west quadrant. Image credit Heritage Action. Copyright waivered

“There are hundreds of stone circles in the British Isles. Every year hundreds of thousands of people visit them. Sometimes there is a sign, usually uninformative, occasionally inaccurate. There may be stones in a ring, tall stones, small stones, fallen stones – but nothing else. Just silence.

“Yet, it is untrue. The stones tell their own story, unshaped but intentionally chosen to record the beliefs of the people who erected them. The stones are the literature distant, illiterate people left for us to read. One stone circle shows how it can be read …

“A member of the Society, Aubrey Burl was at one time Britain’s best selling archaeological author. His books on Stone Circles have been published and reprinted in many editions (with slight variations of title), and he is well known for challenging the theory that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from Preseli by man and has written extensively too on Avebury. For many years as principal lecturer in archaeology at Hull, he now works as an archaeological consultant and writer. He was quite particular about the choice of date for his lecture …”

Above quoted from Wiltshire Heritage Museum website

Booking Recommended.
Contact the Bookings Secretary on 01380 727369
Cost: £4.00 (£3.00 for WANHS members)

Coate Water

Coate Water

“THE public inquiry into whether developers will be allowed to build 1,800 homes on land near Coate Water begins today, February 10th.

“The Marriott Hotel is playing host to the battle between Swindon Council and the partnership that wants to build 1,800 homes and a university campus on land between Marlborough Road, Coate Water and the M4.

“The University of the West of England (UWE) has admitted that Coate is its preferred location for a site in Swindon.”

More in this press report

Also see earlier Heritage Journal article Jefferies Land; The Rape of Coate Water by Development

Marlborough expert warns on threat to ancient treasures

Leading Marlborough archaeologist Mike Pitts has warned the recession could have a major impact on work to uncover ancient treasures.

It is predicted that around 1,000 jobs will be lost in archaeology, largely due to the collapse of the construction industry which finances digs at building sites.

Despite being more popular with the public than ever, archaeology is also suffering from a series of other setbacks, according to Mr Pitts, who edits British Archaeology magazine
See press report in The Gazette and Herald

Avebury residents were given the choice of three options as to whether they wanted to allow pagans to camp in or near Avebury during their festivals. The National Trust who own most of the village had put forward the options to the villagers last week.

 The options;

1) Ban overnight camping in the large village car park;
2) Create a new campsite East of West Kennet Avenue
3) Allow limited camping in the overflow car park.

The third option seems to be the one most in favour after a vote was taken from the residents of Avebury. “The residents felt that the option of doing nothing could create significant problems”, though what those significant problems could be remains a mystery. One can have sympathy for the residents of Avebury for the ‘siege mentality’ that they feel under because of the pressure of tourists and pagans alike but living as they do in a World Heritage Site, with some of the most fabulous prehistoric stones in Britain, surely this must compensate for the hardships that they occasionally encounter.

See Western Daily Press article here
See previous Heritage Action article – A Very Bad Idea here


Update;  Camping at Solstice weekend see the National Trust information


Well here’s an offer you cannot refuse…

English Heritage is appealing for anyone with ancient burial sites, standing stones, ruined abbeys or other scheduled monuments on their property to get in touch with them so they can assess how best they can be maintained and repaired.

coins in handDeconstructing some false claims by US Coin dealers and others….

We were struck by an article penned by David Welsh, a prominent US coin dealer who we understand buys and sells (inter alia) artefacts plucked fresh from the soil of Britain. He is the proprietor of Classical Coins, an online store selling ancient coins and describes himself as “well known as a collectors’ rights activist”….

Yes, US dealers and collectors assert they have rights, just like their British metal detectorist suppliers and, since their whole raison d’être is to acquire artefacts from all over the world provided they are “licit” according their own less-than-rigorous checking criteria, this assertion of rights inescapably includes an assumed right to affect the fate of the British archaeological resource. And that of everywhere else in the world of course. Even in those countries where both digging up and exporting antiquities is entirely forbidden. After all, if a seller says an article that might be from Baghdad is from Bognor or an article that might be looted is not looted what is a dealer to do? Simple! Not buy it unless he’s sure it is licit says the Portable Antiquities Scheme in its advice to buyers (else, they clearly imply, the buyer would be aiding and encouraging the process of looting and destroying the past). “No”, announced Mr Welsh recently to British archaeologists on the main Britarch archaeology discussion list. Such advice is “naive and unrealistic.” US law and the US dealers’ own self-written code of ethics (known in some quarters as the Loophole Lore) are ALL he feels obliged to follow. And on this basis alone he offers his items for sale on his website- “Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Persian coins for collectors. Authenticity and Satisfaction Guaranteed.” !

After all (Mr Welsh is clearly saying), you have to be realistic about these things, a man must make a crust, doesn’t the Portable Antiquities realise that? Telling him he ought to be sure he doesn’t sell illicit items would mean…. ummmm… he could sell far fewer items! And that’s NOT going to happen, Mr Welsh has announced it publicly to British archaeologists!

Thus, the great antiquities conveyor belt leading from soil to salon (of which Mr Welsh could hardly deny he is an efficient and pivotal part) rolls on, lubricated at every stage by money, subject to enthusiastic checking systems regarding monetary value throughout its length yet totally devoid of a commensurately enthusiastic or comprehensive checking system regarding whether objects are licit or whether they are part of a process of damage to the past. The world’s looters loot and say nothing. British metal detectorists detect, mostly don’t report what they find and declare “It’s legal innit?” and US dealers deal and tell their collector clients and British archaeologists that “if it’s allowed under US law plus if I alone say its fine then it’s fine, you can be sure, and my conscious is clear”. And everyone makes money. Which of these groups, one might ask, are the greatest moral philosophers? And is not the size and speed of the conveyor belt testament to the fact there’s actually no room for moral philosophy, when there’s money to be made?

There is room for words though, since we are dealing with humans. For who would make money out of what they do without attempting to deny it was profoundly wrong? Thus in his article Mr Welsh asks, with all apparent seriousness: “Who has authorised archaeologists to own the past?” giving the impression he actually believes such a thing has happened and that we should too and, by implication, suggesting that therefore he himself is entitled to own the past and trade it to the highest bidder.

To us, the answer to his silly question is so glaringly obvious we can’t resist supplying it: no-one has, for they don’t! The past is the past of us all, communally created and therefore indisputably communally owned. It follows, beyond reasonable denial, that no single group, whether collectors, looters, metal detectorists or archaeologists can lay claim to what everyone owns.

Of course, individual objects can have owners, people can buy or inherit coins and artefacts – or find them in the ground and persuade the landowner to cede ownership – or steal them and thus acquire illicit ownership. But none of these objects, however acquired, is “the past”. Our past is embodied not in objects but in the knowledge of the past that comes from them or their surroundings. The past can neither be touched nor traded nor held in a hand nor placed in a display case, either private or public. The past is purely cerebral and cannot therefore be “owned” by an individual through acquiring an artefact. Let us not hold our breath for the money-making moral philosophers to deny that!

Nor for them to deny the sad corollary – that even though no-one can own the past they can and do destroy it – by acquiring an object and failing to ensure that all of its associated knowledge is delivered to the public. Hand on heart Mr Welsh, by following only your self-written code of buying ethics and refusing to agree with the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s advice to buy only if you are sure you and your colleagues must have unwittingly been party to destroying quite a lot of the past.

Mustn’t you?

So Mr Welsh, you’ll now understand why we’re not at all surprised when you say “I have never really identified the ultimate source upon which archaeologists base that moral authority which they believe that they possess over ancient artifacts” because, quite apart from the fact no archaeologist ever claims such a thing, no such moral authority could ever be available for them to claim. The public could not, would not and has not renounced it’s ownership of its past to anyone. For archaeologists to claim that they had they would need to misunderstand or deny the fundamental nature of the past and the public’s absolute ownership of it. In other words, they would need to be actually (or cynically pretend to be) obtuse as well as profoundly self-serving and selfish.

They are not that, Mr Welsh. Archaeology is all about obtaining maximum knowledge from physical remains. You must have noticed that’s the central obsession of Archaeology and all archaeologists. They are primarily and overwhelmingly after the knowledge of the past, not just the physical remains, however much they glint, and they are perfectly well aware that unlike the physical objects that you buy and sell for money that knowledge cannot be individually owned by them or anyone else.

Some people believe or claim otherwise. Thousands of British metal detectorists revel in the “thrill” of holding a piece of the past in their hand, wretchedly ignorant of the fact that they certainly don’t and that the past is abstract and will inevitably have been diminished if the knowledge surrounding the object is not fully shared. Some thrill! To commit witting or unwitting historycide! Selling this invalid thrill is also the main activity of the antiquities dealer. “I can sell you a piece of Britain’s past that you can hold in your hand” is naive at best and always an untruth. How ironic that the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s advice to not buy unless you are sure an object is licit should be described as naive when the very basis of antiquities dealing is the sale of a fictitious concept and an utterly naive view which confuses physical rights of ownership with the public’s right to know about it’s past!

Some scrabble for the former at the expense of the latter. Some dig up objects and don’t share the knowledge. Some buy objects and don’t put in one tenth of the effort that they should into ensuring that the knowledge has been shared. And some seek to cover their behaviour by saying “archaeologists are as bad as us.”

Sorry Mr Welsh. They aren’t. And saying they are reflects not on them but on those who say it.

This has been a message to you not from archaeologists who you constantly demonise but from some ordinary British people who object to the careless attitude that you and any of your fellows in the States that are like-minded take towards our communal archaeological resource.


February 2009

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