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HellandCouncil Barrow at Helland, Cornwall (Picture credit: Alex Langstone)

Following a recent visit to my local Bronze Age round barrow, I was saddened to see that a tractor had been driven over the top of it at some point in the recent past. I was also dismayed to see a deep furrowed track way along its eastern flank.

This set me thinking, as over the years I have seen many other sites like this, most of them have been much worse. The barrow I visited is known as the Council Barrow SX099703, and is situated on a  prominent hill top at the north-western extremity of Bodmin Moor, at the tip of Racecourse Downs.

Its proximity to the two highest points in Cornwall, give unsurpassed views across the moor to the east, and over St Austell Downs to the west. On the horizon to the north-east are Rough Tor and Brown Willy, Cornwall’s highest peaks. The site was obviously chosen for its panoramic vistas. In its heyday the barrow and its surroundings would have been an amazing sight

These types of ancient monument are often overlooked, but they are as important as  the more impressive monuments, more so as they often contain a wealth of artefacts that can link us to our ancestral past. Archaeologists of the future need to  inherit these barrows intact, not obliterated by farming. It is essential that we all keep a close eye on our local barrows, and inform the local archaeological service of any new problems. If the recent (June 2009) press release from English Heritage is anything to go by, then there are still massive problems across England. Below is a quote from the same press release:

“The (south west) region has 7,000, or one third, of England’s scheduled monuments. In 2006 some 1,800 were found to be at high risk, compared to 1,442 at present. This reduction is mainly a result of working closely with owners and managers of monuments and putting management agreements in place. Arable farming and erosion by livestock are the two most significant threats.”

To read the entire press release entitled ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES HARDER TO SAVE THAN BUILDINGS IN TOUGH TIMES see here.

Land owners must be given more education, support and guidance on managing ancient sites. They are in effect “guardians” of these sites, and whether they like it or not, they must live up to their responsibilities of “caretakers of our cultural past”. If they do not, then action must be taken to ensure that the correct care is provided by more responsible “guardians”.

Please see the following page on our website for more details of the farming threat to our archaeological heritage here

View from Helland Barrow

View to Rough Tor and Brown Willy from the damaged barrow at Helland (Picture credit: Alex Langstone)

TaraWatch will send a delegation to the Oireachtas, the Irish Houses of Parliament, in a bid to get Opposition parties to confront the Government on their mishandling of the M3 motorway, which is slicing the Tara Complex in half.

Questions will relate to Minister for the Environment, John Gormley’s failure to nominate Tara as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as promised, this week the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Seville.

Questions will also relate to the case being argued this week against Ireland, in the European Court of Justice, over Minister Roche’s decision to demolish the Lismullin national monument in 2007.\\ed=1&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

It’s been a bad week Mr. Gormley selling your soul and putting a “concrete dagger through the heart of Tara”

We have written here before about the pull of the stones at our ancient sites, and the passion that draws people to visit and write about such places.

(c) Andrew Johnstone
(c) Andrew Johnstone

Andrew Johnstone, a graphic designer by trade, has such a passion, and has recently spent a considerable amount of time in the Peak District National Park. An exhibition for MA Design graduates, held recently in Islington London, provided an opportunity for Andrew to showcase the results of his endeavours in this field, putting together a portfolio of products for which he is now seeking a publisher and distributor.

As he says in the preface to his book, The Prehistoric Peak, the central piece of his exhibition:

Despite being born and raised in England, my interest in British prehistory began after moving to Canada in 1991 when I was inspired by singer/songwriter and author Julian Cope who had begun his own inquiry into the subject, culminating in his two ground-breaking and highly recommended tomes on the subject of European megalithic monuments, The Modern Antiquarian (1998) and The Megalithic European (2004).

I didn’t return to live in England until 2007, so the only chance I had to visit these places was during infrequent trips back to Britain. What began as a casual curiosity very quickly grew into a keen interest and I started to realize, as Cope had himself, that a whole swathe of British history had been kept from my knowledge. At school we are taught that our history begins with the Roman invasion in the 1st Century Common Era (C.E.) and prior to that we were simply illiterate barbarians, but by visiting megalithic sites and reading as much as I could about them, it soon became apparent to me that this simply is not the truth.

Anyone who chooses to look into this aspect of our history will see that the builders of these monuments were far from backward or uncivilized. They had a complex understanding of the world in which they lived, based on millennia of living, studying and moving within it. Most of us will know of sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury, but what many don’t realize is that this land is inundated with the monuments of those ancient societies. I have long felt it a shame that we don’t celebrate the truly amazing civilizations that walked on these islands long ago. It is time we stepped out of this denial and into a new era of full and complete recognition of all our past. Thankfully, I believe we are.

[The] intention [of this book] is […] to encourage people to go out there and see these places for what they are today, after all, they are often located in some of the most spectacular landscapes available to us in Britain today, which to me is reason enough. They make fascinating destinations for journeys that are about experiencing all the wonders of the world around us. Yes, the destination is certainly something to aim for, but sometimes, as the long process that has brought me to this point has shown me, it is often the journey that informs us the most.

First on the list of items in the exhibition is a large coffee-table book of stunning black and white images. Very stark, and very stoney, Andrew admits that the book was largely put together for purely personal reasons, to fulfill his own desire for such a book.

The majority of his efforts however, went on the companion travel guide, from which the quotation above was taken. This is a fantastic piece of work, detailing over 70 sites in the National Park in over 300 pages. Each site has been personally visited by Andrew, and has a full colour photo and map of the area, as well as diagrams of what can be seen at each site, straightforward directions and a full description of the site and surrounding terrain. For the exhibition, the volume is printed on high quality paper which is fully bound in hand stitched leather – a true ‘deluxe’ edition!


There is also a set of individual foldable ‘pocket guides’, one per site, containing much of the same information as in the main guide. These were nicely presented in a ‘box set’, but the idea is that each mini-guide would be available for sale within the immediate area of the site.


All of the above were presented within a backdrop of some stunning full size posters depicting a couple of the sites in photographic, map and diagrammatic form.

It’s obvious from the care that has gone into the items than Andrew feels a strong affinity with the sites and as he explained to me, whilst visiting the sites for the book one day he had a realisation that “I was over there yesterday, over there the day before and will be there tomorrow, and suddenly the interrelationship of the sites clicked for me”, a true Road to Damascus moment that he wanted to convey that others may understand too.

If only that understanding could be bottled and presented (force fed?) to the official custodians of many sites across the country that are in danger of neglect.

Andrew hopes to show the results of his work in the Peak area later in the year. And I’ve already ‘pre-ordered’ my copy in the hope he finds a publisher soon!

Update: More information can now be found on Andrew’s web site, and we hope to have an article explaining Andrew’s personal perspective on his quest here soon.

Wake me up after the recession.

Wake me up after the recession.

It has been disturbing to read, courtesy of ‘Village’ magazine, the results of “a cursory examination of planning and zoning decisions”, in a number of Irish counties. Granting the possibility that this behaviour might not be universal (although the suspicion would have to be otherwise), the next time you read about a conflict between Irish local councils and heritage-minded citizens you might do well, nonetheless, to keep it in mind. Here follows a few brief examples:

In County Meath, location of the ongoing Tara controversy, councillors recently amended a local area plan, against the arguments of the County Manager, to allow a new road to run through an existing housing estate and to open up adjacent land for housing. It was claimed that residents of the estate, in a town which already had a large surplus of zoned land and who had each actually signed a petition against it, were in favour

In the same county two other councillors, an independent and a Green, pushed for the re-zoning of land, close to a major town, “against the advice of planning officials”. The article goes on to state that; “Across County Meath there is concern about the manner in which more than a dozen local area plans for various towns and village settlements are being railroaded through the council.” Who benefited?

In County Dublin, two prominent businessmen, who had paid almost €25million to the Revenue Commissioners after corruption investigations, stand to recoup much of their loss due to ownership of land that is included in Fingal County Council’s housing and commercial expansion plans. Lands were also re-zoned by councillors in County Wicklow, against massive local and planning opposition, after developers promised land for schools and a Garda station. Once the decision was made it was announced that this land would cost the taxpayer €1million per acre.

Several more examples are given, all following the formula of:

(1) Councillors make a re-zoning or planning decision, that goes against local opinion and that of planning experts.

(2) From amidst the intricate weaves of connections and ownerships, a developer, often a prominent supporter of some party, benefits.

Of course, Irish property prices have collapsed and many of these developers are now in serious trouble, yet the state has guaranteed the banks and the cost of any defaults will be ultimately borne by the taxpayer, via NAMA.

As initially stated, it is not advisable to expect individual cases to represent an overall behaviour, but you’d have to wonder. Costly commuter housing estates, being built miles outside Dublin, requiring motorways to cut a few minutes off journey time and that absolutely have to go along certain routes – who owned the land? It’s our landscape and our heritage, our descendant’s landscape and their heritage, that has been finely minced into the trough, with the National Monuments Act to ease the passage down.

Preservation by Record? Oh… that’s ok then.

Connolly, F.(2009) ‘Bad planning hasn’t gone away’ Village Issue 4 (June) 55-57

Mr. John Gormley, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and see-no-evil do-nothing witness to the violent rape of Ireland’s most precious ancient heritage, has just launched not one but THREE  “Agreed Codes of Archaeological Practice” in co-operation with potential heritage-worriers Eirgrid, ESB Networks and the “Irish Concrete Federation” (which includes one or two aggregate hungry outfits of the ilk of those that have desecrated so much heritage in Britain)…..

Here’s his remarkable Quote:

The codes show that development and conservation can go hand in hand.

Hand in hand, eh John? Like you let happen without lifting a finger at Tara then?

And more:

I hope  that the Codes would help spread the message that “being pro heritage does not equate to being anti-development.”

Heaven forbid! But why did you avoid saying the obvious other bit John, that you also hoped the Codes would help spread the message that “being pro development does not equate to being anti-heritage“?

Too worried you might choke on your words? Or that your pals in the Irish Concrete Federation might not like it? Who knows?

Come kindly JCBs, roll over Ireland!

Hey John, stick this at the front of your weasly worded Codes, it was penned by one of your countrymen more than three years ago, before proud important you and your proud important predecessors conspired and blinkered to let it happen without a squeak. It says more about development and heritage than anything in your Codes ever could –

Tara abandoned by a generation who prefer soulless symbols

TARA, here I am. I have come all the way from Kerry to be with you before the vultures, with bulldozers and JCBs, open your lower belly. They are impatient to inflict the wounds.

You are abandoned, forsaken and rejected. All the powers that be – Meath County Council, the Government, NRA, An Bord Pleanála and the High Court – have walked out on you. We pay them to protect you but they betrayed us. We trusted them too much.

Tara, I know you sympathise with the people who are forced to commute to Dublin five days a week. But why are they not angry with Meath County Council for not putting in a bypass at Dunshaughlin and a proper one in Navan 20 years ago? They allowed them not only to close down but also to rip up the Dublin/Navan/Trim railway line over 30 years ago. And they still trust them. There were so many other options for this road. Are you the same Tara who was magic for Master O’Connell, the principal of Tarmons National School in Tarbert? He instilled a love of you into our hearts, and I can still see the face of Fr O’Flaherty (our history teacher in St Brendan’s, Killarney) come alive at your name. But that was a different generation, other times. You are no longer in fashion. This generation prefers soulless symbols – motorways, shopping malls, four-wheel drives, big trucks and, of course, the euro. I expected all the people in Ireland to have run to protect you. It would have been unacceptable, I thought, to run a motorway through the Tara/Skryne Valley, opening up a wound that no plastic surgery can cure. But this generation was not touched, nor incensed. How sad. Will you forgive us?

The day Environment Minister Dick Roche sanctioned the motorway, I was watching the evening news in a pub. One man said, when he saw Mr Roche on TV, “Isn’t he a pity? I wouldn’t ask him to mind my chickens, and Bertie Ahern put him in charge of our heritage and environment. He has no bottle, afraid of the hawks.” Poor Mr Roche. Maybe he has no power. An Bord Pleanála, which is not comprised of elected representatives, makes all the big decisions. Or does it? Who has real power today?

Democracy, the people’s participation in the ordering of their own lives, is now perceived as a meaningless facade that hides the ruthlessness of corporate self-interest. The suspicion that political ideologies and institutions are becoming irrelevant because politics is being reduced to following ‘the laws of the market’ is creating political unease among people and cynicism among the young about voting. Tara, what else can your support groups and friends do now? Are all avenues closed? Has your hour come? Will we call the lone piper to play a dirge?

Tommy O’Hanlon
Co Kerry

A related article about kindly snouts in convenient troughs will follow shortly.

Avebury, Silbury and the surrounding area by H J Massingham: circa 1936 
Wonderful indeed it is, a vast circumvallation that was already two thousand years old before the dawn of British history; a great wall of earth with its ditch most strangely on its inner and not on its outer side; and within this enclosure gigantic survivors of the great circles of unhewn stone that, even as late as Tudor days, were almost complete. A whole village, a church, a pretty manor house have been built, for the most part, out of the ancient megaliths; the great wall is sufficient to embrace them all with their gardens and paddocks; four cross-roads meet at the village centre. There are drawings of Avebury before these things arose there, when it was a lonely wonder on the plain, but for the most part the destruction was already done before the Mayflower sailed. To the southward stands the cone of Silbury Hill; its shadow creeps up and down the intervening meadows as the seasons change. Around this lonely place rise the Downs, now bare sheep pastures, in broad undulations, with a wart-like barrow here and there, and from it radiate, creeping up to gain and hold the crests of the hills, the abandoned trackways of that forgotten world. These trackways, these green roads of England, these roads already disused when the Romans made their highway past Silbury Hill to Bath, can still be traced for scores of miles through the land, running to Salisbury and the English Channel, eastward to the crossing at the Straits and westward to Wales, to ferries over the Severn, and southwestward into Devon and Cornwall.

H G Wells (1922)

As the old saying goes “Where there’s muck, there’s Brass”, but in this case, the Brass is Bronze – or at least a bronze age roundhouse.

The discovery of stones that are thought to date back to the Bronze Age have halted a multi-million pound sewage treatment project in Cornwall.

Whilst such sites are relatively common in Cornwall, each site investigated adds a little more knowledge about the daily lives of our predecessors, which can only be a good thing for the communal knowledge base.

More information can be found on the BBC website.

Prior to the event we thought it best to say little about the announced up-tick in the degree of policing and the accompanying slightly confrontational dialogue coming from the police themselves as we thought there was an obvious danger that it might inflame things and we had no wish to be accused of having contributed to a problem.

In the event, all went pretty well according to most accounts. Was this because of the increased police activity and announcements – or despite of  them? The latter, we suspect.

Certainly there were some downsides – the Daily Mirror ran the headline Pagans Litter Stonehenge with obvious relish but didn’t mention that English Heritage’s spokesman had gone out of his way to point out that the area of the stones had been left immaculate and that they would be able to tidy up elsewhere in a few hours (courtesy of pagan stewards we believe).

It is certainly obvious that such gatherings do need approaching carefully to avoid an echo of the bad old days and we would have thought that the police, of all people, would realise that – particularly so soon after what happened at the G20 demonstrations.

Whether well intentioned or not, police actions were seen as provocative by some – see this, from the Indymedia UK website:

“Anyone who went to Stonehenge for the summer solstice 2009 would have noticed that the crowd has changed from previous years. Sure, there’s still a massive hippie contingent and plenty of druids and shamanic types there for the ritual and the energy buzz, and this year considerably more ‘normal’ sorts; middle class families and large crews of inner city kids just out for a good party. But aside from these peaceful masses a smaller core of bad apples turned up in their high-viz and their riot vans to make everyone feel uncomfortable. For the first time since the Battle of the Beanfield, the police presence at Stonehenge was enormous.”

“They were everywhere, in your eyes and up your nose and as irritant as hayfever. Hundreds of coppers in total; at the entrance to the stones, the exit from the car park and patrolling all over the site supported by considerable numbers of private security contractors with stab vests, handcuffs and sniffer dogs at the entrance to the stones. I saw two police horses, and big canvas adverts warning about drugs tests and sniffer dogs and encouraging people to deposit drugs anonymously in red ‘Amnesty Bags’ rather than run the gauntlet. Even more sinister, I spotted a Wiltshire Police evidence gatherer team (two guys) filming around the stones just after dawn but didn’t have my camera and was a little too wasted to intervene. There was also a UAV Hicam Microdrone – a small remote controlled camera thing with rotor blades flitting around the stones all night, filming the crowd from above. To cap it all off, a police helicopter buzzed the car park at low altitude for about an hour from around 10.00 in the morning, presumably to keep people awake after a heavy night of partying so they could fall asleep at the wheel on the long drive home.”

Worse and ominous are some of the comments that some people have left after that article. “Itching for a fight and willing to indulge in very nasty tactics” sums some of them up.

It seems to us that Solstice 2009 could easily have gone very wrong and unless the police realise that – and why – then there is an obvious risk that Solstice 2010 will go wrong and it will not be real pagans that are to blame but others – on both sides.

Article from the Irish Examiner,  John Gormley – Green Party Minister for the Environment.  Is he about to betray The Hill of Tara?

Gormley denies u-turn on Tara UNESCO designation

Environment Minister John Gormley has denied accusations that he has abandoned his promise to include the Hill of Tara on Ireland’s list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Tarawatch organisation says Mr Gormley has backed out of a pledge to present a revised list of nominated sites – including Tara – to UNESCO in Seville tomorrow…. more here

A demonstration is being held today against John Gormley at 12 noon at the Custom House Dublin.

The demonstrations will mark the day when Minister Gormley was supposed to submit Tara as a World Heritage Site to UNESCO, as well as the week that the European Court of Justice is hearing a case by the European Commission against Ireland over the M3 at Tara.


Update; Group Calls for Gormley Resignation;

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time…
It is a tale
Told by an idiot,  full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

At the risk of labouring a point that needs labouring urgently…. we thought it reasonable to point out that our Artefact Erosion Counter  hasn’t stopped but has ticked remorselessly onwards since we last highlighted it just two weeks ago.  Today it shows an ADDITIONAL eleven thousand artefacts  having just been removed from our fields, mostly un-recorded, thus depriving the rest of us of the associated historical knowledge forever.

It is said (guess by whom?) that the Counter is grossly inaccurate (guess in which direction?)  We are unconvinced. All it is saying is that an army of ten thousand enthusiasts have found barely more than half a recordable artefact each per week in the past two weeks. Or maybe that half of them stayed at home and the other half found a couple each over the past fortnight!

We don’t think that’s unlikely at all, bearing in mind the number of people involved, what they say on their forums, the massive weekly offerings on EBay, the decades of sustained enthusiasm, the numerous rallies they attend, the vast numbers of metal detecting magazines sold and the millions of pounds worth of detecting equipment that is marketed by a large number of specialist manufacturers and retailers. In fact we think it is beyond the bounds of credibility that the hobby flourishes on the basis of fewer finds than the Counter suggests. We also think that if the true figures were a tenth of that it would still be a disgrace and that it is very wrong, uniquely British (as is the apparent official support it is given) and simply shouldn’t be happening.


June 2009

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