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Ketley Crag © Ian Hobson


Under a safe and ancient overhang
stony raindrops
spreading their unfathomable pattern
across the world
across the ages.

Dropped and patiently chipped away
in an unmoving pool of stone.
In an unresolved pond of another reality.


Image and words by Heritage Action members

Dr Stan Beckinsall’s account of this remarkable place  (reproduced with his kind permission) is here:

On Chatton Park Hill there is an enormous panel of rock art with a dominant view across the river Till right through to the Cheviot Hills. This site has been known since the 19th century, so it isn’t my discovery, but the complexity of it, the sheer volume of concentric circles, that the largest figure having concentric circles up to about a metre in diameter, is quite breathtaking. But the most important thing about Chatton Park Hill is its position in the landscape, because it is totally dominant as a viewpoint. Now, on the side of that hill is a site that we call Ketley Crag. It’s actually a natural rock overhang, and it was discovered quite recently that the floor was covered with cup and ring marks. And again like the best of the rock art, the people who made these have taken into account the natural formation of the rock itself, the indentations, and they have produced, what is by any standards, a work of art. Now what is interesting thing is that we have several rock shelters in Northumberland which have produced burials of the Early Bronze Age. We can’t actually date rock art itself, and here at Ketley Crag we have something of a mystery because the floor of the rock shelter doesn’t seem to have contained any burials. The site was excavated, incidentally, by badgers who live in the rock behind the rock shelter. In fact when I was recording this site by making a rubbing, I could hear them all busily at work at the back there. There was snow all around me but the floor of the rock shelter was dry, so this site has another important context for me, namely the time when I actually recorded it. Again it’s got a superb view, right down a stream valley running into the River Till and across to the hills.

An audio version can also be accessed here, courtesy Newcastle University:

The sensitive archaeology of the Bremore area can be “worked aroundaccording to John Bruder, Treasury Holdings’ managing director for Ireland.

There’s only a small pleasure to be had in being cynical about this type of announcement. Much greater are the feelings of despair, irritation, even anger, that it provokes. I’d really rather not have to think about or react to it, but things in Ireland are the way that they are.

Our quotes of the week have often tended to be in the form of these gob-smacked reactions, to the latest line of  blatant falsity or misrepresentation. The dripping grease on the burgers being shoved down the public throat, if you will. John Bruder’s reassurance, uttered back in March, follows one such formula. The ‘what are you getting all het up about? We’ll look after it’ approach. There are many others and I’m sure that we’ll all get well used to them before this is finished; ‘major job creation‘, ‘no other options for a deepwater port‘, ‘just the boost the country needs at this time’ and so on. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, or so they say.

Ok. Just in case you’re tempted to trust John’s intentions and think, “Well, that’s me off so. What the hell are we worried about at all? Stick a fence around the old lumps and bumps and everything’s sorted”, have a read of the excellent, funny and accurate article below. If I could fit the whole thing into a quote of the week I would, just to celebrate the truth for one week. It‘s a nice feeling now and again:

“…Ah now, An Taisce, hold on there just a minute. Don’t you know that there’s no need for one of them things at all, at all. Sure everyone knows that the Irish government, or any of its tentacled organs, never publishes an actual, independent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), at least not one that disagrees on its ‘preferred’ route, I mean, option. The portions of the original EIS it left out of the (2001) Halcrow Barry Report on the M3’s route picking selection, was nothing more then an attempt to save the environment. It was already fierce long altogether, so it was…”

Early reactions to the proposed design are ominous, to say the least.

“It’s cheap and nasty and isn’t going to do justice to the site. It looks like an immigration detention centre. It’s not something that makes you feel part of something ancient and mystic. “We should be building something to last. We should have had an international competition.”  Paul Sample, former mayor of Salisbury

And perhaps more authoritatively:

“This looks like an IT student’s first attempt at rendered graphics. It’s amateurish and causes one to wonder about the quality of the finished product. “If you only get the detailed images at the time of the planning application you can’t give a balanced critical opinion on the suitability of the design. From this image that just has to be no.”  Peter Alexander-Fitzgerald, a member of the International Council on Monuments & Sites

As Mr Alexander-Fitzgerald implies, it is perhaps too early to panic. Only when the full planning application is submitted will we be able to judge if the building is of the “world class” that the government has promised.

“The world’s great museums continue to unveil and show off ravishing new antiquities, especially from the Classical world. Where do these treasures come from? In a growing scandal, it becomes increasingly clear these are not forgotten curios, excavated long ago and recently gathering dust in the attics of Swiss bankers, but new finds recently looted and illicitly exported from their countries of origin. Why? How?

“And what will be the consequences?”

An illustrated lecture by Dr Christopher Chippindale, Reader in Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, will be held at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes on Saturday, 19 December 2009 from 2:30pm.

More here –

 Dartmoor 001

Dartmoor is justly famous for its prehistoric monuments; stone circles, burial cairns, hut circles and stone rows are part of the prehistoric heritage that make up the moor.

An interesting article in the September/October British Archaeology called ‘Dartmoor’s Vanishing Archaeology’ and written by Tom Greeves highlights the problem that occurs when animal grazing is drastically reduced on the moors  due to several factors such as farmers leaving the land, official policy drawn up by DEFRA and Natural England with a confusing range of terms and conditions that bind the upland farmers under the Agricultural Policy. Heather is seen as the natural flora of the moors by the powers that be, but with it comes gorse as well and archaeological monuments start to disappear under all this growth.

Stone rows, of which there are 80 examples, as well as cairns and stone circles become lost in this thick vegetation and the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs in the article give a pretty stark message. The Brisworthy stone circle is one such site highlighted, but it is the small stones that make up the long stone rows that soon become invisible.

Tom Greeves argues rightly that Dartmoor has been farmed since the sixth millennium BC and that the cultural tradition of farming the moors with sheep, cattle and horses should not be lost to a perceived present cultural whim, which dictates what is natural in the landscape, and that though wild and open in appearance it has been farmed to some degree over the centuries. He also raise an interesting point that the protection of our scheduled ancient monuments which is site specific fails to take into account the wider landscape, something that Heritage Action has long spoken out about.

An interesting book on the subject of the Bronze Age Dartmoor Reaves (ruined walls) first published in 1988  gives a detailed examination of  Dartmoor’s large scale, planned, prehistoric landscapes  and which has now been republished with an extra two chapters.

Andrew Fleming – The Dartmoor Reaves; Investigating Prehistoric Land Divisions. ISBN 9781905119158  April 2008

  “Never before has so much archaeological material been removed from the earth through illegal looting as it has since the 1990s. We are witness to a ‘decontextualisation process’ on an enormous scale which affects all archaeological objects……This is a loss of historical source material that is without comparison, and it cannot be replaced”

H.-M von Kaenel, Coins in Context I: New Perspectives for the Interpretation of Coin Finds, Studien zu Fundmünzen der Antike 23 – Mainz) 2009.

What has this to do with British metal detecting since most of it takes place with permission, on non-scheduled sites and is legal, encouraged, partnered, subsidised and described by a government minister as heroic?

It’s simple: beyond Britain no-one pretends recreational and entrepreneurial metal detecting isn’t erosive, profoundly damaging and involves a loss of historical source material that is without comparison.

Brtitish metal detecting. Not looting. Merely the cause of vastly more damage in total than looting.

This is not something that is mentioned on the website of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Nor denied!

Some further developments in the Bremore Port story, complete with, I’m afraid, a depressing reminder of Tara and the ’unsuitable alternative routes for the M3′ claim.

An architect and town planner has stated that it would be a “significantly inferior” choice to an infilled Dublin Port, for diversion of container services and that the proposal “was based on the misconception that a port at Bremore actually exists”:

“…according to Mr Durney, Bremore was not a natural harbour and would require large-scale engineering works, and even then he claimed it had been suggested the port “could be vulnerable in northeasterly winds in the same way that Rosslare is.”

As well as the serious archaeological concerns, he also mentioned the poor road and rail connections, in comparison to Dublin Port:

Secondly, for those of a nervous disposition, the Drogheda Independent reports that:

“People who have gone into the Garda Station to consult the application have been informed by the Gardai that the file may not be copied or photographed and must be viewed in the presence of the Gardai and that you must sign your name to a register which will be passed on to the Drogheda Port Company after the consultation period has ended,..”

I don’t know what to say. Apart from the vulnerability of the passage tombs, there’s such a heavy whiff here of all that went wrong with this country. Please, if you can, object.

A previous article referred to the fall-off in road-building excavations, in the wake of the crash of the Irish Economy. Discoveries in this area are continuing to come to our attention, however and a number were described at a recent NRA archaeology seminar.

Among the findings highlighted were a Mesolithic fishing trap, found on the controversial M3 works, in Co. Meath and a complex of Late Neolithic and Bronze Age wooden track-ways (toghers) and platforms, that ran through a raised bog, on the route of the N4, in Longford. These latter excavations also revealed the remains of bowls, spears and wheels, one of which, dated to the Late Bronze Age, was suggested to be the oldest wheel yet found in Ireland.

Most interesting, for me at least, was the investigation that found the original shape of a mound in Co. Tipperary was delimited, during the Neolithic, by a palisade and augmented with several additional layers of soil. Just how special is that? While palisaded enclosures are not uncommon, the encirclement of an artificially enhanced  hill is notable and it is hard to resist a wandering of the mind, despite difference in scale, towards the Silbury area, in England*. The townland name; Tullahedy, ‘Tulach Éide’, can be translated, tantalisingly, as ‘the dressed hill’. Over 3000 stone tools and 144 polished stone axe heads were also found.

Overall, a “more extensive and intensive settlement”, than had previously been suspected, was suggested by the range of Neolithic pottery recovered in the course of the road-work excavations. The Irish Times summary can be found in the link immediately below, followed by a link to a feature on the Mesolithic fishing basket.

*For a discussion of palisaded enclosures see; Gibson A. 1998 Hindwell and the Neolithic Palisade Sites of Britain and Ireland. In Gibson A.& Simpson D. (eds.) Prehistoric Ritual and Religion, 68-79. Sutton ISBN 0-7509-1598-6
For their occasional coincidence with exterior mounds see; Bradley R. 2007 The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland, 128-132. Cambridge ISBN 0-521-61270-8

Orkneyjar News

An introduction to a fascinating excavation, under the supervision of  Nick Card of  the Orkney Research Centre For Archaeology (ORCA) which has been going on for several years on the island  of Orkney.  The archaeological excavation this summer has  finally uncovered a large Neolithic building that is being hailed as a Neolithic ‘Cathedral’.

It’s impressive, 25 metres  long by 20 wide, standing to a height of 1 metre after excavation and there is talk that it might have been roofed.  To understand the context of this building the word ‘temple’ might be a better explanation, it stands between two great megalithic sites, The Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring o’ Brodgar – the third largest stone circle in the British Isles. 

 This article by Sigmund Towries of Orkneyjar gives an excellent long description of the excavation, a reminder of a past when  megalithic stones were the crowning glory of a long dead religious belief.


Whoops been downgraded to a village hall – 19th September 2009

Culture minister Barbara Follett has announced a £150,000 grant for the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes. The grant will be used to create a new Bronze Age Gallery to house material excavated from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
More here –
and here – 


September 2009

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