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Guest article by Albert Resonox

The church of St. John The Baptist, The Street, Capel Surrey is built on the site of the original chapel or “capella”, from whence the village takes its name. The first recording of the church was in records of 1235, but became the property of The Knights Templar in 1263,  as did many churches in the Surrey area (Redhill and Wotton being two of the examples).  The Street was part of the original Roman road between London and the south coast and later became an important staging post for stagecoaches on the same route.

The church has been extensively added to and refurbished over the centuries, and the oldest legible gravestone, with the then popular skull and crossbones motif, is dated 1694.  Some gravestones have been resited and  affixed to the south wall along with a strange holed slab, and no-one I have questioned can state its original purpose.* The slab is approx 30″ square and 5″ thick… the hole is tapered and surrounded by a (rapidly eroding) pattern of a raised square with petalled corners.

Some people seem to think it is/was a millstone, highly unlikely, due to it’s shape.  I feel it may have been a cover over a well, the pump and pipe could be inserted into the hole and the tapered end packed to hold it upright and steady, again this is pure guesswork.  Another possibility is that it is a “Standard-stone”, used by the Romans as a flag/sign post holder, this was a temporary means of marking a site of significance or place of worship to following legions.  These standard-stones are few and far between as quite often a temple or shrine was built and the standard-stone used again… recycling is nothing new.
 

This would make sense as by the Lych-gate, there is a mighty hollow yew tree, it is over 12 metres high and over 2 metres in diameter.  This tree  mistakenly celebrated its 1000th birthday in 1977,  however in 1993, The Conservation Foundation’s Yew Tree Campaign branch (no pun intended) using more scientific methodology accurately dated the tree to being 1,700 years old.

The fact that the tree appears to have been one of six in a sacred grove around a pond, might explain why this site held significance for the passing Romans or indeed why it was chosen to build a Christian edifice there in the first place. It was common practice for the church and indeed the Romans prior to that, to use sites already frequented by “pagan” worshippers, as these worshippers would still come to that site regardless of which god was on offer, and we thought our generation invented lowering the carbon footprint!

It is also rumoured that anyone walking round the tree 100 times at midnight will raise a ghost… who or what this ghost is and why it should be summoned thus has never been discovered as to date no-one has been brave enough to take up the challenge.

The pond, sadly, has been filled in for many centuries now, but next door there is a watering hole which goes by the name of The Crown, to refresh the thirsty pilgrim/worshipper/traveller or indeed to give Dutch courage for any ghost raising experiments. As for me I’ll stick to raising spirits in your good health… Cheers!

* The mystery holed stone may also be something brought from France by The Knights Templar because in some churches in France there is a hole in the floor (no not the toilet!!!) close to the altar, where the excess communion wine is poured to return it to the earth… this would seem to stem from a sacrificial tradition much older than Christianity. Or… you can go for the Christian solution here !

by Nigel Swift, Heritage Action

They say gambling is an attempt to reduce a chaotic and unpredictable world to a finite and manageable size. There’s a lot of it going on at Cheltenham races this week but how many of those refugees from remedial maths classes will bother to glance up at Cleeve Hill? They say (don’t they say a lot?) that religion is the ultimate gamble and there, close to the summit, broods the visible evidence of a six  thousand year old gamble – a bet that there’s a beyond. Try getting a price on that from the bookies!

Be warned though, it’s a hard slog to get up there unless you’re fit, which I’m not, and the signposts and locals seem to be anxious to make the Irish invaders feel at home – a mile or two means rather more than it sounds. Wikipedia says it takes ten minutes. Wikipedia should ruddy try it.

Still, it’s so worth it. Belas Knap (which could mean beautiful hill or lots of other things) is one of the Cotswold Severn cairns, a type that is plentiful in this area, particularly in Gloucestershire. They vary greatly but all tend to have a defining feature – a regular trapezium shape – in fact the shape of a coffin, which is spooky for a burial mound!

In truth, a lot of it is a bit of a cheat. It was left devastated by nineteenth century excavators and radically reconstructed by the Ministry of Works in the 1920s. And yet, not all of its essence has been lost -because, perhaps, its location hasn’t been restored. There is a sense of wildness and open sky and huge views that can hardly have changed – and one can fancy that the experience of being there is close to what the builders would have seen and felt. Who needs a Tardis when you can travel back in time just by climbing a hill?

Despite the fact much of it has been rebuilt (and sometimes badly – did the ceilings of the side chambers really have to be constructed of moulded concrete reminiscent of the ceiling of Wolverhampton’s multi story car park?) parts are admirable and the dry Cotswold stone walling framing the false entrance is particularly fine (and part is original). This area, spacious and well sheltered from the wind and incorporating a large blocking stone is surely more than a mere false entrance (why construct a lie that could be easily discovered?). It is hard to avoid thinking important ceremonies were held within those sheltering arms.

Who knows? Although, we can probably assume one thing about the original use of Belas Knap – people didn’t squat in the side chambers playing guitars and watching their tealights staining the stones. (“How do you know, maan?” Just a guess, oh youthful substance-befuddled poseur!). Damaging this place can’t possibly be revering the past – or indeed the present or future. I’m comfortably pro-Pagan me, but I’m pretty anti-prat. It wouldn’t do any harm if the heritage organisations and the rest of us were more actively the latter without worrying it might make us anti the former. It won’t.

                Tell-tale marks indicating a visitation by Faux Neo-Pagans

Hard work pays off for Avebury villagers

Staff and customers at Avebury Community Shop celebrated its first birthday in traditional style on Monday with a party in the shop.

Villagers packed into the small shop in the High Street to celebrate with a birthday cake and a drink or two.

Michelle Lomas, chairman of the steering group that oversees the venture, said: “We are pleased because business has been better than we expected.

“It was really hard to anticipate what to expect in terms of business but we are really pleased and we know the customers are happy.”

Shop manager Wendy Gallop, one of only two paid staff who work with about 40 volunteers who do three-hour shifts, said: “Despite the weather, the shop has had a very healthy winter and the villagers seem to really appreciate having a shop again.”
Jenny Bromilow, who co-ordinates the volunteers, said: “We are very pleased with the way it has worked out.”

Mrs Gallop said part of the reason for the shop’s success was listening to what the villagers wanted to see on the shelves and, where possible, finding local suppliers.

The only item she had been unable to source from wholesalers, she said, was lip-salve, which she had to buy from Boots.

Villagers spent a year planning the reopening of the former village post office and stores, which closed following the retirement of Dick and Gilda Stannard.

They were helped by the National Trust giving rent-free use of the building.

Gazette and Herald News

Avebury Community shop

Paul Barford has produced an article here http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/03/scottish-archaeologist-soothes-on.html that really ought to be required reading by DCMS, PAS, EH and everyone concerned with heritage conservation.

What has happened is this. Heritage Action has produced, with Paul’s help, an Artefact Erosion Counter  intended to illustrate the impact of metal detecting in terms of the number of recordable items removed from the fields, mostly without recording. Mr Connolly went onto a detectorists forum and asked people to tell him what they found in a single session in order, as he told them, to “show that all current statistics are flawed” and achieve a situation where “the only people with stats will be us” (“us”, Mr Connolly??)

Anyway, he presented the results to the recent Portable Antiquities conference. But remarkably, despite his extraordinary partiality and gyrations, mercilessly exposed by Paul, it turns out that his results are very similar to what the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter has been saying all along!

Let this be an end to the knee jerk criticism of the erosion counter by detectorists, Mr Connolly and others. We never said it was definitive, only that it was a fair broad brush picture based upon multiple sources all of which are far less partial, far more authoritative or on a far larger scale than Mr Connolly’s submission to the conference based upon the figures from six or seven detectorists who were pre-primed about the purpose of the exercise! Just under thirty recordable items per detectorist per year is NOT “dodgy statistics” (as Mr Connolly described our Counter to the conference) and both we and Mr Connolly are now united in thinking that’s about right, based on our respective evidence.

More to the point, let DCMS, PAS, EH and Parliament take note that this translates to 3,852,687 recordable archaeological artefacts removed from the fields of England and Wales by metal detectorists (the great majority without being reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme) since the scheme started. In no country but ours is this considered acceptable and something really must be done. “All my fields are hammered” translates as “Britain has allowed me and others to remove a portion of its history, mostly without trace“. Let the Portable Antiquities conference be remembered as the moment when truth inadvertently replaced spin thanks, amazingly, to Mr Connolly.

____________________________________________________

Largest detecting forum confesses to undermining PAS

PAS to support metal detecting sales push

Metal detecting and helping Donald Trump: two additions to the British education syllabus?

Wiltshire metal detecting rally flouts archaeological guidelines

 Metal detecting at the end of the noughties: bad just got worse.

 Metal detecting: a letter to English Heritage

 Metal detecting: £3.2 million reward for reporting the Staffordshire hoard should have been £32 million claims detectorist!

The Staffordshire Hoard and Metal Detecting? My Irish Eyes see an Illegal Activity

Legalised metal detecting? “No thanks, we’re French (and we give a damn about our resource!)” – Official. 

Quote of the Week #3: The National Council for Metal Detecting on why current delays in rewarding their members are “unacceptable”

Quote of the week #2: Metal detectorist Michael Darke on what his share of YOUR £500,000 means to him

NEWS: Metal detectorists dig up 11,000 ancient artefacts in amazing two week period. Every fortnight!

 

The London Stone. Image credit AlanS

London Stone: Making a Myth
Tue 13 Apr, 6.30-8pm
FREE
John Clark, former Senior Curator (Medieval), Museum of London

John Clark has recently retired from a long and distinguished career as Senior Curator (Medieval) at the Museum of London. In this talk he investigates the strange history of London Stone, the mysterious block of limestone that currently sits, ignored by passers-by, in an alcove in the wall of a building opposite Cannon Street Station. Already a subject of speculation in the 16th century, subsequently identified in turn as a Roman milestone, as a Druid monument, as the ‘Stone of Brutus’ and as ‘London’s original fetish stone’, it is now considered by some to play an essential role in the ‘sacred geometry’ of London. How have such diverse opinions as to its purpose arisen? – and can we truly identify its date and its original function?

 meetings take place in the Clore Learning Centre at the Museum of London, London EC2Y 5HN at 6:30pm on Tuesday evenings. Refreshments are served from 6:00pm. Meetings are open to all; members may bring guests, and non-members are welcome.

 

http://www.lamas.org.uk/lectures.html

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

I was looking for a book the other night, when I chanced upon one that I hadn’t read in a long time; ‘The Little Prince‘, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It’s a child’s book, in the sense that it’s a book about the world, as seen like a child. Reading it as an adult, the book seems achingly sad, but, then again, another adult might have a different perception of it. Years ago, I read it and had to put it away from me, because it was almost too much to bear. These lines, from a poem by Yeats; ’The Host of the Air’, describe the same feeling;

But he heard high up in the air
A piper piping away,
And never was piping so sad,
And never was piping so gay.

Anyway, to get to the point. The world, as seen like a child – to see exactly the same thing, but in a different way. In the very beginning of the book the airman describes his attempts, at the age of six, to make grown-ups see that his drawing was of a boa-constrictor digesting an elephant, and not of a hat. What are we always ranting about on here? Modern hands plucking unnecessarily at the works of ancients’ minds. Or, heedless, letting the same dreams crumble back to dirt.

You may look, perhaps, and instead see fortune, or jobs and progress, or some easily recordable information about the past, or nothing at all.

Did the developers at Bremore, for example, or the road builders at Tara, see the grass and the hills and the brushed touches of ancient life and death, or did they see a useful site? If they saw the latter, why were we so surprised that they never noticed the former, except as an obstruction? Only by regularly pointing out the boa-constrictor can we hope to make people see that it is not a hat.

“There will be more to come after us“; is really the point and how much will be left for them to look at?

“The stars mean different things to different people. For some they are nothing more than twinkling lights in the sky. For travellers they are guides. For scholars they are food for thought. For my businessman they are wealth. But for everyone the stars are silent. Except from now on just for you…”

  

Addenda (1)

This morning (March 17th) I received my Spring 2010 issue of Archaeology Ireland and, in the foreword, the editor Tom Condit makes pointed reference to the recently published ‘Condition and Management Survey of the Archaeological Resource in Northern Ireland’, a report that received a detailed pre-publication summary in their pages last year. Although I have covered this ground previously and in some detail, it’s worth quoting some of the findings again, in the context of Tom Condit’s remarks;

The report’s own summary indicates a bleak outlook for the survival of sites and monuments.

– Only 7% of the sites and monuments were found to be complete or substantially complete.

– 26% of sites had been damaged within the five years before the commencement of the survey.

– The sites in the poorest condition and with the worst rates of survival were located on arable land, in areas of improved grassland and within urban areas.

– 90% of sites in State care, Scheduled sites and those subject to agri-environment agreements were found to have survived well.

– Uncontrolled, new built development, heavy grazing and grassland improvement were identified as the most destructive activities.

– Sites located in unimproved grassland, in wetlands and in woodlands survived better.

Such findings should ring warning bells and demand an urgent response…

…Unfortunately, sites and monuments cannot be shifted with such ease and, unlike the humble ice cube, our outdoor archaeological heritage can never be replaced.”

There will be more to come after us and how much will be left for them to look at?

  

Addenda (2)

Yesterday (March 22nd), I saw this website mentioned on another forum (Great work, by the way). I’ve taken the liberty of quoting an extract here;

“In recent weeks I have encountered three cases in which Standing Stones listed in the Waterford Archaeological Inventory of 1999 appear to be no longer present in their location. At two of the sites visited it appears that modern development was the reason for their absence and particularly in one location where it seems the stone must have got in the way of  a new housing development.

Sadly, it appears that this is how 21st century Ireland is beginning to perceive our ancient monuments, seemingly regarding what may look like an ordinary stone, to be just an unnecessary obstruction to progress. Regrettably, there has been little thought given to those who erected these wonderful antiquities and placed so much importance and significance on them.

For centuries, farmers have worked alongside these standing stones and have always respected their presence on their lands. Perhaps, today’s modern generation being so pre -occupied with wealth and materialism have chosen to disregard their significance. Also, because of the modest size and stature of these monuments, they seem all the more vulnerable. Another contributing factor could be that a number of these monoliths have been thought of as just ” Scratching Posts” for livestock.

Hopefully, Prehistoric Waterford and similar websites, through documenting and recording of monuments, can help develop an appreciation and ultimately a respect for our ancient antiquities.”

Only by regularly pointing out the boa constrictor can we hope to make people see that it is not a hat.

 

Guest article by Juamei

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow holds a very dear place in my heart. For those who don’t know, it is a Neolithic Severn-Cotswolds chambered long barrow containing 6 side chambers and an end chamber off a central gallery. The whole thing is in a good enough condition that you can go right inside so make sure you bring a torch! It sits on a small spur below the crest of a ridge overlooking Wellow Brook about 1 mile from Wellow, a few miles to the south of Bath.

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow

In the 6 years or so I have been living within 30 minutes of Stoney Littleton, I have visited this place countless times. It has been an escape from city life, a shoulder to cry on, a meeting place for like minded souls and an end point for walks of the heart. I’ve approached it from the South, the East and the West, in fog, mist, bright daylight, dusk and darkness.

I’ve been there in all four seasons; In the spring passing scampering lambs and protective ewes, in the height of summer seeking the cool of the chambers to escape the glare of the sun, in the mud and cold winds of autumn enjoying the colours of the trees around and in the frosts and mists of winter. This place even holds a special secret, for at the end of the longest night, if you are lucky, the sun creeps over the horizon and turns the inside a glorious honey colour lighting the normally black chambers with an amazing glow.

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow

But I’m not going to talk about any of that, instead I’d like to bemoan the rubbish I have found inside this beautiful tomb over the years. As it is left open 24-7 Stoney Littleton attracts a lot of visitors, nowadays on a sunny summer afternoon at the weekend you’d be lucky to spend 10 minutes here alone. Obviously with this traffic comes rubbish. There is no bin on site so all visitors must take their litter away with them, however some unfortunately do not. It is a rare visit where I do not find tissues, sweet wrappers, crisp packets or other human detritus scattered liberally across the top of the mound, inside the mound or in the grass surrounding it. On bad days the empty carrier bag I always take with me is overflowing with rubbish when I leave. I have even found a soggy porn mag in a side chamber, from someone presumably making a special type of offering.

Aside from the everyday tourist rubbish, the people you’d expect to care the most, the ones who come prepared to spend time inside this ancient structure also leave their own dirty marks. First and foremost being the scourge of the barrow tea light. I have probably removed in excess of 150 tea lights from here over the years, up to five each time not being uncommon. People stuff them in crevices and light them, scorching the 5000 year old walls and dripping large amounts of wax that is very hard to pick off. They leave them on the floor to be trampled into the dirt by future visitors. I understand the need for light but I beg understanding of this barrow’s right to not be damaged through carelessness and neglect.

Inside the barrow

Also inside the chamber I’ve commonly found a large amount of offerings. I understand and respect the right of people to come here to worship but rotting vegetation from left over offerings is not a nice find at the back of the end chamber. I’ve also found corn dollies, clay figurines, crystals, jewellery and prayers stuffed in crevices. Leaving aside the affinity between Neolithic burial mounds and modern day pagan religion, I personally see deposits of this kind as litter and tend to remove them. So if you think they have been accepted and subsumed, chances are I’ve been along with a carrier bag!

Sadly Stoney Littleton is not alone in receiving this kind of treatment, I could have filled many bin bags over the years with the rubbish I’ve found at prehistoric sites all over the country. Fortunately there are many like me who always take along an extra carrier bag to keep the sites clean.

Why don’t you make sure you are one of us and not one of the vandals slowly but surely trashing our heritage?

Wellow Brook

 

One of two stones at the entrance to Fryerning Lane, Ingatestone, Essex 

 

Displaced
souls of our ancestors
Once in a circle to the seasons
sure security to all who saw them

Buffer stones now on a busy street
where juggernauts thunder by
their secret story
still known
to a few

For the rest
just buffer stones
where our history lies dusty
at the feet of rubber wheels
and on the piled desks
of an immovable
bureaucracy

 

See more on Ingatestone and The Ingatestones Campaign here – http://www.heritageaction.org/?page=theheritagejournal&id=200

On April 7th, representatives of the National Roads Authority are to be questioned by the Joint Oireachtas Transport Committee about pyrite levels in the controversial M3 motorway. Earlier this month the Drogheda Independent reported the words of Meath TD Shane McEntee;

“THE start of the disclosure of ‘one of the greatest catastrophes to hit this country following the bank crisis’ was revealed by Meath East Fine Gael deputy Shane McEntee in the Dáil.

‘I do not say that lightly,’ he said. ‘HomeBond, which is in trouble, has confirmed that it has received claims from the owners of 20,000 houses with pyrite. At one stage pyrite reached Canada and is also a problem in England.

‘Some 20,000 people have lodged claims with HomeBond which is not in a position to pay to get these houses fixed properly. The builders involved – most of them very good builders – have disclosed that their insurance companies do not cover pyrite.’

Deputy McEntee explained that pyrite is a substance used in filling, which when it reaches a different atmosphere swells like gypsum. It brings all with it, including floors and walls.

‘ There is only one solution, which is for these floors to be taken up and the fill removed and replaced,’ he said. ‘HomeBond has 20,000 confirmed claims. It is far more epidemic here than in any other country.’

He asked the Transport Minister to call in representatives of the NRA to discuss the issue of the M3.”

Apparently there’s a possibility that contaminated material was used for in-fill during construction of the ’Tara’ motorway. One contractor has already stopped supplying it because of his concerns.

From the Irish Independent of February 22nd;

“According to an Irish Independent investigation, there are 20 building firms which have used material containing pyrite from at least four suspect quarries — which are located in Dublin and Meath. These quarries are still functioning.
 
The affected houses are located in parts of Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Offaly where pyrite — a mineral that expands in the presence of moisture and oxygen — has been discovered in the infill material put in below their floors.

In Kildare, one family bought a €560,000 home which has been damaged by the presence of pyrite. Yet they are being offered only a €38,000 settlement by HomeBond when the total repair bill could be up to €220,000.”

There’s no point singing hosannah, by the way, if the road does prove to be affected. All us mugs will probably end up with the tab. Nice work lads.

News from OrkneyJar

Scotland’s earliest human face, the so-called “Orkney Venus” is to return to Orkney this summer as part of a tour of Scotland. The 5,000 year old figurine — known locally as the ‘Westray Wife’ – was discovered last year by archaeologists working on the Historic Scotland excavation at the Links of Noltland.

The figurine is the only known Neolithic carving of a human form to have been found in Scotland. Measuring 41mm by 31mm, the carving – which generated worldwide interest when it was discovered buried in the remains of a Neolithic farmhouse – will return to Orkney in early summer as part of a temporary exhibition.

The exhibition is part of a wider tour of Scotland which will also see it visit Stirling Castle, Kilmartin House and Museum in Argyll, and Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness. It will initially go on display at the Westray Heritage Centre, and will stay for the summer season before moving to the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall in the autumn.

This little figurine was found at the Links of Noltland excavations, and seems to have the identical ‘eye/brows’ motif as the carvings found on the southernmost chambered cairn on the Holm of Papa Westray.

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