You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.

Avebury Avenue. Summer Solstice Eve. Sunset by Jim Mitchell

The West Kennet Avenue at Avebury. Photo by Heritage Action member Jim Mitchell, one of the winners in this year’s National Trust competition for photographs of Avebury.

Last Saturday, the Irish Times carried an interview with Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer of An Taisce – an organisation which, in its role as a prescribed body under Irish planning law, was one of the few to attempt to slow down our Great Dance. Here’s a part of what the article has to say;

“To be committed to the environment in Ireland, where even archaeology has been compromised, excavation reports are merely part of development plans and many EU environmental and wildlife directives have been ignored, would appear a hopeless battle.

Wood Quay, Tara and now the massive bridge planned for the Boyne, which will have a devastating impact on the ancient landscape, show that heritage suffers at the hands of vested interests. Many of the planning decisions taken during the past 20 to 30 years defy intelligent discussion, never mind aesthetics. But Lumley sounds surprisingly positive: “I put the effort into clear-cut cases where there is a breach of European law, as well as national and local policy.”

…“Local authorities in Ireland,” he says, “are entirely at the mercy of vested backyard interests and systemically disregard EU law, national policy and, most dramatically of all, their own development plans in making planning decisions.”

Local (and national) politicians considering only the next few steps (or ballot), compromised archaeology, ‘developer-directed’ excavation, the sanctification of the quick euro – you may be aware of a lot of this already, or will have guessed. Unfortunately, gloomy as it is, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. His closing words are also worth repeating;

I believe in Ireland; it is as Praeger said in his 1948 radio address on the founding of An Taisce, when he referred to the heritage as needing ‘protection against dilapidation, against injury, whether caused by carelessness, ignorance or ruthlessness, against sequestration for private ends, and in recent times often against the action of public bodies’.”

It’s not just the high-profile cases – such as Tara and the Boyne – or the ‘in-your-face’ methods of destruction. A lot more monuments are destroyed by private individuals, or through simple carelessness, ignorance and neglect. Do you recall last year’s ‘Condition and Management Survey of the Archaeological Resource’, in Northern Ireland?

“When one focuses on sites that were largely complete, substantial or had some definable features, it was found that a much higher figure – 48% – had been damaged in the previous five years. Agricultural activity was identified as being the main cause of such damage, along with the growth of vegetation.”

Or the Heritage Council study, in County Clare;

“Scrub was found to be damaging archaeological monuments at a structural level, whereby important built elements were being displaced and dislodged, where sub-surface deposits such as cremations and burials in tombs were at risk of being disturbed and where monuments once intended to be visible as markers in the landscape were gradually becoming shrouded by dense vegetation. Moreover, there is a danger that monuments would be at risk of future loss/damage through inadvertent scrub clearance.”

I know – it could be argued that no life is at stake, or that no species is in danger of extinction, but where else have we, ourselves, acted as true creators other than in our art? The quote reminded me of a book that I bought recently; Micheal Hoskin’s ‘Tombs, Temples and their Orientations – A New Perspective on Mediterranean Prehistory’. There are few that study, or visit, these monuments who fail to be affected by them, or by their evocation of past lives, and in the following paragraph Micheal Hoskin (2001, 10) puts across this feeling (powerfully). As well as explaining – like Ian Lumley – the range of dangers that our prehistoric heritage faces; 

“Equally importantly time is not on our side. Not only do we as individuals age and decline (and this fieldwork calls for health and agility), but the destruction of tombs is appalling and relentless. In measuring orientations we are in fact engaged in rescue archaeology, for vandalism by individuals and corporate vandalism in the form of new roads, new buildings, and especially the mechanical clearance of land for eucalyptus and other cultivation, is destroying tombs on a tragic scale. In central Portugal a local archaeologist acting as our guide was frequently reduced almost to tears when, of a dozen or so tombs existing at the time of his last visit, only one or two were now to be found. In Huelva in southwest Spain we visited one major tomb, spoke to the man clearing adjacent land with massive machinery, and found that had our visit been 24 hours later the tomb (whose presence was unknown to him) would have been destroyed. And at the other end of the spectrum, some well-meaning archaeologists intent on ‘restoration’ will not hesitate to set about rearranging the monument to conform with their ideas; sometimes the liberties they take are so great that for ‘restored’ we should read ‘vandalized’. 

What can we do, except keep on visiting, writing, speaking and hoping? Well said, Mr. Hoskin. Well said, Mr. Lumley.

To celebrate Michael Bott and Ruper Soskin’s achieving 2nd place at TAC International Film and Video Festival  with their video Standing with Stones, Heritage Action is pleased to present Dancing with Stones by Ocifant.

Lanyon Quoit. West Penwith, Cornwall 

Book Review by Rupert Soskin of Standing With Stones

You’d think (as they hold commercial detecting events most weekends) Central Searchers would wish to be seen as responsible. But look what they say about their upcoming 3-day Bank Holiday Special at Twywell/Slipton, Northants …….

”We have now run out of cropped land to search…. So this means a return to pasture, we have 3 new un-searched pasture sites to use, however we are we are returning to the most productive of our pasture sites first. This weekends dig has been particularly kind with Hammered coins and Saxon artefacts on the previous visits. Some of the site is ploughed out Ridge and Furrow, other parts still has the real deep ridge and furrow, part of the land still has Iron Age burial mounds visible which can also be seen on the air photos of this site.”  (See and click on Club Digs.)

That certainly seems to suggest they’re selling (inter alia) the right to metal detect on deep “ridge and furrow” (which by definition is “undisturbed pasture” and a no-go area according to clear archaeological advice to confine events to disturbed ground that has been ploughed within the last five years.  If that’s not the case they ought to clarify lest customers are misled. On the other hand, if it IS what’s intended….well…. that would make this event even more outrageous than the recent notorious one at Foxham 

But that’s not all. We have dubbed it a crassfest for a separate reason. It seems they have a “Rule” that applies to ALL their events: Items found by any member/non member/guest can be retained by the member/non member/guest as long as its value is no more than £2,000. Translated, they are telling customers that although all non-Treasure finds are owned by the landowner they have swung a deal that says their customers will own 100% of any such finds that are worth up to £2,000!  We thought the event held by the Colchester Metal Detecting Club was unseemly enough  – see Lucrative Heroism  – but this, negotiating to own the first £2,000 of finds, far out-grubs that – and they do the same deal every week it seems, which means thousands of detectorists have attended events on that basis.  


 Twywell Day 1.  Digging purely to save history for everyone else in Britain. Although… “Items found by any member/non member/guest can be retained by the member/non member/guest as long as its value is no more than £2,000.” (So apart from Treasure Items the farmer and anyone else can whistle for virtually anything that comes up!)

 So what think you dear reader? Does it seem like a Rule designed for a gathering of people whose main interest is “history” – people that British archaeology should flatter and get itself in “partnership” with? Or does it seem like a Rule designed to attract primarily acquisitive people, out to grab what they can get? Is it fair or unfair to call such an event a crassfest that brings profound shame upon our country? You choose.

UPDATE Wednesday 27 October 2010: It seems that those who run Central Searchers continue to regard “ridge and furrow ” as fair game for them to exploit for money despite knowing it’s wrong. This time they are exercising their selfless beneficence in Bythorn, Cambridgeshire. The thirty acres of British history they have arranged for their paying customers to detect upon today include, in their own self-condemnatory words, “20 acres of ridge and furrow pasture that runs to the back of Bythorn village up to the earthworks of an old manor house“.

UPDATE Tuesday 2 February 2011: And still they persist. This time they’ve targeted 200 acres of ridge and furrow pasture at Keyston, Cambridgeshire, that English Heritage say is of national and perhaps international importance.


For more on Central Searchers, see here

and for more Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting go here



Uffington White Horse. Image Wikimedia Commons 

The summer exhibition this year at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, “…explores the mysterious chalk hill figures carved into the landscape of Britain – with a particular emphasis on Wiltshire. There are many white horses and hill figures carved into the landscape across the country, from the Uffington White Horse, to the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Long Man of Wilmington.” This, “…exhibition, however, focuses primarily on Wiltshire from the spirited white horses galloping across the landscape to the military badges which are poignant reminders of the past.”*

On Saturday, 24 July 2010, in conjunction with the above, there will be a Day School with leading experts exploring the chalk figures carved into the landscape of Britain.

  9.30am – Arrival and welcome.
10.00am – Introduction by Brian Edwards, Public Historian.
10.15am – Paul Newman ‘Galloping through the centuries: introducing Britain’s hill figures: History, culture and controversy.
11.30am – David Miles ‘The Uffington White Horse: A biography of an English icon’.
  1.30pm – Bryn Walters ‘New discoveries and other thoughts on prehistoric monumental iconography’.
 2.45pm – Professor Martin Bell ‘The Wilmington Giant: A geoarchaeological perspective’.
 3.45pm – Rodney Castleden ‘Two chalk giants. who are they – and how can we tell?

Finish 5pm.

“There will be a break for lunch from 12.30pm to 1.30pm. Bring sandwiches or try one of the pubs and cafes in town. A full programme, including more information about each topic, can be downloaded here.”

* See also –

Stonehenge. Image credit Heritage Action

by our correspondent

The first ever seminar reporting and discussing academic research of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site took place in a packed Devizes Town Hall on Saturday 22nd May 2010.

Almost exclusively focused upon prehistory, a whopping fourteen presentations covered a range of aspects that the wider public would rarely if ever encounter. That was precisely the point of this seminar, which was jointly put on by the Prehistoric Society and the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society on behalf of the Avebury Archaeological and Historical Research Group. The research into (what is seen as) the two halves of the WHS has never been pulled together in this way and it favourably ticked a box by facilitating information direct to the public.

The gap between what academics know and the impression that circulates in the public domain can only get narrower through such initiatives. Another seminar is envisaged for next year.

An excellent report by Alex Down on the seminar can be found on Eternal Idol

In a story on the website of Culture 24 (who, of all organisations, should know better!) we saw this, inserted in the middle of an otherwise heartening story about the growth of the voluntary archaeology sector:

Together with the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which records the finds of metal detectorists, voluntary archaeology is a growing phenomenon and a cornerstone of archaeological investigation and discovery.

The juxtaposition and implied equivalence of metal detecting and voluntary archaeology is quite unsupportable in our view and potentially damaging. Metal detectorists (the 99.9% that aren’t working within an archaeological framework anyway) are NOT voluntary archaeologists, they are the opposite. Voluntary archaeologists do not act in their own interest. Voluntary archaeologists do not pocket what they find as their own. Voluntary archaeologists do not sell what they find.

It is surely incumbent upon the CBA and Culture 24 to make those differences crystal clear, both to ensure the excellent reputation of genuine voluntary archaeologists is not damaged by unjust association and to ensure that any farmer who gets a knock on his door asking for access to his land understands precisely who he is dealing with. As our headline says, Careless words cost history!

It is sad it is left to the likes of a set of amateurs – us – to defend the reputation of another set of amateurs, voluntary archaeologists. Can’t they just be given the full unadulterated exclusive praise they so richly deserve without being bracketed with others with whom they have zero practical or ethical connection? Is it because all the professionals are frit of publicly standing up against PAS? No need to answer, it can be taken as read!

Metal detecting: a quiet earthquake

Quote of the Week: Lord Renfrew

Culture Vulture

Thatcher’s children return to Avebury 5 years and 265 years on

Nighthawks should be called “Site burglars” say detectorists. Wrong again!

More Wiltshire local history being flogged off “for charity”

Staffordshire Hoard: Parting the Piggy Bank

Lucrative heroism?

Heritage Action vindicated at Portable Antiquities conference

Largest detecting forum confesses to undermining PAS

PAS to support metal detecting sales push

Metal detecting and helping Donald Trump: two additions to the school timetable?

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

Staffordshire hoard: reward shouldn’t be £3.2m but £32m claims detectorist!

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

Legalised metal detecting? “No thanks, we’re French (and care for our history)”

National Council for Metal Detecting say reward delays are “unacceptable”!

Detectorist Michael Darke on what his share of YOUR £500,000 means to him

Detectorists dig up 11,000 artefacts in two week period. Every fortnight!

Metal detecting: half a million artefacts removed since UK exited Basra

Metal Detecting: more evidence it’s all for the love of history?

Metal Detecting: now the dealers are heroes too!

Metal Detecting: support from abroad – but look who it’s from!

NEWS: Metal detectorist jailed for six months

Metal detecting for money: Isobel, 7, shames the sham heroes.

Metal detecting is purely about love of history: UPDATE

Metal detecting is purely about love of history: computer says no!

Mr Browning, heritage hero – UPDATE

French metal detectorists seek archaeological asylum in Britain!

Metal detecting: annoyed by the rules? Make up your own!

Nighthawking: much ado about the wrong thing.


One for the diary as this is some time off. Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Land use in the Solent Drainage System. An illustrated lecture by David Field, to be held at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes from 2:30pm on Saturday, 20 November 2010.

“The River Avon and its tributaries drain a substantial portion of central southern England and has widely influenced activities within and beyond its catchment area. Using evidence provided by artefact distribution coupled with the location of archaeological monuments across the landscape, David Field will place the archaeological evidence from Wiltshire into a broader context and introduce new perspectives of the well-known Neolithic and Bronze Age material.”

More here –

As the sun, so shy, speeds on to hide behind the western hills
I stand within this
Ancient circle with its rugged stones
Pointing to the sky
Like the digits on the clock of time –
The time that has refused to move,
As if the keeper of this heather hearth has gone to bed
Remembering not to lift
The fallen weights of Time and Space.

The first verse of one of Iolo Morgannwg’s poem, some would call him a fantasist who created an idea or vision of a Celtic Druidic order in the 18th century.  

His first meeting of the bards was on Primrose Hill in London, where he had erected twelve stones called the Great Circle and a central altar stone known as the Maen Llog, this was in 1792. It is said of Iolo that he constructed an “elaborate mystical philosophy which he claimed represented a direct continuation of ancient Druidic practice.  His use of laudanum may have contributed to this fabrication, though many of his writings  fall between a small truth and a large imaginative myth that he wrote!

In 1795, a gorsedd meeting took place at the Pontypridd Rocking Stone, near Eglwysilam in Glamorgan.  This was a huge slab of natural slate stone (the Maen Chwyf), and this stone became a meeting place, though the circles were yet to be put up.

The word gorsedd, which in Welsh means throne, but is also loosely used as a coming together of bards.  Julian Cope in his book The Modern Antiquarian says of this rocking stone ‘that it stands high on the ground overlooking the confluence of the two great sacred rivers Rhodda and Taff,’ and that this gorsedd stone must have had great significance in prehistoric times. The stone is surrounded by two circles   plus an avenue but the circles are   not prehistoric, and it now sits in a pleasant landscape next to a small cottage hospital.  Photographs can be seen here on the TMA site…

Article by Moss


by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

The hills are alive – with the sound of vehicles… The Irish Times reports that the controversial Tara-Skryne M3 route is to open to traffic on the 4th of June;

“The 60km M3 motorway from Clonee on the Meath Dublin border to the Meath Cavan border provoked controversy, legal challenge and some direct action protests because of its route which passes through the Gabhra Valley between the hills of Tara and Skryne. Complaints about the process which permitted the destruction of a national monument were also made to the EU, some of which are ongoing. The route is expected to greatly ease peak-time traffic between Kells and Dublin bypassing the towns of Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells.”

Those caring politicians, eh? They’re always worrying about the common good. I also notice that councillors, in the exact same county, are getting themselves all het up – over a threat to the God-given right of landowners, in sensitive, world-famous, prehistoric landscapes, to stick houses where they damn well please. In this case, in a proposed buffer zone around the same Tara-Skryne area. Houses, roads – hey, why not just let them dig the whole bugger up, stir it well and bake it into a cake? Or ball it up and lob it across the sea at England. It’s ‘their land’, after all;

“I don’t want to see happening in Tara-Skryne what happened in the Newgrange area. I don’t want to see a person who owns land in the proposed buffer zone being unable to provide a site for a house for a son or daughter,”

Don’t forget, County Meath already has enough land zoned for 124,173 houses and a projected need for only 2,032, and these are the same lads and lassies responsible. Would you buy a used vehicle (to pay to drive on the M3) from them? Would you trust them to make decisions of permanent impact? Well, actually you do. 

A lot of people have tried to make themselves noticed over this M3 issue and a last protest is to be held at the road-opening on the 4th of June. As many as possible are being asked to support it, and the vigil over the next couple of weekends – with any luck it will be the biggest gathering of all. Please go, if you can, or if you’re able to get there.


May 2010

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