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As an vnlettred man, at the desired sight
Of some rare beautie moo’ud with infinite delight
Not out of his owne spirit, but by that power diuine,
Which through a sparkling eye perspicuously doth shine,
Feels his hard temper yeeld, that hee in passion breaks
And things beyond his height, transported strangely speaks:
So those that dwell in mee, and liue by frugall toyle,
When they in my defence are reasoning of my soyle,
As wrapt with my wealth and beauties, learned growe
And in wel-fitting tearmes, and noble language showe
the Lordships in my Lands, from Rolright (which remains
A Witnesse of that day we wonne vpon the Danes)
To Tawcester wel-neer: twixt which, they vse to tell
Of places which they say do Rumney’s selfe excell.

The Rollright Stones from Drayton’s Poly-olbion: 1613 edition; pp 222. Thirteenth Song.

The King Stone by T H Ravenhill

Wiltshire Heritage Museum will be organising an outing to the Rollright Stone Circle on Saturday, 7 August 2010. The outing will be led by David Dawson, Director of the Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Society.

“The Rollright Stones is an ancient site located on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border. It consists of three main elements: the King’s Men stone circle, the outlying King Stone (for long thought to mark an astronomical alignment from the circle, but now known to have been erected far earlier than the circle with which it has no astronomical significance) and the Whispering Knights dolmen (believed to be part of a Neolithic Long Barrow). Legends of witchcraft are associated with this attractive ring which has similarities with the Swinside circle in Cumbria and Aubrey Burl has suggested it may well have been one of several staging posts for the sending of axes from Cumbria to southern England.”

More here –

Good news from An Taisce? According to the Irish Times, the Department of Transport has “decided not to proceed with the extension of the harbour limits (of Drogheda Port) for the present.” In a letter to the environmental charity (and prescribed body, under Irish planning law) the maritime division of the Department also said that “the most appropriate juncture for such an extension [of the harbour limits] to be considered would be after the proposal has been through the planning process”, still at its initial stages. An Taisce had objected to this extension.

As you may be aware, the proposal for a new deep-water port in the Bremore area, a joint venture between the Drogheda Port company and Treasury Holdings, had already been the subject of considerable controversy. The site marked for the port construction (so handsomely illustrated on the Drogheda Port website) was ‘smack on top’ of a complex of Neolithic passage tombs. An Taisce had expressed its opposition, a Save Bremore campaign was formed, and in February a spokesman for Treasury Holdings announced that they were belatedly considering an alternative location option, at Gormanston – also the site of a group of passage tombs.
The Department of Transport is not exactly known for bowing to archaeological pressure, however. According to Section 3(a) of the Harbours (Amendment) Act 2009 the Minister had the straight power to grant the extension, having regard merely to harbour capacity and navigational safety. Furthermore, the Department’s own Indecon Report advsies that; “Nothing should be done at a policy level to block either the proposed expansion of Dublin Port or the proposed development of Bremore at this stage.” So, why this decision?

It’s a curious one. Treasury Holdings, one of the ten largest property developers in Ireland, have had their bank loans taken over by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) and a question mark, although in their case (apparently) slight, must remain beside their continuation as a going concern. Uncertainty over the port’s ‘eventual’ location may also have been a factor, or the appropriateness of these proposed harbour limits, given that uncertainty. What would be the outcome of the Strategic Environmental Assessment, or of the planning process, for that matter? Were there too many imponderables, or just enough, perhaps, to make postponement of the decision seem sensible?

Bremore: The Planning Process

Bremore/Gormanston: An Taisce

The ‘inhumanity’ of humanity? In reply to a previous comment, I linked to a Guardian article by George Monbiot. His writing is always clear about the effects of our behaviour – on the planet and on our future – but his summation of the challenge in one line, at the end, seemed particularly apt; ”And unless environmentalists also seek to sustain the achievements of industrial civilisation – health, education, sanitation, nutrition – the field will be left to those who rightly wish to preserve them, but don’t give a stuff about the impacts.” Ignoring the death of all around us, do we want to kill our own species? How does the instinct for survival become so ineffective when it concerns the group, or ‘abstract’, ’unfelt’, future events? Do other instincts, fixed in the personal and in the ‘here and now‘, always overrule? It’s easy to understand how some; such as the Dark Mountain Project mentioned in Monbiot’s article, may leave the field – lose hope of changing the situation, of changing the unchangeable; in effect (as agents of the doom), our human nature.

I’ve already used Jared Diamond’s example of rabbits committing “ecological suicide”, in the article about Meath councillors, but the parallel is again useful; “A similar example was the introduction of rabbits to Lisianski Island west of Hawaii in the first decade of this (20th) century. Within a decade the rabbits had eaten themselves into oblivion by consuming every plant on the island except two morning glories and a tobacco patch.” 

Shouldn’t our ability to reason, or  to look ahead, save us from this fate? Apparently not. Like consumers staring, rapt, at a glittering display, we are told that it is endangered, becoming extinct, but we don’t believe it. It doesn’t affect our behaviour (and I am as guilty as the next person). The alternatives seem grey and hard-going – often they are not yet viable. John Vidal’s review of Paul Collier’s “The Plundered Planet”, also in the Guardian, is dismissive (probably correctly) but carries the same, bleak, point; “His first premise is simple, if dull: economists and environmentalists must come together because they are on the same side in a war that is being lost.” Our humanity will kill humanity. Of course, every civilisation lives over the bones and buildings of those preceding it, but this is different; a time of engulfing ecological vortex. Like time travellers; Oisin returned from Tir an nOg, or Charlton Heston on the beach in Planet of the Apes, we are confronted, if we choose to look ahead, with the knowledge of a death complete.

Our struggle against unnecessary heritage destruction, or heritage theft (metal detecting?), for that matter, is both specific and part of the whole – tree and wood – and a struggle, at its core, with that immutable part of human instinct that is fixed in the personal and in the ‘here and now‘ – comfortable with “the achievements of industrial civilisation”. So, what is the point of even trying to fight this stampede to dystopia? Monbiot gives a straight call; “To sit back and wait for what the Dark Mountain people believe will be civilisation’s imminent collapse, without trying to change the way it operates, is to conspire in the destruction of everything greens are supposed to value.” It’s not an option.

We must be prepared, then, to accept new economic development but only after judging it, and only, on its environmental impact – how can we do otherwise, really, and isn’t it a grading scheme by which most, if not all, previous heritage destroying developments would fail? Otherwise, we are set to spiral down – ride the bomb while gaily waving our hats – to the doom of ourselves and all in the world below. This is the lens through which we must also view the new Irish National Monuments Act and its balancing of development against archaeological protection. How wide a door will it open? Will it leave the field, as before, to those who “don’t give a stuff about the impacts“? I hope not.

The Museum of London. Image Wikimedia Commons
London before London: London 450,000BC to AD50. This exhibition at the Museum of London, “…explores the story of the Thames Valley and the people who lived here from 450,000BC to the founding of Londinium in AD50. 
“The London before London gallery spans some 450,000 years, from the arrival of the first people until the Roman invasion. Here you can discover more about many of the fascinating objects and sites in the exhibition.”
More here – and thanks to nix on The Modern Antiquarian for drawing our attention to this exhibition.

The Obelisk by William Stukeley

The Obelisk (foreground) is thought to have been the largest standing stone in the Avebury complex; it once stood in the south-east quadrant and was still in one piece (though recumbent) when Stukeley made this engraving in 1723. The Obelisk was subsequently broken up and used for building material. The place where the Obelisk stood is now indicated by a concrete marker placed there by Alexander Keiller during his restoration of parts of Avebury in the 1930s.

See also Moss’ feature here –


The Institute for Archaeologists has just codified what we’ve said for years – archaeologists mustn’t get involved with commercial metal detecting rallies:

Rule 1.7  A member shall not knowingly be employed by, or contract with, an individual or entity whose purpose is the sale of items excavated and/or recovered from archaeological contexts and where such sale may lead to the irretrievable dispersal of the physical and/or intellectual archive, or where such sale may result in an undispersed archive to which public access is routinely denied.

About time!  Archaeologists are committed to giving so have no business aiding a process of taking. Further, citing mitigating benefits as justification won’t wash, only not doing it will do and a document as serious and precise as a code of conduct could hardly say otherwise. Up to now some have effectively said “never mind the damage, look what’s been recorded” – and even some “neutrals” have felt that way – “The clear ethical dilemma of  working so closely with metal detector users is surely offset by the increased data collected from this rally, which certainly would have gone ahead with or without archaeological involvement.” (Dr Suzie Thomas, subsequently the CBA Community Archaeology Support Officer, writing about Water Newton). But the IfA has now made it plain the data collected cannot add up to a defence. It’s an important point. Perhaps CBA should address it.

After all, Rule 1.7 is a quiet earthquake that will travel far because the whole of the British policy of engagement with all aspects of the hobby sits uncomfortably with it, particularly the role of PAS which “supports” commercial rallies and other activities in many ways that may well lead to irretrievable dispersal of the physical and/or intellectual archive, or routine denial of public access to it! Aware of this the IfA has added a note (let’s call it the elastoplast clause):  Members may be employed by or contract with, or participate in, projects approved by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

So it’s unethical and verboten except if PAS approves the event and is itself involved! We doubt PAS wants to be seen as approving commercial detecting rallies but apart from that the note is completely untenable. If something is wrong it’s wrong and no-one can sensibly opine that if PAS does it it isn’t. 

Of course, this embarrassment always arises when the searchlight of ethics is directed onto the reality of British conservation practice – which is why “ethics” isn’t much on the menu chez PAS and elsewhere. Pragmatic compromises just can’t be shoehorned into being right or moral or ethical, as IfA has just highlighted. What makes it an earthquake is that this time it’s not us or Paul Barford that has said it – it’s the archaeological establishment!

So what now? Brazen it out with flexible ethics? Or our preference (and IfA’s): start thinking commercial rallies and other destructive activities ought to be opposed not coped with.  Hopefully there won’t be a third option, quiet pressure to drop Rule 1.7. We doubt it though – the ethical genie is out of the bottle, having been officially decanted and there’s no way it can be pushed back in!   


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.

Talking of heritage protection agencies not protecting heritage (see Heritage Destroyed)……

Recently, speaking of Ireland’s new National Monuments Bill (full title: the Developers’ Rape Enablement Bill) John Gormley, Environment Minister without Conscience (to give him his accurate title) said this:

“Protecting and promoting an appreciation and awareness of Ireland’s unique built heritage while also facilitating continued economic and social development are central tenets of the Bill”

Clever huh? The central tenet, he says, is to protect an appreciation and awareness of Irelands heritage.

A strange choice of wording. Why didn’t he say it is to protect Ireland’s heritage?


It is hard not to feel outraged by things like this and to feel that a massive punishment is due.

But it’s worth reflecting that whoever did this acted alone and (conceivably) through ignorance.

Compare and contrast Thornborough, the Rotherwas Ribbon, Tara and Bonds Garage (Avebury), all of which were legally preventable and took place with the full knowledge and indeed the effective connivance of the heritage protection authorities and the system.

So, no crocodile tears or condemnatory statements thanks. Not until Britain’s and Ireland’s heritage protection agencies properly protect heritage themselves!


May 2010

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