You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.

I wish I was on White Horse Hill by Jane Tomlinson
Jane, who is well-known for her beautiful paintings of many of our megalithic sites, will be exhibiting her work as part of the Oxfordshire Visual Arts Exhibition on Saturday 22, Sunday 23, Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 May 2010 from 12 noon to 5.30pm at 18 Newland Close in Eynsham. More here

“The single largest source of destruction of the archaeological heritage today is through looting – the illicit, unrecorded and unpublished excavation to provide antiquities for commercial profit.”

This of course doesn’t apply to Britain – where most destruction of the archaeological heritage through metal detecting is unrecorded and unpublished but licit

Nothing like any third world country then.


Culture Vulture

Thatcher’s children return to Avebury

Nighthawks are “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 Trump: two new school subjects?

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

£3.2 m reward for Staffordshire hoard should be £32 million!

The Staffordshire Hoard: my Irish Eyes see an Illegal Activity

Legalised detecting? “Non merci, we’re French (and care!)

Reward payment delays “unacceptable say detectorists!   

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

Detectorists dig up 11,000 ancient artefacts. Fortnightly!

Half a million artefacts removed since Britain pulled out of 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.

Carreg Samson

If you intend to carry out work to a scheduled ancient monument, you need to obtain permission — scheduled monument consent — from Cadw, the Welsh Assembly Government’s historic environment service.
The protection and scheduling of historic and prehistoric monuments is an important factor in saving the many thousands of prehistoric sites that still remain in Great Britain. Though these rules may seem only to apply to landowners and farmers, it is up to the vigilance of the public as well, and especially people who seek out and find the  many cromlechs and standing stones still left  in  the more remote areas of Wales to help protect these monuments. It is interesting that included in the scheduling is the ‘setting’ of the monument within the landscape, a relationship that is often recognised by archaeologists with regard to cairns and cromlechs. This setting may acknowledge a place of settlement, a cosmic understanding of the visible/invisible world;  a physical awareness of the grandeur of the hills – some capstones for instance reflect the shape of a facing mountain or crag,  and  also many standing stones may seem to be way markers along a route.

This is but one issue, what of 4x4s or bikers on the trail across the high levels of our hillforts, vulnerable sites are always at risk from the uncaring person, out for a joyride. Also there is the strange habit of walkers to build so-called ‘walker cairns’, on the top of bronze age cairns, is a sad indictment of folly due to ignorance, such ‘summit’ cairns whether old or in some case modern built cairns, confuse the issue and destroy the archaeology of high mountain places. Occasionally bronze age cairns are ‘restored’ by archaeologists but it would be so much easier if stones were left untouched.

Farmers are,  perhaps quite justifiably, confronted with the existence of a scheduled monument in their fields, ploughing becomes difficult, cattle and sheep using cromlechs as shelter do not necessarily please the visitor to the site, visitors walking across fields of animals are not always welcome, respect has to be felt on both sides.

What we see is a small window on the dangers that beset our ancient monuments, no wholesale destruction rather death by small attritions. Protection by the law at least helps but without co-operation from all sides, including the general public such ‘attrition’ wears away the fragile archaeological information that helps give us a better understanding.

 The following is a list from Cadw – the Welsh Assembly Government which gives some of the restrictions and permissions needed under law should any work take place that would seriously effect a scheduled monument. as to the letter of the law, it can be found at this website 

The main purpose of scheduling is to secure the preservation of nationally important ancient monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are considered in this light with a presumption against proposals which would cause damage to, significantly alter or affect the setting of such a monument.

What work requires scheduled monument consent;

Section 2(2) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979
states that consent must be obtained for the following:

Any works resulting in the demolition or destruction of or any damage to a scheduled monument;any works for the purpose of removing or repairing a scheduled monument or any part of it or making any alteration or addition thereto. Any flooding or tipping operations on land in, on or under which there is a scheduled monument.


Coetan Arthur

article and photos by Moss

A curious little story from Donegal this week. Briefly – adult human remains, believed to be ancient, were found in sand from a seaside quarry in Gweedore. A subsequent site investigation, by archaeologist Caroline Carr, uncovered the probable bones of a child and a team was then despatched from the National Museum. Over the weekend, however, and before they arrived, the latter remains disappeared.

Ms. Carr, the assistant curator of Donegal County Museum, went to the national media with an appeal and yesterday the missing bones were returned by an anonymous “amateur archaeologist“, via a reporter for TG4. Also handed over were other artefacts that the man had been collecting, at the same site and over the past 10 years. Apparently he had taken the bones away for “safe-keeping”. The relevant newspaper articles can be found, in order, here and here.

Obviously, there’s no point banging on too much about this one – he handed back a number of artefacts, as well as the remains. So he must now realise, presumably because of Ms. Carr’s public appeal and explanation, the gravity of what he did and what he has been doing, and feel embarrassed about it. It is, however, worth quoting her response here;

“Of course we are delighted to get the bones back and the other items but what he thought was being helpful has actually destroyed the site… We would urge anyone who has any concerns about the safety of such sites, not to touch anything but to contact the gardai”

Digging up ancient human bones like these and collecting them, seems disrespectful, cannibalistic almost, but you’d have to wonder how we tolerate so much – with a nod and a wink, or a look the other way – at the ‘non-human end of the scale’. Would the removal of the other items be regarded as seriously as this everywhere? Wasn’t digging up metal artefacts, for example, of a similar age and for a similar purpose, recently described as ‘heroic’ in England?

By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Figures that show the full extent of Irish zoning delinquency, over the last number of years, have just been obtained by the Irish Independent (3rd May 2010). According to Paul Melia and Treacy Hogan; “Local authorities have rezoned enough land to construct almost 1.1 million houses and apartments across the country at a time when thousands (250,000 to 300,000) of homes lie empty in ’ghost estates.’ But official projections received by the Government have found fewer than 300,000 new units are needed between now and 2016.” This rezoned land was, obviously, bloated in value and some people made a fortune, but banks – as over-exposed lenders to the purchasers – had to be bailed out by the Irish taxpayer after the inevitable collapse. Cheers lads.

As you might expect, County Meath (home of Tara and the M3) was the worst ‘offender’; 124,173 units zoned-for and only 2.032 units needed. That’s over-zoning – all rational thought blithely handed over at the door – by a factor of 61. Waterford had 40 times too much; Louth, 38 times; Monaghan, with enough land rezoned to last 60 years, had 26 times too much, but Meath was out on its own. Jared Diamond (The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee) provides a striking analogy for the situation, when he writes about certain communities of reindeer and rabbits eating “themselves into oblivion“;

“These and other similar examples of ecological suicide all involve populations that suddenly became free of the usual factors regulating their numbers.” Of course, any decision based on ‘baser’ instinct (no matter how stupid, or harmful) can subsequently be (and oh, how they were) post-rationalised, to yourself or to others.

Paul Melia has the following theory about an initial trigger; “Zonings are supposed to be based on calculation of need, but it’s clear that local considerations often took precedence over good planning. A county councillor seeing a town or village booming outside their area often felt their community was being left behind. Protecting their patch, and garnering votes for the march on Dáil Éireann or a return to the council, meant rezoning land.” But the editorial is much more damning in its implication;

“All this in addition to a quarter of a million empty houses! One must wonder whether councillors were affected by some collective mania or whether any brown envelopes, fat or slim, ever changed hands.”

Where does Tara and the M3 fit in these scenarios? Take your choice.

“But even archaeologists know that putting import restrictions on tiny utilitarian objects is not going to stop site looting for a host of obvious reasons.”

What a claim! Think about it. He’s saying if you reduce the demand you aren’t going to reduce the supply. Who could possibly really believe that? Nobody! So who is he that is saying such a thing and why?

It’s Wayne Sayles, American ancient coin importer, dealer and campaigner against restrictions on what he does.   One might think he was doing what our colleague Gordon Kingston said about the Meath councillors – “any decision based on ‘baser’ instinct can subsequently be post-rationalised, to yourself or to others” but we rather doubt what Mr Sayles does can be post-rationalised to anyone’s satisfaction except maybe his equally self-interested associates and customers. To the rest of the world he fails spectacularly. To deny your demand encourages supply is to porkify. Ask Adam Smith and Lord Keynes.

So what is the relevance of this man and the large number of American dealers he represents to Britain? Well, a lot of the coins illegally looted in Britain end up in America of course (along with looted coins from every country on earth – the illicit antiquities trade is comparable in size to the illicit drugs trade), but far worse, thousands of “legal” British detectorists sell hundreds of thousands of antiquities and vast numbers of those also end up in America, mostly shorn of their context.

Now a dead dog in a cellar knows that’s purely because there’s a demand for them from collectors and their dealers like Wayne Sayles, and the same closeted canine knows the loss of historical information is a tragic and unjust loss for Britain. PAS has spent more than a decade trying to get that simple truth across to British metal detectorists with obvious difficulty. So the very last thing that Britain and PAS needs is the likes of Mr Sayles offering a massive and very ready no-questions-asked purchase service (he can’t even be bothered to ask for and quote a PAS record number, and we all know why that is!) and his outrageous claim that his demand isn’t stimulating the process.

Yet that is not the only disservice Mr Sayles has done to our country. Imagine those ethically-challenged-and-deaf-to-PAS detectorist EBayers reading this, another of his recent self-serving calumnies: “The contribution of numismatics [the study of coins] to history, art history, economics, philosophy, religion, astronomy, biology and a host of other disciplines far surpasses the meagre information provided by the context in which a coin is found.”

Far surpasses the meagre information provided by the context in which a coin is found! In other words he is directly addressing the self evidently least intelligent metal detectorists (those who sell their finds on EBay and don’t report them to PAS) and telling them – that’s OK, forget context and archaeologists and PAS, the information obtainable from context is meagre. Sell your finds to me and they can become subject to numismatic study in America devoid of their context and what will be learned will be vast so your conscience can be clear!

If that isn’t a case of a selfish foreigner deliberately inciting ill-informed Britons to damage our country’s interest for his own benefit we don’t know what is. We wonder how Americans would like it if anyone in Britain encouraged some dentally challenged Alabamans to dig up some Native American flint tools and flog them to us on the grounds we’d learn far more about them than if they were given, along with full details of the precise place they were taken from, to American archaeologists specifically authorised for the purpose by the American gub’nmint?


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 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

Nighthawking: much ado about the wrong thing.

The Orthography of Stonehenge by William Stukeley
The Touchstone exhibition will run until Saturday 26 June 2010 at the Major Exhibition Galleries, Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum.

“Between 2007 and 2009, a group of international artists have gathered in the Stonehenge landscape.  Together they responded to the continuing archaeological excavations of the Stonehenge Riverside Project.  Two artists also held residencies at the Museum as part of the final season of work.  In this encounter between art and archaeology, we exhibit the artists’ varied and eclectic reaction to archaeological processes of discovery and documentation. Join us in a journey of discovery which starts way back in the Stonehenge landscape itself. 

“View the Vision News video  about the exhibition.”

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 a civilised country!




May 2010

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