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Connected, or not? The Irish Independent reports a find on the River Boyne and speculation linking it to the building of Newgrange;

Briefly, an oak dugout canoe; 3m long and 61cm wide, was noticed by two anglers in the river near Newgrange. After immediately resubmerging it – thank you and well done, Ivan Murphy and Kevin Tuite – they called the National Museum and experts came to remove the boat from the water. It has now been taken to a preservation centre in Roscommon.

There will be no reliable date for the craft until tests are carried out, although the close proximity of the find to Newgrange (and the fact that it has a large, handy hook at one end) seems to have prompted some initial thoughts; “It is believed canoes were used to transport stone to the site some 5,000 years ago.” We’ll wait and see, I guess. A source close to Heritage Action has said of dugout canoes that; “it seems that very few of the many Irish examples are pre-historic.”

This is the second Irish canoe-find, recently – late salvage, perhaps, from the unprecedented rainfall and flooding of a few months ago.

The solstice celebrations at Stonehenge this year looked like good fun, especially thanks to the great weather, but without wishing to sound like spoilsports we think some worrying things arose.  See this, 22 seconds in. How many people are climbing on the fallen stones? A lot more than the inevitable odd few one might expect at any large gathering.

Bear in mind English Heritage had done what it could: issuing warnings (about not standing on the stones and the fact that drunken, disorderly and anti-social behaviour would not be tolerated) and making sure there were no less than four main levels of officials on hand: EH employees, security personnel, police and even “peace stewards”. But the video clip clearly shows a large number of people clambering on the stones – despite English Heritage’s well-publicised rules (not to mention the law under the Stonehenge regulations). It can hardly be denied the numbers involved in doing this suggest EH was not in control of what was happening at that moment – and bear in mind there were 16,000 fewer people there than there are sometimes! We have to feel sympathy for EH since the situation is extremely difficult for it – though we do think it made things worse by publishing a picture of it next day without explaining how wrong it was.

But this year is not our main concern. This is: it’s an explosive mixture, a vulnerable site with huge numbers packed in, 43 drugs arrests, lots of alcohol (Round Table discussions from previous years speak of everyone’s great worries over “unacceptable levels of anti social behaviour” which we presume means drunkenness) and, the biggest problem of all, numbers so large that no-one can realistically claim that everything was or would always remain under full control. Who can say what might have happened if the police had gone in a bit too strongly – arrested the wrong person, pushed someone over, tried to eject someone against the wishes of other people? There’s not much doubt there were enough people there with half-remembered resentments about the Battle of the Beanfield for things to go very wrong. Who wants a mass scuffle inside the actual monument – but who can say there isn’t a genuine risk of it?

Is this place big enough to squeeze 20,000 random partygoers into?

We’re not known as fans of giving English Heritage unbridled license to do whatever it wants but on the other hand it does seem as if the reins have been pulled out of its hands at Stonehenge and that can’t be good for Stonehenge. So what should be done?

We wish we knew, but a few things that perhaps need discussing might include placing “keep off” style signs actually on the fallen stones, stationing the four levels of officials right next to those stones and perhaps considering limiting numbers to a level where control can be better maintained.

The latter is not such an outrageous suggestion – if fifty thousand turned up, that’s what would have to be decided. On the evidence of this latest solstice, twenty thousand is far too many to control in such a place and the fact something pretty bad hasn’t happened is down to pure luck. How that could be done is a puzzle. A system of drawing lots? A ban on ANY alcohol (thereby discouraging the pure party animals)? An entrance fee (except for the proven poor or genuine pagans)? Restricting the numbers actually inside the circle (by lots or by waiting list from amongst those with a genuine spiritual or other interest)?

All these ideas could be criticised but we’re sure there are viable solutions within them, certainly ones that are better than what is happening at present, which does seem to rely on trusting to luck that nothing will go wrong. The Stonehenge circle is simply too small and too precious for vast numbers to safely gather inside (how on earth did the idea arise that it was viable, on one occasion per year and no other?!) and it would be better to acknowledge it now than after something had gone badly wrong. If we don’t have decent visitor facilities by next year let us at least have a more appropriate arrangement for solstice.

 Moel y Gaer Hillfort. Wikipedia Commons photo;  Attribution: Eiran Evans

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to crack down on illegal off-road bikers who are wrecking North Wales heritage sites.

Moel y Gaer hillfort is just one of a number of historic locations across North Wales under siege from bikers and 4x4s carving up the countryside.

Now the Heather and Hillforts project has launched a “Don’t leave home without it” campaign to fight back.

Project leaders want farmers, ramblers and others who enjoy the countryside to carry a police telephone number with them – or even store it into their mobile phones – to report the vandals.

Summer has arrived again with the same problems of  4×4’s and off road bikers tearing up our green track ways in the pursuit of a noisy and incredibly damaging hobby that reduces these tracks to a rutted mess;  even worse, thin soil is worn away leaving rocks unprotected…

Denbighshire County Archaeologist Fiona Gale said: “Twenty years ago a grass track about four feet wide ran up here along the ridge but now in places it’s more than 15 feet wide and the heather and grass have been ripped away by the bikes and rain has then washed the surface away exposing the bare rock.”

read on

Perhaps the advice of using your mobile to report such illegal activity needs to be underlined once more till this idiotic practice is outlawed once and for all.

We were intrigued to see this scary notice where we parked to visit the West Kennet Long Barrow yesterday…

especially as it needs amateurs, not the official site guardians, to think it is worth putting this very gentle request on the path leading up to the monument…

So which one is it more important to keep litter-free National Trust – West Kennet Long Barrow or its lay-by? If you think the former perhaps you could refrain from removing the amateur notice (which reflects the ASLaN charter, which we know you agree with) until you have replaced it with one of your own.  Thanks!

Submitted by a correspondent:

With the most recent incidents of vandalism affecting the Uffington White Horse and the Wilmington Long Man, the history of hill figures in the present century is dominated by turn overs – adoptions and adaptations by such as political groups, fundraisers, television and film stunts, advertisers, sporting patriots, and pranksters. In some cases this has been done with the consent and assistance of site guardians and heritage organisations that claim it could be achieved anyway with photography or mock-ups so they decide to control and financially benefit. In cases where it was not with the consent of such bodies, whether graffiti spraying, digging, or burning, it can have a lasting impact on the archaeology as well as the appearance.

In all of these cases without exception, whether officially sanctioned or disapproved, it has lowered the public perception and esteem of hill figures as monuments. This is compounded in a number of cases by a lack of respect being promoted when the turn over is presented, both on websites and in the media, in a way that encourages interpretation of the action and outcome as harmless fun. The stance that the guardians and heritage organisations have adopted then endorses and supports this lack of respect through acceptance and approval, that in effect legitimises deployment of the actual site for purposes incongruent with long term preservation .

Whilst it would be true in comparison to reflect that the actual Stonehenge has been given over to filming Dr Who, and agreed it was an opportunity to stimulate interest amongst new audiences, that site is very well protected where no hill figure is and even that hasn’t stopped vandalism of the stones.

Each and every example of hill figure turn overs, whether for a worthy charity or a noble cause, makes it plain how easy hill figures are to target, makeover, gain publicity and get away with it.

Time to change stance guardians and heritage organisations – let the media know you disapprove of turn overs and why. Let’s get these cheapening stunts seen for what they are by the public, and let us all afford these unique monuments the time honoured respect they deserve.


Aftermath of previous stunt at The Long Man of Wilmington by supporters of the Countryside Alliance. A double whammy in which they managed to both cheapen the monument and to cause physical damage.

Similar gold lunula from Schulenburg, Germany. Image Wikimedia Commons

In February of last year a Bronze Age gold lunula and two discs were stolen from a Roscommon chemists’ shop, along with the rest of the contents of a safe. The precious objects (c.2300 – 1800 BCE)  had been stored amidst sheets of paper (so the thieves didn’t even notice what they had in their possession) and Gardaí later recovered them from a skip in Dublin. Oddly, the criminals weren’t the only ones to be unaware of their significance – the lunula and discs, found in a bog back in 1945, had been in the chemists’ safe for the last 63 years.

The lunula and discs are now on display in the National Museum in Dublin. According to director Pat Wallace; “There is a whole lot of conjoined freaks of good luck to make it possible,”

Full report here;

I know. At this stage it’s like a broken record; cronyism, corruption, Celtic Tiger, cronyism, corruption. You’d imagine that there’s little more that you could read about it, without your sore head splitting open. This week Taoiseach Brian Cowen finally admitted what has been obvious to the rest of us for a very long time – that we’ll never again see the €22 billion that is being used to prop up Anglo Irish, the former ‘developers bank‘. What next,  Mr. Inevitability? Only, (don’t they bother with ‘spin’ any more?) a new property tax, in which each ordinary homeowner both pays the charge and pays for their own assessment – it might raise a couple of billion against our budget deficit. Thank you very much politicians, bankers and former developers, assorted incubi and succubi, hope you enjoyed your stay and don’t worry, we’ll pick up the tab (and live with the wreck).

If you want to get, or if you want to get more of, an idea of what went on in just one Irish County, the site of the Tara ‘job’; Meath – then Frank McDonald’s feature in Tuesday’s Irish Times will present all the symphonic score for you. It’s an absolutely riveting, horrific read. It’s like Mahler. Read it here;

In the meantime, here’s an aperitif;

“…It was the board’s approval for the route proposed by the National Roads Authority that gave Dick Roche cover for declining to intervene as minister for the environment in 2005. Declaring that there was “no way” he could revisit the board’s decision, he issued the licences for archaeological excavations, thus allowing the M3 to proceed.

…Roche’s decision – made just before the Fianna Fail-Green Party coalition took office in June 2007 – effectively let his successor, John Gormley, off the hook. By that stage, despite all the protests and even clashes between activists and security personnel hired by the road builders, construction of the M3 was well under way; the game was up.

…Meath on Track campaigned for a reopening of the railway line to Navan but this only developed legs when Fianna Fail had to fight a by-election there in 2005. Martin Cullen approved phase one of the project, from Clonsilla to Pace (Dunboyne), which is due to open in October

…In Trim, there were question marks over how permission came to be granted for a 68-bedroom hotel across the road from the most important Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland – Trim Castle. The Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment had objected to it but was prevented from appealing by its political boss, Martin Cullen.

…“Facilitating development” in Meath was the priority, no matter what the context. That explains why councillors were quite willing to rezone land for housing in known flood plain areas in Dunboyne and Bettystown. Many new homeowners in Dunboyne feared their houses would be unsaleable after severe flooding there in November 2002.

…The councillors proceeded with rezonings despite being warned of “grave repercussions” by county manager Tom Dowling. In March 2007, they adopted a new county development plan, ignoring a call from the Department of the Environment that they should “de-zone” some of the excessive amounts of land then designated for development.”

Read it.

Most of the following first appeared on The Modern Antiquarian and we have reproduced it here, with the author’s permission, as everyone agrees it is well worth as wide an exposure as possible.

Just back from Derbyshire, spent a fantastic solstice morning on Stanton Moor. Whoever it was that suggested the Birchover camp site on my ‘just bought a tent’ thread last year, thank you thank you thank you. I’ve been back many times & love it!

There were perhaps fifty tents at the Nine Ladies stone circle when we got there about ten past four AM.

We chose to watch the sunrise from Stanton Moor South as you could actually see the horizon from there. We were treated to a magnificent sunrise. A pure clear horizon, and a breathtaking thing to see. We were so lucky. I hope the rest of the UK had similar clear views. We drank champagne as we watched it rise and I played my flute.

Not many at the Nine Ladies saw the sunrise. Most of the people camping at the Nine Ladies stayed there in the wooded area. I think I could see eight or nine people on the open Moor. But there was a good vibe as people cheered as the first slither of sun rose above the hills.

I didn’t spend much time at the Nine Ladies to be honest. One stone had someone’s jumper draped on it, people camped right by the stones. To give you some idea of the scene.

We walked to the Fiddler’s stone (the outlier) and there were ‘offerings’ on top of it. Some flowers, some ‘tat’, and a slice of take-away pizza.

Now even to me, someone who doesn’t really care or get annoyed at ‘offerings’. I didn’t like that cold slice of pizza being there. It seemed a piss-take. (A pizz take?).

Anyway, after a while I got more niggled and vowed to remove it. I marched up to the stone, and there were a bunch of monged-out lads lying by it. They were camped right next to it. “What’s that bloody pizza doing there?” I asked. “It’s an offering” they laughed. And I stood there thinking “if you knock it off it might just create a scene’, and I didn’t want bad vibes on such a peace morning… so I made it clear I thought it was a pretty naff thing to do, in a joking way, and went on my way. To be fair, the lads seemed a decent bunch, they were in no way ‘Chavs’ (and I should know, I’m from Wolverhampton!) and the pizza slice will do no harm to anyone other than provide a high calorie snack for a lucky squirrel.

One girl told us how great the English Heritage people were. “They come along after us with their black bags and clear it all up the day after” she said. That’s alright then, I suppose.

A few more thoughts. Have you been to the Druid’s circle of Ullverston? I have. It’s a mess. Paint all over stones, Lager cans everywhere. Well this morning I had to clear wine bottles from Stanton Moor South. Though I doubt anyone would know it was a sacred site, it’s quite hard to find if you don’t know where to look. But anyway, it illustrates to me the importance of keeping an eye on these sites.

I think the whole issue of partying at sites is quite interesting. The last thing I’d want to see is police or ‘officials’ at a site during celebrations. I’ve been to Stonehenge on solstices and seen the antagonistic way they treat people. At the 2008 Winter solstice they were barking “don’t stand here, stand there, keep this way clear, stand in line” as if we were all football louts. Most people were ageing druids, half asleep teachers types, megolithoraks or mashed hippies, I’ve never felt less intimidated by a crowd!

What I’d like is a bit more ‘respect’ for the stones. And respect in the proper sense. Don’t camp right by them, don’t put your jumper over them and don’t ‘decorate’ them with take-away food you’ve got no more room in your belly for. I know it’s not vandalism, but it really is very, very naff,

Especially on a day that’s supposed to be important to the other people visiting these sites.

The Wiltshire Heritage Museum is conducting a survey for a pilot, “…community bus service that will link Stonehenge, Devizes and Avebury.” Results from the survey will help them plan the service.

“Contrary to popular opinion archaeologists do not excavate in order to find gold or other valuable objects. Rather their intention is to get the maximum information about the past from the ground. Objects found in an excavation are important principally because of their recorded association with other objects, structures, layers or features.” – from ‘Irish Field Monuments’

This is a statement of Irish origin, I know, but it’s one that every archaeologist should hold to. There is a paradox, however. The personal annexation of archaeological objects and the regular destruction of context, in England and Wales, are like two fingers casually flicked in its direction. So, how is it rationalised? A number of standard arguments are used by metal detector users and I will group – and answer them – loosely under three headings. By naming the third heading, as I have, it is not my intention to draw any Nazi parallels, merely to hint (using association) how appeasement can be and has previously been, disastrous;

1. Superman
2. Offence is the best form of Defence
3. Munich Agreement

1. Superman (in two parts)

(i) helping the local community – contributing to local museums – the information to be gained from the object – the Staffordshire Hoard effect. As you will have gathered from my opening sentence, there must also be two parts to this answer; firstly, the question of whether the object is reported at all and secondly, and if so, the damage that is done to its context by unqualified excavation.

(a) Despite the occasional – heavily-reported – case, overall the amount of archaeological objects reported (and traceable to original context) is a fraction of those found. The amount of objects contributed to museums is less again. When challenged on the destination of their found objects, users will often state that museum collections are full and that the museums don’t want them anyway. Private hoards and Ebay are the immediate destination of the majority of artefacts and beyond Ebay, who knows?

(b) As to the second part – although much information can be gleaned from the likes of, for example, the Staffordshire Hoard, so much more is left behind; in the earth that flies from the spade, or in the ‘worthless’, non-treasure, items thrown to one side. To use the words of Minister Michael D. Higgins, in his presentation of the 1994 National Monuments (Amendment) Bill to the Irish Seanad;

“.., this is not even half the story. While the artefacts and monuments, in themselves, are important, in more recent years it is the sites in which these have been discovered, particularly when discovered in an undisturbed site, that have been seen to yield or constitute a reservoir of amazing information about our ancestors and, through them, about ourselves. When archaeologists have been given the opportunity to properly excavate such sites, they have, using the strict disciplines of their profession and helped by modern forensic technology, been able to begin piecing together the complex jigsaw pieces of the past…

..,the physical context in which an object is found is often more valuable in terms of the information which can be gleaned than the object itself. It has been said that the objects are only the index of a great text book while the context in which such objects were deposited represents the text.”

Index and text – that’s as perfectly as I have ever seen the relationship between object and context expressed.

(ii) saving archaeological objects from the onslaught of deep ploughing and corrosive agricultural chemicals. Although Paul Barford recently offered a neat dissection of the latter threat on his blog (twice), it is undeniable that the former, deep-ploughing, is eroding both physical context and object – in some locations. Why, then, not take, at least, the objects before they are lost forever? It is doubtful that any object removed from the ground, without its context, and then taken (or sold) into a private collection, is, in any meaningful sense, saved. Furthermore and this is the key point – there is, as I said earlier, no law to restrict users to this affected fraction of land. Think about that. The recommendation that users limit themselves to heavily disturbed ground carries the obvious implication that their activities (unqualified excavation) are also erosive. Yet there is no legal requirement for them to restrict themselves to that ground.

2. Offence is the best form of defence

This needs little explanation – the ad hominem approach. Threats, abuse, or belittling references to the challenger.

3. Munich Agreement

Cooperation rather than confrontation – metal detector use cannot be limited by legislation – if it was it would go underground and we wouldn’t even get the little information that we do now. This is, of course, testable. As I said at the beginning, I am Irish and I have quoted, all the way along, from Irish sources on the subject. The state of law here was not markedly different from that in England and Wales, until an event prompted change in the 1980’s. Briefly, two metal detector users were unhappy with the reward offered by the National Museum for the object that they found (the Derrynaflan chalice) and challenged the state’s right to ownership. They eventually lost their case in the Supreme Court, in a judgement that included these defining words from Mr. Justice T.J. Finlay;   

“…it would appear to me to be inconsistent with the framework of the society sought to be created and sought to be protected by the Constitution that such objects should become the exclusive property of those who by chance may find them.”

This decision led to the subsequent changes in Irish law, beginning with the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 1987. In the opening words of her 1986 Seanad speech, Avril Doyle described the prevailing background of the time;

“I now turn to another area that is new; the control of metal detecting. We are all aware, I am sure, of the damage that has been done to archaeological sites by treasure hunters. Reports have been received from almost every part of the country of sites which have been scarred by their operations. Coins and other objects providing valuable dating evidence have been removed from their context. This represents irretrievable loss and it is clear that something has to be done about it.”

Michael D. Higgins’ comments (concerning the same era) are also worth repeating;

“In seeking to legislate for the ownership and improvement of the protection of archaeological objects and monuments it must be borne in mind that, although we known that such objects are beyond price, there will be those who will put a price on such things, those who will seek out such objects, remove them without any concern for the context in which they are found and sell them to the highest bidder, those who will collect such items without regard for or understanding of the right of people to the ownership of their own heritage — and that heritage is in question — and to whom individual possession of an object is their only enjoyment. That such behaviour is a sad feature of the past 20 years, in particular, is to be deplored, but we must face up to it.”

You can never completely stamp out illegal behaviour. As long as there is money to be made there will be people to take the chance. However, it will be obvious to any inhabitant of Ireland that the pre-legislation situation, as sketched out by Ministers Doyle and Higgins, above – what you might refer to as a countrywide epidemic of night-hawking -, no longer exists. It is also probable that the previous easy availability of metal detectors and the legality (and familiarity) of their use, in the search for archaeological objects generally, would have fed into their use in more nefarious activities. Certainly, this ‘Irish night-hawking’ dwindled after the change in law (it is noteworthy that metal detector users here also observed a “very strict code” previous to that point) – significantly, not only the use of metal detectors is curtailed in Ireland, but also their promotion.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



June 2010

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