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One of the tumuli on Garrowby Hill. Image credit: Paul Alison

Sounds good!
“Two ancient mounds which may contain the remains of farmers who worked the land 4,000 years ago have been saved for posterity. The Bronze Age burial mounds just off the A166, close to the summit of Garrowby Hill, were considered at high risk but they have been protected from the plough after tenant farmer Geoff Wray applied to Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. Historic environment field advisor Yvonne Luke said: “We are very grateful.”

As are we all. Although, reading it more slowly… if they are Bronze Age burial mounds they’d be scheduled and ploughing them would be illegal wouldn’t it? So although we are sure the payment per hectare per year that Farmer Wray is receiving is being well-targeted, probably towards stewardship of his remaining land, it would be best if the impression wasn’t given to the public that he was being paid to refrain from ploughing scheduled monuments. There’s quite enough of that going on as it is, year by year, incrementally –

“Three-quarters of ancient scheduled monuments in the East Riding considered at risk are slowly being damaged by ploughing.”

Maybe a database of precise photographs of barrows, reviewed and compared every year, would be beneficial (or does it exist already?) Or simply a clearer explanation and a request to the public to be vigilant, rather than muddling them up with stories that farmers are being paid to “save” them, which they aren’t. Many – actually, MOST of them – appear to be being ploughed away, bit by bit. Each instance of damage, after all, is a crime, albeit so incremental it is considered hardly worth bothering – until of course a decade has passed and the mound has gone, as have 90% of them in many places!

Spot the difference between these two quotes (if you can);

-“Don’t you think all the excavations we have made had been anticipated by Goldfinders or more probably gold seekers?” – William Hackett, in April 1842

-“I received a phone call from a neighbour telling me that there were a lot of people on my land digging holes”John Douglas, in July 2010

Selecting a hook for this final part has taken quite a while but the delay, as sometimes happens when you’re not expecting anything, has brought a couple of gifts – the second quote above, for example, only appeared in the news the other day (nothing has changed really, has it?). More importantly, however, I’ve been able to think about what other people think about what I’ve written and one person’s remarks (thank you Jonathan Jarrett), have significantly affected my previous arguments in a couple of places. Although you can check back, if you wish, to read his full contributions in their context, I will reproduce the relevant sentences here;

“I work at a museum which records UK coin finds for the early Middle Ages, and I have to give a warning from the inside that the infrastructure simply isn’t there to record much more than we already do. Detectorists we are in contact with suggest that we hear about something like ten per cent of what’s found. If that was all coming our way we’d have three or four detector finds to log every day, it would need at least a part-time dedicated member of staff. What we are getting may not be representative, and it may be upsetting possible dig sites, but there aren’t resources to orchestrate its control any further no matter how desirable that may or not be.”

Obviously, the first thing to stand out is the suggestion, via that contact with detector users, that the reporting rate may actually be as low as 10%. If you will recall my ‘Part 3‘; by using 10,000 estimated users making an average of 15 trips a year and finding an average of one artefact per day, you can calculate a PAS reporting rate of about 37% (150,000 detector finds per year applied to a four-year PAS average of 55,000 objects reported) – what I referred to, then, as the “least damaging scenario”. A rate of 10% would, however, imply that well over half-a-million archaeological objects are being unearthed by metal detector users every year and, consequently, that nearly half-a-million are coming up ‘under the radar‘ and disappearing; a rate that is far, far, in excess of our worst predictions. What kind of monster have you created?

Secondly and also in ‘Part 3‘, while I pointed out that financial considerations are one major factor in prompting changes in law, I approached that subject in a brief, hypothetical, manner – as a possible follow-on to changes necessitated by future alterations in public opinion. Looking from outside, I hadn’t allowed that some museum resources (although he may not speak for PAS, at the very least, Mr. Jarrett will know his immediate surroundings) are already so stretched that the request to detector users to record all, or even “much more“, of their finds cannot possibly be managed. Or, in other words, that parts of the system that asks them to be “responsible” are actually dependent, functionally, on them not being responsible. Incredible, isn’t it? – and don’t forget that budgets, generally, are being contracted and archaeological jobs are under threat, so no extra funding for infrastructure can be expected from the state.

Has the detecting dog grown too big for the house? While we, at Heritage Action, tend to view each situation primarily from an ethical standpoint, governments, as I sketched in ‘Part 3‘, will naturally give more weight to financial factors. On this issue, for once, it looks like their interests and ours may eventually coincide. The completely undesirable (the present, heavily-fractional, reporting level) could be ‘keeping the show on the road’. How much of an increase can it take before something ‘gives’? To quote again from Mr. Jarrett;

“The bigger practical question however remains: where’s the money coming from? If we can’t answer that question then, as I say, the options are simply: what we have now, criminalising unlicensed detector use (which involves a license scheme) or banning detecting outright. Anything else requires more infrastructure, not less. The ideals are a fine thing to debate, but if you want real-world answers the money question has to be answered too.”

Succinctly put – and towards the end of the previous article I asked a different question, but one that used similar components. That is; how can the situation, as it is now; “be worse than the alternative; that is, making the detecting for artefacts illegal, without an official license, and banning their promotion, or sale, for that use? ” I will roughly sketch the shape of that (Irish) alternative in the following paragraphs and follow, then, with links to the detail of the legislation:

An Irish Solution to an English Problem:

(i) Firstly; the problems of both uncontrolled (a growing Gold Rush?) and unqualified excavation, for archaeological objects, are dealt with by Section 2 of the 1987 National Monuments (Amendment) Act. To use the words of Mr. Jarrett’s ‘second option’; it criminalises the unlicensed use of metal detectors for that purpose.

(ii) Secondly; the problem of acquisition is covered by the 1994 National Monuments (Amendment) Act, under which ownership of the found archaeological object, defined in Section 14 as; “…any chattel whether in a manufactured or partly manufactured or an unmanufactured state which by reason of the archaeological interest attaching thereto or of its association with any Irish historical event or person has a value substantially greater than its intrinsic (including artistic) value, and the said expression includes ancient human, animal or plant remains” rests with the state (Section 2).

(iii) Thirdly; under Section 10 of the same Act, the related question of reward is placed subject to a considered decision by the Director of the National Museum. As Minister Higgins put it, in December 1993; “…while rewards may be paid, there is no suggestion that the finder of an archaeological object can have any claim to its ownership conferred on him or her through the payment of a reward. The provision sets out the criteria which the Director of the National Museum may take into account when evaluating whether a reward should be paid, such as the intrinsic value and importance of the object, the circumstances of its finding and amounts paid in other comparable cases. Obviously the provision is designed to reward the conscientious finder of an object who reports the find responsibly to the Director of the National Museum rather than a professional treasure hunter who reports the finding of an object simply as a last resort.”

Solution in summary:

(i) staunching the flow; the banning of the use, without official consent, of metal detectors to search for archaeological objects (because a half-way house is practically impossible – how could you supervise what all the users do and where they do it?) and of their promotion and sale for that purpose,

(ii) the resting of the ownership of those objects in the people of England and Wales rather than, in the words of Mr. Justice Finlay, “those who by chance may find them” and

(iii) the adoption of a system that rewards responsible behaviour.

…“I received a phone call from a neighbour telling me that there were a lot of people on my land digging holes”…

As it is now – even if we are to ignore the fate of the artefacts (the question of acquisition) – to maintain any measure of control over the knowledge that is vanishing daily from the ground, professional, effective recording of each object is necessary and it hardly happens at all. Furthermore, there are indications that the system simply hasn’t the physical means to handle much more of the massive draw.

A question: If anyone who spends £500 on an electronic device and a shovel (only “so-called” amateurs, according to our correspondent from ‘Part 1‘) can do an archaeologist’s job adequately in the eyes of the law, then what, really, is the point of being one?

Useful Links

Seanad Éireann – Volume 114 – 29 October, 1986

Seanad Éireann – Volume 138 – 2 december, 1993

National Monuments (Amendment) Act 1987

National Monuments (Amendment) Act 1994

I am deeply indebted to my colleague, Nigel Swift, for help with the preparation of these articles.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


A guest feature by Resonox

Oxted in Surrey is a delightful little village. Yet St. Mary’s church, established long before the Norman invasion, whilst being part of the village now was once over half a mile from the old village centre.

Oxted means “Place of The Oaks” (Ac-stede), but the actual oak grove which the village was named for has long since vanished, perhaps it was originally on the mound where the church now stands? The site is said to have been a pre-christian burial mound, which explains why a church was built on it in 1040 AD, according to local folklore, but not why so far from the village centre. The mound is emphasised these days by having been made an island by a surrounding wall and path. 

There is a separate little mound (a tumulus?) to the south of the main door (north of the lych-gate), where now a yew tree, rumoured to be 600 years old, stands guard. Tucked neatly by the first buttress on the south wall are two slabs lying side by side with carved crosses on them, 

these grave covers were long thought to be memorials to two crusaders (Knights Templar), but have since been dated as late Anglo Saxon and compared with similar stones in situ in Titsey and Tandridge. To the west of Oxted is Barrow Green,

It has often been listed as a motte and bailey site, though no stones are available at all to support this, unlike the motte and bailey remains at nearby Bletchingley. There is however a raised rectangular area north of the mound which might lend provenance to the claim. 

The very name does insinuate that this large artificial hill is an ancient barrow, unfortunately it is fenced and inaccessible (I believe the present owner is Mr Al-Fayed of Harrods fame) so without permission to explore it remains an enigma.

Oddly enough an Oxtedian tells me as a child he was told that it was built as a Victorian viewing platform for Barrow Green Court gardens, a pretty if implausible idea as the house would be named after the area and not vice-versa.

Further west yet, in between Oxted and Godstone, there is a monument known as The Moot Stone indicating the meeting place  (moot is a Saxon word for meeting place) of the Saxon hundreds.

The area is also know as Undersnow which is a corruption of Hundreds Knowe in what is now considered to be the first Saxon “parliament”, where the lands were divided and allocated amongst the Saxon lords, this allocation is almost unchanged to the present day.

Unfortunately the A25 cuts through what would’ve been the mound where the wooden hall would have stood. Though there is a raised copse slightly south which in my opinion would be a likely canditate for the hall – if and only if, the stone was in the wrong place.

Anyone visiting the area would be advised to visit Godstone too, for behind the Hare & Hounds public house (a varied selection of beers and home-cooked foods available for the weary explorer) there is the Godstone tumulus, known affectionately by the locals as “The Grave”.

 It is a popular dog walking area so whilst it is easy to access, just mind your step as not all the dog walkers are as responsible as they ought to be in cleaning up after their pets!  There is another possible tumulus but as it is sited in someone’s garden so it is not readily available for photographing and /or investigating.


It seems as if the concept of a bus linking the main Wiltshire megalithic sites and museums …… is really taking off

So it should, it seems obvious that the main museums at Avebury and Devizes should be an integral part of any visit to the main megalithic sites at Stonehenge, Silbury, Avebury or points in between. If it goes as well as it promises to, and there is the interest that it seems to be generating then it ought to be seen as a mighty significant factor to be considered in any discussion of new interpretation facilities for Stonehenge. Could it be that all those millions can be saved by simply investing in a fleet of buses to take visitors to the existing world-famous collections nearby rather than trying to compete with them to the detriment of each?

One thing though. Suggestions are still being invited from the public for what to call the service. One of them was The Druid Express! No, no, no, no! That’s not right at all. You could just as validly call it the Roman Runabout or the Victorian Excursion!

Our own suggestion is in our title: Megalithabus!  You know it makes sense!


Cure this problem

Five years ago this week Heritage Action was deep in the struggle to prevent further quarrying near to the Thornborough Henges, a remarkable international campaign that is estimated to have reached four million people and led by the tireless George Chaplin (see below).

Sadly, Tarmac plc got what they wanted, the right to rip up the landscape of what English Heritage has said is “the most important prehistoric monument between Stonehenge and the Orkneys.”  George presented the council with a ten thousand name petition that contained names from all over the world and a large number of senior archaeologists plus fifteen hundred objection letters from local people – a number that totally dwarfed any set of objection letters the council had received on any subject, ever.

Sadly, North Yorkshire County Council deemed that since the objections related to the planning application a few months previously that had been quietly cancelled and not to the slightly amended one that had superseded it, the objections were all invalid and the letters were left on a shelf and the planning committee members weren’t even told of their existence!

At this moment Tarmac plc are busily extracting the gravel (which of course no-one now wants!)

Here’s our Heritage Journal entry for July 6, 2005: 

10,000 demand exclusion zone to protect Thornborough
On Monday Heritage Action and Time Watch demanded independence for Thornborough henges by presenting North Yorkshire County Council with 10,000 signatures demanding a one mile quarry exclusion zone around the major archaeological features



George Chaplin andf other campaigners hand in their petition

We hope that this unprecedented public response, combined with numerous planning policy infringements will allow the council to reject this application.

They also handed the council more than 1,500 letters of objection to the Ladybridge quarry planning application – more than the council has ever received about any planning application.

Heritage Action and TimeWatch collected the majority of the signatures by attending local and regional events and by lobbying at many archaeological conferences. As a result a large number of senior archaeologists have signed the petition, including one of Britain’s foremost prehistoric archaeologists, Richard Bradley.

TimeWatch also presented to the council a convincing case against quarrying at Ladybridge which shows that the application infringes a great many council planning policies.

West Kennet Avenue viewed from the Ridgeway; Falkner’s stone circle would be in the field on the right of the road

The Heritage at Risk Register 2010 published today (Wednesday 7 July 2010) by English Heritage shows that the number of scheduled monuments at risk has fallen by 140 to 3,395, but the Register also confirms that the proportion of scheduled monuments at risk is still high at 17.2% (one in six), with the South West, Yorkshire and The Humber, and West Midlands having the highest share.

Hardly good news, checking the register for Wiltshire and there are 250 scheduled monuments at risk, mostly  barrows damaged and lost due to plough damage, and perhaps the words extensive significant problem i.e. under ploughing, collapse highlights the gradual loss of barrows, the modern heavy  farm machines of today completing the task of demolishment started many centuries ago. A stone circle now lost but part of the Avebury Complex is Falkner’s Circle, a solitary stone by a gateway highlights this 44 metre width stone circle, a passing memory now.

Falkner’s Stone – all that is left of the Neolithic stone circle that once lay below Waden Hill

The great East Kennet long barrow lost in its greenery of trees once hosted a bronze age barrow cemetery  surrounding  it, now all but lost to ploughing, a solitary splendour that reminds us that once long ago one prehistoric age made tribute to its ancestors thousands of years ago.

East Kennet long barrow;  Home to exuberant trees and burrowing badgers

Image credits Moss

A guest feature by Littlestone

Silbury (Silbury Hill) stands at the side of the old Roman road to Bath, about a mile from the Avebury stone circle on the A4 heading towards Marlborough. There’s a small car park close to the structure and information panels in the viewing area there detail the general history of the monument. It’s not possible (nor desirable) to climb Silbury and the information panels in the viewing area explain why.

Recent estimates place the final phase of Silbury’s construction at some 2,400bce. In other words, Silbury is nearly four and a half thousand years old. Until the modern age it was the largest manmade structure in Europe. When the final stage of Silbury was completed it would have appeared as a huge white ‘pyramid’ set in a green and gentle Downland valley. At certain times of the year Silbury would, as it still sometimes does today, appear to float at the centre of its own artificial ‘lake’ and been visible from not only the nearby Ridgeway (possibly the oldest track-way in Europe) but also from many other vantage points on the surrounding Downs – some of these vantage points are as far away as Winterbourne Bassett (see below ).

For some four and a half thousand years things stayed more or less as they were, but that was about to change with Colonel Drax and the Duke of Northumberland’s vertical shaft dug to the centre of Silbury in 1776.


Silbury at the centre of its own artificial lake. Image credit Moss

The list of applications for the UK’s new Tentative List of sites for World Heritage status has been published. A fascinating list of 38, many of which are entirely worthy we’d have thought. What a treasure house Britain is!

A couple of things struck us though. First, apart from Creswell Crags (hooray!) prehistoric monuments and landscapes have been given short shrift, as usual. When will the fact Britain is uniquely blessed and world famous on account of it’s unique and amazingly complete prehistoric heritage be properly recognised by government?

Second, in introducing the list John Penrose the Tourism and Heritage Minister said:

“…what all 38 sites have in common is a wow factor and a cultural resonance that makes them real contenders to sit alongside The Pyramids and Red Square in this most distinguished of gatherings.”

Very true John. In which case, where is Thornborough, which few would deny has a wow factor far in excess of most of the others on that or any other list as anyone that has seen it will confirm. What’s more, it’s the most important prehistoric monument (according to English Heritage) between Stonehenge and the Orkneys – which pretty much means “in Europe” or even “the world” ???

Could it possibly be guilt on behalf of both Yorkshire County Council (who have used every trick in the book to allow Tarmac plc to progressively wreck it’s landscape over a period of years) and those protection agencies that helped the process along? Could the government be simply too wretchedly ashamed to have UNESCO inspectors visit the Henges and see what it has allowed it’s gravel greedy pals to do? Especially as it is just about to say that there’ll be no road building for the next zillion years and the demand for more gravel will be approximately zero ??

We think so…



July 2010

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