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Some of those who read the exchange between members of the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group and Baroness Rawlings last week might take issue with the unalloyed joy about it expressed here and elsewhere.

Yes, she confirmed an export licence would be needed to take the Crosby Garrett helmet out of the country but she also admitted she had no idea where it is now. Considering it’s national treasure in all but name that’s depressing. Especially as the circumstances of it’s excavation may have been – what can I say?  exotic? – and certainly of a damaging effect, and that the cultural vandalism continued when it was hastily sent to be stuck together for selling by an oh-so-snooty auction house without being made available for proper study – so the whole saga adds up to a big loss for everyone, and somewhat of a national humiliation. Never mind politely mobbing her, it would have been more appropriate if their lordships had rioted.

Lord Renfrew was said to be pretty pleased at hints that the law on treasure may be extended to cover bronze artefacts from Roman times. Who could oppose it? Well some people, and unfortunately it’s some of the very people that will be unearthing such artefacts. Detecting forums are full of people saying extending the Treasure Act in the particular ways being mooted doesn’t accord with how they feel heritage protection should be structured. That’s a rough translation of course, the dialogue is actually about the idea that the rewards system is a swindle and they’d get more for the loot if they were free to flog it on EBay and that if push comes to shove they’ll simply say they found stuff prior to the Treasure Act becoming law. Check M8! Simple really (that’s both the proposed behaviour and the minds) but I refuse to dignify their awfulness by quoting it all verbatim – it’s all there to be read in it’s shameful detail. There’s even been “a word to the wise” on Britarch lest anybody should be in doubt bad consequences will arise unless things go a certain way. Has the English desease reached fever pitch? A person who is probably the most respected man on the planet on these matters thinks the Treasure Act needs amending in a particular way and a detector retailer warns archaeologists it had better not be done other than in the different way some metal detectorists require!

Someone should ask Lord Renfrew to sign up to a few metal detecting forums, if they’ll have him. (They may not. They think Lord Avebury is a snob!)   It’s the one gap in his vast scholarship, and it’s a crucial one. Legislating is not getting. Retired colonels and Guardian readers from Bournmouth disinterested in money some of these people aren’t. Look at the Crosby Garrett helmet.

APPAG members were also said to be “ecstatic” to hear the Portable Antiquities Scheme is to continue – and Lady Rawlings’ words have been widely interpreted elsewhere as “PAS funding is safe”. Her words weren’t quite to that effect though were they? She gave a politician’s answer – merely confirming the Scheme had escaped the bonfire of the quangos but that the question of its funding was still being considered. That means cuts are coming does it not? [UPDATE: they came, 15%] I suspect their Lordships may well have suffered from premature ecstacy.

Finally, something has just been announced that, had they known it at the time, ought to have driven their Lordships not merely to riot  but to go off on a rampage in the direction of Millbank. English Heritage is to close its entire outreach department.  Sad in itself, but quite mad in context: even after any PAS cuts we will have  a situation in which (apart from outreach by quarry companies in receipt of aggregates levy funds – Tarmac PLC at Thornborough Henges for instance!) there’s no national outreaching to 49 million ordinary members of the English public but there’ll still be about 45 PAS archaeologists outreaching to 8,000 English metal detectorists (178 metal detectorists each – of whom perhaps only 10 or 20% fully co-operate!)

Is that sensible resource allocation in an age of public spending frugality my Lords? And a matter for ecstacy (whether premature or not)?


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


Wiltshire Heritage Museum News.

Additions to White Horses and Hill Figures Exhibition.

Changes have been made to the White Horses and Hill Figures exhibition, which explores the chalk figures of Wiltshire and beyond, currently on show at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes. Firstly, the run of the exhibition has been extended until 27 February 2011 and secondly, some exciting additions have been made to the displays giving visitors the opportunity to see more fascinating objects, including new works by David Inshaw, Helen Chester, Joanna May and Alan Bond.

Pride of place amongst these new artworks is a stunning and previously unseen original oil painting of the Cerne Abbas Giant by internationally renowned artist and Devizes resident, David Inshaw. Also new is an oil painting of the Uffington White Horse Hill by Anna Dillon. Anna’s artwork showcases her vibrant style which focuses upon the contours and light of the landscapes she depicts. New works by Wiltshire artist Helen Chester show Wiltshire’s white horses in a contemporary style, using intense colours to reflect the passage of time and seasons. A beautiful triptych from wildlife artist Joanna May’s Mystical Hares series, shows white horses alongside her trademark British brown hares. Joanna is a recognised artist whose work has been sold at Christies and featured on BBC’s Springwatch. A series of sculptures by Seven Seven artist Alan Bond imagines the horse as a three-dimensional animal or roadside hoarding and plays with the distortions that often arises from photographic images. Alongside these new artworks are historical programmes and souvenirs showing celebrations held at the Westbury White Horse for coronations and jubilees.

White Horses and Hill Figures focuses primarily on the chalk figures of Wiltshire – from spirited white horses galloping across the chalk downlands to military badges, a poignant reminder of past conflicts. The exhibition also explores chalk figures from all over Britain, including the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Uffington White Horse. The exhibition looks at how chalk figures are created, their location, history and associated legends and folklore. Featured in the exhibition are historical items and ephemera, including many unseen pieces from the Museum’s collection, other organisations, private collectors and artists, as well as artistic interpretations from photography to poetry created by local, national and international artists. Featured prominently throughout the exhibition are stunning aerial photographs by Last Refuge Ltd.


Usual Museum admission charges apply.

Image credit Littlestone

The Heritage Lottery Fund has agreed a £10 million support package for improvements at Stonehenge that will include the removal of the existing visitor centre and the creation of a new one at Airman’s Corner (see our feature below) as well as the closure the A344 which currently runs uncomfortably close to the monument. English Heritage however still needs to find about a third of the total cost for the improvements. One source has quoted the remaining shortfall as £9 million.

Vixen Tor from the south
Credit Creative Commons

The following email, received by Heritage Action, is a plea for support in getting public access to the Vixen Tor which has been denied by the owner of the land for several years.

 I am writing to ask for your assistance in the campaign to have access rights restored to Vixen Tor on Dartmoor. There is a public enquiry beginning on 23rd November at Princetown Village Centre on Dartmoor itself.

According to legend, Vixen Tor is the home of Vixiana, one of the ‘witches of Dartmoor’, and as such is (and ought to be) of interest to us Pagans everywhere. It also houses a kistvaen – a Bronze Age burial site.  Seen here on The Modern Antiquarian.

The Tor has been the subject of a long-running access dispute between parties such as the Ramblers Associates and the British Mountaineering Council and the owner, a Mrs Alford.  In March 2009 Devon County Council, at a previous enquiry, found in favour of public access, but the owner objected (as they have done over a number of years to successive decisions in favour of access) and so the matter has now to be determined by inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State.

There is only one opportunity for the evidence to be heard and sifted, and for interested parties’ voices to be heard – and this is it.

We have posted links to the relevant information pages at our website – 

 but for ease of access the pages concerned are – … s/vixentor … s-campaign

Happily, although ongoing attendance at the public enquiry will clearly be impractical for almost everyone, we are trying to make sure that the RA and BMC are contesting (we are sure they will be), but as you will see from the RA link above, it is possible for individuals to obtain freepost postcards addressed to the Chief Executive of the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) by emailing –

 The Ramblers Association  are also asking people to communicate with them regarding this, so that they can assemble as much evidence as possible in favour of access rights being restored.

If you could take action on this, and if possible circulate this email through your networks and moots, we really would be most grateful.

An exciting mass experiment known as Hillfort Glow, to try to communicate between a large number of hillforts across Cheshire and North East Wales using light, is to take place on December 5th. Volunteers will be invited to man each hilltop and signal with lighted torches in an attempt to make contact across the landscape, replicating a communication or warning system that could have last happened more than two thousand years ago.

“Glow” hillforts include: Beeston Castle, Kelsborrow, Helsby, Maiden Castle, Burton Point, Moel y Gaer Rhosesmor, Penycloddiau, Moel Arthur, Moel Fenlli and Caer Drewyn.

Moel Fenlli, part of the Hillfort Glow project, from Offas Dyke. (C) David Quinn under Creative Commons

Places are strictly limited, so to register as a Hillfort Glow volunteer, contact the Heather and Hillforts Project Office on 01824 708230 email stating your name, location, email, telephone number and preferred hillfort.

Ancient Roman village discovered in parkland around stately home; Remains of a Roman road, the village and thousands of artefacts were found at Syon House in Isleworth.

Crouched burials in a ditch, a late Bronze Age gold bracelet and many more artefacts have been found in an excavation at Syon House near Brentford.  The dig took place two years ago when the grounds of this extensive parkland was excavated for the building of a new hotel.  The finds will be on show in the new hotel when it opens shortly.

The haul includes pottery, a lava stone quern, coins, a dagger, jewellery including shale bangles and a gold Bronze Age bracelet, in addition to the foundations of huts and a stretch of Roman road.

more information here at the Guardian, and also BBC News

This is well worth a look!

Forget the new Visitor Centre (who knows if it will be like that or built there or built at all this side of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro) but look at the rest! It certainly looks excellent. 

We do have a few concerns – the land train for one. It looks a lot better and less intrusive than we feared it might – or still could but it would be nice to know it will look like that and there’s no question of it doing other than going from A to B and back and that having it buzzing all over the WHS won’t be considered.

We also wonder if this seductive vision of no fences, no ropes and apparently full access to the stones, that we’d all like, can actually prove viable? What about erosion? And security? How are they going to be dealt with?

But most of all we wonder about the fact the government has said all the good stuff like closing part of the road can’t happen unless the new Visitor Centre gets built! The latter doesn’t seem exactly a definite which means the good stuff might not happen either.

We’re certainly not alone in seeing the road closure as terribly important in its own right. Rescue and the Stonehenge Alliance for two! Surely, after all these years, a way can be found to treat the closure and grassing over of the road adjacent to the stones as the UK heritage priority?

And just DOING it?

Here are our previous “Achievable Stonehenge” images which are pretty much identical to the ones on English Heritage’s video and which a huge number of people liked – so if money’s a problem, running a public appeal would be a viable option – in fact it would probably be one of the best supported ones in history!

Achievable Stonehenge
© Hiro Nakamura, Heritage Action 2006

by Nigel Swift

I’ve been “challenged” (by a rather thoughtful detectorist) to define “ethical metal detecting”. A short answer would be to say it doesn’t really exist except within a structured academic or rescue exercise as anything else may cause damage for avoidable reasons or with insufficient payback. I guess if others like PAS disagreed there’d be pictures on the net of them swinging detectors with the rest at commercial rallies, but there aren’t! But of course, the short answer’s neither here nor there as people are metal detecting so my definition of ethical detecting has to be tempered with reality. As Macbeth almost said: “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done ethically!”

But then it hit me. There’s no definition of ethical metal detecting, anywhere. No metal detectorist, no supporter has come up with one and remarkably (considering its whole raison d’être) nor has PAS! All we have is the Code for Responsible Metal Detecting and you could hardly claim that isn’t a watered-down “best-we-can-hope-for” version of “ethical”. (Try reading it substituting “ethical” for “responsible”. It becomes gobbledygook.) If ethical is to do with maximum public benefit and minimum public damage then the Code can hardly be said to have much to do with ethicality at all. Which maybe explains exactly why PAS hasn’t defined ethical? To do so would be to emphasize how far from ethicality the Code actually is.

Still, there are some detectorists striving to be more ethical and it seems to me their standards ought to be codified as well, indeed more so than the contents of the Code. We need a Sermon on the Mount, not just a vague indication of what’s at the bottom of the spectrum of acceptability else how will the public know it is at the bottom or that there are people that manage to do a lot better? Shouldn’t those people be praised as elite so they can gain from their efforts? After all, their standards in some respects are not far from those of archaeologists. Landowners ought to be told about them. Just as all detectorists are sick of being confused with nighthawks so ethical detectorists must be sick of being confused with ordinary detectorists (even “responsible ones”).

Yet I fear they’ll wait forever, for reasons explained, so if they want things to change they’ll have to do it themselves. It wouldn’t be hard – a few people could simply say “Let’s form an association just for metal detectorists that behave very, very, well and see if we can reap some benefits and do some good!” Such people are out there, just an email away from setting themselves up, writing some rules and issuing badges. They nearly did it a few years ago (at my suggestion) but made the mistake of asking the rest for permission and heard: “Bad idea…. mustn’t split the hobby…. unity is strength.” Strength for who one might ask. It’s not hard to see who has been piggybacking on the good behaviour of others for many years. In truth ethicality is strength, not unity. Who would think of banning or restricting ethical detectorists? No-one! If detectorists were ever subject to regulation the last detectorists left in the fields would be the ethical ones, it’s a certainty.

Anyhow, here’s an outline for an Ethical Metal Detecting Association. Not an entirely ethical, minimal damage one, but a lot better than “responsible”. It will have a permanent place on the net in due course with a link from the Journal. Unlike the Code it’s not going to be watered down to suit the unwilling, or sent to the National Council for Metal Detecting for emasculation, it’s just going to sit there as a reminder of what’s right and a reproach to those that think “right” ought to be ditched in the face of bellicosity. Many detectorists (the ones who wouldn’t comply) will trot out a zillion reasons why it’s preposterous and unrealistic. Ethical detectorists will know otherwise. If any of them (the ethical ones not the ones that say that what ethical detectorists already do is actually impossible and unrealistic) care to comment please do. Alternatively if they would like to correspond with us in strict confidence or anonymously via we’d be interested to hear their thoughts.

I guess the biggest protest this set of ideas will provoke will centre on the concept that there should be no finds sharing agreement. Both the bulk of detectorists and PAS (presumably) will disagree. As to the former, they’re easily repulsed – if you’re in it for love of history you can’t possibly complain. Can you? Unless you want to confess something? As for PAS, it actually recommends both sides to enter into an agreement (via the Code and via a Country Landowner’s leaflet) in order to “avoid disputes”. I really can’t see why…..

It seems rather like lazy thinking, slipping into the presumption that it is “legally right” to contract to share. On what legal basis would that be? Just because the State decided to offer a 50% finder’s reward for Treasure items that doesn’t mean private individuals are obliged to do the same with their property or to be told that a history lover (or indeed anyone else like a dog walker, bird watcher, farm worker or school child) that finds non-treasure items on their land has a legal claim to a particular percentage of them, whether 50%, 1% or 100%,  and that such a claim should be acknowledged for “safety” reasons by being formalised contractually “in order to avoid disputes”. What disputes, pray? Legal ones? On what basis? I can’t think how.  Or maybe some detectorists are thinking of possible disputes arising over the landowner saying “I won’t insult you by giving you a big reward as you’ve told me you’re only here for the love of history?” Or could PAS possibly mean disputes arising from a history-lover putting a find in his pocket because he hasn’t been given a guarrantee of a big fat contractual share in it’s value? Surely not? It must be some potential for some other dispute that both lots have forgotten to spell out.

It’s outrageous IMO that landowners should be officially misled into thinking a contract about sharing the finds is necessary or in their interest. Some of these agreements reserve 100% of all finds up to a value of £2,000 each find to the finder – in other words 100% of almost everything that is found. Central Searchers for one, which deals with scores of landowners and thousands of detectorists per year.  Look ’em up and click on their Rules. It’s number 15. Imagine, as a fieldwalker from an archaeology society – or a twitcher – waving that together with a twenty quid note at a farmer! Why would a farmer lay himself open to being persuaded to sign up to such ridiculous and blatantly unfair and exploitative terms when legally the items are his 100%, and if he wants to give a finder a reward (of however much he likes) or not then that’s up to him? “Oh well, we pay him twenty quid each to detect there.” And for that you think it’s fair to take 100% of almost everything you all find do you?! Well, maybe the poor farmer is stupid or, more likely, he’s been reading something from an official body, recommending him to enter into an agreement and from that got the idea that the nice plausible purely history-loving people at his door really would have a big legal right to almost all of his property if they found it so he’d better sign something drafted by them that reflected the probable legal situation since the experts (them and PAS) recommended it. 

No. Finds agreements are not not necessary, not ethical, work entirely against the landowner, point to a love of money not history and are based upon a false premise. 

Meanwhile, any ethical detectorists out there, courage mes braves! You have much to gain, all of it deserved – and nothing to lose but other people’s reputations!


Here it is! (Updated March 2015)


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


Salisbury Plain by John Piper
BLOWS the wind to-day, and the sun and the rain are flying,
Blows the wind on the moors to-day and now,
Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying,
My heart remembers how!

Grey recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places.
Standing stones on the vacant wine-red moor,
Hills of sheep, and the homes of silent, vanquished races,
And winds austere and pure:

Be it granted to me to behold you again in dying,
Hills of home! And to hear again the call;
Hear about the graves of the martyrs the peewees crying,
And hear no more at all.


Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Tara campaigners have handed in a re-interment petition to Dáil Éireann;

“A petition to reinter the remains of those whose graves were desecrated during excavations for the M3 Motorway through the Tara Skryne Valley Co. Meath, will be handed in at Dáil Eireann on Monday 8th Nov 12 mid day.

Tara campaigners demand that the remains removed from their ancient Sacred Burial Grounds be reinterred in a respectful and dignified manner as closely as possible to their original resting places and as closely as possible to their original ceremonial layout. This campaign was given the backing of the World Archaeological Conference held in Dublin 2008 and attended by over 1,800 archaeologists, native peoples and international scholars from 74 nations.

Quote from WAC (World Archaeological Congress):

” Recognising that the reburial of ancient remains in Ireland is subject to the provisions of the National Monuments Act and the agreement of the National Museum of Ireland, the World Archaeological Congress also draws attention to the Vermillion Accord on human remains and suggests that any human remains excavated from the cultural landscape of Tara should be re-interred with due respect as close as possible to their original locations, as this is where these people would have wished to be buried”.

It is estimated that between 60-90 remains were removed from Collierstown, the reputed burial site of the Fianna after the Battle of Gabhra in 284 AD. In addition over 27 were removed from Ardsallagh and many more were taken from individual sites along the route of the M3 Motorway.

Well known signatories and supporters of the petition include Actor Stuart Townsend, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, Pultizer Prize winner Paul Muldoon, Writer Colm Tóibín, famous Harpist Laoise Kelly, Grammy Award winning Singer/Songwriter Susan Mc Keown, Guitar Virtuoso Aidan Brennan and Musician Steve Cooney as well as Archbishop of Armagh Alan Harper and Bishop Smith of the Catholic Meath Diocese.

The organisers of the petition, Tomás Mac Cormaic and Carmel Diviney wish to thank Tara supporters worldwide for adding to the call to put pressure on the Irish Government and the National Museum of Ireland to show due respect to Tara’s ancestral remains. We hope that the thousands of other remains unearthed during construction works throughout the country which are not being held for scientific research purposes, will likewise be given dignified and respectful reburial without delay.


Carmel Diviney,


Tara Skryne Preservation Group.”

Preliminary excavation results (regarding the 62 Collierstown bodies) can be found here;

A link to the Tara-Skryne Preservation Group

And a link to some relevant photos


November 2010

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