You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2010.

by Littlestone, Heritage Action
Image credit Littlestone
In August 2008 I wrote on The Modern Antiquarian that-
In the current edition of British Archaeology there is a two page article by Mike Pitts entitled The Stonehenge Olympics. The first page of the article contains a review of recent plans to improve the visitor facilities at Stonehenge and the second page is a summary of English Heritage’s latest Public Consultation initiative (see for details). Mike Pitts makes an interesting point when he says –


“The government announced it was scraping the approved roads scheme on the grounds of cost last December. The day before, the DCMS said it was to give Tate Modern £50m towards its gallery extension, a gesture, it was hoped, that would ensure its opening in time for the Olympics. Now that seems unlikely, as fundraising gets tough, Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota is happy to say that his extension may not be ready till 2014.”

Note the word ‘happy’. Why is Serota happy? Couldn’t be could it that it gives the Tate the necessary time to get the extension right?

I’ve never been happy with tying in new visitor facilities at Stonehenge with the Olympic deadline of 2012 – it seems an impossible objective to achieve in only four years. English Heritage are expected to have their plans in for government scrutiny by the end of this year. The proposals then have to be approved by the government, and planning permission then has to be granted for the preferred site. Each of the sites proposed for the new facilities contain, or are close to, sites of archaeological importance; are these sites to be hurriedly excavated just to meet the government’s deadline for the 2012 Olympics?

Along with billions of other people I watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on television yesterday; pretty impressive, lots of people enjoying themselves – and why not. I couldn’t help thinking however that it was more than a bit ‘staged’ for world approval. While the Chinese authorities were claiming that this was a ‘green’ Olympics (hmm…) and the unfolding digital scroll showed the progress of the Olympic torch around the world, it somehow managed to omit displaying any of the ‘obstacles’ the torch had encountered along the way. This is nothing more than a selective interpretation of the truth.

What I’m getting at here is that the ongoing shenanigans at Stonehenge seem to have a similar, not to say uncomfortable, feel to them – re: the ‘manipulation’ of public approval. One idea after another for new Stonehenge visitor facilities, tossed out at the obscene expense of the British taxpayer, has achieved nothing to date. Nothing, that is, until now when reputations and personalities are coming under the national and international spotlight of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Stonehenge, perhaps our most important and iconic Neolithic monument, deserves a great deal more than the passing whim of the present (indeed of any) government, let alone the fleeting reputations of those in the political and sporting worlds. It certainly deserves far more than the timeframe dictated by the big Olympic party scheduled for 2012. Let’s take a leaf out of Nicholas Serota’s book and say we’d be happy not to have anything ready for Stonehenge for the Olympics in four years time, but what we will eventually have will be something which Stonehenge, and the people of Britain, deserve and can be rightfully proud of.

It gives me no pleasure to say, “I told you so” but if you read Mike Pitts blog here – that’s what it’s come to. Mike Pitts writes –
“Also in November English Heritage, having lost the £10m promised by the previous government for the proposed new visitor centre, regained it from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Hopefully now EH will be able to raise the rest of the money it needs: but Stonehenge won’t be ready for the 2012 Olympics, the politicians’ original claim, and instead if all goes well, at that time Stonehenge will be a bit of a building site.”
So, now that the Olympic pressure is off let’s do two things without further delay:
1) Secure finances for first class improvements at Stonehenge.
2) As there is no Olympic deadline to meet anymore let’s get it right. Right being the immediate closure of the A344. Right being a well-designed and aesthetically pleasing Visitor Centre. Right being a practical, and also an aesthetically pleasing, transport system from the Visitor Centre to the Monument.
There can be no more excuses and no more delays – the time has come this time to really get it Right!

A date for the diary, that is if you are prepared to face the winter snow, but perhaps in the circumstances it would be wiser to stay at home and celebrate the Winter Solstice safely there!

THE winter solstice will be celebrated at Stonehenge on Wednesday.

Sunrise is at 8.09am on December 22 and visitors will be able to access the monument as soon as it is light enough to do so safely.

Entrance is free and will be available from roughly 7.30am until 9am, when the site will close to visitors before re-opening as per usual at 9.30am…….

More here –


We reported in February 2009 that the Peat Moor  Centre was closing down which was a great pity at the time, but it seems that a new centre is to be built eventually on the old cafe and garden centre on Shapwick Road.  It seems an adventurous architectural design but wholly appropiate for the prehistory of the marshes.

​The Iron Age inhabitants of Somerset’s Avalon Marshes might have thought prehistoric architects were at work if they could see designs for the striking thatched visitor centre proposed for their old homeland.

The conical thatched buildings have been dubbed a “flotilla of coracles” by the partnership, including Natural England, which is planning the scheme.

The marshes are a network of wetlands of international importance for wildlife and archaeology. The remains of Iron Age houses lie under bumps in fields near Glastonbury, while an ancient log boat, pelicans’ bones and prehistoric wood and hurdle roads still lie in the peat.

by Nigel Swift, Heritage Action

It is madness to imagine that civil society can fill the gaps left by a retreating state…”

Let’s hope Anna Coote of the New Economics Foundation got it wrong with regard to the Heritage Sector at least – since daily it becomes more certain that rather worrying commercial philanthropy,  and getting the public to take over heritage protection (not to mention the idea that archaeology is really about recovering shiny artefacts for huge prizes, which has been relentlessly rammed into the public consciousness) are precisely the sort of Big Society measures the government intends to leave in the gaps as it retreats.

In the case of the retreat from the Heritage Sector, it is a retreat from the heritage protection duty that has been seen as theirs since the days of Sir John Lubbock in the nineteenth century. Back then, (in a sketch about him in Popular Science Monthly 1882) the idea of his Ancient Monuments Bill “so commended itself to all persons interested in the subject that every archaeological society in the kingdom petitioned for its passage.” But how things have changed! Now, our Society is about to get Big! Every archaeological society in the kingdom can petition till it’s blue in the face for whatever it likes but it will get nowt. Outreach is for metal detectorists. Heritage protection is mostly for… well, archaeological societies and anyone that wants to do it for free. There ain’t no government money left for that old cocker!

This is not to say that English Heritage, in being forced to cut down what they do, haven’t made some pleasing choices as we suggested recently. Indeed, three cheers for something else that we didn’t mention in our recent article: they are allocating £571,000 towards fighting heritage crime (by which they mean all sorts of deliberate damage and theft at buildings, monuments and sites, ranging from organised operations down to anti social behaviour.) It is pleasing they acknowledge crimes are under-reported and infrequently acted upon and they’ll aim to develop “cost-effective deterrents and interventions”. 

In contrast however (and illogically in my view) they say it is “not currently considered affordable” to address damage arising from “recreational activities” (examples being given as off-roading, caving, legal metal-detecting and sports diving). Damage is damage, whether criminal or recreational so it’s hard to see why one is to be targeted but not the other. Especially as the plan outlines the simple nature of the needed action: “educational measures and guidance on mitigation of impact”. Surely that could be delivered at very modest cost? On the EH website for a start! “Advice to Landowners: let no-one detect on your land unless the local archaeology service says it’s OK” isn’t very expensive to type.

So my particular concern (no surprise) is that not a single penny of EH’s budget is to be spent on reducing the damage from legal metal detecting. Hardly a reflection of the views of many in EH, so it seems possible it’s less a case of unaffordability and more a reluctance to step on the toes of PAS. Bearing in mind how much the latter organisation pulls its punches in its advice to detectorists and (far more so) to landowners it means no-one will be addressing the issue properly. 

But it’s worse than no-one properly addressing the problem: the spending choices made in the Plan will, in my opinion, convenience and expand legal metal detecting and artefact hunting and it’s associated legal, recreational damage. In three respects: 

1.) £1.86 million is allocated for continuing the work of the National Mapping Programme. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s a fact that each previously unknown site that is revealed is pounced upon with relish as a potential new source of collectables. Arguably, the main beneficiaries of that £1.86 million will be legal metal detectorists – and they sure as hell won’t do those hundreds of newly discovered archaeological sites other than harm, whatever EH’s sister organisation might try to imply to the government and the press and the taxpayer! Not EH’s fault, but it is the way things are.

The New Forest: 150 scheduled sites - but how many more "productive sites" will the taxpayer reveal for the use of artefact hunters through the £1.86 million National Mapping Programme (while judging any straight talking on the subject of damage "unaffordable"? (Image Credit RJ Higginson, Wikimedia)

2.) Expenditure on studying “Ploughzone archaeology” is judged unaffordable in the plan. The difficulty with that is that the ploughzone is where PAS encourages detectorists to operate – on the grounds that little harm can be done, whereas in contrast EH implies otherwise in the Plan – “Lithic scatters, early medieval ‘productive sites’ and chance finds of nationally important artefacts (eg Staffordshire Hoard) all demonstrate the significance that can be found within the surface horizon and plough soils. For prehistory they can represent the vast majority of known sites. For some sites they represent the total surviving evidence.”

 So hardly a ringing endorsement of the claim that detecting on disturbed soil is harmless – nor of PAS nor of the Code of Responsible Detecting. Yet sadly, although EH says the appropriate action would be for them to develop “detailed understanding of site distributions” with a view to developing assessment systems akin to those used for selecting sites for designation, it simply isn’t going to happen under the Plan. Which means…. no-one is going to move towards protecting sensitive flint scatters or even discouraging their removal. (Why not, one might ask? It’s not very costly for EH to prove conclusively that important (and indeed minor) scatters are damaged by collectors and then to publicise the fact to relevant landowners! (Toes? Not to be trodden on? Aah!)  

 3.) A further green light is given to artefact hunters by something else it says it can’t afford to address: EH says it will support local communities in protecting significant (structural) heritage assets (to the tune of £300,000) but specifically says it will not support the equivalent preservation of significant but non-structural assets (likelithic scatters, and palaeoenvironmentally rich locales”) since those currently lie outside the framework of statutory designation – and changing the position by seeking legislative changes is considered unaffordable at present.  

A nationally significant scatter? The only surviving evidence of an ancient site? To be left wide open to destruction since identifying it, advising the landowner about it and developing protection strategies for it are all judged currently unaffordable. (Image credit Tobias Rütten)

Meanwhile, the damage continues and heritage assets are being lost. Surely, whatever the current budgetary constraints,  at least some expenditure is called for, even a token amount, to show EH is on the side of heritage protection and the Angels? As to that, it seems PAS may get involved in a dumbed down populist “archaeology is just a treasure hunt” TV programme – “pseudoarchaeological brain-pap” Paul Barford has just called it.  And see what he says about it here If it’s true, and it happened, it would be a scandal, and would remain so however  “clarified”, modified or spun. Come on EH, you are intelligent people without an axe to grind, you know he’s right and that such a programme couldn’t be worse timed from your point of view, whether it goes ahead or is quietly squashed, how about spending a pound or two resisting the damage the very suggestion will be contributing to? 


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


Sunkenkirk Stone Circle, Cumbria
Image credit Tim Clark, Heritage Action

The panel that decides which UK sites go forward to be considered for World Heritage Status has had its first meeting.  

The list from which they are to choose a final few has a dearth of prehistoric sites – as we highlighted a while back. One particularly prominent omission is “the most important prehistoric monument between Stonehenge and the Orkneys” , Thornborough Henges, and in fact the sole specifically prehistoric flag bearer out of 38 is Creswell Crags with its cave paintings (which, to be realistic may not make the final short list since the Panel may decide, and our French friends will be sure to help them on this, that its paintings are not of  the “world” prominence of the likes of those at Lascaux for instance). 

Whereas Thornborough…. where in the world is there anything like that? Nowhere! Having not received its due in terms of official protection it seems it is now being deprived of its deserved level of official recognition!

Anyhow, here’s the list the Panel will be choosing from ……

  • Arbroath Abbey (Scotland)
  • The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter (England)
  • The Birth of the Railway Age serial nomination (England)
  • Blackpool (England)
  • The heroic period of civil and marine engineering in England 1822-1866, Bristol (England)
  • Bronte Landscape and Haworth Village (England)
  • Brunel’s Great Western Railway (England)
  • Buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow (Scotland)
  • Chatham Dockyard and its Defences (England)
  • Chester Rows (England)
  • Colchester, Camulodunum and Colonia Victricensis (England)
  • Creswell Crags (England)
  • The Hill of Derry (Northern Ireland)
  • The Dover Strait (England)
  • The Flow Country (Scotland)
  • The Forth Bridge (Scotland)
  • The Fountain Cavern (Anguilla)
  • Gorham’s Cave (Gibraltar)
  • Gracehill Conservation area (Northern Ireland)
  • Jodrell Bank Observatory (England)
  • The Lake District (England)
  • The Laxey Valley (Isle of Man)
  • Historic Lincoln (England)
  • Malone and Stranmillis Historic Urban landscape (Northern Ireland)
  • Merthyr Tydfil (Wales)
  • Merton Priory (England)
  • Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof: The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland (Scotland)
  • The Royal Sites of Ireland – Navan Fort (Northern Ireland)
  • The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads (England)
  • Slate Industry of North Wales (Wales)
  • Offa’s Dyke (England/Wales border)
  • St Andrews, Medieval Burgh and Links (Scotland)
  • Island of Saint Helena (Saint Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean)
  • Turks and Caicos Islands (Caribbean)
  • Tynwald Hill and environs – Norse assembly sites of North West Europe (Isle of Man)
  • Former RAF Upper Heyford (England)
  • Wye Valley and Forest of Dean (England/Wales border)
  • City of York (England)

Some fantastic places, and we could all think of still more. For instance, how about proposing to UNESCO that the Preseli mountains are added to the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site?!

But for now, if there aren’t going to be any specific prehistoric sites amongst the front runners, we’d probably support The Lake District – on the grounds that it includes many amazing prehistoric sites – and is anyway a marvellously strong contender for a host of other reasons as well.

Part of England’s heritage, Crickley Hill Camp. The Vale of Gloucester and the Malverns floating beyond
Image credit Heritage Action

A second strand of the government’s strategy to fill the funding gap (in addition to “encouraging philanthropy”) is evident in the interim version of English Heritage’s National Heritage Protection Plan.   The aim is to minimise the impact of the reduced funding by “a joint programme of action across the sector” and by “encouraging communities and individuals to take more responsibility for the management of their local historic environment” leaving EH concentrating on “those activities that only it can do effectively.”

So a new tone, a refreshing, albeit unavoidable commitment to more public participation and hence openness:  “a significant shift in the focus and nature of the activities carried out by EH”…. “continued and increased partnership working is vital”…. “need to consider specifically how public interest can best be stimulated and, where appropriate, directly engaged with”…. “capture and process perspectives from within and beyond EH.” If such aspirations actually translate into reality then something very positive will have come out of the funding crisis.

Not everything augers well from our point of view though. For one thing,  prehistoric places don’t appear anywhere in the quoted 15 most desired areas for protection expressed by the public and noted in the interim Plan so we hope EH will take a different view, knowing as they must, that prehistoric heritage is probably being lost at a faster rate than any other.

This is depressingly familiar too, let’s hope it’s just a case of inaccurate drafting: “Clarity. Where assets or landscapes are considered to be of national significance, this needs to be explained clearly so that everyone can appreciate how the conclusions have been reached.” Actually, where clarity has long been needed is not when EH say things are of national importance but when they say they aren’t!

A third concern we have is that when EH say the Plan involves empowering  “ local groups, communities and individuals” to protect the historic environment by giving them expert advice, technical support and even financial assistance, they really mean it. Would offering financial assistance to local groups “to influence the Local Development Framework produced by their local authority” have extended to helping the likes of the Friends of Thornborough fight North Yorkshire Council’s bizarre plan to allow vastly more gravel to be dug than the county could possibly need? (It would be nice to think so, because although the protestors lost, who can deny that events have now shown they were absolutely right?!)

Despite the above concerns (and a further specific set of definite gripes about the Plan that are best dealt with in a separate artic le) some very good things seem to be coming out of the disaster of a 32% funding cut – always providing the Plan works out in the way it is presented. Increased local awareness and empowerment and the Public as a watchdog over its own heritage has got to be the right way forward. Inspecting scheduled monuments every year or two? Joe Public can do rather better than that!

In defence of geophysics You never know what’s going to catch journalists’ imagination – no matter how hard you try to direct attention to the stories you’d like them to publicise. The new British Archaeology, which hit the shops on Friday, features the Crosby Garrett Roman helmet on the cover. And inside is a great piece on the find, with new information and new photos – and much else besides. But it is a footnote to a reader’s letter that became a story in today’s Mail … Read More

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

“When morning came, the men of Ireland saw the Donn Cuailnge coming westward past Cruachan with the mangled remains of Finnbennach hanging from his horns. He brandished them before him all that day, and at nightfall entered the lake near Cruachan. He came out with Finnbennach‘s loins and shoulder blade and liver on his horns. The armies went to kill him, but Fergus stopped them and let him go anywhere he liked. He headed towards his own land. He stopped to drink in Finnlethe on the way. He left Finnbennach’s shoulder blade there – from which comes Finniethe, the White One’s Shoulderblade, as the name of that district. He drank again at Ath Luain, and left Finnbennach’s loins there – that is how the place was named Ath Luain, the Ford of the Loins. He uttered a bellow at Iraird Cuillenn that was heard through the whole province. He drank again at Tromma, where Finnbennach’s liver fell from his two horns – from which comes the name Tromma, or liver. He came to Etan Tairb and set his brow against the hill at Ath Da Fertha – from which comes the name Etan Tairb, the Bull‘s Brow, in Muirtheimne Plain. Then he went by the Midluachair road to Cuib, where he had dwelt with the milkless cow of Dáire, and he tore up the ground there – from which comes the name Gort mBúraig, the Field of the Trench. Then he went on until he fell dead between Ulster and Ui Eachach at Druim Tairb. So Druim Tairb, The Ridge of the Bull, is the name of that place.”

– The Táin, trans. Thomas Kinsella 2002, 252

Is it possible to stand up here and imagine the last journey of a Donn Cuailgne? To your south will be Clashatarriff (The Trench of the Bull), where the Argideen (The Silver River) and the Glashagloragh (The Noisy Stream), depending on your perspective, either fork apart, or join together. To your east will be the horned-headed, dark-liquid shape of Loch Atarriff (The Lake of the Bull – look at a map and you’ll see the shape). Behind the lake, the peaks of Carrigfadda and Kippagh will form two obvious points, on either side of the brow of Coomatallin; an effect that will become more apparent the further east that you travel. If, as is sometimes theorised, ‘The Táin‘ – that epic, human struggle, built around the savage Donn – was no more than the embellishment of an earlier, fully zoomorphic (Bronze Age?) legend; a deeper conflict between two divine bulls; one dark and one light, could they not also have made their marks here, long ago – across the backs of these southern hills?

Whatever the original truth may have been, it is still possible to stand beneath the toweringly alive (2.9 m) and apt, horn, that is the terminal stone of Knockawaddra row (W 27031 45977) and look back along the rest of its line – two standing, two fallen – to the south-west. And there, behind the modern cloak of trees, but directly in line, will hide the bright (light) quartz pillars at Maulatanvally (W 26053 44479); a declination that hovers just beyond the Southern major lunar limit (-30.2 to -32.4 degrees / limit= -29.9 degrees; Clive Ruggles, 1999). Make of that what you will.

Knockawaddra translates as The Hill of the Dog.

Other nearby and contemporaneous monuments:

Knockawaddra stone pair; just 192 m distant, at 101.8 degrees
Lettergorman stone circle; 904m distant, at 244.3 degrees, immediately south of Lough Atarriff
Lettergorman four-poster and standing stone; 1.313 km distant, at 346.5 degrees
Glanbrack stone circle and standing stones; 1.562 km distant, at 175.1 degrees
Maulatanvally stone group; 1.789 km distant, at 212.3 degrees, four stones, three of quartz
Maulatanvally stone circle; 1.896 km distant, at 200.5 degrees

Not to be confused with the Woodhenge discovered in 1925 (see ) this Woodhenge lies closer to Stonehenge and was only discovered in July of this year.
Reporting in the Daily Mail today, Alun Rees and Jonathan Petre write, “The discovery of a wooden version of Stonehenge – a few hundred yards from the famous monument – was hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds for decades. But now experts are at loggerheads after claims that what was thought to be a Neolithic temple was a rather more humble affair – in fact the remains of a wooden fence.

“Team leader Professor Vince Gaffney of Birmingham University said the ritual monument had been built about 5,000 years ago, making it roughly the same age as its stone counterpart 980 yards away, and it could have been used for Stone Age feasts or elaborate funerals. He said the find showed Stonehenge had not existed in ‘splendid isolation’ and he predicted further discoveries during the three-year survey of five square miles of countryside around Stonehenge.

“But sceptics have now suggested that the evidence is far from conclusive, especially as it appears from images of the plot produced by the Birmingham team that the ring of post holes was not arranged in a circle but was angular and more like a hexagon. Mike Pitts, editor of the magazine British Archaeology and an acknowledged expert on Stonehenge, said he had been prompted to study maps of the area after receiving a letter from an American reader.”

More here ––simple-farmers-fence.html#ixzz17symGg3z

Dinmore Woods
Image credit Phillip Halling, Wikimedia

“Dinmore Hill is an idyllic spot deep in the Herefordshire countryside with a prehistoric secret. Back in 2007 archaeologists made a surprising discovery on the hilltop, the remains of a huge bank and ditch system in the woods. Could Dinmore hide one of the biggest Iron Age hill forts in Britain…” First broadcast on Sunday, 7 November 2010, the Time Team programme on Dinmore Hill  will be repeated again on Wednesday, 15 December at 9pm on More4


December 2010

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