You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2011.

Eleven million. That’s the level the Artefact Erosion Counter reaches today,  being our conservative estimate of the number of recordable artefacts collected by metal detectorists (mostly without reporting them) from the fields of England and Wales since 1975 .

Despite claims it is exaggerated it is a fact that the 3 surveys there have been on the subject – by an archaeologist, a detectorist and by English Heritage & the CBA – all suggested higher figures. And it’s certainly the case that whichever total is right the great majority of the finds are not reported to PAS (according to PAS themselves). Fourteen years ago PAS was billed as a panacea but sadly not only has the Scheme been mostly ignored by most detectorists, the situation has become worse. For example:

> the National  Council  for Metal Detecting has recently suggested that (due to the publicity generated by huge rewards)  there are now more than twice as many detectorists than before;

> The commercial side has become more brazen in the pursuit of profits – with the “responsible rallies” message being largely ignored  – scores of rallies are now held at unpublicised venues (“meet in Tesco’s carpark”) and/or at named but blatantly irresponsible locations ;

> Equally, the official Code of Responsible Detecting has frankly bombed , with both the national detecting bodies that signed it bizarrely and cynically still retaining their own Codes for their members, neither of which mentions the official one or requires adherence to it or requires members to report their finds to PAS ! Anyone, detectorist or archaeologist, care to explain?!

> …and worst of all, technology has changed everything: you can now buy machines that penetrate nearly three times deeper than when the Scheme was first set up – and you can buy ones disguised as walking sticks so you can search “without arousing public interest”…

So the negative consequences of setting up a voluntary system instead of regulating the activity like happens elsewhere are both obvious and getting worse.  According to our Erosion Counter another million objects will have been taken in the next 3.4 years. But if the English Heritage/CBA survey is to be believed that will happen in only 2.4 years. And if the National Council for Metal Detecting is also right that detectorist numbers have doubled it’ll happen in just 1.2 years . And of course, whoever is right, an ever increasing amount of detecting will take place in undisturbed archaeological strata below the plough soil.

Sooner or later someone, irrespective of vested interest, embarrassment or professional loyalty, is going to have to finally openly admit to the public what they increasingly express privately – that the British have made a big mistake and it needs to be rectified. Or will the gap between the breathlessly enthusiastic press releases and the grubby net reality simply be allowed to grow ever wider?


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



And please don’t forget, you’re welcome to bring and swap any megalithic books you no longer need (or contribute them to our lending library, available to anyone that signs up to membership – see below).

Incidentally, we’ve been told that after two wet Megameets this one will be blazing hot so bring a sun hat and a picnic.

(For full details of the event see here )

Here at Heritage Action, we’re always trying to think of more ideas for spreading the word about our heritage in the UK, and trying to get recognition for the value in that heritage.

We are currently compiling a small library of books (physical and e-books) on the subject of the ancient monuments of the UK, from the Stone Age through to the Romano-British period. The library is of necessity small at this stage, and available only to our widespread membership on a postal basis. But we’re looking to grow both the library and our membership.

By Ramchand Bruce Phagoo (own work). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are an author or publisher of books or magazines on our preferred subject matter and would be prepared to donate one or more review copies to our library, then we would be more than happy to write a short review and publicise it on the web site in return.

Please contact us in the first instance at the usual address if you can help in this endeavour.

The National Trust will be holding an Avebury Landscape Photography Workshop on Saturday, 26 March 2011.

“Professional photographer Mark Philpott will help you look at landscapes in an exciting new way. Learn how to get the best from your camera and be inspired by the Avebury landscape, its stone circle, cosy cottages, fine church and ancient trees.”

More here –

News in brief from Wessex Archaeology Blog

Wessex Archaeology is pleased to announce that we are co-ordinating the revision and updating of the Avebury and Stonehenge resource assessments, and will also be writing a single revised research framework uniting both parts of the World Heritage Site into a harmonised volume with a five year currency.

The revised  research agenda will be available for public consultation in September 2011, and again in February and March of 2012 with the publication online of the research framework for public consultation.  The report will finally be published in 2017 in both hard copy and online.

We hear more and more about the ‘Big Society’, and how the ‘common man’ can help the big government organisations and charities by volunteering. We’ve covered such items before; here, here and here.

To many people, the call to arms brings to mind physical labour or presence, in the form of ground clearance work such as that successfully carried out by CASPN and LAN in Cornwall. Or maybe, regular health checkup visits to a local site. But what can you do if physically impaired, unable to travel or lacking local sites to adopt?

Signage is a thorny problem at many sites – They can be physically intrusive, expensive to install and maintain, limited in the information they can convey, and can be become outdated as new research comes to light. One aspect of improving sites that could be done quite comfortably from home thanks to technology is that of information.

There is a wealth of information about many sites already available on the internet; from the Scheduled Monuments Register descriptions held on the MAGIC web site by English Heritage and others, through enthusiast websites like the Modern Antiquarian and the Megalithic Portal, to websites dedicated to specific areas or single sites (eg the many sites dedicated to the Avebury WHS).

Technology is making this information ever easier to reach and to convey to site visitors, via the medium of QR Codes which can be scanned and interpreted by most of the new generation smart phones, using a freely available app(lication). Thus these codes can provide a gateway to a wealth of information.

So. A challenge for English Heritage, National Trust and other guardians of our ancient sites. Devise a scheme whereby volunteers can register to pull together and be responsible for site information, held on a central website (a wiki?). A very simplistic example of such a hub page can be seen hereCreate QR Codes for individual sites, pointing to an information hub page for the site. Redesign existing signage to reduce the visual impact and provide a scannable QR code on the sign, near to the entrance to the site.


Example signage showing QR Code

One small point: This isn’t a bureaucratic exercise. No-one will die if the information given is not 100% correct and tripled checked by highly paid experts and lawyers. The only cost should be for smaller replacement or additional signs (or even stickers on existing signs), improving the visitor experience without the need for trained on-site guides. It could be done incrementally, a site at a time, no need to wait for everything to be in place.

…but how?

Image credit Littlestone

Reporting for BBC News Wales, Neil Prior writes –
New research has cast fresh doubt on the journey which the Stonehenge Bluestones took from Pembrokeshire to the site of the pagan monument. Since the 1920s, geologists have strongly suspected that the ‘spotted dolerite’ Bluestones, which form Stonehenge’s inner ring, originated from Mynydd Preseli in the north of the county. However, whilst the new findings have also linked a second type of stone – rhyolites – to the area, they call into question how the stones arrived in Wiltshire.”

By Nigel Swift.

You might be forgiven for thinking nothing much happens in the tiny village of Teddington on the borders of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. Mostly you’d be right (apart from the fact that during the war there was a US army base there and Joe Louis staged a demonstration bout in one of the fields and Glen Miller gave a performance there just one day before his plane disappeared!).

But it does have The Tibblestone…

It can hardly be claimed that its modern setting is attractive. But we shouldn’t complain as ironically it was thanks to the digging of foundations for the garage in 1948 that it was rediscovered and re-erected, having previously been lost (no archaeological navel gazing about leaving it buried in those days!).

It has certainly been of great significance for very many centuries, being listed in the Domesday Survey and having formed the meeting point of the Teddington Hundred, but it is thought it may be far older still and to date from prehistoric times. One strong piece of circumstantial evidence is that despite its apparently highly inappropriate placement it is actually almost exactly at the original intersection of six ancient routes (including known prehistoric ones) as this famous seventeenth century finger post directly opposite illustrates.

But maybe it is the very inappropriateness of its setting that is the most significant aspect of the Tibblestone, for when the world has burned the last litre of oil, the roads have emptied and the filling station has fallen down perhaps the only thing that will endure in Teddington will be the Tibblestone and the hills that were its original setting.

Writing in The Observer yesterday, Laura Cumming reports on the Watercolour exhibition now showing at Tate Britain and running until the 21 August.

The exhibition includes a watercolour of The Vale of the White Horse (circa 1939) by Eric Ravilious. Something, “…conjured entirely out of cross-hatchings, strokes, dabs and striations of faint colour, frail contour against pale line, with the white page breathing airily in between, is almost nothing, a see-through dream. But it is uniquely strange, starting in reality and ending in its own radiant elsewhere.”

More here –

by Moss, Heritage Action.


Maud Cunnington (24 September 1869–28 February 1951).

Born in the latter part of the 19th century Maud Cunnington was, according to her biography, educated briefly at Cheltenham Ladies School, she went on to marry Benjamin Cunnington, who was a honorary curator at Devizes Museum and who also worked in his family’s business. Amongst the many places they excavated, Woodhenge and The Sanctuary at Avebury stands out as  sites of special importance. They excavated a late Neolithic henge  at Woodhenge from 1926-1928. The site had been identified from the air in 1925 by O.S. Crawford and Alexander Keiller. What we see today of course are concrete pillars establishing where the large wooden posts would have been. In the centre is a small stone mound covering the grave of a young child of about three years old.

Child’s grave

Hunting round on the web for information about the privately published book that the Cunnington’s wrote about Woodhenge after the excavation, I came across these words recorded by Rideflame, and would like to quote them in full in Maude’s own words…

A small grave was found lying on the line of midsummer sunrise, and at slightly rounded ends, was only a foot deep in the chalk. In the Southern end, the grave being unnecessarily large for a burial lay the crouched skeleton of a child of about three years old. Owing to the decayed condition of the bones, many of them having disappeared all together, it was difficult to determine the exact position, but the body was turned towards the North-East i.e., to the rising sun at midsummer.

It will be seen from the plan that the line of sunrise falls across the Southern end of the grave, across the centre of the burial, though not through the centre of the grave.

A remarkable circumstance in connection with the skeleton is that the skull appears to have been cleft before burial. When the bones were first uncovered it was exclaimed “There must be two skeletons” because there appeared to be two skulls lying side by side, touching one another. But when the bones were removed they proved to be those of only one individual, and what looked like two skulls were actually the two halves of the same skull. It is a common thing to find a skull crushed in the ground, but there seems no way of accounting for its being found lying in two parts, unless it had been cleft before burial.

There is something sad about these relic bones of a young child found in the 1920s,  a prehistoric child ghost still haunting our world. The bones were in actual fact destroyed in the Blitz during the war. There was also another skeleton found in the ditch of the henge. This was of a teenage boy, who seemed to have suffered some deformities. Sir Arthur Keith who studied the bones said this of them, that he found the shape of the skull was more typical of an Iron Age date and Maud had also written that “It is remarkable that the man from the bottom of the ditch bears a striking resemblance to skulls found during the course of excavations at Casterley Camp, Salisbury Plain: 1909 -1912.”

Sir Arthur Keith’s report:

A slim man five feet seven inches tall all his teeth free from disease – but certain of his bones have not ceased growing. Wrist bones are finished so is knee and shoulder. Epiphyses of hip and shoulder blade are un-closed. Sagittal suture if fussed which makes him older than thirty-five -but other signs show him to be less than twenty-two. His face and appearance different to that of Bronze Age people.

Such judgement made in the early 20th century are reflections of that time, today’s interpretation would probably be different. Mike Pitts in Hengeworld, stresses that the Cunningtons were not necessarily the best of archaeologists, Maud did not produce field notes for the important Sanctuary stone circle site, recorded by Stukeley but subsequently destroyed soon after.

The Sanctuary

She did though write a report to be published the following year, but as field notes are essential to interpretation of detail, such information is lost to later archaeologists.  She also however, as in the case of Woodhenge, bought the land on which The Sanctuary stone circle was located, though it it is now under the ownership of English Heritage. She left in her estate £14,000 pounds to pay the salary of a curator at Devizes Museum.

Archaeology in the early 20th century was to be fair, still in the hands of people who had funds to privately excavate, Alexander Keiller comes to mind, his excavations at Windmill Hill and Avebury were funded by a ‘marmalade empire’. He did not like Maud Cunnington, the feeling was mutual, but he was prepared to watch the Cunnington’s excavations from afar, employing the same foreman as well. The Cunningtons were fascinated by the past, and we must be thankful for those antiquarians who were prepared to dig and delve, record and draw in past centuries; archaeology also had to undergo a ‘growing up’ period, developing along the way a purer form of sciences for the extraction of knowledge, but without those first pioneers there would be no information to build on in the present!

Stukeley’s drawing of  The Sanctuary

With thanks to:

Information gleaned from Rideframe’s blog.
Hengeworld by Mike Pitts. Published by Century in 2000.


February 2011

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