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Jim Leary, who led the recent archaeological investigations for English Heritage at nearby Silbury Hill, and is co-author of the recently published The Story of Silbury Hill, coordinated EH’s contribution to the investigation of Marlborough Mound, the initial results from which have been made public today. He says:

 “This is an astonishing discovery. The Marlborough Mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape. For centuries people have wondered whether it is Silbury’s little sister; and now we have an answer. This is a very exciting time for British prehistory”

Image credit Jane Tomlinson, Heritage Action


William Stukeley’s 1723 image of Marlborough “Mount” 

The Bartlow Hills in Cambridgeshire date back to early Roman times and are the largest burial mounds north of the Alps. The barrows (many now sadly destroyed) were probably built by wealthy, high status Iron Age chiefs. This is one of Bill Blake’s stunning kite aerial photographs of the Bartlow Hills – click on the link below the photo for more.

Kite Aerial Photograph by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation: all rights reserved, used with permission.

Recently the Friends of the Ridgeway gave a presentation to an open meeting of the Avebury Parish Council about the proposed Great Stones Way. Originally concerns had been raised about the impact on the village as it was intended the route would pass close by. This has now been resolved but it seems the Council is still rather NIMBY about it and according to the minutes of the meeting it expressed four main concerns: 1. The World Heritage Site Management Plan states that the village is at maximum tourist capacity now. There is also a tacit agreement that Avebury should not be actively advertised 2. Damage to Avebury’s economy 3. The fragile balance between visitor numbers and the village’s capacity to cope and 4. Limited parking in the village.

We can’t quite see how a walking route that is now well away from the village presents a parking problem for the village or could damage its economy. (The National Trust opening another food outlet is another matter altogether though!). But the really interesting bit is this: “There is also a tacit agreement that Avebury should not be actively advertised”! Consistent with this the Chairman requested that Friends of the Ridgeway avoid promoting Avebury as a tourist destination by dropping the title ‘Great Stones Way’ and also suggested a good alternative would be “The Great Wiltshire Ridgeway” (although Mr Ritchie of the Friends of the Ridgeway made it clear that a name-change at this late stage was unlikely).                     

It seems a bit surprising that the “tacit agreement” made in the eighties about not actively advertising Avebury is still being talked of, what with the village being in the middle of the world’s largest stone circle and having two museums etc. and everyone now being on the net. If there’s a problem it’s not going to be solved by trying to keep quiet about the existence of Avebury – and particularly in connection with the walking route. (This is not to say there aren’t issues to be resolved about the limited capacity of the carparking alongside the route, that does seem to be a real problem).

In any case, it seems that a change to the name of the walking route is not going to happen. Which leaves only one alternative: changing the name of the village!  

Stoneless on Avon, Gloucestershire


Image credit and © Chris Brooks 

There are some cynical souls who fear that the Localism Bill, the central plank of the government’s Big Society, is less about local democratic control and more about giving big business an easier ride at the local level and enabling Central Government to abandon much of its obligation to provide financial support for local people, thus leaving poorer communities hung out to dry. In other words, yet more of the smiling crocodile syndrome that has become so familiar (wanna buy a forest anyone?).  But we couldn’t possibly comment.

Except in one regard. The plans to democratise the planning system are certainly a matter of legitimate concern for those who are interested in the protection of ancient sites and their settings. Would greater local decision making power be a good thing? Local parish councils would be given the right to draw up “neighbourhood development plans” to say for instance where they think new houses should go and to grant full planning permission in areas where they most want to see new homes and businesses, making it easier and quicker for development to go ahead. Indeed, not only would local communities be given these powers, the influence of planning inspectors on those plans would be curtailed and the communities would be incentivised to say yes to developments because the government is proposing the locals are given a kick back from the profits to spend on community projects. “Bribes” would be the correct technical term but “levy” is what it says in the Bill. No matter, whatever it’s called it works like a dream – as some developers know so well! 

Aside from the fact that it is pretty obvious that the main beneficiaries of making it easier and quicker for developments to go ahead are not local communities but the government’s friends, the developers (do not feed the crocodile, the smile in not sincere!) is there anything to be said for the proposal? Well, the D word (democracy) always brings the house down (or up in this case!) but of course local freedom to say where new houses are to be built is fraught with all sorts of dodgy dangers, none of which are our business to analyse here.

Except in one respect: please, please, let not increased local decision making power to say where new houses are to be built apply to villages that are within prehistoric World Heritage Sites. As has recently been so vividly illustrated that would be a very bad idea.

 Localism in action: part of the Bond’s Garage development, Avebury. Every professional, official and conservation body opposed it. The Parish and District Councils didn’t…

by Littlestone.
As with Walk I and Walk II below, if you’re arriving in Avebury by coach or car you’ll probably get off in the main car park and then walk along the path to Avebury High Street. Once there, turn right and walk to the south-east quadrant (opposite the Red Lion Pub). Enter the quadrant and walk as far south as you can within it, and then out of the quadrant and onto the road. Straight ahead of you, on the other side of the road out of Avebury towards Beckhampton, are the first stones that make up the West Kennet Avenue; this Avenue of standing stones once wound its way up to the Sanctuary from Avebury.
West Kennet Avenue looking towards the Sanctuary
Image credit Moss
The walk to the bottom of the Avenue and back will take less than an hour but, time permitting, at the south end there are two options you can take. Option one is to follow the signpost that points east towards Falkner’s Circle. This circle once consisted of twelve stones, although sadly only one stone now remains.

The single surviving stone of Falkner’s Circle © Alan S

The walk to Falkner’s Circle and back will add another 30 minutes or so to the walk from the bottom of the West Kennet Avenue. Option two however involves walking in the opposite direction from Falkener’s Circle up Waden Hill (the name Waden is derived from Woden) and will reward you with one of the most spectacular (and unexpected) views of Silbury that there is. From the top of Waden Hill look slightly to the left of Silbury – West Kennet Long barrow should just about be visible.

Silbury from the top of Waden Hill.
Image credit Moss
The walk from the bottom of the West Kennet Avenue to the top of Waden Hill and back again will take about 45 minuets. Walk IV in this series will suggest another walk, from the top of Waden Hill back to the main car park, rather than retracing your steps down the hill and along the West Kennet Avenue again.
See also Footprints through Avebury by Mike Pitts.


English Heritage has launched The National Heritage List for England, a significant milestone towards achieving better understanding and protection for heritage in this country by opening up information which until now has not been easily accessible to the public.

The National Heritage List for England is a new online database of the country’s 400,000 listed buildings, registered parks, gardens and battlefields, protected shipwrecks and scheduled monuments. For the first time ever, separate registers and lists for different types of heritage are combined in one and the public can now go online to search for heritage by postcode, by date, by grade or by any category from listed building to listed lamp-post, from scheduled coal mines to castles.  Read on.

Nighthawkers, by hoarding the finds or selling them on without recording or provenance, are thieves of valuable archaeological knowledge that belongs to us all. Sir Barry Cunliffe, Chairman of English Heritage.

Although published recently (in the Telegraph) this is actually old news, having been said in 2009 and expressing no more than what everyone knows – that nighthawks don’t report their finds so steal knowledge that belongs to all. So why is it our Quote of the Week? Well, lately there’s been lots in the press about efforts to combat heritage crime especially nighthawking but in our view it is all targeting a mere sprat while ignoring a veritable whale – for look what Sir Barry could and should have said in order to highlight the REAL scale of knowledge theft – and the REAL culprits: 

Forget the nighthawks, they are an irrelevant minority. The amount of knowledge stolen by the many thousands of LEGAL but non-reporting detectorists (who are the clear majority of metal detectorists as shown by PAS’s figures) is vastly greater than the losses due to a few hundred nighthawks.

What clearer illustration can there be that the British archaeological Establishment is having to adopt an irrational public stance on portable antiquities? The Head of PAS has just told us that detectors disguised as walking sticks are not something he needs to warn landowners about and the Chairman of English Heritage is telling those same landowners that a few hundred nighthawks are knowledge-thieves but omits to tell them that so will be most of the “legal” detectorists that are likely to knock on their doors!

If there’s is a defence against a charge of misleading the public let us hear it. In the meantime, each time you hear about the Nighthawking Report and efforts to combat heritage crime, remember the damage they are addressing is absolutely miniscule compared with the legal damage that is going on day after day that isn’t being mentioned at all by officialdom.

Here’s the British policy on Portable Antiquities in a nutshell:
(If it is wrong, show us how!)

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!


UPDATE 24 May 2011 by Nigel Swift.

In History for the Taking, a report prepared for the British Academy and just released (, Sir Barry makes it very clear that nothing has changed since his 2009 quote when he writes:

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is the envy of many countries … which begs the question: can one of them be named? And the musing: is it not a rum circumstance that not a single country has come even close to following the British example of liberalising metal detecting or setting up their own Portable Antiquities Scheme? Should not such confident statements be backed up with evidence, lest the public hears only one side? 

He goes on: Without it tranches of unique information will inevitably be lost. Yet there is not a mention of the fact that vastly greater tranches of unique information are being lost at the hands of thousands of legal but non reporting detectorists. Instead he moves on to discuss “new initiatives sponsored by English Heritage to combat heritage crime” – in other words, measures to combat the tiny minority, the nighthawks, who only cause a miniscule proportion of the losses. 

Professor Sir Barry et al are of course VIPs and I am merely a member of the public. Yet I can proclaim with great confidence that I am right and they are wrong because the “losses of tranches of unique information” are not a matter of opinion or scholarship or interpretation or nuance or official edict they are a matter of numbers and as such they cannot be denied, nor will they be by History – although by then sadly they WILL have become purely academic. Indeed, they are not actually denied by the Establishment, they are ignored as if they don’t exist, as has happened in this extremely prestigious report. To my mind, to ignore horrendous legalised cultural losses (in public at least) yet to publicly hand-wring and proudly proclaim war upon the tiny criminal cultural losses is the same as misleading the public. 

The option remains, of course, to reject such a serious charge and back it up by showing the numbers are entirely different. But that option has remained open and not been taken up for years. Thus the real losses, the real scale of losses and the real culprits are certainly not being put in front of either the British Academy or the British victims of the losses.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


A guided walk seeking out the archaeology of Exmoor’s moorlands from prehistoric times to the 19th century will be held on Thurday, 26th May. This 6km guided walk over rough moorland will be led by a National Park archaeologist.

Porlock Vale from Porlock Hill © Sean Hattersley under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

For more information and contact details, see the Heart of Exmoor web site.

We are pleased to have received a response from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to our recent question.  


Question Posed:
“Has PAS ensured that every landowner is aware there are metal detectors disguised as walking sticks and a new generation of deep-seeking metal detectors that pose a potential threat to archaeology?”

Response by PAS:
“In response to your question dated 28th April 2011, Roger Bland has asked me to state:
Probes such as this have been on the market for several years. They are used to locate the precise location of a metal object within a block of soil once this has been located by the search head of a metal detector. We do not think contacting every landowner to alert them to existence of these devices is either necessary or practicable.”

Our response to the Response by PAS:
These are not “probes” they are metal detectors. The manufacturers refer to them as that and nothing else and promote them for use in scanning the ground and nothing else. There is in fact no confusion whatsoever about their intended or actual use. One does not require something “disguised as a walking stick” to use as a probe in conjunction with another metal detector. One does need something disguised as a walking stick in order to search in the way the manufacturers indicate – “in areas where you couldn’t with common detectors… without arousing public interest” and to “scan places you never could scan before”.

There can be no doubt these machines would be objects of desire for nighthawks (or to be precise in this case, dayhawks), people intent on detecting without anyone knowing. It follows that there is every reason to alert every landowner about them. To say that isn’t practical is unconvincing in view of PAS’s connections to other organisations and the farming press which could surely ensure a simple message could be very widely delivered in a matter of days. In addition, it is difficult to see how it can be said that it is not necessary in view of PAS’s support for the Nighthawking Report.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



May 2011

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