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Recent initiatives to tackle Heritage Crime including the formation of ARCH (The Alliance to Reduce Heritage Crime) and the current Survey to investigate how widespread it is are very welcome. However, Heritage Crime has been officially defined as “any offence which harms the value of heritage assets” and this is problematical as it sends a damaging implied message to the public that the only heritage assets that exist or which matter are designated, protected ones (which is SO not true) and only those can suffer crime (which is technically true) and therefore harm (which is massively not true).

So it would perhaps be far better if the official definition of Heritage Crime was any offence which harms the value of protected heritage assets” so that the public could understand that there are lots of heritage assets apart from protected ones and that while damaging them isn’t a crime it certainly isn’t other than highly regrettable and to be avoided where possible.  After all, English Heritage estimates there are approaching a million unprotected archaeological sites in England and Wales and every single one of them is entirely open to legal damage by legal farming practices, legal artefact hunting and just about any action anyone cares to take against them including knocking them over, flattening them out, digging them up, concreting them over or crushing them. While such actions aren’t heritage crimes they could be judged to be crimes against heritage and a broad public understanding that they are undesirable is surely desireable? Particularly as the very lack of protection and the massive number of such sites strongly suggest legal heritage damage dwarfs criminal heritage damage. What more important heritage message could there be than that?

Once before (as a result of the Nighthawking Survey) a focus upon combatting heritage crime diverted public attention from much greater legalised damage. Perfectly legal (but non-reporting and otherwise inappropriate) metal detecting must dwarf the damage caused by illegal detecting, given the disparity in respective numbers of people involved – perhaps by a factor of fifty. Now, unless the existence of damage to unprotected heritage is stressed another highly inaccurate impression will be given to the public as a result of this latest Heritage Crime campaign.

To summarise:

Yes, this happens …..

But this happens FAR more often…..

So why not mention the fact to the public?

The barrow cemetery at Therfield Heath in Hertfordshire (Grid Ref TL3440) is a true multi-period site. Situated approx 1.5 miles south of the Icknield Way ancient trackway, just to the west of the modern market town of Royston, it contains a Longbarrow and a group of up to 12 Round Barrows, several of which show signs of more recent re-use. And today the site is an SSSI, part of a golf course and picnic site and leisure complex(!), with good views to the north across Cambridgeshire.

Therfield Heath Longbarrow © AlanS

The Longbarrow has been dated to the Neolithic (New Stone Age) – c.4000-c.2300 B.C. – and the round barrows to Bronze Age dates – c.2300-c.750 B.C. Many of the Therfield barrows have been excavated, and found to contain the ashes of a single cremation, often in a pottery vessel, and sometimes accompanied by objects intended for use in the afterlife. Some also contained evidence that the mounds were re-used for pagan burial in the early to middle Anglo-Saxon period (A.D. c.410-870).

The Longbarrow is oriented E-W and measures 38 x 26m at its broader E end diminishing to 15.5m at the W. The maximum height is 2.2m at the E end maintaining slight slope down to 1.7m at the W end. This accentuates the natural slope.

The Longbarrow has been excavated twice, and the results of both investigations are published in Phillips’ 1935 paper1. The longitudinal trench excavated by E Nunn in 1855 is still prominent on the summit of the barrow as a regular depression 2.25m wide and 0.25m deep. Nunn described digging the barrow in the 19th Century2 thusly:

‘April 26th 1855, Opened the Long Hill on Royston Heath. Made a cut about 7 feet wide to the base of the hill throughout its length. Found in the east end at about 1 foot from the top a small heap of calcined human bones, and a small piece or two of iron very much corroded, a few pieces of flints. At the depth of 4 feet a human skeleton lying with its legs crossed, the internment was Head NE by SW, at the base of the hill a bank of flint lying NW-SE the portion above described relates to portion no.1 on ground plan. In portion no. 2 a cyst was found cut in the chalk at the base of the hill about 2 feet depth being 18 to 20 inches, containing ashes, at 6 yards farther west another cyst was found of the same description and dimensions. At about 2ft farther west a skeleton was found, the bones being placed in a kind of heap or circle. This was also on the base of the hill. Nothing more was found.’

Therfield Heath, looking north. © AlanS

Whilst in the general area, which due to the proximity of the Icknield way is scattered with reminders of our ancient past, drop into Royston to view the ‘Roy Stone’; a 2 tonne glacial erratic placed at ‘time immemorial’ at the crossroads of the Icknield Way and the Roman Ermine Street. There is also Royston Cave across the road from the stone, an underground chamber carved into the chalk with strange pagan/christian carvings of uncertain date but for some reason associated with the Knights Templar.

Further to the West is the village of Weston, home to the grave (in the churchyard) of the legendary giant, Jack o’ Legs. Also Weston Henge, a rare monument type for Hertfordshire,  is a short distance from the village though very little remains to be seen on the site there today.


  1. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 1935 (C W Phillips) 1 Page(s)101-7
  2. Nunn, EB 1855 MSS Notebook Palmer Collection, Cambridge University Library
A cooking pot and wooden spoon recovered from the Åmose bog in Zealand, Denmark. Photograph: Anders Fischer
Writing in the Guardian on Monday, 24 October, Camila Ruz reports that –
Our ancestors’ move from hunter-gathering to farming happened gradually rather than abruptly, food residues found in 6,000-year-old cooking pots suggests.

Evidence from pots found around the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe shows farmers at the beginning of the Neolithic period continued to cook the same types of food foraged by their immediate hunter-gatherer ancestors. The finding challenges the traditional view that farming quickly and completely replaced the more ancient lifestyle. 

Archaeologists from the University of York and the University of Bradford studied 133 pots from farming communities in 15 different sites in Denmark and Germany. The team analysed the chemical structures of fats, oils and waxes that had been released from cooking and had soaked into the ceramic. The researchers also studied crusts of burnt food that had been preserved on the inside of the vessels.

More here.

We have been asked to publicise the following message:

Heritage property owners, English Heritage, Church Organisations, Police Forces, local authorities, voluntary heritage groups and others have over recent years become increasingly concerned about the loss of and damage caused to historic assets by various form of crime.  Over the past year or so since the formation of the Heritage Crime Initiative and Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH) considerable progress has been made to highlight the prevalence of crimes such as theft of lead from church roofs.  Despite impressive progress relatively little is known about the level of risks of loss of and damage to different types of heritage asset in different types of area and different regions.

The Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURDS) at Newcastle University, Bradley Research and Consulting, the Council for British Archaeology and Loughborough University have been appointed by English Heritage to research the nature and extent of heritage crime affecting heritage assets in England.

By understanding better the scale of different issues in different areas this research will hopefully help to influence strategies both at a local and national level to  tackle the different forms of crime that are damaging England’s heritage assets and affecting owners’ and visitors’ current and future enjoyment of them.

The research covers all forms of heritage asset, both terrestrial and marine:

•     World Heritage Sites

•     Scheduled Monuments

•     Registered Battlefields

•     Registered Parks and Gardens

•     Listed Buildings (by Grade)

•     Conservation Areas

Any member that owns or manages a heritage asset, either a building or land, or any other groups or individuals involved in the care or research of heritage assets that have been affected by crime (including for example theft, arson, graffiti, other criminal damage, unauthorised access, unauthorised metal detecting,), or anti-social behaviour, or that knows about crimes affecting other heritage assets, can make an important contribution to the research by completing the survey. If you have knowledge of heritage assets in your area we would very much like you to click on the link below and complete a short e-survey

Furthermore, if you have information that you feel you cannot very easily express in the survey but that you would still like to share with us, you can also email the project team, at

Writing in CBA Information Sophie Cringle reports that –
British Archaeology has become world’s first English language general archaeology magazine to be made available for digital subscription.

Readers of the UK’s biggest and best archaeology magazine can now read about the latest discoveries and news in British archaeology and beyond, wherever they are in the world – on public transport, away from home, or on a business trip abroad!

The web version of British Archaeology is designed to look exactly the same as the printed version and has additional features to allow readers to make full use of their online subscription. Digital subscribers will find that text is fully searchable, with hyperlinks to websites and email addresses related to articles. A full year’s back catalogue will also be available to digital subscribers from the launch, giving access to at least two years worth of issues for the price of one year.
More here.

“Enjoy an autumn afternoon walk up on the downs learning about the ancient archaeology of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and the area’s varied wildlife. On this three mile walk with views of the stone circle, we’ll visit ancient earthworks that have revealed much about the people who once lived and celebrated here. Talking points include the Cursus, the many and varied barrows, and an ancient avenue connecting ceremonial centres.”

Organised by the National Trust. Meet at Stonehenge carpark, November 12th, duration 2.00 – 4.30pm. Cost £3 per adult.

More here.

“Landscape archaeology can be carried out in any part of Britain, so long as you acquire the right frame of mind to do it. If you accept that a landscape can be ‘read’, rather like a page of music, then you can learn to read it. Your view will change; instead of seeing scenery, you will find yourself looking at landscape; instead of seeing just hedges and fields and woods, your eyes will begin to elucidate patterns. This applies in towns and cities just as much as countryside.

“What is actually happening, as you learn various techniques, is that your perception of the three dimensional adjusts to a fourth dimension: you begin to see time, or if not time itself then the consequences of time. Scenery – countryside and townscape – made of shapes, smells, sounds and colours becomes a landscape which has evolved over the centuries and is still evolving, a product of the synergy of humanity and the natural.”

From Reading the Land  by Peter Fowler. British Archaeology, December 2001.

English Heritage has just published its annual Heritage at Risk report. Prehistory enthusiasts will note that of nearly 20,000 at risk monuments more than two thirds are threatened by either “arable cultivation” or “unrestricted plant, scrub and tree growth” – and a large number of them are likely to be prehistoric.

Considering the law is clear that it is an offence to damage a scheduled monument, it shouldn’t be happening at all – in an ideal world. But in reality it is hard to prevent damage as mostly it isn’t dramatic like at Priddy Henges but slow and incremental – but with the same result.

One of many thousands of ploughed out burial mounds

It seems the authorities are doing as much as they can do within the current financial constraints – English Heritage inspects monuments (albeit very infrequently in most cases), makes landowners aware of their responsibilities and has offered grants this year totalling £357,000. DEFRA pays out millions to those farmers that are willing to adopt conservation-friendly farming methods. As a result 399 sites have been removed from the Register since 2009 due to “positive reasons” (though how many have been added or removed for “negative reasons” isn’t clear).

EH has just issued tender documents for an outside organisation to undertake a national assessment of monuments vulnerable to arable cultivationso so their and DEFRA’s resources can be better targeted. But at risk of nagging, as we said in August, there may be some value in…

“…harnessing and collating the efforts of the hundreds of ordinary members of the public that visit all the sites in question on a regular basis and who could be relied upon to provide accurate (and very up-to-date and entirely free!) structured eye-witness accounts. The sort of people that use websites like The Modern Antiquarian, The Megalithic Portal and others. Needless to say there would be additional advantages… the opportunity to foster a sense of public engagement and stimulate public involvement in monument guardianship on an ongoing basis.”

And as we said again in September

Isn’t this a golden opportunity for English Heritage to demonstrate that “Public Engagement” is more than just a slogan?”

Continuing a series in which we look at Cornish Stone Circles, Tregeseal in West Penwith is next on our list. The circle at Tregeseal has been mentioned several times here on the Journal already, almost exclusively to report on damage to the stones or surrounding monuments.

The stone circle at Tregeseal now stands alone on the gentle slopes of Truthwall Common to the south of Carn Kenidjack about a mile from the town of St Just, but originally it was part of a ritual complex comprising two and possibly three circles in a roughly east-west alignment.

Tregeseal, looking NW, Carn Kenidjack on the horizon. © AlanS.

Sadly, damage and desecration seems to be a recurring theme with this circle, as now only the single easterly circle remains, but there was a second (and possibly a third) in the past. Of the second circle, only a single stone remains, and that is included within a ‘Cornish Hedge’ field boundary to the west. But in the past, the second or West circle was likened to Castlerigg in Cumbria, due to the fact that there was an assortment of stones forming a small area adjacent to the circle on the SW. This can plainly be seen in a plan in the Victoria County History, dated 1902.

1902 Plan of Tregeseal, from the Victoria County History

The third circle is only detectable now through aerial photos at certain times of the year. The surviving circle has undergone extensive repair and restoration over the years, and now consists of 19 stones where once it is thought there were at least 21.

Tregeseal, looking NW. © AlanS

Dr Borlase mentions the circles in his MS. Parochial Memoirs (1738):

‘On Tregaseal-downs are two circles of stones placed on end, standing east and west of each other. In the eastern, 17 stones are still standing, two prostrate, one broken off. Diameter, 23 paces. In the western, 10 standing, four prostrate, about 26 paces diameter, called Tregaseal Dancing Stones.’

In 2004, a planned gorse fire got out of control and many of the stones were blackened, damaging the lichen thereon.

Tregeseal in 2004, showing extent of gorse fire. © AlanS.

More recently, a controversial scheme to ‘manage’ the open access moor has seen fences erected, and long-horn cattle free to roam amongst the stones, several of which are now loose. So more restoration work will doubtless be required in the near future.

Longhorns within the circle.

The name ‘Dancing Stones’, as used in the Borlase quote above, refers to the common legend that the stones were young girls found dancing on the Sabbath, and thus turned to stone for all eternity for their sins. Although there are barrows and a line of holed stones nearby on the moors to the east, there is no surviving sign of an outlier stone here. Such outliers are often referred to as the musicians at the dance (cf. The Blind Fiddler at Boscawen-Un, the Pipers at the Merry Maidens and also the Hurlers complex on Bodmin)


October 2011

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