Without wishing to provide even more publicity to a certain Irish betting company which we refuse to name, we can’t let the occasion of yet another heritage site defacement pass without some sort of comment.

The known facts would appear to be that a group visited the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire under cover of darkness, and in a carefully planned project proceeded to ‘pin down’ a quantity of white sheeting with what were described as ‘tent pegs’ in order to make it look like the horse had acquired a rider. What are the odds of that happening, eh?

This was apparently done without permission from the National Trust, who ‘own’ the monument, and in direct contravention of planning laws, as Scheduled Monument Consent was not sought/granted. The bookies have stated that a donation has been made to the NT, but the NT have denied any such donation has been received.

There has been quite a bit of discussion on the British Archaeology (Britarch) email list about this prank/crime, almost all of the comments have condemned what has happened.

There are several aspects to this case.

  • Physical damage. The perpertrators claimed that they stayed off the actual monument (the visible chalk) but inserting a large number of tent pegs may have disturbed archaeology – we have no real way of knowing what’s there without a large scale ecvacation. Future techniques such as much more advanced geofizz will doubtless change this in years to come.
  • Environmental damage. Many Scheduled Ancient Monuments are located within SSSIs with a fragile ecosystem. We can’t help but think that a (large?) group of people clambering on the Uffington hillside in the dark, dragging large quantities of sheeting can only be causing unneccesary damage to the fragile chalkland environment.
  • Collateral damage. We’ve seen this kind of thing before; Big Brother at Uffington, Homer Simpson at Cerne Abbas etc. How many other companies will think that desecrating heritage sites in this way is a good way to get publicity?
  • Ethical damage. What kind of society are we living in if any damage above is considered acceptable because a ‘donation’ was made?

Was it really only yesterday that we suggested how non-professionals can help protect ancient sites?