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Our next willing victim is a Lecturer in Later European Prehistory at Liverpool University,  Dr Rachel Pope:

Brief Bio:

Rachel is co-director of the group British Women Archaeologists, a council member for the Prehistoric Society, and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. She is a member of the Bronze Age Studies Group and advisor to the Iron Age Research Student Seminar.

Rachel’s work focuses on British material from the Early Bronze Age to the late Roman Iron Age (c. 2400BC-AD500), specialising in the fields of architecture and everyday life, domestic ritual traditions, settlement temporality and land use. Her interests in the European Iron Age include both settlement and mortuary traditions.

The 10 Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology?

Seeing the preservation of an Egyptian man preserved by the sand in the British Museum at a very early age. Perhaps also watching the raising of the Mary Rose in assembly at Primary School, we were all very excited by that. I knew that I wanted to be an archaeologist from the age of five.

How did you get started?

When I was fifteen, we had to undertake a two-week period of work experience from school. As a girl, I’d been offered shop work. Turning that down, I arranged to work with Tyne & Wear Museums on the Roman wall at Segedunum. Wellies stuck in the Tyne clays, in November – and that was it.

Who has most influenced your career?

I’m not sure I can blame just one person for this! So very many people have influenced my career, academics and field archaeologists alike. The people who’ve supported me most have been Colin Haselgrove and Ian Ralston. They’ve instilled in me a real sense of responsibility, and underlined the importance of undertaking fieldwork alongside solid academic research. Historically it is George Jobey and Margaret Piggott – two great, northern prehistorians.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

The site you’re about to start excavating is always the most exciting! And that’s now Penycloddiau, the second largest hillfort in Wales. I’m also very excited about the late Holocene climate change project that I’m involved in – it’s an important project bringing together archaeologists and palaeoclimatologists for the first time in the UK, so I really hope we get the funding for it.

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

My heart is always in the prehistoric landscapes of the Cheviot uplands in Northumberland. I dug in these landscapes every year for fifteen years, and love both the sites and the local people. My favourite site is currently Kidlandlee Dean, an Early-Middle Bronze Age farming settlement at 300 m. It was the first site I directed, and it is now yielding some very interesting results in post-excavation. I can’t wait to tell Kidlandlee’s story.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

That I didn’t experience the fieldwork scene in the 1970s.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

I would get rid of the competitive tendering system and nationalise archaeological practice.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

Whenever anyone asks me what I do, without fail they’re inspired. Archaeology is loved by the British people – they want to hear the unfolding story of the deep history of this island. They cherish it. Yet the people who enable this, those working in the heritage sector see a profession in crisis. Our trained field archaeologists exist on appallingly low rates of pay, these are well-educated specialists digging across winter in the most difficult of conditions. Short-term contracts and an itinerant lifestyle mean that for many years we have been leaching our skills base. Our skilled excavators, people who love their work, are consistently forced to leave. After the cuts, we have little/no protection in some regions for the archaeological resource, archaeological units and local museums are closing, and our cultural heritage is once more seriously at risk. I often wonder why it is that we treat our cultural heritage with such disdain in Britain. In France, they celebrate their history, use it to educate their young. Here we see it as a nuisance, something that gets in the way of economic ‘progress’. I ask us to prioritise the archaeology of Britain – we cannot understand our present, and prepare for our future, without first understanding our past. There is still much for this country to learn.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

If I wasn’t in academia I’d be in the contract sector, with broken knees. That, or being more involved in political activism.

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

I’m mum to a 3 year-old, so I don’t really understand the concept of relaxation now! I do still get the chance to go out dancing with my friends occasionally which helps keep me sane. And I’m quite keen on Twitter.

Once again we must extend our thanks for Rachel’s answers. Many of our subjects have mentioned how much they’ve enjoyed thinking about their responses. If you work in the Heritage or Archaelogy arenas and would like to be part of this series, please email us on info (at) heritageaction (dot) org (dot) uk

Alternatively, if you’d like to nominate someone else for the series, just let us know in the Comments section.

Earlier entries in this series:

At a moment when many heritage sites are about to be threatened by development an interesting and simple conservation tactic has been reported from Wivenhoe, Essex.

Under the new planning regime, any impact on designated heritage assets will be considered in planning decisions but ones that are undesignated won’t be. Some might say that’s a pretty philistine approach,  given that only a small minority of assets are scheduled or otherwise protected. But at Wivenhoe “the public” has tried to get its retaliation in early: a list has been drawn up by historians and residents to highlight those places not officially recognised by English Heritage.

Volunteers from Wivenhoe Townscape Forum surveyed the town and persuaded Colchester Council’s local development framework committee to put 76 buildings and open spaces on a list to be given special consideration when a planning application is decided. Borough councillor John Jowers said: “It is a really good list. It is one of those things you look at and think: We should have done this years ago” while Robert Needham of the Townscape Forum added: ““I hope our case study will be useful for other groups looking to do the same thing.”

We can only agree! The idea is particularly relevant to those that have an interest in prehistoric sites as so many of those lack formal protection. If you know of one why not drop your local Council a line and ask them to put it on a “special consideration” list? Who knows, Wimpeys may already have it on their special consideration list!

The scale and pace of destruction today is so great that the need to recover and record archaeological information is more urgent than ever before. Unless we act now our archaeological past will never be understood. RESCUE,  the British Archaeological Trust, is a registered charity and an independent organisation committed to the protection, conservation, recording and interpretation of archaeological evidence – often the only evidence – of ALL our pasts.

One of the ways in which RESCUE campaigns to save this heritage is to assist those who wish to protest against funding cuts. With an unprecedented level of threat to local authority museum and archaeological services currently being felt up and down the country, there has never been a greater need for clear guidelines, assisting those campaigning to protect and preserve local and regional heritage services.

It is with this in mind that RESCUE have published Fighting Back – a document that provides some suggestions as to how to campaign to save museums, archaeological services and the historic environment. It includes lists of contacts, template letters and other information vital to everyone wishing to register their objections to local authority and government cuts which affect our heritage. RESCUE asks people to feel free to download and use the guidelines, and distribute them further to those who require it:  Fighting Back Notes on Campaigning against cuts to heritage

Heritage Action is proud to hold Affiliated Society membership status of RESCUE. If you’ve not already joined RESCUE,  we can only ask ‘why not’?

Turner prize winner Jeremy Deller has created a plastic Stonehenge that will soon be on show in Glasgow. He said: “Hopefully, people’s interaction with it will bring out the character of the place.”  That might seem unlikely, given that it is made of plastic, but having been inside “Foamhenge” a few years ago we can confirm that if it is reasonably accurate  it will indeed provide a valuable experience. Foamhenge, which depicted the monument in an original complete state, was stunning and its loss was a great shame.

Howewever, Mr Deller’s project has some worrying aspects: it is titled “Sacrilege” (why?); it is described as “interactive” and he says “the public can go on it, as it were” and that “hopefully people will respond to it in a Glaswegian manner” (whatever that means).

None of that would particularly matter except for the fact that after its Scottish run “Sacrilege” will be taken to London as a cultural tourist attraction during the Olympic Games. Which means, presumably, it will be there and much publicised at the time of the Summer solstice gathering at the original Stonehenge – where, year after year, many people “go on it, as it were”.  So it is to be hoped that images of people clambering on the one won’t make clambering on the other – or on standing stones in general – seem a bit more acceptable.

It’s just been ruled that solar panels on the roof of a modern wing of a Grade II farmhouse would damage its setting. It’s unclear if the decision involved English Heritage’s assessment methodology or if the Inspector was guided by previous decisions. Neither was mentioned. There’s a reason for wondering: disallowing solar panels may look reasonable relative to other cases involving solar panels but it looks pretty puzzling when viewed against the fact that massive wind turbines often ARE allowed – see here and here and here for instance. Why are those considered OK yet solar panels aren’t?

One possible explanation was hinted at by the Inspector. It was put to him that the panels should be allowed as they contributed towards fulfilling the Government’s target of renewable energy production by 2020 but he ruled that the power output was “likely to be limited, and consequently not of such a benefit that would outweigh the harm”.

The implication is not good. Does it mean that if the panels had generated enough electricity they would have been allowed? Worse, does it imply that if you want planning permission for a wind turbine then the bigger it is the more likely it will be given the go-ahead? Cynics who reckon that’s exactly what the government wants and that heritage is going to suffer commensurately can kiss their knighthoods goodbye.

Many of our ancient sites are in plain view close to roads, others lie hidden in the depths of the countryside and require significant effort to visit. Those that are easy to reach often suffer from wear and tear. The erosion on the banks at Avebury come to mind, as do measures to prevent erosion such as the less than seemly fences and path at Stonehenge – which are a constant reminder of the cleft stick the authorities are in when sites get too popular. Should they be disfigured by footfall or disfigured by measures to prevent them being disfigured?

Some years ago, when working on a voluntary basis for the Pagan Federation I had an idea for a small booklet that could be used to raise some funds. The booklet was to be a collaborative effort called ‘A Guide to Ancient Sacred Sites’ and was to take the form of a gazetteer. The Pagan Federation is formed into Districts and Regions, and I contacted various people around the Districts to get some information about the sites in their areas.

To my astonishment, although many thought it was a good idea – several said it would be a good help to Pagans on their travels – most did not want their own local sites included, and said they could not support the project if such-and-such a site were listed. They were largely happy for the sites already overrun by tourists to be included, but not the ones they considered ‘special’. This was against my concept of the project, which thus never got off the ground, and the booklet outline lies unused, hidden in the depths of my hard drive backups.

Now leaving aside the lay view that our ancient heritage sites cannot be considered ‘sacred’ as in many cases we have no definitive proof of how they were used, the question arises of how much should the sites be advertised to the general public?

There is no doubt that one of our chief remits here at Heritage Action is to bring ancient sites to the attention of the public so that an awareness of our past heritage can enrich our lives. But there is a delicate balance for many sites between neglect and over-use. For instance, I was surprised to note on a recent visit to Boscawen-Un that tramlines are starting to appear around the circle, from the number of visitors permabulating both inside and outside the circle. I have noticed a similar problem at the nearby Merry Maidens. Many years ago, when I first visited Boscaswen Un circle, the stones were barely visible above the gorse:

Largely thanks to the ground clearance efforts of CASPN the picture is much different now, the circle is festooned with bluebells in the summer, but note the ‘tracking’ in the grass which is starting to appear:

I visit this circle several times a year, and it is now rare that I have the place to myself unless the weather is inclement – a major factor being that a signpost is now visible on the nearby A30, and paths have been cleared through the gorse and bracken to the north, making access that much easier.

Is this a good thing? In some ways yes, in that many more people can enjoy the genus loci of this wonderful circle, but the impending issue of erosion is a worrying one. The tenet “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” is becoming a potentially damaging one, and maybe it’s time to come up with something new? “Visit, but leave as few footprints as possible“? Or do we just stop telling people that such places exist?

…but then society would be the loser, as a knowledge of our past affects us all in more ways than we can imagine – but that’s a topic for a future post.

The latest archaeologist to come under our spotlight is Raksha Dave, another Time Team regular, and member of the team for the current series.

Brief Bio:

Raksha has been a professional archaeologist for 12 years and is currently the Project Manager for Dig Ventures and a Senior Archaeologist and presenter for Time Team.  Most of her field experience has been based in the commercial sector in London and has worked on numerous projects such as St Mary Spital and the Blossom’s Inn site, Gresham Street.  She is now in her 10th year working for Time Team as a Senior Archaeologist and has excavated and supervised various sites in the UK and abroad.

Raksha has also worked in the public sector in local government focusing on education and communities. Her interests firmly lie in participation, advocacy and education through archaeology.

The 10 Questions:

What sparked your interest in Archaeology? 

I was four and was absolutely fascinated by a dinosaur book I saw in a bookshop.  I vaguely remember harassing my poor mother into submission and making her buy it for me.  I still have it to this day.  From this, sprung forth an absolute obsession with anything historical, pre-historical and dare I say palaeontological.  Luckily I was not really taken by Geology so much when I studied it at A-Level, apart from the cool stuff like fossils and seismology.  I always knew I’d end up in archaeology; the romantic ideal of discovering something lost and amazing always appealed!

How did you get started?

I went through the traditional route of going to University to do my undergrad (UCL) and after a brief stint of being a receptionist – (which, by the way I really sucked at!) I decided that I couldn’t call myself an archaeologist unless I actually knew how to dig.  I had been on numerous research excavations before but I felt that I wouldn’t truly know my trade unless I spent time working in the commercial sector.  That’s the place where you can fine tune and hone your digging skills and may I also say find out whether field archaeology is for you or not. I was very lucky I got my break in 2000, 4 months after I graduated and started working for the Museum of London Archaeology Service (as was). Since then I’ve never really looked back.

Who has most influenced your career?

I would have to say my colleagues and lady luck.  I have been extremely lucky to have been in contact with some of the best in the commercial archaeology sector in London and opportunities that have suddenly appeared from nowhere like Time Team.  I cannot thank my original mentor Ken Pitt, Senior Archaeologist at MoLA, enough for teaching me that you should always ask if you don’t know what you’re doing and that you can always do better.  He’s very good at dishing out the tough love and making you think about what you’re doing. He’s also one of the best mattockers I know – you wouldn’t want to mess with Ken whilst he’s wielding one of those!

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

Gosh, how long is a piece of string?!  I am one of the lucky few and have to remind myself on a daily basis that I do not have an average archaeological career.  I was lucky to work on some of the most amazing sites in the City at the beginning of my career and have just completed a stint for MoLA working on more amazing deep-urban-strat sites.  Also being on Time Team for the past 10 years has also enabled me to work all over the UK and abroad on some of the most iconic or discover previously unknown sites in the world.  It’s not normal for one person to have worked on excavations ranging from the prehistoric to the second world war.  I have to remember not to be so blase about excavating Westminster Abbey or raising an A27 bomber from the marshes in Lancashire…. ahem! (*clears throat*) not to mention the forthcoming field season at Flag Fen!!  It’s all a bit showy-offy, major egos and smugness in people is so unattractive and unnecessary so I’ll just shut up!

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

I don’t have a specific favourite British archaeological site.  Over the years I have seen that every site has an interesting human story.  I am fascinated by the bigger picture and am lucky to see how certain regions and areas have influenced each other by the spread of material culture, religion or building styles.  The early Christian sites on the Western coast of the UK ranging from Isle of Man all the way to Mull for example are just fascinating.  The cross-pollination of ideas by human migration within a small time-frame is just astounding.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

I have no personal archaeological/heritage regrets at all – what a strange question!

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

There’s quite a lot I would change.  I think there are a lot of challenges and I’m still getting my head around the new planning guidance NPPF.  I think one of our most major challenges is how we are going to protect sites that are not traditionally seen as heritage assets such as the array of Post-Medieval sites that are machined away on a daily basis or simply neglected.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

Well for a start 30 seconds isn’t enough time!  I am also a tad jaded when it comes to current British politics and have spent far too many years acting as advocate and lobbying certain politicians enough to know that if it isn’t on the party agenda then I will be wasting my breath!  It irks me to know that culture, heritage and the historic environment are not treated as the major assets to the UK that they truly are.  They have a valid place in our current economy which encourages tourism and community cohesion so why is it not valued by the policy makers?  I know a handful of eminent people who would be far more qualified to make the address.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

Acting: I almost went to drama school before being persuaded to put the sensible hat on and thinking about getting a education – degrees were free in those days!

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

Running, drinking, seeing friends and loved-ones.  Usual stuff people do, like live!

Knowing how madly busy Raksha is at the moment, we can only extend our heartfelt thanks for her replies! We’re always looking for more willing subjects, so if you work in the Heritage or Archaelogy arenas and would like to be part of this series, please email us on info (at) heritageaction (dot) org (dot) uk

Earlier entries in this series:

The Institute for Archaeologists is holding a conference session discussing different ways to engage local communities with archaeology. Papers will explore different ways to engender community involvement in the protection of archaeological assets such as encouraging well-being; generating senses of stewardship towards local heritage assets at risk of damage from unauthorised development, neglect, or crime; or engendering greater social inclusion.

May we submit a suggestion from the grass roots? The three things that are most needed for the protection of archaeological assets are:

1. Generating a sense of stewardship towards local heritage assets.
2. Generating a sense of stewardship towards local heritage assets.
3. Generating a sense of stewardship towards local heritage assets.

Update: We’d be very interested in hearing from anyone who actually attended this session, exactly what was said in this session? What was the underlying message put forward? Please let us know, ether in the comments or by email.

The Malverns from The Cotswolds
(C) Heritage Action

A reminder that the controversy surrounding tree-felling work on the Iron Age fort at Midsummer Hill, Malvern remains unresolved. Two very different views have come to our attention.

One of our readers Mike Harwood has left a comment on the Heritage Journal saying

“Having just returned from a visit to Midsummer Hill I have to voice my horror, shock and grief as to what has been done there. This is vandalism of the worst kind. What has been a place of inspiration and beauty all my life is now a site of ugliness. A curse on those who orchestrated the tree slaying. No more please. Leave it be. Stop the felling immediately.”

On the other hand, in this recent press report Iain Carter, National Trust’s countryside manager for Herefordshire is quoted as saying:

“I have to say it looks fantastic. The ramparts are now clearly visible and all of a sudden you can understand the shape of the hillfort.”

While the Olympic flame will bypass the world’s greatest stone circle at Avebury and be driven in a van without so much as a pause right past Silbury, Europe’s greatest prehistoric mound,  it will at least be carried by runners right along Silbury Boulevard, Milton Keynes!

Council Leader Andrew Geary said: “The Olympic torch is a symbol of striving for the very best, that super positive attitude which embodies the spirit of Milton Keynes and its residents.”

On the other hand, if examples of British ‘can do’ attitudes are needed for displaying to the world, Avebury Henge and Silbury Hill would be hard to beat!


April 2012

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