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Secret training camp, Marlborough

As the Thornborough Trust note on their blog:
“We are greatly concerned about the condition of Thornborough’s central henge. Animal disturbance to its earthwork has been a problem in recent years, and concerned individuals contacted English Heritage 16 months ago to alert them as to its deteriorating state. We contacted them again in May 2012. The decline in the physical integrity of its bank is alarming and suggests that action is urgently needed.” (See their photograph of the damage here.)

At the same time, it has been reported on the Megalithic Portal that access to the Northern Henge has been been formally blocked (see their photograph here.) The Northern Henge is the only one of the three henges that isn’t included in the stewardship agreement although ironically it is far better preserved than the other two (albeit severely compromised by large trees – which must surely be causing far more damage than any number of visitors would do).

It seems that the long tale of neglect and exploitation of this monument complex is still continuing. Campaigners have been pointing out for some time that actually none of the Henges has formal access arrangements and that allowing people to visit them was crucial to safeguarding their future. Dr Jan Harding, senior archaeology lecturer at Newcastle University, said: “Despite being of unique cultural value and being described by English Heritage as the most important prehistoric site between Stonehenge and the Orkneys, it is closed to visitors, lacks educational information and sits in an extensively quarried landscape. At the moment, there isn’t even a display board. Getting some kind of formal access for the public is vital.”

If you’d like to help then Thornborough Charitable Trust would be happy to hear from you.

It’s Vinci. We happened to read it in a construction magazine (where else!) They’ve secured the contract to build the new Stonehenge Visitors Centre and associated work for £15 million…

So things are gathering pace. Already the Airman’s Cross memorial has been moved and pre-construction tests are now being carried out.

It would be nice to report more but unfortunately all other details remain top, top, secret. Your job is to pay for it, not hear about it so we can’t tell you about which low impact transport system has been chosen, where any of the fences will go or who the mysterious and financially helpful philanthropists are (and what, if anything, they want in return – though we suspect they’re getting more info for their bucks than you’re getting for yours!) Sorry!

It’s not hard to see why things like public talks in which people recount their metal detecting experiences strike discordant notes when billed as part of the Festival of British Archaeology. Or why the Finds Days run by PAS stick out in the event listings like an embarrassing sore thumb. It’s simple – activity that doesn’t conform to archaeological ethics or aims isn’t Archaeology and no words can make it otherwise.

But what about dowsers being part of the Festival? Whatters? Dowsers! People who believe they can sense the presence of buried archaeological features. Surprisingly, they’ll be making a number of appearances. Of course, they’re not the acquisitive lot, they have nothing but good motives towards archaeology. Trouble is though (and this is the only criticism of them) they haven’t persuaded most people they can really do it.

So here’s the problem: at a time when it’s vital to convince the public of the importance of Archaeology and the need for it to be adequately funded, they are being sent a message about how it embraces both dodgy ethics and a minority view of the nature of reality! Archaeology ought to be a broad church alright, but not as broad as that surely if it wants funding? Not when politicians up and down the country are struggling to justify paying for it (see Rescue’s map of the cuts for confirmation). Shouldn’t the only message being broadcast by archaeologists be that Archaeology, whether professional or amateur, is an activity that is conducted in a professional manner? Why would the hard-pressed public put its hand in its pocket to support it otherwise? Would you?

We recently revisited Carwynnen Quoit in Cornwall to report on the latest changes there in the efforts to get the quoit restored. Hot on the heels of our visit comes the following press release from the Sustainable Trust, issued today:

The Sustainable Trust, a small Registered Charity based on Clowance at Praze an Beeble, has received £42,707 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out archaeological investigations at Carwynnen Quoit.

As the Quoit is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a high level of professional input is required before it can be restored it to its original iconic shape. Heritage Environment will be running two archaeological digs, training members of the public in methods of excavation and recording.

The project will enable people of all ages to discover more about Neolithic life and times. A series of educational and outreach events are planned beginning with an open day at Carwynnen on Saturday July 7th between 10am and 4pm. The initial archaeological evaluation will take place between Thursday 5th July – Monday 9th July. A series of test pits will be dug around the collapsed stones to establish preservation of buried archaeology and to establish the key areas of archaeological potential as well as the edges of the monument.

The monument consists of a ‘portal dolmen’, known locally as ‘The Giant’s Quoit’ or ‘The Giant’s Frying Pan’. Only about 20 portal dolmens are known nationally, mainly concentrated in west Penwith. Despite having collapsed and some disturbance by cultivation, the portal dolmen called The Giant’s Quoit at Carwynnen is still one of an extremely ancient and rare group of monuments. It will retain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, function, longevity, funerary and ritual practices, social organisation, territorial significance, collapse, reconstruction and overall landscape context. Funding towards the project has also come from the Cornwall Heritage Trust, Cornwall Archaeological Society and the Tanner Trust.

The Sustainable Trust is concerned with landscape heritage. It manages 90 acres of woodland in Cornwall. Crenver Grove, 35 acres on the original Clowance Estate is open to the public for education and leisure.

Pip Richards, Director of the Trust said “ We are extremely grateful for the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund to continue this project. Many people, both locally and nationally, are looking forward to the restoration of the monument. It is such an important site in a relatively unspoilt historic landscape, it will be a pleasure to work towards finding out its secrets. Writers, artists and photographers are particularly encouraged to become involved in the project. “

The Trust can be contacted on 01209 831718 or through www.sustrust.co.uk


It seems something highly unusual happened at the solstice. Although (surprise, surprise!) 1% of attendees were arrested or given warnings for misbehaviour (37 arrests, 100 warnings), there wasn’t the usual climbing all over the stones! How come? Education? Overbearing security? Lack of party atmosphere? No, something very simple: the weather gods decreed it should be extremely wet so numbers were right down – by 60% compared with some years.

Who’d have thought it? Reducing the numbers inside the stones to manageable numbers allows the stewards to control what goes on! (Well us actually, we’ve been saying it for many years.)

So can we hope that English Heritage will now finally learn the lesson and just manage the place on behalf of everyone – by declaring an attendance limit and entry by ticket? And stops mismanaging the event by tolerating gross overcrowding on the grounds that a few scruffy class warriors talk darkly of rioting if an infinite number isn’t allowed in? Doesn’t the very fact someone opposes any restriction on numbers disqualify them as a true friend of either Stonehenge or logic? Why should it be they who dictate policy?

There has been a worrying sign though that EH might not have learned the lesson. Their Head of Stonehenge went on the Chris Evans show enthusing about the summer solstice. To our minds he overdid it. EH are statutory guardians, simple as, so him saying the event is fantastic and “well worth a visit” for people coming to Britain isn’t being a guardian it’s being an impresario. No way is saying stuff that will increase the number of people crowded like boozy sardines inside the stones consistent with guardianship. Only reducing the number is consistent with that – as this year has surely proved beyond all argument.

No, he should keep in mind that actually, the vast majority of overseas visitors exhibit a preference for a quiet, reflective visit to the stones, just as the vast majority of British people do. If that wasn’t true then a lot more than a few tens of thousands would turn up at solstice, there’d be millions. And if EH didn’t know that was true they wouldn’t have ensured there was a quiet, respectful educational experience available for the other 364 days of the year nor would they be building an interpretation centre!

And here’s the bottom line: he should know that most foreigners must view the non-management that is normally evident at solstice with shock and incredulity. EH is very image conscious and that does more to tarnish its image as a world beacon of good conservation practice than anything else it is involved in. Yet it’s so easily solved.

A rare bird’s egg collected from a tree in Bedfordshire by an amateur ornithologist which went on to be placed third in The Nation’s Greatest Find 2010 competition will be one of the star lots in an upcoming London auction.

The egg is of a Long-billed Murrelet, a species of Auk, and is only the second recorded in Europe. It is expected to sell for £600-800 in the auction, which is organised by a division of Sotheby’s and will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday July 3-4 with public viewing at 45 Maddox Street W1 on Thursday June 28 from 10am-4.30pm or by previous arrangement.

“It is a most beautiful egg,” said the man who found it, who asked not to be named. “I’ve been egg collecting for about 10 years and it’s among the best things I’ve ever found. When I heard about the competition, I had no hesitation in entering it and I was thrilled when it came third.”

The competition, which took place at the HQ of English Nature is organised annually by The Egg Collector, a specialist magazine for people involved in the hobby. The judges included the Head and Deputy Head of English Nature. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey paid a visit during the judging.

The egg had been reported to English Nature as required and the money raised by the sale will be divided between the finder and the owner of the tree.

Anyone that is indignant or incredulous that their taxes are being used to promote the seeking of national assets for personal gain and the positive encouragement of such a desperately crass, low-brow, uncultured, anti-society process should read this.

 

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

 

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At Stonehenge it’s always a case of another day, another theory. Observatory, hospital, temple, alien energy generator, the list goes on, but just sometimes a theory pops up that seems more attractive and convincing than the others. Not pushing it’s luck, just saying “how about me?”

There are more monuments in the area aligned with the crucial winter solstice than anywhere else on earth so was Stonehenge regarded as the centre of the world and did the enormous effort of constructing it represent a sign of peace between people from the east and west of the country after a period of conflict? …. So wonders Prof Mike Parker Pearson, of Sheffield University in a new book describing a massive research project involving five British universities.

On the face of it, as theories go it seems one of the better ones. Quietly persuasive even. And the timing is perfect -Solstice just over but a bit of a damp squib, Olympic fever hotting up, the Torch about to visit the Henge and England about to show those Romans who are the real rulers of Europe.

Good luck to the new theory. May it prosper!  Tomorrow, there’ll be a zillion links about it on the internet, but this is a really good one.

Anyone that tells you they understand what is meant by “the setting of an ancient monument” is a fibber. No-one knows as it all depends on the monument. And it’s setting. It’s a bit like an elephant – hard to describe but easy to recognise. So we have definitions and guidelines but in the end setting comes down to what an individual Planning Inspector perceives it to be.

There have been three recent examples of what a tricky concept it is:

First, there’s the spectacular Old Oswestry hill fort…..

There’s talk of housing estates being built within yards of it and a big protest is brewing.  Who knows if it will happen, but one thing’s a cert: if it doesn’t it won’t be out of respect for the “setting”. We don’t do setting when it comes to hill forts. Not an inch. Too big and ugly – and scary maybe? Who knows? We need a cultural-historical psychologist to explain it perhaps. Or a shrink. But it’s a definite fact. Some small Tudor houses have massive settings, whole hill forts can whistle for them.

Second, there’s the recent wind turbine case at Hemsby where a High Court judge has quashed the idea that national targets have precedence over local concerns. That’s NOT what the Government ordered at all as it means that although it’s still a balancing act between national targets and local concerns, complaints by the locals that turbines will spoil a view can now give them a chance of victory. As one of the papers said, it means that sometimes The Hobbits of the Shire can defeat the forces of Mordor. Hurrah!

Third, is this recent bizarre case in which it was ruled that a few mobile homes for Gypsy families at a place called – I kid you not – Hillbilly Acres, would cause substantial harm to the setting of a nearby Grade I listed building. Reading through the decision it’s hard to work out whether the “harm to the setting” was physical, aesthetic or social. The only way to test that would be to find an identical case where the mobile homes were occupied by Guardian readers named Piers, Rupert and Tabitha. Such is the uncertain nature of “setting”!

It has been announced that on Monday The Royal Engineers will help English Heritage move the Airman’s Cross memorial into temporary storage at Perham Down barracks. Moving it is of course a serious and sombre matter and it is to be hoped it can be re-erected close by as soon as possible.

However, it means that Monday will also signal the start of the process of delivering massive changes at Stonehenge for the way will then be clear for the commencement of the infrastructure works. Hurrah! It’s hard to believe, but absolutely true – after the best part of a hundred years of talking about how to deliver Stonehenge from its twentieth century humiliation it is OUR generation that is actually going to see it happen!

Indeed, it is imminent – there are now only 325 working days before the existing visitor centre is closed, the new one is up and running and all the intrusive features will have been swept away forever.

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