You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2012.

We recently highlighted differing expert views on how to resolve the conflicting needs for wind energy and conservation. Two favoured balancing the issues on a case-by-case basis and being guided by precedents – which seems pretty rational. But a third was more wind-industry aligned and thought offering effective “bribes” in the form of cheap electricity to local people is the way to go – which it surely isn’t, as conservation would never get a fair hearing. Now the wind farm lobby has come up with an even dodgier plan:

Ministers are investigating a proposal to outsource the production of wind power to Ireland. Faced with fervent and growing opposition to onshore wind farms in the UK, Tory MPs are backing a plan to site those facilities in Ireland – and then export the renewable energy generated back to Britain using cables running under the Irish Sea, to Wales.” 700 turbines would be built using British Government subsidies on The Bog of Allen, an archaeological and natural treasure described by one Irish public body as “as much a part of Irish natural heritage as the Book of Kells”.

Bog of Allen, Offaly, soon to host 700 wind turbines supplying green energy to Britain?

Is that troubling? Dumping the downside onto the Irish but enjoying the benefits ourselves? Should we pay the Irish to store our nuclear waste too?! The scheme is the brainchild of American company Element Power who say “the Irish have a less reactionary attitude to onshore wind turbine developments than the British.” Do they? Or is it that the Irish government is known to have a conveniently uncaring attitude towards heritage conservation?

The recent laser scan of Stonehenge is said to reveal that the monument was architecturally rigged to show off the solstices : (1.) the sides of the stones that flanked the solstice axis were most carefully worked to form very straight and narrow rectangular slots and (2.) many north west facing surfaces  were given special attention by being scrubbed free “of their brown and grey surface crust, leaving a bright, grey-white surface that would gleam in the midwinter sun

But how much would those surfaces “gleam”? The smoother the better but in only two places is there evidence of the surfaces actually being polished (and it is suggested that might have happened later). However, it is tempting to wonder if other surfaces were polished but weathering has removed the evidence. We’ll probably never know but we polished a bit of sarsen (with very little effort) and it certainly “gleams” in the sun…..

…. and we were amazed to see how much the effect increases if it “rains”…..

and as for the effect when the sunlight catches a rain-soaked polished edge of a stone….

Could this mean the solstice light show, especially following rain,  was even more spectacular back in the old days?

Yesterday (Monday) I failed to visit Chun Quoit, approaching from the West across Woon Gumpus Common, due to a combination of flooding of the pathways, and my wearing insufficient footwear for the conditions. I can only hope that the scheduled guided walk this coming weekend has better luck.

Today (Tuesday), I had arranged to meet a friend of mine who had attended a guided walk earlier in the year, talking about the archaeology of Gunwalloe Church Cove on the west coast of the Lizard peninsula. He was kind enough to give me his own take on the earlier talk, which covered a history of continuous habitation in the area from the Neolithic through to the Medieval period. His knowledge of the area (having farming relatives nearby) was extensive, and I’m grateful to him for giving up his time today.

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A three year excavation was completed this summer on ‘the Castle’ above the church,thought to have been a possible Iron Age cliff fort. Just north of the ‘Castle’ is a large bay, but in Medieval times this did not exist – the current ground level extended across the current bay and was thought to have held a village. Some evidence of middens can be seen in the current cliff faces. The whole area around Church Cove was important at the time of Domesday, but today there is just a single farmstead and a small house alongside the golf course.

On the other side of the Lizard, and to the North is Falmouth, home of the National Maritime Museum, which I’d visited earlier in the year, and where a project has been underway to reconstruct a Bronze Age log boat. It had been hoped that the boat would have been completed in September, but that was not to be, so I returned to check on progress.

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It is still hoped that the boat will be completed this month, launched and rowed across the bay as a completion of the project, but given the current lack of planking for the hull, I’d be surprised if this were the case. Measurements of the hull were being taken today, and oars were being roughed out, so progress continues.

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Some months ago we wrote about the Courtyard Houses of West Penwith.

Today (Sunday) I visited the settlement of Bosullow Trehyllis to see some of the people from CASPN at work during an organised clearance day.

On a fresh October day the sun was shining though the wind was fresh, which belied the low turnout of only 5 or 6 people. I spoke with CASPN’s Dave Munday about the clearance. He told me that English Heritage had put pressure on the landowner (but offered no assistance?) to improve the settlement. CASPN had provided material help in the form of Asulox, a safe proven chemical treatment for bracken, which was applied by contractors earlier in the year. The full benefit should be seen next summer, though the site lays on private ground and is not normally publicly accessible. Today’s efforts were aimed toward cutting back the gorse and brambles which were taking hold.
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The settlement of some 6 or 7 houses is part of a wider landscape, with Chun Quoit (Neolithic) to the SW on the far side of Chun Downs, remains of roundhouses (Bronze Age) on the nearside of Chun Downs, and Chun Castle (Iron Age?) atop the downs. On the horizon to the SE, Lizard Point can be seen, and to the west is the Atlantic Ocean.

CASPN arrange clearance days throughout the year both on West Penwith and the Lizard, in conjunction with the site owners and relevant authorities where applicable. A current schedule of sites and dates can always be found on their web site. Gloves and stout footwear are advised, other tools are provided. We would be pleased to hear of any similar groups you may know of in other parts of the country.

The first three articles on scheduling have looked at the general picture and highlighted the relatively small number of schedulings emanating from the Designation Department. I am often reminded that quantity is not everything and that quality should also be considered. So with this in mind it is perhaps worth looking at the content of some of the more recent examples.

A search on the “National Heritage List for England” reveals that of the 28 monuments designated up until the end of October only 6 are or contain prehistoric archaeology. Of these, three are amendments meaning that actually only three new prehistoric monuments have been added to the schedule.  Foremost of these is Flag Fen, which I imagine most people thought was already scheduled – it is now. One of the other two is a pair of “Ring ditches, part of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and prehistoric field bank at Storrey’s Meadow” which were added to the Schedule of Ancient Monuments on 22nd June 2012. The site lies on the edge of West Meon village in Hampshire and English Heritage have allocated it the number 1409204 should you wish to check the details for yourself. It took me a while to find information on the site from other sources as everybody else refers to it as Storey’s Meadow with a single “r”.

Using the grid reference provided and the “UK Grid Reference Finder” website I was surprised to find a large scale excavation underway within the scheduled area. Surprised on two accounts. Firstly, there was no mention of the monument having been excavated within the EH report and this despite the fact that the excavations had been carried out in the year before the site was scheduled. Secondly, because the EH report refers to an “excavation in the adjacent field to the south”.

This must mean one of two things. Either the wrong field has been scheduled or English Heritage is unaware that much of the monument has already been archaeologically sterilised. I asked English Heritage on Monday for an explanation telling them I was planning to write this note which would be published today. I was thanked for questions and assured that “We’ll get back to you very shortly.” I have heard nothing yet so what follows must to a certain extent be somewhat speculative. The geophysical survey that accompanies a brief account of the work is available at  http://www.tvas.co.uk/downloads/WestMeon_poster1.pdf does not appear to depict the features described in the scheduling documentation. Furthermore, apparently the area is now being developed for affordable housing. All this suggests that English Heritage have scheduled the wrong field. I do hope this is the case, as the alternative explanation is even more bizarre – namely that they have scheduled a building site that has already had most if not all of the archaeology removed already. Perhaps there is a third explanation and one day all will be revealed!

The scheduled area (outlined in red) with the ring ditch and Anglo-Saxon cemetery excavation being carried out in the lower half of the monument. Why has this area been scheduled despite being completely excavated? The scheduling documentation states that the excavation was in an adjacent field to the south of the monument. This does not appear to be the case.

A couple of other things are of interest about this scheduling. The first is that “Bronze Age barrow cemeteries and Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemeteries are representative of their respective periods and there is a presumption in favour of their designation when they survive to any substantive degree”. This compares favourably with the situation in Wales where according to Cadw only “intact and substantially intact” examples are generally considered for protection. Apparently barrows and cairns “are very common throughout Wales” and “the likelihood of a damaged site being scheduled is greatly reduced.” So no consistency between England (where Bronze Age burial sites are generally considered to be worth protecting) and Wales where they are not.

Another new development in the English scheduling documentation appears to be a section where other archaeological sites up to nearly 9km from the monument are mentioned in despatches.  So helpfully another ring ditch “1km to the south east of Storrey’ Meadow” is mentioned but more surprisingly “four Bronze Age barrows near Franklins Farm, 8.7km to the south west” are also recorded. One might wonder at how the scheduling documentation for a barrow on Salisbury Plain might look in future? Pages and pages of references to similar sites within 9km will surely take some researching! More bizarrely there is also a mention of “the remains of a substantial Roman building which was excavated in Little Lippen Wood to the west of West Meon in 1905-6).” Exactly why the scheduling of this site needs to allude to a completely different type and date of site is puzzling and surely does not really enhance our understanding or appreciation of this site. Indeed in this instance there is more information on the other sites than the one that is actually being described.  This approach may provide context in an area where there is clearly relatively little contemporary archaeology, but in areas where there are substantial remains this section could run for pages and pages and completely dwarf the main purpose of the exercise. This type of information surely belongs more appropriately in a parish guide rather than official scheduling documentation. Perhaps if the process was more focussed it might be possible to get more sites protected which of course is the aim of the exercise.

English Heritage have been offered the chance to comment on the issues raised in this article and hopefully in the coming weeks, months or years they will avail themselves of the opportunity to respond. In the meantime, further examples of other curious, sloppy and bizarre recent schedulings will be examined during the coming weeks. Next time I will be looking at a site where Roman settlement remains apparently survive at the bottom of a 19th century gravel quarry.

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[For other articles  in the series put Scheduling in the search box]

by Nigel Swift

We previously suggested the National Council for Metal Detecting’s Search Agreement leaves landowners wide open to being ripped off. We didn’t mention the other main Agreement, produced by the Federation of Independent Detectorists. Its actually worse. Look at these 5 clauses:


If you’re a landowner you may wonder how come EH, the CBA et al advise you to sign a finds agreement when it’s clearly throwing you to the wolves. One of your number, Silas Brown, has asked them about it. Hopefully they’ll reply to him soon and issue a pukka official Finds Agreement that looks after your interest in your property and Britain’s in it’s heritage knowledge. Personally I’d never sign anything that didn’t do all that. Just tell the bloke at the gate you want him to sign a document that says you must be given all your property and make all the decisions about it. It’s not rocket science, and any piece of paper that says anything else whatsoever is NOT in your interest. You can tell EH and CBA that too if you write to them.

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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We have been following the story of the planned reconstruction of Carwynnen Quoit, in Cornwall, with interest for some time now, with stories in May 2009, May 2012, June 2012, and most recently last month.

One community aspect of the reconstruction project that is a little different from the ‘norm’, is the creation of a local writer’s group, to help record thoughts and ideas about the quoit and adjoining area, and the restoration work itself. An early example of the group’s work recently appeared on their Facebook page and is entitled ‘The Musket Ball’, after one of the finds from the preliminary excavation in July. We reproduce it here, with permission:

The Musket Ball. by Clare Dwyer

Ancient structures, such as stone circles, burial mounds and others, were regarded with superstition and not a little fear since pre-Christian times. Many stories grew up around them. Some were seen as gateways to other worlds belonging to fairies and evil spirits. A common story was that of young men being lured through these gateways and when they returned they found that many years had past in the world above, whilst to those young men it was only a few hours. During the Middle-Ages some of the stones of the stone circle at Avebury were pulled down and buried at the behest of the local priest. This was not unusual as most of these structures were seen as the work of the devil, or of the giants and witches of an earlier age.

The musket ball found at the site of Carwynnen Quoit could easily belong to someone who had fired at the Quoit in just such a state of fear and superstition. During the reign of James I, a wave of witch hunts swept the country as the king had an inordinate fear of witches and as witches were said to only to be able to be killed by fire, drowning or being shot (like were-wolves) with a silver bullet, then perhaps someone thought any spirits lurking around the Quoit could be slain by a good honest musket ball.

The Puritans of the sixteenth century were great believers in the devil and the many creatures we now believe to belong to the world of fantasy and were inclined to see them in almost everything of which they disapproved – and they disapproved of an awful lot. Carwynnan Quoit would have represented much that they feared and hated.

Just imagine that you are travelling home across the moor in the dusk, with the darkness beginning to descend. The wind is blowing and as it blows through the Quoit it makes strange noises which sound like moaning and wailing. How frightening that would be and imagine how much you would be shaking. If you were carrying your musket you might want to fire it at the spirit making those awful sounds and with trembling hands you load your musket, but you drop the musket ball and there it lies for five hundred years until it’s unearthed by the archaeologists who are excavating the site around the Quoit.

Or maybe you were just trying to shoot a rabbit for the pot!

I will be visiting the quoit again next week, to witness some of the backfill work and hopefully have a chat with Pip Richards, from the Sustainable Trust who own the site. Look out for an update soon!

The Quoit’s Facebook page has regular updates and photographs of the progress of the project, and a project website is also under construction which will include news, events and links to affiliated groups such as the Writer’s Group.

The Sustainable Trust has information about the quoit, and an associated downloadable education pack (PDF link) as well as information about the Trust’s wider work.

It seems that Stonehenge is rarely out of the news these days. Hardly a week goes by without new ideas and theories about it’s purpose. The recent laser scanning project revelations will no doubt stimulate yet more.

On the other hand, it’s sobering to think that everything that has been written about Stonehenge is speculation and therefore may be untrue. In fact according to this latest theory, it is:

“SCIENTISTS have started a fresh excavation at Stonehenge in the hope of confirming, once and for all, the ancient monument’s complete and utter pointlessness. Recent advances in carbon dating and DNA testing technologies now point to it having absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Henry Brubaker, chief archaeologist at the Institute for Studies, said: “The ancient Britons quarried these giant stones by hand, dragged them hundreds of miles from Wales, lifted them into place, stared at them for a bit, then wandered off and never came back.”

Important archaeologist: “This is just some Welsh rocks thrown up in the middle of nowhere for no bloody reason. It does my head in. If I have to watch one more scraggy hippy dancing round here at solstice, I swear to God I will get a JCB and plough the whole lot into the ground.”

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Crossrail not a new route?!
Wood found during excavation work for Crossrail could be evidence of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age transport route through London, experts believe. Archaeologists examining a site in Plumstead have been searching for the pathway, which ran along the same route of the new rail link in east London.

“Crossrail’s Lead Archaeologist Jay Carver said: “We know from other sites nearby that this area was probably crisscrossed by a network of pathways. As excavation works for the Plumstead tunnel portal got underway our archaeologists uncovered several wooden stakes and at least two that appear to have cut marks from a metal axe. Although we haven’t identified an actual track way yet, the timbers are similar to those used to make the track ways and certainly show that people were in the area exploiting the woodland.  This is a promising find as we continue our search for evidence of a Bronze Age transport route along where London’s newest railway will run.”

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Fantasy Fiction
A well-known detectorist has just launched a book (Google “book”, you’ll find it). He says it is dedicated to his fellow artefact hunters without whom “our knowledge of our heritage would be a very bare boned entity indeed“. Blimey. So all those archaeologists and historians have contributed very little to our knowledge of the past. Someone should do something.

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Mythbusting?
On the subject of artefact hunting we are told ad nauseam that applying any sort of regulation to the hobby will instantly cause an explosion of nighthawking and that the British laissez faire attitude towards portable antiquities ensures looting is far less here. Not according to this map from “Looted Heritage” it doesn’t!

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For more Cheers and Boos put cheers in the search box

The Campaign to Protect Rural England recently invited  three experts to discuss tensions between the need for renewable energy and the need to protect the countryside.

A big divide in opinions was revealed:

Simon Roberts, (Chief Executive of the Centre for Sustainable Energy) put forward the view of the industry and said it was important to develop ‘low carbon localism’ which involves talking about “how more of the benefits of change accrue locally” – by which he means offering  cheap electricity to those living closest to proposed wind farms. But the rest of us, people who aren’t “locals”, are entitled to be very wary of such an approach. If the setting of a scheduled monument is to be compromised it surely should be due to a weighing of the pros and cons using national criteria, not because the locals have been effectively “bribed”!

However, the other two contributors took a different, less scary view and both identified what is surely a current problem and the way forward:

David Baldock (Executive Director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy) pointed out that:
There is not a simple or universally accepted way to measure the impact of onshore wind on the landscape. This is compounded by a lack of guidance in the new English planning regime to determine these impacts

and Lyndis Cole (Principal of Land Use Consultants) said much the same thing:
“It is important that we use the tools available for creating a robust landscape evidence-base for guiding the location, siting and design of these development”.

An evidence-base would certainly be beneficial as it would facilitate a greater emphasis on precedents when making decisions. It’s pretty clear from recent cases that greater consistency between decisions is needed. Hopefully then, that will be the way forward for balancing the needs for green energy and the need to conserve. But please, no local bribes!

 

 

 

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