You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2013.

by Alan Simkins, Editor

Our series of questions for archaeologists, ‘Inside the Mind of…’ has been a great success and we’ve published responses from eleven archaeologists so far with more coming soon. In every case we’ve been struck by how generous they have been with their time no matter how prominent they are. So as Series Editor I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar by putting some relevant questions to a particular subset of the archaeology world – the Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) at the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Sadly it went pear-shaped. One of them seems to have contacted their boss, Dr Roger Bland at the British Museum, asking if they should respond and he sent us a message expressing surprise we had contacted the individuals direct “as they will come to me and my colleague Michael Lewis for advice on how to respond.” To say I was surprised in return would be an understatement as the questions were very similar to the ones sent to other archaeologists, completely uncontroversial and personal and nothing to do with PAS policies. Of course, it’s no secret we have issues with PAS policies but that really has no bearing on an innocent set of questions to individuals. But I was even more  shocked to read what Dr Bland added: he was willing to give his blessing to the project if we were to recant our position on our Erosion Counter!

Following a further exchange he added: “I have to say that the feelings that our staff have about initiatives such as the Artefact Erosion Counter (…) together with the fact that they are all at full capacity recording the finds that are offered to them, mean that it’s unlikely all will be able to respond. We will circulate this exchange to them so they can decide for themselves whether they wish to contribute.”

Altogether I’m not too impressed. He was right, not all responded. In fact not one of the 39 FLOs has said they would be willing to take part and only two have even replied (both using remarkably similar wording and saying they were far too busy but wishing us luck with the project). Hmmm. If people can tweet they can surely find a few minutes? And I don’t think FLOs are the only archaeologists with very busy jobs yet many archaeologists have found a few minutes for us. I myself have a very busy full-time job but I wouldn’t tell anyone I never have a few minutes to spare – and I’m not paid to provide archaeological outreach! Anyway, if you ever wonder why we aren’t featuring any of the 39 FLOs in our Inside the Mind features, you now know it’s not for lack of trying!

(By the way, our Erosion Counter recently passed the 11.5 million mark! It runs at a rate of one million per 3.4 years whereas the English Heritage/CBA survey suggested one million per 2.4 years would be more accurate. People can choose whichever they wish to believe so long as they then compare their preferred figure with how few finds get reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme – 56K records in the whole of last year. We’re not about to recant over our belief that something is very wrong about current policies and the public is entitled to be alerted to the fact.)

PS, Dr Bland:
For the avoidance of doubt: if we’d based our Erosion Counter on what the English Heritage/CBA survey say is happening it would now be showing 16.25 million and that for each one of your records from last year about 290 artefacts have been dug up by artefact hunters, with the ratio worsening daily. But we did
n’t base it on that. We assumed the right figure was lower. Hence the Counter is suggesting that for each one of your records from last year a mere 205 artefacts have been dug up by artefact hunters, with the ratio worsening daily.

So perhaps you could lay into English Heritage/CBA before you start demonising a group of concerned private citizens? You can praise PAS all you like and produce any number of Hidden Treasures programmes to that end but it won’t alter the fact that PAS is not providing adequate gain to balance out the massive knowledge loss and the longer it is represented as doing so the worse things get. If we weren’t dead right about that there would be PAS schemes all over the rest of the world by now instead of none.

So please just leave us alone to tell the public what we think as best we can and stop briefing against us and letting one of your staff use the coy phrase “vexatious blogging”.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


There have been calls for the Stonehenge summer solstice celebrations to be extended in both length and scope. The views of Amesbury Chamber of Commerce have been sought so we thought we’d express our own opinion. In principle we think it’s a great idea and it fits with some of our suggestions on how Stonehenge could be used, for instance an annual community carnival, a relaxed event with low key security and police presence.

However, we wouldn’t like any support for an event at the monument to be confused with supporting an extension to the time people are allowed inside the stones which is an entirely separate issue. Every year scores of the revellers clamber on the stones despite all efforts to dissuade them and we think that’s just plain wrong. We’ve always felt a reduction in the numbers allowed in is the answer but recent scientific research has provided another solution. It now seems almost certain that Stonehenge was built to view the winter solstice sunset from The Avenue and in addition that the summer solstice sunrise, if observed, would ALSO have been viewed from the Avenue or possibly from the other side but not from inside the stones.

So we support extending the celebrations providing there is no downside. Allowing tens of thousands to crowd inside the circle for even longer than now would certainly involve a big downside and a particularly unnecessary one now it has been shown it was not what the monument was built for. We hope that any support the people of Amesbury give to an expanded celebration would be on that same basis.

ARCH on the march
The more we hear about ARCH, the Alliance to Reduce Heritage Crime, the better it seems. The plan is simple – to create “an England-wide series of effective partnerships between organisations and communities to protect heritage” and that’s what is happening. Conferences and training events have been held and English Heritage has tons of guidance for all concerned on it’s website. We noticed that “Guidance for sentencers” is coming soon – how good is that?! (“Maximum is there to be occasionally used Your Honour”!) The campaign appears to have struck a big chord with the public. Awareness events have been held in many cities and the latest one in Lincolnshire has been extended. (Incidentally, at that one the museum is running a Fakes & Forgeries competition where you can win a truly, truly irresistible Sherlock Holmes teddy bear!)

Sheep’s clothing in Wales
The Pembrokeshire Prospectors are the poster boys of responsible detecting, so full of rules Mother Theresa would find it hard to get in and they’ve even just published a second book of their finds. But they have a dirty little secret: nowhere in their rules, constitution or code of conduct do they require Members to follow the official Code of Responsible Detecting or report their finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme! There’s only one explanation: they have Members that aren’t prepared to comply with the very practices that are supposed to distinguish responsible detectorists from the selfish remainder. What a scandal that Pembrokeshire landowners are being bamboozled in this way and that PAS doesn’t do it’s job by telling them.

(If PAS put up a web page warning farmers about this scam – which is hobby-wide with nearly every club doing the same – or if the Pembrokeshire Prospectors contact us saying they’ve made the necessary changes we’ll be happy to amend this article. What could be fairer?)

And in case you still can’t see an end to Winter…
Here’s a reminder of a bit of comfort we posted a couple of years ago

Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site



Greetings from New South Wales to all the friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage site. We thought you’d like to see our very own Stonehenge that we built in six weeks last Spring (we own an earth-moving company). We based it loosely upon the original with a 20m outer circle and a 10m inner circle.It’s not quite as old as yours (although the stones are) but we didn’t employ Druids to do it (like you didn’t) and we had the foresight to build it close to two busy highways, like you did. 

We have had a great deal of interest in the structure and have plans to open it up for events, starting with a coffee van for visitors to the site as well as a car park and toilets (so a similar facility to yours!) As you can see there are endless photo opportunities at sunrise/sunset and we will be taking wedding photo bookings for the site and have already celebrated Winter Solstice there.

Rob and Tracey Wallace,
992 Macs Reef Road,
New South Wales
(Corner of Macs Reef Road and Federal Highway)

[Note: We shall be publishing a fuller article on the henge that Rob and Tracey built shortly.]


This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to

For others in the series put postcards in the search box.


Quote obtained from Engravers World Ltd (with whom we have no connection whatsoever. Other suppliers are available!)

(The suggestion isn’t appropriate for London of course as EH will recommence there soon no doubt).


We took the picture at a rally for Polish detectorists near Luton. It was Crown Estate land so we wondered if the Queen had signed a finds agreement giving away all non-treasure items. It was never clarified, but “Geoman” who has experience of detecting on Crown land, has just raised a bigger issue: “All finds belong to the Crown Estates and it has to be agreed where these are to be deposited which is usually the local Museum via the FLO.” So did that happen at Luton? If so, can someone tell us which museum all the finds were sent to? Or did some of those jolly Polish rallynauts commit High Treason?


PS, why “High Treason”? Well, it was High Treason in 1671 when people tried to steal the Crown Jewels. One hid St Edward’s Crown under his coat and another stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers, behaviour that’s not unknown today. Why else would one of the few words detectorists have contributed to the language of Shakespeare be “wellying”, the illegal concealment of artefacts in one’s boots? 

Whether there was wellying at Luton or just plain pocketing-without-permission or neither is unclear, but Geoman’s remark does make one wonder – and depriving the Sovereign of shiny stuff is a step up from mere theft. Personally, I think ALL failure to report finds for the benefit of the rest of the country is an act of moral high treason. But that’s just me. The thousands who do exactly that every week are immune from prosecution or censure so don’t give a rats.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site


If World Heritage Sites could boast, Avebury’s road signs could now look like this!

Three cheers for it being judged second in the whole world by Which? Magazine’s expert panel on the basis of 25 criteria including the visitor experience, presentation and preservation of the site and the ability to learn from and engage with the site. The judges also commended it in particular for its quiet, rural setting in which visitors can wander freely among the stones.



This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to

For others in the series put postcards in the search box.

Further to our Resolutions for 2013, and ideas for getting out and about to experience and learn more about our prehistoric heritage, the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes regularly runs a large number of events, exhibitions and activities both for the general public and members of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society.


A full list of activities can be found on their website, but some upcoming events that caught our eye are listed below:

  • 23rd February: “Stonehenge: Results of New Research” a lecture by Professor Mike Parker Pearson, presenting the latest scientific results from laboratory analysis following a decade of fieldwork in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
  • 16th March: “Archaeology in Wiltshire” a one-day conference exploring recent archaeological work in Wiltshire, including developer-funded work, with a range of talks and sessions throughout the day.
  • 29th March-1st September “The Splendour of Stonehenge” an exhibition of pictures from the Museum’s art collection.
  • 13th April “The Romans who Shaped Britain” a lecture by Sam Moorhead of the British Museum. This lecture will look at the lives of the generals, governors and emperors – and those they sought to rule – occupying this western outcrop of Rome’s empire. The rich cast of characters includes men and women both noble and venal, courageous and craven. Some of them, such as Caesar and Boudica, may be familiar, other such as Carausius, Magnentius or Valentinus less so.

Prices and availability of all the above are varied, so it’s best to check with the museum before your visit.

If you plan to attend one or more of these events, why not drop us a line and let us know what you thought of them?

A guest post by Alan S.

Desecration is a powerful word. The Oxford Dictionary suggests two main meanings of the verb ‘to desecrate’ – to treat (a sacred place or thing) with violent disrespect, or to spoil (something which is valued or respected).

Imagine the scene: You visit a world-class, fragile, prehistoric monument after a period of continuous heavy rain. On arrival you find that the monument is standing in a sea of mud. Do you:

a) experience what you can of the atmosphere of the site, but cause no damage, or
b) let your family trample through the mud and climb all over the monument for a photo opportunity?

A clue to help: The first is respectful of the site, the second is desecration.

On New Year’s Day, as I was on holiday in Cornwall, I had decided to walk up to Boskednan Downs to take a look at the stock-proofing measures being implemented prior to allowing cattle to graze up there. I’ve documented this walk in the past, a walk which can be quite pleasant in summer. Unfortunately, as anyone who knows the area will attest, the pathway up onto the moors is often flooded, and such was the case on this occasion. Although I could have worked my way around the waterlogged path, I decided to abandon the walk, and headed back down to Men an Tol.

As I approached the monument, I could see an extended family (2 sets of parents, and 4 pre-teen children) laughing and joking around near the stones. As I got closer, they were taking turns sitting on the holed stone for photographs, and trying to clamber through the hole. Sadly, all fairly normal activities when the weather is fair.

In fact, so much so is this activity considered normal that early in 2012, CASPN felt that some remedial work was required as the ground below the holed stone was quite worn away. After the appropriate permissions were acquired (this is a Scheduled Ancient Monument after all), this work was undertaken by CASPN on behalf of the Historic Environment Service with volunteers spending significant time and effort in the Spring to fill in the worn area, which was also re-turfed and seeded. Sadly the turf did not ‘take’, but some improvement in the ground level was achieved, ensuring the stone was stabilised. (This remedial work is currently due to be monitored and continued for a period of three years.)

The Men an Tol, after remedial work to the ground level. Sadly, the turfing did not 'take'.

The Men an Tol, after remedial work to the ground level. Sadly, the turfing did not ‘take’.

Now 7 months later, and after consistently heavy rainfall for an extended period, which has caused nationwide flooding, this family had popped out during the holidays with the kids for a walk to a national monument before lunch. Unwittingly (and I can only hope they didn’t know what they were doing – the alternative truly is unthinkable!) their actions have caused further potential damage to the stones, if not immediately, then certainly by wearing away the ground level still further, in the fullness of time.

The remedial work destroyed, by rain and wellies!

The remedial work destroyed, by rain and wellies!

Being outnumbered 8-9/1 as I was, I decided discretion was the better part of valour on this occasion and decided not to approach them about their behaviour, but hung around looking unhappy and annoyed, thus hopefully curtailing their time at the site – which eventually happened. They made their way, noisily and happily back to the path and down to the road, seemingly oblivious to my disgruntlement.


So what can be done? CASPN have spent a large amount of money on signage such as the above at various sites throughout the area, explaining that the monuments deserve respect and that any damage should be reported immediately. This family were not the ‘group of local lads’ thought to be responsible for recent vandalism at the nearby Madron Well and Chapel – all the indications were that they were just your average ‘2.4 kids’ family. They seemed totally unaware that their actions could be in any way damaging to the monument rather than not caring one way or the other whether any damage was done. It was obvious from the state of the ground that the monument was potentially at risk – indeed, the path across the moor from the stile was sodden and very spongy underfoot, suggesting very little in the way of support for any upright structures. A series of questions thus present themselves:

  • Did they know of the history of the site?
  • Did they read or even notice the sign by the stile?
  • What additional measures are needed to make people aware?
  • Would outreach sessions in local schools help the youths of the area gain some knowledge and pride in the (pre)history and heritage of the area where they live?

Of course, in this particular circumstance, one family tramping through the mud pales into insignificance given recent decisions made concerning grazing on the moor. I mentioned above the measures being taken to stock-proof the moor. If the plans to graze go ahead – and all current signs are that they will – then there will be large cattle not only trampling around the stones, but also using them as rubbing posts! A similar scheme has been implemented on Carnyorth Common and the stones of the Tregeseal Circle there have been damaged, loosened and toppled by the cattle at least thirteen times since the scheme’s implementation four years ago. For more details of the grazing scheme, and the campaign to stop it, see the Save Penwith Moors campaign website or Facebook page.

Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site



The last black bear to live on Salisbury Plain was a female, lived to the age of twenty, had a varied diet and would have liked Woodhenge as she enjoyed climbing poles. This bear travelled to Stonehenge in the lead up to Christmas one year, passing close by the stones on the route we have known as the A344. That this journey was in a car is not even the most outstanding aspect of this story, because a decade on this bear would become the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh.

This story begins with the outbreak of the Great War, and an English born vet that enlisted in the Canadian army and purchased a bear cub in Ontario from a hunter who had slaughtered the cub’s mother. Lieutenant Harry Colebourn (above) named the bear Winnie, after Winnipeg, his adopted home town, the pair then travelling to Britain with Winnie becoming the regimental mascot to the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade. Arriving on Salisbury Plain on 18 October 1914, the soldiers would write of some of the mud and the worst wintry conditions remembered, but Winnie nonetheless enjoyed climbing the central pole of the tent. With a pressing appointment in France looming, Harry borrowed a car to drive Winnie past Stonehenge and on to London Zoo on 9 December 1914. It was there, frequently visited by A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin, that the last black bear to live on Salisbury Plain would become a legend with the publication of the Winnie the Pooh stories in 1926.

Winnie the Pooh visited Stonehenge – fancy that!


Reading: Fred Colebourn, Harry Colebourn and Winnie-the-Bear (Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives, 1988). Val Shushkewich, The Real Winnie: A One-of-a-Kind Bear (Toronto, 2003).


This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to

For others in the series put postcards in the search box.


January 2013

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,808 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: