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by Sandy Gerrard
In March last year 18 questions relating to the archaeological situation on Mynydd y Betws were asked. During May the answers provided by Cadw were published here. I also asked my local Assembly member (Mr Rhodri Glyn Thomas) to ask the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the same questions and he kindly did this on my behalf. Having had no response in October I asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a copy of the DAT response and this was passed to both Mr Thomas and myself shortly afterwards. A commentary on the DAT response was then produced and sent to Carmarthenshire County Council. This series of articles present DAT’s responses in black and my own comments upon them in green. See part 1 of the series here.
GENERAL POINTS (continued)
In terms of the planning responses made by this Trust it is important to remember that the stone alignment, which is at the heart of Dr and Mrs Gerrard’s concerns, was not discovered until early January 2012. The original field work was carried out much earlier.
This recent discovery was only achieved because of mountain fires the previous summer and we are certain that the stone alignment, buried in tall heather and vegetation, would not have been discovered earlier if it had not been exposed by fire.
This issue is central to the whole debate. I believe that once planning permission had been granted the substantial area highlighted for destruction should have been looked at thoroughly and to do this vegetation that was going to be lost anyway should have either been cut or carefully burnt. This would have provided both archaeological and ecological benefits. The area could have been checked for “hidden” archaeology and the resultant fire-break could have represented the start of more positive management of the heather in the area. Instead no search was conducted of an area which was about to be destroyed and which both the Trust and Cadw had previously described as archaeologically important. Whether the stone alignment is prehistoric or not is not the main issue. The main issue is that no attempt was made to locate or record archaeological remains of ANY date in advance of a permitted development.
It is wholly wrong of Dr and Mrs Gerrard to criticise many other field archaeologists from a number of organisations for failing to make this discovery in the prevailing circumstances of dense vegetation cover. By January 2012 the stone alignment was very clear in a charred landscape and would have been easily observed by anyone walking in the area.
I am not aware that I have criticised anyone for failing to see the stone alignment in the “dense vegetation”. I have challenged the evidence for the hill being covered in dense vegetation as photographs taken at the time indicate a mosaic of different vegetation conditions. I have also asked on several occasions why a proper search was not conducted. My criticism is that nobody looked for or was asked to look for earthworks in these areas. Is dense vegetation seen as a valid excuse for not conducting a thorough search of areas about to be destroyed? Why is it wrong to criticise when such work was clearly not done? To do such work in future would mean more employment for fellow archaeologists and ensure such mistakes do NOT re-occur. If as fellow professionals it is wholly wrong to criticise how will understanding ever progress? Academically in ALL fields of research criticism of currently widely accepted views has shown they are often inaccurate. This comment is therefore blatantly insulting and shows scant regard for an understanding of how knowledge is obtained. Also to then add ‘anyone’ walking in the area would have spotted it after burning is clearly intended as a put down, but actually reinforces the main point I have been making from the start. If they had removed the vegetation obscuring the archaeology then indeed according to DAT it could have been spotted by “anyone”, but instead they choose to “sign off” the area without a proper examination simply because it happened to be covered in dense vegetation on the day allocated for the fieldwork. This is what is wholly wrong. Just because they didn’t bother to look for archaeology in the areas covered in dense vegetation, does not give them an excuse to treat with contempt those who did make the effort to have a look and honestly report their findings before it was too late. The fencing contractors and other operatives also failed to notice it, but of course anybody could….
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