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Central Searchers’ Summer Rally is expanding. This year, 500 people over 3 days, grossing nearly £30,000. Yet sadly, although FLOs will attend, there’s still no rule saying people must show finds to them. But then, it would be ticklish in view of Rule 11 which says anything worth less than £2,000 belongs 100% to the detectorist. Nice. But since it’s the detectorist who decides if it is or isn’t worth less than £2000 it would be awkward, shall we say, if he was told he must expose it to the public gaze. Or that of the farmer.

Now let’s not talk in code, Dear Reader. We all know that rule isn’t there by accident and that the only people who would find it useful are the acquisitive and the dodgy, not lovers of history. Yet there it is, bold as brass, on full and insolent display, with no-one saying a word against it. Certainly not the four FLOs that attended the event last year, And not supposedly rational detectorist John Winter (who attends and praises these rallies and has given them a glowing write-up in The Searcher). So there we are, something bad for heritage knowledge and bad for the landowner is happening and no-one is saying a word. Still, in the immortal words of “Barry Thugwit” uttered at the Near Avebury Rally eight years ago, it’s legal, innit?and that no doubt is the very excuse the Portable Antiquities Scheme would cite in defence of their silence, even though it’s no excuse at all.

Finds Liaison Officer “outreaching” at the Central Searchers Rally. No prizes for guessing what sort of expression lies under the mask! How did Britain get into this embarrassing position?

Finds Liaison Officer delivering “outreach with an enigmatic smile” at the Central Searchers Rally. But is she REALLY smiling? And what does she really think? And what would it do for her employment status if she said? And how did Britain get into this embarrassing, indefensible position? Do the Public realise such state-supported events only happen here, not elsewhere, not even in the least developed, corruption-ridden Third World countries?

Update: We are very sorry about this article. See our apology here.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


We continue Heritage Action member Sue Brooke’s story concerning Caerau Hillfort in Wales.  New readers should start at Part 1 or see the previous installments and get up to date.

Becoming drawn into research in any area leads you to forming a bit of an attachment to it. As you work your way through pages of books or you trawl the internet for information you begin to find other info, not particularly relevant to this bit of work but interesting nonetheless as it is related in some way. You begin to find out about the houses, where they were, who lived in them and who got taxed on them. Gaps in knowledge are filled.

When you are out and about you see things with new eyes. You also see things like damage, by kids or vandals or, sometimes by organisations who really should know better. So, Mrs Angry developed as a way of highlighting damage and trying to get something done about it. Some things have gone on for so long that it’s really difficult to do anything about it. Doesn’t mean you can’t try though.

The old church of St. Mary’s has been a target since the Reformation. If you recall I myself used to use the area to get out and about with my mates, resulting in being given that uncomfortable lift back in a nice Mini with a little blue light on top. More recently there has been graffiti, litter and associated damage. Locals get to know you and point out things you may have missed. A Facebook page was one of the best early ways of doing this but I was a little dismayed when some young people sent me photos they thought I’d like, taken at midnight on Halloween! So, damage to graves or the main fabric of the church remains gets reported to the responsible authority – quickly. After a while they kind of get used to you and you form a sort of alliance.

Damage to the wall of St. Mary’s Church

Damage to the wall of St. Mary’s Church

Working with the young people meant they began to know what the area was and what it meant and they began to take responsibility for it. Their parents and carers came along and they too got interested. The church was the focus of all this so meanwhile the field with its cow poo and very bitey flies remained largely ignored. The people who sat around my dining table during our planning meetings knew from my excitable ramblings that I believed the area, from my research, to be at least an Iron Age hillfort. The professionals I had worked with in CADW had been really helpful to me, not only in supporting my work but helping me answer such questions as was it OK to have a barbecue in the church grounds (always best to ask first!).

I had met the landowner – Ralph David – he was really supportive of what we were trying to do as obviously the vandalism affected him too. It was interesting for me to meet Ralph as, during my research I had found that his family had been the longest enduring family since written records began. Meeting Ralph was also a huge step forward as he gave his blessing to me and Mr B trampling around his land picking up random bits of china and pottery.

I had met with a CADW inspector Jon Berry, at the site one very rainy day and he walked with me – pointing out the bits I had missed. He was really interested and interesting and he was even kind enough to assist me back down the rain soaked muddy hill, thus saving me from completing the journey down on my bum, in an unladylike manner. The point being we started to know each other, who we were and what part we played.

The walk up to the hillfort

The walk up to the hillfort

So, being Mrs Angry in a nice way meant I got known and, being angry in a nice way meant I got taken seriously.

The work I was doing began to become more formalised with the intention of running something I called the Caerau Local History Project. This was an idea I had in order to share the information I had found that wasn’t relevant to my on-going research but was valuable nonetheless. This written work was now at around draft nine, having taken four or five years to get to this point. So I bought a small web-site package and loaded up stuff like Hearth Tax lists, census information on families, photos, such as that of the quarryman’s wife below and generally more about how Caerau had, I believe, developed since early medieval times.

Wife of a Caerau quarryman. Image reproduced with kind permission of the family

Wife of a Caerau quarryman. Image reproduced with kind permission of the family

So I began to promote this with little cards bearing the web address (which has now expired) and also contact details so that I could answer questions or, better, update with more information if people had it and were willing to share it. I started to get requests on information relating to individuals in the area. People started to tell me stories such as the Whitsun treats in the church grounds, weddings and related information like this. I loved it. This meant anything I found on the way to discovering more about the area in Iron Age times could also be used.

Then I got a rather odd email from someone who wanted to talk about the hillfort site. They were looking at some kind of academic project and had been given my details from CADW. It was a bit of a surprise that my best kept secret (I thought) was now to be the subject of some grown-up discussion.

OK – let’s meet.

The story will continue in the next installment, coming soon…

Another in our occasional series where we peek Inside the Mind of an archaeology heritage professional. This time round it’s the turn of Keith Parfitt of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. 

Brief Bio:

Keith’s archaeology career began whilst still at school in Dover in 1972, working on the Market Street site, then under excavation by the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit. Returning home in 1978 after obtaining an honours degree in British Archaeology at University College, Cardiff, he joined Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit on a full time basis until he joined the Canterbury Archaeological Trust in 1990.

Significant digs include the line of the new A20 which culminated in the discovery of the Bronze Age Boat in 1992; the Buckland Anglo-Saxon cemetery in 1994, the medieval site off Townwall Street in 1996; Ringlemere the gold cup site, 2001 and ongoing; and Folkestone Roman villa 2010-2011.

Running parallel with this career, Keith has also been involved with the amateur Dover Archaeological Group. Founded in 1971, before there were any professional units doing rescue work in the county, he has been Director of Excavations for the Group since 1978, and much of his spare time is now devoted to writing-up sites.

He was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in May 2000.


The Ten Questions:

What sparked your interest in Archaeology?

Not sure, but it was before I went to primary school.

How did you get started?

Joined a new amateur archaeology group just starting in Dover (December 1971) – I now direct it.

Who has most influenced your career?

Pitt-River, Mortimer Wheeler (through their writings); Brian Philp (on site when I was young digger).

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

Dover Bronze Age Boat, Sept 1992.

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

I have many – but I suppose it needs to be Richborough – a key site in Romano-British archaeology and very near home. And, if I am allowed a second site, Dover Castle because I see it everyday and its a ‘proper’ castle.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

All those important sites lost without record in pre-PPG 16 days, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. Important excavated sites that will never be published (for whatever reason).

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

Extend it to non-Scheduled sites. Maybe we need a list of sites of County importance?

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

Try to understand that ‘Heritage’ is not just about the built heritage – its the below ground stuff as well. The significance of the buried archaeology so often tends to be ignored/overlooked at Government level – I think, because no one really understands (excluding APPAG of course, who seem to be trying). Compare the legal protection given to bats and lizards with that given to non-Scheduled ancient monuments.

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

Difficult to gauge – nothing of any great note, I suspect. Maybe something in the building industry.

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

A combination of visiting archaeological sites and country pubs.

Many thanks to Keith for taking part and providing his answers. Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind of’.

If you work in community archaeology and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

And so we come to the last part of our review of the Current Archaeology Live  conference, held earlier this month in London’s Senate House.

The after-lunch session is usually regarded as a bit of a ‘graveyard shift’ (a wrong choice of words possibly, given the subject matter of many of this year’s talks), but everyone was attentive on return from lunch on the second day for what was possibly the most keenly anticipated talk by many of the whole conference.

Session 7. From Medieval to Early Modern

Richard Buckley, fresh from having been presented the award for Research Project of the Year the previous evening, took a spellbound audience through “Leicester’s Greyfriars and the Search for Richard III“,  a subject that by now doubtless needs little introduction or review, having been the subject of several TV and radio programs, and multitudinous magazine and web articles. Richard’s now famous quote at the start of the dig, “I’ll eat my hat if we find Richard III” symbolised the fact that the actual hope of finding him was a very long shot. The initial appeal of the opportunity to dig at Greyfriars was the chance to survey the lost friary. To set context, Richard gave a timeline of Richard III’s movements, leading up to the Battle of Bosworth and discussed the sources of detail about his grisly end. Looking at maps of the Greyfriars area, only 14% of the site was undeveloped and potentially available for excavation, and two overlapping trenches were decided upon. Bones were uncovered within the first 5m of trench 1, but covered over again until the location and orientation of the church could be identified. A third trench identified the choir, and the bones were further investigated. Curvature of the spine was a strong clue, and RC14 dating was close to the required date. Skeletal details showed a slight build, of immediately indeterminate gender, but wounds (fatal and non-fatal) which matched the historical sources. Due process was followed, and DNA matching with two identified descendants took identification to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ level. Cue hat-eating activities!

You had to feel a little sorry for Heather Knight, up next to tell us about the Curtain Playhouse  in London, having to follow such a stunning tale. But she started by comparing today’s Shoreditch, a hotbed of art and creativity, with the same area in Shakespeare’s time. All performance was banned in the City of London in the 16th century, and as ever, space was at a premium within the walls hence the theatres on the outskirts: “the original ‘fringe theatres'”. Heather gave some background to the style of Elizabethan theatres and their construction and usage. It’s possible that the Curtain, sister/overflow venue for the nearby The Theatre, saw the first performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V in 1599 – the “wooden ‘O'” mentioned in the Prologue. Whilst the rough location of the Curtain was known – even today the road is called Curtain Road – all physical traces were thought to have vanished. But when the area was marked for development, the archaeologists moved in. The first discovery was 19C cobbles – a good sign as this meant no 19C basements! They then found asymmetric load bearing walls, indicating a round building some 22m across – typical Playhouse style. Also uncovered within the narrow trench was a floor made of sheep bones. Apparently common and hard-wearing. Much of the archaeology is 2.5m below current ground level, so it is hoped more is preserved in situ below the Horse and Groom pub for future archaeologists to investigate further.

Sheepbone flooring, © MOLA

Sheepbone flooring, © MOLA

To close off this session, Pieta Greaves told us a little about her role as a Conservator on the Staffordshire Hoard, with some stunning closeup photographs of the intricate designs. Sadly, as the hoard was discovered by a Metal Detectorist, there were absolutely no clues as to it’s context, just some 205 bags of gold, silver and glass pieces. Many of the pieces were so brittle that thorns were used to clean them, rather than the more usual cocktail sticks or scalpels, to avoid damaging the fragile surfaces of the gold. It is hoped that chemical analysis of the alloys and adhesives may help identify a workshop for some of the pieces, and thus provide some context but there are too many outstanding questions, and of course, pieces are still being illegally removed up from the original site, (as we highlighted recently)  which police are aware of and are investigating.

After a short question time for the session, a tea break was more than welcome before the final session of the conference.

Session 8. Operation Nightingale: Injured soldiers on the road to recovery.

Surgeon Commodore Peter Buxton introduced a short film about Operation Nightingale (ON) excavations at Caerwent and explained that the project uses archaeological fieldwork to help the recovery of wounded servicemen returning from Afghanistan. Phil Harding (CA Archaeologist of the Year) is Honorary President but Peter explained with a smile that “rumours I told the soldiers to vote for him are untrue!” He went on to explain that many MOD sites (10 World heritage Sites, 800 listed buildings, 734 Scheduled Ancient Monuments in their care) are so well protected that they contain some amazing archaeology. Many of the soldiers involved in ON have moved on to study archaeology on a full-time basis as a result of the project. The first dig for the project was Chissenbury Midden, a 3m deep Bronze Age deposit threatened by badgers. Examining the throw resulted in up to 25kg of pottery sherds, without any excavation (“the post-ex costs would have bankrupted us!”). The success of the project was summed up in the example of a soldier, mute for 4 months following injury, who started speaking whilst sorting pottery on the project. It was explained that many soldiers’ injuries, mental or physical, may not necessarily be ‘visible’ injuries but all must be rehabilitated in their own ways. Whilst the focus is on the healing process, some good archaeological work is also being done by the unit; Caerwent Roman villa and Barrow Clump Saxon cemetery (featured in a Time Team Special)  were honorable mentions here. One questioner asked “are results published, or is it a military secret?” The reply was that work will be published as it’s all part of the archaeology.

But all too soon, it was time for closing comments from both Matthew Symonds, CA editor and Andrew Selkirk, editor in chief and founder of the magazine. And that was it for another year.

There were some trips organised to visit the St Mary Spital Charnel House and also the Billingsgate Bathhouse on the Sunday, but I didn’t attend these, so cannot report on them here.

Was the conference a success? Judging from the increase in attendance figures from last year, and the reactions on Twitter and Facebook I’d have to say positively yes, and I personally am already looking forward to next year’s event, although whether the Senate House will be large enough is open to debate. Book early to avoid disappointment, as they say…

Current Archaeology Live  is an event hosted annually by Current Archaeology magazine since 2008, and incorporating the Current Archaeology Awards. Again, as last year, I attended and live-tweeted the event.

After a full first day, attendees arriving at Senate House found the entrance they had been told to use for Day Two was off limits – the Muppets were filming in the building for the day! So a quick leg stretch was required to circumnavigate the building to an alternate entrance. Despite this, the conference timetable was adhered to – kudos to the organisers.

Session 5. The Making of Medieval England
After a recap of last year’s award winners, Duncan Sayer started the day, taking us through Anglo-Saxon Oakington,  northernmost of a cluster of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in Cambridgeshire.  Analysis of the graves showed no patterning according to age or gender, but there were lots of children interred. One couple buried together were shown – she was much the taller of the two, so much so that her knees were bent to fit her into the grave cut. However, analysis of finds showed a pattern of clusters of long and round brooches, suggesting two separate plots. Amusingly, two horse burials were uncovered, until one was found to have horns! A woman buried with a cow was a first.

Alexandra Knox then took us through the recent excavations at Lyminge in Kent, site of an Anglo-Saxon Timber Hall. A monastic abbey site, previous excavations have identified two distinct phases of occupation in the area, with no overlap. Evidence from excavated Sunken Floored Buildings (SFBs) shows that the area was important prior to the estalishment of the abbey there. The big find of the 2012 season though was the Great Hall, of double plank in trench construction and preliminarily dated to around AD600. Christianisation of the area is reflected in both the settlement shift and the diet – from mostly pigs to mainly sheep/goat, though over 10000 fish bones have been uncovered, some 10 miles from the (then) coast. Other finds have identified Middle Saxon Lyminge as a centre of production. Textiles, metalworking, bone working etc.

Finally for this session, Neil Faulkner returned to the stage, taking as his subject ‘Monarchy, Church and Great Estate, the making and remaking of an Anglo-Saxon village’ – Sedgeford.  Neil made the point that while with Roman sites it’s easy to identify their function: town, fort, villa etc., no such typology exists for Anglo-Saxon sites. What is a monastery, what does a manor look like? He then discussed how far the social structures described in Anglo-Saxon written sources can be seen in archaeology. Sedgeford is a long term investigation of settlement and land use, for instance: Middle A-S Sedgeford is mainly located south of the river, with Medieval Sedgford to the north. Why the move? Many questions still unanswered, though the impact of the creation of petty kingdoms etc. needs to be considered – dynamism of society reflected in the archaeology?

After such a thoughtful talk to close the session, it was time for a coffee break and more browsing round the Fair stalls looking for some bargains.

Session 6. A Tale of Two Cities: Pompeii and Herculaneum
The World Archaeology session returned to Roman matters with three talks covering “two ordinary towns with a spectacular end”. Paul Roberts of the British Museum was up first to introduce the upcoming exhibition on the two cities, “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”, which promises to ‘provide vivid insights into ordinary Roman life’. Pompeii had a population of between 12-15000, Herculaneum was smaller. Up to 50% of the population of Herculaneum were of slave origin. The exhibition focuses on the home; for instance,  a fresco of a baker and his wife was shown where she holds a stylus and tablet appears to show her doing the accounts for the family business. Many other images were shown in a slide show, including how a large mosaic had to be tilted to fit through the doors of the museum for the exhibition, and a bronze statue of Empress Livia squeezed through with just 2cm to spare. Tricky stuff. The exhibition reminds us that the artefacts aren’t just objects, they were someone’s possessions, like the carbonised baby’s wooden cradle, and the carbonised table that also appears in a wall fresco.

Carbonised crib from herculaneum, Cradle picture © Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei

Carbonised crib from Herculaneum, © Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill then guided us through Herculaneum, where just 5 hectares have been excavated to date, about a tenth of the area dug so far at Pompeii. Although both cities were wiped out by the volcanic eruption, there were doomed in different ways. Pompeii was suffocated by the initial ash, but Herculaneum was covered by the pyroclastic flows. Different ends, different effects (the organic material was preserved much better in Herculaneum), and different excavation methods are required for a total of ‘450 million truckloads’ of material covering the two cities. In Pompeii, pumice pebbles can be excavated, but Herculaneum is covered in solid rock. Much more difficult to excavate! But Herculaneum is in decline through neglect – hence the Herculaneum Conservation Project,  but water management is a big problem, with regular flooding so reconstructing the drains is important as the Romans knew how to keep their city dry.

Sarah Court then took to the stage, all the way from Italy, to tell us more about the outreach aspects of the  Conservation Project. The excavations initially created generations of local employment, but the area around Herculaneum is now very poor with high unemployment and very little tourism so far. The Project is involving the local community again, giving them a sense of pride and ownership in an area that could again be engulfed by another eruption at any time! Many locals feel that tourism is the only hope for their town, and local schoolchildren are being used as ‘ambassadors’, in a ‘peer learning’ scheme.

The session was closed with a Q&A section, where debate centred around the possible ‘Disneyfication’ of the area and moves to prevent this happening whilst still providing a sustainable future for the region. After which, the conference broke off for lunch before the final sessions of the two day event…

To Be Continued.

We continue our review of this year’s Current Archaeology Live conference, held on March 1-2 at Senate House, in London.

After a pleasant lunch in the cafe in the park at Russell Square, I returned to the melee at the Archaeology Fair. The second-hand bookstall was proving popular, as were all the other stalls ranged around the room. But all too soon the bell summoned us back to the lecture room for the afternoon sessions.

CA Banner

Session 3. Researching Roman Britain
Now, I’m far from being a Romanist – it’s all far too modern for me! – but I found much of interest in this session. Are those damn Romans assimilating me into their empire? Matt Symonds was certainly in raptures during this session!

First up was Keith Parfitt, from Canterbury Archaeology Trust, to tell us about a Rescue Dig at Folkestone Villa.  The villa was first excavated by Winbolt in the 1920’s and last dug in 1957 when it was backfilled. The site is now in danger from coastal erosion – where it was recorded as far as 200 feet from the cliff edge, parts are no more than 8 feet from the edge! As Keith said, “cliffs don’t crumble, they go in chunks”, so the next collapse will likely take some of the villa with it. It’s possible the villa may once have been a trading post, as much as half-a mile inland. There have been some fascinating finds, both at the site and at the bottom of the cliff on the shoreline below, including a beautiful Iron Age gold coin – a photo of which drew gasps from the audience, and a lovely signet ring gem, found trodden into the gravel in the yard of the villa.

Andrew Birley then attempted to summarise 5 years work at Vindolanda in 25 minutes… Vindolanda contains a long sequence of forts on a single site – as many as 11 – with other forts nearby too, so an impossible task to fit it all in, but he made a brave attempt. The last 5 years have concentrated on the 3rd century site, where two pieces of painted glass, excavated in different areas of the site were found to fit together perfectly. Amazing stuff. Many of the finds at Vindolanda are so well preserved because of its isolation – there were no medieval settlements here to rob out the stone, although some Saxon strap ends built into the fabric of the wall indicate the length of the occupation. One sombre find was the grave of a murdered Roman child, born in North Africa and buried under the garrison floor. Among other finds have been some pieces matching parts of the Crosby Garrett helmet – suggesting mass-production of components?

To finish the session, Ian Haynes told us about recent work at Maryport, Cumbria.  In particular looking at new ideas about the largest collection of Roman altars in Britain and a reappraisal of the 1870 pit discoveries. It is now felt that the altars were not ritually buried as originally thought, but may have been used to support the timber posts of later buildings.

Session 4. Keynote Speaker

After a tea break, Neil Faulkner introduced the Keynote Speaker, Martin Carver (who has previously featured in our Inside the Mind series). Martin’s talk, entitled ‘Around the World with a Pointed Trowel’ took us on a whirlwind tour of archaeological digs in different countries: Turkey, Senegal, Sweden, Iceland, Cambodia, Japan etc. showing that different terrains can’t be excavated by standard means and techniques. Each site has unique problems to overcome, such as the comparison of excavation techniques used for permafrost versus a jungle terrain or the use of ‘CSI archaeology’ to analyse chemical properties of soil to identify the usage of different parts of a site. Moving on to talk about the social context and problems of looting, local communities need to feel important to value their heritage and stop looting. Closing thoughts from Martin Carver: every site has its own personality. ‘Design, not dogma, is what makes archaeology happen,’ and ‘Local archaeological societies are local experts and must be included in archaeology design’.

After a short break, during which everyone decanted into the Fair hall, it was time for the awards. Firstly the World Archaeology Photo of the Year winner was announced: Sophie Hay was the worthy winner.

Then a special award, The Royal Archaeological Institute presented a special award for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, for the best report on archaeological achievements in the last 60 years. The worthy winners were Cornwall Archaeological Society, for their work at Carn Brea.

The Current Archaeology Awards, voted for by the magazine readership were then presented. The winners were as follows:

  • Book of the Year: Roman Camps in Britain, by Rebecca Jones
  • Rescue Dig of the Year: Folkstone: Roman Villa or Iron Age oppidum?
  • Research Project of the year: Richard III: The search for the last Plantagenet king.
  • Archaeologist of the Year: Phil Harding

The awards were in the form of flint arrowheads, which particularly pleased that well known knapper, Phil Harding

Phil Harding, can't believe his luck!

Phil Harding, can’t believe his luck!

The worthy winners , from l: Phil Harding, Richard Buckley (King Richard III), Keith Parfitt (Folkstone), Rebecca Jones.

The worthy winners , from l: Phil Harding, Richard Buckley (King Richard III), Keith Parfitt (Folkstone), Rebecca Jones.

And that was that. Drinks and nibbles were accompanied by some wonderful medieval music by Duo Parva Antiqua as the first day of the conference came to a close. Back tomorrow for more!

To Be Continued.

Current Archaeology Live is an event hosted annually by Current Archaeology magazine since 2008, and incorporating the Current Archaeology Awards. Once again, this year’s event was held in the prestigious Senate House building in London, reputed to be one of the inspirations for Orwell’s ‘1984’ from his time working here. I was fortunate to be invited along once again this year to ‘live tweet’ the event across the two days.

Senate House - Wikimedia Commons

Senate House – Wikimedia Commons

As previously, the format across the two days was roughly chronological, kicking off with the Prehistoric, moving through Roman and Medieval sessions up to Early Modern, with sessions on Rescue Archaeology and World Archaeology thrown in for good measure.


Matthew Symonds and Julian Richards

Session 1. In Search of the Prehistoric
Matt Symonds gave the customary Health and Safety speech after welcoming everyone, and introduced Julian Richards of Meet the Ancestors infamy, which as he said “was a very long time ago now”. Julian then passed the stage to Nick Card who told the audience all about the ongoing excavations on the Ness of Brodgar, including spectacular geofizz results, and Aerial-Cam photos of the site. It seems, even where test pits were dug away from any known anomalies  archaeology was still present! Radio-carbon dated to around the same age as Stonehenge, some of the structures have been very impressively preserved – walls up to 1m high still complete, and a boundary wall that was over 6m thick in places – wider than Hadrian’s wall some three millennia later!

The second speaker was from an excavation in complete contrast: Mark Knight told us about the ‘deep space archaeology’ at Must Farm, in Cambridgeshire. The excavation of this largely Bronze Age site is taking place several metres below the current sea level, near to Flag Fen. Unlike Orkney, there is no stone here, but several log boats have been found, perfectly preserved in the anaerobic sediments. Whilst previous Fenland archaeology has concentrated on the relatively ‘high’ ground in what is essentially a flat area today, extraction of clay for brick-making has allowed a view of the previous, earlier topology, and this is now being investigated. Tracking the beds of old rivers, wattle and stake fence lines have been found, with thousands of animal hoof prints preserved in the mud alongside. Fish traps and spears with metal blades have been among the finds here, along with a total of nine log boats so far, from just a 250m section of old watercourse. In fact, the scale of varied, well preserved finds, including evidence of repair work on traps, fences and boats suggests that this use is typical along the length of the old watercourse, and not just a fluke.

To finish off the prehistoric session, Niall Sharples of Cardiff University spoke of his experiences at the recent excavations at Ham Hill, ‘the largest hillfort in Britain’. Ham Hill is four times the size of Maiden Castle, at 88ha., but little is known so far of its chronology. Much of the hill has been quarried away (starting with the Romans), or wooded, but part of the northern ramparts have been excavated, and show a possible neolithic origin with flint rubble. Much Bronze Age metalwork was found, suggesting consolidation work on a pre-existing ‘important place’, later with massive 3-phase expansion in the Iron Age. Looking at the possible population, a total of 54 grain storage pits have been found, estimates put the total occupancy at around the 1500 mark. The summer of 2013 will see the last season of excavations for now.

A coffee break allowed the first glimpse of the ‘Archaeology Fair’ – a series of stalls affording an opportunity to purchase a selection of books, archaeology-related jewelry and  tools, and to speak to various providers of archaeological services. The Fair proved to be very popular over the two days.

Session 2. Rescuing the Past
This session included three talks about rescue digs, in London, Ipswich and Ireland. First up was Don Walker talking about the finds at St Mary Spital, in London, a cemetery site of mass fatalities in use between 1120 and 1539. Expecting to find around 4000 skeletons, almost 11000 were excavated, and the final total may have been as high as 18000. The cemetery included 143 mass graves, where the bodies had been interred neatly, not just thrown in. Examination of the bones showed two main phases of mass burial. Lack of trauma and radiocarbon dating ruled out battle casualties and the Black Death. One possible cause is a starvation event, which leaves little conclusive evidence in the bones. Historical sources record odd weather patterns and pestilence in the mid 13th century – harvest failure causing starvation? There is evidence for a volcanic eruption around this time bringing climate change.

Next up were Richard Brown and Andy Shelley, to tell us about the excavations at Stoke Quay in Ipswich – a 25 week excavation and post-ex fully supported by the developers. Stoke Quay is south of the Orwell, and medieval Ipswich was mainly to the north, so Stoke Quay could be considered as suburban. Most previous excavations in Ipswich (over a 30 year period) have been to the north of the river, so this waas a good opportunity. What was found was not only a Saxon cemetery with over 1100 bodies, but also a much earlier barrow cemetery too – a possible ‘burial landscape’, “similar to nearby Sutton Hoo, but without the riches”. Low value grave goods were found, including Seax and wooden staffs, over 100 boxes of pottery fragments and more than 500 boxes of animal bones. The excavation has provided an ongoing research potential for the evolution of Ipswich and study of burial rites across a wide period.

Finally, leading into lunch, Ronan Swan from the Irish National Road Scheme (NRA) spoke about the archaeological investigations carried out by the unit. With a vast range of over 15000 sites in the country, the three main approaches are preservation by avoidance, preservation in situ, or by record. Which is useed is determined by a host of varied factors. In the last 20 years, the Irish road system has expanded dramatically, and this has offered many archaeological opportunities. As it’s so difficult to avoid sites in Ireland, archaeologists were included in the road design teams. A quick slide tour of four sites was given, showing the range involved: Mesolithic fish traps found below Neolithic burnt mounds in Neath, Edercloon, Co Longford found wooden trackways in use from the Neolithic through to the Iron Age, Mitchelstown in Cork uncovered Bronze Age pottery, and Johnstown in Meath, a multi-period site with burials from the late Iron Age through the medieval period. In a nice ‘show and tell’, a model of a Mitchelstown pot with an odd face on it was passed around the audience. The model had been produced using a 3D printer, and a cast of the pot was also available to view.

Mitchelstown Pot

The Show and Tell brought the morning sessions to an end, and we broke for lunch after Matt had thanked the morning’s speakers, and cracked an awful joke about the pot being the original ‘ugly mug’!

To Be Continued…

Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site

Stonehenge by Henry Mark Anthony (1817-1886)

Stonehenge by Henry Mark Anthony, 1817-1886

So far as I can recall I managed to live more than fifty years without really hearing of Avebury. Well, apart from a small black-and-white photo I saw of it when I was about eight in the tattered volume of “1001 Wonderful Things” that served as our version of television in those days – and for some reason I assumed the stones were only about a foot tall so I instantly dismissed them from my thoughts. As for Silbury, I definitely hadn’t heard of that.

Wind forward to the first day of the twenty first century and I’m driving west on the A4 from Marlborough with a friend, exploring. We go round a bend and up pops Silbury right in front of us. “What the hell is that?” were my very first words on the subject of British prehistory. If you’re going to start, you might as well start like that. I was amazed – like all who first travel along that route, including the Romans no doubt.

Later we drove on for our very first visit to Stonehenge. We were shocked rigid by the adjacent squalid visitor centre – so much so (and it was maybe a bit childish and out of character for a couple of otherwise respectable fifty somethings) that we went away and returned with two large placards asking people to write to their MP or Congressman about the state of things! We were chucked out of the car park and had to risk all by standing in the busy road but everyone seemed to agree with us.

But now, thirteen years later things are about to change. The road we were told to stand in will soon be gone and much else will change for the better. Restoring Stonehenge to something closer to “splendid isolation” has to be one of the best things ever achieved in the name of heritage. I’m so glad it’s happening in “my” time.

N Swift.


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.

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.


7. Why was no evaluation trench placed across the three cairn-like features between Evaluation Trenches 38 and 39?

This area was subject to an archaeological examination which demonstrated that the stone features were the eroded remains of natural bedrock and are not archaeological in origin.

I await the results of this work with interest. I was surprised that it did not form part of the Preliminary Statement. At least the remaining two features will be available for comparative study. My main point is why were these features not examined as part of the initial mitigation exercise? They were not in area of heather, were very close to two previous interventions and were obvious anomalies.

8. Why was the bank with associated ditch near to Evaluation Trench 40 not examined?

The trench location had been agreed between Cotswold Archaeology and the Trust in order to examine peat deposits.

This response does not answer the question. This historic bank and ditch has clearly been truncated by the development and yet no work was conducted to provide information on its character and date.

Length of historic bank and ditch destroyed without record

Length of historic bank and ditch destroyed without record

9. Why after the discovery of the stone row and a request for a full survey to be conducted was this not carried out?

The discovery of the stone alignment, which we considered to be unverified in terms of Dr Gerrard’s interpretation of date and function, did not merit a full survey, particularly as the overwhelming length of the linear feature lay outside of the permitted development and would not be adversely affected. With the presentation of the Cotswold Archaeology report we consider that Cadw or the Royal Commission can now assess whether a fuller survey is required.

Dr Gerrard affirms that ‘further archaeological remains are known to have been damaged’, but provides no evidence for this.

The full context of the question which DAT have clearly seen indicates that the request relates to the development area and not the row itself. However as the Trust have chosen to answer this question in this way it is worth briefly exploring an obvious contradiction. In this response DAT have chosen to say that it “did not merit a full survey” whilst in an e-mail to Carmarthenshire County Council they state “The alignment of stones needs accurate plotting and description. As the line is not consistently the same along its length, the feature should be characterised.” So did it merit a survey or not? It would appear not as no survey appears to exist but why did DAT choose not to press for a survey which could have resolved or at least informed the ongoing debate?

Evidence of damage to further archaeological remains is provided in the Heritage Journal.

They may not approve of that particular web-site but the evidence and further questions are there and documentation released under a FOI request indicates that DAT are aware of this evidence.


For all previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.

See also this website and Facebook Group

by Sandy Gerrard

The stone rows and cairns at Hart Tor lie on a gentle west facing slope overlooking the River Meavy at an altitude of between 335m and 345m. Despite considerable tinworking activity and some stone splitting in the immediate vicinity, the stone rows, in particular, survive well. The most significant damage relates to a prospecting trench excavated by tinners through both rows and the removal of the western end of the double row by alluvial streamworking. Four cairns are associated with this ritual complex, and whilst the three on the Hart Tor side of the river have all been pillaged, a fourth lying on the edge of the streamwork on the Black Tor side of the valley appears to be intact.


Getting There
The stone rows and cairns lie east of B3212 which leads between Princetown and Yelverton, at SX 576717 and are shown on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map 28. The monument in common with many in the Meavy Valley lies within an area which is frequently visited, and because it is so prominent it receives considerable numbers of visitors each year. The site is not seasonally obscured by bracken and can therefore be visited at any time of year. The site is readily accessible from the B3212, and those travelling to the area by car can park at at SX 57507254. Car parking is sometimes available closer than this, but consists of small pull-ins which are often full on days when the weather is good. The walk to the site will take you across a tin streamwork adjacent to the River Meavy. The river can be very relatively easily crossed in this area, except after heavy rain when special care should be taken.

Archaeological History
In contrast to much of the archaeology in the Meavy Valley, the Hart Tor stone rows have received considerable attention over the years. The first mention of the rows appears in Samuel Rowe’s Perambulation of Dartmoor, which was first published in 1848. Rowe describes them as a “pair of rows which are only forty feet apart, and run parallel to each other, east and west” (Rowe, 1898, 190). The rows do not in fact lie parallel diverging as they do by 16º. Rowe continued “They are formed of stones two feet and a half high, and each is terminated at the east end by a circle, thirty-six feet in diameter, consisting of fifteen stones, inclosing a cairn.” In reality only the cairn at the end of the double row now fits Rowe’s description and whilst it cannot be entirely ruled out that a second ring of stones was removed in the early part of the 19th century, it does seem most unlikely. Rowe records the double row as upwards of four hundred feet long and the single row as about two hundred feet. Finally, he describes the prospecting trench cutting through both rows as an old streamwork, which certainly confirms that the tinwork in this area had been abandoned long before this time.

The earliest plan of the site would appear to be that produced by Wilkinson in his British remains on Dartmoor which was published in 1862. The accompanying text describes the northernmost cairn in great detail and records that there were probably originally 15 stones forming the encircling kerb of which 14 remained and 10 were standing. He went on to note that other stones within the cairn itself had apparently been placed in concentric circles. Wilkinson recorded the length of the double row as 418 feet and recorded that its western end was denoted by “a large monolith, now fallen, measuring about 25 feet long by 2 feet 3 inches” (Wilkinson, 1862, 37). The single row he describes as 205 feet long and the cairn at its eastern end as 27 feet to 29 feet in diameter and again he noted the presence of inner rings of stones protruding from the mound material. The inner rings of stones mentioned by Wilkinson are no longer visible, but given that examples are known at other sites such as Scorhill and Drizzlecombe, they certainly can not be dismissed and there must be a strong possibility that they still survive buried amongst the mound material. Spence Bate’s account describes the rows as “Under Black Tor, near Princetown” (Bate, C. Spence, 1871, 505). He describes the double row as consisting of a total of 90 stones measuring nearly a furlong in length. The single row he notes as having 16 stones. According to Spence Bate both barrows at the upper end of the rows were “encircled by stones”. This description may however be the result of a misreading of Wilkinson’s earlier account, where the cairns are described as concentric-circle-carns on page 36, but on page 37 it is made clear that, whilst Wilkinson strongly believed that both mounds had originally been encircled, that the stones around the southern cairn were no longer visible.

John Page writing in 1889 describes only the cairn at the end of the double row as “enclosed by a circle” and notes that the double row measured 396 feet and the single one as not exceeding 80 feet (Page, J.Ll.W., 1889, 148). He also mentions the damage caused by tinworking, but this time calls it a “deep trench” rather than a streamwork.

Plan of Hart Tor stone rows and cairns published by Sir J.G. Wilkinson in 1862

Plan of Hart Tor stone rows and cairns published by Sir J.G. Wilkinson in 1862

Most interestingly he refers to several cairns “A short distance up the slope to the east” all of which had been rifled. These cairns have never been identified and it seems most likely that he has misidentified some of the lode-back pits and their associated spoil as robbed cairns. By 1892 the site had been By 1892 the site had been described so frequently that R.N. Worth started his account with a review of the existing literature before commencing with his own contribution (Worth, R.N., 1892, 396-8). Worth concluded that the cairn at the end of the single row had never had a stone ring around it because of its close proximity to the encircled cairn. He counted 102 stones within the double row of which 69 “are still standing“. The Hart Tor site which R.N. Worth refers to as Harter was clearly one of his favourites as he notes that it is “among the most interesting we have” and “this is the only place on the Moor where distinctly double and single rows are so associated“.

At around the same time that Worth carried out his fieldwork the site was visited by John Chudleigh who very briefly noted that “opposite Black Tor, are remains of numerous hut circles and enclosures, and a long avenue leading from the river to a circle 7 yards diameter, probably enclosing a kistvaen” (Chudleigh, 1987, 87). Hugh Breton similarly only mentions the site in passing noting that the rows can be seen from Black Tor and that they “terminate in a circle which formerly enclosed cairns“. Given the amount of existing literature concerning the rows his description short though it is, is also very misleading. He says that the cairns no longer exist (and they do) and that both rows had circles (and they did not). A year later, William Crossing added the site to his Guide to Dartmoor and from this time onwards it was almost certainly visited on a regular basis. Amongst other details, he noted that the double row was 460 feet long and the single one 260 feet. One must view the length attributed to the single row with some suspicion because it is 22.85m more than that recorded during this survey and is only beaten by Starkey who recorded it as 82.3m. As one might expect R.H. Worth also described the row and cairns. A number of writers have been more concerned with the cairns than the row and amongst these are Leslie Grinsell, Aubrey Burl and Joe Turner. Grinsell visited the three cairns on the Hart Tor side of the river in the company of Roger Mercer on the 25th April 1973 and published details in his gazetteer (Grinsell, L.V., 174). Aubrey Burl includes the cairn with the encircling stone circle in the gazetteer which accompanied his The Stone Circles of the British Isles. Joe Turner visited the same cairn as part of his work on Dartmoor ring cairns, the results of which were published in 1990. In this publication he describes the site as an encircled cairn.

Further relatively brief mentions of the Hart Tor stone rows and cairns appear in the works of Paul Pettit, Harry Starkey and of course in Emmett’s article on stone rows (Emmett, 1979). The most up to date and detailed published account of the site can be found in Jeremy Butler’s Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities. In this there are detailed plans of the stone rows and two of the cairns together with useful statistical information. The plan of the rows shows most of the stones recorded during the present work, but the scale is wrongly numbered giving the impression that the rows are half their actual size.

This review of the existing literature is probably not comprehensive and there may be a few published accounts which have been missed. Nevertheless it demonstrates the considerable level of interest there has been in this site for over 150 years. It also highlights how different workers have described the site in very different ways. As an interesting exercise on the reliability of written accounts it is perhaps useful to briefly examine differences in the dimensions attributed to the rows over the years. The double row is variously described as being between 91.44m and 201m. This huge difference is perhaps explained by the fact that some of the earlier writers would appear to have estimated the length or perhaps paced it. The figures for the single row are equally inconsistent with readings of between 24m and 82m having been recorded. For the record, the lengths recorded by the present examination were 122m long for the double row and 56.4m for the single one. These figures are very similar to those recorded by the Ordnance Survey archaeologists in the 1970’s, but are slightly less than those recorded by Butler. The most plausible reason for this difference is that Butler’s survey did not take account of the prevailing slope.

References: See Part 2.


March 2013

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