You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2013.

ketleyKetley Crag © Ian Hobson

The CARE project is a collaboration between  Newcastle University and Queen’s University, Belfast to produce a user-friendly Condition Assessment Risk Evaluation (CARE) toolkit for gathering and organising information essential for the long-term safeguarding of ancient rock art. Help, advice and support is to be sought from heritage professionals, landowners and enthusiasts. If you would like to be involved, please email them at heritagescience@ncl.ac.uk or visit the British Rock Art Facebook page.

A lot is being made these days of the phrase ‘Preservation by Record’. This phrase usually comes to the fore in Developer-led or Rescue (ha!) archaeology, where a site is deemed to be of major importance, but the economics and politics of the situation overrule the archaeology, which is then destroyed forever, removing any future prospect of learning more from the site. See the Thornborough Henges for a classic example of this where entire settlements have been (some would say needlessly) quarried away (and subsequently flooded) for the sake of short-term profit.

At the same time, there is a current philosophy of moving towards ‘Open Access’ archaeology – however you define that. For many, it means everything (?) available online, preferably for free, but often at a (prohibitive for some) cost and invariably difficult to find. But the main point is that archives are increasingly becoming digital in nature.

So what does this mean for future historians and archaeologists? The source material is being obliterated – archaeology by definition being a destructive process – and the source records are being digitised, thus also eliminating the primary records.

Now talking about digitised records, I recently came across some 5.25″ diskettes in my attic, some labeled ‘personal documents’. I have no idea what is on these disks, which are some 15 years old, possibly older. Brief enquiries among my ‘geekier’ friends for conversion suggestions came up blank – although one did say he could cope with 8″ or 3.5″ diskettes, but not 5.25″! I am now resigned to having lost these digital records, when I don’t know what they contain.

Yes, I had some of these too! Image © Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons

Fast forward not 15, but 50 years. What digital technologies will exist then? More to the point, what technologies will survive to enable today’s digital records to be read? It is extremely unlikely that today’s formats will still be in use. Even today, some of the earliest versions of PDF documents can no longer be read by today’s sophisticated viewers due to incompatibilities and potential security loopholes. Even more to the point, at a time when funding is constantly being squeezed from all sides, who will pay to maintain and convert the existing digital records in a format that will be readable in 10, 50, 100 years time or more?

© Wikimedia Commons

So it would seem that the answer may be to retain the primary source records, in paper format. But this has its own problem set, not the least of which is space. There was an interesting discussion on this topic at the British Archaeological Trust AGM earlier this year. Again, cost is a major factor but there are opportunities to overcome the space issues, by utilising underground caverns and mines. Deepstore  was specifically mentioned as a facility which many archives are currently investigating, though the fact that it uses a salt mine raised environmental concerns for some of those present at the meeting.

So it seems that although the problem is acknowledged, without ongoing funding the future for our archives would appear to be potentially very bleak indeed.

Archaeology – Enjoy it while it lasts?

If this article is of concern to you, please consider joining and supporting the British Archaeological Trust (RESCUE), who campaign and lobby parliament about such matters.  

Remember Mumbo, Schrödinger’s jumbo, who has his tusks both conserved for the community and hacked off for personal gain simultaneously? Well Suzie Thomas (of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research) has mentioned him in Internet Archaeology 33, saying disagreement between detectorists and archaeologists is “symptomatic of an ongoing ‘elephant in the room’ – the fact that archaeologists and metal-detector users view the issues differently”.

Mumb

That’s not new in itself but what is new is that she lays out with unprecedented frankness exactly what needs to happen for the differences to be resolved: detectorists need to accept that “as long as they engage in a hobby that has a direct effect on the physical remains of the past, they too have a responsibility to record their finds openly and honestly, and to a standard acceptable and useful to archaeological research.”

Note, there’s no reference to a compromise standard or exempting thousands of them from their obligations or declaring a draw on how the resource should be treated. The only situation archaeologists can or will consider acceptable involves artefact hunters, all of them, recording what they find to a standard acceptable and useful to archaeological research. Artefact hunters must do the right thing by the public to the satisfaction of archaeologists. It’s as simple as that.

The significance of this revelation is that no way is that situation achievable. After 15 years of persuasion only about 30% 0f artefact hunters aspire to reach even the grossly emasculated version of responsible behaviour their representatives have negotiated and it’s arguable that not 1% works to the standard deemed acceptable and useful to archaeological research for archaeological investigations as laid out by English Heritage. Why would they? They have fundamentally different aims and consequently, as Ms Thomas says, they view the issues differently”.

Worst of all, is something else she says: “The debate might continue for many more decades”. That’s worth thinking about. It means people may continue for decades to do in our country what they’d go to jail for elsewhere without British archaeologists having even persuaded them to do it in an acceptable fashion. Persuasion is clearly not the answer, statutory regulation is. But for how much longer must that not be publicly admitted? Many more decades?

Cui bono? Non-recording detectorists, no-one else.

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site

© Andrew Smith, from www.geograph.org.uk

Fyfield Down, © Andrew Smith, from http://www.geograph.org.uk

Dear Friends of Stonehenge and Avebury WHS,

Despite their similarities, the two parts of the World Heritage Site are in many ways poles apart – to the casual visitor, at least.   The differences in visiting each of the major henges at Avebury and Stonehenge are often commented on; the road-trip, the visitor facilities, the topography, the archaeology itself.   Living here in Wiltshire, I like to think about it differently.   One thing, more than anything else, unites the parts of the WHS for me.

I don’t mean the long history of archaeological research in the area; or the fact that – to use the terms of the UNESCO inscription – “The World Heritage Site provides an outstanding illustration of the evolution of monument construction…over more than 2000 years, from the early Neolithic to the Bronze Age.”

The much-reduced spread of Wiltshire’s sarsen stone is my “glue”.   Sarsens used in archaeological monuments, sarsens scattered over the landscape, sarsens in the walls and houses.   Sarsens thread their way through the World Heritage Site, in time and in place.   No matter how many, or how few, were once recumbent on the chalk, sarsens have been encountered and used by people for thousands of years; and still are, as gravestones, building material and street furniture for example.

Known for their tough hardness, sarsens have a temporal and spatial durability across the World Heritage Site and beyond.   They help me to think about the wider environment, and serve to keep me mindful of the contexts in which we should place archaeological monuments.   Not divorced from one another by outlines drawn on maps, but features in a landscape to be explored.

Yours, Katy Whitaker

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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 theheritagejournal@gmail.com

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

henge

Not long till Solstice now. “We would love you to join us at the Henge” says the invitation. Not in Wilts but in Bywong, Australia. And not summer solstice but winter solstice – hence the invitation mentions warm blankets, mulled wine & marshmallows. Here’s a picture showing the sort of conditions that are likely….

hen snow

Sounds like it’ll be a nice celebration. It will centre on sunset, not sunrise, which is both sensible and perhaps “authentic” – and far easier for all concerned. We’ll let you know how much security and infrastructure was needed, how many people climbed on the stones or misbehaved, the amount of litter that was left and what percentage of £200,000 it all cost the Australian taxpayer.

Two diesel power stations are planned near Plymouth as a way to save the planet. Yes, diesel.

A bit like this...

A bit like this…

One will burn 1.1m litres of the stuff a year. In a stunning understatement a spokesman for the local Regen centre for green energy said it “does not make environmental sense” but undismayed the developers countered with this classic:

“Whilst the proposed diesel generators do not constitute low carbon or renewable energy, the nature, scale and function of the proposed development is such that it will support the broader strategy for renewable and low carbon energy.” 

It’s all to do with needing back-up capacity for when the wind doesn’t blow (something the wind farm companies have been saying won’t be needed, honest). You’ll be hearing a lot more of it soon, maybe in a town near you, so don’t forget: dirty is clean and nasty is nice.

A personal view by Alan S.

Whilst I’m aware that the British Museum is about much more than what the public see, I have to say that although the floor staff were very helpful, friendly and accommodating (I was pushing a wheelchair user) and are a credit to the institution, my recent visit to the BM was nevertheless very disappointing.

I fondly recall many educational visits there as a child, but it seems the whole purpose of the place has changed significantly. Granted, entry is still free, but at every turn the visitor is bombarded with requests for money: Suggested donation £5, Become a Member £50, Buy a sandwich £4, Buy a colour map £2, Buy a guide book (various prices), Buy a postcard (£1.20?!!) and many more souvenirs. It would have been very easy to have emptied my wallet before I’d even seen an exhibit!

And the types of exhibit have changed too. No more the interpretive panels explaining about an artefact on display, now all details of selected exhibits are available via ‘multi-media guides’ (only £5) – only minimal information is available at the point of display for most items. And the information given has also changed in a very noticable way. Information is largely restricted (on the majority of the exhibits I examined) to a short description; ‘flint blade’, ‘bronze sword’ etc followed by the source of the object and how it was aquired. And whilst the objects which have been in the museum for a considerable time were invariably uncovered during an archaeological dig and donated by a named finder, many of those in the last 30-40 years have been ‘discovered by a metal detectorist’ – often unnamed – and ‘purchased with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund’ or similar grants.

The contrast in the lack of information on show, compared with my recent trip to the Museum of the Iron Age in Andover where a full story was told, was simply staggering.

Whilst I’m sure that there is an element of education remaining (preserved for organised school tours in the Clore Education Centre perhaps?), I have to wonder exactly what it is that’s being taught. I certainly came away with the impression that Greed is Good, and the bad old days of Empire and Colonialism are still with us – the vast majority of the older displays having been brought to Britain from overseas. The ‘British’ Museum?

But the place was packed with tourists and guided tours and the donation boxes were stuffed with money, so maybe the old saying that money attracts money is true? Bling certainly (and sadly) seems to be popular, but I can’t help but think we’re losing something in the process. Visitors willingly in many cases being prepared to part with their money, but for what? It seems to me all we’re doing is encouraging further rape of the archaeological resource by offering ever increasing amounts of money for dug up treasures.

Howard Carter’s “Wonderful Things..” indeed!

The Chief Executive of English Heritage has tweeted: “Today’s news on windfarms seems very good. Hopefully it will stop the rape of the countryside by greedy landowners and energy companies…”

That would be nice. But will it work out like that? What the press is actually reporting is a bit different: “New guidance is expected to tell councils that local people’s concerns should take precedence over the need for renewable energy, and give more weight to the impact of turbines on the landscape and heritage” (which is fine) but also that “The changes are part of a package of measures which include a significant increase in the amount of money communities will receive for agreeing to host windfarms nearby”.

In other words, “local bribes” are to be increased (typically to £100,000 a year towards local community projects or £400 a year off local householders’ energy bills). It’s consistent with the Government’s strategy for incentivising communities to accept housing developments and there’s talk of the same approach being extended to areas where shale gas drilling is proposed. So maybe not such good news for heritage after all?

It raises two ticklish issues that EH will presumably need to address and explain to the public:

1. If some landowners and energy companies are “greedy rapists” because they make money out of building certain heritage-damaging wind farms, will the same be said of local people who make money out of supporting them?

2. As a matter of principle, should local people, especially if motivated by financial gain, have a much bigger say than everyone else over the fate of heritage that is of national significance?

😉

Solstice penny drops?
Has a campaigner for open access to Stonehenge just put his finger on how the summer solstice celebrations should be run?

The popular 2012 winter solstice managed access was a real success, IMO, and showed the way forward

So why could it be considered a success and the way forward? Could it be because 5,000 people is a safe, manageable number whereas 25,000 isn’t (and 35,000, as happened a couple of years ago, is plain ridiculous)?

Wales rolling in cash
It seems that PAS in Wales has only recorded about 240 artefacts in a year. That’s about half an artefact from each of about 500 Welsh detectorists. Sad innit? “Maybe that’s all they find” observed a passing porcine aeronaut launched by the National Council for Metal Detecting.

pigBut for once, let’s not fret about the massive loss of historical knowledge that the figures imply. Instead, let’s fret about the cost. It costs the best part of £200 for each of those artefacts. Not for the actual artefacts you understand, just for recording them. It’s lucky there’s such a lot of spare Government cash around in Wales (although, confusingly, The National Museums of Wales have just proposed a restructuring programme to save £2.5m, with 23 job losses. “Quite right” snorted the NCMD spokespig, “we have to prioritise spending”.)

The Ancestor goes on tour
It has been announced that The Ancestor will be appearing at Glastonbury music festival this year. It is understood that Keith Richards,  Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts will be there too.

anc

stu

“Saviour of Stonehenge and Avebury”,  physician, druid, vicar, antiquarian, archaeologist, architect, artist, writer, poet, musician, numismatist, cosmologist, traveller, friend of Newton and Halley….

The “William Stukeley – Saviour of Stonehenge” exhibition will be held at Hartland Abbey, North Devon starting next Sunday, 9th June 2013.

See here – http://www.hartlandabbey.co.uk/exhibition.htm

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