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Let’s start with an archaeologist. Charles Mount took the opportunity of last week’s Day of Archaeology to provide an insight into the state of Irish Archaeology in a contribution titled “Picking up the pieces”. He says the end of the Celtic Tiger boom has meant that

Irish archaeology has been blighted by economic failure, imposed austerity and the failure of the commercial archaeology model. Those of us who are left are trying to pick up the pieces, but the loss of collective knowledge and experience will never be made good. Many excavation archives generated during the boom years now sit in store rooms with no one now to write them up and bring them to publication”. Data from many sites “may never see the light of day”.

And now the politician. Mr Mount’s account reminded us of our article in June 2009 about Mr. John Gormley, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He was once the author of The Green Guide For Ireland but was also the man who presided over the building of the M3 at Tara and who refused to prevent the destruction of the newly discovered National Monument at Lismullin. When launching three Codes of Archaeological Practice he made this amazing false claim that seems to underly a lot of government posturing on both sides of the sea:

“development and conservation can go hand in hand”.

He never explained how, and no wonder. Anyway, he is out of politics now and archaeologists like Mr Mount have been left with the reality and to pick up the pieces.

It seems the plan to restore Stonehenge to “splendid isolation” originally came from the Prime Minister. Well actually, not from the Prime Minister but from three Prime Ministers. It was in 1927. A  letter was sent to a number of newspapers from David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald. It called for something to be done about Stonehenge and contained a prophetic warning: “Our generation will be vilified by all posterity if we allow the surroundings of this monument, the frontispiece to English history, to be ruined beyond repair.” It was part of a campaign to raise money to buy the land surrounding the stones as it was feared the setting might be ruined by inappropriate development because improvements in transport would lead to increased tourism and “the monoliths will in time be surrounded by all the accessories of a popular holiday resort

SH Appeal

They succeeded – but ironically what they feared still came to pass for despite being in public ownership the surroundings still took on many of the “accessories of a popular holiday resort”. It has taken a further 75 years and a whole succession of Sir Humphreys, Jim Hackers, and Inquiries to reach the stage where all that is about to be swept away. It won’t be quite  the idealised situation the three PMs called for so eloquently: “The solitude of Stonehenge should be restored, and precautions taken to ensure that our posterity will see it against the sky in the lonely majesty before which our ancestors have stood in awe throughout all our recorded history”…. but it will be a big step forward. 

Incidentally, it would be nice to know if our modern term “splendid isolation” was deliberately adopted with their phrase “lonely majesty” in mind. They are spookily similar. [Update: “Splendid isolation” came first, a correspondent tells us. Adopted as a popular term in the 1890s, stemming from something suggested by a Canadian politician.] Still, the phraseology matters little so long as we start to do right by the place. It would be nice to think that in another 85 years the job will be completed with the removal of the MoD  buildings and the A303 !



Do visit the dig if in Avebury this week or next!

The first excavation on West Kennet Avenue for more than three quarters of a century! The ‘Between the Monuments’ project is a collaboration between the University of Southampton under Dr Joshua Pollard, the University of Leicester under Dr Mark Gillings, and the archaeology and curatorial National Trust staff at Avebury Dr Nick Snashall and Dr Ros Cleal. The excavation on the line of the West Kennet Avenue involves two, possibly three trenches at two Neolithic sites at the foot of Avebury Down where Alexander Keiller’s excavations in 1934 unearthed remains of some form of settlement.

See here for more details
and Phone 01672 539250 after 10a.m. for tour times.

Paul Barford did it in just 120 forthright words : “The PAS tries to make out that the “metal detecting community” is for the most part composed of normal, concerned, responsible, intelligent folk engaged in a “study of the past”, but who are just misunderstood. They need to because the government would not give them money otherwise.The actual picture is far more complex, the thrusting on us all of the PAS one-sided rose-tinted spectacle vision totally obscures (and, shamefully, is meant to obscure) the huge element, an undercurrent, of individuals that are portrayed on this blog by the metaphorical device of the fictional Thugwit Brothers. These are the people we need to take into account whenever assessing the hobby, not the 20% who can be brought with varying degrees of success into the fold by persuasion and logic, but the 80% who are totally resistant to anything like that.” 

I agree with every word, There is compelling statistical evidence it is true. Knowledge theft is rife in the world of artefact hunting.

Mike Heyworth of the CBA (Farming Today, Radio 4, 6.00 minutes in) was far more circumspect yet said the same thing in even fewer words: “you can get hundreds if not thousands of metal detectorists converging on very sensitive archaeological sites and that can cause a huge amount of damage to that archaeology and that information is completely lost …. I’d like to see much more of a clampdown on those sort of rallies because I don’t think they’re in the public benefit

How come I say they are saying the same thing when Dr Heyworth only mentions rallies? Well, because if he thinks 500 people at a rally can cause a huge amount of damage and aren’t in the public benefit then he’d have to say the same about the activities of 10,000 detectorists acting alone. The logic is inescapable, if not politically convenient. So the two of them are actually saying precisely the same thing (as am I). Paul and Mike, peas in a pod, united in thinking this bar chart can’t be ignored…

Artefact Counter 2 as at March 2013.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.

Site of original ritual gathering. 28 July 2003

Site of original ritual gathering, 26 July 2003

From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).

We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plainthe Hillfort Glow experiment,   the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag,   the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury  or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!

Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology – do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers.  A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at

Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.


Whilst wider interest is particularly welcome in the jewel in the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site crown, as many may be attracted to visit yet remain unaware there is no public access to this ancient mound the following reminder of Silbury Hill’s history is perhaps in order:

This largest prehistoric chalk built structure in the world was started 4,500 years ago, but it has been closed to the public since 1974 due to the erosion of prehistoric archaeology by climbers. Having been purchased by Sir John Lubbock in the 1870s in order to protect it, Silbury Hill is still privately owned by Lord Avebury and is in the guardianship of English Heritage. Silbury Hill is safeguarded by legislation under the Ancient Monument Preservation Act, having been one of the first monuments placed under its protection in 1882, it is also protected by SSSI status because of its extraordinary long record in relation to its flora and fauna.

On 29 May 2000 a collapse was noticed in the summit of Silbury Hill, after infill sunk within a top to bottom vertical shaft cut in 1776 that was undermined by tunnels cut in 1849 & 1968. Over £1.5M was spent on repairs and investigation completed in 2008. English Heritage are now instigating new notices, fences and other measures to deter climbers, because ruts are being worn through the surface, destroying highly vulnerable irreplaceable prehistoric archaeology. As tempting as it is therefore, let us all hope all the folk visiting Silbury Hill will resist trespassing and further damaging the mound.

[ See also the recent BBC report on the “spectacular damage” being caused by trespassers on the hill. ]

Woodland Trust fails to mince words…
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has just approved a planning application for a controversial quarry extension into ancient Oaken Wood near Maidstone. This is the first real test of whether the Government’s recent planning reforms would offer sufficient protection to ancient woodland and by extension, heritage sites. It’s looking like a “no” then.

Woodland Trust Chief Executive, Sue Holden, said: “This is a landmark decision, but for all the wrong reasons. This so-called ‘greenest Government ever’ stated that the new National Planning Policy Framework1 would give sufficient protection to irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland. It clearly does not. We are extremely concerned now that this outcome could define the level of protection given to ancient woods in all future planning decisions across England”. … s-ed1.aspx

Heritage Crime – Expand the definition!
“Last week the (Welwyn and Hatfield) borough council, with a number of other authorities, signed a memorandum to help protect listed buildings. This comes as part of the national Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH). Councillor Mandy Perkins, executive member for business and planning, said:

“Heritage crime, by which I mean things like lead theft from church roofs and damage caused to listed buildings, is a serious problem nationwide. Heritage assets are not only irreplaceable but places like Hatfield House promote tourism and jobs in the borough.”

Yes, but it’s not just church lead and listed buildings, is it? Welwyn has a large concentration of Roman and Iron Age sites. What about those?

EVENT: Prehistoric and ritual cave engravings
South West | Somerset Sat 13th Jul 2013 – Sun 21st Jul 2013. Suitable for the relatively faint-hearted. Underground exploratory guiding by Chris Binding, co-author of Ritual Protection Marks in Goatchurch Cavern (2004) and Ritual Protection Marks in Wookey Hole & Caves in the Cheddar Gorge (2010), University of Bristol Spelaeological Society. Strong footwear must be worn and bring your own refreshment/drink. A degree of personal fitness needed to negotiate uneven rocky chambers and uphill walk. Price includes specialist caving equipment. Numbers limited. This event will take place on: Saturday 13 July, 10:30, 12:30, 14.30 Sunday 21 July, 10:30, 12:30, 14.30. Full details:
EVENT: Discover Pentre Ifan
This ancient monument to the dead has intrigued people for centuries. Learn about its secrets and how it fits into the wider landscape. Details:
6,000 year old carving and modern claptrap found in Wales
The unearthing of the early neolithic or mesolithic carved wood on a Welsh hillside is truly exciting. A pity then that the wind farm developer tried to spin it… “It’s very exciting that this discovery has proved to be of such international significance and fully justifies our company policy of protecting sites of historic interest.” But it’s not his company’s policy. It’s a legal and moral obligation.

Sue Brooke recounts her recent visit to see the Mold Cape on its travels through Wales.


The Mold Gold Cape was featured as one of the top ten treasures in the 100 objects in A History of the World in partnership with the BBC. The project was awarded The Art Fund Prize in 2011. So from July to September the Mold Gold Cape is ‘on the road’, so to speak. Normally an exhibit in the British Museum the Cape has been part of a Spotlight Tour, funded by the Art Fund. This means it is on display at the National Museum in Cardiff from 2nd. July until 4th. August 2013, before moving to Wrexham County Borough Museum, where it will be displayed from 7th. August.

I am so lucky in that I live near to both the National Museum of Wales in Cathays Park, located in the civic centre of Cardiff, and the National History Museum at St. Fagans, on the outskirts of Cardiff. So for Mr B and me it was an easy trip into town.

Current theory is that this cape dates from around the early Bronze Age, that is around 1900-1600 BC. It is believed to be of Welsh gold, but as yet there is no evidence to say where, exactly, the gold was originally mined. I myself wear a Welsh gold wedding ring from the now closed Clogau mine in Snowdonia. Due to the rarity of gold in Wales only a ‘small touch’ of Welsh gold is now included in these precious but more modern jewellery items.

Information from the Clogau webpages states that Welsh gold has been used since 1911, at the investiture of Prince Edward as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. The regalia was made from ‘pure Welsh gold, identified by the very distinctive Welsh dragon stamp’. The British Royal Family have also used Welsh gold for their wedding rings – from the wedding of the Queen Mother right through to the most recent marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton. So, clearly this gold is special.

No gold mining takes places in Wales now which, it is suggested, means that Welsh gold supplies will eventually run out. This makes Welsh gold extremely rare. The Mold Cape used around 700g (1.5 pounds) of it!

For some time now the museum has been running the Origins: In Search of Early Wales exhibition, which has been regularly featured in our events diary. I’ve been to this many times – each time for different reasons. It’s beautifully presented with many and various items that I’d only previously seen illustrated as drawings. For example the finds from the Dinas Powys archaeological dig, undertaken by Leslie Alcock in 1954 to 1958. These finds are all particularly relevant to me and my own personal interest, locally. It’s very atmospheric in the gallery, with dimmed lighting and that lovely sense of quiet that you used to get in a library. The cape is located within this exhibition and links it in really well with the Welsh items displayed through the very early history of Wales, right up to the more recent historical periods.

I was a little bit like a kid on arrival. Very excitedly looking around in a ‘where is it, where is it??’ kind of way and I most definitely was not disappointed. The cape and the remnants of a possible second, earlier cape were prominently displayed in a low level glass case, beautifully lit. It really did impress me. The detail on this stunningly beautiful piece is amazing. It’s possible to walk around the display case to view it from all angles, as well as to view the inside or back view of the gold easily. The exhibit is set within another display which gives on the spot information on the discovery on the burial within the stone lined grave at Bryn yr Ellyllon, on the outskirts of Mold in Flintshire. There is a free booklet available that gives lovely illustrations and lots of information for the visitor. Interestingly there are also comment cards that you are requested to complete, as a kind of feedback on the exhibition overall. Of course, I left my own very enthusiastic comments.

I was able to take lots of non-flash photographs throughout the exhibition. This is allowed unless notices specifically prevent this. Unfortunately, due to the photographic policy of the museum these can only be used for personal use or study and may not be presented elsewhere online. That’s fair enough, I suppose. The website does have images and further information.

Whilst attending exhibitions and events I try to check out accessibility for wheelchair users. This is important to allow access to everyone and can restrict the enjoyment of wheelchair users if not done properly. It can also impact upon visits including small children or pushchairs. I have to hold my hand up here and say that I was so awestruck by the cape itself that I didn’t remember to check this out. However, Mr B (or Mr Health and Safety as he is lovingly known) took full notice of this. He very reliably informed me that:

Accessibility: Wheelchair access is good throughout. There are lifts to all floors. Four wheelchairs are available on loan – just ask at the front desk or ring ahead to reserve.

Within the exhibition itself it was good to see that care had been taken to allow plenty of room for wheelchair movement between the exhibits. And, of importance, the cape itself was exhibited at a low level, which allowed perfect viewing for wheelchair users.

Plenty of museum attendants were on duty to assist if necessary.

Parking is free to disabled badge holders, in the car park located just behind the museum itself. You need to take your blue badge to the museum shop when buying your parking token – you need this to leave due to the barriers.

On-road disabled parking bays are available at the front of Museum on Gorsedd Gardens Road, but these can become quite sought after, due to the location of the museum in the centre of Cardiff. We went on Sunday and there was plenty of parking available nearby – although of course there is a charge for this, £2.70 for two hours, so not too bad.

More technical information is available from the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust. Try searching ‘Mold Gold Cape’ with the period ‘Bronze Age’ in the drop down box. There is a lot more to be discovered on here than I can tell you in a short article.

Oh, and did I mention this was FREE? It cost £2.70 for the car park. That was all we paid.


Russia has introduced legislation to take effect next month that will increase the maximum penalty for destruction of or damage to cultural monuments to $20 million. This is a vast increase from the previous fine of $1,200. The new legislation is designed to keep developers from doing things like undertaking renovation projects which result in the demolition of protected sections of monuments .

A Kremlin spokesman said: “It’s because we were pissed off about the limited penalty at Priddy.” *

(* That last bit might not be entirely true, but could be.)

Dear Fellow Farmers and Landowners,


Hot isn’t it? Now concentrate, this matters…..


Detectorists say they’ve £10 million insurance cover via NCMD. Not if they’re non-UK residents they don’t! Nor if they are acting unlawfully (like taking stuff home without permission). So you’re at major financial risk. What to do? Hope they’ll pay for any damage themselves? (Good luck with that!) Or sign an agreement allowing them to take “some” items home? (Trouble is, if they take bits home that they shouldn’t they render their insurance invalid!)  So bizarrely, the safest thing is to tell them to take everything, then they can’t steal from you! (But even then, if they fail  to declare a Treasure find their insurance may be invalidated!)

If giving them all you own doesn’t appeal you could ask EH or the NUF for guidance. They urge us to sign a Finds Agreement so they’ll presumably know exactly how we can do it without putting ourselves at risk! While you’re at it, ask them to comment on this from the UK Metal Detecting Forum’s moderator: “Should there be unknown dangers on the land, such as concealed shafts, hazardous soil, badly driven tractors, savage dogs etc and you are unlucky to suffer injury, the contract can be a very useful document.” He seems to be saying “get a finds agreement lads so you can sue the pants off the landowner!” Don’t let them wriggle. Make them ask their legal departments if their advice to us to get a finds agreement could cost us dear in court, yes or no?

Your friend, (more so than the NUF),

Silas Brown


The Heritage Journal have sent me this Comment about my letter from a detectorist called Mark and have asked if I want to respond. It seems he just can’t get it through his head that they won’t publish comments from those who won’t support the legal regulation of metal detecting to ensure best practice and maximum public benefit. Quite right that they shouldn’t. I have to ask, friends, what sort of person wouldn’t support such a thing – and why? Would YOU want such a character on your fields? I wouldn’t!

Anyhow, what he said was:

Can you clarify how many fires have been started by metal detectorists? Or the reason you used the picture of a fire? And you go on about relevance…….. “

to which I’d respond: I don’t know how many crop fires have been started by detectorists discarding cigarettes but I resent the attempt to kid me it’s a small or non-existent risk. They are my crops not his yet he’s seeking to get me to take a risk with them. What a self-seeking clown.Colleagues, you might care to also ask EH and NUF if they think we should have the likes of him on our land as well as those who are willing to sue us.


17 August 2013: Oh, and I’ve just seen a detectorist claim about the upcoming Anton Rotary Club Rally scheduled for September 1st 2013: “Because it’s a Rotary club organised rally Insurance is not required as they’ve got their own public liability insurance which covers any Rotary Club Organised event.” Have they? They’ve got an insurance company that unlike the NCMD’s one will pay up for damage caused by a non-UK detectorist or a detectorist that’s acting unlawfully?!  That’s some insurance company! Rotary should check their policy wording.


[For more from Farmer Brown put Silas in the search box]


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



July 2013

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