You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2014.

There are now less than two weeks to go before the Current Archaeology Live conference, to be held at Senate House in London in league with the UCL Institute of Classical Studies, on February 28th and 1st March. Once again, the Heritage Journal will be present and live-tweeting the event (#CALive) across the two days. This will be our third year covering the event in detail.


The line-up for this years event, as previously, covers a range of time periods. The Friday morning session starts with the prehistoric period, covering the sites at Starr Carr in Yorkshire, Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire and Garn Turne in Pembrokeshire. The Roman session will take us up to lunch, looking at the Roman countryside (Neil Holbrook), the Durtriges Project digs by Bournemouth University and the work at Caerwent carried out by Operation Nightingale.

The Friday afternoon session looks at ‘Rescuing the Past’ with Mesolithic Ronaldsway, Kingsmead Quarry, Horton and London’s Pompeii all covered before the keynote speech by Francis Pryor, which leads into the Current Archaeology Awards ceremony in the evening (voting is now closed!)

The conference continues on Saturday with a session on the Archaeology of the First World War (sponsored by sister magazine Military History Monthly), a Current World Archaeology session entitled ‘Back to the Beginning’ which includes a look at Early Hominins (topical with the current exhibition on Neanderthals at the Natural History Museum in London), Gobekli Tepe and Early Domestication.

After lunch, Early Medieval England gets a look in, with Martin Carver talking about Sutton Hoo and talks about Spong Hill and Torksey thrown in for good measure!

Finally to wrap up, John Gater will be telling us all about Time Team and Geophysics.

All in all, an interesting two days of talks lined up, with hopefully something for everyone, not forgetting the Archaeology Fair held during the conference, where there will be a dozen stalls packed with books, equipment, and much more for everyone to browse between sessions. It’s not too late to book your tickets! We’ll see you there…

Often when the public are concerned about an application to build near a monument there’s a remarkable absence of clear illustrations of what the development will look like. Lots of words, yes, but no pictures. Take a large Scheduled Monument and the hinterland around it, north of Oswestry – you’d think Shropshire Council (“championing the needs of residents and putting their interests first“) would have published nice pictures of that sort.

But no. So to help them, here’s one that someone put together and sent us:


It would be good if they now put links to it on their front page. Why wouldn’t they? Now THERE’S an interesting question. Why wouldn’t they?


[Image credit: HOOOH]

by Nigel Swift

You’d think by now the artefact erosion counter would be accepted by all as a sensible evidence-based estimate. But no, a detectorist has just said it’s “a load of tosh”. Amusingly, the next day his forum colleague told him: “One wonders at the percentage of all detectorists who get the FLO to record non-treasure related finds. I’m guessing at about 15 pct” (i.e. half of what the Counter says!) That apart, the problem with calling it tosh is you’re also having to say the same about the 3 surveys it’s based on (by EH/CBA, an achaeologist and a detectorist) which are the only sources of evidence on the matter that exist – so I’m disinclined to spend time defending it other than to make two points:

First, a remarkable fact: the only people who have ever said it’s nonsense are those with a vested interest in doing so and there are no exceptions to that so far as I know! Whereas those without a vested interest take another view. Thus the CBA’s Director, Dr Mike Heyworth, says it “provides a reasonable basis from which to consider the scale of the loss of knowledge caused by metal detecting” and Professor David Gill (Volume 20 of the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology) has posed the crucial question that defeats all who claim it is too high: “how far out would this estimate need to be before it became a matter of marginal concern?”

Second, I’d like to stress the sheer scale of the loss of cultural knowledge the Counter is implying. Here’s one of my previous attempts. Viewed edge-on a typical artefact such as an ancient coin is about a sixteenth of an inch wide:


On that basis the Counter says if you lined up edgeways all the artefacts legally dug up and mostly not reported since 1975 they’d stretch for about 12 miles. That’s not tosh but it’s hard not to see it as a national shame – and yes Professor Gill,  it would still be so if it was only one mile.



More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


The English Heritage Commissioners have just joined the chorus of scepticism over the proposal to split up the organisation. They have said they can’t commit to supporting it until “unacceptable financial risk” is mitigated.  The plan is for a one-off £85 million grant for a new organisation to both manage and improve the National Heritage Collection of more than 400 properties and then to become self-financing within eight years.

It is based on the Government’s projected figures of an 86% increase in membership and a 31% increase in visitor numbers. Nice growth if you can get it but clearly the Commissioners have doubts. They “welcomed the proposed model” (how polite!) but have warned that its success is “critically dependent” upon having “financial certainty” (or “enough money” as most people say!)

The Government's projection for EH's growth over 8 years. Failing this, what?

The Government’s projection for EH’s growth over 8 years. Failing this, what?

The Heritage Alliance have similar doubts: “Visitor figures are notoriously volatile as events such as the outbreak of foot and mouth disease have shown… would only take one or two significant events to derail this model” (like unprecedented bad weather and flooding for instance?). They also recommend the money is paid in one lump sum to avoid a change of heart by the Government! The National Trust has also suggested that after eight years when the money is gone the model may become “unsustainable”.

Please, please, please click on our Events Diary to the left (or here). It lists upcoming Prehistory and Heritage Events and it’s just fantastic! (I can say that as it isn’t me who faithfully maintains it, it’s Alan and Sue!). Not on there yet, but soon, is a Seminar & Exhibition In Defence of Old Oswestry Hillfort,  a week Saturday. WELL worth a visit if you can make it.


OsSeminar .

Ironically the Events Diary is showing this event in Cardiff on the same day …

Workshop: I Love Archaeology
When:Sat, 22 February, 11:00 – 16:00
Where:National Museum Cardiff, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Workshop: The Origins Gallery at National Museum Cardiff displays the archaeological treasures of Wales.In this workshop you’ll find out more about some of the collections and contribute to a piece of collaborative art.


needs you1

If you’re here you probably like prehistoric sites and want to see them preserved. The Journal is for everyone that feels that way so why not join in? We’re always looking for contributions – news, views, pictures, you name it – anything that helps raise the public profile of these places. In addition we’re currently looking for 2 people who would like to join us on a more regular basis – ideally by producing short weekly articles on some aspect of prehistory. No pressure, just for fun – whatever subject you like whenever you like.

So you’re extremely welcome to contact us to offer one-off contributions or more regular involvement with The Journal at Next month it will be nine years old and while we haven’t run out of things to write about we’re sure there are lots of things we’ve missed that YOU could bring to everyone’s attention.

Currently we’re getting a spate of metal detectorist sockpuppetry aimed at this thread in particular, no doubt intended to  discourage recruits. We will delete them as we see them but if you do see any please disregard them. They are not representative of the vast majority of visitors here. Thanks.

It seems the above policy is being presented as “we won’t publish your comments unless you agree with us”. In one way that’s true. If you don’t agree the cultural damage caused by bad practice should be remedied by statutory regulation of the activity then no, we aren’t willing to give you a platform. Artefact hunters seem to have got it into their heads they have a right to speak in favour of not being required to behave and that they are to be negotiated with. That’s an error that can perhaps be laid at the door of PAS and their talk of “liaison” and “partnership”. Truth is PAS has no right to compromise the resource so there is no scope for negotiation, only for persuasion or compulsion. Simple really. Support control of the unacceptable actions of your colleagues and you’ll have a platform here. Support the idea of another 16 years of “persuasion” of them and you won’t”.

(If you don’t believe the above about PAS is true, ask them. Write to Dr Roger Bland and ask him: which part of the archaeological resource are you willing to see damaged in order for Archaeology to reach a negotiated settlement with Metal Detectorists?)

We’ve been sent this image by HOOOH, Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort. We thought we’d share it as it illustrates with perfect clarity why the idea of building hundreds of new houses close up to the monument is simply ludicrous.


Let’s hope it is sent to every councillor – including the one that quoted an isolated bit of case law that said that a monument would need to be in danger of evisceration before refusal was justified!

Or to the Government, which stated in 2011: ““The presumption in favour of sustainable development  is not a green light for development….. Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other designated land will retain the protections they enjoy today.”

A Government agenda to help builders build on the best bits of land, often at the expense of amenity and heritage, is all too evident. It’s based on the claim that it’s the only available way to mend the economy (something that economists say is untrue) and that there are insufficient brownfield sites to build on (something their own figures suggest is wrong).

Up to now, the building industry has gone along with it (why wouldn’t they!) but now someone has broken ranks: “Soil stabilisation/solidification is a most effective way to bring brownfield land back into productive use” says Al McDermid, Chairman of the Britpave Soil Stabilisation Task Group (See here). “Soil stabilisation/solidification could help bring this land back into use and so negate the need to dig up our ancient woodlands” [and, he might have added, Green spaces and the settings of monuments]. “According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, government figures show that the amount of brownfield land becoming available for re-development is far outstripping the rate at which is it being used. There is enough for 1.5 million new homes.”

In 2011 the Government issued a “Mythbusting document” saying the  National Planning Policy Framework is not a developers charter : “The presumption in favour of sustainable development  is not a green light for development….. Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other designated land will retain the protections they enjoy today.” That’s not quite how it is seen in Oswestry. There was no question of development round the Hill Fort previously.

Dear Colleagues,

Me and the wife

Surrey County Council say their metal detecting policy “is based on the premise that an applicant will be considered to be part of an ongoing archaeological survey of SCC properties. Applicants will in particular be expected to have a proven track record in reporting and recording. Finds would normally remain the property of Surrey County Council.”

Now Friends, here’s a heck of a question. If that’s the premise on which they work in order to protect their own interest as owners and the public’s interest as stakeholders, how come we landowners aren’t advised to adopt it too? Beats me. If you have a moment please email anyone involved in British portable antiquities policy and ask them: “Should landowners hold rallies only on the Surrey Council Premise and if not why not?”

If you get no reply, ask again. And again. This country is owed an answer. Meanwhile, I’m about to hold a detecting rally myself here in Shropshire using the Surrey Council Premise. Will the BM say well done Silas? Will lots of detectorists turn up? Who knows? I’ll let you know.

Best wishes,

Silas Brown,
Grunters Hollow Farm,




More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


by Nigel Swift

Someone suggested to Rescue that their Facebook page (26 January) shouldn’t have linked to my Heritage Journal article “How to set up a portable antiquities scheme” as doing so was “professionally disrespectful” to the PAS archaeologists. That would imply archaeologists shouldn’t be criticised on archaeology forums so I was glad the moderator resisted the notion. In any case the article had been misread – it didn’t criticise PAS in isolation, it suggested most archaeologists and heritage professionals publicly supported an overall damaging metal detecting status quo and maintained an embarrassed silence about many aspects of it.

But the incident has wider relevance to the Journal. Although we’re certainly not always “right” there’s a strong case for our voice to be embraced not marginalised. After all, we truly are a random set of “ordinary people” (albeit a tad enthusiastic about Heritage) and we have no vested interests, whether academic, financial or professional. We simply say things as we see them, right or wrong, sometimes wrong – and even when wrong we alert those who need to know that something needs clarifying to the wider public.

In addition (and back to detecting) we can sometimes bring useful insights to the table. I’ve personally spent over a decade studying the interface between detectorists and archaeologists so know a thing or two about it. On the other hand many professionals feel uncomfortable about expressing themselves about it or are simply too busy to get involved. But (thanks partly to Professor David Gill having discussed our article on Looting Matters) Google currently displays 2,100 results (and growing) for the term “Legal Fibbery”. It’s a vital issue that tends not to be explained to the public by an Establishment constrained by realpolitik and now it has been highlighted and named by “ordinary people”. It’s something that clearly should be in the public arena as it’s of major significance to both stakeholders and taxpayers, and now it is.


February 2014

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