You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2014.


For many years we’ve been trying to “promote awareness and the conservation of the incomparable but often-threatened prehistoric sites of Britain, Ireland and beyond” and because of our particular preference we’ve always put a particular emphasis on stone circles.

Consequently, the above image used in an advert for a metal detector which appears in the latest edition of The Searcher metal detecting magazine hasn’t gone down very well with us. It may or may not be photoshopped, we’re not certain, but it’s awful for sure, showing someone metal detecting right in the middle of a stone circle. Even in Bonkers Britain where you can mine for artefacts to your heart’s content on 950,000 unprotected archaeological sites, you can’t do it at stone circles – so what the blazes were the editors of The Searcher thinking of? Who knows?

We await with interest to hear what excuses some of their colleagues concoct to minimise it, as they minimise everything bad that happens in their activity. Our betting is “whoops, administrative error, why make a fuss?” or perhaps they’ll take the standard “not us guv” line that’s taken about so many instances of bad behaviour “Don’t judge us by that. Only a very tiny proportion of detectorists are as stupid and uncaring about heritage protection as The Searcher’s editors”!

[Thanks to Paul Barford for tipping us off about this]


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


This year’s Summer Competition, courtesy of the PicToBrick  software which turns any photo into a Lego® mosaic, seems to have foxed many of you. I did say that it would be either remarkably easy, or incredibly difficult – it seems the latter was closer to the mark. One commentator on our Facebook page even failed to recognise three sites which we’ve visited together in the past!

As a reminder, we showed you 9 photos, each 48×32 Lego® studs in size, and asked you to name the monument. I think pretty much everyone got the first one correct due to its distinctive shape, but after that it got tricky, and no-one has yet come forward with a full set of answers. So without further ado, here are the answers in full:

1. Devil’s Den, Wiltshire

2 mosaic

2. Carreg Coetan Arthur, Pembrokeshire


3. Kit’s Coty House, Kent

3 mosaic

4. Chun Quoit, Cornwall


5. Gwal-y-Filiast, St Lythans, South Glamorgan


6. Whispering Knights, Oxfordshire


7. Mulfra Quoit, Cornwall

7 mosaicMulfra

8. Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire


9. Lanyon Quoit, Cornwall

8 mosaicLanyon

Don’t forget, if you’d like to try making any of these mosaics out of Lego® for yourself, we can provide full instructions on request, or you could download the software and make your own mosaic! But be warned: at around 6p for a single 1×1 brick, at 48×32 resolution each mosaic would cost around £100 to make, including the base plate!

It seems that it is. A story has broken this morning that cynics are three times more likely to suffer from dementia. That’s worrying, because today another story broke about the fact that 700 houses are to be built near Purton (and that Swindon is looking for a further 60,000 new houses to be built in the future) and that an Iron Age settlement had been found during the excavations.

Neither of those is the point though. Massive building is going on everywhere and significant archaeology is being discovered and destroyed very frequently. Everyone knows that and has to accept it as mostly inevitable so no danger of dementia there. No, what prompts some of us to be dangerously cynical are some of the things developers say to make the destruction sound OK and something they deserve praise for.

A Taylor Wimpey spokesman said: “We scheduled the archaeological investigation into our programme of work, as it is a vital step of the process….. The work will continue until our contractors are completely satisfied that they have thoroughly investigated and recovered everything which they need for further analysis”

A cynic might say: actually, you didn’t volunteer to do that, you did what the law insisted you do, nothing else. You could equally have admitted that and expressed regret for the destruction and said we’re sorry to do it but it’s about the money, see? That at least would be believable. Big builders rarely do more than the minimum even when there’s scope to do so such as leaving a few plots undeveloped.  But apparently, even to think such a thing would be bad for your health so let’s all say hurrah to Taylor Wimpey for being so caring!


A surprising claim but perhaps true for once…. The Secretary of State has thrown out controversial plans for six 110m wind turbines at Thornholme Field in the Yorkshire Wolds. English Heritage and East Riding Council had opposed the plan but an Inspector had allowed it. Now Mr Pickles has overturned the decision saying he shared English Heritage’s view that the development would cause harm to the setting of many heritage assets, including Rudston Beacon. He found the Inspector had placed “less weight on the issue of harm than was required“.

But there’s the rub. How much harm is too much harm? Blowed if we know, or the parties involved, so it comes down to what Eric says. Or to be more precise, it comes down to whether the various parties have deep enough pockets to take it all the way to Eric to see what he says. Nearly always he comes down in favour of the developer so hurrah to the good guys for pursuing this case and coming out winners! As Councillor Frazer observed:

“This raises a glimmer of hope in our hearts …. We were getting a bit despondent that the refusals of planning permission were continually being overturned. This gives us hope that in the future, where we refuse permission and have strong arguments for refusal, they will carry more weight”.

(A bit personal, that!)

We were getting a bit despondent that the refusals of planning permission were continually being overturned.

“This gives us hope that in the future, where we refuse permission and have strong arguments for refusal, that will carry more weight.”

that the proposal would cause harm to the setting of many heritage assets, including Rudston Beacon.

He found the inspector had placed less weight on the issue of harm than was required.

shared English Heritage’s view that the proposal would cause harm to the setting of many heritage assets, including Rudston Beacon.

He found the inspector had placed less weight on the issue of harm than was required.

shared English Heritage’s view that the proposal would cause harm to the setting of many heritage assets, including Rudston Beacon.

He found the inspector had placed less weight on the issue of harm than was required.

shared English Heritage’s view that the proposal would cause harm to the setting of many heritage assets, including Rudston Beacon.

He found the inspector had placed less weight on the issue of harm than was required.

by Katharine Range

A Google search among the interwebs won’t yield much on this site (trust me), and truth be told, there is barely anything to see at the site. You may wonder why I even bothered. Well. I think that even sites like these, that are difficult to access and difficult to discern, are still worth noting and acknowledging. Britain is chock full of archaeology and history that is unknown to most people and largely taken for granted. Under every garden shed and cookie-cutter home; under every Tesco and village pub, lies the prospect of evidence of millennia of history. It’s a tantalizing image.

© Bing Maps

© Bing Maps

Billingborough is a small village located just south of the A52 midway between Grantham and Boston in Lincolnshire. The first record of the village, so named, is in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is recorded as Billingeburg. It had a mill and half a church. The name is taken from the Old English group name “Billingas” which means the family and followers of Billa, and “burh” which means the stronghold of the Billingas. But Billingborough has a much more lengthy history than the early Middle Ages.

© Ordnance Survey

© Ordnance Survey

Excavated in 1975-78 minimal evidence was found of activity at Billingborough Fen, which is just south of the town’s Cow Gate, from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age. However, substantial remains of a Middle Bronze Age (2nd half of the 2nd millenium B.C.) ditch and bank enclosure were found dating to about 1500 BC. A number of postholes seem to indicate structures, though what type is difficult to determine due to extensive Medieval ploughing. Ditches and pottery were also found. The enclosure is the most extensively and completely excavated site of its type in the area. The settlement was later abandoned, most likely due to marine flooding.

   © Copyright Kate Jewell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Billingborough Fen.   © Copyright Kate Jewell and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

After about 500 years, the site was again occupied in the late Bronze/Early Iron Age and was used extensively for salt-making. This site is one of the earliest known salt-making sites in the country and a number of features associated with this industry were identified.

“There were four pits containing ashy deposits and briquetage fragments as well as several hearths. These were some gullies which may have been surviving evidence from structures, perhaps temporary shelters or windbreaks. One of the pits appeared, during excavation, to contain an in situ clay structure which disintegrated on excavation. Several scatters of salt-making debris were found across the site. The pottery that was found was not distinctive in form or fabric and was present in only small amounts. It is of a style that dates it probably, to the Bronze Age to early Iron Age. The analysis of the small amount of animal bone (cow, sheep/goat and pig) showed that most of the animals present were exploited for their meat. The development of salt marsh to the east of the site at this period would have provided ideal grazing for sheep, in particular, and meat may have been salted and perhaps traded with settlements in the region”. ( Chowne, Peter; Cheal, Rosamund; and Fitzpatrick, A. P., 2001, Excavations at Billingborough, Lincolnshire, 1975-78: a Bronze-Iron Age settlement and saltern site).

Other sources also identify traces of iron-working and bronze smelting.

Occupation grew more intense toward the last centuries of the 1st millenium B.C. as evidenced by two other enclosures associated with the settlement. During the 1st century A.D., a Romano-British field system was superimposed over the old enclosures. Well-preserved artefacts, including large amounts of pottery, were found representing all phases of occupation. Because of sequence of occupation and the quantities of pottery found, Billingborough Fen has become essential as it generated a recognized pottery sequence for Bronze/Iron Age pottery types and has been used extensively by other conservation and archaeological entities in the area and further afield.

Human bones were also unearthed, comprising one nearly complete female skeleton and one partially complete. One more interesting tidbit. There were also a number of skull fragments. Some had been cut and polished into bowl shapes and are all associated with the Iron Age phase of occupation. They come from several different people and would seem to indicate some type of ritual use. There are comparable examples of this phenomena at All Cannings Cross in Wiltshire and, closer to home, from the Iron Age site at nearby Helpringham. (1st Annual Report of the Trust for Lincolshire Archaeology – October 1985)

This last is quite tantalizing, but in fact all of the wealth of information and artefacts found at this site show the importance of conserving and recording even the most visually insignificant site. Under this flat, unassuming fen, lay layer upon layer of occupation covering about 3500 years, the artefacts of which were used to set a pottery sequence standard used by other archaeologists. Obvious and enigmatic sites are dramatic and visually pleasing, but sometimes I find these unassuming places more intriguing because they are shrouded in so much more mystery and so plentiful while yet unknown. quietly waiting to yield up their story.

They say conservation is about choices. We can’t save everything and we can’t turn the country into a museum. It’s sadly true.  So how do we decide?

There are lots of formal methods. EH has criteria for inclusion on The Heritage at Risk Register and for Scheduling and has published guidance such as The Settings of Heritage Assets [October 2011], Seeing the History in the View [May 2011} and Conservation Principles – Policies and Guidance [2008] that Planning Committees, Inspectors and they themselves can follow. There’s even Section 7.2 of the November minutes of the English Heritage Advisory Committee, which covers “settings”, just released. And yet and yet …. some things that just about everyone feels should be protected are sometimes lost. Why?

It doesn’t help that the conservation pendulum has been hijacked lately by those who benefit from building stuff. Nor is it exactly good news that the official definition of conservation has consequently morphed into “the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset”. (See here).

But even so. Some things just shouldn’t have happened. Digging up gravel in the setting of Thornborough? Building an estate of houses close to Avebury’s henge? And currently: allowing someone to target Oswestry Hill Fort’s setting without throttling the plan the moment it was hatched? Come on!  It’s hard to see how bad some plans and some consequences are without holding them up against comparable decisions that went the other way and in the case of Oswestry we’ve already done that several times recently – see here  for instance.

When decisions ARE held up and compared with others they are sometimes revealed as eccentric – bizarre even. What are the people of Oswestry to make of this for instance, news of a recent case tweeted with justified satisfaction by EH’s Legal Director: “Public benefits of wind turbine does not outweigh harm to setting and significance of hill fort. Appeal dismissed.”   Would they say “Public benefit of the proposed development does not outweigh the public harm to the monument, eh? Lucky for some!”

Meanwhile, elsewhere, more decisions that look bizarre when one is compared with another – a comment on Rescue’s Facebook page: “They want to (substantially damage) a 1830 railway station in Manchester (the first in the whole world) but in London they want to keep 1960’s Elephant and Castle shopping centre because it was the first American style shopping centre in Europe.” I have no knowledge of the relative merits of those two cases but there is surely an argument for usefully holding one against the other in some way? All the public ever wants is consistency. Is there a way to tweak EH’s database of planning decisions to further promote it? Have they the nerve to set up a classification marked: “awful decisions, please don’t use as evidence” ?

Fellow Landowners,


As golden rules go it couldn’t be simpler: never sign a finds agreement without seeing what you are giving away….

It’s obvious isn’t it: the finds are your property so you should control what happens to them,  once you have them in your hand. Obvious yes, yet since I mentioned it last week lots of detectorists have been trying to deny it – which tells a dodgy tale I think. Some have been leaning over to a ludicrous degree to oppose its implications, saying it’s OK to take the finds home in the first instance because “sometimes you cannot get to see the farmer straight after a dig.” Yeah right. Not possible or respectful or responsible or practical to restrict your detecting to just those days when the owner IS there, eh?!

So Friends, to repeat: there’s no good reason for things to be taken straight home nor for you not to be given the opportunity to  take independent advice on them. So if someone asks you to agree to it you ought to ask yourself why. The sale of British artefacts is a multi-million pound industry in which the owners get a lamb’s share (how about you?) Most artefact hunters won’t tell you that, nor will anyone working for the Portable Antiquities Scheme. But take a look at Ebay, Treasure Hunting Magazine, The Searcher and coin dealers’ catalogues and see for yourself. The evidence is overwhelming.

Your friend

Silas Brown,
Grunter’s Hollow Farm,




Wording to look out for and avoid:
A portion of the National Council for Metal Detecting Model Finds Agreement showing the two crucial phrases that make the detectorist, alone in the field, the sole arbiter of the value of each object and hence whether you get any money for it or even ever see it. As contracts go, it must surely be one of the most manipulative in history.



And now comes yet more defence of the “take it home without showing him” system!  “You wouldn’t find a person who shoots pigeons on behalf of a landowner having to go along to the farmhouse at the end of the day to show the farmer how many birds they shot…. “

Eh??!! What a desperate comparison to make – and how strongly it signals there’s no respectable defence?! It’s up to you Friends, but I personally see ludicrous gyrations in defence of taking home items of yours that might be worth multi thousands of pounds without showing them to you as instructive. The question that remains hanging  in the air is why, why, why would anyone NOT want you to see what they’ve found?

The same fellow even has the almighty neck to conclude with: “Truth, openness and honesty with your landowners is all that is required”  Too damn right it is, Sunshine, the same as Tesco’s require of their customers! Just bring every farmer everything you’ve found before you leave their premises, using the moral standards of normal people outside your circle, and stop trying to wriggle out of it. Grrrr.


Another one has just said: “The ‘Farmer Brown’ character in these posts is a joke in terms of a balanced attitude”. Damn right,  Moonbeam! I’m a farmer that’s pro-Farmer, what’s wrong with that? Have years of PAS flattery and talking to your mates convinced you you’re owed a balanced attitude? Truth is, you’re simply random people who turn up at our gates proposing you go on our fields and keep everything of ours worth up to 300 or 500 pounds while saying you’re mad keen on history. Is that not 100% accurate? Yes it is. So how is saying so not a “balanced attitude”? Do you mean you want me to pretend it’s not true and that you’re some sort of national hero? The brass monkeys in Hell will be crying their eyes out before that happens, ooh arr.

Oh, and here’s a true jewel of detectorists’ self-delusionary self-praise from one of his colleagues…

I bet every detectorist on this forum has a good relationship with their farmer/landowner(s)“. (I’ll bet they do!). “Honesty and trust is paramount.” Oh really! Then how come, instead of getting farmers to sign binding contracts you just trust them to give you some of them back when you deliver them?  Oooh, er, ummm, ignore Farmer Brown he’s an extremist who presents an unfair image of us…. !!   [And predictably, the remarks have now been hidden. Makes you proud to be British doesn’t it!]

And someone else doesn’t like facing up to reality….
“I for one am sick to death of having my words twisted, ignored and dismissed by these seemingly educated people who are only interested in the improvements that are offered on their terms.Therefore rather than keep on banging my head against a brick wall, I have decided to shut down this blog and just get on with my metal detecting…the way that I like it.!”

To clarify: They aren’t terms and they aren’t ours. They are a description of civilised behaviour  If he doesn’t want to comply when other detectorists have happily done so without difficulty or complaint for many years then so be it, but don’t blame us or civilisation. No-one is being fooled.

And another equally uncomprehending fellow chips in … accusing us of “extremist demands” that have caused “responsible detectorist Steve Broom to vacate his responsible metal detecting blog”. Makes us sound more like  terrorists than conservationists. Boo hoo.  That comes of us taking stuff home without showing the owner and saying it’s the responsible thing to do. Oh no, that’s not us is it?!


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


I’ve heard it said that “once is an accident, twice is a habit, and a third time makes a tradition”. With that in mind, as we approach the end of Spring and another Bank Holiday weekend, it’s time for our now ‘traditional’ Summer Competition.

In the past we have featured stone circles and hillforts in our Summer competition. This year it’s the turn of Burial Chambers, Dolmens, Cromlechs, Quoits and the like from across England and Wales. Courtesy of the PicToBrick software, which turns any photo into a Lego® mosaic, we have 9 pictures for you to identify.

Each photo is 48×32 Lego® studs in size, and if anyone is mad enough to want a copy of the instructions for making their own mosaic from the bricks, we can provide. But be warned: at around 6p for a single 1×1 brick, each picture would cost around £100 to make, including a base plate!

Now this is either going to be remarkably easy, or incredibly difficult. A little hint; partially close/squint your eyes and defocus and the details should become clearer. We’ll start you off with an easy one…


2 mosaic


1 mosaic


3 mosaic


4 mosaic (2)


5 mosaic


6 mosaic


7 mosaic


9 mosaic


8 mosaic

Once again, no other clues, no prizes, this is just a bit of Summer fun! How many can you get right? Answers to follow in a few days.

A story in yesterday’s Shropshire Star  is not about Oswestry Hill Fort and yet it is…..

It is about another Shropshire Iron Age hill fort, Norton Camp, a huge but overgrown hill fort on the outskirts of another Shropshire town, Craven Arms, to the South of Oswestry. There are controversial plans to build 14 new executive style homes near to it despite objections from residents. However, ever respectful of the County’s historic heritage Shropshire Council is standing firm ….

It is likely to recommend outline planning permission is granted but only subject to a “stringent” set of restrictions on the developers, including allowing archaeologists onto the site before any building work takes placeto make sure there is nothing of value on the development site”.

There’s the crux. Shropshire Council will make sure nothing of heritage value is lost adjacent to a hill fort at Craven Arms while fighting like a starving pit bull to damage the setting of another hill fort at Oswestry.

As part of our occasional series looking back at previous articles here’s what was in the Journal on this day 9 years ago in May 2006, an account of a very enjoyable weekend many of us spent in Derbyshire.

How did our neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors transport massive stones? Many theories have been put forward but none of them truly satisfied Gordon Pipes, a carpenter from Derbyshire, and member of Heritage Action. So he formed a group of interested amateur antiquarians called ‘the Stonehengineers’ and staged a demonstration (appropriately, at the National Tramway Museum) of a method he believed may have been used. He called it “stone rowing” and his idea was that by lifting the stones on levers and moving them along in a series of short steps would involve less friction and therefore require less effort than hauling them on rollers – so far fewer people could have been involved.

Elaine Swann of Heritage Action was there. She said: “The levers and fulcrums were put in place and it was all hands on deck. Gordon stood at one end and on his word we pressed down on the levers taking the weight of the 12 ton concrete block. We all stepped in one direction and, wow, the stone moved effortlessly in the other…”

Something we tried earlier....  A number of Heritage Action members taking part in the Stonehengineers' stone rowing experiment. (c) Nigel Swift, Heritage Action

Something we tried earlier….

Steve Gray, an engineer and also a member of Heritage Action who was there, said: “I’m sure with practice we could easily get up to 100 yards per hour and our ancestors who would have known all the things we were trying to learn could have done it very much faster.”

Gordon thinks an additional advantage of the method is that by using it large stones can be transported just as easily uphill, downhill or across uneven, scrubby land, which is very problematic when hauling them on rollers. But the greatest advantage is the fact that so few people are needed. The demonstration used less than 30 people which is certainly food for thought considering the concrete block they moved weighed as much as 3 or 4 Stonehenge blue stones! Could the bluestones have been brought by teams of just 8 people?

The Stonehengineers went on to try other methods (including enlisting the services of a super-fit tug o’ war team to apply the traditional hauling methods. It became clear that hauling could be made far more efficient than had previously been demonstrated, particularly by using far smaller rollers. In the end the consensus was that both methods might have been used – hauling for level, solid ground and rowing for when the ground was problematic or steeply sloping. It was certainly felt it would be difficult to imagine stones being manoeuvred around corners or over streams or lined up to precise positions without a degree of rowing being used.


May 2014

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,812 other subscribers

Twitter Feed

%d bloggers like this: