You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2015.


The Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Christmas Meeting included a scary reminder to staff about the Freedom of Information Act:

pas PRE xMAS.

Wise, but it exacerbates a huge problem. The financial incentives for finders to lie to PAS are massive and it would be foolish to pretend it doesn’t happen a lot, albeit mostly undetected. So it’s concerning that on those occasions when PAS staff do have suspicions they are unable to express doubt or warn each other which means still more false information will get onto the database. Here’s just one example of how massive the incentive to lie to them can be:  if you find a £2,000 item on a farm where you have a 50-50 agreement with the farmer and you tell PAS you found it at a rally elsewhere which has no such sharing provision (they exist) then you’ve instantly made yourself £1,000. Laundering by find spot description is probably the easiest, most profitable and hardest to prove fib in the whole country and even when PAS suspect it they’re forbidden to say.

Dr Bland is snooty about amateurs who criticise his organisation but actually it is they who are entitled to be snooty about him. His database must contain large numbers of lies to a degree he can’t know and which he doesn’t acknowledge. Lucky for him that Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has just confessed to Parliament: “I have made no formal assessment of the effectiveness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.” If he had done so he’d have put a couple of his permanent officials on it and trust me (I know some) they’re super-smart people and would look a lot further than PAS’s own self-adoring Annual Reports. I guarantee they’d work out the implications of the fact that the contributors to the database are mostly not High Court Judges and can make lots of money simply by saying Corby not Kirkby. Whitehall officials can see when Emperors have no clothes just as well as amateurs can and they can’t be dismissed as know-nowts for saying so.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust, a body that is neither lapdog nor mouthpiece, has written to all the political parties with some questions that a lapdog or mouthpiece wouldn’t embarrass them with. Good. This one about Stonehenge will elicit some tricky wording no doubt (maybe even some classics of the politicians’ art if we’re lucky):

“Does your party support the short bored tunnel as proposed by the present Government which, if implemented, would contravene Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention? Do you have any objection to investigating the full range of options, including the long bored tunnel as proposed by the Stonehenge Alliance and supported by RESCUE and other heritage organisations?”


Oh dear, so what’s a poor political spokesperson to do?

Say they DO support the short tunnel as it won’t contravene the World Heritage Convention?
No, can’t do that because it does!

Say they DON’T object to investigating other options?
No, can’t do that as two of the parties have already ruled the other options out!

Say they DO object to investigating other options
..and thus go down in history as part of a here-today and gone-tomorrow vote-chasing gang who signed off on damaging a World Heritage Site for electoral advantage?

Well yes, that’ll be it, though not in such brutally honest terms. In fact we can anticipate some sidesteppy or reassuring responses, something like …. “We support the short tunnel providing any adverse impacts can be minimised”. Any bets? That has to be how it’ll be as it involves supporting the short tunnel in a “safe” way and thus gaining loads of votes with no risk of being accused of supporting destruction and no absolute proof that talk of minimising the harm is nonsense. Which it certainly is,  for the landscape there is so full of archaeology that the damage caused by gouging a dual carriageway-sized trench through it to create access to the tunnel will be so massive that it will still be massive after it has been minimised! If you hear anyone saying otherwise (and you probably won’t, only subtly implying it) they’ll be politicians. Or lapdogs. Or mouthpieces.

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Burford Down stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.


The Burford Down single stone alignment includes a 508m long line of stones leading north from a kerbed cairn at SX 63697 60170 and incorporates at least 100 stones, many of which are now recumbent.  The alignment is situated on a pronounced north to south promontory extending from the higher ground of Dartmoor to the north and offers two separate views towards the sea. Indeed the sea is visible only from either end and is not visible from much of the central length.  Clearly it is impossible to demonstrate that the particular visual changes experienced as you move along the alignment were deliberately contrived but the accumulation of evidence strongly supports the idea that many of the alignments were positioned to generate a particular set of visual reveals, with those involving the sea being the most obvious. This really should come as no surprise since it has been accepted for some time that prehistoric ritual monuments were carefully positioned with particular cognisance to local topography. Ritual was important to these people and indeed in many ways it defined their whole lives. Movement played a significant part in their ceremonies as is witnessed by the considerable distances that stones were often carried and indeed it has been suggested that the routes taken by the builders of some of our most impressive megalithic monuments may have been as important as the monuments themselves. The alignments may therefore be seen as a physical manifestation of special routes – but what made them special? Chances are that like so much in life it was different things or events but the correlation between sea views and many rows strongly implies that the relationship between land and sea was significant and worth celebrating although of course we are left to speculate on why.

Views from the alignment

A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the northern end of the row and each subsequent image is taken from a point along the alignment with the last one being from the kerbed cairn at the top.


View from the lower (northern) end of the alignment. A view to the sea and a pair of sea triangles are present.


As one proceeds along the row the view is initially maintained. (34m from lower end)


After 128m the sea view is transformed into a sea triangle by the rising ground of Burford Down in the foreground.


After 168m only the westernmost sea triangle is visible. The other two disappeared in the course of 40m.


After 220m the final sea triangle disappears behind the rising ground of Burford Down. For the next 208m there is no view of the sea.


After 428m a sea triangle slowly emerges from behind the brow of the Burford Down. Reveals such as this perhaps formed part of the ceremonies associated with the alignments.


From the cairn at the top a narrow band of sea is visible.  During winter months the low sunlight reflecting on the sea creates a “beam of light”. This impressive natural phenomenon could have been incorporated into the ceremonies.


Map showing the arcs of visibility from the northern end of the alignment.  Each sea triangle would have been illuminated in turn by the winter sun and may have added a temporal dimension to the ceremonies. The easternmost arc would have been illuminated from about 2.30pm until 3.40pm, the central one at 4.15pm and the westernmost arc around 4.20pm.


Map showing the arc of visibility from the kerbed cairn at the southern end of the alignment. The beam of light would have been visible from around 11.40am until 2.15pm and varied in intensity according to the weather and date.

Previous articles in this series:

By Dr Sandy Gerrard.

On the 2nd January 2012 we were invited by friends to have a look at an area that was about to be destroyed by wind farm construction works. The wind farm was to occupy Mynydd y Betws and the part we chose to look at was around Bancbryn.

A few years earlier despite protestations from Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) permission had been granted by the Welsh Assembly Government for a wind farm to be erected subject to a whole raft of conditions. Amongst these were a couple of archaeological ones which sought to ensure that the archaeology was properly recorded prior to destruction. In 2011 a programme of work was carried out by Cotswold Archaeology who reported that very little had been found. With the green light in place construction work started towards the end of 2011 and it was then that we were approached by friends who were concerned that various planning conditions were being flouted.

The visit on 2nd January rapidly revealed that there were archaeological remains within the area that was scheduled for destruction. Traces of archaeological trenches were visible in places but these appeared to have missed the surviving remains. The local archaeological trust (DAT) were informed of our discoveries and eventually agreed to meet on the mountain on 16th January.  The DAT officer agreed that the remains were of potential significance and asked the developers to stop work in their vicinity until they had been investigated.

In the meantime a request to schedule one of the sites was submitted to Cadw together with a question. Why had no attempt been made to look for and record the archaeology within the development footprint?

From this point onwards the archaeological organisations involved set about protecting their positions and in doing so exposed series flaws in the way that archaeology is conducted in Wales. Freedom of Information requests have revealed the highly questionable ways in which the various organisations sought to minimise the political fallout and the considerable lengths that they were willing to go to try and protect their vested interests.

Amongst the techniques used were: ignoring evidence; failing to substantiate claims; not publishing the excavation report, refusing to engage with many of the issues; conducting a biased scheduling assessment and attempting to withhold information.  Perhaps most telling however was the role played by DAT who were simultaneously providing planning advice to the local authority whilst working on behalf of the developer. Where else within the planning system is a private company (DAT) able to act simultaneously on behalf of both the developer and the planning authority?

Running through the whole sorry saga however is a seam of complete incompetence.  Fundamental mistakes were made at every turn – contradictions, inconsistencies, inaccuracies and contempt for public concerns are all apparent.  During the coming months the evidence to support these and other claims will be presented.

Of course if any of the organisations involved would like to comment we would be happy to publish their responses in full (The Heritage Journal).

bancbryn Walking along the Bancbryn stone alignment. Whatever its date, its discovery has certainly highlighted fundamental flaws with the heritage protection process in Wales.

A farmer is being blaggarded on a forum. Can you guess why: “I’d tell him where to get off!/ he’s taking the YouKnowWhat/ this sets a dangerous precedent/ could spread like a cancer/ As he seems so greedy I would agree & only show him your trash & grots/ Everybody these days want’s something for nothing!/ cheeky so and so/ he may simply be an arrogant pig head.”

Greedy, arrogant pig head

Greedy, arrogant pig head

His crime? He says they can have ALL the finds from his land up to a value of £50 but he’d like to keep anything worth more. What a monster!  Keep in mind, it’s all his anyway, and (according to them) 99.9% of finds are worth below £50 so he’s actually giving them nearly every item, adding up to lots of money and more than enough for any “hobbyist” to collect and study, So much for “in it for the history”! (One of them even reveals a way round it, just as Farmer Silas Brown has warned about: “make sure every thing you find is worth £49.99”. That’s theft, fraud or looting but you need wits or morals to realise that – so how many times has it happened?).

And it’s not just farmers they claim equal status with, it’s archaeologists. Look at this contribution: “When the day dawns that archaeologists donate their time for the love of history and refuse any payment and the associated professional glory of being involved in high-profile digs then I’ll accept their criticism of any gains I make from detecting”


Archaeologists: in it for the money?

Er, no. The vast majority of archaeologists, particularly at the digger level, are extremely poorly paid – often barely above minimum wage levels and often donate their time for free. That’s what “in it for the history” really means. It’s a vocation, not something they hope to get a lottery win out of. Got it?  In addition, try to get your head round this if you can: they’re paid to recover knowledge for the benefit of the public. When detectorists search just for the public’s benefit, only in selected places where it will be beneficial to the public, always entirely  in accordance with the public’s standards of Best Practice – then, and only then, can they claim some sort of equivalence with archaeologists. Until then they are actually more like chancers, working for their own benefit but painting themselves to each other and at the gates of anyone with a random bit of land as something else.


My mother never saw the irony in calling me a son-of-a-bitch……
“Trolls”. That’s what we’re being called for publishing this article. But look who is saying it – a member of the “Somerset Artifact Seekers” who (until we recently forced them to cancel it) had a rule that said everything they find that isn’t Treasure is entirely THEIRS!

Don’tcha just love ’em? Heroes all !



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting



Punching a Monet

…… 5 years jail.


Chipping a bit off a decorative rock in a US football stadium:

Chipping a bit off a decorative rock in a US football stadium:

….. charged with grand larceny and malicious injury to property.



Bulldozing part of  Offa’s Dyke

….. Not charged (“Didn’t realise”)



Bulldozing a Priddy Circle

…..  very rich, so volunteered money to study what’s left, tiny fine, 0 years jail.


Update: And on a related theme (inconsistent approaches to heritage protection) see these two pithy tweets from Rescue News this morning:

Why is EH worried about unlisted cobbles in Dunster where it has no remit or duty to comment…

…but is absent from active discussion about Dalston, Smithfield, Oswestry, City of Adelaide and others etc., where it does?


We notice English Heritage has just granted Grade 2 Listing to a former cattery in London and this urinal in Bristol. Fine.

Taking the

But we can’t help notice a conservation contrast 40 miles east of Bristol where they and the National Trust are promoting the idea of a too-short tunnel which involves digging massive access trenches inside an area termed “the most archaeologically significant land surface in Europe”.

Of course, if votes could be gained by not protecting notable urinals or catteries it’s possible we’d now be looking at a blitz on those instead – but while that would be sad it wouldn’t be an international scandal. Damaging the Stonehenge landscape would be though and unfortunately the gods of sephology have decreed that there are many marginal seats that might be swayed by a Stonehenge tunnel even if it involved trenches inside the Landscape. Especially if experts went on record implying it would improve the WHS overall!

We happen to have been given what might have been the original pre-election strategy document that lays out the plan.  It’s very simple, no fancy planning terms, so even we amateurs can understand it. Not sure who wrote it but they seem to have been in politics, and hunting enthusiasts….

nose thumb

Please add your voice to those who think it shouldn’t happen by signing the Petition for those living in Britain or the one for those living abroad. You can also email UNESCO which is the global guardian of World Heritage Sites.

by Sandy Gerrard

Cadw’s refusal to designate the Bancbryn stone alignment allegedly hangs on a lack of compelling evidence to support a prehistoric date for the site. We have seen that this sort of nicety does not normally inconvenience them. The schedule is stuffed full of sites that lack any evidence (compelling or otherwise) to support their identification and a whole load more where the evidence strongly suggests that fundamental interpretative mistakes have been made. On an area of moorland not far from Mynydd y Betws at Carn Llechart (SN 69668 06275) stands a scheduled chambered tomb. Over the years doubts have been expressed regarding its identity but despite this and the lack of any evidence to support its identification as a chambered tomb it has remained firmly on the schedule.  The surviving earthworks and slabs of rock can be most plausibly interpreted as a quarry. The dumps of waste are piled up into three neat banks, the slabs have been trenched around to expose their edges and one of the slabs has been split. There is no part of the evidence that does not fit a quarrying scenario whilst by contrast nobody seems to have been able to explain how the different components fit together to form a chambered tomb. Perhaps Cadw would like to explain what the compelling evidence is to justify the statutory designation of this feature.


Quarry pits visible at A with waste material dumps at B.  Although scheduled as a chambered tomb the surviving features look like the result of quarrying. View from south east (28th December 2014).


A large split stone. The thin rock on the left has been split from the slab on the right.  View from above and west.


Large slabs exposed by trenching along their edges. Material removed thrown up to form a bank along the western side. Classic quarrying remains. View from south east.

Silas Will.
silas 89

To whom it may concern:

(1) If ever a “hoard” is found on my land I want it dug up slowly, not fast and by archaeologists, not amateurs, OK? Doing otherwise without asking me would be to assume I’m a philistine who doesn’t care about knowledge-loss, which I’m not or that it’s their hoard or their land, which it ain’t.

(2.) If nighthawks (far or very near) are a worry I wish all those present to keep the hoard safe in the ground for me and the country (I’ll repay any expense). If they’re on my land they owe me that duty. Obvious really, innit?

(3.) I’d like to leave a message for the Treasure Valuation Committee. In future hoard cases please ask every landowner if anyone assured them that “out before nighthfall and don’t wait for the archies” was (a.) the only safe option and (b.) was “best practice, honest”. If you always ask that (and adjust the reward accordingly) then trust me, things will suddenly get a whole lot better. (That’s really obvious too, isn’t it?)

(4.) Finally, I’d also like to leave a message for PAS. As Heritage Action suggested nine long years ago, £6,750 spent on a double page spread in the Farmers Weekly would get the hoard conservation message across to people who might actually heed it. Which would be gloriously refreshing, wouldn’t it?


Silas Brown,
Founder of TFTT, the Tell Farmers the Truth Group,
Grunters Hollow Farm




More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


The prestigious Culture 24 website (a Government-funded arts and heritage charity listed as one of the Guardian’s top 100 essential websites) has just published a feature titled “Ten of the best archaeology blogs from current UK history projects” – and look what’s included!


We know very well we shouldn’t really be spoken of in the same breath as the others, which are mostly blogs by professionals who actually do something but nevertheless we’d be liars if we said we weren’t very pleased, and we’re very grateful to Ben Miller for thinking of us.

We’ve been at this for nearly 12 years on the simple basis that the best way to help preserve ancient sites is to raise awareness of them. What began as a small effort hatched by a group of likeminded friends at a picnic at the Uffington White Horse has grown bigger and involved more people every year. We’ve published more than two thousand articles from dozens of contributors and last year we were read in 154 countries. We must be addressing a need but we can only keep going if people keep coming forward with news, views and articles. (Hint hint! See here for how to do so.)


January 2015

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