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We recently managed to shame the country’s largest metal detecting shop, Regtons, into stopping selling night vision gear. It was a victory for conservation (which PAS and The Archaeological Establishment should have secured, not us) but it was only a small one, for two reasons:

First, Regtons may have desisted but lots of other detecting outlets haven’t. Just look at all the “Night Owl” gear that Joan Allen Detectors will deliver to you on a next day basis. It is difficult to believe that detector shops that sell items that nighthawks find useful are unaware of precisely what they are contributing to. What do you think?

Second, as we’ve said so often, the debate about whether nighthawks are a tiny minority or not is a damaging distraction for it diverts the public’s attention from the real scandal – that the knowledge theft that nighthawks cause is dwarfed by the knowledge theft perpetrated by the far more numerous non-reporting legal detectorists. One day no doubt Posterity will judge today’s archaeologists harshly for not shouting that simple truth from the roof tops and particularly in the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster. The fundamental reality of the British portable antiquities policy is that non-regulation of “legal” detecting causes far more heritage damage than flogging night vision equipment to criminals. It’s not a great charge to lay at the door of British Archaeology but there it is.


Aunt Bella’s School for Nearsighted Young Women and British Archaeologists. Missing the bleeding obvious.

Aunt Bella’s School for Nearsighted Young Women and British Archaeologists. Missing the bleeding obvious.



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


He wasn’t planting potatoes” said one witness of a  man seen at an Irish national monument at Carrig, Blessington, swinging a pick-axe and carrying loads of stones away in a wheelbarrow. Last Friday the Judge sentenced him. He got a €10,000 fine and an 18 month suspended sentence. So less than what it might have been  (a  fine of up to €10,000,000 or 5 years in jail) but a lot compared with over the water where it seems you can sometimes bulldoze stuff with not a lot of consequence.

That was literally true at Offa’s Dyke and it was also effectively true at Priddy where the culprit was so rich the fine and other costs were of no real consequence to him.

“No punishment for damage” is also the reality at Stonehenge where English Heritage recently revealed that the stones have been deliberately vandalised at almost every summer solstice celebration for the past ten years as well as at the latest winter one and we’re all waiting for a single one of the culprits to be punished, even by the gentlest of raps on the knuckles with a feather duster…


We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time one of the three stone alignments at Drizzlecombe on Dartmoor is examined.


On the lower slopes of a pronounced spur leading south west from Higher Hartor Tor is a remarkable prehistoric ritual complex including three stone alignments and at least 22 cairns. The rows are set close to each other and all of them have a cairn at the upper end. The terminal stones at the lower end of two alignments tower above the others which look tiny by comparison. In common with many rows the size of the stones varies considerably with many just protruding through the turf. All three terminal stones were re-erected by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee in 1893 following excavations to identify the sockets.  Several other stones within the rows had also fallen but these remain recumbent.

However you define special the Drizzlecombe area must surely rank amongst the best. There is something for everyone. As well as the prehistoric ritual monuments there are several well preserved Bronze Age settlements and from later periods there are field systems and tinworks. Whichever way you look there is archaeology starring back at you inviting exploration and discovery. There is plenty to keep you occupied, so much to see and ponder.  It is therefore with some trepidation and at the risk of overload I am going to suggest that as well as looking at the archaeology around your feet that (weather permitting) you look towards the south west for views of the sea. The location of Drizzlecombe means that these views are tightly focussed but as elsewhere they would seem to suggest deliberation. In common with several other sites the alignments sit within a valley location and are nearly surrounded by hills. It is as if the site has been chosen because of the particular views where the sea appears and disappears as you move around the area. This article will deal with the south eastern alignment which is described by Jeremy Butler as Row 1.


Simplified plan showing the relative positions of the stone alignments at Drizzlecombe. Associated cairns are shown as circles. (Source: Google Earth and Butler, 1994,136).

Row 1

This stone alignment measures 149.5m long including at least 86 slabs. It is unusual in that for part of its length it is formed by a double row of stones, but at either end by a single row of stones. Despite this anomaly there can be no doubting its prehistoric credentials. Regular readers of the Heritage Journal will know what is about to happen next, but for those of you who may be new to this series a sequence of Google Earth ground level view images are now going to be presented to illustrate views towards the sea from different spots along the alignment. Fieldwork at several locations has demonstrated that this technique is valid and whilst obviously there will be a need to confirm each “remote sensing” exercise in the field the results to date have indicated that it is a reliable method of rapidly identifying sites with observable links to the sea.


The southern alignment at Drizzlecombe has a cairn at the upper end and large terminal pillar at the far end. The valley below has been scoured for tin from prehistoric times. View from the north east.

Views from the alignment

A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the cairn at the top of the row, the second from the point where the row changes from a single row to a double row and the third from the terminal pillar.


The view from the top of the alignment provides a clearly focussed view of a pair of sea triangles. The larger triangle on the left would also be framed by the cairn at the top of the Shaugh Moor stone alignment. Sadly the cairn has been very badly damaged and even with powerful binoculars will no longer be visible. However when fresh someone standing at the top of this alignment could have seen the Shaugh Moor cairn apparently protruding into the sea beyond. Another of Dartmoor’s visual treats and perhaps further evidence for the importance of visual links between the natural and the artificial.


At the point where the double alignment commences, the sea disappears behind Shaugh Moor in the background and Eastern Tor in the foreground. As you walk along the row towards this point (a distance of only about 30m) it will look like the sea is being swallowed up by these two hills. In a culture where the boundary between land and water was significant this would have been seen as special and worth denoting by raising stones to mark the route to be followed.


There are no views towards the sea along the entire lower length of the alignment and at the south western end the view is now dominated by Eastern Tor. The journey is complete and its end denoted by a massive granite pillar.


A huge pillar denotes the south western end of the alignment. The row can be seen leading away into the distance. The second pillar visible in this photograph forms the lower end of Row No. 2. A large cairn known as the Giant’s Basin is visible protruding from behind this large standing stone.

Mapping the Sea Triangles


Two very restricted views to the sea are visible from the cairn at the top of the alignment. The eastern one also includes the Shaugh Moor alignment cairn as well as the sea. This might imply some sort of sophisticated planning or could be a coincidence. The frequency of such special relationships is however worth emphasising and even if a coincidence it would have been something that they were very aware of. Each sea triangle would have been spectacularly illuminated in turn by the winter sun and may have added a temporal dimension to any ceremonies. The eastern arc should glisten for about 10 minutes at 3.40pm and the western arc for just a few minutes at around 3.55pm. (all times are modern!). I do hope one day to see this for myself.


Butler, J., 1994, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume Three – The South-West” 135-142.

Previous articles in this series:

It’s probably best that the following account of vandalism at the winter solstice should be given a wider airing than to just 14 people at the latest Round Table meeting….


The bit about “it will be too expensive to have analysis done” is striking in view of the fact that each year up to 35,000 summer revellers aren’t charged (say) £10 each which amounts to £350,000 not collected. But be that as it may, since it has recently been revealed that apart from the above winter damage there has been vandalism at the stones during almost every summer solstice gathering over the past decade, would it be unreasonable to ask for something to be done to put a stop to it?

(So far as we know there was no vandalism during the lantern parade gathering so it’s clearly possible).

We’ll keep it simple. Several years ago Central Searchers hid their “Rule 11” from public gaze. (No wonder. It said any non-treasure find worth up to £2,000 belongs entirely to the finder). We assumed they’d then quietly drop it and that would be the end of it. But no, we’ve just discovered it on full public display again but in a different place and re-named as “Rule 14”. Here it is in all its history-loving fair-minded glory:

14. Items found by any member/non member/guest can be retained by the member/non member/guest as long as its value is no more than £2,000.

Is that fair or does it suggest an acquisitive attitude towards heritage that even a Minister for Culture would be hard-pressed to describe as heroic? You decide. All we know is that more than an eighth of all detectorists and lots of PAS employees have attended Central Searchers rallies and we’ve heard not a word from them about Rule 14 being a disgrace or that they won’t attend because of it. So maybe it’s just us?


How 50 valuable finds would be divided under Rule 14

How 50 valuable finds would be divided under Rule 14



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


An internal Cadw e-mail written three days after they were asked to consider the Bancbryn stone alignment for scheduling provides an insight into much of what followed.

“I think we know the answer to the questions raised – although if it does prove to be schedulable it might prove awkward. But we are under pressure to do something. At present the line is that DAT are keeping it safe and assessing the feature. Should we though bring it to a head by arranging an urgent inspection so that we can discount this for scheduling (or otherwise), as the pressure to do something will not go away in the meantime.” (Cadw official, 19 January 2012).

This item of correspondence written at a time before anyone from Cadw had visited the site acknowledges that it would be awkward for them if the site was of national importance. The suggested remedy would on the face of it seem somewhat prejudiced. The (or otherwise) reads very much as an afterthought and there is an implicit assumption that the site will be discounted for scheduling – and all of this before they have even seen it. Some might think this approach lacks balance.


An awkward feature that should be discounted for scheduling (or otherwise)

As National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins once said (in 2008) : To accuse the Trust of being effete, a little bumbling and slow to embrace change is really to accuse it of being what its public likes it for being. ” 

Quite. Slow to embrace change, that’s the ticket, the charm, the thing that keeps the money flowing in from 4 million members. It’s “Forever, for everyone” that hooks them, and until recently the Trust has delivered. As Sir Simon recalled more recently: “When in 2011 the coalition government caved in to developer lobbyists and began to dismantle rural planning” the Trust “pivoted to militant mode.” Their stance has been not far short of heroic. So it was all the more shocking when late last year they did a screeching Top Gear u-turn at our national icon. It was like finding Sir David Attenborough is a Russian spy. Wow!

So the Stonehenge WHS isn’t as well protected as everyone thought. Yes it’s full of scheduled monuments, yes it’s covered by a UNESCO declaration but no, it’s not protected from sudden winds of change – especially if two come along at once (in this case, a perceived electoral advantage corresponding with a key guardian having a temporary brainstorm). So do we need something more robust? I noticed that in America they have something which might fit the bill. Here’s an example –

forever wild

That land is designated “forever wild” under Article 14 of the New York state constitution so it’s status can only be changed by amending that constitution. Imagine if Stonehenge had been in New York State and covered by a “Forever Sacrosanct” statute? Right now it would be – well, sacrosanct – unless and until lots of complex procedures and votes said otherwise. Trouble is, it’s in Wiltshire and a lapse by it’s key guardian and a fag packet electoral strategy plan has done for it in a jiffy. Sacrosanct, nah. Sacrificed, yes.

Not that Britain is devoid of “robust protection”, we invented it. Just last week the Conservators of Malvern Hills have said no to a cable car as they are forbidden to say yes by at least 5 statutory provisions including the Malvern Hills Acts of 1884, 1924, 1930 and 1995! (So no question up there of “but we’d get votes out of it” and “Oh go on then!”) Not that statutes are the only techniques – the Americans also have things called “forever wild deed restrictions” which owners can impose on their land. Presumably the Trust could place  a “Forever Sacrosanct deed restriction” on their land all round Stonehenge. It might not hold the line against a compulsory purchase order but it would at least show they are staunch defenders of what they hold in trust forever, for everyone, not unreliable ones. Incidentally, at Malvern the vote was 21-0 against the proposed development with one abstention. What were the voting figures at the Trust? You don’t know? Why?

Dear Posterity,  For the third time in history we've been asked to allow a visitor centre to be built at the top with cable cars up the slopes but we refused. This has been our gift to you. Enjoy. The Malvern Hills Conservators, 2015.

Dear Posterity,
We’ve been asked to allow cable cars to be built on the slopes and a visitor centre at the top but we refused as we’re not allowed to say yes and we have a duty to “keep the hills open, unenclosed and unbuilt on“. This has been our gift to you. Enjoy.
The Malvern Hills Conservators, 2015.

Before we add to our criticism of the National Trust’s recent stance at Stonehenge it’s only fair we pay tribute to how they acted until recently. This excellent piece by their chairman in The Guardian last Autumn  says it all:

“When in 2011 the coalition government caved in to developer lobbyists and began to dismantle rural planning, a body that had minded its business displaying old houses and gardens pivoted to militant mode. It recalled its founding by Octavia Hill not to preserve the homes of aristocrats but to protect beautiful landscapes for poor city dwellers.

I was amazed at the gullibility of politicians to the spurious claim that recovery from recession lay in building executive homes in meadows, not in renewing Britain’s exhausted town and city centres. Even where there might be a case for more rural building, Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, decided to let the market rip, be it for houses, warehouses, turbines or hypermarkets. Every county in Britain seemed under siege.

The result was not growth but war. My miserable duty was to be driven by planners round derelict urban acres, where factories, schools and shops were emptying while costly infrastructure was built by taxpayers in the surrounding country. David Cameron claimed this was sustainable. It was dumb.”

West Shopshie fom Tittestone Clee

The Government’s policy of an ubiquitous “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, defined merely as profitable, is the most philistine concept in planning history” [Simon Jenkins, Our Glorious Land in Peril, September 2013]


We forgot to add this to the previous update!

Jan 29, 2015

Thank you for your e-mail. My last update on this project had been in November last year, when the archaeological contractor had confirmed that the reinstatement had been completed but final photos were needed. I hadn’t heard anything since and as I was in the area yesterday I visited the site to see how the reinstated bank now looks. I can report that it is in good condition with a thin covering of grass. It is currently fenced off to protect it until the grass is well established.

I am awaiting an update on the publication and will contact you with details once I know more. If you have any further questions please do contact me.

Kind Regards

Mel Barge (Ms) | Inspector of Ancient Monuments

Interpol plus


February 2015

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