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Sekhemka, the ancient Egyptian statue owned by the public yet sold by Northampton Council last year in the face of widespread condemnation, gazes towards another publicly owned asset, the archaeological setting of Oswestry Hillfort, perhaps soon to be destroyed by the actions of Shropshire Council in the face of similar widespread condemnation.

Sekhemka, the ancient Egyptian statue owned by the public yet sold last year by Northampton Council despite widespread condemnation, gazes across  another publicly owned asset, the archaeological setting of Oswestry Hillfort, perhaps soon to be destroyed by the actions of Shropshire Council despite similar widespread condemnation.  In both cases the Councils have assured the public they are motivated by the best of intentions. In both cases, coincidentally, about £15 million is involved.

There was a plan, Oswestry 2020, published in May 2013 under the banner, “Creating Tomorrow Today”. It was signed by Councillor Martin Bennett, Chair of the Steering Group and was said to be based on “the aspirations and priorities of the local community”. Maybe. But with regard to the hillfort something has subsequently clearly come between the will of the people and the actions of their representatives. What that something was might be explained by this account supplied by campaigner Diana Baur on Facebook in Feb 2014: “Martin Bennett emailed me ages ago when I challenged it all and explained that the council are *** scared of being challenged by the developer because they may have to end up with paying costs of such a challenge”.

What that seems to suggest is that if you’ve got deep enough pockets you can bully people with the threat of expensive litigation and get exactly what you want. Is that what’s happened in Shropshireland? It’s certainly one possibility, but there’s another (or maybe another aspect of the same one) : the Plan said of itself that it was “an informed and influential guide to developers, setting out what matters most to local people” and that it expresses The Town Vision in which “important open spaces are protected and enhanced”. But was it?Just look at how the monument’s place in that vision was depicted:

oswestry limits.

It couldn’t be smaller, could it? Keep in mind that that the line round the monument is supposed to be doing two things: a.) illustrating an open space that matters to local people and b.) acting as an informed guide to developers. It is drawn incredibly tightly round the hillfort, with no breathing space, no buffer zone, no hinterland, no protected views and no setting (think of it: what English Heritage say is one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation” and the Plan depicts it with no setting whatsoever!) – and none of it based upon any statutory authority, archaeological opinion or public expression of agreement! Yes, it might be defended as merely “symbolic” and not intended to imply a particular limit to the protected area, but if that’s true it’s a mighty strange coincidence, is it not, that subsequently applications have been made to build houses right up to the very edge of that very line?

oswestry limit 2

Has Shropshire only recently been bullied by people with deep pockets? Or was there an intention to frustrate the popular will and archaeological opinion from the very start?

Or both? You decide.

It was wet, it was cold, it was windy. But that didn’t stop a loyal band of Heritage Action members from congregating at Avebury, twelve years to the very day since a group of megaraks met at the Uffington White Horse to plan what they could do to help combat damage to prehistoric sites. Many of the same people and a whole bunch of others came together at the weekend for the umpteenth (we’ve lost track) ‘Megameet’.

Admittedly, several Founder members couldn’t make it this year but they were replaced by a number of new attendees, some very young, which bodes well for the future. But considering we’re in July, I’ve never seen the circle so devoid of people generally on a summer weekend!

Red Lion

Those who did turn up met with old friends, had an enjoyable lunch in the Red Lion and discussed all things megalithic until the weather cleared enough for some to attempt a brief circumambulation of the henge, including the obligatory ‘selfie’, courtesy of artist and founder member, Jane Tomlinson.


But we weren’t the only people to brave the weather. At the far end of the West Kennet Avenue, an archaeological excavation is taking place over three weeks. The Between the Monuments Project – a collaborative research project between the University of Southampton (Dr Josh Pollard), University of Leicester (Dr Mark Gillings), Allen Environmental Archaeology (Dr Mike Allen) and the National Trust (Dr Ros Cleal & Dr Nick Snashall) – is attempting to answer the tricky question ‘Where and how did the people who built these monuments live?’.

Avenue Trench

The main Avenue trench. Faulkner’s Circle is by the dark tree in the middle background, top centre.

Two trenches have been opened up, one immediately between the stones of the Avenue, and another off to the side. Despite the weather, some of the principals and volunteers were busy mattocking the side trench, part of which has already been excavated down to the natural layer, exposing some ‘periglacial striations’ in the underlying chalk.

Periglacial Striations

The side trench, showing the ‘periglacial striations’.

Sadly, I had no time to stop and chat (and I think they wanted to get on with the dig while the weather allowed it!) as I stupidly had no coat, and a long drive home in the rain ahead of me. But it was good to see everyone again, and I’m sure we’ll do it all again next year, if not sooner!

Another year, and another highly successful Day of Archaeology, which this time round occurred on 24th July (and new posts are still appearing). I imagine the organisers must be feeling very pleased with themselves, and quite exhausted at the moment! Hearty congratulations to everyone involved, and many thanks to the organisers, behind the scenes techies, and all the contributors for telling us exactly what it is they get up to.


As usual, I was watching the Twitter feed (#DayOfArch) and had the web site added to my RSS feed throughout the day, but was simply overwhelmed with the number of posts from very early in the morning, and which continued unabated throughout the day. And what posts! Every aspect of archaeology was covered, from sites around the world, in multiple languages. Many of the posts were lengthy and so detailed that I’m afraid I didn’t get much of my own work done, just trying to keep up! This is a web site of treasures that I’ll return to again and again over the coming weeks and months to see what I can unearth.

And therein lies the problem. In just 5 years, the sheer scale of the project has mushroomed to an extent where, to find an item of specific interest increases in difficulty. Yes, there is a Search facility, but this can seemingly only deal with simple searches. There is also an excellent map facility on the site, showing those posts which have been geo-referenced, but sadly many are not and the map is currently restricted to only show posts from 2011-2013.


The moderators work extremely hard every year categorising each post before it appears so that related posts can be found, and it’s this work that makes the finding of a specific interest a bit easier, although the system isn’t yet perfect. By lunchtime on the day, probably 150-200 posts had appeared on my RSS feed – if not more. Yet searching for the category ‘Day of Archaeology 2015’ showed only 33 posts, of which only 5 were tagged as relating to prehistory! So a bit more work to be done for next year, by which time I may have caught up on reading the posts of interest!

I can’t help but wonder if any other professions would be able to emulate the Day of Archaeology project, let alone garner the obvious depth of public interest. Hopefully the organisers will release some stats in due course showing just how many posts have been created, how many hits the site receives, and which were the most popular posts, year by year.

Here’s to next year!!

Heritage Action member Mark Camp is an author and tour guide. Here, he relates some of his thoughts about the Colvannick stone row on Bodmin Moor.


According to the Modern Antiquarian website, it’s 11 years since I ‘discovered’ this stone row. At the time I was relatively new to prehistoric sites, being more interested in industrial archaeology, and so was happy just to snap a few photos and try to trace the row through the gorse bushes.

In the years since I think I must have visited every stone row on Bodmin Moor, from the tiny row at Carneglos to the undulating row on Fox Tor. I have talked about them on guided walks and given talks about them, but in all that time I have never been able to describe to people why they are where they are. On Dartmoor rows tend to have a reason, in that they nearly always terminate at a cairn or taller stone, but not on Bodmin Moor. They don’t follow any particular direction, often they are not on the skyline, or even high enough to be seen above the grass!

I came to the conclusion that Bodmin Moor’s stone rows were rows of stones and could be where they are for many reasons. I have not even found any proof to suggest they were all erected at the same time, whatever time they were supposed to be erected. I have always taken it for granted that they date back to the Bronze Age and were built by the same people who created stone circles and erected standing stones. But I don’t make any claims to being an expert and as I say to people who walk with me, I can only give you my ideas, I may be completely wrong!

But recently, through the Heritage Journal, the thoughts of Dr Sandy Gerrard have been brought to my attention. I was lucky to meet up with Sandy on Bodmin Moor a few weeks ago when he was giving a guided walk on industrial archaeology. After looking at humps and bumps and the occasional hole for a few hours we got to talking about stone rows and his thoughts on their setting in the landscape. Sandy has put forward the idea that rows lead to viewing points, maybe of the sea or a hill or other features in the landscape. To see an example of this check out his thoughts on Leedon Tor and his other posts on the same subject.

Bearing this in mind, I recently retraced my steps to Colvannick Tor, just off the A30 in the middle of Bodmin Moor. It’s not the most visited part of the moor and looking back on The Modern Antiquarian, I was the last person to add any postings from there… and that was August 2004! Which surprises me as it is only a short walk from a layby and much easier to access than say Fernacre Circle or even the Cheesewring! Saying that, I actually approached from a southerly direction, parking beside the Millpool firing range and walking via St Bellarmins Tor.

The first stone you come across is close to one of the range marker posts (a word of warning, don’t go looking for the row on a day when the red flags are flying – you might get shot!) and is all on its own. Is this the southern end of the row? It’s difficult to say, there are no other standing stones nearby and you cannot make out the main body of the row from here, so is it part of the row or was the row longer, or is it just a stone that is standing? Working on Dr Gerrard’s idea, the only feature in the landscape that comes into view at this point is the main tumuli/cairn on top of Brown Gelly to the east. Until this point it has been hidden by other hills.

From here there is no way of working out where the other stones are, it’s just a matter of walking in a general direction northwards. Recent cutting down of gorse in the area has cleared things a little but it’s still a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact I missed the next stone and had to double back to find it. This is the leaning monster that I first found back in 2004. And from here it is possible to pick up the row heading north (or to be correct NNW). There are four uprights/leaning/lying stones here, all a good size, and from them it is possible to continue on the same bearing to find the last stone further on. This stone is a good four foot high and there is another stone lying nearby on the same bearing. Like the southern stone, you ask the question, is this the end stone?

I am pretty certain there are no more stones standing between here and the A30 but that doesn’t mean there are not some lying in amongst the gorse. Like most of Bodmin Moor the area is also littered with stones, plus in the early 1900s there was a China Clay works built nearby and chances are some stone was sourced locally for building work. But let’s take it that this is the northern end of the row, what can we see?

Away to the north east are the two summits of Roughtor and Brown Willy, but we have been able to see them all the way up the row, so are they relevant to the end stone? Looking south you can see the sea, probably St Austell Bay in the distance and to the east several hills including Brown Gelly. But from here looking west we have Colvannick Tor blocking any view, its actual summit out of site and in the low evening light it is just a mass of shadow and gorse.

But then I spot something. Atop of the hill, in amongst the silhouettes of gorse there appears to be a stone. I might not have seen it in daylight, or I might have taken it for a sheep. I decided to make for it, just to check it out. It was a stone, not the tallest, only about two to three feet high, but from it the view west suddenly opens out and I can see down over the moor and out across the fields to the shining sea beyond the north Cornwall coast. Is that why the stone was put there? If I had continued northwards from the row I am not sure if I would have got the view before another hill came along, so this summit was a lookout point.


What’s more, as I stood there I thought I could make out a broken circle of stones radiating out from the standing stone. Now I have ‘imagined’ stone circles on the moor before and I am not making any claims here, but there are stones there and they create a circle of a similar size to others on the moor.


This is just an observation by somebody who enjoys walking the moor and has no archaeological expertise apart from what I have read in books along the way. I feel that the landscape offers much more than what a book ever can, but at the same time we need experts to decipher what we can see. Colvannick Row is there for everybody to look at and next time you hurtle down the A30 towards West Penwith, take time out and stop just past the Temple turn and have a walk across the moor, see what you can see?

Colvannick map

Our thanks go to Mark for being inspired by Sandy’s work, getting out there to look for himself, and then submitting this article.

Afterword: Sandy Gerrard has subsequently desk-checked this row, and his findings will appear in a followup article in the near future.


Dear Ms Raikes,

The Chancellor has just said he wants more cuts, up to 40%, so you’ll know you’ve been handed the reins not just of a smaller PAS but a very much smaller one. I have some grass roots thoughts on that fact. The thing is, you may not have heard of me but actually I’m quite central to everything you’ll be doing – for although I’m only notional I’m pretty average – an octogenarian Salopian landowner, part of an army of ordinary people who stand like gatekeepers and guardians at the entrance to every one of the hundreds of thousands of fields containing Britain’s buried archaeological resource. You’ve just been tasked with pleading with artefact hunters to behave well while detecting whereas we on the other hand already have the absolute power to decide whether they detect at all – and, most importantly, in what manner. So my simple suggestion is that you talk to all of us – first, second and third. 

PAS didn’t. They outreached almost exclusively to detectorists and hardly at all to us. You know the result and I suggest it would have been very different if PAS had targeted landowners far more. May I suggest you spend some time on some farming forums and then on some detecting ones (especially the hidden sections). I promise you’ll find farmers refreshingly receptive to your message in a way that most detectorists demonstrably haven’t been. I should hasten to add, before you or your advisers do, that yes, some detectorists are fine people who act in the national interest and are a credit to archaeology – but they are not the majority are they and they aren’t the problem PAS was set up to address.

It’s a quite unacceptable fact that after 18 years of PAS outreach neither the NCMD nor FID nor 99.5% of detecting clubs require members to report a single non-Treasure item to PAS or to abide by the official Responsibility Code or Best Practice. Indeed, they insist only on compliance with their own, trickily worded and entirely inadequate codes which landowners are told indicate “responsibility”. PAS has never explained the difference to landowners and indeed their interaction with landowners is so weak that the largest rally company is able to have a rule that finds worth up to an eye-watering £2,000 don’t even have to be shared with the owner, something which is very likely to encourage non-disclosure to farmers or yourselves and laundering by findspot falsification. I submit that if PAS would explain the moral and practical importance of best practice to landowners (despite extreme pressure from NCMD and others to minimise that message), many of them would insist upon anyone detecting on their fields complying.

So my suggestion for “reduced PAS” is rather simple. Ask every Finds Liaison Officer to spend the next three months outreaching to landowners. We farmers have known since the dawn of time that fertile fields are more productive than stony ground and it’s surely time for PAS to acknowledge that they know it too.


Silas Brown
Grunters Hollow Farm



Here we go again. Tarting up Stonehenge for a bit of fun. Yes of course it’s harmless and meant to persuade people to play the Lottery “to ensure he doesn’t win”. But it’s not harmless for the reasons we cite constantly about stunts at places like Uffington White Horse and many others: every bit of “brandalism” signals that exploitation is OK and respect isn’t owed and carries the risk of copycatting at other ancient monuments – sometimes with damaging results. What’s wrong with “sancrosanct” as a guiding principle? Please answer, English Heritage!

Oh and there’s another puzzling aspect of this. Camelot was given permission to do it in exchange for an awful  lot of money no doubt whereas every year English Heritage facilitate all sorts of damage and disrespect at Solstice completely gratis! They really need to sort out their role. Are they there to make money wherever they can? Or not? Are they heritage guardians? Or not?

(BTW, it’s been two and a half weeks and we’re still waiting for a reply from their General Manager about whether they’ll send us their Round Table minutes for publication here – or if they’ll only supply them to a “Free Access” group!)

It’s only a few days away now, so time for a very brief final reminder that we’ll be meeting up in Avebury this coming Sunday, from 12 noon.

We’d love to see as many of you there as possible, so why not come along, say hello and meet some friendly, like-minded people? There’ll be plenty of chat on prehistory, heritage protection and all related matters, as well as ample opportunity to explore the area.

Oh, and don’t forget to bring along a book or two for the book swap. Anything is acceptable, but Prehistoric Archaeology books will have more chance of finding a grateful recipient.

Bank and Ditch at Avebury, © Rebecca van der Putt, RIP.

Bank and Ditch at Avebury, © Rebecca van der Putt, RIP.

Update: We’ve just been reminded that there is currently an archaeological dig ongoing at Avebury, in the West Kennet Avenue that leads SW from the main circle. Full details of the dig so far can be found on the FragmeNTs web site. They’ll be digging every day except Fridays until Friday 7 August, and will have volunteer meet and greeters on site to explain what they’ve uncovered so far.

As reported on several heritage and archaeology mailing lists recently, West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village (which we visited last year) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this coming weekend, on 25 and 26 July.

To mark the occasion, members of the public are invited to visit the site throughout the weekend free of charge – giving them the opportunity to re-engage with the unique site or to experience the site for the first time and visit the reconstructed buildings.

West Stow house 'The Workshop'

The West Stow Anglo-Saxon Trust would love to welcome anyone involved with the archaeological site during the past 50 years to join in the celebrations – original archaeological diggers, reconstructors and anyone else who helped bring the village to life. However, the Trust doesn’t have contact details for everyone involved, so please spread the word through your networks. The main event will be on Saturday 25 July, from 11am until 4pm. BBC Radio Suffolk will be broadcasting live from the site between 1 and 3pm and interviewing some of those involved. In the education room, there will be a slideshow of archive images of the village and a display of the results from the Festival of Archaeology and Breaking New Grounds test pitting project.

This will be a very informal gathering (no speeches!) and a relaxed day in a wonderful setting.

free access to info

It’s no secret we think the Stonehenge solstices celebrations are too crowded so are often damaging and disrespectful and that English Heritage should take a firmer line.  So we wrote to their Stonehenge General Manager saying “May we please be copied in with the minutes of the recent and future Round Table meeting so that we can publish them on the Heritage Journal?” Our thinking was that if they send these minutes to the website of campaigners for Free Access, which they do, it’s only reasonable that they should also send them to us so we can pass them on to our many thousands of followers who are equally deserving stakeholders. Unfortunately we haven’t had a reply whereas in stark contrast EH has just supplied “Solstice debrief notes” to the Facebook page of the Open Access to Stonehenge Campaign.

In all the circumstances we feel justified in calling upon EH to share information with everyone, not just a limited group. In addition we’d like them to be more open and sharing about the following points we picked up from their de-brief:

“3 fractures ……. 1 taken to hospital with a suspected fractured leg”

Eh? How did that happen? Is it indicative of a well-run event? Did the broken leg involve someone standing on and falling off a stone? Isn’t that an important matter that ought to be included in the debrief? Isn’t the general public entitled to be fully informed?

white horse accident

“Curator pleased to report that there was no serious damage to the stones, just needed time to recover from all the visitors”

What does that mean? It’s a puzzle. Why do the stones need to “recover”? Isn’t the public owed a clearer account of exactly what happened to the stones that makes it necessary for them to “recover” (bearing in mind nearly every previous year for a decade the stones have been damaged).

“All acknowledged that litter wasn’t a problem this year”

We beg to differ. It is true, is it not, that there were loads and loads of litter dropped and the only difference was that a team of people picked it up? To us, the fact it was picked up doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that thousands of people weren’t treating the monument with utter disrespect. We don’t think English Heritage should go along with pretending “litter wasn’t a problem”. On the contrary, it was a disgrace that doesn’t happen on other days of the year and shouldn’t be allowed on just one.

“A member expressed concern that there were marquee spikes on the first catering unit. EH assured the member that the Curator had confirmed this was not in an area of archaeological interest.”

Really? By what measure does EH judge areas are not of archaeological interest and can have spikes driven into them? Will they issue a map of such places?


Someone climbed on top of the Hele stone. How come these Notes from the Debrief meeting contain no mention of it? “


Hundreds of people stood on the prostrate stones, yet again, which is disrespectful and illegal. How come the Notes from the Debrief meeting contain no mention of it?

Oooh look, people watching Manhattanhenge recently. The Mayor of New York didn't feel it necessary to issue a statement saying behaviour was good because, well, it always is, naturally....!

Oooh look, people watching Manhattanhenge recently. The Mayor of New York didn’t feel it necessary to issue an inaccurate  statement saying everyone’s behaviour was good because, well, it always is, naturally, why wouldn’t it be?!

by Nigel Swift

Most people think that after 15 years I’ve become a crashing bore on the subject of metal detecting. I have. Jeez, I even bore me. But the recent decline of the PAS project and some issues in my own life make this a suitable moment to explain what has kept me banging on like a terrier on a mission. Yes, it’s terribly boring to go on and on every week but what’s far more boring is that this weekend, like every weekend, more than 4,000 historic British artefacts and their associated knowledge bundles will be sought out, dug up, shown to no-one and put beyond the reach of science forever. They do it every week. I complain about it every week. Boring innit?

I also feel it’s an appropriate moment to offer my thoughts (as a 15 year student of detecting and obsessive eavesdropper on metal detecting forums for every one of the past 5,475 days) on the decline of the PAS project and who or what is to blame. Me and others like me some say. Honoured, I’m sure, but I think there’s more to it than that. Clearly it’s the Government that has wielded the axe but they’re spinning it as setting PAS free. Maybe. But there’s no doubt they’ve stepped back from providing direct funding, just like they have with English Heritage and many others so the strong suspicion is that it’s a political move, a way to avoid blame for future funding cuts. If true that begs a big question: would they have divested themselves of PAS if they truly saw it as a star performer, an organisation which could deliver lots of kudos at modest cost? More likely, in my opinion, some in Whitehall came to realise that PAS’s recent confession of only a 30% full participation rate indicates the project is terminally incapable of being honestly presented to the public or the international community as a net benefit to heritage.

So, if it’s an issue of inadequate performance, the next question is – who is to blame for that? Well, we’ve long complained that PAS could have done much better if it had adopted some different tactics. In particular, it appears to have been caught in a self-preservation quandary in which it feared that overt criticism of irresponsible detectorists would reduce the number of items being reported and therefore prejudiced its chances of continued funding. Many detectorists were happy to feed that fear (the paragraph highlighted in red here  lists 15 different occasions when detectorists threatened a recording strike if the authorities didn’t do exactly what they wanted. We always felt PAS was foolish to heed such threats. After all, they came from people who already didn’t report finds, not from those who were responsible. In addition, dire warnings that attempts to control metal detecting (sometimes repeated by PAS) would lead to “an explosion of nighthawking” can be logically shown to be groundless. Tell it to the Irish who have banned it or the Northern Irish who have regulated it! In my view if only the PAS hadn’t been frit to condemn bad behaviour and particularly to fail to explain the realities of that bad behaviour to those magnificent, all-powerful gatekeepers of our heritage, landowners, the portable antiquities project could have been very different.

So who is to blame for the decline of the PAS project? The Government ostensibly, for pulling the plug. But PAS on a more fundamental level for not being clear about right and wrong and especially for failing to explain it to  every landowner in the country.  Yet ultimately it’s neither of those that is truly to blame. It’s the 70% of detectorists who were offered a brilliantly generous and world-unique deal – respectability, legitimacy, money and flattery in exchange for mere good, unselfish practice – and utterly rejected it while pretending they hadn’t. Being a bit of a crank I’m quite bitter about that.

Perhaps I’d have done better to spend the last 15 years busying myself with my real interest, lepidoptery, talking to people who (these days at least) are entirely non acquisitive and honorable. On the other hand I think the mood music has changed. Ten or fifteen years ago almost all archaeologists chanted a single foolish and uninformed mantra, that “the vast majority of detectorists are responsible”. It was always a massive and damaging lie yet it was repeated in tens of thousands of press articles, encouraged by PAS and detectorists. At it’s heart it had a confusion, often deliberately promoted: it allowed people to think that since “nighthawks” were a small minority and irresponsible then the rest, the great majority, were responsible and therefore fit to be let onto the fields. The passing on of that fallacy to the public and landowners has dealt a massive disservice to heritage in my opinion for while nighthawks are small in number, legal detectorists who don’t act responsibly comprise many thousands of individuals and are responsible for massive ongoing information theft from the rest of us. At last, archaeologists are beginning to take that simple and provable reality on board. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the new PAS management at the British Museum changed course accordingly and now advised every landowner to allow only the 30% of  Best Practice detectorists onto their fields and strongly and fearlessly lobbied the Government to bring in measures that made Best Practice compulsory not voluntary?





July 2015

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