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

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The Yar Tor triple stone alignment includes three roughly parallel lines of stones leading for at least 250m, aligned NNW to SSE up a saddle between Yar Tor and Corndon Tor. Although the row now apparently stops about 70m short of the Money Pit Cairn (SX 6816 7385) there is broad consensus that it once extended as far as this cairn. The stones forming the row are generally relatively small and Jeremy Butler notes that the average height is 0.16m high.  This row has something to tell us about the attitude of the Middle Bronze Age farmers who lived here in later years. Destruction and desecration is certainly not a modern phenomenon.  Over 2,500 years ago a new generation of farmers set about enclosing substantial areas of Dartmoor with fields.  Many of these still survive and illustrate land development on a colossal scale.  The field system laid out over the Yar Tor stone row was truly massive with over 3,000 hectares surviving to this day. The builders of this field system had no use for the Yar Tor alignment and built three lengths of field boundary over it. We can therefore be certain that by the Middle Bronze Age stone alignments were no longer being revered and even by this time their purpose had probably been forgotten. This indicates a significant shift in belief and is likely to reflect radical changes in cultural and ritual practises. Areas previously set aside for ritual activity were now being incorporated into the business of living.  Whatever was originally special about these places had been forgotten or perhaps the needs of the present had rendered them obsolete. They were built by communities, used by the same communities and abandoned when they were no longer required. One need not look any further than the modern church for an analogy.  Long after the Bronze Age fields had been abandoned farmers returned to the area and built new enclosures again incorporating the earlier row in their fields.  The later use of the area has undoubtedly damaged the row but despite its relatively delicate form consisting as it did of mainly small stones it thankfully survived.

Simplified map showing the position of the Yar Tor stone alignment relative to the high ground of Yar Tor, Corndon Tor and Sharp Tor. As you walk up the row from the north views to the east and west are restricted whilst those to the south are constrained by rising ground.

Simplified map showing the position of the Yar Tor stone alignment relative to the high ground of Yar Tor, Corndon Tor and Sharp Tor. As you walk up the row from the north views to the east and west are restricted whilst those to the south are constrained by rising ground.

Simplified plan showing the row leading to the Money Pit Cairn. The Bronze Age reaves (red) and historic fields (green) show no respect for the row and both will have caused damage.

Simplified plan showing the row leading to the Money Pit Cairn. The Bronze Age reaves (red) and historic fields (green) show no respect for the row and both will have caused damage.

The topographical position of this row has much to offer our current research and the manner in which the row relates to the surrounding landscape is remarkable.  The row sits within a valley between Yar Tor on the west and Corndon Tor on the east and leads upslope from the north to the saddle between the tors. The effect of the disposition of the tors relative to the row is to restrict views to the east and west as you walk along it. It is also unlikely to be a coincidence that the northern end of the row marks the precise point from which restricted views start.  The view westward at this point may also be of significance. An eye catching view of Longaford Tor framed by Laughter Tor is visible and should certainly be described as a visual treat.

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This eye-catching view of Longaford Tor is available only from the northern end of the stone alignment.  Longaford Tor is framed perfectly by the nearer Laughter Tor. It seems very unlikely that the myriad of distinctive visual relationships like this can all be coincidences. Furthermore it is possible at the summer solstice sun may set behind the tor. Certainly something worth checking out.

The three roughly parallel lines of stone can be traced up the hill towards the saddle.

The three roughly parallel lines of stone can be traced up the hill towards the saddle.

The shift in the alignment at this point is obvious. Like most Dartmoor stone rows this one is not absolutely straight.

The shift in the alignment at this point is obvious. Like most Dartmoor stone rows this one is not absolutely straight.

The Money Pit Cairn would have originally formed the upper end of the row.

The Money Pit Cairn would have originally formed the upper end of the row.

As you approach the Money Pit Cairn on the route of the row Sharp Tor slowly emerges from behind the cairn.

As you approach the Money Pit Cairn on the route of the row Sharp Tor slowly emerges from behind the cairn.

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As you reach the cairn Sharp Tor looks as if it is sitting on top of the cairn. This visual trick and treat may of course have had considerable significance for the row builders. We have seen several reveals like this already but this one is particularly special enhanced as it is by the appearance of the sea on the distant horizon further to the east. Most artificial structures both past and present are built where they are for particular reasons and it would therefore be most surprising if stone alignments were not sited to take cognisance of their surroundings.  Here the visual treats are very obvious but the chances are that all the rows were built to acknowledge their surroundings.  Their linear form suggests that special routes were being denoted. It was clearly important that a particular path was followed and that the reveal was an important part of the ritual. The repeating pattern of links between the landscape and alignments provides a powerful indication that the rows played some part in connecting these people with their world.

The juxtaposition of the Money Pit Cairn, Yar Tor stone alignment and Sharp Tor is just too perfect to be a coincidence.

The juxtaposition of the Money Pit Cairn, Yar Tor stone alignment and Sharp Tor is just too perfect to be a coincidence.

Views from the alignment

Four images derived from Google Earth are presented below to illustrate the character of the reveal. As you walk up the hill towards the saddle views to the west and east are restricted by the neighbouring tors and the view to the south by the saddle itself. This is the case for much of the length of the row which of course emphasises the reveal when it happens.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by the saddle between Corndon and Yar Tors.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by the saddle between Corndon and Yar Tors.

After 100m the view remains restricted.

After 100m the view remains restricted.

Finally a sea triangle appears on the south eastern horizon 25m from the Money Pit Cairn

Finally a sea triangle appears on the south eastern horizon 25m from the Money Pit Cairn

And grows rapidly in size by the time you reach the Money Pit Cairn

And grows rapidly in size by the time you reach the Money Pit Cairn

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Map showing the arc of visibility from the upper (southern) end of the alignment.  It might be significant that the rising sun at the mid-winter solstice appears out of the sea triangle. Either end of the row appears to be closely related to celestial events – the top in the winter and the bottom in the summer.  A convincing body of evidence is developing that there is a correlation between the rows and celestial events although not in a manner that had been envisaged when this research began. The links with the sea are undoubtedly important but they are clearly only part of the picture and it is the complex visual relationships between the sky, water and land that seem to be being celebrated, acknowledged and sign-posted by the rows.  Each site is unique in form and location but the common thread that is developing is that they were each built to provide a special route between places with extra-ordinary visual relationships with the landscape. The stone alignment at Yar Tor is particularly informative and I would like to thank the Dartmoor Preservation Association for their recent clearance work which has revealed this extraordinary alignment.

Sources:

Butler, J., 1991, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Volume One, 126-7.

An anonymous contributor writes:

“Sorry dear” I muttered quickly to my wife just after I entered the field at Castlerigg a few months back. My eye had caught the arc of a foreign teenager leaping from stone to stone. As I strode across the 50 or so yards to the circle, I took in the full visage; 15 or so teens with a couple of teachers, 7 or 8 of the teens climbing on several of the stone, having their photos taken, leaping up on the stones and then off them. The teachers chatting between themselves, obviously content to find something, anything to divert their charges attention enough so they could find 10 minutes respite. I shattered their peace fast and hard.

“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING? GET DOWN OFF THE F’ING STONE. THESE ARE NOT A PLAYGROUND, THEY ARE AN ANCIENT SITE, SHOW SOME F’ING RESPECT.”

The 3 closest too me looked shell-shocked and one almost fell off the stone he was perched on. I stood and glared as they cleared off and then pivoted looking for more offenders. 2 on the far side hadn’t heard me or the alarm calls of their compatriots and were lazily enjoying their day. I set off at a rate of knots, my gander well and truly up, however the teachers protective nature had kicked in and I was headed off at the pass by one whilst the other gathered the horde and led them away from the circle and the dishevelled manic hippy articulating wildly.

And that should have been that with the mumbled apologies of a shocked teacher disappearing into the distance, except, the day had a slightly bitter twist for me. A well dressed chap who’d been stood watching the debasement when I turned up, sidled over to me and said “I’m glad someone said something, disgraceful behaviour”. Well yes indeed, I’m very glad I said something. But I’d have been happier still if he’d said something first. if he’d stepped up out of his British reserve and said “Stop it. Your behaviour is unacceptable”.

That’s our takeaway. Don’t stand by and tut whilst people climb on stones, drop rubbish, draw on stones with chalk, leave offerings or even carve their name in a stone. Step forward, defend your heritage, be the person that stopped it today. There won’t always be an enraged hippy to do it for you.

This week UNESCO and ICOMOS International will be at Stonehenge seeking opinions on the tunnel from “stakeholders” (who was invited? How were they selected?). Let’s hope everyone sings from the same hymn sheet, the one that says a short tunnel is unacceptable. In particular, let’s hope they express the following crucial points from an excellent article that has just appeared in “The Pipeline” ….

When asked about the Government’s commitment to Stonehenge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Culture Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, told Parliament: “This Government will continue to honour its obligations under article 4 of the World Heritage Convention regarding the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. We are committed to working with UNESCO and its advisory bodies to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site is taken into consideration in any forthcoming road scheme. We will be closely monitoring the development of any such scheme as it progresses.”

This answer, and particularly the phrase “taken into consideration”, was seen by critics as equivocal at best and in a further written response, which the Stonehenge Alliance found highly disturbing, Lord Ahmad also revealed that Highways England’s preliminary  planning for the tunnel scheme had not included any consultation with the UK branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS-UK).  Critics would suggest that this is because they know precisely what answer they would get about anything other than the long tunnel option, and did not want to have such a response reported to Parliament, released under a Freedom of Information Act request or cited in a potential judicial review of any go ahead for a tunnel.  That particular Whitehall ruse has failed because in November 2014 ICAMOS-UK  stated in a letter seen by the BBC; “We appreciate the very real need to address the issue of the A303 and recognise that a tunnel could have beneficial impacts on parts of the World Heritage property,” adding in a crucial caveat; “However, we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside, however great the benefits of a tunnel.”

This week Richard Lincoln (a.k.a. “Sheddy”), proprietor of The European Federation Of Independent Detectorists, was on Radio 2 debating metal detecting with archaeologist Professor Mark Horton (a.k.a. Mark). They both condemned nighthawking, obviously, but Professor Horton is less than certain that metal detecting in general is spiffing whereas Mr Lincoln said many archaeologists are “closed minded” and detectorists have every right and every virtue. However he must have been wearing his radio hat for this is what he wrote on his forum in 2013:

On Feb 5 (in a discussion about whether detectorists lose access to land with archaeological significance) he wrote: “it’s only fair to say that I am one who hasn’t lost any permissions …. but then again I don’t record! Then on Feb 7 he addressed his colleagues saying: “If you want to show the world that your a great guy by making the right noises about recording, you go for it. I’ll carry on calling things as I see them and for the most part, detectorists are hypocrites. They spew forth the mantra of showing the farmers everything they find, but they are selective in what they show the farmer. they spew forth the mantra of recording, but they are selective in what they record. if you think that they way forward is to promote hypocrisy then you have my pity.”

Mr Lincoln has presided over more than 200,000 contributions to his forum so he’s well placed to know what goes on – and he thinks most detectorists steal knowledge from the community and money from the landowners!  How will detectorists react? Will they hurl invective against him like they do against any critic of laissez faire artefact hunting? Will they say he is a liar, an exaggerator, ill-informed, a publicity seeker, an elitist, a fascist, a communist, psychologically damaged, trying to get detecting banned? We can assume so.

Not that their reaction matters any more. The “listening and detente” that were the buzzwords for many years have been found wanting and have been dropped. What matters now is that the powers that be are coming to the profound realisation, drip by drip, that the happy-happy propaganda of success churned out for so many years by PAS is no longer convincing. “Old PAS” finally signed off by revealing they thought that 70% of recordable finds don’t come to them, which fits with what we and Paul Barford and now Sheddy have suggested. Exposing what Sheddy really thinks when he’s not on the radio won’t bring Britain into line with the rest of the world, but it’s a small positive step towards it.

Update, next day…. Some simple actions for the short term.

Last night yet another metal detecting thread (on a different, massive forum) was hastily deleted because “some forum members were not exactly following metal detecting code of conduct etiquette“and “it didn’t make good reading” Fair enough, but why not leave it in place and explain for the benefit of all members the right way to conduct themselves? Well we know don’t we? It’s Sheddyism. Think one thing and let the public see something else.

But it’s worse than that. Member Allecticus explained what had happened in the crudest of terms: “I can tell you what happened. A couple of the do gooding ‘don’t dig too deep’, ‘it’s below the plough’ blah blah, fecking blah blah fecking two-bob depth brigade turned up!…. fecking blah, blah planks! Just why the post got pulled because of them jealous cnuts…. I’ve no idea.” In addition, his strapline is “Is that below plough depth? Who gives a ‘flying’… hoik it out!!

Surely no-one, whether responsible detectorist, archaeologist or ordinary member of the public thinks people who talk and act like that should be on the fields, even in ultra-liberal Britain? It may be some time before Britain gets round to regulating the activity but in the short term can’t detectorists exclude destructive oiks from their forums, clubs and rallies and can’t New PAS put an article in the farming press warning farmers to make sure anyone on their fields is respectable and responsible?

PS…. still more Sheddyism today of a blatant nature. “Omegamike” makes the required noises:”We all know, well, sensible detectorists, once such a find is obvious it’s time to bring in the FLO and the Archies and leave everything well alone”. And Omega Mike’s strapline??? …..

If in doubt…… DIG IT!

PPS…. Incidentally, the obnoxious posting by Allectus quoted above has now disappeared – but rather than slinging him off the forum in disgrace they’ve allowed this equally unacceptable posting from him to remain: “Grow a pair, put the thread back up & don’t let the ‘don’t dig too deep’ planks win! To those who disagree with digging deep there’s always………. knitting”. What can one say? It’s all legal, innit?

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Silbury during Summer solstice sunrise, 2015. Image credit Jim Mitchell, Heritage Action.

Silbury at Summer solstice sunrise, 2015. [ Image credit Jim Mitchell, Heritage Action. ]

An excerpt fom Bill Bryson’s latest book, “The Road to Little Dribbling”:

“Just over a mile from Avebury is something about as amazing and possibly even more memorable than Avebury itself: Silbury Hill. This is not a National Trust property, so the Trust doesn’t draw visitors’ attention to it. That is unfortunate, for Silbury Hill is a wonder. It is 130 feet high – about the height of a ten-storey building – and is entirely made by hand. It is the tallest artificial prehistoric mound in the world. There is nothing like it anywhere else. It is covered in grass and is uniform all the way round. It is sensationally lovely to look at. It is genuinely perfect. It deserves to be world famous.

The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) is extremely active all year round, monitoring and looking out for many of the prehistoric sites on the West Penwith peninsular. Once a month they organise a clearup session, staffed entirely by volunteers, to cut back growth on designated sites and ensure they are not entirely lost to nature.

October’s scheduled clearup coincided with my visit to the area, so I decided to once again go along and lend a hand. The designated site this month was the courtyard settlement at Bosullow Trehyllys, in the shadow of Chun Castle. The site lies on private land, so this was a chance to see a site that is not usually accessible to the public. I have been here once before, at a previous clearup session a couple of years ago, and it’s a wonderful site.

When I arrived, the clearup was well under way with half a dozen people dotted around the site, clearing bracken and brambles away from the stones to more easily discern the layout of the buildings. As usual, Luna, organiser Dave Munday’s dog was keeping a guarding eye out. Although she’s a softie at heart, she has a ferocious bark and growl when any strangers approach, and I got the full treatment!

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After saying hello, I took some time to look around the site, orient myself and take a few photos. It’s quite a difficult site to photograph, especially when so overgrown. There’s no real viewpoint to get an overall picture of the layout of the settlement – I’ll have to invest in a drone one day…

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Bosullow Trehyllys comprises of four identifiable courtyard house structures, with additional circular structures which may predate the courtyard structures. I was told that the settlement was much larger, but historical field clearance destroyed at least half of the original settlement. A large mound of stones in the adjoining field may attest to this.

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Having had a look around, I was then put to work with a pair of shears, helping to cut back a section of one of the houses. I didn’t go too mad, being a novice and not wanting to cause any unintended damage. All too soon it was time to pack up for the day, and the piles of cuttings were evidence of the work that had been put in during the day. A nice tradition was the goblet of mead passed between the participants at the end of the day, with a small libation for the site itself too.

If you find yourself in the area, check out the CASPN web site or Facebook page to see if a clearup is scheduled – there’s one every month in Penwith, with additional clearups on The Lizard run by a separate team. It’s worthwhile work, helping to preserve some of our largely forgotten heritage for future generations.

This time it’s at The Long Man of Wilmington (yet again!) …..

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It seems that no permanent damage was done this time (or has it?) but it might be expected that people who object to fracking would have more respect for scheduled monuments and be aware that damaging copycatting may be generated. We were in two minds whether to give it publicity but felt that we should, lest they thought they’d done no harm. They probably have – and they certainly haven’t helped the anti-fracking campaign!

Protestor Mike Laloë said, “We did our homework to make sure we didn’t do any damage to The Long Man. What we did was totally legal and the police were really supportive.”  We doubt that.

The above alleged knowledge thieves are now famous thanks to the this week’s BBC exposé of nighthawking on a protected Roman site.

The above alleged knowledge thieves are now famous thanks to the recent BBC exposé of nighthawking on a protected Roman site.

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But this weekend an army of people will be out detecting, quite legally, on many hundreds of unprotected Roman sites.Thousands of them don't report their finds and so steal vastly more knowledge than nighthawks, but they aren't famous.

But this weekend an army of people will be out detecting, perfectly legally, on hundreds of unprotected  Roman sites. Most of them don’t report some or all of their finds (as PAS has categorically confirmed and the Government doesn’t deny) which means they steal vastly more knowledge than nighthawks. Yet not one of them is famous.

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Britain is truly barmy. All this hand-wringing about nighthawks and the damage they do is irrelevant hogwash in the light of what is happening legally. Today and every day. It’s high time we stopped obsessing about nighthawking and acknowledged that despite the much vaunted positives, in net terms the “voluntary reporting” experiment has been a disaster painted as a triumph – one which in 18 years no country on earth has been foolish enough to replicate. The only sensible action remaining is to come clean and put things right. See our (conservative) estimate of the damage so far here. Hey New PAS, how about speaking out?

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In our Comments section we’ve just had some very interesting constructive criticism. Since it makes such a refreshing change from quite a bit of the abuse that gets left we’re reproducing it here followed by our response.

From “Middenmaid”:

“There is a lot of confusion as the role of archaeology and archaeologists on this Blog. Here is the OED definition of Archaeologist
The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains.

Archaeologists are not the ultimate guardian of monuments as they seem to be perceived on this site. We can’t be as it is not within our remit nor within our area of specialism. Whilst I and other appreciate the reverence you give us it does concern me that the finger is often pointed in the direction of archaeology as being the holy grail holders of the immensely diverse historic sector. We aren’t. Archaeology can discover the past and interpret ate it but archaeology is transient in that it moves on to another project leaving the resultant custodial elements to other areas of historic custody.

As for the issue of brandalism, it really is personal rather than professional dialogue on the subject when discussed by archaeologists. The post excavation arena of history are those charged with policy development and adoption and the practical management of our historic record but I rarely see acknowledgement of these other sectors and their role on the articles that appear on here. These other areas of post excavation custodial activity really are the people you should align with as a conservation minded group.

i often see this confusion displayed as the misunderstanding of local history groups being seen as amateur archaeology groups. they aren’t. Appreciating and exploring known local or national history is not archaeology and this is where the CBA really does need to ensure that Archaeology is not misunderstood and therefore diluted as a discipline.”

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Thanks for your comments.We accept the criticism, we do tend to give the impression that archaeologists should be heritage champions and prevent destruction when in fact that’s mostly not their role and beyond their ability. On the other hand we know that many of them do have strong opinions (as shown on the BAJR thread on brandalism) and that probably most of them agree with our concern that the development/conservation scales have tipped too far in favour of developers and too far away from conservation.

So we wish more of them said so in public, professionals have more sway than amateurs. The list of prominent archaeologists and academics standing up to be counted at Oswestry just might make a difference but it doesn’t happen enough (with the honourable exception of the likes of Rescue). Most fights are mostly conducted by amateurs and are mostly lost. So not only have the scales been rigged by the Government, the weight of participants on the conservation side is not as great as it might be.

We understand about the implications of the sources of finance for archaeology and that it’s not a good career move to rock the boat. It’s often retired or independent archaeologists who speak out. We also realise why some of the things we say get only a private nod of approval from archaeologists but understanding the public silence doesn’t make it feel OK or make the rigged scales more acceptable. EH are billed as England’s “Heritage Champions” but in many ways they act as Government fixers, which is the opposite so it’s hard for us to hear you say archaeology is transient in that it moves on to another project leaving the resultant custodial elements to other areas of historic custody (which reads like a sort of shrug) and “Archaeologists are not the ultimate guardian of monuments” – because if EH aren’t (and NT certainly aren’t lately) and archaeologists in general aren’t,  then who is?

An interesting programme condemning Nighthawking on BBC Inside Out West last night. At least, it was meant to be about condemning just nighthawking but it had the effect of condemning all “detecting without reporting” (which PAS has acknowledged is most of it) thanks to this great quote (6 mins 15 secs) from Graham, a Gloucestershire farmer with scheduled Roman archaeology on his land, being interviewed by Mark Horton:

“I’m not so worried about the value of what they’re stealing, I’m more concerned that they’re raping this ground. This is Roman history. Once they’ve dug it up it can never be replaced.”

Bravo. And here’s the crux: Graham’s site is scheduled but Britain has thousands of other Roman sites which aren’t and those are the target of choice for most detectorists. This weekend literally thousands of people will be out detecting Roman sites, perfectly legally. Mostly they won’t be reporting what they find. In other words, as Graham puts it so inarguably, they’ll be “raping the ground”.

Why criticise just these three alleged

Why criticise just these three alleged “ground rapists”? If you know anyone who detects on an unprotected Roman site and doesn’t report all their finds to PAS it’s no good phoning Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 as Britain is barmy and unlike everywhere else doesn’t class it as a crime.

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