You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2016.

Everyone’s been on tenterhooks. How will they possibly justify the damage rather than just enthusing about the upside? Well, they seem to have made a start. Historic England have just published Advice Note 2 – Making Changes to Heritage Assets and at first glance it seems to absolutely preclude a short tunnel (a small minority of landscapes will be so sensitive that the degree of alteration or addition without loss of significance may be very limited, particularly where there is a consistently high level of archaeological interest or architectural consistency”.)

But then comes the escape clause: Works other than those of a minor nature are likely to be acceptable only where they would be in the best long-term interests of the conservation of the remains or there are other important planning justifications.” It says, doesn’t it, that if the Government wants it badly enough then that’s “an important planning justification” so it’s agents (and the hapless National Trust) will support it.

We should have all known. Doing something tantamount to driving a motorway through the Valley of the Kings could only be carried off by dint of a preposterous new rule – an 11th conservation commandment which decrees that you needn’t be bound by the other ten – and that’s exactly what Historic England appears to have done. One hopes UNESCO and ICOMOS have noticed that the carving of the Stonehenge landscape, if it happens, will be a carve up.

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With over 15,000 sites and over 116,000 (and counting) user submitted fieldnotes, news articles, folklore tales, links and pictures, The Modern Antiquarian website is undoubtedly one of the UK’s national online treasures. Alongside the Megalithic Portal, it is one of the foremost places for the general public to share and learn information about our oldest sites. However, unlike the Portal, there is real danger this amazing resource could vanish forever.

The Modern Antiquarian Screenshot

Julian Cope’s outstanding public spirit has paid for the building and maintenance of the Modern Antiquarian and has continued to pay for the not inconsiderable cost of hosting it for over 15 years. Let us be the first to say thank you for such amazing generosity. Also, we have no reason to believe it is likely to stop and trust it will continue for years to come. But we can’t rely on that generosity for ever and we believe that the site should be preserved by the nation, for the nation. This resource has been created from literally years of human endeavor by thousands of people and must be preserved for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

Fortunately a mechanism for preservation exists, The UK Web Archive provided by The British Library. They are archiving important UK websites forever. The aforementioned Megalithic Portal is on there and we believe it essential that The Modern Antiquarian is preserved too. Please visit their nomination page and add your voice to the growing clamor, we have!

The marketing message for The Weekend Wanderers Spring Rally is very simple. It effectively says look at the history of the area on Wikipedia- lots of good pickings!. The business model is simple too: 300 people @ £58 each adds up to £16,800. Plus rental from any dealers or traders. Plus lots of other rallies per month. Plus a Joining Fee of £20 and an Annual Membership fee of £15 x the number of members (unknown, but it’s now “the largest club in the UK” and has been going for 26 years!) Imagine!

But it’s not the wages that matter (although they must add up to a massive annual amount), it’s the lack of proper rules. Like so many clubs they say they actively encourage” recording with PAS but the pont is: it’s not mandatory. There’s a likely reason: making it compulsory would hit ticket sales. But here’s a thought: isn’t it a universal rule of rallies (and wider society) that if you don’t impose compulsory rules at rallies (or laws in countries) you get oikism in the gap?

As the largest club in the UK, Weekend Wanderers must be providing the biggest gap of all. We’ll be happy to review our accusation that they’re involved in highly lucrative and damaging oikism the moment they make best practice at their rallies compulsory. But we won’t hold our breath. Plus…..

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Latest, 10 April:many Dutch detectorists are returning this year, they had a good time last year and are bringing more friends.” Oh great. How many of those are coming and where are their local FLOs, to whom they’ll be reporting all their finds? For how much longer will Britain be made a laughing stock in the thinking rest of the world by commercial companies selling tickets to deplete it’s heritage knowledge? As Paul Barford has recently pointed out, the damnable thing that lies behind the hypocritical preening of the likes of Weekend Wanderers is that “Artefact hunting is not about ‘finding’, it is about taking away”. Let them find a less damaging means to earn money.

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Section 3.3 : “We will work with partners globally to protect world heritage”

AND ……

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White paper.

Setting a new standard for protection. Something like this?

Setting a new global standard for stewardship. Something like this?

 

We continue our long-running series, ‘Inside the Mind‘ with responses from Neil Holbrook, Chief Executive of Cotswold Archaeology.

Brief Bio

Neil gained a first class degree in archaeology from Newcastle University in 1984 before starting work in professional archaeology. He went straight from University to direct excavations on Hadrian’s Wall for English Heritage for a number of years beforemoving on to Exeter Museum where he worked on Roman finds. He was appointed Archaeological Manager at Cotswold Archaeology in 1991, and is is now head of the salaried staff as Chief Executive, responsible for ensuring that Cotswold Archaeology remains a successful and innovative company delivering high quality work. He sits on a number of Committees, including the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (formally SCAUM); the Archaeology Committee of the Roman Society and the Publications Committee of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.  He is also a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at Reading University.

NHolbrook

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

I became interested in the Romans as a kid, and remember that walking along a stretch of Roman road near Cambridge with my father made quite an impression on me. It was pretty much just the Romans then, although my interests have broadened considerably since. I thought Hadrian’s Wall was incredibly evocative as a child, and still do today.

How did you get started?

I decided to study archaeology at Newcastle University (because it was near Hadrian’s Wall) , but as I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like as a subject. I hedged my bets and opted for a really strange mixed degree in my first year: ancient history; archaeology and chemistry. I was told that no-one had ever done such a combination before (and probably hasn’t since!).  At the end of my first year I was sure that archaeology was what I wanted to do, but I thought I would benefit from learning some more about digging. So I took a year out and went on excavations over the winter in St Albans (really cold), and then Germany and then Israel (really hot). It was great fun. I went back to Newcastle, finished my degree, and then by a couple of lucky breaks quickly ended up running digs on Hadrian’s Wall. After a spell in Exeter I ended up in Cirencester, and for the last 25 years I’ve run Cotswold Archaeology. From very small beginnings we now have a staff of over 180 archaeologists working out of offices in Andover; Cirencester; Exeter and Milton Keynes. I am very proud of what my colleagues have achieved.

Who has most influenced your career?

I owe a lot to a number of people who helped me along when I was young, and indulged some of the arrogance of youth. Charles Daniels fired my interest in archaeology at University with his infectious enthusiasm. Paul Bidwell gave me first big break, and working with him taught me an incredible amount about not only how to excavate, but equally how to interpret the findings. His approach has influenced me ever since. When I came to the Cotswolds I was lucky that Alan McWhirr, who had worked for over 30 years in Cirencester, was so welcoming and encouraged me to collaborate with him on bringing his work to publication.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

It is very hard to pick one – but the recent discovery in Cirencester of a Roman tombstone dedicated to a lady called Bodicacia is a moment I’ll never forget.   I’ve also really enjoyed leading the Roman Rural Settlement Project over the last 10 years – a great opportunity to gather together all that has been found in commercial archaeological investigations since 1990 and ask the simple question: what does this tell us about Roman Britain that we didn’t know before?

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

Hadrian’s Wall. It is where my serious interest in the Past begun – and somewhere that I’d like to renew my interest in some day.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

That so many really well conducted archaeological digs on the 1960s, 70s and 80s are unpublished. All the blood, sweat and tears expended on projects that no one now knows next to nothing about. This is particularly true of many major historic towns and cities – places like Bristol and Winchester, for example. The knowledge loss is huge. It is for that reason that I am really pleased to be starting out on a project with Professor Stephen Rippon at Exeter University called Exeter: A Place in Time. This project combines delving back in to unpublished archives of digs done in the 1970s and 80s, along with with the application of cutting edge science. We are hoping that we will be able to use the information gathered to write a new archaeology of Roman and medieval Exeter. I’m excited by the prospect.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

I’d like to raise the standard of field archaeology in the UK. There are some excellent organisations which produce consistently high quality work – but some fall below this standard. Even now too many reports are unpublished within a reasonable period of time. The current system of managing archaeology within the planning process works reasonably well, but it is fragile. To be successful it requires people to not only do the work, but also to stipulate it within local authorities. And the latter are under real pressure at the moment from Government cuts. What I would really like to see is some incentives for investigating organisations to turn out really top quality work rather than just a base minimum standard – and that doesn’t have to mean simply more money – sometimes better value could be obtained by thinking more flexibly and trying new approaches.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

Don’t underestimate how much interest there is local history and archaeology – it is crucial to a sense of community cohesion and shared experience. And we only get one go at it – once it’s gone, it’s gone.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I guess I would be a manager somewhere dull, but with archaeology as my hobby (which it still is now).

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

One of the disadvantages of moving in to management is that you become a desk jockey, so I relish any opportunity at the weekend to get outside – in the garden or a tramp across the Gloucestershire countryside with my wife. I also like cricket and follow Gloucestershire – a sunny day at the Cheltenham cricket festival with a drink in hand is a great thing to look forward to every summer.

As always, we’d like to express our thanks to Neil for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable and willing subject, please contact us.

By Alan S and Sandy Gerrard

In the first part of this series, we briefly examined the pre-excavation activities of a typical archaeology project. We now continue our overview of the different types of archaeological practice, and their predilection to cause damage to the archaeological record, by examining various aspects of excavation technique.

But first, what do we actually mean by the term ‘damage’? The archaeological resource is a limited and dwindling asset. Excavation is always destructive and it is therefore crucial that it is carried out as carefully and efficiently as possible. Any deposits removed during the course of an excavation are destroyed together with the information they held. It is therefore the duty of the archaeologist to ensure that as much accurate information as possible is collected. If an excavation is not recorded correctly, any information from that excavation is lost forever. Therefore it is of prime importance that accurate records are kept of what has been excavated, and where. That includes any and all finds, features and samples, from all contexts. If records are not kept, knowledge is lost, and the damage to the archaeological record is total.

Excavation

This is where the most damage is done! Let’s start by saying yes, all excavation is damaging. However the difference between a good excavation and a bad excavation is simple. A good excavation enhances our knowledge and appreciation of the past whilst a bad one adds nothing or at best very little and at worst may provide fallacious results which might seriously impair and even distort our understanding.

‘Excavation’ undertaken by metal detectorists can be without doubt one of the most damaging activities. Although there may have been some desk-based research prior to hitting the site, there will rarely be a formal methodology to the excavation other than ‘ping’/dig! Some detectorists may advise the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) of any significant (read metallic) finds but often the valuable context of the finds will have been trashed together with associated items (pottery, flints, fibres, animal bone etc) which are often discarded as irrelevant by the detectorist. Recording may comprise at best of a photo (or video) or two of the finds, and a GPS reference which may point to no more than a particular field, or parish. The loss of knowledge in these situations will be immense and of course in the long run means that many of the questions of future generations will go unanswered as a result.

MDHole

An Open Area Excavation can be the most informative and destructive in equal measures. The technique involves stripping away all of the layers in reverse to how they were formed. So off comes the turf and topsoil first and then each layer, feature and structure until nothing but subsoil or bedrock remains. Carried out properly by competent archaeologists this technique can provide more information than any other but the price can be the total destruction of the site being examined. Sometimes structures encountered are left in place but sometimes these too are removed in order to look for information below them.

Avenue Trench

Test pitting, Sampling and Trenching techniques are used by many projects as a way of mitigating the limits of any damage. Using these methods, the extent of excavation is reduced to the bare minimum needed to meet the project’s objectives. Test pits are usually 1m square excavations, whilst trenches can be any length or width and dependent upon the documented project objectives, both may be taken down as far as the ‘natural’ or bedrock level, in separate layers or ‘contexts’ to ensure nothing is missed. Section drawings and photographs are taken of the stratigraphy and any features uncovered. With larger excavations, and particularly in Rescue Archaeology situations, test pits may be extended, or repeated across an area to provide an agreed sampled percentage coverage of the site. In all cases, careful recording of each context is undertaken, and where necessary soil samples may be taken for laboratory analysis of pollen grains, snail shells, bone and insect remains etc. before the pit is backfilled at the end of the excavation. This strategy of course has the huge advantage of allowing some or even most of the archaeology to survive for future ‘better informed’ excavations in the future, but the limited nature of the work means that the results themselves will be incomplete and therefore possibly misleading.

Next time, we’ll finish off by looking at the post excavation activities.

Friends,

I found some coins and jewellery in our top field. So how can I get them accurately appraised? Show them to PAS, of course, but they don’t do valuations. The National Association of Goldsmiths Institute of Registered Valuers have the definitive answer to that. They recommend “shop around. Don’t accept the first offer you receive.”  Or you can use an independent jewellery valuation services such a Safeguard or go to a valuation day and have your items “valued by an independent registered valuer without being parted from them”. Great. That fits with normal prudent commercial practice – that a person who wants to acquire your property shouldn’t be the only one to advise you on what it’s worth. Obviously. But look at this ….

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silas agreement.

That’s how all detecting contracts are with zero provision for leaving all finds with the farmer to enable him to get a second opinion. Instead it’s the detectorist alone who decides value and hence what the farmer will get – and indeed whether he gets shown his own property at all! So my simple point is this: if respectable professional jewellers in pinstripe suits advise you not to trust them but to get a second opinion then an agrarian entreprenerial jeweller without an office and wearing camouflage gear should do the same. Shouldn’t they?

These contracts are a scandal in plain sight with profound consequences for  farmers, who can seriously deny it? So it would be nice if The Archaeological Establishment stopped looking the other way.

Regards

Silas Brown,
Grunters Hollow Farm,
Worfield,
Salop


BTW, today and tomorrow the ignorant grabfest at Weyhill Fair  is taking place yet again. Clearly the organisers and attendees are impervious to outreach but it’s a shame the Portable Antiquities Scheme or English Heritage or anyone official that gives a damn about heritage can’t have a word with the farmer for he has agreed to expand the extent of the stunt:
“Our brilliant Farmer has offered us a 4th field that we will open if numbers dictate”.

One can assume he was advised “it’ll be good for Heritage, honest”.
Bonkers Britain is on clear display today.

Feedback by an attendee, 22 March 2016: “I thought Sundays start was brilliant it was like the start of the Grand National everyone heading for the new field”.  Well, well well! It’s almost 11 years to the day since the organiser of another awful event, the “Near Avebury Metal Detecting Rally” crowed to the press: “It was like the start of the Grand National”. So nothing has changed.

No PAS staff were present at “Near Avebury” but some were at Weyhill and as educated people they must have been appalled at the Grand National spectacle. Yet you may be certain they won’t be allowed to say so in public. Britain has a hush-hush policy over yobbery.

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The answer to our March Puzzle was ….

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle, Shropshire.

Congratulations to David Knell for the first correct identification (although his hypothesis that it was created “when a naughty witch was turned into stone for abusing a cow” is yet to be peer reviewed).

Full details of why some think the place is a fraud can be seen here

Look out for our April puzzle.

Surely not? Well yes, it seems so. For after years of defending Stonehenge (“Don’t sell Stonehenge short”) the Trust has stabbed the World Heritage Site in the back by coming out in support of a short tunnel. The Government has admitted the u-turn has been pivotal so if the tunnel goes ahead the Trust’s finger prints will be on it forever, and they know it.

It’s the knowing which connects them to Shropshire Council. The latter have worked tirelessly to allow the land around Oswestry hillfort to be built on while knowing they shouldn’t. How do we know they know? Well, just last week their barrister Sarah Clover told a public enquiry (in Oswestry, ironically) that building 68 houses over in Ellesmere would constitute harm to the open countryside”. So both organisations know they’re on the wrong side of right.

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The National Trust's oak leaves together with one of the loggerheads from Shropshire Council's coat of arms. [Loggerhead: original meaning “a blockhead”, as in Shakespeare: “"Ah you whoreson logger-head, you were borne to doe me shame."]

The Trust’s oak leaves with one of Shropshire Council’s “loggerheads” peeping through. [Loggerhead: original meaning “a blockhead”, as in Shakespeare: “Ah you whoreson logger-head, you were borne to doe me shame.“]

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You can oppose the National Trust’s assault on heritage here  and Shropshire Council’s here.

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BTW, here’s what Private Eye thinks of the Dismal Undemocratic Repugnate of Shropshireland:

private eye

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Nicely put. Maybe they’ll do a job on the Trust too. Not only is it supporting heritage damage at Stonehenge it has also just let a previously expelled rule-breaking hunt back on it’s land on Exmoor. Tally ho! The Dismal Undemocratic Repugnate of Trustland – preserving the land in it’s care for ever, for everyone. Even cruel sods.

Dr Sandy Gerrard’s ongoing series of posts concerning stone row alignments, and their associated landscape tricks and treats have been generally well received here on the Heritage Journal.

StoneRowsLogo

Such has been the reaction that a decision was made to give his articles and associated research a more permanent, focused home. To this end we are delighted to announce the creation of a sister site for the Journal, and new web resource: ‘The Stone Rows of Great Britain‘ which goes live today.

The site includes a gazetteer of known and accepted prehistoric stone rows, along with a list of those rows whose antiquity or veracity is in doubt. Many of the gazetteer entries show not just basic information such as location, characteristics and so on, but many are accompanied by links to other web resources, photographs, and each region can be investigated via an interactive map.

The ‘Research’ area of the site will be of interest to many people, and many of Dr Gerrard’s articles which have appeared on the Heritage Journal to date, and more, are included here.

There will still be a great deal of information to be added as further research sheds light on possible uses of the enigmatic monuments, so please pay ‘The Stone Rows of Great Britain‘ a visit, and leave us your comments.

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