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So where (and when) was this remarkable image captured?




by Dr Sandy Gerrard


On the island of Hoy in the Orkneys a massive sandstone boulder (8.5m long by 4.47m wide) sits stranded like a whale at the bottom of a steep cliff. This stone is called the Dwarfie Stane and at some time in the past a tunnel was cut into its western side and a small chamber formed inside the rock. Up until 1935 a broad consensus had emerged that the chamber had been formed to provide accommodation of some sort. However, during a visit to the stone in the summer of 1935 by Charles Calder of the Royal Commission and a Professor Bryce a brand new, a revolutionary idea was born… “that the Dwarfie Stane is the first and only example in the British Isles of a completely rock-cut tomb of the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age”. The evidence to support this radical departure from the established interpretation was two analogies from the Mediterranean, some parallels in “intervening countries” and “certain features in some of the monuments in Orkney itself.” The full justification can found here, but essentially comparisons were made with rock-cut tombs in the Mediterranean and with some of the much closer stone built tombs on Orkney. Calder emphasised the significance of the Dwarfie Stane saying at one point that it may even be more interesting than Maeshowe because it is “absolutely unique”.

The “Absolutely unique” Dwarfie Stane.

The “absolutely unique” Dwarfie Stane.


Plan of the Dwarfie Stane and the two Mediterranean parallels (After Calder and Macdonald, 1936, 218 and 223).

Plan of the Dwarfie Stane and the two Mediterranean parallels (After Calder and Macdonald, 1936, 218 and 223).


Actual evidence to support this appealing interpretation is however wholly lacking, but despite this, the site information board boldly states “It was actually a tomb, related to the many chambered tombs found through-out Orkney”.

So in Scotland uniqueness is celebrated or at the very least acknowledged as existing, whilst in Wales anything perceived as not precisely fitting the mould is summarily dismissed. When I asked a Cadw officer what they thought the Bancbryn stone alignment might be, they provided no answer and instead stated that they did not believe it could be prehistoric because Welsh alignments “Are characterised by much larger, upright stones in significantly shorter lengths”. Even if this was true (and it is not) this is not a remotely sound reason for dismissing the alignment. Diversity is at the heart of archaeology and Cadw’s failure to recognise the possibility of differences in the character of the archaeological resource is truly alarming.

At Bancbryn we do not need to go as far the Mediterranean to find precise parallels – they exist on the other side of the Bristol Channel and to ignore them as Cadw have done is both astonishing and indefensible.


Distribution of single long stone rows composed of smaller stones in Great Britain.

Distribution of single long stone rows composed of smaller stones in Great Britain.


Bancbryn (green) sits comfortably within the part of Great Britain where single long rows composed of smaller stones are found. It seems peculiar that Scottish archaeologists are happy to accept parallels from the Mediterranean to help them understand their archaeology, but Welsh ones struggle to recognise those on their own doorstep.


Calder, C.S.T. and Macdonald,G.,1936, The Dwarfie Stane, Hoy, Orkney: its period and purpose. With a note on “Jo. Ben” and the Dwarfie Stane’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 70, 1935-6. Pgs. 217-38.

Remember we said Oswestry Hillfort would have been safe in West Oxfordshire or West Sussex? Now  you can add East Sussex too: “the Secretary of State also agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion that the scale of development proposed would have a harmful effect by eroding the existing clear sense of separation”. “A clear sense of separation” – which monument doesn’t deserve that? The massive one at Oswestry, it seems, even though The Heritage Impact Assessment said otherwise: “the  most  important  physical  element of  the  setting  is  the  belt  of  agricultural  land  which  surrounds  the  hill  fort  and is  perceived  as  part  of  the  monument”. (Note: belt, not crescent.) But this is Shropshireland. A decent gap (or even a derisory one) is bloody inconvenient – for how can you build on it? 

So is that why the document then does a triple backward summersault? “Any  suggestion  that  development  per  se  is  harmful  –  that  the  view  would  be ‘spoiled’  –  is  untenable,  since  this  would  not  be  a  response  based  on  a rational  assessment  of  impact  on  significance” and “Development of  the  site  is  a  logical  extension  of  the  urban  fringe,  and  the  montage  shows that  it  would  create  a  positive  edge  to  the  land  which  surrounds  the  hill  fort.” See? Keeping a gap would be “untenable” whereas building on it would be “logical” and “positive”. Amazing eh?

Plus, (lest you doubt this is part of a deliberate Shropshireland act of monumenticide) see this from section  7.2.46: “At  night,  the  orange  glow  of  street  lights  is  the dominant  feature,  and  the  hill  fort  is  not  visible.”  Why mention the sun goes down? You can’t get more blatantly pro-development than by dragging up the fact the hillfort is invisible in the dark (and invisible monuments don’t need green gaps!)

The hillfort at night (or with your eyes closed).

The hillfort at night (or with your eyes closed).

The clues that there’s something rotten in the state of Shropshireland have long been there. It’s not just the inconsistencies with other authorities. It’s the fact there were also early signs. Below is the Oswestry Town Plan from back in 2013 – “an informed and influential guide to developers, setting out what matters most to local people”. See how tightly it is drawn and ask yourself why it is offset so it’s more generous to the North and miniscule on the town side…..


Then take a look at this, the subsequent development proposal. Oswestry Town Council opposed it. What a shame they didn’t realise earlier that the circle was so small it left a crucial gap – not for the monument but for the developers …..


[Finally, you might think that having realised the 2013 green circle was too small and had left a crucial gap for developers which they regretted, Oswestry wouldn’t have included the identical plan in their Town Plan 2020. But you’d be wrong. The implied open armed invitation to developers to come in and wreck the setting of the hillfort for grubby financial profit at public heritage cost is still there. Who was behind that convenient lack of change? No prizes for guessing.]

The Dismal Repugnate of Shropshireland eh? What an amazing place, so different from West Oxfordshire and West & East Sussex. Maybe the Government should take direct control?

Remember the Polish detecting rally? Last week Britain was taken for an even bigger ride, this time by XP, the French detector manufacturers. They held a 1,000 person “European Gold Rally” in the lush, archaeologically rich Cotswold landscape near Burford.

Detectorists from many countries were invited and XP took the liberty of providing a link on their posters to the Historic England  database showing “History in a 5 km radius of our search area”. Also helpful was the attendance of several FLOs  and 3 coin dealers. Those so inclined could dig up, get valued and sell finds in minutes, even things brought from elsewhere (and who’ll dare pretend that facility isn’t known about and appreciated Europe-wide?)

So a uniquely British spectacle. Hundreds of foreign detectorists (300 French, 30 German, many more from Italy, Ireland, Austria, Portugal, Holland, USA, Belgium and Australia) detecting in the Cotswolds instead of at home. Why? Because they know that Britain is uniquely careless about protecting its buried heritage, that’s why!


A French promotional video for the event. The Cotswold scenery is beguiling, the music is lyrical and the commentary begins “Ah, L’Angleterre….” Quite right. So why not just visit, like normal respectful people?




Why yowling moggy? Because a series of misrepresentations (7 so far) may suggest a concerted agenda….



Let’s be clear. The Trust is supporting a short tunnel, and that entails building massive new roads inside the World Heritage Site. So when it says “a tunnel would improve the setting” it’s asserting that the setting is only a subset of the WHS and the rest of the protected area is less precious and more expendable.

It’s a crazy, unsupported claim, another yowling moggy, but this time with horrible echoes – for an elastic setting, a setting of convenience, unilaterally declared to facilitate destruction, was Tarmac PLC’s strategy for claiming a moral right to annihilate the pre-historic landscape surrounding Thornborough Henges. But Tarmac PLC is a mean-minded, ruthless profit machine so can be forgiven, or at least understood whereas The National Trust is a conservation charity which is supposed to protect special places “for ever, for everyone” so can’t be.

One wonders whether members and employees of the National Trust are content for it to be talking like a gravel extraction company?


[To see the others put Yowling in the search box.]



Yet another tomorrow, and more next week.

What will posterity say?

Why yowling moggy? Because a series of misrepresentations (6 so far) may suggest a concerted agenda….


It didn’t take long did it?!

The Times has said (presumably having been briefed) that “In May the tunnel won the backing of Unesco“.

No. The advisory mission for UNESCO expressed misgivings that a short tunnel of 2.9km would be technically possible without irreversible damage to the World Heritage Site’s Outstanding Universal Value: 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.

By what possible interpretation is that “backing the tunnel”?


Watch out for the seventh!

[To see the others put Yowling in the search box.]

Detectorists claim we want detecting banned. No. We just want them compelled to behave. That would benefit 65 million people. They ought to support us as the French have just benefited their whole population in a way British detectorists would hate. They’ve decreed that finds from land which has changed hands since 7 July now belong to the state! That makes Britain’s strategy of endless pleading for voluntary good behaviour look pretty foolish.

Clever, the French. They’re saying so you’re only in it for the history. Fine. Please keep your passion for history. But not the finds. They’re ours. British detectorists are desperately spinning that as a bad thing for France. See this from the European Council for Metal Detecting:`“Overall, this is quite clearly bad news for the metal detectorists in France, as this new law will severely restrict their ability to participate in the cultural life of the French society and prevent them from contributing to the discovery and protection of archaeological heritage.

So they’ve made it very clear, they’ll only be giving something to society if they’re allowed to pocket the finds. How that’s “in it for the love of history” is a question the British Establishment seems unable to answer or even address. This very week Paris launched an 1,800 strong uniformed “incivility brigade” to reduce uncouth behaviour on the streets. Yet the only measure the British take to tackle uncouth and culture-harming behaviour in our fields is to pay 45 people to beg detectorists to behave, that’s all. Imagine! A civilised country with no statutory constraints upon mass culture-damaging. Who’d vote for that?

86% of detectorists on the Minelab metal detecting forum said they were voting Brexit.

86% of detectorists on the Minelab metal detecting forum said they were voting Brexit. No prizes for guessing why.

Update 18//9/2016:

Paul Barford has exposed the plain truth behind the European Council for Metal Detecting’s “complaint”: Well, of course the new law is not there to encourage a “will to search for artefacts”. The aim of heritage preservation is to reduce the (merely) Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Resource for private benefit and direct it to public benefit. Private heritage pocketing is detrimental to the interests of French (and European) society.”

Brexit has already ensured that the ECMD, because it was a British invention, is highly unlikely to be listened to in Europe and this latest demonstration of bad faith towards French heritage will hopefully ensure that’s the case. Blatant dishonesty doesn’t work at all.



Middle Ridgeway by Eric Jones and Patrick Dillon accompanied by twenty superb paintings by Anna Dillon, published by Wessex Books, September 8, 2016: £16.95


A sense of heightened anticipation can accompany the opening of any book for the first time, but all the more so when Anna Dillon’s magnificent cover illustration projects the reader into the very past and present rhythms of the Middle Ridgeway.  This book has then a great deal of promise to live up to. Suitably primed the reader will discover the content within is not unlike a magnificent pie: the subject is fondly handled, revered and obscure characters encountered, and a much loved natural world imported to one’s fireside. As they journey over an ‘ecological island’ from Avebury to White Horse Hill and onward to the Goring Gap, the authors carefully guide their readers back and forth across the vast expanse of time and cultural experiences, the unsurpassed illustrations of this chalk landscape by Anna Dillon regularly injecting a joyous spirit and a want to be there. Buy this book and you will never part with it no matter how many times you move or have a clear out, you will cherish it far too much to let it go.


 An exhibition of Anna Dillon’s paintings accompany the launch of this book, they are on view at the White Horse Bookshop, Marlborough, until 30 September.

You can order the book direct here.

Following the news of the completion of the recent Verulamium Survey, a second “Archaeology in Hertfordshire” conference has been announced for November 26th, to be held in Hitchin Town Hall.

Their previous regional conference which we reported on in 2012 was a very interesting event.

The current outline of speakers and topics this year, subject to last minute changes, is as follows:

  • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews: Odd pots and foreigners: forgetting Romanitas, becoming Angelcynn
  • Isobel Thompson: New clues to the conquest: how Hertfordshire entered the Roman Empire
  • Andrew Fitzpatrick and Colin Haselgrove: Searching for Julius Caesar
  • Kris Lockyear and Ellen Shlasko: Surveying Verulamium
  • Emily Esche, Clare Lewis, Kris Lockyear and Tony Rook: Lower Rivers Field
  • Murray Andrews: Coins, commerce, and Christianity: money in late medieval Hertfordshire
  • Gil Burleigh: 118+ Tons of History: results from community test pitting and other fieldwork in Pirton
  • Karin and David Kaye: Roman Ware: A River-Crossing Settlement
  • Chris Green: Puddingstone querns from Hertfordshire and elsewhere
  • Mike Smith: The medieval manor of Wheathampstead

We’ve been asked to mention that tables will be available for local groups to have small displays (if arranged in advance via Kris Lockyear). There is no charge for a table, but the people manning it will need to have a ticket!

Full details including how to purchase tickets for the conference (£15, or £12 for WAS members) will be included on our Events Diary page when available.


September 2016

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