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As we mentioned yesterday (and have banged on about for years), Britain’s concept of “Heritage Crime” is irrational. Under the definition, if you harm heritage when trespassing it’s a heritage crime but if you have permission to be there it’s not. But maybe things are finally changing, for the new Advice to Landowners says

Anyone removing objects from land without the landowner/farmer occupier’s permission is committing theft” and farmers shouldcall the police, and also make it clear to any attending officer/s that action should to be taken against the offender/s….”

NB “anyone” who removes objects without the farmer’s permission is a thief and should be reported to the police. That must include those who’ve been allowed on the fields. 

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One of these chaps is currently guilty of “Heritage Crime” as officially defined, the other isn’t as he has permission to be there. But which? Well, Officialdom has just confirmed to farmers that both are thieves and the police should be told. Same action, same damage to heritage, same law breaking, same action required. So, isn’t it high time that the official definition of Heritage Crime was re-written to include both of them?

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Is murder only murder if it happens during a burglary? Of course not, yet Britain’s heritage protection laws are as irrational as that. Here’s why:

Heritage Crime is defined as “any offence which harms the value of heritage assets”. Hence, if you’re nighthawking (an offence) and therefore don’t report what you’ve taken, you harm the value of heritage assets and are guilty of a heritage crime. But if you then go to the farm next door and get permission to detect (no offence) and then fail to report what you find you’ll harm the value of heritage assets just as much yet you’ve not committed a heritage crime!

There’s been no crime committed Watson – the culprit had permission to be here!

A very British muddle, eh? And one that’s pretty much unique to us: harming the value of heritage assets is only a heritage crime if you’re trespassing! (We think there’s been a small step towards rectifying it though – see this space on Monday).

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Remember how English Heritage planned to disfigure the base of Clifford’s Tower in York with this awful overblown cash cow?

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But as we suggested at the time: being a guardian doesn’t make you an owner, you’re far more lowly than that – and you should listen to people other than yourself. Now, two years later they have done so:  a new director for the north of England, Andrea Selley, has been listening to the views of the local community and it was clear that many people love the shape of the mound and disliked the thought of its circumference being broken.

So maybe ordinary people had a stronger appreciation of aesthetics and appropriate guardianship than many English Heritage experts? Which begs the question, if ordinary people have a better instinctive idea than “experts” of what’s right in York maybe English Heritage should ask itself if the same thing may apply to the Stonehenge landscape? Maybe the opponents of the scheme there aren’t ill informed even if they’ve never conducted a dig there. Maybe they’re simply right.

The “result” of consultations on options for widening the A303 across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site is yet to be announced – or “presented through an undemocratic lense” one might say. There will be no surprises. It will be said to point to popular and expert enthusiasm for the protection and enhancement of the World Heritage landscape – hoorah! – but a version of protection and enhancement which will have an unspoken opposite effect. How could it be otherwise, given Highways England’s and the Government’s stated aims? Let no-one be in doubt: their primary aim is not to protect and enhance the World Heritage landscape and it never was. They can only do that without building a surface dual carriageway.

This is a tragedy that has been long in the making. In 2012 Simon Jenkins smelt a rat about the Olympic opening ceremony. Was its depiction of rural Britain as “a land of fields and ploughmen, cottages, cows, sheep and horses, of Glastonbury, cricket and the Proms” a cover for a more radical vision, and was the countryside in the cross hairs of the Government and its developer friends (who kindly helped them fashion the new Planning approach)? Should the name of the ceremony be changed from “The Isles of Wonder” to “Goobye to all that”?!

Time showed that his discomfort with the direction of travel was justified and in the following year, in a piece titled “Our Glorious Land in Peril” he reiterated his view that the new presumption in favour of sustainable development, defined merely as profitable, was the most philistine concept in planning history and he spoke witheringly of the architects of the policy:
“None of these politicians shows any awareness of the beauty of the rural landscape. All live in prosperous cities and probably holiday abroad. Urban renewal is beyond them. That English people should treasure their countryside, as polls show they do overwhelmingly, is beyond them.”

Now that one of our most loved views, the free view of Stonehenge from the A303, is intended to be snatched away forever, his words still have great resonance:Ministers may win Right-wing guffaws in think-tank saloons. But it is their deeds now being scratched and scarred across the face of England that we shall remember.” The scratches and scars, if allowed to happen, will outlive Chris Grayling and the rest by millenia.

Tarot Tuesday! The next card drawn in our series is The Lovers, card VI of the Major Arcana.

The Lovers: “Attachment or combination, Conflicting choices, Partners, Relationships, Union

The important aspects of this card all seem to point to the fact that the Lovers represent perfection, harmony and mutual attractiveness.

The obvious linkage to a heritage site is one that has both male and female aspects, and the obvious choice in this respect must be the West Kennet Avenue stones in Wiltshire.

West Kennet Avenue

The Avenue winds its way across the landscape for a distance of about 2.3 km., linking the henge enclosure and stone circle at Avebury to the site known as the Sanctuary on Overton Hill. It runs approximately south-east from the from the henge to the Sanctuary, following a somewhat sinuous course. In the best preserved 800 metre section there are 27 upright stones with heights ranging from 1.6 metres to 3.3 metres.

The stones of the avenue are of male and female types and have been deliberately erected in pairs with a male stone facing a female stone and vice versa along the length of the avenue. The female stones are crudely diamond shaped, whilst the male stones are more pillar-like.

But the Lovers has another interpretation, indicating a choice between two conflicting paths. As Plant and Page put it so eloquently:

Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on

Sticking with the Avenue at West Kennet, if we follow it through to the Avebury circle, could this choice be depicted by the two avenues which used to exist, starting from the circle?

Which heritage site would you associate with this card?

Who can deny it? No farmer has ever granted permission to detect unless he’s been offered highly dubious promises or barefaced lies – why would he? Generally it’s “We’re archaeologists”, “We’re only in it for the history”, “I’ve researched your land – you may get rich”, “Detecting is a way of conserving history” and “We’ll show you everything and share it 50-50, honest”).

There are endless instances. Just read some detecting forums – please! But one case that has just come to light that’s particularly barefaced is “Priscan Archaeology”. This is a group of detectorists who indulge in artefact hunting. Pocketing stuff you find is not archaeology. And now they’ve put up a video claiming their latest outing was a survey. It wasn’t. They had neither method nor equipment. They were artefact hunting (See Paul Barford’s demolition of their “survey” here).
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Priscan “Archaeology” (Not) – carrying out a “Survey” (Not).

Against this widespread FFF context Historic England has just pressed, sensibly, for any detecting on registered battlefields to be part of an organised and structured archaeological survey“. Yet the National Council for Metal Detecting refuses, claiming that having no archaeological involvement is the best way to gather evidence. That, surely, defies all logic and is the mother of all Farmer Fooling Falsehoods.

Sadly though, there was no complaint from Historic England. Instead they responded: “There is no question that detectorists share a passion for our history …. We really value the opportunity to work with detectorists….” If you wonder what’s wrong with Britain’s stewardship of its buried archaeological resource, there’s the answer. Acquisitive people refusing to do the right thing and mouthing obvious and highly damaging falsehoods yet saluted for their passion for history. It really could have been PAS speaking.

Update:


On the other hand, sometimes you don’t have to conceal the fact you’re a selfish, destructive oik. See this conversation reported on a detecting forum this week:

Farmer: “My granddad never ploughed it and my Dad never ploughed it and I’v never ploughed it so not in may be 100 years or so.”

Selfish Acqisitive Oik: “Well would have have any objection to me having a look with my new detector then??

Farmer: Help you self” he said “But I don’t want any historical folk coming round

Selfish Acquisitive Oik:No NO NO that’s the last thing we want.

So there we are. Not ploughed for a hundred years and “historical folk” won’t be told what’s found. But stuff the Code of Conduct on both counts and stuff the resultant loss of knowledge, permission’s what matters. And it’s legel innit – and Historic England say I have a passion for history!


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There’s no money left for A-Level Archaeology …..
So the day has arrived. After many wonderful years of teaching students about how archaeologists work, discussing the role of ancient Egyptian religion in their society, and discussing the role of heritage in our society and economy today, A-level Archaeology has drifted off the timetable across the country and our current second years will be the last group of students to ever receive a grade in this A-level.”

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But there’s £1,000 a day for farmers who’ll allow Acquisitive-Level Archaeology ….
You get a grand for doing nothing but shaking my hand on the day and waving me goodbye at the end of it. One day, one thousand.”

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