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Archaeologists employed by PAS are mighty uncomfortable attending large “rallies”, whether commercial, “charitable” or acquisitive. It’s “hard to record everything” they say, which is polite speak for “there’s massive knowledge theft”.  Paul Barford has just highlighted an egregious EBay example:


The advertiser clearly thinks his product’s “cred” will be raised by saying a FLO was there but you can guess how much difference that made. Smiling encouragingly behind a desk in a tent has zero effect on someone in a field, and that’s not just true on battlefield sites but at every event where lots of acquisitive people with loads and loads of pockets, pouches and bags are doing whatever they want.

Over the years we’ve written loads about these blots on Britain’s conservation policy but nothing has changed. PAS attending rallies is akin to someone flogging a putrifying horse – everyone knows it won’t get up and gallop and the longer the delay the more harm it does to the land. It surely needs to put the national interest above its wish to avoid offending detectorists and to openly tell the public, farmers and the Government that rallies are massively damaging and shouldn’t be tolerated. But when will that happen?

A developer’s agent is pitching yet again for more houses to be built near Oswestry Hillfort and has come up with the worst claim yet: “In the 2,800 years of the Hill fort’s existence, there have been very significant changes to its hinterland.  It is difficult to predict what the setting of the Hill Fort will be in 500 or 1,000 years’ time but it is fairly certain that the impact of this development will be superseded in time and its impact is theoretically reversible.”

Get it? In a thousand years the damage will disappear – in fact it will reverse!

It’s fine to fill that gap – it will be restored after a thousand years!

It’s to be hoped that such nonsense is dismissed, and in particular that the pro-short tunnel advocates at Stonehenge aren’t inspired to say the grievous damage they are supporting will self-heal in a thousand years. It won’t.


One short tunnel supporter, who shall be nameless, says

“I fail to see how the pleasure taken since medieval times by walkers, riders, cab passengers, cyclists and early road travellers in crossing the Stonehenge landscape has anything to do with drivers’ views from the A303″.

Well Mr Pitts, you’re one on your own. Millions who travel on that road, including children who might be future archaeologists, are thrilled by their first sight of “the Turner View” of the stones, and as Dan Hicks has said:

“Some 1.3m people will pass through the Stonehenge gift shop this year, but perhaps ten times that number will witness the monument from a passing vehicle”. It’s the most democratic of monuments.”

The poverty of the short tunnel case is easily exposed by asking why bury a road? For the Highways Agency the answer is simple and strangely honest: it’s the cheapest way to build a road, which is Highways England’s sole purpose. But for so-called pro-heritage bodies and individuals the answer is far more shameful: it is to improve the landscape.

Improve? To what? And to when? And in accordance with whose vision? What right does English Heritage have to lobby to destroy a version of Stonehenge that is already overlaid with thousands of years of marks in favour of a single one with a single mark that never existed? Who said they should create a Capability Brown landscape? Who authorised the National Trust not to fight like tigers for this much loved vista and instead dream about its own self-important “vision” of a new place in which the stones are hidden from most people?

Capability Brown: The Stonehenge short tunnel: my final project!

Here’s a stunning display of 700,000 artefacts found by archaeologists during metro extension works in Amsterdam being proudly displayed to commuters.


Meanwhile, over in London archaeologists working for the Portable Antiquities Scheme have just held the last “PASt Explorers Conference”, massively praising finders for doing no more than they ought to and avoiding admitting to the Government or the taxpaying or stakeholding public  that ten times as many artefacts as in Amsterdam can’t be displayed, having been legally dug up but not reported by thousands of totally uncooperative British detectorists.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Mr Mike Pitts has previously taken potshots at opponents of the A303 Stonehenge tunnel scheme, sniping at Dan Snow and Tom Holland in addition to accusing The Stonehenge Alliance of acting like the archaeological wing of Donald Trump’s social media campaign.
Now it’s the turn of the Druids, who have been opposing the tunnel at the recent hearings. He’s free to do so, but perhaps not by using his position as editor of British Archaeology, the magazine of the CBA, in order to publish this cartoon:



Obviously the crass distortion of several historical facts and timelines is undesirable in itself, but we wonder how a crude and offensive joke about a senior Druid being beheaded at Stonehenge as a solution to opposition to the tunnel came to be published in the CBA’s magazine? Perhaps CBA Director Mike Heyworth will step in.

A clear thinking farmer has decided Wayne from Wolverhampton who he’s never met but who wants the run of his fields, would benefit from a spot of mistrust (because, he says, “its all too easy to slip a small silver into your back pocket and forget its there”), so has laid out some rules:

  • He has to be there
  • Anything silver or above stays on the farm
  • Anything he deems as interesting stays on the farm.

Detectorists, to a man, are appalled: “I wouldn’t bother”, “Try somewhere else”, “I would not entertain it”, “I prefer permissions where everything is done on a trust basis”, “steer clear of this bloke”, “I`d have laughed and kicked the nearest chicken showing my contempt”, “he obviously has some trust issues”.

It’s all very strange from people who are there purely for love of History. Of the many tens of thousands of amateur archaeologists in Britain, not a single one would mind being supervised! Why the difference?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Highways England has responded to a body blow from the National Audit Office 26 days ago (the Stonehenge scheme has a significantly lower benefit-cost ratio than is usual in road schemes” and “could move to an even lower or negative value”) by saying that although the NAO said it could cost up to £2.4bn, they intend to build it for £1.7bn and that Since we worked on this report, we are now even more confident of the costs. Some of the risks that are included in that £2.3bn/£2.4bn number we now know will not materialize, or they have become even more unlikely to materialise.”

This is most peculiar! Either the risks have miraculously (and conveniently) dematerialised in the 26 days since the NAO published its report, or the reduced risks were known about longer than that but weren’t communicated to the NAO! People could be forgiven for thinking some defensive porkyfying is going on.

The suspicion is reinforced by the fact that when asked if he was confident they won’t find any surprises that will considerably increase the cost, their spokesman, Mr O’Sullivan, replied directly: ‘Yes.’ What sort of superman can say that, in advance of tearing up 150,000 square feet of World Heritage Landscape?



Sometimes the pro-tunnel rhetoric is personal:
Neither Dan Snow [just awarded an MBE for services to History] nor Tom Holland [author, classicist, historian and broadcaster] are “experts on Stonehenge archaeology or the Stonehenge tunnel” and “The Stonehenge Alliance [founded by Lord Kennet and now chaired by George MDonic MBE, BL, DIPLTP, FRTPI, DPA, FFB] acts like the archaeological wing of Donald Trump’s social media campaign

And sometimes it’s simply farcical:
At the recent hearing the Examining Authority asked “What about the Romans? Did they not build roads?” Seriously? Is that simplistic, populist question appropriate from a supposedly impartial body? Yes, the Romans built roads. They also had crucifixions. What is your point?

Fortunately, The Stonehenge Alliance’s President dispatched the question so neatly it will surely never be posed again:

“Indeed they did, and for a number of reasons. To serve the needs of speedy transport, of course; but there was much more to the driving of these great gashes of stone across conquered landscapes than that. They were designed as statements of possession: expressions of the power of the Roman state to do what it wished to conquered territory, to erase primordial identities, to rub the noses of the conquered in the brute fact of their submission. What I should have said at the time (and so will say now instead) is that to compare the Stonehenge Tunnel to a Roman road is indeed the measure of just how terrible a thing it threatens to be.”

The Trust is supporting the removal of Turner’s iconic view of the stones from countless millions of travellers forever. They’ve never defended that loss, and can’t – for their central mantra is caring for special places forever, for everyone.


And their role hasn’t been just “supporting”: the Government says it has been “pivotal”. Yet now they’ve paid lot of money to own and protect another iconic Turner view, the subject of his famous painting, “Crummock Water Looking Towards Buttermere”.

According to their spokeswoman it’s the first time in recent memory the Trust “has bought a site specifically for its vista”. So £202,000 to save one iconic view while spending huge sums of money campaigning to hide an even greater one! By what measure is that a rational or principled stance?

Not all of them call us ignorant and not all are purveyors of PAS’s 20 year old “we’ve converted most detectorists” mantra. Adam Daubney has published an overview of his remarks at last year’s PAS conference and there’s much with which we agree, especially his coy “There are many who would like to see greater regulation of metal detecting”.

He asks “If the law is unlikely to change, how do we ensure that we share knowledge in way that changes the culture to one in which non-reporting is seen as unethical?” But it seems reform of the Treasure Act IS imminent and since Rescue has made its position clear (PAS has been unable to sufficiently advocate for archaeological methodologies and rigorous survey practices…” ) it looks like culture change is finally likely. Certainly the 20 year “we’ve converted most  detectorists” mantra is no longer going to be Britain’s conservation stance.

Perhaps PAS’s best contribution to reform would be to acknowledge that most detectorists have not been converted and that therefore knowledge theft is still the norm – in public instead of in private? “Lasting cultural change will come when the general public understands the importance and ethics of a pro-recording culture” says Adam. Indeed it will, and it will come all the quicker if PAS says so loudly and clearly to farmers, taxpayers and the Government. It is PAS which must change, not just the law and detectorists.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


June 2019

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