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As result of our last article, we’ve had some enquiries about where ARE the sheep these days. This article, from 2011, may throw a bit of light on it, but not enough…

We took the above photograph at Avebury at the weekend having been struck by the number of visitors expressing puzzlement over why sheep were allowed where others weren’t.

We know that grazing is beneficial and that, as the National Trust says on its website, “Managing this fragile archaeological environment is a constant balancing act. Regular work includes monitoring sheep and cattle grazing, erosion control, scrub management and protecting buried remains from burrowing animals” but a word of explanation on their information boards would be helpful.

The same applies to English Heritage at Silbury. A few years ago a fortune was spent on new fencing and specially selected sheep were put on there. However, it looked to us that contrary to assurances they were creating a lot of damage and forming lots of new pathways (and that might well have been seen as a justification by some people to go on the Hill themselves). However, the tactics weren’t fully explained at the time and now the sheep seem to be missing and the fences aren’t being maintained.

At both venues, a few words of explanation on the notice boards would be helpful. This is after all the Big Society!

In 2009 we reported this from The Telegraph …


“A police officer contacted British UFO experts after seeing three aliens examining a freshly made crop circle near Avebury, Wiltshire.
The sergeant, who has not been named, was off-duty when he saw the figures standing in a field near Silbury Hill, and stopped his car to investigate.
However, as he approached the ‘men’ – all over 6ft tall with blond hair – he heard “the sound of static electricity” and the trio ran away ”faster than any man he had ever seen”.
The officer returned to his home in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and contacted paranormal experts and told them he had spotted a UFO…”


Then, in January 2010, exactly ten years ago, Fortean Times reported that an American tourist had seena largish, dark creature moving slowly up the mound.”  It printed a photograph showing an ambiguous black blob on the hill. Unfortunately, we aren’t at liberty to reproduce that, so here’s one of our own.


We haven’t seen the ambiguous black blobs lately, which is a mystery in itself. If anyone knows what happened to them please let us know.

All the press needed to report was that “a condition is included in any forthcoming planning consent to secure the investigation and recording of the archaeology.” But they added this nonsense: “Archaeologists are warning that an area earmarked for 100 new homes needs to be checked for artefacts before building begins. Cross Road, Deal, is near to a historic goldmine, owing to the discovery of an Iron Age warrior during excavations in the eighties.” 

It’s now certain that nighthawks will be attracted and will steal as many artefacts as they can. The article even includes a map for their convenience …


.  .                                 Goldmine


How sad that PAS is keen to tell journalists that nearly all detectorists are living marvels but neglects to stress that many looters are constantly looking for targets. And all because they’re frit that Wayne, Olly, and Baz will take umbrage.


Coincidentally, Paul Barford has today highlighted a similar issue. Writing about a Treasure Act prosecution he pointed out some press misinformation and asked: “When are the PAS going to arrange information sessions for the British press so we see less of this nonsense?”


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

As the fate of HS2 hangs by a financial thread we are reminded of our article about Stonehenge almost exactly 11 years ago, on 29 January 2009.

Could the World Heritage Landscape be about to be saved a second time?


ex-12“Mention the “Stonehenge saga” and most people think of decades of frustrating delay, indecision, and inactivity. But we’re inclined to take a more cheerful view. It looks possible that an announcement is imminent that will mark an important stage – not the end of the discussions but an end, at least, to the worst of the threats to the monument.

For a long time, the “official” push was for a “short tunnel” involving building two miles of new roadway over the World Heritage Area in defiance of the wishes of UNESCO and practically every archaeological and heritage body. So much for public consultation! Thankfully, finance came to the monument’s aid and the plan was abandoned.

The Treasury is having doubts about whether the Stonehenge tunnel scheme is value for money. But in truth the calculations are meaningless anyway for no-one can convert cultural gain (or loss) into measurable money terms. Hence, when the National Audit Office says the project will deliver “£1.15 of quantified benefit for every £1 spent” and The Treasury doubts it,  both are dealing in fuzzy information, not to say complete codswallop. As the National Audit Office has said, (rather more politely than that) the figures were arrived at

“because Highways England included a monetary value for “cultural heritage” in the costings. Highways England worked out this value by asking the public how much it would pay to have the road removed from the site. [!!!] While Highways England used approved methodologies to do this, calculating benefits in this way is inherently uncertain.”

“Inherently uncertain”! How very British! What they mean is “it’s nonsense, but it’s all Highways England could think of to fill the void in the calculation and get the result they wanted”. It’s like a bike designed by Hiram B. Nickerson, no trick not used to ensure it looks low-impact!

Hiram B. Nickerson’s Aerial Bicycle, 1896

Yet that’s not all: Highways England claim to have arrived at a cultural benefit figure but where’s their estimate of cultural loss? It’s not there. No-one knows how much archaeology will be lost until it’s lost so they’ve simply not mentioned it, along with the loss of the free view of the stones. Honesty England they ain’t!

By the way, in case Highways England et al tell you that asking the public how much they’d be willing to pay to remove the road is a valid technique in cost-benefit analysis let them use that method to calculate the cultural value of The Pyramids, Hamlet or a sunset.

The upheaval of HS2 is manna for treasure-hungry archaeologists”


First, archaeologists aren’t treasure-hungry. Only treasure hunters are treasure-hungry!

Second, that’s not the only disservice to heritage which that careless headline may deliver. Soon it may be there’s another huge upheaval with hundreds of other archaeologists engaged in another massive series of digs, sifting through many millions of cubic feet of the archaeological layers of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site prior to construction of new access roads.

That scheme is opposed by UNESCO and most independent archaeologists and it would do heritage great harm if supporters of the tunnel trumpeted that process as a welcome benefit of the scheme (as indeed they already have) and the press then magnified the claim by calling it a knowledge “bonanza”.

Of course it would generate great knowledge, in a process first described years ago by a slick government spin-doctor as “preservation by record”. But it’s important the public aren’t misled: the knowledge will be totally inadequate compensation for massive heritage destruction to a World Heritage landscape.


Here’s a video praising a detectorist who donated a treasure find, gratis. But why? This was a decent man, doing what he should and knowing the find was never his and the rewards were never meant to benefit him, only to incentivise those who would steal the public’s heritage without one! So praising him actually insults him, for it implies he might be the sort of person he patently isn’t.

So in future, let’s drop the”praise”, just like we don’t praise people leaving Tescos not carrying stolen goods. Praising normality while rewarding those with less scruples is an ugly look (and doesn’t work: 90% of detectorists take the money and often ask for more!)

Hopefully, the Treasure Act reforms will change things by making it far clearer to detectorists that rewards are not an entitlement, and that taking them is the opposite of being an amateur archaeologist, still less a hero.

Image result for supermarket customer
Tesco customer lauded for not stealing.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


As discussions continue on Treasure Act reforms there’ll be a bit of chat about what progress PAS has made. But that. sadly, is all it is, chat. See this from Farmer Brown, six years ago: has anything truly changed since then? Of course not. If there’s going to be a change it had better be radical.


Dear Fellow Landowners,

It was a rumbustious night down at the Black Sheep and Wellies on Friday. I and my farming pals celebrated that a detectorist has just written on his blog: “I will also be letting the farmer know that all items found excluding treasure items belong to him, if there is anything that he does not [want] after the recording of the finds I will let him know I am interested in acquiring them”.

He might have added “once he’s obtained independent advice on them“ but still it’s a step forward and I’ll give a bag of mangel-wurzels to any detectorist, archaeologist, lawyer, philosopher or priest that can show why ALL artefact hunters shouldn’t be doing it too. Anything else, like getting the farmer to sign away 50% of his property while still undiscovered (which most detectorists and the whole Archaeological Establishment encourage landowners to do) is plain wrong. Imagine finding your granny had let someone clear her loft when she was out in exchange for 50% of what they said they’d found – and that the Government had urged her to do it!

He’ll get a ton of criticism for what he’s doing but on the other hand he can console himself with the fact he’ll be treating farmers in a fairer and more honorable and respectful way than many thousands of his colleagues as well as English Heritage, the British Museum, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and many others. (Heaven help their grannies!)


Silas Brown,
Grunter’s Hollow Farm,


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting





January 2020

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