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Sincere congratulations to Historic England, joint winners of the recent Current Archaeology award for Rescue Project of the Year!

They’ve been recording rare Roman graffiti in Gelt Forest, Cumbria. It couldn’t be a more exciting project: the inscriptions were carved by soldiers quarrying stone for Hadrian’s Wall and previously lost ones have now been rediscovered. Nor could it be a more worthy project: the soft sandstone into which they are carved is gradually eroding away and eventually they’ll be lost..

Which prompts the question: how can an organisation which rightly earns great praise for preserving irreplaceable Roman graffiti at the Hadrian’s Wall quarry be supporting the construction of a mile of new dual carriageway across the Stonehenge World Heritage landscape which will needlessly destroy massive quantities of irreplaceable archaeology?

 

Following our complaint yesterday about the stupidity and greed which has led the Detectival organisers to not cancel their event, three hours later they issued this statement:

“We have been waiting for the UK Government to release its latest advice [really? Why? Morons – Ed.], which they did Thursday afternoon. It is now clear that this outbreak isn’t going to last just a couple of weeks [that’s been known for months – Ed.] but is going to be an unprecedented long-haul challenge over the coming months.

As responsible event organisers and in line with our company values, the health and wellbeing of all those who attend our events is our priority [Oh really?! – Ed.].

If the UK Government does put restrictions in place for mass gatherings, we expect that any outdoor events under 500 people may continue to run, and as Spring Detectival falls into this category [only just – and maybe not if all the trades are counted – Ed.] we will continue with the event.”

Thus, they are still hanging on ruthlessly to the chance of making a profit and hiding behind future Government announcements rather than doing what is blatantly best for all attendees and their elderly relatives (and the poor, more intelligent PAS staff who certainly wouldn’t want to be there).

Let the Government and the public take note.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Spring Detectival 2020 is the latest in a series of similar massive events, this one scheduled for April. They are particularly unwelcome and damaging because of their sheer size and because they cater for detectorists from all over Europe and beyond. It is perhaps a reflection of both the organisers and their customers that despite the current health emergency the event is still being scheduled to go ahead, using the thinnest of excuses:

“The risk to individuals in the UK remains low [really? – Ed.] and there is no restriction on travel or trade. In light of this, our events will take place as normal and we will continue to adhere to UK Government guidance.”

That cynical statement was issued on 6th of March and was already unwise and inaccurate. Most events in Europe had already been cancelled. Now in Britain, as everyone knows the Government will soon ban large events and almost all events including football, rugby and golf have been cancelled by the organisers without waiting for a compulsory ban.

The organisers and customers of detecting rallies are different though: no such cancellation to Detectival 2020 has yet been announced. Perhaps the delay will be noted in Government. Amateur archaeologists working for the common good they aren’t. People of very limited sense who simply want selfish gain they are.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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There have been various articles on internet web sites and social media over the last few days, explaining that the developers at Oswestry Hill Fort have effectively ‘walked away’ from the project and cancelled their plans for the development. However, looking deeper at the news, the threat remains. A point that has been clearly explained in the latest press release from the HOOOH ‘Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort’ campaign:

Campaigners braced for revised plans for hillfort estate after developer shelves latest scheme

Campaigners say they are ready to fight on as Galliers Homes withdraws plans for a 100-house estate in the near landscape of Old Oswestry hillfort ahead of submitting a new scheme.

Notice of withdrawal of two applications to develop the site in two phases appeared on Monday (March 9) on the Shropshire Council planning portal, but with no documents or correspondence to clarify the reasons. After campaign group, HOOOH, contacted the council for an explanation, planners have now revealed that a revised, single application to develop the site is in the pipeline.

A spokesperson for HOOOH said: “It is clear to us that the sustained opposition and compelling arguments from stakeholders, heritage organisations and members of the public are taking their toll on this highly controversial planning bid.

“Any revised application will have to go before the full planning committee where the serving council members must reflect the will of their electorate, which is to refuse the application.

“Our campaign has always been about the allocation of housing in line with the community’s wishes and the protection of nationally important heritage, principles that go to the heart of local planning and public consultation.

“Residents and stakeholders have consistently shown that they value the preservation of the hillfort’s setting and unspoilt landscape north of the town.  Oswestry Civic Society has gone as far as identifying alternative land for housing east of the town in its Oswestry 2050 vision which Shropshire planners have partially taken on board.”

Despite fierce opposition, land south-east of the hillfort (known as OSW004) was allocated for housing in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan in 2015. However, subsequent targets for housing delivery in Oswestry have been revised down in Shropshire’s current plan review to 2036, while a surplus of sites for town growth have come forward including at Park Hall east of the bypass. In addition, fields surrounding the hillfort and adjoining OSW004 have been assessed and ruled out for housing allocation until at least 2037 following discussions between HOOOH and Shropshire Council.

“The OSW004 allocation now conflicts even more with Shropshire’s latest landscape assessments and development exclusions around the hillfort, as well as consensus on the direction of town growth,” said HOOOH.

“We urge stakeholders and supporters to maintain their objections against any further urbanisation of this iconic hillfort and Iron Age landscape.”


“Officials have promised the project will avoid important archaeological sites and will not spoil the view of the setting sun from Stonehenge during the winter solstice.”


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1.  And who defines “important“? It’s Highways England’s PR department who have repeatedly proved themselves unreliable witnesses, determined to deliver the tunnel, not the truth, at all costs. Of course important archaeological features would be lost, perhaps numbered in thousands – why wouldn’t they, in Europe’s most important prehistoric landscape?

If they’re telling the truth let Highways England publish a detailed inventory of all the archaeology which lies in the path of the access roads. A truthful body would do so. But they won’t because they can’t.

2.  And it “will not spoil the view of the setting sun from Stonehenge during the winter solstice”? Well, as an aside, Historic England wanted to do exactly that and were forced to change the route by those who gave a damn about it!

But it’s far worse than that: they are crowing to the public that the solstice sunset will still be visible but they aren’t admitting that Stonehenge won’t! The free view of the monument will be hidden from millions of travellers who will only be able to see it if they pay nearly £20 to English Heritage!

 

In a decision so irrational and heritage-unfriendly it could have been made by Shropshire Council at Oswestry Hillfort, Wiltshire Council has now come out in support of the Stonehenge tunnel. Its reasons are completely unconvincing:

The tunnel will “help to unlock” more than 21,000 jobs in the south west and boost the region’s economy by £9 billion. “The South West” and “the region”, note, not Wiltshire! And there’s really no evidence that 21,000 jobs and £9 billion’s worth of economic growth are being prevented in the South West let alone in Wiltshire by the few minutes of delay that sometimes happens near Stonehenge.

As if in acknowledgement that the claims are very thin, the Council says they are based on “An independent economic assessment commissioned by the local authorities and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, and validated by Department for Transport“. But anyone who has followed this sorry saga will know that a report prompted by and validated by the Department of Transport is not authoritative: the Department has been consistently bending reality for years! One commenter may well have got much closer to the grubby truth:


“Timing is excellent. Lets just suck up to all the locals by pretending to support what the local villages want, the day before the council bye-election for the “Till and Wyle Valley” ward in which Stonehenge sits.”


 

Stone circles are found all over the British Isles, singly (e.g. Avebury, Castlerigg, Swinside, The Rollrights) or in small groups (e.g. The Hurlers, Stanton Drew, the Tregeseal Circles or the circles at Lamorna). Often, one or more circles in a group may no longer be extant, but documentary evidence or other clues provide information as to the existence of the group.

When circles are grouped in this way, the individual circles are usually quite close to each other. However, there is one group of circles, in Devon, which are not necessarily intervisible but definitely can be considered as ‘grouped’. This group has been dubbed the ‘Sacred Crescent’ and sits to the northeast of the high ground of Dartmoor.

Seven circles are marked in red on the map above – Grey Wethers is a double circle, but in 2015, an eighth circle marked in blue was identified southwest of Sittaford Tor which extends the arc. Aubrey Burl reported the circles as ‘standing at intervals of a fairly consistent 2 kilometres’. As can be seen above, the level of consistency can be debated but the nature of the arc is undeniable.

Of course, the question to be asked is whether the placement of these circles is deliberate or random. The arc pattern contains 8 circles, of some 15 in the Dartmoor area – not counting cairn circles etc. This high proportion suggests ‘intelligent design’, but as many of the circles are not intervisible it’s difficult to imagine how the pattern could have been produced.

If any of our readers are intimately familiar with the area, it would be interesting to know if there are any candidate ‘clues’ as to other possible circles in the arc, either between the existing circles or extending either end of the pattern. Such clues could recumbent stones, appropriate clear level areas or even documentary evidence – a pattern of monuments, of which no trace exists, was once recorded close to the nearby Spinster’s Rock dolmen.

Neil Redfern, the CBA’s new Chief Executive is “looking forward to strengthening our role in championing archaeology.” Hopefully, that doesn’t include non-archaeology. The need to avoid blurring la différence is now acute, e.g:

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  • 13 years after The One Show aired the Durobivae detecting rally debacle live over 2 nights as if it was archaeology they just devoted another 2 nights to treasure hunting while ignoring the damage it does. Crazy.
  • The advance publicity for a forthcoming European “conference” on detecting uses the words “avocational” and “cooperative” but not the more relevant terms “random”, “selective” and “acquisitive”. Also crazy.

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We trust the CBA will continue to promote archaeology alone, not what isn’t. In just a few decades things have deteriorated: Sir Mortimer Wheeler interacted with true amateur archaeologists whereas today’s archaeologists merely cope with the results of random, selective and acquisitive actions.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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A petition against the planned tunnel at Stonehenge, containing over 50,000 signatures, was handed in at Downing Street last month. The (final?) decision now rests with the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps who has until the spring to announce his decision. However, it is thought that a decision could well be announced in time for the new budget next week, on March 11.

In the meantime, rumours have been rife that the decision has already been made, epitomised by premature journalism as seen recently in the Salisbury Journal and the Daily Mail. Depending upon who you believe, the tunnel has either been canceled on financial grounds or will go ahead regardless of cost.

And still, eloquent and spirited letters of objection continue to arrive on the desk of Grant Schapps. Letters like the one below, copied into us here at the Heritage Journal and reproduced by permission, which lays out many of the main objections to the tunnel.

Dear Mr Shapps,

I am writing to ask you to please cancel the A303 tunnel and road project near Stonehenge as the fate of one of our country’s most historically fascinating landscapes is in your hands. This Stonehenge landscape is so important that it has been officially designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (though this prestigious WHS status could be lost if you don’t cancel the tunnel).

The magnificent circle of stones called Stonehenge, doesn’t exclusively stand in isolation as it is just one integral part of the much wider Stonehenge landscape (this WHS is 26 square km). You can’t have Stonehenge without the wider Stonehenge landscape, and vice versa. This wider Stonehenge landscape contains many interesting and unusual historical features, which all predate Stonehenge and are significant in their own way. For example:

  • 10,000 year old post holes that once held tall wooden posts and which the experts still speculate about.
  • Mysterious pits such as the nearly 6,000 year old Coneybury Anomaly. This contained an unusual collection of ritual deposits dating from the hunter-gatherer period, right up to the start of settled farming communities.
  • Two large causeway enclosures, the oldest being around 5,700 years old. They are thought to be ritual sites but what happened at these places is the source of much speculation.
  • Approximately 15 long barrows, with an average age of around 5,500 years old. These were large burial chambers for communities of people, rather than the later different style of Bronze Age round barrows which were built for individuals and their immediate family.
  • Two cursuses around 5,500 years old, the longest being 3 km long. They baffle the experts and just one theory is that they were ‘processional ways’.
  • Periglacial stripes, which are a natural feature of long erosion lines. It is thought by many archaeologists that before Stonehenge was built, people noticed that these aligned with the midwinter sunset and the midsummer sunrise and felt it was a special place. So around 5,000 years ago, they started to build Stonehenge at the end of the line of periglacial stripes.

Stonehenge was then built over a timescale of more than 1,000 years and in various stages. During and after this time, many additional structures were built in the wider Stonehenge landscape. For example, the site we now call Durrington Walls was a village where the builders of the later stages of Stonehenge lived temporarily and had huge feasts at solstices. The enigmatic Woodhenge was built nearby. And scattered around the rest of the Stonehenge landscape are around 400 Bronze Age burial mounds, some of which contained exquisite gold items. Since 2011, various aerial and geophysical surveys etc have been undertaken. These have revealed a variety of previously unknown structures hidden under the surface and some even look like small henges. Suffice to say that the Stonehenge landscape is absolutely peppered with dozens of fascinating structures, many of which still need to be excavated to reveal their full complexity. In summary, Stonehenge is just one part of a much wider Stonehenge landscape and if you approve the tunnel then significant parts of it will be seriously and irrevocably damaged.

As just one example, all the construction to the east of the tunnel will seriously damage Blick Mead (BM). This predates Stonehenge and is extremely important for the following reasons:

  • It dates from 9,500 years ago, was in continuous use for 3,000 years, and has much evidence of ritual and other activity since then.
  • It has a unique 7,000 year old platform of flint cobbles under which were ritually preserved Auroch hoof prints. (This is the platform which Highways England’s incompetent people bored a large hole through!).
  • BM has the first dwelling in the Stonehenge landscape (this dwelling is 6,000 years old).
  • All of the above dates have been proven by carbon dating. Many other items have also been carbon dated and it is the sequence of various dates which is so vital to the understanding of BM.
  • A total of 70,000 pieces of worked flint have been found at BM.
  • Also found were 2,420 pieces of animal bone and 126kg of burnt flint which indicates that extravagant feasts were held.
  • As a result of all the above, it won Current Archaeology’s Research Project of the Year award in 2018

Sites as old and rich as BM are extremely rare and it would be an absolute tragedy if it were to be damaged by the tunnel project. The actual dig site is only about the site of a tennis court and yet it has already revealed so much. There is a lot of archaeological potential on the other side of the A303 and that too would be damaged. If BM isn’t damaged by the tunnel project, then further excavations will reveal so much more. It is by far the best site in Britain to help us understand the fascinating story of how hunter-gatherers gradually evolved into settled communities who built areas like the wider Stonehenge landscape and then the modern world.

If the tunnel project gets your approval then BM will be physically damaged by all the construction works as it is less than 20 meters from the current road. Specifically what is planned near to BM is an almost 30 foot tall four-lane dual carriageway flyover with deep reinforcing pillars, plus two extra lanes feeding in from a huge roundabout (so a total of six lanes which merge into four very near to BM). The long-term effect of all this massive concrete construction will be that BM will gradually dry out and this will destroy the carbon dating opportunities. These sequential carbon dates are absolutely crucial for understanding how hunter-gatherers gradually evolved and spread out to build the wider Stonehenge landscape, and then go on to become modern humans like you and me.

In summary to the two paragraphs above, if you approve the tunnel then BM will be seriously and irrevocably damaged and this would be a tragedy for British history……………….and humanity really.

As well as BM being damaged, the massive western tunnel portal will seriously damage the burial grounds in that area. These burial grounds all predate Stonehenge by hundreds of years. World famous archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson’s written submission to the tunnel Examining Authority says. “The proposed work will damage the WHS, especially beyond the western portal to the western boundary of the WHS where a substantial area would be rendered archaeologically ‘sterile’. This will destroy a major block of land within the WHS and degrade its Outstanding Universal Value and is contrary to the recommendations of UNESCO and other international and national parties. The road line would cut through the densest concentration in Britain of remains of Neolithic long barrows (burial mounds from c.3800-3300 BC) known in Britain. The long barrows’ distribution may have a bearing on why Stonehenge was located where it is. Important remains relating to the period before Stonehenge, and potentially to its choice of location, would be destroyed by the proposed work. The proposal should be rejected.

Similarly, world famous Paul Garwood (Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Birmingham University) written submission says “The current A303 scheme would have a major detrimental impact on the setting and sensory qualities of the barrow group, diminishing one of the most spectacular heritage assets within the WHS. The new carriageways to the south would break up the Stonehenge landscape in a more extreme manner than the current road, while the massive new road intersection with groundworks just 100m from the long barrow, and new roundabouts and slip roads 250m away, would be even more intrusive. Such construction work would be an act of heritage despoliation, both materially and visually, that archaeological ‘mitigation’ and landscaping cannot compensate for.

World famous archaeologist Julian Richards says on You Tube, the tunnel will come out “right into the heart of an unspoilt and incredibly significant area” and “completely obliterate the setting of the ‘Lake’ barrows” which will be a “complete disaster” so he objects “really strongly” and says “future generations will say, what have you done to this absolutely incredible landscape!

I make the point that there are three organisations who should be agreeing with what Julian Richards, Paul Garwood, Mike Parker Pearson and I have all said above. They are English Heritage, Historic England and National Trust. They normally behave ethically but in this case they most certainly are not! They are completely deceiving the public by claiming that the tunnel project is a “historical improvement”. This claim is a smokescreen to hide the reality, which is that they are only focused on their little empire of land which they own around Stonehenge itself. And they are trying their hardest to remove from their empire, all us ordinary decent people driving past enjoying the view of the stones for free. It’s almost the very definition of NIMBYism. And to rub salt into the wounds the public will suffer, we will foot the nearly £2 billion cost (which is very likely to be much more!). In summary, it’s a disgrace that those three organisations are willing to allow serious damage to BM and the western burial grounds to further their agenda of selfishness to the huge detriment of the public.

I also make the point that it is only really the very established and secure (career wise) archaeologists who are criticising the above three organisations. I say this as I have been told that less secure archaeologists are afraid of criticising those powerful organisations, as they are then likely to be blacklisted which will affect their careers. Despite this bullying, a consortium of 22 world class archaeologists have stood up to be counted and written a solid body of evidence detailing the case against the tunnel project.

I ask you to please judge for yourself the honesty and integrity of those three organisations by Googleing each one’s name, and then Blick Mead. You will find that they give only a tiny amount of information about it, despite it being a very significant historical site just 2 km from Stonehenge. I leave you to draw your own conclusions but mine is that those three organisations don’t want the general public to know how important BM is and then think that it shouldn’t be damaged by the tunnel project. I think they are being very dishonest by deceiving people in this way. It’s a very far cry from all the sanctimonious and insincere claims on their websites about how much they care for England’s Heritage.

In summary to all the above, please don’t fall for this cynical con trick being very cleverly peddled by those three organisations.

I know full well that there can be traffic delays at Stonehenge, but these are always mitigated as I use the time to slow down from the trivia of modern life and admire the magnificent circle of stones. As I drive past, I think about how people evolved from being hunter-gatherers at inspiring places like Blick Mead and on to the wonderful culture of people who built the wider Stonehenge landscape. I pay my respects to those good people, whose shoulders we are all standing on, and I very much hope that the awesome Stonehenge landscape they created will be respected for the rest of the foreseeable future.

There are many other reasons that other individuals will give you to ask you to please cancel this extremely damaging tunnel and road project. But I have just focused on the above as it is all very dear to my heart. I am not an archaeologist, and a few years ago I retired after working for 19 years on 999 emergency ambulances for London Ambulance Service. I think that very humbling experience has given me the judgement to know what is genuinely valuable in the world. I think that the wider Stonehenge landscape, plus the rare and absolutely priceless chance to understand how hunter-gatherers evolved into modern humanity, are excellent examples of those truly valuable things that we should all treasure……………..and protect!

I conclude by saying that I think history, and humanity will judge you harshly if you approve this damaging and dishonest scheme. Please, please, please cancel it.

Yours very sincerely,

Paul Gossage

 

 

 

…and for once it’s good news!

For the first time in recorded history the Rollright Stones straddling the Oxfordshire Warwickshire border on the edge of the Cotswolds have come under one ownership.

This time last month we were reporting on a possibly damaging upgrade of the road which runs between the Rollright Stones stone circle and the adjacent King Stone on the other side of the road, and in the neighbouring county of Warwickshire[*].

The Rollright Trust already owns the stone circle and the nearby Whispering Knights burial chamber, and last week, an announcement was made  that the Trust has now acquired possession of the King Stone, a Bronze Age standing stone which marks the location of a Bronze Age cemetery. The three monuments span a period of around 2500 years, from 5800BC (The Whispering Knights), 3500BC (The circle) and 2500BC (the King Stone), and around 2000 years later, the Saxons built a cemetery of their own close by.

The Rollright Stones were recorded as one of the ‘Wonders of Britain’ in the 12th century AD, and were among the very first monuments to be put into state protection (in 1883 and 1894), though they have remained in private ownership.  The King Stone has hitherto been looked after by the Haine family who have farmed the land for decades.  It will now be under the day-to-day management of the Rollright Trust who seek to ensure that the monuments are not commercialised but make a positive contribution to peopleís well-being through education, cultural events and other initiatives, widening awareness of their archaeological and historical interest and spiritual associations.

The Trust also seeks to conserve and enhance the wildlife value of the Stones and their surroundings, including over 70 species of lichens, some of them regionally or nationally rare.  The acquisition of the King Stone includes over 3 acres of pasture land, which, with the support of the Cotswolds Glorious Grasslands initiative, the Trust is planning to turn into species-rich flowery meadow.

[*] A recent petition calling for traffic calming measures rather than an increase in traffic levels at the monuments attracted over 32,000 signatures.

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