You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2020.

The last AGM was in 2017 when their Chairman used the proxy votes entrusted to him to cast them to keep trail hunting on Trust land for another 3 years, until the 2020 AGM. But that has just been canceled, ending expectations that with opposition to trail hunting having grown so high no amount of management tinkering would have prevented a vote to end it.

But here’s a funny thing:

The Trust has just said about the cancellation: “The temporary constitutional changes required have all been agreed with the Charity Commission and are supported by the National Trust Council” and in the very next sentence “There is currently no provision within the Trust’s constitution for an online AGM so this was not an option.

Hmmm. Leopard. Spots. We bet there’s nothing in the Constitution precluding the AGM being held online!

 

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The above should not be taken as a criticism of NT’s highly dedicated staff, only of their senior management. We should also like to express sympathy for the many staff members who are to be made redundant. (They will have reflected that holding an online AGM this year rather than an actual one next year would have saved enough money to pay the salaries of several of them!)


 

 

What’s going on? These two stories are over 100 years old. Why has English Heritage tweeted them just now of all times?

Stonehenge@EH_Stonehenge (Sunday): “Stonehenge was in private ownership until 1918 when Cecil Chubb, who’d purchased Stonehenge at auction in 1915, gave it to the nation. It then became the state’s duty to conserve the monument: English Heritage perform this role on its behalf today.” [Link to “100 years of care”]

Stonehenge@EH_Stonehenge (Monday): “A programme of restoration began at Stonehenge in 1919 with the stones that were leaning the most, starting with Stones 6 & 7 of the outer sarsen circle.”

The contents and timing are, well, interesting. Could it be that on Sunday the public was being reminded English Heritage has a duty to conserve and on Monday a duty to restore – with the unspoken implication that therefore it has a duty to support a massive Government road scheme opposed by UNESCO?

If so, it was always a ridiculous stretch. When damage is huge it can no longer be said to be conservation or restoration – and particularly since last Friday when the true extent of the damage became evident. English Heritage is now in the position that it is supporting the destruction of the fundamental significance of the Stonehenge landscape. We hope it will now reconsider. Grant Shapps is back in the country this morning. Let them ring him.

There’s a suspicion that on Thursday the Government told Parliament the delay was due to the new discoveries to conceal the true technical and financial reasons. Plus, it gave them a tactical advantage: if they did go ahead they could easily show the new features were too far away to be affected, and thus tell the public “we’ve won the archaeological argument”! A perfect sleight of hand!

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Is Machiavelli at No. 10?

But on Friday everything changed! Simon Banton’s game-changing article revealed the pits were placed to command an extensive ceremonial viewshed over much of the World Heritage landscape. So the pits are safe alright, but their stunning setting isn’t! The sleight of hand has been snatched away.

As Simon says, “What a majestic achievement, still appreciable across open farmland nearly 5000 years after it was laid out“. It’s inconceivable that it could be spoiled by a 6 lane expressway right through it. So claims that the World Heritage landscape’s Outstanding Universal Value won’t be massively damaged (EH, HE, NT et al) have been totally confounded.

by Nigel Swift

We recently complained about an 11th detecting rally at Boxted. Now an 11th is coming to or near Weyhill Fair. If ever somewhere should be protected it’s there, where social and commercial interaction took place for at least 8.5 centuries. It can’t be scheduled (no buildings there) so instead it’s being progressively denuded for fun and profit (ostensibly “for charity”, even though everything found is kept by the detectorists.).

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Sites really don’t come better than this!” crowed the organiser. Yes. I used to pass here daily, it’s history personified: 750 years of almost continuous gatherings including the country’s largest sheep fairs (100,000  sold a day at the peak), mentioned in “The Vision of Piers Plowman”, held on land partly owned by Chaucer (did he hear some of his tales from characters here?). Thousands turned up for the hiring of workers and all manner of entertainments – perhaps jousting, sword fighting, dog-baiting, bear-baiting, cockfighting, and strolling minstrels, Mystery Plays and mummers. By the sixteenth century it had an on-site court to settle disputes and lawlessness and thereafter it expanded further to include a horse fair, a cheese fair, and a hop fair. There were even said to be cases of wife-selling, as immortalised by Thomas Hardy in the Mayor of Casterbridge.

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So by September two sites will have hosted 11 rallies each. At an average weekend attendance of 200 each one, that implies 70,000 hours of exploitative searching. A vivid illustration of the folly of UK policies, especially the recent decision to allow metal detecting rallies to restart. Any chance PAS could express dismay? No? Would poor Wayne be upset?

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We suggest the answer is a resounding YES!
“This, if true, indicates an outstanding aesthetic sense and a desire to undertake “landscape engineering” on an absolutely epic scale…”
Surely no-one can now seriously propose driving a 6 lane expressway directly through the critical part of the view?


Friday, July 24, 2020

Avenue Walk and the Durrington Walls Pits

In mid 2020, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project published findings from their extensive geophysics work in the World Heritage Site in which they revealed the discovery of “A Massive, Late Neolithic Pit Structure associated with Durrington Walls Henge” (https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.55.4).

This is a roughly circular arrangement of 10m wide by 5m (at least) deep pits centred on Durrington Walls with an overall diameter in excess of 2km – a truly enormous landscape feature.

The discovery has already prompted a remarkable event – the deferring of the decision by the UK Government’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps MP, on whether to build the Stonehenge Tunnel. As this BBC News Story highlights, such a major find within the Stonehenge World Heritage site, very close to the proposed location of the Tunnel’s Eastern Portal entrance, means that “further consultation” is required.

The decision has been put back until November 2020 to allow time for an analysis of the significance of this completely unexpected archaeological result.

LIDAR of Durrington Walls overlaid with the pit circle locations

I found myself wondering whether there was any significance to the arrangement and positioning of these “pits”, but couldn’t see anything obvious from the plan.

Then I decided to stop looking at the plan, and instead look at the landscape from ground level.

I georeferenced the pit locations into Google Earth, stuck markers in them, and took a virtual stroll along the course of the Stonehenge Avenue from West Amesbury Henge (aka Bluestonehenge) at the River Avon towards Stonehenge.

What I saw astonished me.

The pit locations occupy positions that serve to frame the eastern horizon from Larkhill Causewayed Enclosure via Sidbury Hill to the northern ridge running from Beacon Hill.

Each of these horizon features was important in the Neolilthic.

Larkhill Causewayed Enclosure

Larkhill’s enclosure pre-dated the Durrington Walls pits by almost 1000 years yet it is included in their circuit. Later Beaker period inhumations at the entrance, together with a pit alignment pointing off towards Barrow Clump and Sidbury Hill suggest strongly that this site retained its significance for generations.

https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/larkhill-causewayed-enclosure.htm
https://www.wessexarch.co.uk/our-work/larkhill
https://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue47/7/5-6.html

From the Intarch article above:

“Monuments may have formalised or commemorated movements and gatherings of different scale, though the emphasis on localised patterns of visual perception perhaps relates to movements around the landscape at a community scale.”

Sidbury Hill

Sidbury Hill lies exactly on the Stonehenge summer solstice alignment from the stone circle, and appears to have been important as a source of a particular kind of flint associated with dozens of neolithic pits and a flint working industry discovered during the Army Rebasing Housing Development at Bulford.

Those pits contained an odd assortment of apparently deliberately deposited artifacts, and next to them was a peculiar “double henge”. Opposite the housing development is the Bulford Stone – a natural sarsen boulder which was erected next to where it originally formed on top of the chalk, and next to it is a prehistoric grave which contains significant and unique grave goods.

Phil Harding (recognised as the leading expert on prehistoric flint working) regards the Bulford pits and double henge discovery as one of the most significant for decades. Sidbury Hill seems to have been of pre-eminent importance and focus to these neolithic people, and also to those who came later because three long Bronze Age linear ditches converge at Sidbury Hill – one from the west, one from the north and one from the east.

https://modmedia.blog.gov.uk/2016/04/15/bulford-dig-unearths-archaeological-treasure-trove/
https://www.wessexarch.co.uk/our-work/bulford

Beacon Hill Ridgeline

The ridge leading to Beacon Hill has been cited as a possible target for the alignment of the Stonehenge Greater Cursus. Although this earthwork monument runs roughly west-east, it is not accurately aligned on the equinox sunrise and set. Instead, it seems to be drawing attention to the eastern horizon, particularly the area immediately north of the summit of Beacon Hill.

In alignment with and east of the Cursus, between the Cursus and the River Avon, lies the Cuckoo Stone near to Durrington Walls itself. This stone is another natural sarsen boulder which was erected next to where it formed. It seems to have retained its importance down to Romano-British times as the discovery of the square Roman “wayside temple” right next to it indicates.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228804259_The_Stonehenge_Riverside_Project_exploring_the_Neolithic_landscape_of_Stonehenge

The Avenue Walk

Larkhill enclosure, Sidbury Hill and the Beacon Hill ridge are the primary features of the horizon that are framed by the Durrington Walls pit locations as you walk along the Avenue.

At every point along this route, the arrangement of pits neatly brackets this section of the horizon – the arrangement of pits in a circle neatly counteracts the parallax effect that an otherwise straight-line arrangement would suffer.

Once you reach King Barrow Ridge and Stonehenge comes into view, the eastern horizon frame fades away as you descend into Stonehenge Bottom and begin your final approach to Stonehenge itself.

Now that you have the background, have a look at the video I’ve created that shows the effect.

This video (which has no audio, by the way) makes use of Google Earth, into which I have georeferenced the locations of the Durrington Walls pits from the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project’s recently published paper about their discovery. The line of the Avenue itself is taken directly from the Stonehenge Riverside Project’s “Seeing Beneath Stonehenge” Google Earth dataset. Markers for Sidbury Hill and Larkhill Causewayed Enclosure were added by me.

It’s best viewed full screen on YouTube (https://youtu.be/P-XvMyBrTxY), but here’s an embedded version.

Is it possible that the entire landscape is repeatedly and deliberately being memorialised by generations of ancient people through the careful framing of and drawing of attention to elements of their world that have achieved “specialness” through aeons of time?

I think so.

This, if true, indicates an outstanding aesthetic sense and a desire to undertake “landscape engineering” on an absolutely epic scale. It shows an interconnectedness not only in space but also through immense spans of time, reinforcing a people’s relationship with the land and their past.

What I find most interesting is that the route of the Avenue has been a subject of controversy for a long time. It’s not the easiest stone-transport route from the Avon to Stonehenge, but seems instead to have been designed (at the depths of the valley at Stonehenge Bottom) to induce a sense of expectation prior to the final approach along the solstice axis to Stonehenge. Indeed, at that final turn (the “Elbow”), Stonehenge disappears from view entirely, only re-emerging as you climb the slope towards the setting winter sun.

The part of the Avenue route leading from the Avon to King Barrow Ridge now seems to me to have its own crucial significance – keeping in clear view all the parts of the eastern horizon that have a meaning to those undertaking the journey.

Perhaps, if the idea that the Avenue was part of a ritualised journey from life to death from Durrington Walls to Stonehenge, this sharp focus on a particular sweep of the eastern horizon serves as an act of rememberance of all those who have gone before.

And those pits don’t even have to be visible for that to happen – just an understanding that they are there and that they are positioned to induce this feeling would be enough.

What a majestic achievement, still appreciable across open farmland nearly 5000 years after it was laid out.

Pity it might all be spoiled by driving a 6 lane expressway directly through the critical part of the view.

Story originally posted on the Stonehenge Monument blog, credit Simon Banton.

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Renewed in chalk ten months ago, the Giant has remained in readiness to mark 100 years of the National Trust owning and caring for the site today. Sadly the pandemic has ensured there will be no celebration as planned by the National Trust.

This occasion should not be allowed to pass as silently as the charity’s acquisition of the Giant on 23rd July 1920, for this gift from Alexander and George Pitt-Rivers didn’t feature in the press until the following June. Even then it only featured amidst a long list of the charity’s acquisitions, in small print on page 10 of The Times.

There were no headlines or commentary in 1920, because the Giant had yet to gain its modern reputation. This reputation is now reflected in the popularity of distinguishing artwork as well as regular attention by the media, proving a measure of success and engagement that is entirely due to the public interest generated under the charity’s management. Today then is a very happy anniversary indeed.

Brian Edwards
Visiting Research Fellow
The Regional History Centre
UWE, Bristol.

There is a (tiny) minority of archaeologists who seem to have taken the Government at its word about why the decision has been delayed and are reacting by saying “an archaeological discovery far from any proposed roadworks has no bearing on the tunnel.”  It’s true, but so what? The telling point is that the Government knows the new discovery will be unaffected yet they are implying they’ve postponed a final decision in order to consult further – on something which they and everyone else know won’t be affected! 

Everyone should ask WHY? Perhaps the new monument should be named Excuse Henge, something being used to buy time to devise a way out of the financial, archaeological, and reputational mess in which the Government finds itself?

Their particular fear is what we can term Scary Henges, other features that may be unearthed and then bulldozed away. No-one can assure them it won’t happen in some way, there would be lots of destruction and when it happened the outrage would reverberate around the world. A reputation for acting like a banana republic is something they might wish to avoid just now.

The pro short tunnel archaeological bodies have been placed in a tricky position by this second delay. Do they now say they regret that the gouging of a dual carriageway across the World Heritage landscape against UNESCO’s wishes has been delayed? Their reactions so far suggest they don’t quite know what to say!

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Highways England: “We are confident that the proposed scheme presents the best solution for tackling a longstanding bottleneck”. So no reaction to the actual delay, just sullen stonewalling. If they’re confident it’s the best scheme what do they think the delay is about?! (Yet again, their PR Department looks out of its depth).

Historic England – no response so far, Why? They’re a leading proponent.

English Heritageno response so far, Why? They’re a leading proponent.

The National Trust: “we are working closely with our partners to help inform and challenge Highways England to deliver a scheme that protects the special qualities of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and finally addresses the major harm the existing A303 does to this extraordinary place.” So still supporting the destruction when even the Government appears to be balking at it!


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The extreme discomfiture of all four bodies is plain to see. But that’s on their public faces, what about all the archaeologists they employ, surely some (or most?) of those are appalled by the scheme? Yet none of them say anything. Strange, isn’t it?

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.                                 Name the odd one out!


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[Clue: It’s the one where mass recreational knowledge theft is entirely legal.]

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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by Nigel Swift

This week Angela Merkel made the obvious point that “You cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation…the limits of Populism are being laid bare.” Doesn’t that also apply to British metal detecting: a pandemic of knowledge theft hidden by lies and disinformation?

Angela: not a fan of populism

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We had hoped the Government would delay the return of the biggest source of knowledge theft – mass detecting rallies – until the law could be amended. But no, they’re back, with every participant waving the NCMD or FID notorious banner of false responsibility at the farmer, to whom PAS has neglected to tell the truth.

Pity the country’s farmers, the crucial gatekeepers of all our buried history: detectorists lie to them and PAS doesn’t tell them that the “responsibility code” they wave is one long, convenient falsehood – which doesn’t require any detectorist to follow the official one!

One of the first will be at Boxted –  the 11th held there since 2010! Both the organisers and attendees boast massively about how much is found there yet PAS recorded only 23 artefacts from the first 9 rallies! Britain’s policy of unlimited populism and unlimited damage won’t end any time soon.

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