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The closure of university archaeology departments won’t help that process. Nor will the fact that (in the words of David Connolly of British Archaeological Jobs & Resources): “We’ve lost a lot of the Europeans … it’s become almost impossible to get anyone here” and “I would say the country is anywhere from 500 to 1,000 archaeologists short”.

So the Government’s determination to “protect” is arguable. Here are four simple questions which a Government determined to protect ought to be able to answer without difficulty (but can they?):

  1. Where exactly was the secret venue in the Leyton Buzzard area where a hundred people dug archaeology for money yesterday? (We don’t know).
  2. Was it an archaeologically sensitive area and was any damage done? (We don’t know)
  3. What was pocketed to avoid sharing with the farmer? (We don’t know).
  4. Did archaeologists approve the venue or attend the event? (No they didn’t).

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No, not that site. That’s the Leighton Buzzard birdwatching site. They have no reason for secrecy.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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It has been confirmed that Sheffield University Archaeology Department, rated as one of the top 50 archaeology schools in the world, is to lose its funding. Similar threats hang over the archaeology departments of the Universities of Chester, Aston, London South Bank and Leicester.

It is to be hoped that some archaeologists and academics will point out to the Government that it’s not a good look for Britain considering that right now a hundred people are digging at a money-making grabfest at as secret location.

We believe it’s somewhere near Leighton Buzzard (with 3 others planned there) but similar events are held somewhere in England by Let’s Go Digging every single week).

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So why bother training people to study archaeology when you can just dig it out and earn £££s!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Here’s Sheeps Tor, just sold by auction together with 160 acres of surrounding moorland and Yellowmead Stone Circles, for £145,000. The purchaser won’t be able to change it or prevent anyone going on it and will simply be the curator of it for the next generation!

But here’s the Ryedale Hoard, dug up by a couple of far less public spirited metal detectorists, and just sold for personal gain through celebrity telly auctioneer Charles Hanson for £185,000. No-one knows if the public will ever see it again. What a shame the detectorists didn’t donate their share (or even sell it cheap to a museum) and encourage the landowner to do the same. But then, more than 90% of detectorists don’t.

In our opinion there is too little public contempt by officialdom for metal detectorists who don’t donate and for dealers and auctioneers who abet them. Yes they’re within the law, but what stinkers! (And that includes the auctioneer in this case, who seemed unaware of what was being done and said, over and over and over as he sold it: “I’m honoured and humbled… We’re making memories… From the rich soil of England … Long live Marcus Aurelius.)

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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The town of Westbury in Wiltshire, is famous for its White Horse hill figure, it is located at nearby Bratton and is one of many in the county. Like many other hill figures of its ilk, Westbury needs to be maintained on a periodic basis, in order to retain the colour and brightness of the figure. This particular horse is made of concrete, so it turns grey through weathering and discolouration from increasing air pollution.

If current plans go through, it may be that the Westbury figure could require much more frequent cleaning in future, as a waste disposal incinerator is under consideration to the west of the nearby town. In our opinion, such a decision would be environmentally disastrous, and not just for the White Horse. 

The proposed site for the incinerator (based on older technology so even less environmentally friendly than could be the case) is located directly next to one of the largest dairy production plants in the UK, owned by ARLA who produce such brands as Anchor Butter, which proudly displays the Westbury White Horse on its packaging. 

With prevailing westerly winds, there is no doubt that emissions from the incinerator would encroach upon the White Horse to the east of the town  and increase the frequency with which the horse turns grey.  And food production at the ARLA plant would undoubtedly also suffer – possibly to the point of having to close the plant, a major employer in the area.

With the G7 meeting in the UK next month to discuss tackling climate and other declining environment issues, we call upon the government to ‘call in’ this planning decision and stop the further rape of the countryside around Westbury. 

Don’t suffocate the horse! The planning application can be seen here.

In our recent article on Castlerigg, we quoted one of our founder members’ thoughts on the site:

The inclusion of this quote got us to thinking why do we visit the sites that we love? What is it that makes us want to seek out these ancient places? Exactly why have we persisted with this web site for so many years now?

Of course, everyone will have their own reasons, and experiences to recount, so we thought we’d delve around our favourite website for some examples and came up with the following, just a small sample of many others of similar ilk:

Its such an awe-inspiring and majestic relic, so open to the natural elements yet isolated and removed from civilisation. It provokes, in me at least, such a sense of time, of change and of loss, while forever maintaining a constant and passivity that’s utterly mysterious and foreboding. A monument once so significant to a people long since departed still holds within its dark stony aura the capacity to bestow such thoughts of wonder and intrigue upon those that now walk within its sacred shadow.

Delazinsky on Avebury – The Modern Antiquarian

It was thrilling to touch the stones again after so long, wonderful to stand in the small forecourt before walking once more into the dark, imposing chambers. Again, the structure of the place struck me through new eyes; the size of the rocks, the creation of this space, the awesome nature of the whole. It occurred to me that the stones appeared very much like the bones of the earth.

Treaclechops on West Kennet – The Modern Antiquarian

Large enough to be awe inspiring, small enough to still feel intimate, remote enough to feel like you stand amidst the cyclopean remains of an ancient civilisation in the furthest flung corner of these islands, …Brodgar is one of the most photogenic of ancient sites, and tonight, a clear Samhain evening we’ve come up to the circle to try some long exposure shots.

It’s cold, and a low mist clings to the henge ditch around the stones, amplifying the already otherworldly atmosphere. There is no sign of anyone else around.

Ravenfeather on the Ring of Brodgar- The Modern Antiquaran

I will never forget my experience at Callanish. It has had a permanent effect on me and whilst I was watching the sun come up I felt a sort of ‘connection’ with those that had come before me.

CARL on Callanish – The Modern Antiquarian

Wow! What an amazing, atmospheric place to be! … I felt so much energy emanating from the circle and walked slowly up the path taking in every sensation as I trod. The air was clean and crisp and the sun was shining. I could feel the build up of energy as I walked closer and the hairs on my body stood on end! …if you want to make the long trek to the stones I would highly recommend it! … For a small circle, the energy there is intense and will blow your socks off!!! 

Astrophel on the Rollright Stones – The Modern Antiquarian

Have you had similar experiences at an ancient site? Leave a comments and let us know about your reactions upon seeing a site for the first time.

When it comes to scoring own goals Highways England is a world beater. We feel so sorry for them we’re tempted to volunteer to take over their PR Department for them. £100,000 a year each should cover it. Anyway, here’s their latest faux pas, part of their “destroying Stonehenge myths” series:

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No, not the whole story but so incredibly close to the truth that the denial looks like a fib or desperation: 99.75% of people who currently see Stonehenge for free soon won’t! So everyone should be grateful to them for making it crystal clear what their scheme involves: not only will 1.6 million people a year continue to have to pay English Heritage £21 a head (and rising without current limit) to even see the stones but soon so will any of the 5 million who travel along the A303 who might want their kids to see our greatest heritage icon.

Such a leap in future revenue for English Heritage (and the National Trust if they can get in on it) is just mind-blowing. What other organisations in history have been handed a fourfold increase in their future earnings potential by the Government? Yet both bodies avoid mentioning that amazing fact and assure everyone the tunnel is a conservation measure even though a dead dog in a cellar can see it isn’t! They probably won’t thank Highways England’s PR Department for hammering home the background to such a claim!

We bet you didn’t know the latest Let’s Go Digging weekly rally is happening right now near Leighton Buzzard. That’s because if you’d Googled “Leighton Buzzard” +”Let’s Go Digging” you’d have got nothing as the events are kept so secret that exact postcodes are only given out at 8.00pm the night before to those who’ve paid.

As a result archaeologists can’t check if sensitive archaeology is involved or “cause trouble” with landowners. That is surely unacceptable? It is to be hoped that such events (together with LGD’s blatant and telling rule “the first £3.000 of each find belongs to the finder”) will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.

(And please, no compromise solutions, no licensing, no codes. These events don’t signal willingness to be citizen archaeologists or even decent citizens).

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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This week we wrote to Charles Hanson, TV valuer and proprietor of Hansons Auctioneers asking “Are any of the Greek arrowheads (Lot 3) you are currently auctioning looted?”. We got no answer. All we are left with is that they were being sold with “an old dealer’s ticket”, which of course means nothing.

It got us thinking: isn’t most of the antiquities trade, especially British metal detecting, underpinned by meaningless assurances? Every detectorist tells farmers they are responsible and PAS tells everyone that’s nearly always true. But those are words not facts and are often proved false.

So who benefits from flawed assurances? Not farmers if they are bamboozled and stolen from. Not people at auctions if they are misled. Not the public if their cultural knowledge is lost. No, the beneficiaries are a tiny group with a big financial interest: auctioneers, dealers and detectorists. How much better off the vast majority of people would be if we saw honesty like this:

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Another ancient monuments enthusiast known for his photography this week: Meet James Kitto, from the west of Cornwall. James is a site monitor for CASPN in West Penwith.

Here are his responses to our questions:

What is/was your day job? 

I have been a Primary School Teacher, here in Cornwall, for 27 years.

How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin? 

It all began when I was 10 years old – a pupil at Wendron Primary School – and we studied a topic on Ancient Cornwall, which included a field trip to some of the ancient sites in West Penwith … from that moment, I was hooked! I was lucky to have a family that encouraged my interest – my grandparents lived on a farm in Sancreed and took my brother & I to visit several of the ancient sites in the vicinity. We were often joined by my Great Uncle Bernard – another local farmer – he rode with the Western Hunt so knew West Penwith like the back of his hand! My Great Granny was a ‘Zennor maid’ (a Berryman from Porthmeor before she was married) and she told me all about the local antiquarian Colonel Hirst, who had excavated the Courtyard House village & fogou on her parents’ land. 

Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else? 

I feel a spiritual link to the ancient sites, here in Cornwall – but I’m also interested to explore the academic aspects as well – as my bookcase will tell you! 

What is your favourite time period or era? 

The Neolithic & Bronze Age periods. We are blessed with so many Neolithic & Bronze Age sites here in West Cornwall – such as: quoits, entrance graves, barrows, menhirs, stone circles & holed stones. They were the sites that first captured my heart! 

Which book has had the most influence on your interest? 

John Michell’s ‘The Old Stones of Land’s End‘ – I remember that we were lucky enough to have a copy in the school library when I was at secondary school – while my friends were looking at books on football and war, I was finding out about ancient Cornwall! 

Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on site visits? 

Belerion‘ & ‘Cornovia‘ by the late Craig Weatherhill are usually to be found in my car boot, along with Cheryl Straffon’s ”Ancient Sites in West Penwith‘. 

What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? 

What a question!! I guess the site that is most special to me is Lanyon Quoit. Another set of great-great-grandparents lived at Lanyon Farm, so the quoit has always been special to our family, through each successive generatiion. My late brother, Julian even proposed to his future wife there! Now, I am the CASPN (Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network) site monitor for Lanyon Quoit, visiting it regularly and ensuring that all is well.

Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why? 

I have yet to visit the Stannon & Fernacre stone circles on Bodmin Moor – they are on my ‘must-see’ list though, as they are so much bigger than the smaller stone circles that I am more familiar with, here in West Cornwall – and, as a keen photographer, I am looking forward to capturing some of their magical beauty with my camera. 

Which archaeological words or phrases caused you most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now? 

‘Fogou’ … I pronounced it with a hard ‘o’, instead of ‘foo-goo’.  I know how to pronounce it correctly now! The word fogou is derived from the Cornish word for cave.  

What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage? 

I have always been intrigued by the purpose of fogous – I think Ian McNeil-Cooke’s book ‘Mother & Sun‘ gives a pretty convincing argument for them being constructed for ritual purposes. However, over the centuries, they may well have had multiple functions. 

What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites? 

My pet peeve is people leaving non-biodegradable & inappropriate clouties at holy wells! Grrrrrrr! 


Many thanks to James for sharing his megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to feature in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above. To see other articles in this series, simply enter ‘Antiquarists’ in the search box on the left (or click the handy supplied link)

Also known as the Carles, and suggested by Burl (1995) to be one of the oldest stone circles in Europe, Castlerigg is considered by many to be the ancient site to visit in the Lake District, set as it is amongst the fells. Thirty-eight stones remain in the circle, of a possible forty-two originally. 

There is a definite entranceway to the north, and a strange rectangle of stones within the east of the circle, known as the ‘Sanctuary’, whilst the faint outline of a possible barrow remains in the north-east quadrant. Three cairns were reported within the circle in 1856, but nothing now remains of these. The only finds reported within the circle were three stone axes uncovered in the late 1800s. An excavation of the Sanctuary in 1882 discovered a 1m deep pit filled with earth, stones and  pieces of charcoal. 

The northern entrance stones
The Sanctuary

Thom (1967) has identified Castlerigg as one of the most important sites for archaeoastronomers, having conducted extensive research here. 

To the west of the field is an outlier stone, thought to have been previously buried as there is significant plough damage visible. The stone was placed in its present position in 1913.

Surprisingly for such an ancient site, neither Grinsell (1976) nor Rowling (1976) attach any specific folk-lore to the stones here.

The site is extremely popular with tourists, situated as it is just a short distance from the town of Keswick. A major attraction of the site is the extensive views of the surrounding fells. Many people have mentioned the coincidence of the shapes of the stones when compared to the hills on the horizon, many seeming to mirror the distant peaks:

“I’ll never get over the setting here. The circle itself is too spectacular and wonderful for words but is still completely overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the surrounding hills.”

Moth Clark on the Modern Antiquarian
Reflecting the horizon

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