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The editor of Treasure Hunting Magazine, has issued a sort of papal blessing to detectorists returning from the lockdown tomorrow. So sad, but maybe this is the peak and soon measures will be taken. (He also swiped at the likes of us but frankly insults from the “Grabbers’ Gazette” don’t matter as we don’t grab stuff (or keep it or not report it) so he’s hardly qualified to criticise.)

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Off you go again lads, Urbi et Orbi, wherever you can randomly get into a field.

He did say one hilarious thing though. He defended pay-to-dig rallies by implying there’s no problem with reporting rates at them (thereby ignoring a decade of clear PAS evidence to the contrary) and also proposed a truly outrageous reason why they should be allowed to continue: “these events provide a lifeline for many hobbyists, especially as 90% of us probably don’t have our own permissions.”

Yes, you read it right! He’s saying Britain must keep having it’s heritage knowledge stolen because otherwise 90% of detectorists would have nowhere of their own to do it! It’s like saying we must build a lot more Tesco stores else shoplifters will have nowhere to go!

PS: Are you an archaeologist or heritage professional wanting to check if there’s sensitive archaeology that could be damaged at today’s Let’s Go Digging’s pay to dig rally at East Hanningfield, Essex? Tough. As usual (and for obvious reasons) the address was kept secret even from the paying customers until late last night and digging will start shortly at 8.00am this morning. Good luck with identifying it and then getting it stopped if there’s a need!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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The official reactions to the recent conviction of nighthawks at Beeston Castle say it all:

PC Ashley Tether, Cheshire Police: Once these items are lost or damaged they can’t be replaced and we lose the context and the story that may have helped us to understand our ancestors better“. Yes, but that applies far more to non-reporting by “legal” metal detectorists – why not say so?

Win Scutt, English Heritage: “Illegal metal detecting robs us of our past” … Yes, but that applies far more to non-reporting by “legal” metal detectorists – why not say so?

Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy for Historic England goes further: “The overwhelming majority of metal detectorists comply with the legislation and codes of practice.” That’s true ONLY if you use the plural, “codes”, but there’s only ONE valid code, singular. NCMD and FID refuse to sign that and provide members with their own codes which give detectorists far more of a carte blanche to report finds or not while fooling farmers into thinking they are following the real one. Thus, only a MINORITY comply with the Code!

So it couldn’t be clearer: official fact-blindness enables detectorists to mislead farmers. So why can’t the Establishment say to farmers and the public, loud and clear, there is only one valid code, beware of anyone who says otherwise?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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English Heritage Director of Stonehenge Nichola Tasler and a member of her team recently showed local MP Danny Kruger around at Stonehenge. Sadly, he didn’t learn much. At least, not the crucial bit .

You can imagine the scene. Ms Tasler making a proud, expansive gesture towards the World Heritage landscape and explaining how great it will be when English Heritage gets its way and the A303 is no longer visible. Mr Kruger was clearly impressed because he later issued a public appeal: “Do go, if you haven’t for a while. You get a great view of the A303, which will be gone forever once the tunnel is finally dug,”

Oh dear Mr Kruger, did she not explain to you that a view has two ends? The moment the tunnel is dug there will also be no view of the stones for travellers for the first time in millennia, something that will matter hugely to your constituents’ children’s children’s children and all who come after them. Isn’t the loss of THAT view what you should be telling the public about?

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Explaining how good it is that soon the road will be invisible …

‘Moth’ is this week’s Antiquarist, and is one of the founding members of Heritage Action. He is an accomplished photographer, better known these days for his nature and concert photography, but his earlier work capturing ancient sites is well worth searching out (see Flickr).

Our questions, and his responses can be seen below:

* What is/was your day job?

Boring! I was a civil servant, now do admin for a tiny IT training company who write & sell niche courses for niche software used in big business.

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

In the 90s, I had a girlfriend who was interested in megaliths & I’d always loved walking. I found prehistoric monuments made a great target for a walk & found them beautiful (and if the monument wasn’t beautiful, the setting usually was!) I became more & more interested, especially once Julian Cope’s ‘the Modern Antiquarian‘ book came out & the website was launched.

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

Not spiritual & not really academic – though I’m interested in that side of things, at least to a degree. My interest mainly comes from finding the monuments and sites aesthetically beautiful in one way or another.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

I’m not picky. Favourites are Neolithic & Bronze age, though I do like a nice iron age, Roman, Viking or Saxon site, too.

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

Undoubtedly Julian Cope’s ‘the Modern Antiquarian’ (TMA) & later his ‘the Megalithic European‘ (TME) – though I don’t always agree with what he says about sites, he’s always interesting & writes beautifully!

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

From early on I found the most important thing for me is the best map I can get – OS Explorer if possible. If sites look as if they might be difficult to find, I also tend to print out any description I can find online if it looks helpful – this is often from the Modern Antiquarian website. Any books for on-site visits would be dictated by what I was looking for & where. I have quite a few books as I’ve always researched any new area I’m visiting & often buy a suitable book! If my target is in them usually take the relevant of the Cope books mentioned above (though might leave it in the car if there’s a walk!) If relevant, I’d absolutely take Aubrey Burl’s little ‘A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany‘.

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

In the UK, the Callanish complex – hands down. ‘Callanish 1’ is just so spectacular & interesting and there are so many other beautiful and/or interesting sites in such a small & unspoilt area. And they’re even more interesting if you’re aware of Margaret Curtis’s studies. To be honest, unvisited is difficult in the UK as I’ve seen most of the sites I want to see. There’s some stuff on the Lleyn Peninsula in north Wales I’d like to see & I’ve never got round to Northumbria – but nothing specific. If I can go further afield, there are loads of Portuguese monuments I want to see one day, especially dolmens. I’d particularly like to see the christianised dolmens ‘Chapel Anta de Pavia’ & ‘Chapel Anta do San Brissos’. But although I’ve seen quite a few, there are still lots of places outside the UK that I’d like to see!

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

Can’t think of any, but as mentioned, my interest isn’t primarily academic.

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I find Margaret Curtis’s studies of the Callanish area fascinating.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

Not finding the site I’m looking for! It’s mainly only happened with small, obscure & probably unspectacular sites but I hate having to give up…. Vandalisation and people climbing on monuments. People sitting in, on or right next to monuments for long periods when I want to take a photo!


Many thanks to Moth 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 take part 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)

The results are in, and have been well publicised all over the internet now. It appears that many people’s hopes have been crushed with the news that the Cerne Abbas Giant has been dated to the early medieval period. So, not Iron Age or Roman, and equally, not a much later cartoon insult to Cromwell.

Given the apparent date, it appears as if the figure may be a pagan icon. The nearby Cerne Abbey was founded in AD987 and some sources think the abbey may have been set up to convert the locals from the worship of an early Anglo Saxon god known as ‘Heil’ or ‘Helith’. Is this who the figure depicts? 

It is conceivable that parts of the figure were added or “deleted” over the centuries but only further dating tests will determine that as only a small percentage of the figure’s outline has been tested in this way. Although, in terms of historical context, the mid-to-late 7th century would be a likely period for its construction, an 8th century or slightly later date can, as yet, not be completely ruled out.

More details: NT Press Release

Standing proud on a hillside in Dorset, the Cerne Abbas Giant has long been a cause of much speculation. Is he a prehistoric figure? Is he Iron Age in date – Hercules has been suggested as the model for the figure. Or is he more recent? An ancient fertility symbol, or a pastiche political cartoon from much later?  

The investigation of the hill figure’s history is being undertaken by the National Trust in celebration of their having overseen the site for the last 100 years. 

Soil samples taken from the deepest levels of the chalk giant’s elbows and feet  before the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 have been found to contain microscopic land snails shells that did not appear in England until the 13–14 Centuries. And analysis of recent LIDAR scans of the figure strongly suggest that the giant’s famous ‘appendage’ is very much a later addition.

The samples taken last year were subjected to OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) analysis to determine the date(s) of the giant, and the figures are now available – but the National Trust are teasing us as the results will not be released until midnight tonight.

Given our focus upon the prehistoric, I suspect that our interest in the Giant at Cerne Abbas will be reduced after the announcement. My personal guess is that it will be dated as late medieval at best, if not later! We shall soon see…

For many years detectorists have reacted to the crimes of their nighthawking colleagues (yes, colleagues: nighthawks couldn’t operate without sharing the forums, clubs, rallies, archaeological publications, FLOs, Treasure Registrars and auctions of all detectorists) by suggesting detectorists should be allowed to “clear” scheduled sites so there was nothing for criminals to find.

This week, following arrests at Beeston Castle, came the latest such suggestion: “This is why we need permission to survey as many scheduled sites as possible to beat the nighthawkers at their own game/gain!”

And here’s Andy Brockman’s withering reply: “Why not? Just so long as metal detectorists come up with a sampling strategy, get the resulting project design approved by Historic England, record finds with cm accuracy, arrange and pay for post excavation conservation and publication and don’t get to keep anything?

To which Henery Iggins added: “and don’t get to keep anything? That’s buggered it!”

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Here are a couple of examples of the surroundings of castles being “protected from nighthawks” by holding rallies on them:

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“Heritage heroes” saving the environs of Corfe Castle from exploitation by nighthawks (they were very thorough – that was about the fifteenth rally there!)

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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When it comes to “engagement” with metal detectorists you’d be forgiven for thinking some archaeologists don’t read the detecting forums much. If they did they’d know that 90% of detectorists oppose licensing and are violently opposed to rules other than their own – why else do you suppose they’ve invented their own substitute reponsibility codes? So licenses would have two certain outcomes:

  1. ANOTHER five years of misbehaviour and damage, on top of the previous 23, until the authorities finally realised they were dealing mostly with artefact hunters not amateur archaeologists.
  2. Thousands of people resentful of authority or any diminution of their “freedom” to act as they wish will find their new notional role of PAS paymasters an ideal opportunity to tell PAS how things ought to be not vice versa!

So please, let archaeologists who think licensing will work get themselves onto half a dozen detecting forums. Rather than fiddling while Rome burns for another five years let them look through the window.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Our next Antiquarist is Thelma, also known for one of her previous canine companions, “Moss”. Thelma was an early supporter of both Heritage Action and the Journal, and was involved in the early discussions before their formation.

Here are her answers to our questions:

* What is/was your day job?

Retired

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

Many, many years ago when I lived in Calne near to Avebury and did an Archaeological A level course.

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

Academic to start with and then a spiritual interest and a need to understand why it became spiritual to Pagan groups.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

Iron Age, though the Neolithic/Bronze Age is also important.

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

Prehistoric Avebury by Aubrey Burl, though Cope’s TMA book encouraged the interest later.

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

No, my interests have always been near to where I live, or holiday places.

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

Pentre Ifan for its beauty.  I love the Pembrokeshire landscape and find the Presilis a good starting point for contemplation of prehistory.

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

I had great difficulty, still do, with the dating methods of the three prehistoric phases and slotting them in.  I was married to an archaeologist lecturer, so books were always to hand.

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I am constantly astonished about the similarity of Neolithic long barrows all over the world.  The use of stone and movement of stone as a primary material.   Take most theories with a degree of scepticism, till the next one comes along.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

Lack of good discussion about subject material. Having said that I did join Standing with Stones but found the chat too long and the call on time to listen to lectures not being able to fit in my day.


Many thanks to Thelma for sharing her 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 take part 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)

Many people have been fighting against damage to the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape for more than 20 years, sometimes publicly and sometimes behind the scenes.

Words have been the chosen weapons, not annoying farming allies by camping illegally, not alienating archaeologist allies by intruding onto archaeology, and not infuriating the rational public by virtue-littering the landscape with so-called “clooties”.

The only opposition to the tunnel that will have any chance whatsoever of succeeding and not lessening the chance of success and not being seized upon and welcomed by pro-tunnel advocates is the continued use of words and logical argument and those will continue to be employed, including by us.

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