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Dr Sam Hardy’s recent Europe-wide study of metal detecting was unequivocal: permissive regulation does not minimise cultural damage whereas restrictive or prohibitive regulation does. So much for decades of contrary British claims. So it’s unfortunate there’s a lobby group dedicated to spreading Britain’s laissez faire system throughout Europe and it now plans a large conference in Norwich to further that aim.

Bizarrely it will be held at a publicly financed museum and may be addressed (again!) by the publicly financed Michael Lewis of the PAS. Worse, it includes “a 3 day international detecting rally” (for £45 a head) at which hundreds of people from Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, France, Denmark, Croatia, Spain and Ireland will help themselves to British history and take it  home or sell it.

NB though, Michael Lewis and the museum staff will not be detecting. Their professional codes prohibit it and for 20 years archaeologists have avoided being photographed doing it (it’s a big internet Dear Reader, we challenge you to find any such image!) That says it all about Britain’s laissez faire system: professionals publicly supporting what they privately don’t. Why try to impose it on Europe?

Honest Archie, doing Europe a favour.

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So says The Telegraph – see here. It certainly seems likely and we proposed something similar in November when we said:

By all that’s right and rational the Stonehenge tunnel should have been conceived, proposed and designed by a ẁide panel of respected archaeologists. But no, it was all down to this bloke, looking for votes…..

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He and his team wanted it cheap. Which means short. But that gave them a PR problem because “short” also means “horribly damaging to the WHS”. However, that wasn’t insurmountable. All they needed was a sufficient number of archaeologists in receipt of Government funding or patronage to say such damage is acceptable. Which, as is clear to all, they’ve obtained.

It’s a political tunnel and was neither conceived, designed nor blessed by the likes of Martin Carver, Francis Pryor, Colin Renfrew, Tim Darvill, Josh Pollard, or Vince Gaffney. In Tom Holland’s words, Stonehenge has been “offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of electioneering“. It’s as simple and shameful as that. It should go the way of its originator.

Whitehall’s spending watchdog has suggested that sixteen upgrades to England’s busiest roads could be scrapped because they do not represent value for money. See details here. Great news for Stonehenge World Heritage Site, so long as value for money is given its proper meaning…….

Is it value for money to spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money on a tunnel that would cause almost incalculable  damage to a World Heritage site?

Is it value for money to spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money to remove the public’s favourite free view of Stonehenge?

Is it value for money to spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money on a road scheme that doesn’t include spending a single penny on direct traffic calming in the local villages?

Is it value for money to spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money to grant the National Trust’s wish for a theme park walk? 

If those questions are properly asked then there’s no way spending £1.3 billion can be justified. What’s more, if the tunnel scheme is cancelled there will be no negative impact whatsoever on the cultural value of the World Heritage Site. Only a false, illusory, let’s-pretend vision will shatter. As indeed it should.

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You’d think, when massive new damage to our national icon is being proposed,  details would be open to public scrutiny, especially the considered thoughts of the Historic England Commission, the body pushing the scheme. After all, brief platitudinous press releases and dubious public consultations don’t really serve the need. So you might be concerned by two items in their December 2015 Minutes

12.1: Transparency and publishing Commission minutes
“Staff had considered the approach of other organisations in publishing Board papers. Commission approved the proposal to have one set of Commission minutes that would be published on the HE website once approved at the following meeting. Public and protective markings would be removed from agenda, reports and minutes.

To clarify, they are removing some items from public scrutiny but not marking them as removed. In other words, you won’t be allowed to know which things you haven’t been allowed to know. That’s double locked censorship! And, lest you think we might be mistaken,  here’s exactly the same thing being achieved in a different way:

13.1: Closed session for Commissioners and Chief Executive only
“This item was a closed session for Commissioners and the Chief Executive only.
There is no record of the discussion.”

May we suggest that when it comes to a tunnel at Stonehenge there’s no reason for anything the Historic England Commissioners discuss to be kept secret from the public?

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Dr Sam Hardy of the UCL Institute of Archaeology (above) has produced a detailed study of metal detecting. There is much in it to be discussed but today we highlight his central conclusion. Having examined detecting in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, Wales, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and the US  he finds that:

“permissive regulation is ineffective in minimising harm to heritage assets, whether in the form of licit misbehaviour or criminal damage. Restrictive and prohibitive regulation appear to be more effective, insofar as there is less overall loss of archaeological evidence.”

This flies in the face of the two justifications cited for 20 years in support of Britain’s laissez faire system – that nighthawking is lessened by it and that licit misbehaviour is lessened by it. Dr Hardy’s conclusions are unequivocal: both claims are false. It is to be hoped that his report will find its way to both Whitehall and the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group without delay. This is surely the strongest evidence so far that Britain has taken a wrong path.

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The contrast between Stonehenge kidology and Stonehenge plain truth has been on clear display in this week’s BBC Future article.

Kidology #1: Phil McMahon (Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Historic England): “The perfect result for a scheme like this is that they avoid great archaeology rather than dig it up.” Sounds great! We can all agree with that! And he hammers it home by saying that the team “have already made a number of important finds that have been fed back into the plans”. But here’s the thing: “fed back into the plans” doesn’t mean something important in the way won’t be destroyed. Fact! So the public are being kidded. What Historic England don’t say is that if they come across “great archaeology” they’ll make a big diversion round it or cancel the project. Because they won’t.

Kidology #2: Highways England Structural Engineer Derek Parody says the scheme “represents a golden opportunity to add to the knowledge of this much-studied site”. Nice for a structural engineer to be concerned to add to archaeological knowledge. Trouble is, we have long memories. Ten years ago almost to the day Tarmac’s quarry manager Bob Nicholson said exactly the same thing in support of ripping up the Thornborough Henges landscape (in fact he said Tarmac’s archaeological investigations were more thorough than some of English Heritage’s on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site!) Do they teach kidology in engineering college?! Whatever engineers say, it’s not an opportunity it’s something that is being forced on society.

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Now the “plain truth” part of the article. There are two, both from Professor Vince Gaffney.

Plain Truth #1: He points out (and who knows better?) that technology has not yet evolved to the point where it can uncover all of Stonehenge’s secrets. So much for the Historic England claim that “the perfect result for a scheme like this is that they avoid great archaeology rather than dig it up.” It’s nonsense, they can’t ensure that outcome as they lack the technology to do so. Professor Gaffney goes on: “The work that we did was invaluable, but the landscape is not the sum of the things that you dig and build. How would you tell that thousands of people would have been at Stonehenge in the Neolithic period? All they dropped was stone and we can’t see it because it’s under grass. Yet that might be the most important part of the archaeology.”

QED #1

Plain Truth #2:  Professor Gaffney frames the second truth as a devastatingly simple statement, one which neither Historic England nor Highways England nor the Government dare to address: “The landscape is structured around the monument – you shouldn’t be buggering around with the astronomic alignment and impacting on how people will experience it.”

QED #2

Archaeologist Dr George Nash of the Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort group, puts it in a nutshell:

“I can’t accept that in a rural county like Shropshire, and particularly north Shropshire, we need this heavy impetus for building,” he said. “But if we are going to toe the line then we need affordable housing – housing that people can truly afford and on brownfield sites. Our heritage is under great threat from the too much development put in the wrong place. Every settlement, every village should help bear the load of the housing with new homes dispersed over the county rather than centred on the urban areas.”

Who can deny it? Or that the policy of allowing development next to Oswestry Hill Fort is entirely against the interests of the people of Oswestry and of Shropshire and indeed of Britain. But more to the point, it’s very, very dodgy.

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No chance, due to the dodgy machinations of Shropshire Council

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By the way, here’s another parcel of land currently on sale adjacent to the Hill Fort but on the other side.

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They wouldn’t, would they? Well, the sales particulars say “The land offers itself for a variety of uses to include agricultural, amenity, equestrian and the potential for future residential development (subject to gaining planning permission)” and this IS the most contemptible local authority in Britain – so who knows?

Dear National Trust, it’s now up to you. The Government said your support for the short tunnel had been pivotal so changing your minds would be too. You have good cause to do so: thousands of members of the public plus a group of 21 top independent experts plus many other archaeologists plus ICOMOS UK have all now said the short tunnel is entirely unacceptable – and with respect, you don’t have the expertise to argue with them.

If you tell Historic England et al (publicly or privately) you’re no longer prepared to put lipstick on a pig that WILL turn the tide. You could simply repeat what you said 11 years ago:The Government has failed one of the world’s most famous landscapes. The options outlined in the Review and the consultative process by which the Government arrived at this decision, focus on transport solutions for Stonehenge which denigrate its status as a World Heritage Site.”

We suggest you owe it to your long and honourable tradition of fighting for special places forever for everyone to stand up for the Stonehenge landscape once again. It will boost your public esteem. And your t shirt sales.

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The official message of the British archaeological establishment is that artefact hunting is under control through the outreach of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is mitigating information loss by preservation by record. A decade ago, HA set out to test the validity of that claim. How many noteworthy objects are removed from the archaeological record by artefact hunters without any record of them reaching the public domain? It is strange that nobody else at that time was asking this fundamental question. The counter (currently accessible at: http://www.heritageaction.org.uk/erosioncounter/) ticks over to suggest how rapidly the archaeological record is being eroded of recordable artefacts by collectors. The figures stand at just under six million artefacts removed since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (of which the PAS has recorded just over 20%), with the overall total since the nominal beginning of the hobby of metal detecting in 1975 just under 13 million.

Seven years after the HAAEC went online, and undoubtedly inspired by Heritage Action’s pioneering attempt, the British Museum published a slim publication ‘Portable Antiquities Scheme: A Guide for Researchers’ which rather belatedly addresses the same problem. While the presentation (pages 13 and 14) is very confused, the results of the British Museum’s own estimates suggest that just over 30% of the artefacts removed from the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit in England and Wales to feed a growing number of ephemeral private artefact collections are recorded in the PAS database.  The rest have disappeared without trace. What kind of mitigation is that?

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Now it’s not just the 21 independent experts, it’s ICOMOS-UK! (See its response to the  public consultation):

On the basis of evidence set out below, ICOMOS-UK firmly objects to the current option for a 2.9km tunnel for the substantial negative and irreversible impact if would have on the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage site (WHS) of Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated sites.”

Best of all, it goes to the very crux of the matter by explicitly rejecting the claim by Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust that the “benefits” of a short tunnel would justify the new damage. Indeed, it says any such suggestion fundamentally misunderstands Britain’s commitment to sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the site:

To suggest that this damage can be mitigated by benefits brought by the tunnel to the centre of the WHS, is to fundamentally misunderstand the commitments made to sustain OUV at the time of inscription of the property on the World Heritage List”.

“Fundamentally misunderstands” – you can’t get a clearer condemnation than that! So much for telling people being able to hear skylarks at the stones is worth imposing light pollution on the winter solstice spectacle! Let Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust tell the Government they are utterly tired of putting lipstick on a pig and it must think again.

 

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