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It’s common knowledge the Trust allows trail hunting in defiance of public opposition but now it has demonstrated it is behind the times in another respect. It has long  prohibited metal detecting unless supervised by its archaeologists which is fine but it has missed a crucial point when it says:

If you metal detect without a licence you’ll be asked to leave the property. We may take action to reclaim items taken from our land without permission. We’ll report unauthorised metal detecting on Scheduled Monuments to the police.”

That is at odds with the latest Official Advice to Landowners:

“Anyone removing objects from land without the landowner/farmer occupier’s permission is committing theft” and farmers should “call the police, and also make it clear to any attending officer/s that action should to be taken against the offender/s….”

So the official advice isn’t to tell the police just when its a scheduled monument. Anyone caught detecting without a licence on ANY Trust land will be stealing artefacts (and knowledge) and the police should always be called. So we look forward to them amending their text to conform with the latest official advice. We also hope they’ll remove this bizarre statement:

“We recognise that most metal detectorists are highly responsible and report their finds”.

What utter, damaging rot.  The Trust should do its homework.

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Last year a Tunisian PhD thesis rejected Newton, Einstein, Copernicus and Kepler and said the Earth is flat, unmoving, young and the centre of the universe. Not here though, here evidence matters. Mind you:

Hundreds of studies use PAS statistics but while the Guide for Researchers warns against some data distortions (selectivity in reporting finds and lower reporting rates when FLOs aren’t at rallies) it doesn’t stress a far worse danger: find spot falsification (or lying by detectorists as most people call it).

How widespread is it? Well, some detectorists admit to it on their forums. Plus everything ever “reported” by nighthawks is lied about. But worst are lies likely to arise from finds agreements: if you’ve  agreed to share in Yorkshire you can say your finds came from Yeovil, where you haven’t, and earn thousands.

How come PAS doesn’t stress that? Well, if PAS could say it happens about 5% of the time that would be OK as researchers could reflect it. But they can’t – because no-one has the foggiest how often it does! All that’s known is that there’s opportunity and massive incentive and hence there’s an unknown but probably very large degree of error in PAS based PhDs. So no snootyness about Tunisia please!

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Our recent highlighting of jarring proposals for Clifford’s tower in York prompted comments pointing out that wasn’t the only case…..

What about Norwich Castle…..

And Tintagel Castle…..

And Harlech Castle….

Note the adequacy and seemliness of the existing (lower) bridge at Tintagel and the jarring modernity of the proposed new one (which has a gimmicky gap in the middle for goodness sake!) And note the startling unseemliness of the new bridge at Harlech. Lest anyone doubt it, look how Harlech looked when it had a less self-important bridge ….

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So why is it happening? Why are ultra modern features being imposed upon monuments from another age? English Heritage/Historic England’s Conservation Principles acknowledge that aesthetic values “may be amenable to restoration and enhancement” but that’s hardly an invitation to impose change so radical that it will shock and be regretted forever. Plus, there’s a nagging suspicion that sometimes the change is about a quango saying, Ozymandias-like, “look at me, this is my legacy”. Does that apply at Stonehenge?

As we mentioned yesterday (and have banged on about for years), Britain’s concept of “Heritage Crime” is irrational. Under the definition, if you harm heritage when trespassing it’s a heritage crime but if you have permission to be there it’s not. But maybe things are finally changing, for the new Advice to Landowners says

Anyone removing objects from land without the landowner/farmer occupier’s permission is committing theft” and farmers shouldcall the police, and also make it clear to any attending officer/s that action should to be taken against the offender/s….”

NB “anyone” who removes objects without the farmer’s permission is a thief and should be reported to the police. That must include those who’ve been allowed on the fields. 

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One of these chaps is currently guilty of “Heritage Crime” as officially defined, the other isn’t as he has permission to be there. But which? Well, Officialdom has just confirmed to farmers that both are thieves and the police should be told. Same action, same damage to heritage, same law breaking, same action required. So, isn’t it high time that the official definition of Heritage Crime was re-written to include both of them?

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Is murder only murder if it happens during a burglary? Of course not, yet Britain’s heritage protection laws are as irrational as that. Here’s why:

Heritage Crime is defined as “any offence which harms the value of heritage assets”. Hence, if you’re nighthawking (an offence) and therefore don’t report what you’ve taken, you harm the value of heritage assets and are guilty of a heritage crime. But if you then go to the farm next door and get permission to detect (no offence) and then fail to report what you find you’ll harm the value of heritage assets just as much yet you’ve not committed a heritage crime!

There’s been no crime committed Watson – the culprit had permission to be here!

A very British muddle, eh? And one that’s pretty much unique to us: harming the value of heritage assets is only a heritage crime if you’re trespassing! (We think there’s been a small step towards rectifying it though – see this space on Monday).

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Remember how English Heritage planned to disfigure the base of Clifford’s Tower in York with this awful overblown cash cow?

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But as we suggested at the time: being a guardian doesn’t make you an owner, you’re far more lowly than that – and you should listen to people other than yourself. Now, two years later they have done so:  a new director for the north of England, Andrea Selley, has been listening to the views of the local community and it was clear that many people love the shape of the mound and disliked the thought of its circumference being broken.

So maybe ordinary people had a stronger appreciation of aesthetics and appropriate guardianship than many English Heritage experts? Which begs the question, if ordinary people have a better instinctive idea than “experts” of what’s right in York maybe English Heritage should ask itself if the same thing may apply to the Stonehenge landscape? Maybe the opponents of the scheme there aren’t ill informed even if they’ve never conducted a dig there. Maybe they’re simply right.

The “result” of consultations on options for widening the A303 across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site is yet to be announced – or “presented through an undemocratic lense” one might say. There will be no surprises. It will be said to point to popular and expert enthusiasm for the protection and enhancement of the World Heritage landscape – hoorah! – but a version of protection and enhancement which will have an unspoken opposite effect. How could it be otherwise, given Highways England’s and the Government’s stated aims? Let no-one be in doubt: their primary aim is not to protect and enhance the World Heritage landscape and it never was. They can only do that without building a surface dual carriageway.

This is a tragedy that has been long in the making. In 2012 Simon Jenkins smelt a rat about the Olympic opening ceremony. Was its depiction of rural Britain as “a land of fields and ploughmen, cottages, cows, sheep and horses, of Glastonbury, cricket and the Proms” a cover for a more radical vision, and was the countryside in the cross hairs of the Government and its developer friends (who kindly helped them fashion the new Planning approach)? Should the name of the ceremony be changed from “The Isles of Wonder” to “Goobye to all that”?!

Time showed that his discomfort with the direction of travel was justified and in the following year, in a piece titled “Our Glorious Land in Peril” he reiterated his view that the new presumption in favour of sustainable development, defined merely as profitable, was the most philistine concept in planning history and he spoke witheringly of the architects of the policy:
“None of these politicians shows any awareness of the beauty of the rural landscape. All live in prosperous cities and probably holiday abroad. Urban renewal is beyond them. That English people should treasure their countryside, as polls show they do overwhelmingly, is beyond them.”

Now that one of our most loved views, the free view of Stonehenge from the A303, is intended to be snatched away forever, his words still have great resonance:Ministers may win Right-wing guffaws in think-tank saloons. But it is their deeds now being scratched and scarred across the face of England that we shall remember.” The scratches and scars, if allowed to happen, will outlive Chris Grayling and the rest by millenia.

Who can deny it? No farmer has ever granted permission to detect unless he’s been offered highly dubious promises or barefaced lies – why would he? Generally it’s “We’re archaeologists”, “We’re only in it for the history”, “I’ve researched your land – you may get rich”, “Detecting is a way of conserving history” and “We’ll show you everything and share it 50-50, honest”).

There are endless instances. Just read some detecting forums – please! But one case that has just come to light that’s particularly barefaced is “Priscan Archaeology”. This is a group of detectorists who indulge in artefact hunting. Pocketing stuff you find is not archaeology. And now they’ve put up a video claiming their latest outing was a survey. It wasn’t. They had neither method nor equipment. They were artefact hunting (See Paul Barford’s demolition of their “survey” here).
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Priscan “Archaeology” (Not) – carrying out a “Survey” (Not).

Against this widespread FFF context Historic England has just pressed, sensibly, for any detecting on registered battlefields to be part of an organised and structured archaeological survey“. Yet the National Council for Metal Detecting refuses, claiming that having no archaeological involvement is the best way to gather evidence. That, surely, defies all logic and is the mother of all Farmer Fooling Falsehoods.

Sadly though, there was no complaint from Historic England. Instead they responded: “There is no question that detectorists share a passion for our history …. We really value the opportunity to work with detectorists….” If you wonder what’s wrong with Britain’s stewardship of its buried archaeological resource, there’s the answer. Acquisitive people refusing to do the right thing and mouthing obvious and highly damaging falsehoods yet saluted for their passion for history. It really could have been PAS speaking.

Update:


On the other hand, sometimes you don’t have to conceal the fact you’re a selfish, destructive oik. See this conversation reported on a detecting forum this week:

Farmer: “My granddad never ploughed it and my Dad never ploughed it and I’v never ploughed it so not in may be 100 years or so.”

Selfish Acqisitive Oik: “Well would have have any objection to me having a look with my new detector then??

Farmer: Help you self” he said “But I don’t want any historical folk coming round

Selfish Acquisitive Oik:No NO NO that’s the last thing we want.

So there we are. Not ploughed for a hundred years and “historical folk” won’t be told what’s found. But stuff the Code of Conduct on both counts and stuff the resultant loss of knowledge, permission’s what matters. And it’s legel innit – and Historic England say I have a passion for history!


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There’s no money left for A-Level Archaeology …..
So the day has arrived. After many wonderful years of teaching students about how archaeologists work, discussing the role of ancient Egyptian religion in their society, and discussing the role of heritage in our society and economy today, A-level Archaeology has drifted off the timetable across the country and our current second years will be the last group of students to ever receive a grade in this A-level.”

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But there’s £1,000 a day for farmers who’ll allow Acquisitive-Level Archaeology ….
You get a grand for doing nothing but shaking my hand on the day and waving me goodbye at the end of it. One day, one thousand.”

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After years of biased advocacy, the short tunnel supporters (the Government, its 3 “yes-bodies” and a thin veneer of allegiant archaeologists) just had a clear reply from UNESCO: the short tunnel should be scrapped! So the question now arises, what will they do? Accept it? Or ignore it and carry on regardless?

Highway’s England’s hurried initial reaction suggests the latter: “We remain confident our scheme will enhance and protect the Stonehenge landscape.” That meaningless statement often works for developers seeking to build a few houses in small villages. But this is no village, it’s the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and this is no parish council UNESCO are talking to – it’s the world.

So far as we can see the Government can react in one of two ways. It can say, fair enough, we’ve miraculously found the finance to avoid harming the landscape. OR, and this is our guess, it can get some friendly archaeologists to start discrediting UNESCO in the public mind. Keep watching. We’ll know soon!

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