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We continue our occasional series, ‘Inside the Mind‘ with responses from Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of British Later Prehistory at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
Beginning his archaeological career in 1972 working on archaeological excvations in southern England, he has since worked on archaeological sites around the world in Denmark, Germany, Greece, Syria, the United States, Madagascar, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and the Outer Hebrides.
After gaining a BA in European Archaeology at the University of Southampton in 1979, he was awarded a PhD at the University of Cambridge in 1985. He worked as an Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage until 1990 and then as lecturer in the Department of Archaeology & Prehistory at Sheffield University. In 2010 he was voted the UK’s The Archaeologist of the Year by the readers of Current Archaeology magazine.
Best known for his work at Stonehenge in the ongoing and evolving projects; Stonehenge Riverside Project, Feeding Stonehenge and the Stones of Stonehenge, his most recent research has been focussed on West Wales, where Stonehenge’s bluestones were quarried.
THE TEN QUESTIONS
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
At 4 years old I discovered fossils in a heap of gravel and learned that the past was mysterious and fascinating. I had a good teacher at junior school and, years later, my geography teacher even drove me on the day I left school to an excavation and to begin my full-time life as an archaeologist.
How did you get started?
As a 15 year old I saw a poster in a public library advertising a rescue excavation of a Roman site on the line of the M5. It was the first of a series of summer excavations on Roman settlements (yes, I was going to become a Romanist!)
Who has most influenced your career?
There’s no one person – I was lucky to be taught and inspired by a generation of archaeologists at the top of their game – both practical and theoretical, field and lab, and humanities and science-based.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
I always think the thing that I’m doing now is the most exciting – right now, I’m focused on the sources of the bluestones in Wales, which might just give us an insight into the origins of Stonehenge. I did enjoy the years digging in the Outer Hebrides – great archaeology (not properly appreciated), great colleagues and a wonderful place to work without all the bureaucratic difficulties we had to cope with in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
It’s a toss up between Cladh Hallan in South Uist (an unusually well-preserved Bronze Age to Iron Age settlement in the Outer Hebrides with skeletons under the floors that turned out to have once been mummified) and Durrington Walls, with its houses, middens, unsuspected avenue and giant post circle.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
When I was Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage in the 1980s we had to allow the Bedford Bypass road scheme to preserve in situ some Neolithic cursus monuments underneath a road embankment. They are probably buried under that road forever – inaccessible to any archaeological investigation – and I now wish that they had been excavated. I’ve become rather more sceptical about ‘preserving in situ’ underneath modern development where the remains are inaccessible for the long term.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
Contracts for archaeology in advance of development shouldn’t go to the lowest bidder but to the best bid – it shouldn’t be the developer choosing the contractor on the basis of who is cheapest but the planners choosing on the basis of the best research design (as has been the rule in Sweden for years).
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
Right now, it’s the A303 at Stonehenge. The proposed tunnel is way too short and would damage the WHS irretrievably. There’s a second option that avoids the WHS and is cheaper, too.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
At school, my careers teacher tried to get me to drop my interest in archaeology, which he was certain would not result in employment, and tried to get me into law and business management. Glad that didn’t happen. I think I would be good at doing bacon sandwiches at a greasy spoon or running a cattery.
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
Watching TV with the cat while eating bacon sandwiches.
As always, we’d like to express our sincere thanks to Mike for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.
If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable and willing subject, please contact us.
Hundreds of voices set to ring out from iconic Shropshire hillfort at annual heritage hug
-Community prepares to send out big message about heritage and greenspace for Valentine’s week-
Oswestry will be displaying its affection for local heritage and greenspace in a landmark initiative as part of annual celebrations devoted to Old Oswestry hillfort.
The town is aiming to encircle the 3,000-year-old Iron Age monument with a 1 km long chain of people and string of hearts with messages of appreciation for the hillfort from all parts of the community.
The ‘Hearts Around the Hillfort’ project is set to provide an eye-catching focus to this year’s hillfort hug on February 12, organised by the HOOOH Community Group.
“Red hearts are going out to schools, groups and organisations, as well as shops and public outlets,” said HOOOH member, Kate Clarke. “We are hoping that as many individuals as possible, from young to old, will donate a heart-felt message about the hillfort for this super-long bunting.”
She added: “It means that anyone unable to attend the hug in person can still play a part, especially older residents who may be less able to get out. Many of us have fond memories of the hillfort which this project aims to capture.”
The group is also keen for hearts in support of local greenspace and heritage in general.
John Waine of HOOOH said: “As the ancient heart of the town, the hillfort is an outstanding attraction presiding over Oswestry’s northern gateway. But it also forms part of a precious network of green environment, recreation fields and historical fabric vital to preserving Oswestry’s character and quality of life for residents. The bunting is an opportunity to reflect the importance of all of these assets and the community’s concerns that they are respected in local decision-making.”
HOOOH estimates that around 650 people will be needed to form a complete human chain around the hillfort top. The group stresses that the event is being organised and stewarded with due care for the monument and people’s safety.
Now in its third year, the hug is part of a weekend of events taking place February 11 and 12 celebrating one of the country’s largest and best preserved hillforts. Old Oswestry has been acknowledged by eminent academics as the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ due to its importance to the archaeological understanding of Celtic Britain.
A full day’s seminar will be held in Oswestry Memorial Hall on February 11 examining wider aspects of the hillfort’s role, including its natural heritage and ecology. Family workshops with a wildlife theme and an evening of live performance are also planned at Hermon Chapel. Further events exploring the hillfort’s flora and fauna are set to follow through 2017 under an educational initiative called the ‘Hillfort Watch’.
Allied group, Artists Hugging the Hillfort (AHH!), is currently showing a retrospective of hillfort initiatives and artwork called ‘Heritage Matters’ at the Oswestry Heritage and Exhibition Centre. Running until the end of February, it traces HOOOH’s evolution from campaign to community group working in the broadest interests of the hillfort.
Shops, outlet, groups and organisations who would like to participate in the ‘Hearts around the Hillfort’ initiative by making or collecting hearts should contact HOOOH on 01691 652918 or via its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort)
Following recent changes to the heritage legislation in Wales, plans now appear to be afoot to “evaluate whether the structures underpinning the sector are fit for purpose” (Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure).
Regular readers of the Heritage Journal will be aware of the various concerns raised over the years regarding the existing medieval feudal structure and hope that the Committee set up to look into the matter will take the opportunity to modernise the archaic structures that currently riddle the Welsh heritage sector. Providing genuine positive changes are made with protection and sensitive management of the heritage at its core, this would seem to be a long overdue step.
If on the other hand it’s just another excuse to wield the axe, or tinker with job titles then almost certainly the result will be another lost opportunity. Apparently the heritage sector in Wales contributes more to the economy than agriculture and it would therefore seem sensible to treat it with the respect it deserves and fully recognise its importance.
Last week saw a new commemorative stamp issue from the Royal Mail in the UK, this time celebrating our ancient past.
The eight special stamps feature iconic sites and exceptional artefacts. The lineup is as follows:
* 1st Class – Skara Brae and the Battersea shield.
* £1.05 – Maiden Castle and the Star Carr headdress.
* £1.33 – Avebury and the Drumbest horns.
* £1.52 – Grimes Graves and the Mold cape.
The stamps are all enhanced with illustrations that reveal how our ancient forebears lived and worked. I plumped for the First Day Cover (postmarked Avebury) and the Presentation Pack. A useful and informative sheet gives details about each of the subjects. More information and ordering details can be found on the Royal Mail website.
Have you got yours yet?
Chances are you have never visited this stone circle or even heard of it. It is tucked away in a secluded spot in Mid Wales (NGR SH 9993 0010). For thousands of years it has stood within an unspoilt rural setting. This may be about to change.
Windfarm developers have set their sights on the hillside on which it stands and have drawn up plans to surround it in 130m high wind turbines. The developer’s archaeologists acknowledge that these industrial scale monsters “will certainly result in harm to the overall value of the monument”, but conclude that “the fundamental value of the monument, the heart of its significance will be unaffected”. Essentially what they are saying is that because the scheduled ancient monument is not going to actually host a turbine that everything will be fine. Acceptance of this position opens the doors to development right up to the edge of every scheduled monument in the country.
Visual setting for prehistoric monuments is particularly important and to dismiss it as insignificant betrays a lack of understanding of these so ever special monuments. In this instance it certainly ignores the crucial views towards the impressive Breidden Hill near Welshpool, betraying in the process a total lack of understanding of the sites significance and place within the landscape. Furthermore, the transformation of this rural landscape into an industrial one will inevitably also impact on associated physical remains. If this proposal proceeds, damage will result and no amount of mitigation or clever words will prevent this.
Butler, F. and Butler, J., 1978, ‘Y Capel: A stone circle near Cefn Coch, Llanllugan’, Archaeologia Cambrensis, CXXVII, 122-3.
Details of the proposal can be found here.
By Dr Sandy Gerrard
A recent press report in the Express & Echo should concern everyone with an interest in the archaeology of the South West English uplands. Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor and Exmoor are particularly rich and important archaeological landscapes where the impact of the past can be easily appreciated.
On Dartmoor alone around 5,000 Bronze Age houses together with hundreds of hectares of field systems and enclosures survive in close proximity to thousands of cairns, hundreds of cists and the largest concentration of stone rows anywhere in Britain. Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor together provide a unique insight into the character of life and death in prehistoric times. Nowhere else in Britain is it possible to explore and appreciate the true impact of prehistoric people on the landscape. In recent years this incredible resource has been slowly disappearing beneath a sea of gorse, bracken and purple moor grass as farming practices have been adjusted in response to subsidy changes.
According to the Express & Echo article fresh plans are being drawn up to accelerate this process by returning parts of the moor “to the wild”. It is not clear which parts the bureaucrats have in mind, but we can be sure that given the extraordinary wide distribution of archaeology that important archaeology that we have all taken for granted could soon no longer be visible. Hopefully Historic England will fight this proposal and prevail – any other outcome would be disastrous. Any attempt to deliberately conceal our heritage from us all should be opposed with the utmost vigour. Inevitably once the archaeology was out of sight it would soon be out of mind.
A guest post from Jim Rayner, a good friend of the Heritage Journal:
Anyone attending recent solstice celebrations at Stonehenge will have noticed that the old A344 northern stock boundary fence remains in situ and now acts as a ‘new’ boundary marker for monument field. Promises to reconnect the Avenue with the stones and create a ‘permissive route’ along the line of the old road have failed to materialize. Tim Daw has been following the story on his sarsen.org website in some detail.
Apparently, the official position is that the down-land grass needs more time to establish and works to create a new shuttle bus turning circle are on-going. Hopefully, by the end of 2017 these changes will be complete, but it is unlikely that this will have involved the removal of the fence. In practical terms this means the Avenue will still be separated from Stonehenge and people cannot spread-out down from the stones during Managed Open Access (MOA).
An easy solution would be for English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust (NT) to install a gate. This gate would only be opened for short periods during MOA and would be staffed by security and subject to all the usual EH terms of conditions of entry. Better still there would be two gates side-by-side, one for entry and another for exiting. Not being able to walk up to the Heel Stone from the Avenue (in one single movement) detracts from the experience (see video below). It could well be argued that the current fence restricts ceremonial access, is inauthentic and even contributes to overcrowding in the centre of the circle. MOA is an on-going process and everything needs to make things better for all concerned. In this regard, a simple set of gates could really help.
As the calendar changes, we’ve looked back and reviewed the past 12 months. Now it’s time for another beginning, looking forward and making plans for the coming year.
Our suggestions for resolutions back in 2013 still stand as admirable targets to strive for and we would commend them all to anyone interested in our past heritage. Here they are again:
- Visit new sites
- Join a local Archaeological Society
- Take a course
- Attend a conference
- Involve the family
- Contribute to the Heritage Journal
But this year, forgive me for speaking from an entirely personal viewpoint when looking forward…
A long held dream of moving to, and living in, West Cornwall looks to be coming to fruition for me in the following 12 months, and with it early (semi-)retirement! My hope is that this will allow me time to get more involved on a day-to-day basis in helping to preserve and understand our ancient heritage.
Once settled, and health allowing, I intend to volunteer for the CASPN clear-up days when I can, and will see if/how I can help the Cornwall Heritage Trust in their work too. I hope to be attending more walks and talks with both CASPN and the Cornwall Archaeological Society. And of course, writing! I have plenty of ideas for articles for the Heritage Journal, and possibly even a book or two, but these require a large commitment of time for research which I just don’t have at the moment.
So what will you be doing to preserve and understand our ancient heritage in 2017? Please let us know in the comments below.
The wheel continues to turn, a major festival has once again passed, and all too soon it’s time for another review (and major link-fest!) of the previous twelve months here on the Heritage Journal.
We reported upon the physical completion (for now) of a survey of Verulamium in Hertfordshire, a considerable volunteer project which will provide opportunities for interpretation of the results for some time to come. The project was the subject of a talk at a conference in November, which sadly we were unable to attend.
It came as a bit of a surprise to find that our Artefact Erosion Counter had been included in an exam question a couple of years ago, but we took it as a compliment and provided our own answer to the question set.
In our campaign for the truth about the Stonehenge Tunnel, we decided to let the cat out of the bag at last and revealed several yowling moggies, a series that is still ongoing as the spin and outright lies continue in the media. And in other campaigns, we revealed plans for a European assault on our archaeological record, pointed out more inconsistencies in Shropshire’s plans for Oswestry and further inconsistencies in interpretation in Wales.
But the month was dominated by our Stonehenge Tunnel campaign, with a whole host of cats being released once again from our bag. We responded to Mike Pitts’ criticism of our concerns, and pointed out a major omission at the National Trust AGM.
We started the month with a plea to the public to look out for, and report damage to ancient monuments. We heard that a PAS debate in Ireland was cancelled due to ‘bullying’ of British speakers, whilst one of our members attended and reported on the PAS Conference in London.
Simon Thurley inadvertently strengthened our argument against the tunnel at the start of this month, whilst a couple more moggies made a break for freedom. And just before Christmas, a cynical attempt to manipulate local opinion in favour of the tunnel was uncovered.
That concludes our look back at 2016, but as always, we hope to bring much more of the same in the coming year. And of course our archives are always free to explore via the link on the left hand menu.
If you have a story which you feel we should feature, particularly if it describes a threat to our prehistoric archaeological heritage, then we’d love to hear from you in 2017! We can provide full attribution, or if you’d prefer, complete anonymity as a ‘Friend of the Journal’. Equally, if you’ve been out and about and would like to describe your trip to see the wonders within our shores the we’d like to hear about that too. After all, don’t forget it’s your Journal.
We continue our brief review of the previous twelve months here on the Heritage Journal, revisiting the summer months.
As the seasons change, it seems to affect people in bad ways. We reported this month on a couple of instances of heritage destruction, in Ireland and at Stanton Moor. But we managed to get out and about ourselves, reporting on ‘restoration’ at West Kennet, the removal of the London Stone, and a wonderful guided walk in Cornwall.
At Stonehenge, we suggested that maybe it’s time to consider a cap on visitor numbers, and began pointing out some hard truths about the effect of the proposed tunnel, an ongoing campaign that would take up most of the second half of the year.
Stonehenge was again a major focus this month, starting with the potential for the tunnel to increase wildlife casualties and the lack of outreach. We asked who stole the Solstice? and a guest post from Jim Rayner gave some suggestions on how, where and when the solstice should be celebrated and we looked at how the various agencies are all condoning damage to Stonehenge.
Out and about, Dr Sandy Gerrard reported on a visit to the Tair Carn Isaf cairn cemetery in Carmarthenshire.
Ah, the ‘Brexit’ vote result. We gave two opposing views on what it could mean for the British archaeological resource. We highlighted some of the (prehistoric) events in this year’s Festival of Archaeology and reminded our readers of the Day of Archaeology that follows the festival. We pointed out how the British Museum had insulted every archaeologist and heritage professional, and then acknowledged their error.
In between, we held our annual Megameet at Avebury, which gave us cause for more criticism of the National Trust, and not just at Avebury. We uncovered one of their ‘dirty trick‘ marketing ploys, looked back 11 years to when Stonehenge was saved from the bulldozers and pointed out some more inconsistencies in the various agencies’ stance on the tunnel.
On our travels, we visited the next section of the Neolithic M1 in our ongoing series.
Tomorrow we’ll conclude our brief look back at some of the stories from 2016 in the final part of our annual review! But don’t forget that our archives contain our articles going back several years. These can be explored for any given month via the dropdown link on the left hand menu, or a search keyword facility is available.