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We are pleased to be able to report the new discovery of a possible inscribed stone in Cornwall. 

It was noticed by a friend of the Heritage Journal during a recent family walk approximately 2.5 kilometres south of Tintagel. The stone has been reused as a gatepost and is currently part of a stile construct on a public footpath, hidden in plain sight!

There appears to be faint lettering and Ogham script on the stone and a later incised cross symbol near the top of the stone. Initially, it was thought that the inscriptions may be a trick of the light (as at Kea, near Truro where at certain times of day the outline of a sword is visible on an upright stone in the churchyard), but viewing the stone from different angles confirmed the inscriptions, which are also faintly traceable with a finger.

The discovery has been reported to, and accepted by, the Cornwall HER for further investigation. Once confirmed, we hope to be able to report back here with the official description and location details.

As happens every summer, we have received various reports of ‘incidents’ at some of our wonderful ancient heritage sites. 

In Oxfordshire, at the Rollright Stones, some idiots recently lit a fire in the centre of the Kings Men circle. This has caused damage to the grass in the centre, potentially damaging archaeology. 

This is not the first time that the circle has been subjected to an attack by inconsiderate idiots. In the past, the stones have been daubed with paint, and in one incident, a burning tyre was hung over some of the stones. The ranger’s hut at the stones was also the subject of a deliberate arson attack a few years ago, meaning that those who volunteer to watch the stones overnight no longer had a place to shelter.

Meanwhile, in Wiltshire, we have heard of attacks on cars parked at Silbury Hill and in the West Kennet lay-by, resulting in valuables being removed (stolen) from those cars. Sadly, this is a common problem throughout the year, but such activity always seems to increase in the summer.

And in Cornwall, one of the holed stones on Tregeseal Common has been toppled. At the moment it has not been determined whether this was a deliberate act or an accident caused by the cattle that roam the moor.

Sadly, there is no easy answer to these seasonal problems. Whilst it’s easy to call for harsher penalties for the culprits, actually identifying and apprehending them is another issue entirely. Heritage crime is acknowledged by the police and is being given a higher priority than in the past, but the resources are just not there to deal with it effectively. 

Education can help, but often these crimes are caused not by locals, but by visitors. The lack of consideration for local heritage has been exacerbated this year by the sense of entitlement that many holidaymakers have been displaying, often stating things like “I deserve a holiday after being locked in because of the pandemic, you’ll just have to put up with it”.

Have there been any such incidents in your area? Do you have any ideas on how such issues can be tackled? Please let us know in the comments.

We are reminded by one of our regular readers that there are just two weeks left in which to visit the Ways of Seeing Wiltshire exhibition at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

Echoing ideas of England’s heritage landscape pioneered across the 18th and 19th centuries, 20th century artists introduced new ways of appreciating chalk hill figures and prehistoric remains. This exhibition at Wiltshire Museum will highlight some of these works, held in the Museum’s own collection.

Between the First and Second World Wars, less travelled ways became routes to the past. The surrounding countryside developed creatively charged mysteries, evocatively punctuated by furrows, signposts and rolling cloud shadows. The absorbingly ambiguous was witnessed beyond hedgerows, railed fencing and wire strung between posts. Much was encountered and recorded as if noticed for the first time, if not at the point of being permanently lost from view.

Artists who would become household names were joined by educators, the tutored and the self-taught. The gateways to their timeless explorations, the customs and backwaters of sleepy villages and slower paced market towns. The diversity of architectural materials, shapes and styles, meeting with sequences of decline, weathering and repair, lent to the impression of all history being represented across the centuries.

Ways of Seeing Wiltshire offers opportunities to engage with these relatively recent times when, alongside the adoption of an ‘idealized’ English rural landscape, considering and interpreting the distant past and its unfamiliar cultures became increasingly significant. It was, after all, the evolving way in which the natural, built, and working heritage was being witnessed, reimagined and remembered, that shaped the ever extending present’s sense of attachment and belonging.

Jane is an artist, whose earlier works included many watercolours of ancient sites. She is a founder member of Heritage Action, and the partner of Moth, one of our previous respondents. They met at the inaugural meeting of Heritage Action at Uffington White Horse in 2004. Jane has provided the following responses to our standard questions:

* What is/was your day job?

Primarily, I am an artist. My paintings are inspired by the natural world, but history often creeps in. I love to hand-paint maps. You can see my paintings at janetomlinson.com. I also work part time as a marketer for a specialist IT training company.

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

As a tiny girl in the 1960s, on our way back from a holiday in Cornwall, we stopped at Stonehenge. At that time, you could walk right up to the stones – and we did. I remember the overwhelming scale of the massive stones, and Dad telling me how long ago they were built. I think Dad’s own sense of wonder infected! 

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

My interest lies in the fact that our neolithic ancestors built such big and complex stuff, and so long ago with little more than their bare hands, basic tools, and sheer ingenuity. That so much of it still stands fills me with the same wonder as I felt as a tiny girl at Stonehenge more than 50 years ago.

I love how the monuments – broken remnants of our history – are in remote and wild places. I love their sculptural forms in the landscape. I love to wonder at the skills of the engineers who conceived and built such massive structures.

I don’t feel anything spiritual at ancient monuments, or indeed, anywhere else. I don’t really know what ‘spiritual’ means. Ancient monuments make me feel a profound sense of wonder. They make me realise that although the neolithic people didn’t have writing or the internal combustion engine, our ancestors were exactly the same as us – creative, organised, resourceful, thoughtful.

* What is your favourite time period or era? 

Neolithic and Bronze Age is the period I find most fascinating. What just a few generations did then – settling down, farming, building permanent shelters, domesticating animals and plants, organising themselves into successful and functioning societies, meant people had the time and resources to do more than just survive. They could think, create, specialise and experiment with new technologies, materials and ideas. Clay! Metal! Art!

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

There are two. Julian Cope’s ‘The Modern Antiquarian‘ and ‘The Megalithic European‘. These have guided our travels for more than two decades. It’s thanks to Cope’s Modern Antiquarian website, that I met my husband. 

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

Even though they are singularly unsuitable as field guides, Julian Cope’s ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ and ‘The Megalithic European’ are essentials. More practically, Aubrey Burl’s ‘The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany‘ has enabled us to find some really lesser known gems, especially in hidden corners of France.

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

The most surprising day, which could so easily have ended in failure, was seeking out and eventually finding the Damiya Dolmen Field in the Jordan Valley. Armed with little more than an idea, a couple of very vague maps, and a general sense of where they might be, we hired a taxi for a day trip out from Amman. We didn’t really expect to find anything. The taxi driver spoke hardly any English and we don’t speak Arabic. He thought we were quite mad. But determination and a sense of where the ancient people might have chosen to build their tombs, and despite the screaming summer heat, unsuitable footwear, and steep rocky hillsides we actually found loads of fabulous dolmens. Built in the very Early Bronze Age, these were already 3,500 years old when Jesus was a nipper. The whole place was mind-blowing, not least its proximity to the heavily barb-wired Jordan/Israel border. I wrote a blog about it here: https://janetomlinson.com/jordan-valley-dolmens/
 
Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

Göbeklitepe and Catalhöyuk in Anatolia. It would be a rare glimpse into early modern history and social organisation just at the time humanity was becoming settled. What those people did then laid the foundations for everything that came after.

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

The phrase “ritual use” really gets my goat! On what basis is something ‘ritual’? And how would we ever know? So much supposition goes on and so often “ritual use” is lazy shorthand for ‘errr…. we just don’t know’. It’s OK not to know. But for goodness sake, be clear that ‘we’re not sure what this was for, but it might have been for … ‘

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

Rupert Soskin’s and Michael Bott’s revelation about Stanton Drew being a kind of amphitheatre for hunting games really struck a chord with me. It makes sense to me.

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

Litter – and that includes tea lights and other plastic ‘offerings’ of utter tat. Take your rubbish home with you and dispose of it properly!


Many thanks to Jane 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 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)

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

‘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…

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)

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