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We wrote a piece a few months ago about the heavy-handed management and ‘brandalism’ occurring in the name of ‘visitor engagement’ at Tintagel in Cornwall. Now, following recent archaeological excavations at the site, the BBC web site is proclaiming ‘The royal residence of 6th Century rulers is believed to have been discovered at the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.’
So, a known cliff castle site has uncovered evidence that it was used as a castle. Oh, and a medieval storyteller used the location as the setting for a story about the birth of a mythical figure. Knock me sideways! Is there nothing English Heritage/Historic England (which name do we use these days?) won’t do to increase the cash flow at what is undoubtedly already one of Cornwall’s major cultural attractions? At what cost to the integrity of the site?
Thankfully, we’re not the only people thinking along those lines. Dr Tehmina Goskar, a consultant curator and heritage interpreter with over 16 years experience (we featured her partner Thomas in an Inside the Mind article a few years ago) visited the Tintagel area earlier this year. Her critique of the experience makes for some interesting reading and raises some very pertinent points.
The key issues … are apposite not just to the situation at Tintagel but more widely concern methods of interpretation of Cornish history, medieval history, and the ways in which sites with multiple protective designations are treated by heritage agencies.
It’s a long piece, but for those of the TL;DR generation, there is a useful 10-point summary of the main points included at the start. We heartily recommend that anyone with any interest in site interpretation, Cornwall or tourism in general read the piece, and take home some of the lessons learned.
The arrival of the Welsh online resource for scheduled ancient monuments means that we can now see what is scheduled and what is not in England, Scotland and Wales. The new Cadw website shows us which parts of Wales are scheduled and provides some information together with reasons for the decision. Access to the various monuments is via an easy to use zoomable map and within a couple of clicks the information is available.
Compared to the Scottish and English sites the amount of information is very limited and a love of the copy and paste facility has unfortunate consequences.
Most worrying, however, is the phrase used to introduce each monument. In almost every instance the text starts “The monument consists of…”. This is a potentially dangerous choice of words as it implies that any archaeological features not mentioned in the text are not included within the scheduling. Elsewhere in Britain the term “includes” is used and therefore ensures protection of any overlooked elements. This may seem pedantic but the effect maybe to seriously undermine the purpose of the legislation designed to protect our archaeology.
A second point of concern is the uncertain tone expressed in the documentation. Caveats abound in the descriptive text with for example the words probable and probably liberally scattered around. Whilst we all accept that uncertainty comes with the archaeological territory, these are primarily legal documents written to ensure the protection and management of important archaeological sites. In this context it is surely unhelpful to emphasise the uncertainties. After all a landowner reading that a pile of stones of stone on their land is only probably a Bronze Age cairn might think that it would probably be OK to remove it or at the very least take less care of it. Indeed the Schedule of Ancient Monuments should only include those sites considered to be of national importance, so why the constant insistence on emphasising the uncertainty?
Compared to the Scottish and English contributions this web resource does not compare favourably. It feels like a rushed job designed to meet a target and the large numbers of typos betray a lack of attention to detail. But please do not take our word for it. Have a look for yourselves:
This year’s Day of Archaeology will take place next week, on 29th July, and judging by the comments on their sign-up page will include many new participants this year!
For those that aren’t aware, the Day of Archaeology project aims to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world. The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video on the website.
The project is run by a team of volunteers who are all professional archaeologists, and taking part in the project is completely free. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement!
The project has been running since 2011, and last year we documented some of our thoughts on the year’s events. It will be interesting to see if anything has changed for this year’s coverage.
Volunteers team up with English Heritage on hillfort maintenance
Local love for a Shropshire heritage site is being put to good use through a progressive new volunteering initiative.
Earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, residents of Oswestry on the Shropshire/Wales border congregated on Old Oswestry hillfort in a symbolic hug of protection. Now they are turning their affection into hands-on support with the monument’s maintenance under the supervision of its national guardians, English Heritage.
Members of the HOOOH Community Group, which is promoting local engagement in Old Oswestry’s future, are recruiting volunteers to help English Heritage with landscape management and monitoring. Tasks will range from scrub clearance and pond maintenance, to taking fixed-point photos and supporting environmental initiatives to aid the hillfort’s preservation and upkeep.
English Heritage is also keen to work with other local organisations including colleges with expertise and interest in undertaking potential biodiversity and animal management initiatives on the fort.
The scheme is one of just a few in England involving local volunteers in landscape maintenance combined with environmental and wildlife initiatives at an English Heritage site. It is hoped that the success of the partnering at Old Oswestry will pave the way to more volunteering of this type, especially at unstaffed and more remote properties.
English Heritage is the charitable trust which cares for over 400 historic monuments, buildings and sites across the country – it became separate from Historic England, the government service championing and offering advice on heritage, in 2015. As part of its mission as a charity, English Heritage is committed to including the wider community in its work and expanding opportunities for volunteers. Currently, around 2,000 people are involved with volunteering at some 50 of its 400 sites.
HOOOH Community Group member, Neil Phillips, and heritage adviser, Tim Malim, recently met with English Heritage representatives to discuss the scope of volunteer involvement.
English Heritage has an established management plan in place for the hillfort, though recent wet summers have impacted on control of undergrowth, particularly around the ‘ponds’ or pits on the western side. New gates installed in 2015 have improved access for the landscape contractor. An additional log bench is due to be installed this year by the ‘floating’ path at the western entrance.
During a tour of the hillfort, plans were discussed for clearing overgrown areas, especially bracken, with minimal disturbance to wildlife. This would include an annual cutback of willow and woody growth in the winter, and control of bracken in the summer.
A newt and ecology survey was undertaken earlier this year to help assess what additional tasks can be tackled, and when, alongside regular grounds maintenance during the next 12 months. English Heritage will be updating its landscape maintenance plan to offer a range of opportunities for volunteers, including a programme of pond clearance this autumn.
Tim Malim said: “Managing the earthworks is a complex mission, with the need to balance several conflicting interests. Uncontrolled vegetation is a threat to the monument, and one of the best methods for managing this is through grazing the ramparts. But access to water and steep slopes make this difficult without unsightly fencing being introduced.
“Another balance has to be achieved between wildlife and the historic monument. There is a need to control the rabbit population and cut down scrub undergrowth and bracken, while maintaining habitats for newts and linnets at critical times in the year.”
English Heritage West is responsible for over 135 scheduled and listed sites across a substantial area stretching from the Scilly Isles to Cheshire. The Charity is keen to involve local groups and volunteers as “outreach caretakers” to undertake maintenance tasks and site monitoring.
As a first task, HOOOH volunteers have installed ‘No Bikes’ signs to deter bikers from scrambling over the 3000-year-old scheduled earthwork and causing severe erosion scars. Help is also being sought with a fixed-point photography project to document the impact of on-going maintenance work.
Before leaving, the English Heritage team visited the Artists Hugging the Hillfort exhibition at the Willow Gallery in Oswestry. With over 60 art pieces, including work by local school children, they were impressed by the local pride and strength of feeling shown for Old Oswestry.
Volunteer Neil Phillips said: “As one of many local people that have been inspired by Old Oswestry since childhood, this is a constructive and rewarding way to be more closely involved in its conservation. The HOOOH Community Group is proud to contribute through the volunteers’ initiative, following the example of the town’s archaeology and history groups, as well as the hillfort landscape improvement project, which have long championed the hillfort.”
Anyone who would like to volunteer should contact Mr Phillips in the first instance on 07751 160576.
It’s always fascinating to see new entrants to the blogosphere, particularly those which focus upon heritage matters in geographical areas which interest me personally. The CornishBirdBlog appears to have been started earlier this year, and the About page tells us a little of the impetus behind the site:
After visiting 50 countries in 9 years I came home and realised that some of the best sunsets are found right on my doorstep. I want to share my walks around Cornwall and my thoughts with you. (And a little bit of local history too, the fun stuff I promise!) I should just add that I am not a professional historian, all the research is my own and I have formed my own opinions and stories from it – nothing should be taken as 100% fact.
In the few months since starting, there have been many interesting stories published on the site, from tales of shipwrecks, local folklore, treasure (the latest story tells of the Rillaton gold cup), lost Cornish kings, Roman roads and other ancient trackways, Cornish crosses, standing stones and other ancient sites, and some interesting historical Cornish characters. Yes, some of the stories are well known, but others are more obscure, and deserve a wider audience.
So if you’re interested in Cornwall’s history and heritage, why not pay the Cornish Bird Blog a visit, take a look around the archives, and leave a comment or two. Don’t forget to say we sent you!
Co-ordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, the Festival offers hundreds of events nationwide, organised by museums, heritage organisations, national and country parks, universities, local societies, and community archaeologists.
Now obviously we can’t listeverything that’s of interest to our readers here, but the random selection below gives a flavour of the range of prehistoric events (many aimed at families) available across the country – other time periods are available. If you’re looking for a great day out you could do much worse than search the list on the festival web site to see what’s happening in your area.
- Southampton Archeovillage Activities Day (Hampshire)
- Boden Fogou Open Day (Cornwall)
- Avebury Walk and Talk (Wiltshire)
- Marden Henge Open Days (Wiltshire)
- Sheffield’s Prehistoric Past (Sheffield)
- Archaeology summer school- what is archaeology? (Tyne and Wear)
- The archaeology of osidian and flint (Norfolk)
- Guided walk of Breedon Hill (Leicestershire)
- Archaeology without a trowel (Berkshire)
- Before the Romans showed up at Silchester : Life and landscape at the Iron Age Oppidum (Berkshire)
- Flint workshop at The Hive (Warwickshire)
- Scarborough Museums Trust Festival of Archaeology (N Yorkshire)
- In their footsteps: Guided tour of Prehistoric Penwith (Cornwall)
- Buried treasures: Megalithic monuments, Penzance (Cornwall)
- Iron Age roundhouse open day (Nottinghamshire)
- Bay Archaeology Festival: Rediscovering the Bay’s Old Ways, Morecambe (Cumbria)
- Hopesay Iron Age hillfort – the archaeological heritage of the south Shropshire hills (Shropshire)
Many of the events in the festival will incur a charge and/or require prior booking, but many are also free, so please check before setting out for an event.
Enjoy the Festival!!
On a spur on the western slopes of Tair Carn Isaf is a small cairn (SN 68063 16834) composed of “fresh” looking rubble. Examination of the surrounding heather indicates that it once extended a bit further, but compared to its neighbours it is rather inconspicuous and is probably overlooked by most visitors to the area. The neighbouring cairns are much larger and more prominently positioned on the nearby higher ground. What this cairn lacks in size is more than made up by its very special setting.
A very precise visual link to a neighbouring cairn together with another to a sea triangle are particularly noteworthy whilst the spectacular views of the Gower, Lundy, Caldey, St. Govan’s Head and Preseli further enhance the atmosphere and contribute to the feeling that views were important to the people who built this cairn.
The sea view and more distant views will be considered in the future. This time, the very precise visual links between this cairn and another, Tair Carn Uchaf III (SN 69249 17378) are presented. For those who are sceptical about the importance or even the existence of visual links in Neolithic/Bronze Age studies, this example may help overcome these doubts. This cairn was carefully positioned to benefit from a multitude of visual treats at the limit of visibility and it is hard to believe that this could not have been deliberate. The very particular view of Tair Carn Uchaf III and the manner in which it alters dramatically as you move around the cairn are similar to those encountered at stone alignments and further emphasises the importance of special, particular and evolving visual links. Logic tells us that given the care taken to create these treats that these must have played some part in the beliefs of these people. The photographs below attempt to illustrate the phenomenon, but sadly cannot replace the on-site experience.
The precision and character of the visual link between the two cairns was identified by Simon Charlesworth who generously shared his discovery with me taking the time to show me what he had found. I am very grateful for his help and trust I have not misrepresented his ideas.
Another Bank Holiday weekend, and another Pathways to the Past celebration with CASPN. And so it was that we set out from London at an ungodly hour for the drive to West Penwith. A few hours later, and we hit the infamous roadworks on the A30, the traffic giving every indication that the road into Cornwall was actually full and that no more visitors could be accommodated. But thankfully, after an hour or so’s delay, we were on the move again, and arrived at our destination just outside Penzance.
Sadly, we were too late for the first walk of the day, and so had some time to get unpacked and gather some provisions for the next few days before heading out for the afternoon walk, entitled ‘Round and about Little Lookout Tor’. The meeting point at Bosiliack was already quite busy when I arrived, with a good crowd already gathered. After renewing my FOCAS membership and getting reacquainted with old friends, around 45 people set off up the track to Greenburrow engine house, led by our guide for the day, David Giddings.
The industrial archaeology and traces of the connection between Greenburrow and the wider ‘Ding Dong’ mining area were discussed briefly, then we were off once again. The next stop was a kerbed cairn near to the Boskednan Nine Maidens stone circle, the first stop on a suggested processional route towards Carn Galver.
We continued on to the stone circle, where a quantity of material on the ground caused some confusion. Consensus was reached that it was probably dog hair, from someone grooming their pet – there was a lot of hair there. A brief explanatory note from David about the circle, it’s setting and known history then we moved on, having the much truncated outlier menhir and denuded barrows and cairns pointed out – more evidence of an important track/processional way? – before reaching the larger cairn which has been much cleared by the CASPN team. It now looks quite open, and the quartz stone which I’d previously visited last year takes pride of place.
We could now see Little Galver, our next destination and David set off across the moor, leaving the main path which we’d been following until now behind us. A parish boundary stone was pointed out as we passed a field boundary, with ‘Z’ for Zennor on one side and ‘G’ for Gulval on the other.
We then spent some time at Little Galver as there were two major points of interest here. A ‘propped stone’, which many geologists agree must have been man-made, with a small stone wedged underneath two very much larger stones, and a lookout point created by two stones leaning to make a triangle, through which the highest point of nearby Carn Galver could be seen by an observer kneeling down. Many people took turns to look through the gap and discussed the possible uses and meanings of such a feature. I’ll have to return here at some future point for a proper look around.
It was then time to descend off the moor, into the Bosporthennis valley, criss-crossed with many post medieval and Victorian field boundaries. As we descended, David pointed out that many of the boulders around us were actually the remains of a Bronze Age field system which had survived the reclamation of the moors evidenced before us. Here also was a ‘proto-courtyard house’, an early example of a possible roundhouse with a courtyard tacked on.
Again, locations of cairns, barrows, roundhouses and courtyard dwellings were pointed out, in one case the cairn having been intersected by a field boundary and outbuilding, but still visible for all that!
Our next target was the enigmatic ‘Beehive Hut’, a strange structure with corbeling and a small adjacent room, all built into a later field boundary. Was this the beginning construction of a fogou, or something else? Comparison was made with the side chamber at Carn Euny being of similar construction.
The clock was against us at this point, and it was time to make our way back to the meeting point, passing by another courtyard house (with a ruined later medieval outbuilding in it’s centre) before ascending onto the moor once more to retrace our steps, where a different approach view of the Nine Maidens was seen, the three large (recently re-erected) stones standing out, highlighted against the horizon.
All in all, a very enjoyable (if tiring after my long drive) afternoon, which opened my eyes further as to just how much heritage is all around us in this area. David is a knowledgable and entertaining guide and I’d recommend attending one of his walks if you get the chance!
Some four years ago now, we asked “What next for London Stone?” It appears that at long last that question will been answered, as from this Friday 13th London Stone will be on display in its new temporary home at the Museum of London whilst redevelopment of the site at 111 Cannon Street goes ahead.
The stone will be displayed in the Museum of London’s War, Plague & Fire gallery, and will remain at the museum while work is carried out to rebuild its previous home on Cannon Street.
The stone’s origins are bathed in myth, and it is said to hold the fate of London in its hands should it ever be removed or destroyed. Let’s wait and see…
It seems to come around so quickly, but next month will see the 10th annual Pathways to the Past event, a weekend of walks & talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall, organised by CASPN. And by pure chance(!), I’ve managed to book my next holiday to the area to coincide with the event once again.
This is what the weekend will involve:
Saturday May 28th
- Vounder Gogglas: an ancient traders’ track
- A guided walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis following part of a long-distance trading route from Sancreed Beacon to Caer Bran and Chapel Euny wells.
- Round and about the Little Lookout Tor
- An unusual guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the Nine Maidens circle and cairns, Little Galva view point and propped stone, and Bosporthennis beehive hut.
- The power of place: reconstructing Cornwall’s prehistoric environment
- An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington based on findings from environmental archaeology about the placing of sites in the landscape.
Sunday May 29th
- Mining in Cornwall
- An illustrated talk by Adam Sharpe.
- In the footsteps of giants
- A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda around Chûn Downs.
- The geomantic network in West Penwith
To round off the weekend, Palden Jenkins shares his ideas about why the prehistoric sites are located where they are.
Whilst I’m unlikely to be able to attend all the events personally, I’ll certainly try to get along to one or two of them, and will report back later.
Fuller details of each event, including timings, location and cost can be found on the CASPN Events page.