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A guest article by Heritage Action member Jamie Stone.

Several years ago with fatherhood looming on the horizon, I had the great fortune to have to move to the Peak District to be near family. It’s not that I was lacking in prehistory in Somerset where I lived, living fifteen minutes walk from a hillfort and ten mins from the second largest stone circle in the country as I did, but the Peaks is something else. The eastern moors have mostly escaped modern farming leaving a landscape of bronze age fields, with associated barrows, cairns and stone circles, whilst the white peak’s more intensively farmed and mined landscape, still has several long barrows and many round barrows, not to mention a henge or two.

Hatch-a-way cairn, 4 miles South East of buxton.

Hatch-a-way cairn, 4 miles South East of Buxton.

After a couple of years getting properly acquainted with the Peaks by myself, I started to look about online for similar minded local types to go for walks with and to bounce ideas and potential sites off and found very little unfortunately so I decided to start a group on Facebook; Peak District Prehistory. With a stated aim of a “Group to discuss prehistory in the Peaks; Sites we’ve been to, can’t find and/or organise meet ups.”, a bit of shameless promotion on a few prehistory website forums and 2 years on, we are a motley crew of just over 100 members. We natter a bit, share weird carved rocks and unusual sites we’ve encountered, delight each other with great pictures of prehistory in the Peaks and generally promote and protect the scarce and precious resource we share with the wider community.

Two weeks ago saw the latest in a series of organised bimbles or leisurely walks, sorted out via the medium of Facebook using the group. This time around was Gardom’s Edge, or more precisely the shelf between Gardom’s Edge and Birchen Edge, an area used from the Neolithic to the Iron Age and beyond, with evidence of Bronze age fields, standing stones, rock art, hut circles, an enigmatic row of pits and an equally enigmatic bronze age/neolithic horse shoe shaped enclosure. The walk took in most of that and more, with us chewing the fat over a 3 mile walk which took about 5 hours to complete including a lunchtime picnic next to a replica of the most impressive piece of rock art in the peaks.

Rock art on Gardom's Edge.

Rock art on Gardom’s Edge. Credit: Dean Thom

If you have an interest in Peak District prehistory and would like to talk about it with like-minded types, please feel free to join our Facebook group. We have plans for many more bimbles over the next few years which we would love to see you on.

They don’t get a penny in rewards or much mention in telly programmes yet they queue up all over the country to do their bit. All they seem to want is to do Archaeology right, just because it’s there. We mean of course the amateurs, the foot-soldiers of archaeology who are desperate to learn and who clamour for a role, no matter how humble in exchange for – well, absolutely nothing.

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This week there has been some good news for them. The Heritage Lottery Fund has just awarded the CBA  £500,000 to provide a further 24 Community Archaeology Training Placements, thus equipping would-be community archaeologists with the skills to work with voluntary groups and hence have a big impact on the thousands of amateurs involved in archaeology. (More details about the scheme and a video of it in action here).

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CBA Director Mike Heyworth explained how it will have a good effect and will facilitate a new initiative relating to an issue of particular current relevance – getting young people interested in Archaeology: “This week’s decision means we are now able to more than double the number of bursary placements for the last two years of the project and also to introduce a youth-focus to the project in the additional bursaries we can now offer.”

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Voluntees at Kiddeminste: "Hurrah for the givers!"  (Maybe the CBA would care to pitch that title to ITV, to balance things up a bit?!)

Volunteers at Kidderminster: “Hurrah for the givers!” (Maybe the CBA would care to pitch that title to ITV ?!)

kidd2

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Kidderminster isn’t Winchester when it comes to heritage. It can boast about the carpet industry and penny black inventor Rowland Hill and 17th Century churchman Richard Baxter and superstar Robert Plant and the biggest church in Worcestershire but the list isn’t endless. So when a building that may have been associated with the Saxon minster that gave the town its name has been located and is being investigated as a community project in the churchyard of that church (see the blog here) it’s a source of a lot more local pride than would arise in many other places. When I was there someone approached me brimming with it. It was the pride of someone who clearly felt he owned it. Which of course he does, it’s his heritage.

That’s why he took a dim view of this, holes dug all over the chuchyard the night before by someone that was stealing his heritage. (They were back 2 nights later, the chuchyard is peppered).

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I don’t want to tar all detectorists with the same brush” says the archaeologist in charge “but this opportunistic looting of sites is damaging and very frustrating.” Agreed, but on the other hand I do feel that not tarring most detectorists with exactly the same brush is unjustly whitewashing them. By which I mean this: the ONLY distinction that can be drawn between most detectorists (who don’t report all their finds) and the people that attacked this site (and didn’t report their finds) is “lack of permission”. The damage they do is the same. Same action. Same effect. Same loss of knowledge for the rest of society.  The damage inflicted on Kidderminster is identical to the damage inflicted on communities up and down the country thousands of times every week. Legally. People – especially landowners – should know.

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The people that sneaked past this notice with detectors were plain nasty….

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but please, please let’s not allow people to get the idea that such unpleasant, antisocial neanderdunces and their few hundred fellows do more damage than those thousands of perfectly legal non-reporters who get permission. That’s a damaging falsehood the public has been fed for 15 years. They do vastly less.

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More about what has just been revealed at this community dig shortly. (They have an Open Day next Saturday, all welcome). Will it be as exciting as the remarkably similar community dig currently going on at Polesworth, Warwickshire? Of course! Kidderminster has loads of heritage!

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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The current edition of The Big Issue (No 1064) contains a significant article by the new President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Sir Andrew Motion.

Big Issue

So what IS wrong with nimbyism? The Government and some developers often imply such people are misguided, selfish – unpatriotic even. Sir Andrew begs to differ. It’s about time someone did. As the Big Issue says: “What if they are the new radicals, those who are concerned enough to sit up and fight for what they believe in?” For the article Adam Forrest talks to the former poet laureate about his involvement in a campaign against new builds, and then goes into “a journey to the heart of nimbyism”.

Not demonising nimbies is perhaps of particularly importance when it comes to heritage matters. If a major development is proposed near to an ancient site, damaging it’s setting, who can be most relied upon to fight tooth and nail against it? Not always EH, sadly, now the Government has diminished it and effectively changed it’s role. Not always Councillors who may not see ancient sites as significant. Not always Planning Inspectors whose decisions are often shackled by government policy. Not those locals who are told they will benefit from a share in the profits. No, it will probably be nimbies – in the form of local history societies, amateur archaeologists and antiquarians!

Word has reached us of an exciting new project, led by Kris Lockyear Ph.D.  Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology UCL. The aim of the project is to conduct an archaeological magnetometry survey on a wide range of sites throughout Hertfordshire, including Verulamium Park in St Albans, site of the Roman city of Verulamium, sacked by Boudica in 60 CE.

An impressive list of local societies and heritage groups are currently involved in the project, including:

  • Welwyn Archaeological Society
  • North Herts Archaeological Society
  • East Herts Archaeological Society
  • St. Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society
  • Berkhamstead and District Archaeological Society
  • West Essex Archaeological Group
  • Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service
  • St. Albans Museum Service
  • St. Albans District Council
  • Hertfordshire Historical Environment Department
  • Wheathampstead Historical Society
  • Welwyn Hatfield Young Archaeologists Club
  • St. Albans Young Archaeologists Club

From what we understand, involvement in the project requires membership of a group, but there may be some ‘slack’ to accommodate members of the public who wish to learn about magnetometry. A calendar of planned surveys will be updated on the project website  as dates are confirmed. The website will also include updates of progress and other news.

Some surveying will kick off this week, and a course on Remote Sensing for Community Archaeology is being held at Verulamium Museum from 8th to 12th July. Tutors from the UK, the USA and the Netherlands will be giving the 40 participants lectures in Verulamium Museum in the mornings and practicals in the afternoons in the Park including magnetometry, resistance survey, GPR and magnetic susceptibility.

A worthwhile project that deserves support!

Also in Hertfordshire, the Norton Community Archaeology Group (NCAG) will again be digging at Norton Henge  from July 17 to August 24. We visited their open day last year, and found it to be a fascinating site. For more information about NCAG or to join the dig visit their web site or contact ncagmembers@live.co.uk

As the end of their 2012 dig season came to a close, so the Norton Community Archaeology Group  (NCAG) held an Open Day at their Stapleton’s Field dig on what was the hottest day of the year so far. This is the third season of an ongoing project design (PDF links) begun in 2010 to investigate crop marks on aerial photographs which suggested a possible henge structure. Although most participants in the dig are amateurs, the summer excavation work is directed by North Hertfordshire District Council’s Archaeology Officer, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, and advised by local archaeologist Paul Palmer.

Stapleton’s Field from the air, 1976 © G R Burleigh

I headed up the A1 to Letchworth in good time for the start of the open session and decided to take a slight detour to look at the museum in Letchworth. It is housed in an elegant Edwardian building facing Broadway Gardens, in the centre of Letchworth, beside the Library. The ground floor contains a wildlife exhibition – lots of stuffed animals and birds. The ‘Before the Garden City’ exhibition is on the first floor, sadly inaccessible for the disabled except via two flights of stairs via a small mezzanine floor. The exhibition itself is quite extensive, though some renovation work is being carried out: some display cases were empty or partly so, information boards referred to missing exhibits etc. but despite that, it gives a good flavour of the depth of archaeology in the area. NCAG have a display there too, outlining their excavations and findings.

I had heard that the museum also had a roundhouse, but when I enquired at the desk was told this is in the museum garden, only viewable on ‘open archaeology days’, but that I might be able to see it from the children’s section of the library next door. I declined this offer, and set off for the dig site.

I parked on a grass verge on Norton Road just west of the bridge over the A1, and set off around the footpath to the site. Across the field I could see a good crowd, obviously being told about the site. Was I too late?

The first tour in progress.

I found my way eventually, having taken a turn onto the wrong footpath and being stymied by barbed wire fencing frustratingly separating me from the site and causing me to walk the length of the field twice to gain access, just as the tour was ending. I would estimate between 80-100 people on that first tour, a good turn-out!

There were gazebos set up with some information boards, both on general archaeology techniques (geofizz etc) and the site dig in particular, and as I was perusing these, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews was announcing that a second tour was about to start. Again, a good 70-80 people were gathered, having missed the first tour.

We started by the south corner of the 40m square excavation, where Keith explained a brief history of the dig site and the mystery of a ‘square enclosure’ around the suspected henge. The enclosure turned out to be a Roman ditch, with lots of roof tile, and some evidence of iron smelting and manufacture in the area, although no forge was found. Keith postulated that the area was a site for manufacture, and possibly sale of iron goods, the ditch being a defensive mechanism to keep out burgulars. Any buildings may have been timber-framed structures, built on (rather than in) the chalk base. The lack of a forge could be explained if the forge were to have been built into the bank of the henge which was slightly uphill, and subsequently ploughed out and scattered, leaving no trace. This would make economic sense at the time, as building a forge was a large undertaking, and why not use what’s already there?

Keith explaining the Roman ditch

The ditch in section

We then moved uphill to the west of the excavation, where barely visible remains of a chalk ring could be made out on the ground. This was the remains of the henge, which was composed of not one, but two banks; a large outer bank some 55 metres or so in diameter, and a smaller inner bank and ditch. This has been interpreted as a possible ‘missing link’ between the earlier formative-henge monument type, and the later classic henge form. If this is the case, then this makes the site very important indeed.

The smaller bank had an entrance due East, and a central, flat chalk platform which may have been used to view the equinoxal sunrise – important dates in the neolithic farming calendar. A cremation burial was also found within this inner bank, along with a large post hole – for  a ‘totem’ pole possibly? The cremation was of an adolescent, some 8-9 years old, as evidenced by a milk tooth found within the remains.

The excavation from the west

The bank and ditches have been dated via various pottery finds of known types. The cremation mentioned above having been in what may have been a collared urn style pot, but one of much better quality than usually associated with the type.

There was some discussion of the wider landscape, the ‘Baldock Bowl’ as Keith has called it – the subject of his recent talk at the Welwyn Archaeological Society Conference“it’s like someone dumped a lump of Salisbury Plain in Hertfordshire!”

All too soon the tour of the site was over, and Keith was answering questions from the couple of dozen people who had remained. As I left, I overheard plans being discussed for next season’s excavation in 2013.

An interesting day of outreach to the local community, who were obviously (from the numbers present) very interested in the early story of their local area. Well done to all involved!

Note: Apologies to all involved for any inaccuracies in my account above, I was working from memory rather than notes.

All pictures above © Alan S. unless stated.

Most people know about the Scouts and the Guides organisations, but did you know there’s another organisation that provides activities for youths up to seventeen years old, and is available nationally? Ok, it may not be quite as local as the two aforementioned, but the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) has some 70 branches around the country which provide hands-on weekend activities for children and young adults who are interested in all facets of archaeology.

The club is run by the Council for British Archaeology. YAC’s vision is for all young people to have opportunities to be inspired and excited by archaeology, and to empower them to help shape its future. YAC was started in 1972 by Dr Kate Pretty, and celebrates its’ 40th anniversary this coming August. Its’ name back then was Young Rescue and it was the junior branch of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust. Initially it was based only in Cambridge but after publicity in The Times it was launched as a national club. That Times article, dated 4 September 1972 and headed “Uncovering an interest in Archaeology” makes interesting reading nearly 40 years on:

The first newsletter, also provisionally entitled Young Rescue, came but last week, and its attitude to the romantic approach is severe: “Archaeology is mud and water, deep trenches dug in rubble of a thousand years of buildings which threaten to collapse, snow falling on diggers in a Welsh hill fort, freezing winds in March and blazing sun in July in the middle of a gravel-pit desert, the roar and clank of a bulldozer bearing down behind you, and always the race against the threat of time and weather.” The notion that archaeology is all exciting excavation is similarly quashed: “Excavation is the last thing that an archaeologist does, because excavation is destruction: by digging a threatened site the archaeologist has destroyed the site first by taking it to pieces and looking at the bits before the spade, the bulldozer and the plough can reach it and knock it into smithereens.” The point is that a skillful excavation will reveal a great deal about a site; when it existed, and why, what sort of things went on there – farming, metal-working, stone-chipping, religious activities – and how and perhaps why the site was eventually destroyed and buried until the present day. Untrained diggers can do as much harm as the builder’s bulldozer, and the same applies to weekend treasurehunters with metal-detectors: “If you dig little holes to find coins you threaten and destroy a site just as much as if you were a huge bulldozer digging a trench. Imagine a Roman mosaic pavement with a complicated design which you can never decipher because of all the small holes which have been dug into it so that it looks like a jig-saw puzzle with a lot of pieces missing”, says Young Rescue.

So, no punches pulled there then! And the organisation is still going strong, with events the length and breadth of the country, all run by volunteers. However, the CBA, like many organisations and charities, is facing a challenging financial future. The withdrawal of its main source of public funding has had a major impact on the organisation’s finances. The CBA has previously subsidised YAC for both the YAC UK membership package and the YAC Branch network but this is no longer possible in light of the withdrawal of this public funding.

Young Archaeologists' Magazine

A plan has been put into place to ensure that YAC can become self-supporting, and additional (though reducing) funding has been obtained from English Heritage to safeguard the immediate future. But in order to survive, YAC needs ongoing funds, and so the Dig Deep for YAC Campaign was created. Sponsored events so far have included a walk around the Roman walls of York, and a walk along sections of Hadrian’s Wall.

YAC Supporters walking the walls of York

So if you have a youngster who has shown an interest in Archaeology, why not take a look and see if there’s a YAC branch near you? And if there isn’t, join up anyway and take advantage of the other benefits of membership, such as the magazine and free pass to many heritage sites around the country. If you’d just like to donate to help safeguard the club’s future, there are several ways of doing this, and they’re outlined on the club’s campaign web page. Just say Heritage Action sent you!

The Institute for Archaeologists is holding a conference session discussing different ways to engage local communities with archaeology. Papers will explore different ways to engender community involvement in the protection of archaeological assets such as encouraging well-being; generating senses of stewardship towards local heritage assets at risk of damage from unauthorised development, neglect, or crime; or engendering greater social inclusion.

May we submit a suggestion from the grass roots? The three things that are most needed for the protection of archaeological assets are:

1. Generating a sense of stewardship towards local heritage assets.
2. Generating a sense of stewardship towards local heritage assets.
3. Generating a sense of stewardship towards local heritage assets.

Update: We’d be very interested in hearing from anyone who actually attended this session, exactly what was said in this session? What was the underlying message put forward? Please let us know, ether in the comments or by email.

Following our recent article on Archaeology Groups in the South East we are pleased to have been contacted by the Bexley Archaeology Group asking us to publicise their dig later this year. See below. Other groups are also welcome to publicise their events here (please submit the details to us at info@heritageaction.org.uk.)

Bexley Archaeological Group Training Excavation 30th July – 3rd August 2012

Novice excavators from our members and outside the Group are welcome to join us at our Annual Training Excavation Week on our on-going site in Bexley, Kent. Minimum unaccompanied age is 16 (with parents consent). All excavators will have the opportunity to experience the main tasks associated with an excavation under the supervision and guidance of the Field offices from the Field Unit of Bexley Archaeological Group. Tasks carried out during this excavation will include:

Ø field walking

Ø geophys

Ø surveying

Ø excavating

Ø finds processing

Ø drawing

Ø talks

The fee for the week (1 to 5 days) will be £150 for non-members. This includes annual membership to Bexley Archaeological Group, insurance, Certificate of Attendance and admin. Application Form for Training Excavation from:

Pip Pulfer

Bexley Archaeological Group

Tel: 07961 963893

Email:pipspad@hotmail.co.uk

http://www.bag.org.uk

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