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If you’re here you probably like ancient sites and want to see them fully appreciated and preserved. The Journal is a community resource for everyone that feels that way so why not join in and add your voice or images??

We’re always looking for contributions – news, views, pictures, you name it – anything that helps raise the public profile of these places. If you’re out and about over Easter and visiting an ancient site or perhaps attending a related event (you can get some ideas from our Diary of  Prehistory and Heritage Events ) and you feel you have something worth sharing why not get in touch?

Thanks! Enjoy the break. Most of us will be away but we’ll leave someone in charge of the shop for if you’d like to get in touch, particularly if you have any news.

Twitter:         The Heritage Journal …..  @heritageaction
Facebook:     Our Page
Telephone:   07542 258107

Diana Baur, (one of the  Oswestry campaigners)  sent us a comment yesterday that reminded us of The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb….

The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys that suck their thumbs.
And ere they dream what he’s about
He takes his great sharp scissors
And cuts their thumbs clean off, – and then
You know, they never grow again.

Mamma had scarcely turn’d her back,
The thumb was in, alack! alack!
The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissorman.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.

Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;-
“Ah!” said Mamma “I knew he’d come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb.”

It seems likely that if we all suck our thumbs the scissor man WILL cut off part of Oswestry Hill Fort’s setting.  Snip snap snip!  And it will never grow back. As Diana makes clear ….


The “Jaws” of development snapping all around us! Snapping everywhere unfettered in all directions because, as Owen Paterson [who is Oswestry’s  MP and also Government’s Environment Secretary!] has again re-iterated in a second letter to me, in respect of the Old Oswestry Hillfort , and I quote: “I know just how important this issue is. I hope you will understand that neither Minister nor Government officials can intervene or comment on individual planning applications because of Ministers’ quasi-judicial role in the system”.

So what in heaven’s name actually IS his, or ARE ministers’ roles??
In respect of the Old Oswestry Hillfort we are not yet talking about a planning application, we are talking about whether or not the hillfort setting will be allowed to be desecrated in the SAMDEV process which involves satisfying Government targets on covering this land with ticky tacky 4 and 5 bedroom houses in prestigious places kick-starting the economy through the housing market and charging onwards into a housing boom bubble and bust that will mean first time buyers are even less likely to be able to afford to buy one.

We are now being invited by Shropshire Planning department to submit our views on the SAMDEV process a second time round via the Shropshire Council Website, but expressly to comment on the “soundness” of the idea of using the hillfort setting for housing development. It’s patently unsound on all fronts, but we are still waiting to hear what exactly they mean by “soundness” – it’s Alice in Wonderland talk where you will think you have answered the question, but will be hauled over the coals by the Red Queen for not so doing because you have no “understanding” of the question.

I looked up the definition of “sound” and the adjectives, of which there are many and include:

1. free from damage, injury, decay, etc
2. firm; solid; substantial: a sound basis
3. financially safe or stable: a sound investment
4. showing good judgment or reasoning; sensible; wise: sound advice
5. valid, logical, or justifiable: a sound argument
6. holding approved beliefs; ethically correct; upright; honest
7. (of sleep) deep; peaceful; unbroken
8. thorough; complete: a sound examination
9. informal ( Brit ) excellent
10. law (of a title, etc) free from defect; legally valid
11. constituting a valid and justifiable application of correct principles; orthodox: sound theology
12. logic
a. (of a deductive argument) valid
b. (of an inductive argument) according with whatever principles ensure the high probability of the truth of the conclusion given the truth of the premises
c. another word for consistent

From my point of view building on the setting of the Old Oswestry Hillfort is a completely unsound idea on all fronts.

Please, please, please click on our Events Diary to the left (or here). It lists upcoming Prehistory and Heritage Events and it’s just fantastic! (I can say that as it isn’t me who faithfully maintains it, it’s Alan and Sue!). Not on there yet, but soon, is a Seminar & Exhibition In Defence of Old Oswestry Hillfort,  a week Saturday. WELL worth a visit if you can make it.


OsSeminar .

Ironically the Events Diary is showing this event in Cardiff on the same day …

Workshop: I Love Archaeology
When:Sat, 22 February, 11:00 – 16:00
Where:National Museum Cardiff, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Workshop: The Origins Gallery at National Museum Cardiff displays the archaeological treasures of Wales.In this workshop you’ll find out more about some of the collections and contribute to a piece of collaborative art.


needs you1

If you’re here you probably like prehistoric sites and want to see them preserved. The Journal is for everyone that feels that way so why not join in? We’re always looking for contributions – news, views, pictures, you name it – anything that helps raise the public profile of these places. In addition we’re currently looking for 2 people who would like to join us on a more regular basis – ideally by producing short weekly articles on some aspect of prehistory. No pressure, just for fun – whatever subject you like whenever you like.

So you’re extremely welcome to contact us to offer one-off contributions or more regular involvement with The Journal at Next month it will be nine years old and while we haven’t run out of things to write about we’re sure there are lots of things we’ve missed that YOU could bring to everyone’s attention.

Currently we’re getting a spate of metal detectorist sockpuppetry aimed at this thread in particular, no doubt intended to  discourage recruits. We will delete them as we see them but if you do see any please disregard them. They are not representative of the vast majority of visitors here. Thanks.

It seems the above policy is being presented as “we won’t publish your comments unless you agree with us”. In one way that’s true. If you don’t agree the cultural damage caused by bad practice should be remedied by statutory regulation of the activity then no, we aren’t willing to give you a platform. Artefact hunters seem to have got it into their heads they have a right to speak in favour of not being required to behave and that they are to be negotiated with. That’s an error that can perhaps be laid at the door of PAS and their talk of “liaison” and “partnership”. Truth is PAS has no right to compromise the resource so there is no scope for negotiation, only for persuasion or compulsion. Simple really. Support control of the unacceptable actions of your colleagues and you’ll have a platform here. Support the idea of another 16 years of “persuasion” of them and you won’t”.

(If you don’t believe the above about PAS is true, ask them. Write to Dr Roger Bland and ask him: which part of the archaeological resource are you willing to see damaged in order for Archaeology to reach a negotiated settlement with Metal Detectorists?)

by Nigel Swift

Someone suggested to Rescue that their Facebook page (26 January) shouldn’t have linked to my Heritage Journal article “How to set up a portable antiquities scheme” as doing so was “professionally disrespectful” to the PAS archaeologists. That would imply archaeologists shouldn’t be criticised on archaeology forums so I was glad the moderator resisted the notion. In any case the article had been misread – it didn’t criticise PAS in isolation, it suggested most archaeologists and heritage professionals publicly supported an overall damaging metal detecting status quo and maintained an embarrassed silence about many aspects of it.

But the incident has wider relevance to the Journal. Although we’re certainly not always “right” there’s a strong case for our voice to be embraced not marginalised. After all, we truly are a random set of “ordinary people” (albeit a tad enthusiastic about Heritage) and we have no vested interests, whether academic, financial or professional. We simply say things as we see them, right or wrong, sometimes wrong – and even when wrong we alert those who need to know that something needs clarifying to the wider public.

In addition (and back to detecting) we can sometimes bring useful insights to the table. I’ve personally spent over a decade studying the interface between detectorists and archaeologists so know a thing or two about it. On the other hand many professionals feel uncomfortable about expressing themselves about it or are simply too busy to get involved. But (thanks partly to Professor David Gill having discussed our article on Looting Matters) Google currently displays 2,100 results (and growing) for the term “Legal Fibbery”. It’s a vital issue that tends not to be explained to the public by an Establishment constrained by realpolitik and now it has been highlighted and named by “ordinary people”. It’s something that clearly should be in the public arena as it’s of major significance to both stakeholders and taxpayers, and now it is.

The Oswestrians

And when we are old we can tell people we remember all this when it was fields….

[ Image Credit: Huw Davies ]


For the information of those children:
The up-to-date position is that the Town Councillors (who won’t be around when you are old) have given a bit of ground but, in the words of yesterday’s  press release from Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort …

“Although it is objecting to houses on Oldport Farm (OSW003) in their current form, the Council is not demanding they are removed, and is accepting the largest parcel of houses off Whittington Road (OSW004) unopposed. But in response to HOOOH’s objections, the Council has added a binding condition requesting that Shropshire Council follows ‘due diligence to ensure that the heritage assessment [is] compliant with NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] through an independent evaluation.”

So not exactly a message to the future which says “we did our utmost to protect the setting for you”……

And so the calendrical cycle begins again…

© Bill Watterson

Last year, we suggested 6 New Year Archaeological Resolutions that people might like to take up. In a spirit of ‘practise what you preach’, how exactly did we do here? I can only write from my own personal viewpoint on these, but here’s how I fared:

Visit New Sites

I visited several new sites this year, mainly whilst on holiday in Cornwall it has to be said, but I didn’t quite manage the one-a-month required to meet this particular resolution. Two personal favourites were the Goldherring and Mulfra settlements in West Penwith. Both totally overgrown, the imagination has to work hard to see how things used to be, amidst the ‘lumps and bumps’. If you need some inspiration for new sites to visit, don’t forget our ‘12 Days of Christmas‘ posts, which may give you some ideas.

Join an Archaeological Society

No new ones here for me, but as a member of the CBA, the Cornwall Archaeological Society and RESCUE, I think I’m covered as I renewed all three memberships again this year. I’m currently considering up one or two local societies closer to home for 2014.

Take a course

Personal fail. I started the CourseraDirty Little Secrets‘ course which is to be held again this year, but family illness prevented me from keeping up with the schedule last year and I dropped by the wayside when I got too far behind to be able to upload my submissions on time. I doubt I’ll have time for anything similar in 2014 either as other projects are vying for my time, so I’ll drop this resolution from my personal list for 2014.

Attend a Conference

Current Archaeology Live!  is a favourite on my calendar now, and I plan to attend again this year. Keep an eye on our Diary Dates articles for details of conferences etc. as we get them.

Involve the family

Whilst I didn’t attend any of the CBA events for their Festival of Archaeology, I’ve managed to drag my better half along to several community events and Open Days around the country (my kids are now far too grown up to drag them along with me!) She even met Archaeologist of the Year Phil Harding, Dr Francis Pryor and several of the Dig Ventures gang along the way too!

Contribute to the Heritage Journal

I’ve not personally written as much as I’d hoped this past year (a few posts each month), but it’s been gratifying to see some guest posts from our members and other readers scattered throughout the year, so a few of you have taken this one to heart! More please.

How did you do? Shall we all try to keep the same resolutions this year? Leave a comment if you managed all six, or have any ideas for other Resolutions.

by Nigel Swift


Brian Taylor (in The British Journal of Sociology – Amateurs, Professionals and the knowledge of archaeology) references the view that in the first half of the 20th century it was considered that the core defining characteristics that distinguish professions were:


However, Mr Taylor suggests an “alternative conceptualization” whereby amateurism is considered “a self-legitimising component of the vocabulary of professionalism itself.”

It’s quite a proposal, but very much in the spirit of the times, when the emphasis is on outreach, partnership, inclusivity, community archaeology and (on the quiet) filling the gaps left by funding cuts. But can it be valid? Can amateurs be seen as somehow closer to professionals than they used to be? Without question, yes. They are. Yet it’s also clear the above defining characteristics of professions are still valid whereas most amateurs patently lack the full range of characteristics to qualify as professionals.

So how has the trick been achieved? How have those who clearly lack the defining characteristics of archaeologists come to work closely and often effectively with archaeologists? The answer is hardly a secret. The most effective amateur archaeologists “borrow” the core defining characteristics of archaeologists by working in ways directed by or approved by professionals. There is no other way.

Which is the quarrel I have with artefact hunting and Britain’s failure to regulate it. Most amateur archaeologists borrow the defining characteristics of archaeologists whereas artefact hunters reject them. That really matters if Archaeology is seen as a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible and I challenge anyone, including the Culture Minister and the Head of PAS, to deny that metal detecting ought to be conducted in accordance with the core defining characteristics of professional archaeology.

Take just one of the defining characteristics, a code of ethics. Archaeologists (and hence most amateur archaeologists)  have one. Artefact hunters don’t, which is tantamount to them shouting from the hilltops: “we are not prepared to accept that Archaeology is a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible”. Well actually, I tell a lie, they DO have codes of practice but they are not the same as the ones that bind archaeologists and amateur archaeologists. They are camouflages – codes designed to divert the attention of landowners from the fact that those who cite them are not willing to behave like archaeologists or amateur archaeologists.

Consider this:
Number of detectorists who have adopted our suggested Ethical Detecting pledges:
Number of detecting clubs who insist on their members adhering even to the severely emasculated standards of the Official Responsible Detecting Code:
Number of detectorists and detecting clubs who say they are committed to the NCMD, FID or similar detectorists’ “Codes” none of which even require adherents to report all finds to PAS:

Next time you hear talk of heroism or what a lot of finds PAS has recorded please bear in mind those three numbers – zero, one and “all of them” and ask yourself why – and how much loss of knowledge they hint at.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


As prehistoric site enthusiasts we thought this was excellent. It’s part of EH’s extensive set of teaching resources and what struck us as particularly effective were the series of questions designed to get children to think a bit more deeply about any “bunch of old stones” they may visit.

“If you are visiting a prehistoric site, you can become a landscape detective… Often these sites weren’t just put anywhere but were carefully designed either to be seen from miles around or to have good views.


When you are being driven or are walking to the site, think about how soon you can see it… Could you see it for miles and miles or was it a surprise when you got there because it was hidden away? Did you have to walk or drive up a big hill?


Have a look at what you can see from the site… You might have to think about what wouldn’t have been there thousands of years ago (roads, walls, telegraph poles for example). Can you see a long way? Can you perhaps see other prehistoric sites?


Now, being a landscape detective, can you decide whether the site you are visiting was meant to be seen by lots of people or was the view from it more important? maybe it was meant to be a secret?”


Castlerigg Stone Circle: a bunch of old stones. But why here?

Castlerigg: a bunch of old stones. But why here?

Then they suggest the fun bit….
Make some sketches and take some photographs when you are there and draw or paint a picture of what you think the site might have looked like when it was first made… Collect between 15 and 25 stones from somewhere – perhaps your garden or a driveway or even the beach…. Think about the colour, texture, shape and size as your stones, just as they did in prehistory…. and so on.
What child could resist?

So says David Connolly of BAJR ! He says our recent article about Ed Vaizey contained a good bit of “taking out of context”. Which is strange, as we quoted Mr Vaizey’s words verbatim and provided a direct link to the account of the PAS Treasure Report launch at which he said them. We also took the trouble to put them in accurate context:

“Ed’s remark echoes the one by his predecessor David Lammy, which caused massive offence (but it’s so much worse now against the background of redundancies and vicious funding cuts)….. And no, defining some of the artefact hunters as “responsible” does not make them praiseworthy! Archaeologists are responsible. People who run conservation websites are responsible. Bus drivers are responsible. So what’s special about these detectorists? They report their Treasure Finds – fantastic! But that’s just complying with the law like the rest of us do constantly without being hailed as heroes. And don’t forget, unlike almost anyone else in Britain they get massive rewards for doing so! “

Mr Connolly also said “frickin’ Heritage Action” had “started this nonsense with a classic misleading headline”. So he’s alleging that it was not Mr Vaizey’s words but our headline that set archaeologists off – which is a tad preposterous (and very insulting to archaeologists!). What about the forthright reaction to Ed’s words by Rescue, The British Archaeological Trust, made before our article (and which directly inspired our headline!) – which absolutely radiated a belief the Minister had insulted all archaeologists and heritage professionals:

“Absolute rubbish. Heritage heroes are the people who look after our heritage – not those that seek sordid profit from it. True “heritage heroes” are museum staff, local authority HER Advisors, the thousands of volunteers at local societies & academic researchers … As well as archaeologists, conservation officers, curators and conservators.”

Frickin’ Rescue – standing up for archaeologists instead of detectorists, eh Mr Connolly?! When you wrote to the Minister slagging us off did you slag them off too? Anyway, very sorry that we as mere members of the public stood up for the Heritage Sector at a time when it is suffering such financial cuts.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



April 2015
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