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Checking to see if there's a buried prehistoric monument down there.

Checking to see if there’s a buried prehistoric monument down there.

Dr Jim Leary has recently been awarded a grant from The Leverhulme Trust to fund a project entitled ‘Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds’, which will run until the end of 2017. In essence it means that he and a team of researchers from the University or Reading and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre will be investigasting a number of mottes to see if they conceal earlier prehistoric mounds, something that has recently been confirmed at Marlborough.

You’d have thought there are no massive prehistoric monuments left in Britain that aren’t well documented but it seems that may not be true and that a number of them may be hidden in plain sight. Using a variety of techniques including coring “the project seeks to uncover prehistoric mounds that were adapted for medieval defence or have been misidentified as later mottes – a previously unrecognized phenomenon that could re-write our understanding of both the later Neolithic and Norman periods.”

Read more about the Round Mounds Project on its blog here

Another month, and another question in the blogging carnival being run by Doug’s Archaeology. The carnival allows archaeology-related blogs to participate in answering various questions about why and how the blogs are composed, and what experiences can be gained from running an archaeology blog. Whilst we’re not strictly an ‘archaeology’ blog we’ve been invited to participate thus far. Our earlier responses can be found here, here, and here

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So, the last question of the festival has been set by Doug, as follows:

The last question is where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go? I leave it up to you to choose between reflecting on you and your blog personally or all of archaeology blogging/bloggers or both. Tell us your goals for blogging. Or if you have none why that is? Tell us the direction that you hope blogging takes in archaeology. Short and simple and I hope a good question to finish off #BlogArch with.

Ok, a short and sweet introspective answer:

There is no conscious plan for world domination! The Heritage Journal has grown organically, improving in content and visitors year on year, but we feel it has remained largely true to our original guiding principles. That is, to be a voice for the ordinary person concerned about damage to prehistory. We believe we fill a gap in the market in that respect, and have been quite successful in doing so to date.

Campaigns highlighted by us but largely orchestrated by others (Thornborough Henges and Silbury in the early days, Oswestry and Mynydd y Betws more recently) are what we envisaged early on, alongside our own crusades, and this has worked out well so far. Of course, we always welcome more articles from grass-roots contributors on topics within our remit, and within the current UK climate of budget cuts and more budget cuts to (mainly) line the pockets of the rich at the expense of our heritage, we shall continue to encourage and facilitate locally based campaigns to combat those threats where we feel we can have some measure of influence.

That is all. It’s been a pleasure taking part in the carnival Doug, and thanks for inviting us to participate. To read other blogs participating in the carnival, search Twitter for the hashtag #blogarch, or see Doug’s web site.

Another month, and another question in the blogging carnival being run by Doug’s Archaeology. The carnival allows arcaheology-related blogs to participate in answering various questions about why and how the blogs are composed, and what experiences can be gained from running an archaeology blog. Whilst we’re not strictly an ‘archaeology’ blog we’ve been invited to participate thus far. 

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So, this month’s question is: “What are your best (or if you want, your worst) post(s) and why? Compare and contrast your different bests/worsts.” Looking at the carnival posts so far this month, many participants seem to have gone for the ‘highest/lowest hits’ approach, and that’s one we can certainly relate to here. As previously stated, our hit rate is fairly constant, with a slow but steady increase over the months and years. The Heritage Journal, in it’s present incarnation has been running since 2009, but has been running in various forms since March 2005. In that time, we’ve posted an article pretty much every day, with a few exceptions – weekends tend to be quiet in terms of our readership so we miss an occasional Saturday. That’s a lot of articles to pick a best/worst from, we have published over 1650 posts so far! That adds up to over 400k hits since 2009, as measured by WordPress – I’m not sure if that includes RSS readers and other aggregators/republishers, which may swell the numbers still further.

If we were to look at statistics alone, then some of those early posts (and the first few dozen seem to have disappeared without trace from WordPress, so I can’t say what the first story was about) would win the ‘Worst’ title hands down – our readership was minimal, and getting even a dozen or so hits was seen as something of a victory. On the other hand, some of our most recent posts have almost gone ‘viral’, one story last December racking up over 4500 direct hits on the day of publications, and nearly doubling that figure in total hits since. And those figures don’t include those readers who head straight for our main page, rather than the story-specific links that we broadcast on our social media channels.

StatsSpike

But enough of stats. Let’s take a brief look at why our figures have increased over the years, without looking at specific stories, and also what might cause them to dip.

Audience

Firstly, many of our early posts were very focussed on an audience that was quite different from our current readership. We were aiming primarily at antiquarian enthusiasts like ourselves, people who like to get out and about in amongst the stones, lumps and bumps that form our prehistoric heritage. At the same time, we were (possibly naively) hoping to attract ordinary members of the public, hoping to encourage them to maybe take note of what excited us about these places. However, over the years, that approach has changed. We still run articles that would hopefully be of interest to newcomers to our hobby, highlighting specific sites or site types. We now concern ourselves much more with planning matters (windfarms, housing and road developments), threats to the archaeological resource – whether that be from the aforementioned developments or from unenlightened detectorists – and reporting on community archaeology project successes.

As a consequence of this shift in focus, our readership now includes a lot more ‘professionals’; archaeologists, students, and decision makers. This was shown by one of our more popular posts looking at the work that volunteers do at digs. This morphed into a discussion about pay rates and amateurs versus professionals, with comments from all sides of the argument.

Marketing Tactics

Another factor in the popularity of a post is a more judicious use of marketing tactics, with regard to article titles. In this regard, we can recommend a short (free) report, entitled ‘Headline Hacks‘ which is full of suggestions and templates for titles that could improve your traffic. Using some of the suggestions in the report, it’s been our experience that any title that alludes to a list of some kind, or includes the words ‘how to…’ will garner more than the average number of hits. Likewise, any title that could be considered ‘contentious’ (such as our ‘Ed Vaizey insults every archaeologist and heritage professional!‘ story which gave the high numbers mentioned above) or is unexpected improves our hit rate. Most of our ‘dips’ can be related to either straying from our main focus, or forgetting to utilise the recommendations in the report.

Any discussion of marketing tactics wouldn’t be complete without a mention of social media. There’s a fine balance between announcing a new post, and spam. We use Twitter and Facebook, but to be honest, interaction with our readers on both leaves a lot to be desired, and is something we’ll be looking at during this coming year.

Content

Finally, content. Anything that references Stonehenge, or Time Team, even by association (barely a day goes by without at least a couple of hits on our ‘Inside the mind of…’ stories on Raksha Dave from 2012 – or Carenza Lewis from 2013) is guaranteed to be an ‘above average’ article in terms of those pesky hit rates. Great content, that an audience can connect to, is what draws readers in. If you write it, they will come.

And for us, at the end of the day, despite all this talk of numbers and hit rates, it’s only about the content and raising awareness of sites under threat. And those high hit rates can only help spread the word, right?

See also our earlier responses in the carnival:

To read other blogs participating in the carnival, search Twitter for the hashtag #blogarch.

Doug Rocks-Macqueen’s Blogging Carnival continues, and this month’s question concerns the Good, Bad and Ugly aspects of Archaeological Blogging.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: most of us here are not actually archaeologists, just ordinary people with a strong interest in the pre-Roman heritage of Britain. Why do we do it? See our response to last month’s question.  So, what about this month’s question(s)?

The Good

From our perspective, the Heritage Journal gives our team an opportunity to comment on topical items. We have the freedom to say what others may not – there are no career implications for us. It’s an outlet to rail against some of the injustices we perceive to be failing our heritage. But it’s also a chance to build relationships, discuss common concerns with like-minded people (that’s one of the main reasons we set up Heritage Action in the first place), and more importantly, to learn. Learn more about why others think the way they do – and sometimes why we think the way we do!

The Bad

I think Kelly M’s carnival entry for this month sums up many of the main downsides, but for me, the following are particularly stressful:

  • Time – Speaking personally, I’m often teeming with ideas for blog posts – I have a Trello board full of potential blog posts. What I don’t have is the time to see them through. We are a small team here at the Journal, and several of us hold down full time jobs away from the blog – my own commute (50% walking, 50% train) is too noisy/short to be able to get anything worthwhile done. We could always do with more people writing posts, but where to find them? Then there’s the research neccessary to make sure what we’re writing isn’t total tosh (what Kelly calls the Impostor Syndrome). More time needed there too!

Imposter Syndrome – I’m probably one of the few bloggers taking part in the Blogging Archaeology blog carnival who isn’t an archaeologist so occasionally I feel like I’m venturing into unfamiliar territory and that I have no business writing about a subject that I’m not really qualified to comment on.

  • Writer’s Block – the actual process of writing. Having an idea is all well and good, but turning that idea into an article that makes sense and is something people will want to read is an art in itself. We try to publish one article a day, but occasionally skip a day if the well is dry.
  • Reader worry – Are people actually reading the stuff we produce? What can we do to increase our reach? How much will improving the quality of our content increase the time pressures? And to a lesser extent, how well are we doing compared to other sites? Hit statistics are one of those ephemeral things that no-one really trusts or talks about.

And the Ugly

No contest on this one. It’s a hole that to an extent we’ve dug for ourselves (pun intended) with our stance on the erosion of the archaeological resource by metal detectorists. In a word, Thugwits. In two words, Thugwits and Trolls. Suffice to say that in the past, due to personal details of our members’ addresses and phone numbers having been posted on detectorist’s forums, our members have been subjected to verbal abuse and physical threats, to the extent that the police have had to become involved on more than one occasion.

The carnival topic this month could also be used to describe the feedback we receive from our reader base and social networks:

The Good – agreeing with what we say, or providing a contrary viewpoint in a logical and civilised discussion.
The Bad – not responding to requests for feedback or assistance at all.
The Ugly – the aforementioned Trolls and Thugwits.

To read other blogs participating in the carnival, search Twitter for the hashtag #blogarch.

Here is our contribution to Doug Rocks-Macqueen’s blogging carnival – Blogging Archaeology.

The carnival is aimed at Archaeology bloggers (is that us?) and starts with two questions, part of which we’ve covered before in a post which outlines our history.

Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group – the group, start a blog? 

As a group of disparate and geographically separated individuals with an interest in Britain’s prehistoric places of interest – “Ordinary people caring for Extraordinary places” – we wanted a united voice that could reach out to other ordinary people – members of the general public – and make them aware of the heritage wonders to be found hiding in the fields, moors and woods of Britain, in the vain hope of providing such wonderful places a modicum of protection from the vagaries and self-interests of the planners, developers and others. It seemed to us that the more people were aware of what we have to lose, the more they would be prepared to defend it when threatened.

As our audience grew, it became clear that the ‘ordinary people’ we had hoped for weren’t actually our primary readers. Along the way we have picked up many readers from academia and professional archaeology outfits, heritage organisations and more. As time has gone on, with over ten thousand hits per month, five thousand Twitter followers and hundreds more subscribers to the blog, our viewpoint has widened to include some of the more professional and political aspects of the archaeology world, although remaining within our original prehistoric Britain field of interest.

Why are you still blogging?

It’s our humble opinion that the audience we now have includes some of the top ‘movers and shakers’ – people who are in a position to make a REAL difference to the UK’s protection of its heritage. If we can persuade them of the need for change, by highlighting sites under threat, then there’s a chance that things eventually WILL change.

It’s that chance, however small, that convinces us that what we’re doing is the right thing to do. So far, no-one has demonstrated that what we say and do is wrong or harming our heritage (e.g. the Artefact Erosion Counter, for which no-one has yet suggested more accurate figures). Until they can, we’ll continue the fight to save our extraordinary places. 

To read other blogs participating in the carnival, search Twitter for the hashtag #blogarch.

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owl.

One of hundreds of paintings by Heritage Action Founder Member Jane Tomlinson who will be holding another exhibition of her work this weekend at her home in Eynsham near Oxford and at other venues in the village.

Details here  and more on her website. You can also follow Jane on Twitter.  (The above painting is now sold but if you like owls or ancient sites she has  lots of both and much else.)

Time Time is currently recording their 20th series. There is no doubt that the program has been a phenomenal success. And yet it has its detractors, many saying that “proper archaeology can’t be done in 3 days”. But it remains a simple fact that Time Team has probably published more (significant) dig results in the last few years than any other archaeological unit in the country. That’s one tangible benefit, but not the end of the story…

As many of our readers will know, Mick Aston has left the show. Mick was the Lead Archaeologist on the digs, the Project Leader. In the latest series Mick has been ‘replaced’ by Francis Pryor, another Time Team regular. Francis has decided to blog about his experiences on the show, and his blog makes for very interesting reading, giving an insight into the show and the archaeological philosophies behind it. A recent post, for instance, pointed out that publication of the dig results in many cases is just the beginning:

The programme we’ve just finished was centred on an Iron Age hillfort. Very little was known about it. It was also very large and elaborate, but somehow had never been investigated, not even by those nosey local vicars of Victorian times. So the first thing we did was call in our friends from geofizz. It struck me, as I watched John Gator’s team stride up and down their carefully surveyed gridlines, come rain or shine, that in actual fact Time Team is a geophysics show. Because by far and away our biggest legacy to the group of keen local volunteers, who’d invited us over to work on their prize local site, wasn’t the few trenches we were able to open in our three days with them. No, our biggest gift to them was the detailed map of thousands of features still lying buried beneath the soil. That map was worth more than its weight in gold to the group who’d called us in. It would fuel research for decades to come. That research would also help to bind the local community together during the years of economic down-turn that are now staring us all in the face.

Those last two sentences really are pure gold. The potential for a future, ongoing research project, ‘binding’ the local community, arguably at a time when it’s most needed.

Now that’s a real tangible benefit!

Links:

Mike Pitts blog: Bluehenge is an oval not a circle…

BluehengeHere’s an interesting thing that raises all sorts of questions about the Stonehenge Riverside Project’s discovery of a stone circle by the river Avon in 2009. Henry Rothwell told me about his attempt to put digital megaliths in excavated empty pits of the ring – and thereby he and Adam Stanford realised they seem to be on an oval, not a circle. Which, as he says, echoes the layout of the bluestone oval at Stonehenge – or, perhaps more significant… Read More

via Mike Pitts – Digging Deeper

Avebury – Graphic Novel: A short novel about the mysterious village of Avebury by Tom Manning.

Avebury, south-east quadrant. Image credit and © Littlestone

This is a university project that was given out in order to induct us into the second year of the Illustration course. The theme of the project was that it should be based in the strange village of Avebury, north of Stonehenge, UK. Avebury is a very mysterious and ‘weird’ place filled with standing stones, deep trenches, rampaging druids and man made hills, theres no knowing what you might find there. WIth this in my mind I planned to introduce Avebury as an isolated, desolate area of wilderness, not unlike ‘the Zone’ in the 1979 Russian film ‘STALKER’.
 
Tom Manning.
Scotland: ‘Visit Scotland’ for its Unspoilt Wilderness?
 

Not so, according to Whitespider’s blog, far from it… they are trying to portray Scotland as this idyllic scenic relaxed getaway, while we all know the Scottish Government are busy letting business rape the landscape and deny people access to land

It is a moot point of course, are the Scottish parliament allowing too much development in the way of renewable energy to despoil the Scottish landscape that is rated so highly in their advertising, or do we need these wind farms and business developments such as Donald Trump’s golf course, that are spreading so rapidly over the land of Scotland.

Wind farms, you either love them or hate them, they  provide ‘natural energy’ that will reduce our dependence on oil, but they  visually intrude on our most cherished landscapes and sometimes of course they also threaten buried archaeology and scheduled ancient monuments. The uplands of Wales and Scotland are dotted with these great white giants, sails slowly turning in the wind. There is constant news though that flows through; a gathering unrest at the willy-nilly development of these wind farms. The John Muir Trust talks of the loss of ‘wild land’, the sea eagle casualities and it also points out the Scottish parliament directive….

Scottish Planning Policy (2010) states: “The most sensitive landscapes may have little or no capacity to accept new development. Areas of wild land character in some of Scotland’s remoter upland, mountain and coastal areas are very sensitive to any form of development or intrusive human activity and planning authorities should safeguard the character of these areas in the development plan”

And just another two examples:

1) Recently a hydro-electric scheme  has been proposed in the remote valley of Gleann Cailliche, site of the  Tigh na Cailleach. Information about the threat can be found here.

2) Wind farm application – http://www.gallowaygazette.co.uk/news/l … _1_1507910

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