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Sad news to report again, this time that the Maen Penddu standing stone in the Conwy Valley, North Wales, has been severely vandalised. Recent photos show several carvings have been made on the stone. The cross was reported last year, but the rest seems to be more recent. The damage has been reported to CADW.

Damage to Maen Penddu

Photo by Matt Jones

Damage to Maen Penddu

Photo by Matt Jones

Mike Pitts has probably rendered a service to Stonehenge by demonstrating that gatherings there going back to 1901 were not “free access” protests.  Anything in support of modern calls for unregulated and unlimited access is best examined and demolished. In any case such calls are looking progressively unrealistic and English Heritage has now confirmed they won’t back down on charging for parking (which presently costs them £60K to lay on!) and banning alcohol at solstice gatherings. Indeed they aren’t in a position to do so as they’ve been directed to expand their income from £97.8m to more than £122m by 2023 and they have a statutory duty to eliminate damage and disrespect. Some in the Free Access lobby disagree: 

SH Protest

On the other hand, here are two compelling witness statements about Summer Solstice. First, from Dennis Price of Eternal Idol who has been studying, writing about, appreciating and speculating upon Stonehenge for many years. Here’s his account of taking his children to Summer Solstice:

These should have been idyllic celebrations and for the most part they were, but they were always marred at some point by the appalling behaviour of others. I am as enthusiastic a proponent of the delights and benefits of alcohol as anyone alive, but these ideals rapidly faded whenever I encountered the snarling, incapable, vomiting, belligerent, foul-mouthed drunkards, men and women who have made their deeply unpleasant presence known at every Summer Solstice I’ve attended.
Then there’s the matter of the clean-up of the monument on the morning after, when the English Heritage employees have regularly had to deal with the results of the ruins being defaced and actively vandalized by stoned, drunken morons who have lit fires on the stones, smeared them with oil and the like. Worse still, the custodians have had to remove vomit, excrement and every conceivable variety of human effluent from within the circle, a task that no one should have to perform at Stonehenge.

Second, there’s the view of Frank Somers of Amesbury Stonehenge Druids which puts the “Our Temple” claim, the bedrock of all resistance to regulation, into neat perspective:

“Most people gathering at Stonehenge for summer solstice are not pagan at all. The vast majority of those who peddle and consume recreational drugs and who get completely drunk there have come for a free ‘party’ thrown by English Heritage, are not pagan. Druids have struggled to maintain any meaningful spiritual presence, outnumbered as we are, and unsupported by the authorities. We would love it if all of those who came, could come with peaceful hearts and open minds. The majority do. Pagans, the ones who really love Mother Nature and revere the ancestors who built Stonehenge, despair greatly at the litter and the presence of hard core drugs. It’s no longer a case of a few hippies smoking cannabis. Today, ketamine, assorted pills, ecstasy, Z’s, etc. are all being used. With so many youngsters there it really is dangerous.”

English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust, joint supporters of a short tunnel at Stonehenge, may wish to look away now.  We are reproducing below an extract from a book published last week by UNESCO – “World Heritage Today in Europe” which has a bearing on the matter. (It was published with the generous support of the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. Had it been financed in Britain it may well have said something different, so hurrah for the French!)


Case Study – Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites’

The property ‘Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites’ was inscribed on the List in 1986. Following this decision, a draft Statement of Significance was prepared, based on documentation considered by ICOMOS and the World Heritage Committee at the time of inscription. The Statement was developed by the property Steering Committees and other stakeholders, submitted to UNESCO by the government of the United Kingdom, and then agreed by the World Heritage Committee in 2008. In accordance with the requirements for Statements of Outstanding Universal Value outlined in the Operational Guidelines in 2005, a full Statement of Outstanding Universal Value was adopted by the Committee in 2013.

Attributes were first developed for Stonehenge when drafting its 2009 Management Plan. This involved a wide stakeholder group managed through the Stonehenge Advisory Forum and included a three-month public consultation period involving an exhibition, a questionnaire, a website and a polling of local residents. The attributes were reviewed during the development of the first Management Plan to cover the whole property, adopted in 2015, and it was recognised that they apply to the entire property. At each stage, great care was taken to ensure that the attributes were firmly based on the text of the agreed Statement.

The attributes are:
1. The global fame and iconic status of Stonehenge itself;
2. The physical remains of the Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial monuments and associated sites;
3. The siting of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in the landscape;
4. The design of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in relation to the skies and astronomy;
5. The siting of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in relation to each other;
6. The disposition, physical remains and settings of the key Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary, ceremonial and other monuments and sites of the period, which together form a landscape without parallel;
7. The influence of the remains of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial monuments and their landscape settings on architects, artists, historians, archaeologists and others.

The whole process helped to clarify the understanding of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value among key stakeholders. The attributes are now proving to be a useful tool in assessing potential impacts on Outstanding Universal Value, particularly in clarifying its spatial implications for development planners. They will constitute the basis of formal planning guidance for the property.


Making a case for a short tunnel will require showing that not just one but all seven of those attributes won’t be damaged whereas common sense would suggest they all will be.  Massive entrance trenches can’t be talked away. So far there has been silence on the issue, just talk about “the benefits”. Shortly the mattter will have to be addressed. Look out for fibs, foutards, re-interpretations and smokescreens.

panel

We’ve written many times in the past about situations where, whether by arrangement with the site custodians, or illegally via vandalism, ancient sites have been damaged (temporarily in most cases) in the name of ‘marketing’.

Over the past couple of weeks, a new furore has arisen in Tintagel Cornwall, over a new carving of the ‘face of Merlin’ into the cliff face below Tintagel Castle.

Tintagel Merlin1

Apparently, the sculpture is not much larger than life size and takes some effort to locate, being seen only from the base of the cliff. “So what?” you may ask? Well, English Heritage (EH) say this is

“part of ongoing re-interpretation and investment at the site. The new artwork is the first part of a project by English Heritage to re-imagine Tintagel’s history and legends across the island site. Further works will be revealed late this spring.”

The ‘further works’ planned include a large statue of Arthur, a Sword in the Stone sculpture and a scultured stone bench commemorating the legend of Tristan & Yseult. Leaving aside the artistic merit of the sculptures, the moves are being seen locally as ‘false history’, an attempt at further ‘Disneyfication’ of the village and castle site in a direct move to increase tourist footfall, maximising tourism income, and to hell with any authenticity as to historical fact.

Regardless of the local opposition, there is a much bigger issue to be resolved here. Cornish historian (and friend of the Heritage Journal) Craig Weatherhill commented:

“this is just one of 28 visual display proposals for the site, one being an 8.5ft statue of Arthur in late (not early!) medieval gear, to stand on the clifftop on The Island! The Cornwall Archaelogical Unit assess that 9 of these will have a neutral effect on archaeology and visual amenity, but that 19 have minor to moderate negative impacts. ANY negative impact on the archaeology and visual amenity of such an iconic, important and spectacular site should have been refused permission… Of the carving, the CAU says that it will have an irreversible physical impact on the natural environment. i.e. vandalism.”

With the withdrawal of government funding and the need for EH to become ‘self-sufficient’, should they be allowed to sacrifice or change the authenticity of a site in this way in the search for additional income? And if so, where does that leave our heritage, not only at Tintagel but at all the other sites up and down the country that EH are responsible for?

Further Info:

English Heritage: Merlin’s Face

Cornwall Archaeological Unit: Environmental Impact Assessment

English Heritage: Tintagel Castle

Daily Telegraph: EH accused of vandalism 18 Feb 2016

The Cornishman: Vandalism, or Art? 17 Feb 2016

Archaeodeath: Putting Merlin to Death? Tintagel, Art and the Death of Imagination 15 Feb 2016

Kernow Matters To Us: Campaign group web site

We’ve been asked “where is the video pushing for a short tunnel mentioned recently”. It’s here and it’s well worth a look. It’s  a very professional production but you may well feel it’s contents are the opposite. How about the claim “If designed well, the tunnel would bring huge benefits”?  Is it professional to say that but not to spell out the massive damage it would also cause? And is it professional to enthuse about any  tunnel at this stage when the route and exit points haven’t been decided upon? Doesn’t that signal the opposite of professionalism,  an agenda to support the Government’s declared intention whatever the heritage damage?

Maybe most telling of all is how remarkably similar this new video is to the previous one about removing the A344. The graphics, text and music are so similar the new one could easily be seen as a continuation of the earlier one. There’s a reason, we suspect. The removal of the A344 had few downsides and was almost universally welcomed. Now the construction of a short tunnel is being presented as part of the same beneficial process.

It is not. It is quite separate and involves massive damage. You may therefore suspect that the “part two” video employs a subliminal, psychological trick, something one might expect from a down market advertising agency, not from heritage champions. As “Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Friends” observed last Tuesday, it is unashamed propaganda foisted on a public evidently believed by HE to be gullible“. We can also add our own view that this claim by Historic Englend that they are working “to make sure plans for the tunnel protect and enhance the Stonehenge World Heritage Site” is actually a fib, for they know and we know a short tunnel cannot protect the World Heritage Site.  Doesn’t Britain owe itself and the world better than fibs?

A short tunnel WILL involve digging something like this inside the World Heritage Site. How come neither the Government nor the heritage triplets who support their intention have published an artists impression something like this?

A short tunnel WILL involve digging an approach trench similar to this inside the World Heritage Site. How come neither the Government nor the heritage triplets who support their intention have published an artists impression something like this? Why isn’t it depicted in their glossy video?

Alcohol is to be prohibited at Stonehenge solstice celebrations!

No-one can deny it contributes to the all-too-frequent damage and disrespect so this is an excellent, heritage-friendly move.

national celebrations - Copy (2)

We ask only one thing of EH:  please don’t negotiate or compromise by even a thimbleful. A duty to protect is a duty to protect and shouldn’t be subject to negotiation or requests to act otherwise by anyone.

From a correspondent

Whilst the particulars of the short tunnel route being prepared by Highways England remain undisclosed, a radical proposal for a combined bypass for Stonehenge and Salisbury has caused a stir. There is no lack of opinion, despite the lack of detail on exact routes for both proposals.

The scenario could be compared to two much loved relatives that urgently require heart surgery under the NHS. It is proposed, on grounds of cost, that only one relative should be treated and have a stent fitted instead of the heart bypass actually needed, the budget being in place to cover the operation and a team of surgical specialists appointed to investigate how it could be carried out. Then a friend points to a way in which both patients could benefit from a bypass operation, highlighting that the already assigned budget would easily cover the cost and both would be returned to the health and activities they enjoyed thirty years ago. In short, the clock could be turned back, benefitting the lives of not just the patients, but also their wider circle of family and friends plus casual visitors and even future generations.

The scenario could be compared to two much loved relatives that urgently require heart surgery under the NHS. It is proposed, on grounds of cost, that only one relative should be treated and have a stent fitted instead of the heart bypass actually needed, the budget being in place to cover the operation and a team of surgical specialists appointed to investigate how it could be carried out. Then a friend points to a way in which both patients could benefit from a bypass operation, highlighting that the already assigned budget would easily cover the cost and both would be returned to the health and activities they enjoyed thirty years ago. In short, the clock could be turned back, benefitting the lives of not just the patients, but also their wider circle of family and friends plus casual visitors and even future generations.

Imagine that at this point the neighbours of each of the sick relatives, along with the local M.P, take sides as to which operation should be performed on whom. Were this situation being played out in a reality TV show, media and wider public interest would be giving rise to questions. Why have the relevant authorities and now two charities issued a joint promotional film pushing for a particular operation that would not be the best outcome for a patient in their care? Why are all so focused on an operation for just one of the patients when both could benefit from a common operation? Why are stances being adopted that aren’t in the best interests of all of those in need?

The apparent wish list for tackling traffic congestion either side of Stonehenge appears to include the following: road safety and improved traffic flow, faster journey times between London and the West Country, reduction of rat-running, and the financial cost and effect on the local, regional and national economies and, last of all and not first as it ought to be, impact on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. What isn’t on this list at all is eradicating the current free view of the stones to enhance the milking of the English Heritage Trust’s cash cow, removing a strip of tarmac from National Trust land in invitation to establish their own visitor centre, saving the local M.P. from a fall-out with his party’s whips or giving David Cameron a send-off without a U-turn.

Whether the combined Stonehenge/Salisbury bypass operation is adopted as a sound idea or not, far into the future it will enter the history books as marking the point at which important questions arose. Will the answer to those questions ultimately be that this present generation were largely only interested in themselves?

We have been invited by Doug Rocks-McQueen to once again participate in the Archaeology Blogging Carnival. This year’s theme is ‘Archaelogy’s Greatest Challenges’, and so we herewith humbly submit our own contribution:

It’s no secret that in 2016 and beyond the short tunnel debate will become progressively more passionate and complex. However, there’s a fundamental truth looming over it that hasn’t been fully debated but which will have to be properly addressed. It’s that under Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention Britain has committed itself to the protection and conservation of the whole Stonehenge World Heritage Site.  “Protection” is the action of protecting, or the state of being protected and its antonyms are harm and destruction. “Conservation” is the act of preserving, guarding or protecting and it has exactly the same antonyms, harm and destruction.

You will have heard (from EH, NT et al) lots of talk about a “once in a generation chance” and enhancing, improving and restoring, and about minimising new damage and delivering a better situation for traffic, pedestrians and skylarks. But there’s a fundamental unvoiced problem. None of those aspirations, whether they’re beneficial or not, is protection or conservation and it’s an undeniable fact that no matter how or where a short tunnel is designed or positioned it WOULD involve substantial harm and destruction, which are the antonyms of protection and conservation.

Hence, it’s surely the case that if we wish to abide by the Convention we simply can’t build a short tunnel (or indeed construct surface dual carriageways). On the other hand, if we are determined to go ahead we’ll have to ditch the Convention. Or flout it. Or use fancy words to lie about what we thought it meant when we signed it. Anyone who has followed what EH and The Trust have been saying will know that process has started, with frankly partial and selective accounts being employed to win the public over.

It would be great if 2016 saw a rising tide of archaeologists, lawyers and others saying hang on a moment, have you actually read what the Convention says? The Stonehenge Alliance has already done so and the CBA and others – notably ICOMOS UK, have indicated that they are very troubled about how building a short tunnel can be reconciled with our Convention commitments. It’s likely they will need a lot more than lyrical words and videos to convince them a short tunnel is supportable.

It would be easy to justify building a short tunnel if the Convention was ambiguous. But it’s all too clear, so we anticipate that some desperate tactics and interpretations will be put forward. A compliant Attorney General and a dodgy dossier are not unknown in our recent history, so who knows? Something reminiscent of a dodgy dossier at least, seems already to exist – the scary and false claim that if a short tunnel can’t be had a surface dual carriageway may be imposed. Fortunately the Stonehenge Alliance has utterly discredited that, rather forensically!

Nevertheless the short tunnel agenda has many powerful supporters and we can anticipate all sorts of claims. In particular, look out for a re-working of the Vietnam war quotation, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”. We are confident a version of that will be voiced: “It was necessary to cause damage to the World Heritage Site in order to unify and enhance it.” Unfortunately for the short tunnel supporters the Convention doesn’t offer the option to interpret its provisions creatively merely because to do so would be financially convenient. No matter how it is dressed up a short tunnel would break the solemn promise we’ve made to the world.

Please don't let them tell the World it's not.

Please don’t let them tell the World it’s not.

A design consultant has just been appointed to develop “a preferred option” at Stonehenge. That sounds innocuous but it’s the opposite. Their remit is limited to examining which short tunnel would be best not which option would cause no damage (and who in their right mind wouldn’t say that was preferable?)

So it’s beyond dispute that to establish the term “preferred option” in respect of a limited number of options all of which will be massively damaging, is to mislead the public, to put it politely. It cannot be “preferable” to flout the World Heritage Convention, especially with the aid of cheap linguistic tricks worthy of a banana republic.

It is to be hoped that this attempt to manipulate the debate so as to confine discussions to unacceptable options not options that are best for the World Heritage Site will be seen for what it is. In particular, let ICOMOS UK and UNESCO stand fast in support of the Convention and the whole WHS and let the public understand that although they will hear the phrase “the preferred option” many thousands of times in the coming years it’s literal meaning is “the preferred unacceptable option”.

stonehenge mince

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Three years after it was written the report on the work carried out at the Bancbryn stone alignment has been released. You can see it for yourself here and a response to it here. Despite promises that only 10m of the alignment would be destroyed and that it would be treated as if it was prehistoric, this does not appear to have happened.   Around 35m of the stone alignment was finally destroyed and of this only 5m was excavated, the rest being lost with no record being made at all as a result of a mix up regarding its course. As if this was not bad enough the report’s conclusions are consistently contradicted by a catalogue of mistakes, exaggeration and the use of blatantly biased carefully selected information. Much has been made of the fact that the excavated stones were not associated with sockets, however in at least one photograph a large stone appears to sit within a cut and another one is on top of an unexcavated hollow.

The reasons for doubting the prehistoric interpretation are remarkable. Apparently the Bancbryn stone alignment can’t be prehistoric because the stones are of variable size, small, embedded into the subsoil and the alignment itself is sinuous in form. So there we have it after years of waiting we have finally been told that it can’t be prehistoric because …. well err…. it shares precisely the same characteristics as most of the scheduled stone alignments in the United Kingdom. This would be laughable if it was not so serious.

The Erme Valley stone alignment can’t be prehistoric after all it has a sinuous form and stones of variable size, many of which are small.

The Erme Valley stone alignment can’t be prehistoric after all it has a sinuous form and stones of variable size, many of which are small.

Whoops! The report failed to mention the size of the stones in the nearby Cerrig Duon stone alignment, instead implying they were between 1.5m and 3m high. (Scale 1m.)

Whoops! The report failed to mention the size of the stones in the nearby Cerrig Duon stone alignment, instead implying they were between 1.5m and 3m high. (Scale 1m.)

Perhaps this alignment was “overlooked” because it did not fit the storyline. Stones of very different sizes at the single alignment at Maen Mawr. (Scale 1m.)

Perhaps this alignment was “overlooked” because it did not fit the storyline. Stones of very different sizes at the single alignment at Maen Mawr. (Scale 1m.)

Even the classic site at Hingston Hill would have failed this particular prehistoric test. Different sized stones, many of them very small combined with a sinuous character means that this row too can’t be prehistoric!

Even the classic site at Hingston Hill would have failed this particular prehistoric test. Different sized stones, many of them very small combined with a sinuous character means that this row too can’t be prehistoric!

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