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Our next Antiquarist is Thelma, also known for one of her previous canine companions, “Moss”. Thelma was an early supporter of both Heritage Action and the Journal, and was involved in the early discussions before their formation.

Here are her answers to our questions:

* What is/was your day job?

Retired

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

Many, many years ago when I lived in Calne near to Avebury and did an Archaeological A level course.

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

Academic to start with and then a spiritual interest and a need to understand why it became spiritual to Pagan groups.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

Iron Age, though the Neolithic/Bronze Age is also important.

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

Prehistoric Avebury by Aubrey Burl, though Cope’s TMA book encouraged the interest later.

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

No, my interests have always been near to where I live, or holiday places.

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

Pentre Ifan for its beauty.  I love the Pembrokeshire landscape and find the Presilis a good starting point for contemplation of prehistory.

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

I had great difficulty, still do, with the dating methods of the three prehistoric phases and slotting them in.  I was married to an archaeologist lecturer, so books were always to hand.

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I am constantly astonished about the similarity of Neolithic long barrows all over the world.  The use of stone and movement of stone as a primary material.   Take most theories with a degree of scepticism, till the next one comes along.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

Lack of good discussion about subject material. Having said that I did join Standing with Stones but found the chat too long and the call on time to listen to lectures not being able to fit in my day.


Many thanks to Thelma for sharing her megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above. To see other articles in this series, simply enter ‘Antiquarists’ in the search box on the left (or click the handy supplied link)

It’s no secret that here at Heritage Action, we are no fans of the vast majority of metal detectorists. Whilst there may be a legitimate place for such instruments (sorting through spoil heaps on a dig, used as legitimate geofizz tools for analysis with no digging), it’s our avowed belief that on balance their use does more harm than good, and we make no apologies for our stance on the issue. 

Indeed, this stance is hardened when we hear the same propaganda being espoused by members of metal detecting clubs, and so we proudly present: the top 5 lies detectorists like to tell:

5. “I’m only in it for the history”

Headlines make history. Large payouts for treasure finds make headlines. Of course they’re only in it for the history, just not in the way they want us to think.

4. “It’s been in my collection for ages”

Of course, if it had been dug up recently, then it should have been declared as treasure…

3. “I got it off someone who’s had it in their family for years”

See above. Of course, lack of provenance makes an object less valuable, particularly for those studying the distribution of such objects…

2. “It’s only a piece of grot”

To a detectorist, possibly, probably only because the Ebay price is so low. If it’s only grot, why do so many detectorists have buckets full of the stuff? (Ref: YouTube)

And the top lie told by many detectorists:

1. “Of course, actually we’re saving the history before it corrodes in the ground” 

No, what you’re doing is damaging the context from which an object came, thus destroying the history. It’s not all about the shiny geegaws. A lot of detecting takes place on undisturbed land and even plough soil is a context – ask the Battlefields Trust! Corrosion is actually not a major problem in many soils, and gold wouldn’t corrode in a million years.


So what porkies have you heard from/about detectorists? Tell us in the comments.

Way back in 2012, a contentious post on the Modern Antiquarian forum was discussing the perceived reticence of academics to accept new ideas. One of the comments on that discussion has stuck with me all these years:

Archaeology (certainly pre-historic archaeology that is entirely dependent on the field evidence) is just about interpretation. Nothing is proven ever, there is only the prevailing orthodoxy… 

Taking that idea a step further, I’m sure that we’ve all seen archaeologists on TV stating “This is what happened” as opposed to “this is what WE THINK happened”. Assuming such archaeologists are speaking their own thoughts, and not those of a scriptwriter (which would make them just paid puppets), one has to wonder how much personal bias is involved. When definitive statements are made, it’s always best to consider how much the speaker’s pet theories and interests may be clouding their vision.

With that in mind, here are some potential ‘mistruths’ that have been heard in the past:

5. “This is a unique find!”

Usually stated in the initial excitement of discovery during excavation. Often rescinded once the post-excavation research uncovers similar/identical finds elsewhere.

4. “This changes our entire viewpoint of the past”

Not necessarily. It may provide illumination on a particular practice or culture, but the entire viewpoint? Please!

3. “This is a previously unknown God/Goddess”

Usually spoken when a figurine (usually dated to Roman times) is found. It couldn’t possibly just be a trinket, bought at a bazaar to remind the owner of a loved one at home? Or a child’s poppet (think Sindy/Barbie or Action Man)?

2. “Arthur was at Tintagel”

This is a difficult one. It’s not an outright lie, as it can never be proven one way or the other, but a scratched name on a piece of slate can’t be considered evidence of such a royal presence.

1. “It’s Ritual!”

Now, this one isn’t a lie. To the layman, ritual signifies religion, occult, finery or other mysterious practices. To an archaeologist, having breakfast and washing the afterwards dishes is ritual. Brushing your hair before going to bed is ritual, wearing the same colour underwear on match days is ritual.

(With thanks to Calvin and Hobbes)

What porkies have you heard from archaeologists? Let us know in the comments!

Introducing Chris Brooks, otherwise known as ‘Scubi’. Chris has been a stalwart supporter of Heritage Action and the Journal since its earliest days. He famously documented his travels to the far north in our 2011 series “Scubi’s Scottish Adventure”.  

Here are his answers to our questions:

* What is/was your day job?

I am an Electrical Engineer in the Railway Industry

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

I studied Archaeology at college as a fill in subject and was introduced to our prehistoric monuments through that.

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

I do feel an air of excitement around our structures but I do not let that get in the way of facts so under it all I suppose I am an academic in the first instance.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

I am definitely interested in Neolithic more than any other time period but do enjoy learning about the late Mesolithic leading in to it and the early middle Bronze age that followed it.

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

When studying Archaeology at college I had a book on almost permanent loan from the library which was called something like ‘The A-Z of Prehistoric Sites in Britain’ and which had about 20 sites around Wiltshire in it.  I used the book and my push bike to cycle around the county trying to find the sites listed as well as others outside.  I gave the book back at the end of my studies meaning to buy it later but have never been able to locate a copy.

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

I still use The Modern Antiquarian website if I am looking for prehistoric places near where I am travelling to for work. 

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

The best sites that always stay in my mind are on the Orkneys and in particular Taversoe Tuick, a double decker Chambered Cairn on the island of Rousay. I am still to visit Carnac in Brittany which is still on the top of my list because it looks so strange in photos and I need to be there to see it first hand and get my head around it.  

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

Ritual associated with sites!  I understand ritual being a repetitive event but I cannot understand why it is always associated with sites in a ‘religious’ context and especially where there is no real evidence. it always strikes me as a convenient answer and infers all our ancestors built the megaliths with some sort of ritualist context.  I do not think this is the case. 

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I continue to ponder the theories of Silbury Hill, being such a large structure with no real evidence of its intended use.  My thoughts are still that it was taller than it is now when first put to use, that it marked the gathering point of various activities and most likely had a beacon on top such as a very large fire that could be seen by its flames at night and by its smoke in the day.  the flattening of the top in the Roman period as resulted in the removal of evidence of this.  It’s a theory as good as any I suppose.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

I have two pet peeves;

1. the deliberate destruction or damage of ancient monuments including that by landowners through neglect or by vandals.

2. Claims by certain fraternities of their knowledge of the use of these sites and powers contained within, with no evidence whatsoever… oh…and the votive rubbish they constantly leave behind.


Many thanks to Chris for sharing his megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above. To see other articles in this series, simply enter ‘Antiquarists’ in the search box on the left (or click the handy supplied link)

The first subject in our ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ series is Heritage Action chairman, Nigel Swift. So without any delay, let’s get directly into his responses to our questions…

* What is/was your day job?

(Was) Chartered Surveyor and lecturer.

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

Pootling along westwards out of Marlborough in 2001, suddenly seeing Silbury loom up and exclaiming “What the #### is that?!”

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

It came from wonder.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

The older the better. 

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

I suppose, since The Journal has its origins in people chatting on The Modern Antiquarian forum, I should say Julian Cope’s book of that name.

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

A couple of Burls, Stukeley Illustrated and a map of Ancient Britain.

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

Best unvisited site: Callanish. Best visited one has to be Silbury as I’ve yet to get over the shock of first seeing it in 2001, bearing in mind I knew nothing about ancient sites at that time. As a small child I’d seen a picture of the Avebury stones in “1001 Wonderful Things” but Spinal Tap-like, I thought they were only a foot high!

What is it about Silbury that attracts and obsesses? Two things, the sheer size and the sheer mystery. It inspired me to pen a poem which expresses it and, come to think of it, probably explains my conservation enthusiasm. The sites aren’t ours to mess with.

Silbury Hill

Ask in vain!
For we, the dead,
Speak not a word to you.
This thing was ours, not yours.

Gaze, in awe.
On what we wrought,
There is no clue.
This thing was ours, not yours.

We, whose fingers bled,
Whose passions burned,
Care not for you.
This thing was ours, not yours.

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

Just about everything, as I knew nowt and I’m still struggling with Marxist archaeology and the bipolarism that exists between the processual and post-processual debates!

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I have lots of theories, but not many I’d bet my house on as so many theories in archaeology end up wrong. But one of my ideas is that sarsen can be highly polished but the shine weathers away entirely in two decades (I’ve checked), leaving no evidence at all. Plus, there was an Age of Timber, or many, prior to stone circles and rows but again the evidence has largely disappeared. And a third one, a fantasy rather than a theory, that one day, deep in a cave, there will be discovered (preferably by me) a neolithic wheel.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

I like to think the sites are shared, so leaving anything at them, even for a day, seems an unwarranted extension of our time there and just mean to those who come after us.

As for long-term changes, I’m not a fan of mantras such as “sites must change over time, nothing can be preserved in aspic”. I only agree with those if the changes are inevitable and aren’t imposed for ignoble and transitory human reasons such as to make someone richer or to provide cut-price road solutions, and certainly not if presented as an enhancement to the visitor experience, if you get my drift. I also think hiding from view is tantamount to demolishing.

The thing is, if a site has lasted for a hundred generations it’s right that we try to make it last another hundred generations, without changing it radically during our petty and blinkered spans. To do otherwise also seems just mean to those who come after us.


Many thanks to Nigel for sharing his megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above.

Over the past nine years or more on the Heritage Journal we have profiled many archaeologists, asking them questions in a series we called ‘Inside the Mind‘. This series proved to be very popular, and the entry highlighting Raksha Dave has become our most popular post ever! Indeed, it still receives dozens of views every month, despite being first published nearly nine years ago!

Now it is the turn of the committed archaeological ‘hobbyist’. We’ve been asking a new series of questions to people who have demonstrated a passion for prehistory and related sites, but who are not professional archaeologists, meet ‘The Antiquarists’.

As regular readers will know, Heritage Action was created after discussions on the Modern Antiquarian web site, and we began by asking several of our early members a new series of questions about their megalithic interests. We’ll be presenting their replies, and those of other amateur hobbyists over the next few weeks – some make interesting reading! We’ll be kicking off with Nigel Swift, Heritage Action chairman, in a few days time so keep an eye on the Journal!

The questions we’ll be asking are as follows, so if you’d like to join in, please contact us with your answers, and we’ll feature them in a future article:

  • What is/was your day job?
  • How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?
  • Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?
  • What is your favourite time period or era?
  • Which book has had the most influence on your interest?
  • Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on site visits?
  • What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?
  • Which archaeological words or phrases caused you most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?
  • What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?
  • What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

We look forward to presenting the responses we’ve received so far, and also to receiving your responses to these questions!

Ok, it’s an old joke, but at least it makes a change from the usual Stonehenge/Avebury/NT tropes at this time of year…

In our previous article on Ancient Sites Depicted on Stamps, we asked if anyone knew of any British sites depicted on stamps from elsewhere around the world. Further research on this topic has exposed an entire genre of postage stamps around the world depicting ancient sites, from Britain and elsewhere. 

Firstly, let’s look at Stonehenge, the ‘iconic British monument’. The stamp released in Great Britain in 2005, as part of the World Heritage issue was also released in other countries at the same time, specifically Australia.

Much earlier, in 1991, Bhutan issued its own Stonehenge stamp for collectors, this time hedging their bets for international sales by also including some Disney characters!

A search on the Colnet philatelic collector’s database for ‘Stonehenge’ displays a number of stamps from around the world showing the monument, from many African nations, and even as far away as Japan in 2015.

Similar searches on the same database for terms such as ‘megalith’, ‘dolmen’  or ‘neolithic’ can bring up some surprises. As you would expect, Malta has issued many stamps with neolithic sites featured on them.

Why not try your own search terms, and let us know what you can find?

Prior to Queen Elizabeth II ascending the throne in 1953, commemorative issue stamps were few and far between. Until then, such issues were limited to major events such as royal or postal anniversaries. This was to remain the case until the early 1960s, when the scope for commemoratives was widened somewhat to include other anniversaries, art festivals and major international business conferences or trade treaties. The first ‘non-event’ commemorative stamps were issued in 1966, with artistic views of British Landscapes, including views of Hassocks in Sussex, Antrim NI, Harlech Castle in Wales and the Caingorm mountains in Scotland. 

On the 29th April 1968, a set of four stamps was released, depicting British Bridges, including the first ancient site to appear on a British stamp, Tarr Steps in Exmoor.

Although the frequency of commemorative sets increased, it was to be 22 years before another ancient site appeared. Strangely placed in a set released on 16th October 1990 celebrating Astronomy, Stonehenge made its first appearance.

The following year sets of definitive stamps were issued in a set of four archaeology-themed booklets, depicting Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos, Howard Carter at Tutankhamen’s Tomb,  Sir Austen Layard in Assyria and Flinders Petrie at Giza.

June 1993 saw the first Roman-themed stamps issued, with portraits depicting Claudius, Hadrian, the Goddess Roma and a mosaic of Christ.

Ten years later, for the 250th anniversary of the British Museum in 2003, another set of portraits were issued which included the Sutton Hoo helmet.

April 2005 saw the release of the World Heritage set of stamps, which included three ancient British sites; Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge and neolithic Orkney.

In 2011 and 2012, two sets were issued featuring a UK A-Z which included Glastonbury Tor and Roman Bath.

Tarr Steps made a re-appearance in the March 2015 Bridges set.

The Ancient Britain set released in January 2017 included not only objects such as the Starr Carr antlers and the Battersea Shield, but also sites including Skara Brae, Maiden Castle and Avebury.

In June of last year, another set depicting Roman Britain was issued, the most recent release within our sphere of interest. This time the sites of Dover Lighthouse, Caerleon amphitheatre and Hadrian’s Wall (again) were included.

So over the years, it can be seen that Ancient Britain has been well represented on the stamps of Great Britain, with Tarr Steps, Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge all appearing more than once. Sadly, there are no stamps within our interest scheduled for this year, although folklorists have an Arthurian-themed set to look forward to.

Who, or what would you like to see on a British Archaeology set of stamps, if one were to be produced in future? Have you seen any examples of British sites on stamps from elsewhere in the world? Please leave a comment and let us know!

Over the weekend, certain portions of FaceBook were abuzz with stories of a possible alien visitation at the Merry Maidens stone circle near Lamorna in Cornwall. There was a report of a metallic structure which had appeared in the centre of the circle sometime before sunset on Friday. Video footage showed a metallic obelisk similar to those which have been reported in the news recently at various sites around the globe. Sites which included Utah, California, Romania, the Isle of Wight and Dartmoor among others. 

The Merry Maidens Obelisk

With my fact-checking hat on, I paid the site a quick visit on Saturday morning, but unsurprisingly, no obelisk was to be seen. What was present in the centre of the circle was a plate on the floor, bearing a QR code. 

We first mooted the idea of using QR codes at ancient sites for informational purposes back in 2011, and reported on a commercial application of such codes a year later. In this case though, the QR code at the Merry Maidens is not for informational purposes, but for entertainment. 

When scanned, the code points to a web site, http://plan8.earth/monolith, which when used with a Facebook app currently in development, will display the obelisk reported as an Augmented Reality (AR) image. 

It remains to be seen (pun intended) whether this technology will be widely implemented, or just used as a ‘proof of concept’ experiment in this single case. Either way, it is to be hoped that no damage will be caused to any of our ancient heritage sites, and that no modifications or physical installations will be made to the sites without the requisite permissions.

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