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Did you know that the Boskednan Nine Maidens circle in Cornwall is the subject of an opera, written early in the 20th century? The opera is “Iernin”, the tragic story of a woman of the Small People. The opera in three acts is set against the backdrop of a soon-to-be occupied Cornwall and the struggle of its leader and people to retain their independence from the Saxon overlords. Read the rest of this entry »
We continue our occasional series, ‘Inside the Mind‘ with responses from Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of British Later Prehistory at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
Beginning his archaeological career in 1972 working on archaeological excvations in southern England, he has since worked on archaeological sites around the world in Denmark, Germany, Greece, Syria, the United States, Madagascar, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and the Outer Hebrides.
After gaining a BA in European Archaeology at the University of Southampton in 1979, he was awarded a PhD at the University of Cambridge in 1985. He worked as an Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage until 1990 and then as lecturer in the Department of Archaeology & Prehistory at Sheffield University. In 2010 he was voted the UK’s The Archaeologist of the Year by the readers of Current Archaeology magazine.
Best known for his work at Stonehenge in the ongoing and evolving projects; Stonehenge Riverside Project, Feeding Stonehenge and the Stones of Stonehenge, his most recent research has been focussed on West Wales, where Stonehenge’s bluestones were quarried.
THE TEN QUESTIONS
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
At 4 years old I discovered fossils in a heap of gravel and learned that the past was mysterious and fascinating. I had a good teacher at junior school and, years later, my geography teacher even drove me on the day I left school to an excavation and to begin my full-time life as an archaeologist.
How did you get started?
As a 15 year old I saw a poster in a public library advertising a rescue excavation of a Roman site on the line of the M5. It was the first of a series of summer excavations on Roman settlements (yes, I was going to become a Romanist!)
Who has most influenced your career?
There’s no one person – I was lucky to be taught and inspired by a generation of archaeologists at the top of their game – both practical and theoretical, field and lab, and humanities and science-based.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
I always think the thing that I’m doing now is the most exciting – right now, I’m focused on the sources of the bluestones in Wales, which might just give us an insight into the origins of Stonehenge. I did enjoy the years digging in the Outer Hebrides – great archaeology (not properly appreciated), great colleagues and a wonderful place to work without all the bureaucratic difficulties we had to cope with in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
It’s a toss up between Cladh Hallan in South Uist (an unusually well-preserved Bronze Age to Iron Age settlement in the Outer Hebrides with skeletons under the floors that turned out to have once been mummified) and Durrington Walls, with its houses, middens, unsuspected avenue and giant post circle.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
When I was Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage in the 1980s we had to allow the Bedford Bypass road scheme to preserve in situ some Neolithic cursus monuments underneath a road embankment. They are probably buried under that road forever – inaccessible to any archaeological investigation – and I now wish that they had been excavated. I’ve become rather more sceptical about ‘preserving in situ’ underneath modern development where the remains are inaccessible for the long term.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
Contracts for archaeology in advance of development shouldn’t go to the lowest bidder but to the best bid – it shouldn’t be the developer choosing the contractor on the basis of who is cheapest but the planners choosing on the basis of the best research design (as has been the rule in Sweden for years).
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
Right now, it’s the A303 at Stonehenge. The proposed tunnel is way too short and would damage the WHS irretrievably. There’s a second option that avoids the WHS and is cheaper, too.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
At school, my careers teacher tried to get me to drop my interest in archaeology, which he was certain would not result in employment, and tried to get me into law and business management. Glad that didn’t happen. I think I would be good at doing bacon sandwiches at a greasy spoon or running a cattery.
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
Watching TV with the cat while eating bacon sandwiches.
As always, we’d like to express our sincere thanks to Mike for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.
If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable and willing subject, please contact us.
Last week saw a new commemorative stamp issue from the Royal Mail in the UK, this time celebrating our ancient past.
The eight special stamps feature iconic sites and exceptional artefacts. The lineup is as follows:
* 1st Class – Skara Brae and the Battersea shield.
* £1.05 – Maiden Castle and the Star Carr headdress.
* £1.33 – Avebury and the Drumbest horns.
* £1.52 – Grimes Graves and the Mold cape.
The stamps are all enhanced with illustrations that reveal how our ancient forebears lived and worked. I plumped for the First Day Cover (postmarked Avebury) and the Presentation Pack. A useful and informative sheet gives details about each of the subjects. More information and ordering details can be found on the Royal Mail website.
Have you got yours yet?
As the calendar changes, we’ve looked back and reviewed the past 12 months. Now it’s time for another beginning, looking forward and making plans for the coming year.
Our suggestions for resolutions back in 2013 still stand as admirable targets to strive for and we would commend them all to anyone interested in our past heritage. Here they are again:
- Visit new sites
- Join a local Archaeological Society
- Take a course
- Attend a conference
- Involve the family
- Contribute to the Heritage Journal
But this year, forgive me for speaking from an entirely personal viewpoint when looking forward…
A long held dream of moving to, and living in, West Cornwall looks to be coming to fruition for me in the following 12 months, and with it early (semi-)retirement! My hope is that this will allow me time to get more involved on a day-to-day basis in helping to preserve and understand our ancient heritage.
Once settled, and health allowing, I intend to volunteer for the CASPN clear-up days when I can, and will see if/how I can help the Cornwall Heritage Trust in their work too. I hope to be attending more walks and talks with both CASPN and the Cornwall Archaeological Society. And of course, writing! I have plenty of ideas for articles for the Heritage Journal, and possibly even a book or two, but these require a large commitment of time for research which I just don’t have at the moment.
So what will you be doing to preserve and understand our ancient heritage in 2017? Please let us know in the comments below.
The wheel continues to turn, a major festival has once again passed, and all too soon it’s time for another review (and major link-fest!) of the previous twelve months here on the Heritage Journal.
We reported upon the physical completion (for now) of a survey of Verulamium in Hertfordshire, a considerable volunteer project which will provide opportunities for interpretation of the results for some time to come. The project was the subject of a talk at a conference in November, which sadly we were unable to attend.
It came as a bit of a surprise to find that our Artefact Erosion Counter had been included in an exam question a couple of years ago, but we took it as a compliment and provided our own answer to the question set.
In our campaign for the truth about the Stonehenge Tunnel, we decided to let the cat out of the bag at last and revealed several yowling moggies, a series that is still ongoing as the spin and outright lies continue in the media. And in other campaigns, we revealed plans for a European assault on our archaeological record, pointed out more inconsistencies in Shropshire’s plans for Oswestry and further inconsistencies in interpretation in Wales.
But the month was dominated by our Stonehenge Tunnel campaign, with a whole host of cats being released once again from our bag. We responded to Mike Pitts’ criticism of our concerns, and pointed out a major omission at the National Trust AGM.
We started the month with a plea to the public to look out for, and report damage to ancient monuments. We heard that a PAS debate in Ireland was cancelled due to ‘bullying’ of British speakers, whilst one of our members attended and reported on the PAS Conference in London.
Simon Thurley inadvertently strengthened our argument against the tunnel at the start of this month, whilst a couple more moggies made a break for freedom. And just before Christmas, a cynical attempt to manipulate local opinion in favour of the tunnel was uncovered.
That concludes our look back at 2016, but as always, we hope to bring much more of the same in the coming year. And of course our archives are always free to explore via the link on the left hand menu.
If you have a story which you feel we should feature, particularly if it describes a threat to our prehistoric archaeological heritage, then we’d love to hear from you in 2017! We can provide full attribution, or if you’d prefer, complete anonymity as a ‘Friend of the Journal’. Equally, if you’ve been out and about and would like to describe your trip to see the wonders within our shores the we’d like to hear about that too. After all, don’t forget it’s your Journal.
We continue our brief review of the previous twelve months here on the Heritage Journal, revisiting the summer months.
As the seasons change, it seems to affect people in bad ways. We reported this month on a couple of instances of heritage destruction, in Ireland and at Stanton Moor. But we managed to get out and about ourselves, reporting on ‘restoration’ at West Kennet, the removal of the London Stone, and a wonderful guided walk in Cornwall.
At Stonehenge, we suggested that maybe it’s time to consider a cap on visitor numbers, and began pointing out some hard truths about the effect of the proposed tunnel, an ongoing campaign that would take up most of the second half of the year.
Stonehenge was again a major focus this month, starting with the potential for the tunnel to increase wildlife casualties and the lack of outreach. We asked who stole the Solstice? and a guest post from Jim Rayner gave some suggestions on how, where and when the solstice should be celebrated and we looked at how the various agencies are all condoning damage to Stonehenge.
Out and about, Dr Sandy Gerrard reported on a visit to the Tair Carn Isaf cairn cemetery in Carmarthenshire.
Ah, the ‘Brexit’ vote result. We gave two opposing views on what it could mean for the British archaeological resource. We highlighted some of the (prehistoric) events in this year’s Festival of Archaeology and reminded our readers of the Day of Archaeology that follows the festival. We pointed out how the British Museum had insulted every archaeologist and heritage professional, and then acknowledged their error.
In between, we held our annual Megameet at Avebury, which gave us cause for more criticism of the National Trust, and not just at Avebury. We uncovered one of their ‘dirty trick‘ marketing ploys, looked back 11 years to when Stonehenge was saved from the bulldozers and pointed out some more inconsistencies in the various agencies’ stance on the tunnel.
On our travels, we visited the next section of the Neolithic M1 in our ongoing series.
Tomorrow we’ll conclude our brief look back at some of the stories from 2016 in the final part of our annual review! But don’t forget that our archives contain our articles going back several years. These can be explored for any given month via the dropdown link on the left hand menu, or a search keyword facility is available.
The wheel continues to turn, a major festival has once again passed, and all too soon it’s time for another review of the previous twelve months here on the Heritage Journal.
Well, what a year! There has been an absolute dearth of good news as far as heritage protection is concerned, and sadly the future doesn’t look too bright either from where we’re standing at the moment. On a personal note, events transpired to restrict my own visits out to sites around the country and so the customary ‘Bank Holiday Drive’ posts were largely omitted this year. If necessary, they’ll return, albeit possibly in ‘virtual’ form, in the new year.
We began the year full of Wishes, Hopes and Dreams, but looking back it seems that that is all they were. We instigated a monthly picture quiz this year, and pointed out what would be become a major campaign throughout the year – the lies that lie behind the ‘Stonehenge Short Tunnel’. In fact, we made a plea in our #blogarch article for archaeologists to come forward and speak out against the tunnel. We said:
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 (World Heritage) 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.
For those that may not be aware of what actually happens as part of an archaeological investigation, we began a short series outlining the various processes involved. We continued our ‘Neolithic M1‘ series this month, describing the northern end of the Icknield Way (and yes, we’re aware there’s still a lot to cover in the series!) The Oswestry Hillfort campaign continued, with another ‘Hillfort Hug’ and associated events in the middle of the month.
A sad event saw the departure from this world of Lord Avebury, Eric Lubbock, who will be sadly missed. And further southwest in Tintagel, English Heritage were doing their level best to desecrate and monetise a major heritage site that is of great importance to the Cornish.
Hansard provided what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of the government’s intentions regarding a tunnel at Stonehenge.
Also in March, we announced the go-live of our sister site, The Stone Rows of Great Britain, which hosts a gazetteer and research papers on these enigmatic monuments and has gone from strength to strength in the last nine months. In time it will, we are sure, become an acknowledged resource for those interested in the subject. Our ‘Inside the Mind of…’ series returned with an entry from Neil Holbrook – if you’ve not checked it out the series has comprised an impressive lineup of subjects over the years we’ve been running it.
In ongoing campaigns, we pointed out how both the National Trust and Shropshire Council know they’re on the wrong side of right, and continued to point out inconsistencies in the Government’s White Paper when talking about World Heritage Sites.
And we haven’t forgotten our detectorist ‘friends’. As part of our weekly reminder of the continual robbing out of the archaeological resource, we re-iterated our own ‘Finding a Hoard‘ guidelines.
Another sad loss occurred this month for the world of archaeology, with the passing of Professor Charles Thomas, probably best known for his tireless work in Cornwall’s archaeological landscape, and as a co-founder of Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust.
Come back tomorrow as we continue our look back at 2016 in the second part of our annual review! And as always, feel free to explore our archives via the link on the left hand menu.
We’re sometimes asked which of our articles have been most popular. It’s a good question. Some attract a readership of only a few hundred while some take off and are read by very many thousands. So we thought we’d revisit the ten most popular, starting today with number 10, Crop Circles and Aliens, which we published in October 2009.
Crop Circles and Aliens
I looked away for a second and when I looked back they were gone.
“Quick lads, he’s not looking, lay down in the crop!”
No, we don’t believe in them either but the following news article in the Telegraph brightens up a rainy day…
A police officer contacted British UFO experts after seeing three aliens examining a freshly made crop circle near Avebury, Wiltshire. The sergeant, who has not been named, was off-duty when he saw the figures standing in a field near Silbury Hill, and stopped his car to investigate. However, as he approached the ‘men’ – all over 6ft tall with blond hair – he heard “the sound of static electricity” and the trio ran away ”faster than any man he had ever seen”. The officer returned to his home in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and contacted paranormal experts and told them he had spotted a UFO…
Photograph taken with thanks from Wikipedia Commons