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The various current proposals for altering the A303 around Stonehenge all share a common theme in that they will all be bad for local wildlife. The Great Bustard Group (GBG) has worked hard to try and ensure the iconic Great Bustard is at least considered during the various meetings, consultations and reviews.

It has been an uphill battle with each new team of consultants or experts having to be identified and then briefed from scratch. One expert working for Highways England confidently announced they had been told there were no Great Bustards in the area.  GBG staff took them out and showed them over 15, almost in sight of the Stones. The next meeting comes along and there is a new face, who knows nothing about the birds.

A new threat to the recently restored population of Great Bustards now exists. Ground Water & Ecological surveys are taking place in the fields around Stonehenge. These are now involving teams in hi-viz clothing and vehicles with loud reversing beepers and they will be roving the fields used by some of the rarest birds in the UK for nesting.

That this should be taking place anywhere during the bird nesting season is concerning, but in an area with nesting Great Bustards and the rare and sensitive Stone Curlew it is particularly concerning.  The birds will either be denied the places to nest, or the worse scenario is that they will abandon their eggs due to the disturbance. The GBG was told about the latest works but only days after they had started.

No Great Bustards have been released within miles of Stonehenge and the birds have moved into the area naturally, and have nested there.

The GBG works closely with local farmers and land owners to do everything possible to ensure the Great Bustard nests are successful.

David Waters
Executive Officer
Great Bustard Group

By Dr Sandy Gerrard

The present can both inform and confuse our understanding of the past and help us appreciate the limitations of what we can deduce from what we see and find. When studying the past we rely on the tangible remains left by previous generations and skilfully manipulate this data to create a narrative. The passage of time inevitable erodes both our understanding of the cultural character of the people we are studying and the amount of surviving evidence.

This is especially the case with prehistoric studies where our understanding is inevitably severely compromised. Snippets of data are analysed, hypothesis created and conclusions offered. But just how reliable are these conclusions? We really can’t be sure.

Take the modern public bench. These are scattered in ever increasing numbers through the urban and rural environment. We all know what they are for and often why they are where they are. At the basic level they are all built to sit on, but there is much more to the humble public bench than this.

Thousands represent memorials to individuals as the plaques on them testify, others are carefully positioned to permit a spectacular view, whilst others are arranged neatly around places where sporting activities occur. Many others are strategically placed at the places where people congregate to utilise public transport and others are situated helpfully outside shops to provide respite for the laden down shoppers.

So the distribution of these single function items is varied and reflects a myriad of different factors, needs and aspirations many of which would be difficult to fathom out without their social and cultural context.  If one assumes that 90% are then removed leaving no trace, then the chances of understanding them is further compromised or indeed futile. As archaeologists we would look at the surviving distribution to help us understand them but we would also look at differences in their form. When it comes to public benches the variety seems endless. Different materials, sizes, shapes and layout are normal and indeed even within a limited geographical area, considerable differences in form appears to be the norm.

Do these differences mean anything? Again, as archaeologists we would probably try and seek reasons for the considerable variety in form and distribution and seek to analyse the evidence to see if it could tell us anything about them. Are they ritual?  The memorial plaques on some of them might suggest that they are. Perhaps monuments raised to commemorate certain people or events. Perhaps the horizontal surface was formed to received votive offerings. What about those without plaques? Did they have a different function or has the plaque been lost? What about associations can this help us?  Many are directly associated with litter bins. Were these bins built to receive further offerings and therefore do they denote benches of particular significance? Were those without bins used for something else or perhaps they belong to a different period?

Of course we have answers to all of these questions in the same way that prehistoric peoples fully understood the purpose and place of their structures. With the passage of time the social context of their built environment has been completely lost and we are left only with the material vestiges from which to attempt a reconstruction. Inevitably we fail and with every answer further questions follow.

We shall never really understand the prehistoric peoples who lived in the British Isles, but this should not stop us trying our best.  Providing we remember that our conclusions are merely hypothesis and that like ourselves people in the past were individuals living within a complex social system we should not go far wrong.

Raised timber walkway leading to a platform with a pair of benches. What would archaeologists make of the adjacent hearth? This pair of benches are positioned to provide sea views and the elaborate walkway to protect the sensitive natural environment. Archaeologically this site would survive as a double curving alignment of post holes terminating in a rectangular setting adjacent to a pair of contemporary hearths. Without documentation what are the chances that archaeologists in the year 6,000 AD would be able to accurately interpret this site?

 

The public benches at this location are built within a purpose-built shelter. Does this mean that these benches have a different function to the open examples? The answer of course is no but what chance would archaeologists of the future have?

 

An alignment of benches each with a view of the sea. Most are memorial benches does this imply a ritual relationship with the sea? These benches resolutely face away from the playing fields.

 

Four conjoined benches and a litter bin. Why so many together and why not four separate benches? The questions are endless and even with a full understanding of function and social context the answers are not always obvious.

 

Benches raised on an artificial mound and provided with a bin. The mound permits views of the sea. Without it the views would be hidden behind the sea wall.

 

Bench positioned with its back to the sea view. All the others areas have been positioned to provide views to the sea whilst this one has not. Archaeologists could see this as evidence that the sea played no part in the siting of the benches. They would be wholly wrong. Armed with the knowledge that this is a memorial to the owner of the model railway its position makes perfect sense.

 

Benches sited to provide pleasing views of the picturesque duck pond and mock castle.

 

A bench with no view at all. When built this bench would have views across a pond to a picturesque island. Subsequent remodelling of the area means that it no longer serves the function it was built for.

 

This bench is an integral part of the landscaping works. A recess was formed in which the bench was placed.

 

The form of the benches varies considerably. This does not reflect any difference in their purpose. We need to try and remember this when studying the past.

 

A bench that would be more at home in a back garden than in a public space. The purpose is however clear.

 


 

A guest post from Jim Rayner, a good friend of the Heritage Journal:

Anyone attending recent solstice celebrations at Stonehenge will have noticed that the old A344 northern stock boundary fence remains in situ and now acts as a ‘new’ boundary marker for monument field. Promises to reconnect the Avenue with the stones and create a ‘permissive route’ along the line of the old road have failed to materialize. Tim Daw has been following the story on his sarsen.org website in some detail.

stonehenge-site-of-proposed-new-gate

Apparently, the official position is that the down-land grass needs more time to establish and works to create a new shuttle bus turning circle are on-going. Hopefully, by the end of 2017 these changes will be complete, but it is unlikely that this will have involved the removal of the fence. In practical terms this means the Avenue will still be separated from Stonehenge and people cannot spread-out down from the stones during Managed Open Access (MOA).

An easy solution would be for English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust (NT) to install a gate. This gate would only be opened for short periods during MOA and would be staffed by security and subject to all the usual EH terms of conditions of entry. Better still there would be two gates side-by-side, one for entry and another for exiting. Not being able to walk up to the Heel Stone from the Avenue (in one single movement) detracts from the experience (see video below). It could well be argued that the current fence restricts ceremonial access, is inauthentic and even contributes to overcrowding in the centre of the circle. MOA is an on-going process and everything needs to make things better for all concerned. In this regard, a simple set of gates could really help.

So, what do you think? Would an ‘Avenue Access’ gate, only to be used for ceremonial access at very limited times and fully controlled by EH’s security team be a good idea? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

The following guest post has been supplied by the UK wing of Blue Shield:

ukbslogo

The UK National Committee of the Blue Shield (UKBS), the British wing of a global organisation frequently referred to as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, is leading a nationwide campaign to get the UK Government to finally ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols of 1954 and 1999. Professor Peter Stone OBE, Chair of the UKBS, said:

The 1954 Hague Convention is the primary piece of International Humanitarian Law concerning the protection of heritage during armed conflict. While many in the UK have reacted with justifiable horror and indignation at the recent appalling destruction of ancient sites, libraries, archives, and museums in the Middle East and Africa, few seem to realise that the UK remains the only Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, and arguably the most significant military power (and the only one with extensive military involvements abroad), not to have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention.

After the 2003 US/UK led invasion, the then Minister for Heritage, Andrew McIntosh, announced in 2004 the Government’s intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention as soon as Parliamentary business allowed. This claim has been repeated by every relevant Minister since. In November 2011, Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State at DCMS, made a joint UK Government and British Red Cross Society pledge “to make every effort to facilitate the UK’s ratification… and to promote understanding of the principles and rules of the Convention within the UK”. Ratification has cross-Party support and the support of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Department for Overseas Development; and the Ministry of Defence. Professor Eleanor Robson, Chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, added:

ISIS’ current rampage across northern Iraq and Syria is drawing urgent international attention to the plight of cultural heritage in times of war. By ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention, the UK Government would send a clear signal of its commitment to protecting civilian communities and their histories if it should ever intervene in this conflict or others, and provide the armed forces a clear mandate to do so.

For its campaign to be successful, the UKBS needs everybody who values cultural heritage in all its forms to write to their local MP urging them to pursue this matter. This can be done either by email or post. For those who would like guidance or some information to help them write their letter, a template (which can be adapted as necessary) and a fact sheet on the UKBS and the 1954 Hague Convention can be downloaded here and here. If anyone does not know the name of their MP or how to contact them, that can found here.

If you are still unsure of the need for the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague Convection, the UKBS ask that you please watch this three-minute film Protecting cultural property during war.

The UKBS is an entirely voluntary run organisation comprising academics and heritage professionals from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds. You can stay up-to-date with its work and the progress of its campaign by following it on Twitter and Facebook. If you require any further information or have any outstanding queries, please do not hesitate to contact Philip Deans, Campaign Assistant for the UKBS, at philip.deans@ncl.ac.uk. Finally, to help the UKBS keep track of the campaign, it is also asked that when anyone does write to their MP, would they please let the UKBS know using the email address supplied above.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

On Mynydd Bach Trecastell, a pair of stone circles, at least one stone alignment and one cairn stand spectacularly on a gentle north facing slope offering extensive views over Mid Wales and the Brecon Beacons.  The stone circles stand close to each other and are very different in character.  The northern one measures 23m in diameter and includes 21 stones and five socket holes. The southern one is 7.9m in diameter and includes four uprights, three recumbent and a number of socket holes.

The Northern stone circle

The Northern stone circle

The site receives a mention in the Preliminary Statement for the Bancbryn stone alignment produced by Cotswold Archaeology in 2012. In this report  it is noted that: “An alignment of stones was also noted at Mynydd Bach Trecastell in proximity to a pair of prehistoric round cairns. This ‘stone alignment’ was interpreted as representing a former postmedieval field boundary. The reason for this interpretation is unclear, but appears to be due to the much smaller size of stones compared to the Saith Maen example cited above, and largely recumbent.”

The authors of this report appear to have confused the stone circles with round cairns. The stone alignment leads from the southern stone circle and is a long way from the nearest cairn. The stone alignment includes at least five stones leading directly north eastward towards the smaller stone circle. The alignment formed by the stones is also directly orientated towards the nearby cairn situated some 175m to the south west.

Detail of the five stones forming the alignment

Detail of the five stones forming the alignment

Cairn at SN 83140 30992. The line of stones leading from the southern stone circle is aligned on this cairn.

Cairn at SN 83140 30992. The line of stones leading from the southern stone circle is aligned on this cairn.

The reason for the post-medieval field boundary interpretation is certainly unclear.  All the other boundaries in the vicinity include a ditch and bank.  It is also difficult to understand why a boundary would respect the stone circle stopping as it does a few metres short.  The idea that it may have not been accepted as a stone row because the stones were small is interesting.   If one starts from the premise that all stone rows consist only of large stones then of course those with only small stones must be something else.  This blinkered approach has obvious dangers and here the result is that a line of stones leading from a stone circle in the precise direction of a cairn has been interpreted as a post-medieval boundary despite the fact that all the other boundaries on the mountain consist of a bank and ditch.

Post medieval boundaries in the vicinity consist of a bank and ditch.

Post medieval boundaries in the vicinity consist of a bank and ditch.

It makes no sense to me to imply that the post-medieval farmers on this mountain chose to devise a completely new way of building boundaries when they arrived in the vicinity of prehistoric archaeology and instead chose to place stones in a line leading from a stone circle to a cairn. Perhaps we need to embrace the idea that stone alignments can consist entirely of small stones in order to avoid further silliness. Why do archaeologists working in the South West of England not have a problem with this idea?

A line of stones

A line of stones leading towards a stone circle is usually interpreted as a stone alignment.

by Sandy Gerrard

In March last year 18 questions relating to the archaeological situation on Mynydd y Betws were asked. During May the answers provided by Cadw were published here. I also asked my local Assembly Member (Mr Rhodri Glyn Thomas) to ask the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the same questions and he kindly did this on my behalf. Having had no response in October I asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a copy of the DAT response and this was passed to both Mr Thomas and myself shortly afterwards. A commentary on the DAT response was then produced and sent to Carmarthenshire County Council. This series of articles present DAT’s responses in black and my own comments upon them in green.

General Comments (my commentary in green)

At the outset we should explain that this Trust has had strong reservations about the interpretation of the stone alignment as given by Dr and Mrs Gerrard largely through the medium of the press.

Interesting use of the words “has had”. The Trust surely either has or had strong reservations but surely not both at the same time.

At the site meeting the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) officer first raised the possibility of the stone alignment being schedulable and offered to contact Cadw directly for an assessment to be conducted. We informed him that we would also contact Cadw. The DAT officer also said that he would get straight back to us. I only contacted the “press” after it became clear that both the DAT and Cadw were not going to engage with our concerns.

This has concerned us as the nature of this archaeological find makes it very difficult to provide immediate or clear-cut interpretations on date and function and it is regrettable that this was done in the context of a sensitive windfarm development that has clearly invoked much local opposition.

I totally agree that it is regrettable, but as the stone alignment was only identified at this very late stage in the process clearly some sensitivity was going to be needed. If the Trust had instead chosen to involve us, as they initially promised, we would have been happy to work with them. Instead they choose to first alienate and then exclude us from the process and by doing so created the regrettable situation.

The Cotswold Archaeological Trust were commissioned by the developer to provide a report on the newly discovered stone alignment, based on a recommendation made by this Trust to the planning authority. The contents of the report are self-explanatory. However, it concludes that whilst a prehistoric origin cannot wholly be dismissed, it is:More plausible that the current alignment is representative of a later boundary, perhaps demarcating grazing rights on the moorland, or marks a pathway, perhaps from Bryn Mawr to the twentieth century adit workings’. [p12].

This form of “later boundary” is unknown in Wales so if this interpretation is accepted it would make the feature unique and therefore arguably more important than a prehistoric stone alignment of which there are several examples.

The “twentieth century adit workings” are neither C20 in date or adits. This site is described as late C18 or early C19 by the Royal Commission and was described by them some 9 years before the date assigned by the Cotswold Archaeological Trust (CAT). Adits are never cut into the very top of hills and it is perhaps better to consider them as outcrop coal workings. This is important because it means the report is suggesting that an impossible explanation is more plausible than one that “cannot be wholly dismissed”.

This Trust agrees with this conclusion, though our preferred interpretation is that the stones have been taken from nearby prehistoric cairns and used as a way marker across an open and inhospitable moorland environment, where changes to weather can occur very quickly.

This explanation can and has been challenged on many grounds:

  • There is no logical need for a third route to the summit of Banc Bryn

  • None of the other paths or tracks on the moor are waymarked

  • The small size of the stones means that they are soon covered by snow

  • There is no man made path or track on the upslope side

  • There is no need to build a path to a small scale outcrop working whose focus would have been continually shifting

  • The outcrop workings are much earlier in date than suggested by the report and may therefore not even be contemporary with the farmstead

  • The route chosen is more uneven than the one currently being utilised a short distance upslope

  • There is no tradition of waymarking across moorland using large numbers of closely spaced small stones

Why is the Dyfed Archaeological Trust so eager to accept an interpretation that is completely contradicted by its own records?

However, Dr and Mrs Gerrard may not agree with these alternative interpretations and it will be for them to produce a detailed report on their find which can perhaps be published in an academic journal making their views open to professional archaeological scrutiny and judgement.

A report has been produced and copies sent to DAT and Cadw. An online version is also available at: https://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/mynydd-y-betws-stone-row-very-poor-scholarship-and-a-system-which-is-clearly-unfit-for-purpose/

This report and others are now hopefully being used as part of a consultation exercise being conducted by Cadw. However, no response to the contents of the report has been received from DAT or Cadw. Indeed the officers to whom the report was initially sent did not even bother to acknowledge receipt.

____________________________________

For previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.

See also this website and Facebook Group

by Sandy Gerrard

It is more than a year since what Cadw call “that row of stones” on Mynydd y Betws was brought to the attention of those responsible for Welsh heritage.  In the intervening time two segments of the row have been “preserved by record” a brand new environmentally friendly road has been built and turbines have started popping up out of the heather.

Putting aside for the moment the controversy regarding the stone alignment and the archaeology that has (not) been preserved by record, this photograph illustrates rather well the threat facing archaeology in the “windy” uplands:

View from the south of the Banc Bryn prehistoric ceremonial landscape with the scheduled areas highlighted in red and the stone alignment in green.

View from the south of the Banc Bryn prehistoric ceremonial landscape with the scheduled areas highlighted in red and the stone alignment in green.

Despite complete agreement amongst archaeologists that this was a really important archaeological landscape the need for renewable energy was seen by planners as much more important than the setting of seven unproductive scheduled ancient monuments. Actually it goes further than setting – the so called “empty” spaces between the constituent parts of this ritual landscape are in some respects as significant as the features themselves and their loss means that this site will never be quite the same.  The proximity of the road and turbines to the scheduled areas highlights just what might happen to your favourite bit of moorland archaeology.

If you want to see for yourself the scale of the wind farm development on Mynydd y Betws click here for a recent aerial photograph. Enter SN 67711053 into the Grid Reference Box and explore the mountain for yourself.

from Sandy Gerrard.

holly

For fun I thought it might be interesting to utilise the powerful search engine at The National Heritage List for England to see if there is a Christmas theme to any of the schedulings. Alas the search revealed no scheduled Christmas sites, but as always seems to be the way a little further digging revealed 61 listed buildings with a Christmas mention. Yet more discrimination on the part of English Heritage I hear you cry.  Actually this is a salutary lesson in how even the biggest of anomalies can have the most innocent explanations unless of course English Heritage are willing to admit to deliberately depriving the schedule of festive cheer!

Seriously though it was really interesting to see the distribution of “Christmassy” listed buildings – with none in the north of England. On the basis of the evidence it would also appear that national important archaeology and Christmas place names are mutually exclusive – which is a shame. Perhaps next year English Heritage will try and rectify this sorry state of affairs or explain why there is no Christmas in the Schedule of Ancient Monuments?

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[For other articles  in the series put Scheduling in the search box]

by Sandy Gerrard

English Heritage have kindly responded to last week’s scheduling article which looked at yet another example of scheduling being described as listing. It is encouraging that EH have taken this concern seriously and their positive and forward looking attitude is to be commended.  In order to avoid misrepresentation it is repeated in full:

“Having looked into this case it was a simple clerical error and nothing more. It was made by a member of the IMT Resources Department, not Designation. The officer in question accidentally blended the letter templates for scheduled and listed sites. It was a genuine mistake, and the manager in question has reminded all officers in question to check carefully that they refer to the appropriate form of designation throughout any correspondence.
 
While English Heritage, like all organisations, strives to avoid such mistakes, unfortunately they do occasionally occur. We remain committed to protecting and managing sites where appropriate through scheduling, and are determined to do more work in this regard, both expanding and improving the scheduled element of the designation base. There is no deep seated problem with the archaeological element of our role as you appear to fear.”

 My reply to English Heritage stated:

“Thanks for looking into this.  I think the evidence and my own experience indicates that there is more of a problem than you currently wish to admit to.
I note your commitment to expanding and improving the archaeological designation base and this I obviously welcome. However 10 years have now passed since these promises were first aired by the newly formed Designation Department and still there is no evidence to demonstrate any progress – instead only promises of better days ahead and increasing numbers of mistakes.”

Looking at a couple of aspects of the English Heritage response in a little bit more detail it is perhaps worth emphasising that this is the second occasion in this single case that this very same mistake has been made. So perhaps these mistakes are not as occasional as EH would like us to believe. A detail perhaps confirmed by the inordinate number of mistakes in recent scheduling documentation.  Just how many mistakes will be notched up before the management at EH have to admit that there is a fundamental problem and seek to address it?

I love the idea of letter templates being blended. Surely the purpose of template letters is that there is one for every occasion. Perhaps the scheduling one is so rarely used that they had forgotten it existed!

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[For other articles  in the series put Scheduling in the search box]

by Sandy Gerrard

I recently received an e-mail from English Heritage asking me if they could reveal to someone that I had asked for Bosiliack prehistoric settlement to be scheduled. It’s no secret and I am happy to admit to anyone that it was indeed Bosiliack that launched this mini-series of scheduling articles. Bosiliack is an incredibly important monument and it would appear that English Heritage agree, as it has now been added to the Schedule of Ancient Monuments.

The alarming thing about the English Heritage letter was that it stated:

“English Heritage has received a request for the release of the identity of the listing applicant for Bosiliack prehistoric settlement.  I am writing to you because I understand from our Local Office that you requested that we consider the property for listing.”

So English Heritage who are the heritage designation experts still seem incapable of telling the difference between listing and scheduling. I asked for the site to be scheduled and this is what has happened, so why call me the listing applicant and the monument as “the property for listing”? Why is it that England’s leading heritage organisation seems unable to tell the difference? Does it matter that EH can’t tell the difference between scheduling and listing? Do these constant failings on the part of the organisation imply some form of deep seated problem with the archaeological element of their role?

The evidence is certainly piling up to indicate that all is not well within Designation Department at EH.  We are all capable of making the odd mistake, but EH appears to have taken this to a new level where mistakes are becoming the norm.

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[For other articles  in the series put Scheduling in the search box]

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