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Now here’s a great idea! You’ve all heard of book clubs, where members all agree to read a particular book by a given date, and then meet to discuss the merits of said book? Well extend that idea to archaeological papers, throw in some technology to negate the need to physically meet but still allow real-time discussion and what you end up with is the Archaeology Reading Group, a new group set up to accomplish exactly that.
It’s early days at the moment – the first meeting is set for June 16th – and due to the technological constraints of Skype, each meeting is limited a maximum of 25 attendees, but there’s no reason that the group shouldn’t be a success despite that.
There are many different interests within the group, from Neolithic to Bronze Age, Viking to Medieval. Each month they intend to look at a different topic and/or period, so you can be sure there will be something of interest for just about everyone.
It’s a small group at the moment and consists mainly of archaeology students and enthusiasts. But regardless of background, everyone is more than welcome to join and share some thoughts. The only commitment is to read the selected paper before the meeting so that you can participate fully.
The first two monthly meetings are already scheduled. Even if you can’t make the meeting, the papers look to be of sufficient interest for anyone with an interest in the past, but it’s a shame that the paper selected for the first discussion is not freely available, requiring a £25 fee for those not blessed with academic (Shibboleth/OpenAthens) library accounts. But that aside, we wish the group every success for the future.
A recent gorse fire on Carn Brea, near Redruth in Cornwall, could provide an opportunity for further investigation of this interesting site. The fire – cause currently unknown, but arson is suspected – covered an area of around 3 hectares on the night of 26th May. The gorse (which burns easily and gives off a lot of heat – it was a source of fuel in past times) had grown quite high and dense in the affected area, and strong winds hindered firefighters attempts at controlling the blaze. I was actually in the area only last week, and Carn Brea is a well know landmark, providing good views on a clear day to an extensive section of the north coast of Cornwall, from Godrevy to St Agnes.
Carn Brea was first investigated in the early 1970’s by a team led by Roger Mercer, and their findings led to a new site classification: the Early Neolithic Tor Enclosure. Dating from nearly 6000 years ago, stone walls were built up between outcrops of the granite bedrock to form defensive enclosures around the top of the hill. Signs of early habitation were found, in the form of ‘lean-to’ buildings against the insides of the enclosing walls. In addition, up to 700 leaf-shaped arrowheads were among some outstanding finds – evidence of a past attack on the settlement. Nearby outcrops of rock suitable for manufacture as axes and edge grinding stones, blanks and incomplete and finished axes found on the site suggest the settlement was used for the manufacture and trading of tools. These investigations showed that the east end of the hill was the focus of most activity, whilst the fire was on the northwest flank, which was most heavily covered in vegetation. The hill displays evidence of human use almost continually since the Neolithic, with mining, quarrying and the building of a monument and a castle in more recent times.
Whilst gorse fires are dangerous, and damaging, the eco-structure tends to recover quite well from such events and the clearance factor can open up the landscape to inspection where before only vegetation was visible. It is to be hoped that the opportunity will be taken (once fire investigations have completed) to further survey the area in the weeks to come.
For more information about Early Neolithic Tor Enclosures, see Simon Davies’ excellent paper (PDF link)
Update (1st June): The blaze, which covered an area equivalent to 10 football pitches, destroyed gorse, heather and bilberry and it is estimated that the area will take ‘years’ to recover, according to the environment manager at Cornwall Council. Nesting birds, small mammals and reptiles were among the casualties of the fire, which was apparently started by a disposable barbecue.
It’s amazing what you can find when you look. Back in 2007, Dartmoor expert Alan Endecott discovered an arc of recumbent stones high up on the moor, some 1700 or so feet (525m) above sea level.
Initial investigations of the area are now completed, and what Alan discovered has been identified as a previously unknown stone circle, some 112 feet (34m) in diameter, and consisting of 30 or 31 stones with extensive views in all directions. This is the highest stone circle recorded on Dartmoor thus far.
The stones were previously all thought to be upright, due to the surviving presence of packing stones and the large stones themselves, all of a similar size, may have been quarried from nearby Sittaford Tor. The location of this new circle places it within an arc of known circles in the NE moor, which includes Buttern Hill, Scorhill, Shovel Down, Fernworthy and the Grey Wethers double circles, described by some as a ‘sacred arc’ which suggests some measure of wider landscape planning by the circle builders. Preliminary radio-carbon dating of samples taken from underneath the stones suggests that they had fallen close to the end of the 3rd millenium BC, some 4000 years ago.
Geophysical work at the site has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Funded scheme, Moor Than Meets The Eye. Although full results are not yet available, initial results have identified a possible linear ditch just outside the eastern side of the circle.
The find was announced in the announced in the January 2014 edition of the Devon Archaelogical Society Newsletter, No.117. Further investigation is planned later this summer, we’ll be watching this one with interest!
Here’s what he said in the Commons 18 years ago:
“Anyone who has been on an archaeological dig will know of the painstaking, enormously slow process that is involved in uncovering objects. The precise position in the ground of every revealed object and its proximity to other finds is carefully recorded. When people come along who are not experts or who are not necessarily interested in the history of an object, but whose main motivation is simply to try to uncover a pot of gold, and they root around without paying much attention to the archaeological importance of their finds, the archaeological information is lost. All too often, they simply chuck aside anything that does not immediately appear to have a monetary value.”
He sounds indistinguishable from his Irish and French counterparts. How refreshing!
1. English Heritage (or whatever they’ll be calling themselves this year):
“At Stonehenge we’ll be more of a statutory heritage champion and less of a Tory election agent”.
2 and 3. National Trust:
“At Stonehenge, we’ll do what we say is our mission, not what someone in Whitehall says they’d like us to do”.
“We’ll finally admit that letting people brandalise or sloganise monuments is always a bad idea”.
4 and 5. Portable Antiquities Scheme:
“We’ll simply tell the truth to artefact hunters, farmers and the public”.
“We’ll lobby the Government to make this spiffing update the last.”
6 and 7. Landowners:
“Like with sheep and spuds, we’ll let nothing off our farms without us seeing it (and knowing its value).”
“We’ll keep in mind every archaeological find needs reporting (whatever any non-archaeologist says).”
8. Academics and the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage:
“We’ll finally admit that not telling a landowner about a significant find (and therefore being unable to report it) DOES conform to our definition of “heritage crime” and is just as damaging as nighthawking”.
9. Shropshire Council:
“At Oswestry, we’ll listen to informed opinion and ask ourselves every morning “who benefits from ignoring it?”
10 and 11. Cadw:
1. “We will try to be consistent, unbiased and professional.”
2. “We will try much harder to protect archaeology.”
“We’ll fret less about community archaeology and more about the community’s archaeology”
Submitted by a Correspondent:
THE SELFIE – A SHORT HISTORY
When in 1651, exactly 363 years ago yesterday, Charles II visited Stonehenge he didn’t do it to cross it off his “Bucket List”. Charles didn’t take advantage of any “photo opportunity” moment, indeed he would have shunned recognition. Nor did he arrive with a massive entourage, his servants preferred Salisbury Fair.
What changed between the visit of Charles and the visit of Barack Obama in 2014, is the selfie – everyone increasingly wanting to write themselves into the story. To borrow from one of the American President’s predecessors: it is not what the present can do for Stonehenge, but what the monument can do for the present. As well as the long past, it is surely time for visitors to be reminded to spare the monument’s future a thought…
If you’re in a Planning Department and you’re going to let a utility company dig up a probable archaeological site without making provision for an archaeological watching brief, it’s best not to do it at the end of the street in which the Director of the Council for British Archaeology lives. The danger being, he might trudge home after a long, hot day in the office and spot some pottery and the fragments of a Roman era leg bone and a jawbone with teeth in it lying on a pile of soil… Which is exactly the nightmare that happened recently up in in York !
Dr Heyworth said the incident shows up the “black holes” that are appearing in local authority archaeology services, with planners taking decisions without any specialist advice. He notified both the police to inform them that human remains had been discovered and the local authority, and work has now been suspended while an archaeologist investigates the site.
The worrying aspect is that not every street has a Dr Heyworth living in it so it’s a moot point how many similar issues go unnoticed up and down the country. Coincidentally, EH has just revealed that the number of archaeological specialists in local authorities has declined by 9.5% in the past year. The full report is HERE.
PRESS RELEASE 8th July 2014
The Sustainable Trust at Stithians Show
For anyone who missed our fabulous Solstice ‘Rock on at Carwynnen Quoit’, we are holding the last exhibition in this phase of the project next Monday.
To celebrate the Festival of Archaeology, the Council of Archaeology’s annual event, we will be showing new footage of the restoration along with a photographic exhibition of the project. Stithians Agricultural Association have kindly accepted us as one of their featured charities this year and we relish the opportunity to bring this project to a wider appreciative audience.
Visiting children will be able to make a pop up quoit card, a thaumotrope and a pocket book about the history of this 5000 year old monument, written in both Cornish and English. It will be a chance to talk about your memories of ‘The Frying Pan Field’ and the ‘Devil’s Quoit’ and hear about our re-creation of the famous 1925 picnic and future plans.
Pip Richards, director of sustrust said ‘We have been astounded at the amount of people who have shown appreciation for our work at Carwynnen. This field has now become a focal point for the community with its iconic megalithic structure. It feels symbolic that we have managed to restore one of the first man made landmarks during this time of recognition of Cornish identity. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible’.
Not its funding, you understand, its visitor numbers. Thanks to a long, hot summer, favourable exchange rates and a post-Olympic “bounce”, the tourism industry enjoyed a record-breaking 32 million visits to Britain in 2013, the highest number since records began.
As a result, tourism earnings soared 12.7 per cent to an unprecedented £21 billion. London overtook Paris as the world’s most popular tourism destination with 16.8 million visits, thanks to a “post-Olympic boom” and a surge in the popularity of the British Royal Family coinciding with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the birth of Prince George. Visitor numbers in the rest of England, Scotland and Wales grew by as much as 10 per cent.
At Stonehenge English Heritage reported an 18.9 per cent rise in visitors last year with their spokesman reporting “We had a fantastic year, with more than half of all visitors to Stonehenge coming from abroad…”.
The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions are even more bullish: “The rest of the country outside of the capital is set to get an even bigger slice of the tourism cake in future. On their first visit to the UK tourists pretty much exclusively head to London, but our research shows that on their second and third visits, they are actually more likely to visit the rest of the country, to explore its heritage history and countryside.”
A couple of things are worth considering: First, isn’t it irrational that while heritage tourism income is soaring, heritage funding is plummeting? Second, isn’t it puzzling how, when Stonehenge visitor numbers are soaring, there are still calls for Free and Open access to the place? How will that work then?