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Standing proud on a hillside in Dorset, the Cerne Abbas Giant has long been a cause of much speculation. Is he a prehistoric figure? Is he Iron Age in date – Hercules has been suggested as the model for the figure. Or is he more recent? An ancient fertility symbol, or a pastiche political cartoon from much later?  

The investigation of the hill figure’s history is being undertaken by the National Trust in celebration of their having overseen the site for the last 100 years. 

Soil samples taken from the deepest levels of the chalk giant’s elbows and feet  before the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 have been found to contain microscopic land snails shells that did not appear in England until the 13–14 Centuries. And analysis of recent LIDAR scans of the figure strongly suggest that the giant’s famous ‘appendage’ is very much a later addition.

The samples taken last year were subjected to OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) analysis to determine the date(s) of the giant, and the figures are now available – but the National Trust are teasing us as the results will not be released until midnight tonight.

Given our focus upon the prehistoric, I suspect that our interest in the Giant at Cerne Abbas will be reduced after the announcement. My personal guess is that it will be dated as late medieval at best, if not later! We shall soon see…

On the 14th March 2016 a new web resource was publicly announced on these pages, the Stone Rows of Great Britain website. 

The idea for the new site came after a series of articles by Dr Sandy Gerrard here on the Journal, and we feel fully justified in congratulating him on the occasion of the site’s 5th birthday, on a job very well done!

The StoneRows site was created following a series of articles concerning the Bancbryn row in Wales, which was partially destroyed to make way for a wind farm, the authorities at that time refusing to recognise the row’s potential Neolithic origins. It became obvious to Dr Gerrard that very little work had been done to definitively identify such sites, and he set out to rectify this.

Bancbryn: One of the more obvious shifts in orientation

In the five years since the site’s birth, Dr Gerrard has personally visited and surveyed almost all of the known rows in the UK. As a result of this ‘boots on the ground’ research the website has expanded significantly and now not only provides a gazetteer with details of every recorded row in the UK, but also contains a number of statistical analyses and research articles on typology, topography and other aspects of the known rows, whether extant or destroyed/lost.

Such is the status of the site, it is now used as a primary reference point in some area’s Heritage Environment Records (HER), and will be referenced in on-site signage. The site continues to be updated to include the latest available information and research results.

Happy Birthday StoneRows!!

Save Stonehenge WHS Ltd. (SSWHS – a company established by individual Stonehenge Alliance supporters to take forward the legal action) heard this week that a three-day High Court hearing will take place from 23rd to 25th June. SSWHS is challenging Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to go ahead with the highly damaging A303 dual carriageway through the World Heritage Site (WHS). His decision was taken against the advice of a panel of five senior Planning Inspectors (the Examining Authority) who formally examined the scheme in 2019.

The Inspectors considered that the scheme’s benefits “would not outweigh the harm arising from the excavation of a deep, wide cutting and other engineering works, within the WHS and its setting, of a scale and nature not previously experienced historically in this ‘landscape without parallel’”. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, who gave the WHS its international designation in 1986, has also condemned the road scheme.

The complexity of the case has obliged SSWHS to raise its funding target for the legal challenge, including the three-day hearing.

Kate Fielden, Hon Secretary the Stonehenge Alliance and SSWHS, said:

“Having a date for the court hearing gives us something to aim for in preparing for our challenge to Grant Shapps’ outrageous decision. We urge our supporters to help us to continue the fight to save our famous World Heritage Site from this appalling scheme. There can be no more iconic symbol of the global heritage of mankind than Stonehenge and we have a duty to safeguard it for future generations.”

The Stonehenge Alliance supporter-organisations are: Ancient Sacred Landscape Network; CPRE; FoE; Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust; and Transport Action Network.

We conclude our review of the hell that has been 2020, focussing on the autumn and winter months. Although we have largely omitted our coverage of both Stonehenge and metal detecting issues from this review, both featured larger than usual in this latter part of the year .

Through September and October, with the easing of lockdown, commercial metal detecting rallies once more reared their ugly heads across our landscape. However, with COVID still rampant, some communities were concerned about the prospect of rallies being held in their area

Many of these rallies were held on a commercial basis, with detectorists paying to detect, and the consequences of the pandemic  be damned! Thankfully, some were banned by the authorities, but that didn’t stop the organisers from putting together alternatives at very short notice, an indication of their priorities: money over public health. A petition was even raised to object to the banning of such events during lockdown2!

In November we reported the news that everyone had dreaded:

The Stonehenge Alliance team WON the argument against the combined forces of English Heritage, Historic England, and the National Trust so that the Planning Authority recommended permission should be refused. What happened was that the Minister, Grant Shapps said he would grant permission anyway! So was it a “decision” or a pre-planned Government agenda? There seems little doubt.

…but at the end of the month an appeal was launched to appeal the decision through the courts.

And so we come to December, and  a tale of wanton damage at Stoney Littleton. And speaking of damage, we began to give examples of the type of damage to be inflicted upon the Stonehenge landscape.

Which, apart from fighting the propaganda being espoused in the national press, brings us pretty much up to date. 

Keep reading in the new year for more items about our ancient sites, some of their history, and the threats posed against them.

We continue our review of this most unusual year, looking at the summer months. As mentioned in part 1, our extensive coverage of both Stonehenge and metal detecting issues is mostly omitted from this review. Our search facility can be used for those interested in these specific subjects which received a lot of attention throughout the year.

May

In Oswestry, there was an outcry when Historic England announced it had relaxed its concerns over the proposed development.

And English Heritage showed its bipolarism when it was presented with an award for conservation work at Telford’s Iron Bridge, whilst defying UNESCO in their support of the Stonehenge plans!

We rounded off the month with a short series, looking at a “baker’s dozen” of Cornish quoits.

June

June is often known as ‘silly season’, and sadly this year, despite or maybe because of lockdown, proved to be no exception. Vandalism was reported at Doll Tor and at several other sites during the month. One good thing to come out of the Doll Tor vandalism was the creation of a new site protection group for the Stanton Moor area.

In academic news, The Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society announced the completion of the first phase of their digitisation project, which meant that after 174 years, the complete journals of one of the oldest archaeological societies in the UK are now online, for anyone to access free of charge.

July

The National Trust AGM was cancelled this month, an AGM where support for Trail Hunting on Trust land was due to be discussed again. We raised the point that the Trust could be held legally responsible for any ‘accidents’ where foxes were killed during a hunt.

Sticking with the National Trust, July saw the centenary of their stewardship of the Cerne Abbas Giant, gifted to the nation in 1920.

August

As the pandemic continued, we had to postpone our annual get-together, the Megameet. But we continued to highlight the potential damage to be caused at Stonehenge, and the damage caused by metal detecting rallies, one of which was thankfully cancelled this month.

Come back tomorrow, when we conclude our review of 2020 in the Heritage Journal.

We’re pleased to report that there is a new player in the site guardian arena. A new group has been formed to look after several sites on the Derbyshire Moors. We welcome GSSN, the Guarding Sacred Sites Network, who introduce themselves in the guest post below. We look forward to hearing good things about their work going forward.

There are many beautiful, ancient sacred sites on Stanton and Harthill Moors, in Derbyshire. Nine Ladies, Doll Tor, Rowter Rocks, Nine Stones Close, Robin Hoods Stride, to name a few. These sites are always under pressure of various kinds.

The damage at Doll Tor during lock-down didn’t go unnoticed as the images spread across social media sites. Although shared on Facebook, no one had reported it to the PDNPA, English Heritage, or the Rural Heritage Police. This is where our group began. We reported the damage and realised there was a lack of information about what to do if one witnessed or discovers damage at sites. We made a poster, set up a Facebook group, and became inundated with messages of hope and offers of help, from people across the country.

Since then we have created an adopt a site monitoring scheme which covers Stanton Moor and Harthill Moor. We have a monitoring form and some guidelines for volunteers to follow. We’ve listed the potential hotspots for rubbish and damage in the area and created a ‘How to report damage’ leaflet. Sites on the list have been monitored every weekend since we started the group.

Many of you will have seen the posts on Facebook about the recent and very busy solstice celebrations at Nine Ladies over the past weekend. Thankfully there has been a group of volunteers on the moor acting as unofficial stewards and collecting rubbish from the site, as well as educating people. At the time of writing this, I can happily say all the rubbish has been collected and taken off-site. Indeed, it may now be cleaner than many other spots in the area.

Organisations who are officially responsible for large numbers of archaeological sites, such as the National Trust and English Heritage, have recognised that one of the most productive ways to ensure their long-term survival and conservation is via a regular and systematic monitoring scheme undertaken by local volunteers. In this way, sites which might not be encountered that often by archaeological staff (e.g. due to their out of the way locations on moorland, farm fields, and cliffs) can still be visited regularly, and any actual or potential damage can be reported and acted on before it gets out of hand. This information is then fed into a database designed to record each site’s current state, including any problems and the subsequent response to them. By recording such information, the database becomes a tool with which to make informed decisions about the management of a broad range of sites, based on their type, construction, location, and so on.

Our second shared responsibility is to create interpretation material that informs visitors about the importance of the sites through an educational website, books, artworks, and so forth, that encourages a sustainable love and appreciation for our sacred sites. ‘Sacredness’ is not simply a matter of joy in experiencing a beautiful or historic place, but a component which motivates people in how they interact with places. Our network is a platform to explore ways that we can help to educate people through positive, informal, and relaxed experiences. Our goal is to help protect sacred sites in this area from any damage. Damage includes digging, rubbish, graffiti, fires within the circles or close to the stones, machinery damage, vehicle access, and other types of damage to the natural environment.

Stanton Moor, in particular Nine Ladies, is a contested space. Many people have very strong opinions about how it should be treated. How can the complexity of meanings surrounding a place, be represented, through formal management and interpretation? This question is difficult to answer. There is no easy solution, there are many. Each site has its specificity, each visitor, their preferences. Such issues are faced by environmental educators, archaeologists, heritage managers, landowners, those who provide information for others regularly.

If you would like to join us on our quest for preservation and education, please like our Facebook book, Guarding Sacred Sites Network, or email guardingsacredsites @ gmail.com.

The Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society are delighted to announce the completion of the first phase of their digitisation project.

After 174 years, the complete journals of one of the oldest archaeological societies in the UK are going online, for anyone to access free of charge.

Supported by a grant from the Marc Fitch Fund, the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, a registered charity founded in 1846, has worked with a professional document scanning company to digitise the entire contents of 44 volumes of its journal, Norfolk Archaeology – and make 1361 articles and images open access for scholars, researchers and the interested public. Numbers from 1848-2005 are live now, as well as three Society monographs, and numbers from 2006 onwards, as well as the historic minute books of the Society, will follow shortly.

Hosted by the Archaeology Data Service at the University of York, and searchable through the Society’s website, the articles, letters, reviews and notes cover all periods of the history and archaeology of Norfolk and include articles by world-leading experts, and important discoveries like Seahenge (Norfolk Archaeology 1999 43.2). Many are wonderfully illustrated, including magnificent hand-engraved Victorian plates and detailed drawings and photographs, including records of monuments which have since been lost or destroyed.

Dr Andrew Hutcheson, President of the Society, said, ‘I am really excited that Norfolk Archaeology is now online. The first issue dates from 1848 and ever since the journal has covered the rich archaeological heritage of the county. What an incredible boon to research to have it all at our fingertips!’

Explore Norfolk Archaeology online at www.nnas.info/NABackIssues.html

Press release from the National Trust

Avebury closed for Summer Solstice

The National Trust have today (Monday 18 May) confirmed that neither Avebury nor its land across the Stonehenge Landscape, will be open for this year’s summer solstice and are asking visitors not to travel to the area.

Avebury: South-west quadrant

The celebrations which take place every midsummer, on or around the 21st June, regularly attract in the region of 10,000 people to Stonehenge and surrounding areas including Avebury.

A spokesperson said: ‘Our priority is always to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff, volunteers, attendees and residents. This decision was made due to the on-going ban on mass gatherings, and the need to maintain social distancing – still the mainstay of measures to combat Coronavirus.’

English Heritage who manage Stonehenge have also announced that they will not be able to host the solstice at the World Heritage site, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all attendees, volunteers and staff.

The National Trust has consulted widely with its partners (English Heritage, Wiltshire Council, the Police, Ambulance services and Avebury village community).

The spokesperson said: ‘The National Trust recognise the spiritual importance and relevance of the summer Solstice and understands that this will come as a great disappointment to many but also not a huge surprise given the on-going pandemic crisis and a ban on mass gatherings. We hope that this announcement will be received with the understanding of everyone who likes to celebrate this important time of year and traditional acts of worship.’

Many other live events have either been cancelled or postponed this year due to the ongoing battle against the disease and to limit its spread.

The camping sites, the village pub, car parks and toilets will all be closed.

Each year the Trust works closely with partners through the Avebury Solstice Planning Group to manage visitors who come to Avebury for the Solstice aiming to ensure
the event allows peaceful access for celebrants and to minimise disruption to the village and neighbouring farms. We thank everyone for their understanding and hope to welcome summer solstice visitors back next year.

As we suggested earlier this week, the government have now (half-heartedly, it must be said!) implemented a much stronger lockdown regime, asking people to remain in their homes as much as possible apart from essential trips for food, medicines etc – key workers excepted and for which we are all grateful.

As this situation is likely to last, in our opinion, for months rather than days, here are a few more suggestions for heritage based activities to enjoy at home:

  • Get crafty – build a model of your favourite site. Take a look at Brick to the Past for some Lego-based inspiration. Or draw or paint an ancient site, maybe taking inspiration from one or other of your favourite artists (for instance, see Jane Tomlinson, Sarah Vivien or Anna Dillon) and let us see the results, either via our Contact Us page, or in our Facebook Group!
  • For those locked down with younger children, Mr Donn’s web site, although American is a useful resource, with presentations, lesson plans for home schooling etc. covering all aspects of archaeology and ancient history, among others. Wessex Archaeology and the Museum of London also have a very good selection of teacher’s resource packs, more suited to a British audience (other providers of educational material are available)
  • Another for the younger members: an archaeology colouring book, “this colouring book illustrates how archaeologists are working today applying new approaches. It was published by the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University.”  Or do a Google Image search for linear images to colour – e.g. “Stonehenge Colouring” returns some interesting results. Try your site or subject of choice and see what comes up.
  • As well as looking after the younger members of the household, why not try to find the time to take an online course yourself? The live broadcast talk on the Must Farm excavations on Monday drew a crowd of nearly 500 people live on Facebook, and the recording of the talk has already had almost 10,000 views! The following organisations all provide online archaeology courses and talks, and are worth checking out:

Others are also available. Let us know your favourites.

What have we missed? How are you coping with the lockdown? Please let us know your suggestions in the comments below.

Given the almost hourly Coronavirus updates on the news, the self-isolation, social-distancing, and other measures being taken (Cornwall is closed, dont’cha know?), it is apparent that much stronger action is almost inevitable to reduce the spread of the infection, and the most likely step we can foresee happening is a much stronger social lockdown. This would involve the cessation of all face-to-face social interaction and restrictions on travel to essential journeys only. Such measures are already in place in countries such as Spain and Italy.

When and if these restrictions are imposed, what is the heritage-lover to do? While trips out to sites may be restricted soon, here are five internet-based suggestions to help get your heritage fix over the coming days.

  1. This is a special one, is being held later today, and should not be missed. The team at Must Farm Archaeology have announced an online talk (including a possible Q&A session) to be held via their Facebook page on Monday 23rd March at 4pm GMT. Learn all about the excavation and finds at this most amazing site.
  2. Listen to a podcast, or watch a video. Our current favourites are from the Prehistory Guys, Michael Bott and Rupert Soskin. An educational way to spend a few hours of self-isolation! Or lose yourself in the rabbit-hole of YouTube, searching for your favourite subject, but where the quality is more variable.
  3. For the younger members of the household, the Young Archaeologist’s Club, run by the Council for British Archaeology, has a range of suggestions for indoor activities. There are also resource packs available on the web, for KS1 and KS2 history – see the BBC for some good examples.
  4. Why not visit a virtual museum? We mentioned last week that the British Museum, along with many others, is closed to visitors, but many museums are extending their web sites to allow virtual viewings of many of their exhibits. My own local museum, the Museum of Cornish Life, in Helston even has a 3D walkthrough where every gallery of the museum can be experienced as if you were there! Why not check out what your own local museum has to offer on their web site?
  5. Allow us to be a little self-indulgent here: Why not take time out to research/write an article for the Heritage Journal? Tell us a little-known fact about a site local to you, or which you have visited frequently. Dig out your diary, and regale us with details about one of your trips to a heritage site or if you’ve been on a dig in the past couple of years, tell us about what you found. Write an opinion piece on a controversial subject: the Stonehenge Tunnel, Oswestry Housing Development, the Rollright Bypass, or a planning application or rule change near you that we haven’t heard about yet. The list of topics is almost endless! We look forward to seeing what you come up with, but please try to keep it within the pre-Roman period in Britain if possible.

However you decide to spend your time while locked down, please let us know how you manage to get your own heritage fix.

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