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The Wrekin in Shropshire is visited by countless thousands of people and erosion due to footfall is an ongoing problem. Particularly affected is “The Barrow between Heaven and Hell’s Gate” close to the summit. Volunteer restoration teams have recently been at work to protect it.

               (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

Pete Lambert, from Shropshire Wildlife Trust explained: “We are covering it with matting and then sowing it with grass seed to protect it from further damage. It was starting to become very exposed so we needed to seal in that bit of archaeology.”

The Wrekin was once home to the Celtic Cornovii tribe which built the fort and called it their capital. It sprawled the summit of the hill and covered about 20 acres. Mr Lambert added: “Hell Gate, the earthwork entrance created by the Cornovii, has also suffered extensive erosion and is being restored“.  More here.

The so-called Roman Ridge is a 2,000-year-old earthwork near Rotherham which pre-dates the arrival of the Romans in Britain and is believed to mark territories or grazing areas for cattle on the southern borders of the Brigantes tribe. It once stretched 12 miles but now only short stretches remain, including part that has been damaged due to the construction of a ramp by mountain bikers.

© Copyright Martin Speck and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

It is now to be repaired after English Heritage signed an agreement with its owners. Anyone that witnesses any further damage being caused to it is asked to report it by email to swintonwood@gmail.com

 

Looking towards Carn Meini from Foel Drygarn Hillfort
Image credit Moss

Building modern shelters, or walker cairns from the stones of  bronze age burial cairns, is a destructive process and we have written about it before, but as always there are others who restore the damage done to the cairns.  This time it is students from Pembrokeshire College restoring the three great burial cairns sited on top of Foel Drygarn hillfort, which is situated within the Presceli hills.

Army Preparation Course students have helped to repair a Scheduled Ancient Monument in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.The group of 14 from Pembrokeshire College joined the National Park Authority’s Archaeologist and Rangers to help reinstate damaged Bronze Age burial cairns on the Preseli Hills…  More here  from NewsWales.

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/3485/moel_drygarn.html

Glastonbury Tor
Image credit and © C. Brooks

“Two thousand trees are going to be planted on the bottom slopes of Glastonbury Tor, in a hark back to the area’s traditional roots. On Saturday, 20 November, volunteers and staff at the National Trust will begin the three-week project in one of the southern fields. Organisers hope the mass-planting will “be an eye-catching reminder of yesteryear”.” 

Trees to be planted include the Ash, Blackthorn, Common buckthorn, Dog rose, Field maple, Guelder rose, Hawthorn, Hazel, Standard oak and Spindle.
 
More here –

By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Time and the lack of written record, have tied a tight blindfold between us and prehistory, but occasionally we get the chance of a small nudge in the right direction. Following the recent collapse of its capstone,  Tirnony portal tomb, in County Derry, is to be excavated in advance of restoration. The Belfast Telegraph carries this report;

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/maghera-tomb-5000yearold-burial-site-to-give-up-secrets-14977234.html#ixzz12zx9DMOm

As you’ll read in the article, this is indeed a rare chance. Excavation involves destruction and is, therefore, a tool that must be used sparingly; a delicate balance has to be struck between the desire for information and the need for preservation (a conflict between pressures, to borrow a phrase from Jung, that; “cannot be solved by an either-or but only by a kind of two-way thinking: doing one thing while not losing sight of the other”).

Certainly, the archaeological component of all the “saddle-up boys” development activity of recent years, while it did increase our ‘record‘, seemed to have drifted well away from the consideration of ‘need for preservation’. The same need that is lost to sight, I’m convinced, by allowing the uncontrolled use of metal-detectors; wonderful, easily destructible, knowledge does rest in the ground. Here at Tirnony, for instance and in contrast, the archaeologist Paul Logue can set out his team’s hopes to; “find out more about how this tomb was built, when it was built and how it was used.”

If you do happen to be interested in the portal tombs of Ireland, Wales and Cornwall, there’s a smart and very exhaustive study by Tatjana Kytmannow, available as a British Archaeology Report (BAR 455, 2008). It’s fascinating. The monument group has been dated, from finds analysis, to the Early Neolithic; to a period in the region of 4000 – 3500 BC and, interestingly, given the emphatic thrust to the contrary in one of the comments beneath the Telegraph article, she notes that;

“There are very simple dolmens in Portugal, Spain, Brittany, and western France which are all early, earlier than passage tombs, but there are no close parallels which possess the same defining criteria. While the idea (of) erecting large monuments of stone was most likely introduced, portal tombs are only found in Britain and Ireland and have most likely developed there.”

There is to be an archaeologist’s blog at www.ni-environment.gov.uk, which should be worth checking out from time to time. It’s a good website to look through, in any case.

Kilmogue Portal Tomb; symbolism and spectacle?

Dozens of prehistoric sites on Dartmoor have been restored in a five-year project.

Good news always comes quietly, Dartmoor National Trust Authority, English Heritage and local volunteers have been helping to restore cairns on the very important prehistoric site of Dartmoor.  Such work is invaluable, many cairns, especially summit cairns, are vandalised often through ignorance by walkers, that this is being redressed is something to be rejoiced in on this cold Wednesday morning.

More than 30 Bronze Age cairns have now been taken off the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register as a result of the work. Some 49 of the summit cairns, dating back to 2,000 BC, were surveyed and 31 needed restoration. “These are scheduled ancient monuments so are very important,” said Andy Crabb, archaeologist at Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA). “They have the highest level of protection that we have in this country.

“The project has just come to an end, but plans are under way to restore more of Dartmoor’s 3,000 Bronze Age cairns – ancient burial mounds.     More here  from Devon BBC News.

The PDF file on the summer news has some interesting tidbits. 

There is a new  ‘mimic’ design Iron Age roundhouse ‘remains’ at the viewpoint of Bwlch Pen Barras.

Talk of a newly discovered fort or defended enclosure, the site is located to the north-east of Caer Drewyn (a spectacular stone built hillfort in Corwen).

Plus successful restoration work is being carried out on the damaged heathland on the Llantysilio Mountains caused by motorbikes.  “The illegal circuit on on the edge of Moel y Gaer hillfort and the damage alongside the Moel y faen quarry has been repaired by a contractor, Tim Faire.  Tim has harrowed a native grass seed mix and suitable fertiliser into the damaged area and spread a total of 50 large rounds of heather bales.” 

Heather and Hillforts PDF file

 

Stonehenge in 1877

Beware of ruins; the heart is apt to make
Monstrous assumptions on the unburied past;
Though cleverly restored, the Tudor tower
Is spurious, the facade a fake

From Beware of Ruins by A D Hope

by Nigel Swift, Heritage Action

They say gambling is an attempt to reduce a chaotic and unpredictable world to a finite and manageable size. There’s a lot of it going on at Cheltenham races this week but how many of those refugees from remedial maths classes will bother to glance up at Cleeve Hill? They say (don’t they say a lot?) that religion is the ultimate gamble and there, close to the summit, broods the visible evidence of a six  thousand year old gamble – a bet that there’s a beyond. Try getting a price on that from the bookies!

Be warned though, it’s a hard slog to get up there unless you’re fit, which I’m not, and the signposts and locals seem to be anxious to make the Irish invaders feel at home – a mile or two means rather more than it sounds. Wikipedia says it takes ten minutes. Wikipedia should ruddy try it.

Still, it’s so worth it. Belas Knap (which could mean beautiful hill or lots of other things) is one of the Cotswold Severn cairns, a type that is plentiful in this area, particularly in Gloucestershire. They vary greatly but all tend to have a defining feature – a regular trapezium shape – in fact the shape of a coffin, which is spooky for a burial mound!

In truth, a lot of it is a bit of a cheat. It was left devastated by nineteenth century excavators and radically reconstructed by the Ministry of Works in the 1920s. And yet, not all of its essence has been lost -because, perhaps, its location hasn’t been restored. There is a sense of wildness and open sky and huge views that can hardly have changed – and one can fancy that the experience of being there is close to what the builders would have seen and felt. Who needs a Tardis when you can travel back in time just by climbing a hill?

Despite the fact much of it has been rebuilt (and sometimes badly – did the ceilings of the side chambers really have to be constructed of moulded concrete reminiscent of the ceiling of Wolverhampton’s multi story car park?) parts are admirable and the dry Cotswold stone walling framing the false entrance is particularly fine (and part is original). This area, spacious and well sheltered from the wind and incorporating a large blocking stone is surely more than a mere false entrance (why construct a lie that could be easily discovered?). It is hard to avoid thinking important ceremonies were held within those sheltering arms.

Who knows? Although, we can probably assume one thing about the original use of Belas Knap – people didn’t squat in the side chambers playing guitars and watching their tealights staining the stones. (“How do you know, maan?” Just a guess, oh youthful substance-befuddled poseur!). Damaging this place can’t possibly be revering the past – or indeed the present or future. I’m comfortably pro-Pagan me, but I’m pretty anti-prat. It wouldn’t do any harm if the heritage organisations and the rest of us were more actively the latter without worrying it might make us anti the former. It won’t.

                Tell-tale marks indicating a visitation by Faux Neo-Pagans

Article by Moss

Wayland's Smithy in Autumn 2006

Wayland's Smithy in Autumn 2006

This longbarrow was excavated by Richard Atkinson and Stuart Piggott in the years 1962-63. They seems to have uncovered two periods. Period 1; This was a barrow containing a wooden mortuary hut shaped like a ridge tent, but with a sarsen stone floor. Here some fourteen bodies had been laid, some articulated, others with limbs separated – probably due to the practice of excarnation. When the hut was full sarsen stones were placed around it, and chalk from ditches on either side was piled on top. The mound being kept in position by a kerb of boulders.
Period 11; Consists of the mound that is now visible 54.9 metres long by 14.6 m at the front tapering to 6.1. m at the back. The front facade originally contained 6 great sarsen stones, each about 9 foot high, at the back was the passageway with a chamber on either side.
In the restoration work drystone walling was used to fill the gaps between the stones. Apparently an earlier excavation in 1919, found in the left hand chamber 8 skeletons including 1 child. The latest excavation of 1962 showed that the final barrow was excavated from ditches on either side of the mound and was held in place by a continuous kerb of sarsens. Radio carbon dating at this time was between 3700 and 3400 bc.
The two missing stones beside the entrance are marked by irregular dry-stone walling. There seems to have been a rather more formalised interpretation in the ‘restoration’ work in which the flanks of the barrow were sharply revetted to form walls. Now, in 2007, the mound has acquired a graceful curve with what remains of the kerbing stone sitting comfortably in the ground. The work was done by the DoE, and it is well to remember that ‘neatness’ in the restoration work, may not necessarily give a true final picture..

The following photograph taken in 1930 shows how Wayland’s Smithy looked before restoration, a jumble of  facade stones, and it is well to remember that West Kennet Longbarrow  was in a similar state and also underwent the same work at the hands of the above two archaeologists.  Both monuments are magnificient reminders of Neolithic stone construction, so perhaps in the end we should welcome such restorations which give us a better understanding of these longbarrows.

 

Ref: An Archaeological Guide to Southern England; Gen.Ed. Glyn Daniels 1973.

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