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Here we go again. Tarting up Stonehenge for a bit of fun. Yes of course it’s harmless and meant to persuade people to play the Lottery “to ensure he doesn’t win”. But it’s not harmless for the reasons we cite constantly about stunts at places like Uffington White Horse and many others: every bit of “brandalism” signals that exploitation is OK and respect isn’t owed and carries the risk of copycatting at other ancient monuments – sometimes with damaging results. What’s wrong with “sancrosanct” as a guiding principle? Please answer, English Heritage!
Oh and there’s another puzzling aspect of this. Camelot was given permission to do it in exchange for an awful lot of money no doubt whereas every year English Heritage facilitate all sorts of damage and disrespect at Solstice completely gratis! They really need to sort out their role. Are they there to make money wherever they can? Or not? Are they heritage guardians? Or not?
(BTW, it’s been two and a half weeks and we’re still waiting for a reply from their General Manager about whether they’ll send us their Round Table minutes for publication here – or if they’ll only supply them to a “Free Access” group!)
It’s no secret we think the Stonehenge solstices celebrations are too crowded so are often damaging and disrespectful and that English Heritage should take a firmer line. So we wrote to their Stonehenge General Manager saying “May we please be copied in with the minutes of the recent and future Round Table meeting so that we can publish them on the Heritage Journal?” Our thinking was that if they send these minutes to the website of campaigners for Free Access, which they do, it’s only reasonable that they should also send them to us so we can pass them on to our many thousands of followers who are equally deserving stakeholders. Unfortunately we haven’t had a reply whereas in stark contrast EH has just supplied “Solstice debrief notes” to the Facebook page of the Open Access to Stonehenge Campaign.
In all the circumstances we feel justified in calling upon EH to share information with everyone, not just a limited group. In addition we’d like them to be more open and sharing about the following points we picked up from their de-brief:
“3 fractures ……. 1 taken to hospital with a suspected fractured leg”
Eh? How did that happen? Is it indicative of a well-run event? Did the broken leg involve someone standing on and falling off a stone? Isn’t that an important matter that ought to be included in the debrief? Isn’t the general public entitled to be fully informed?
“Curator pleased to report that there was no serious damage to the stones, just needed time to recover from all the visitors”
What does that mean? It’s a puzzle. Why do the stones need to “recover”? Isn’t the public owed a clearer account of exactly what happened to the stones that makes it necessary for them to “recover” (bearing in mind nearly every previous year for a decade the stones have been damaged).
“All acknowledged that litter wasn’t a problem this year”
We beg to differ. It is true, is it not, that there were loads and loads of litter dropped and the only difference was that a team of people picked it up? To us, the fact it was picked up doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that thousands of people weren’t treating the monument with utter disrespect. We don’t think English Heritage should go along with pretending “litter wasn’t a problem”. On the contrary, it was a disgrace that doesn’t happen on other days of the year and shouldn’t be allowed on just one.
“A member expressed concern that there were marquee spikes on the first catering unit. EH assured the member that the Curator had confirmed this was not in an area of archaeological interest.”
Really? By what measure does EH judge areas are not of archaeological interest and can have spikes driven into them? Will they issue a map of such places?
Someone climbed on top of the Hele stone. How come these Notes from the Debrief meeting contain no mention of it? “
Hundreds of people stood on the prostrate stones, yet again, which is disrespectful and illegal. How come the Notes from the Debrief meeting contain no mention of it?
Stonehenge a mere 115 years ago was obviously a very different place from what we see today. No fences, no visitor centre, no interpretation signs, no caravans or campers on the by-ways.
The British Film Institute have a new web site, Britain on Film, which allows browsing and searching on a map for old films, from the mid-1800’s (if you’re lucky!) through to the present day. Many are free to view, for others there is a modest cost.
So far, there’s only one film showing Stonehenge, dated from 1900. It shows a brief panorama across the stones, where a solitary self-concious policeman is on ‘guard’ duty for a single visitor.
Imagine if that ratio of police to visitors were to be in place today!
Why not take a look at the BFI and Pathe News sites and see if your favourite Scheduled Ancient Monument is represented by an old film? Let us know what you find!
A recent press release from the University of Reading:
Our knowledge of the people who worshipped at Stonehenge and worked on its construction is set to be transformed through a new project led by the University of Reading.
This summer, in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Wiltshire Museum, archaeologists are embarking on an exciting three-year excavation in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.
Situated between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the Vale of Pewsey is a barely explored archaeological region of huge international importance. The project will investigate Marden Henge. Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden’ is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain’s most important but least understood prehistoric monuments.
Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.
Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology and Director of the Archaeology Field School, said: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.
“Why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. How the giant stones were transported almost defy belief. It must have been an astonishing, perhaps frightening, sight. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction.
“Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out.”
The Vale of Pewsey is not only rich in Neolithic archaeology. It is home to a variety of other fascinating historical monuments from various periods in history, including Roman settlements, a deserted medieval village and post-medieval water meadows. A suite of other investigations along the River Avon will explore the vital role of the Vale’s environment throughout history.
Dr Leary continued: “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there – a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved – from prehistory to history.”
Duncan Wilson, Historic England Chief Executive, added: “Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment.”
The Vale of Pewsey excavation also marks the start of the new University of Reading Archaeology Field School. Previously run at the world-famous Roman town site of Silchester, the Field School will see archaeology students and enthusiasts from Reading and across the globe join the excavation.
The six week dig runs from 15th June to 25th July. Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance.
There will also be a chance for the public to visit the site at two exciting Open Days on Saturday 4th July and Saturday 18th July. To visit the excavation follow Sat Nav SN10 3RH.
Try this test. Go to Stonehenge and deliberately tread on a Marsh Fritillary caterpillar. You’ll risk prosecution. Now jump around on the stones and the same thing applies as that’s against the law too. Yet you and hundreds of others can do it with impunity on 21 June. Why? Because there are so many people packed into the monument it’s impossible to exercise control. EH’s PR Department must cringe every year, especially on 22 June when they release a press release saying everything went well but the photographs show they weren’t in control.
But maybe a change is coming. We hear EH’s Historic Properties Director “has grasped the PR opportunity of picnics and kite flying and happy family gatherings” (which were OUR suggestions, see here!) and coincidentally some Free Access campaigners are also calling for a daytime picnic adjacent to the stones and they’ve been invited to a “private meeting” to discuss it!
Could this be the moment when the problem is solved? Yes, providing EH says instead of, not as well as. There’s no point in expanding the celebrations into the daytime unless there’s an end to the worldwide negative PR created by nocturnal overcrowding inside the stones and the damage and disrespect it brings.
So here’s our fantasy picture of ordinary people, all equal stakeholders having fun celebrating solstice near to but not within the stones (which is something no-one can show is less likely to be traditional than what happens now). They could start at dawn if they wished – the sunrise view from outside is much better and the place is now thought to have been designed to facilitate that – and if they were outside the stones there’d be no huge expense, no massive security, no litter, no graffiti, no damage, no stone-standing, no climbing on them, no “personal alcohol allowance”, no ejections, no endless moaning, no faeces, no crazy calls for unrestricted access, no arrests and no embarrassment and humiliation for EH and Britain! Isn’t that better?
As a boy I was furious when the bit of Enville Common where we played cricket every Sunday was suddenly fenced off and planted with small trees. Here they are now ….
Fortunately for young cricketers the Enville Estate practices sustainable forestry and shortly a lot of them are to be felled and the land will revert to how it was in 1955, for a while at least. I plan to take my grandson there to play cricket.
What has this to do with the price of beans? Well, it crossed my mind it’s a good example of harmless change. A circle has turned and no harm has been done. Whereas, the change that’s proposed at Stonehenge is on a line not a circle. If EH and NT and Mr Cameron and the road lobby get their way a new massive scar across one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the world will still be there long after all of them aren’t – and indeed long after there’s no more petrol.
You can write to the Trust very easily here . (Just say to Dame Helen Ghosh that as a stakeholder you support the simple but compelling principle of no new damage to Stonehenge and you think she should too.)
You can also write to UNESCO very easily here. (Tell them that the things that they’re liable to hear from EH and NT, they ain’t necessarily so, and a lot of people in Britain don’t support what they are trying to do to the World Heritage Site).
Can you guess who said this?
“I still find Stonehenge rather dull. When it comes to prehistory, I am more for picturesque Avebury or Brittany’s stupendous Carnac. Wiltshire’s henge is small and fragmentary, and I wish someone would replace the fallen lintels and fill in the gaps.
Another “Stonehenge sensation” this month revealed that the the henge had been a complete circle. Given its astronomical precision, why not put it back as intended by its builders? We do not leave sundials out of line or clocks without escapements. We know where the sarsens and bluestones came from. We rebuild churches and cathedrals. A reconstructed Stonehenge might make sense, and not just to archaeologists.
But there we go. Like Obama and the rest, I have communed too long and am probably going mad.”
Someone in long flowing robes, high on a hill, hands outstretched to the moon? No, it was the NT’s outgoing chairman, here just weeks before announcing he – and you – were going to support the short tunnel! But that was then and this is now and he has left and you haven’t.
If you feel that supporting a short tunnel conflicts with the Trust’s mission and spirit you’ll be pleased to know it has just invited its members to say how it can stay true to its core purpose (could it be asking you to urge it to change its mind?) You can tell them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like, you could mention that when they boasted on World Heritage Day that “we’re proud to protect eight World Heritage Sites” you think they should have said seven!)
You could also follow Dan Snow’s advice: “Great that the National Trust has given members a vote on the Stonehenge tunnel. Please help to Save Stonehenge“
You’d think Stonehenge had troubles enough, what with proper protection being ditched in favour of proper vote catching and the National Trust inexplicably going along with it. So what it doesn’t need is loads of American detectorists piling in to support the short tunnel. (Nor, truth to tell, does the Trust, bearing in mind the ramshackle case they are trying to maintain and the fact they don’t allow metal detectorists onto any of their land!) Yet supporting the short tunnel is exactly what a British detectorist is urging American colleagues to do:
“May I through the comments section ask that support be given to the UK’s National Trust who favour the ‘short tunnel’ option to protect Stonehenge from traffic. We need to counter the propaganda nonsense spouted by Heritage Harry, aka, Nigel Swift of Heritage Action who is desperate to see the ‘short tunnel’ option binned. Write to:- email@example.com . I already have. Please support the ‘short tunnel’ option.”
If, on the other hand, you aren’t an American detectorist and you oppose new damage at Stonehenge, please sign the petition. Plus, if you’re an NT Member please write to them saying: “I see you are submitting the short tunnel to a Members’ vote. I vote NO.”