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Our article on Tuesday drew Tweets from a commercial archaeologist who questions: “So it’s ok for academics to destroy archaeology at Blick Mead, is commercial archaeology so bad?”

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In response we would underline that we are discussing what happens within the boundaries of a World Heritage site (WHS).

At Blick Mead 100% of excavated material is sampled from comparatively small trenches, the project is painstakingly carried out so time consuming and labour intensive.

Where the Blick Mead project has taken years to progress, the commercial operation at the nearby eastern portal saw a large number of trenches excavated over a huge area and backfilled in a matter of days (pictured).

Commercial archaeology has its well deserved place, indeed we gladly point out that some of the most eminent academics researching in the WHS honed their skills at the sharp end, but within a WHS this comparison of slow microsurgery and speedy results surely speaks for itself.


 

It’s high time the British press recognised that blatant Government attacks on protected places wasn’t something that only happened in “Trumpland”. See this, an American report in the Guardian:

“Just weeks into his presidency, Trump hamfisted the Dakota Access Pipeline through the graves and homelands of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.
Now, thanks to a leaked memo from interior secretary Ryan Zinke, we know the president plans to shrink protected areas and lift restrictions on extractive developments at 10 national monuments across the country – including the sacred Bears Ears national monument in southern Utah.”

That phrase “shrink protected areas” is precisely what links President Trump with English Heritage, Historic England, The National Trust and Highways England – for that is exactly what they are pushing to happen at the Stonehenge World Heritage Site – to shrink the protected area. (Let them try to deny it if they dare). There’s one difference though: in percentage terms they are trying to shrink the protected Stonehenge landscape to a far greater extent than the President is trying to shrink the Bears Ears national monument!

Please read this.
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It says excavation = learning. Therefore excavating a large swathe of the Stonehenge landscape of all places for a road, against UNESCO’s wishes, should be welcomed.
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We are only amateurs but we profoundly disagree. It seems to us to be a worryingly damaging stance.

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But …..
In December they spooked local villagers by concocting and publishing an embarrassingly inappropriate peak-time traffic relief route directing all the A303 traffic straight through a small local community and announcing it in an apparently innocent, chirpy fashion:Stuck in traffic on the A303 Stonehenge? Our planned upgrades will ease congestion, making journeys faster and more reliable(and they had to apologise within days) ….

Then in June, just before the solstice celebrations, we had “Delays expected on A303 ahead of Summer Solstice/Highways England is warning drivers of the risk of potential delays/ Congestion can be expected/a 40mph speed limit will be in place on the A303 between the Countess roundabout and Longbarrow roundabout/ lay-bys closed/ dual carriageway between Countess roundabout and Stonehenge Cottages will be reduced to a single lane” … and so on.

….. and now, days after their preferred route has been confirmed AND with their fiirst”drop in” session about it starting today, we have “Misery for motorists as stretch of the A303 closes for weekend” ….. The closure’s expected to have an impact on traffic in Durrington, Tidworth and Ludgershall. Amesbury, Salisbury, and Andover are also likely to be affected. It’s expected to have even more of an impact due to the existing roadworks in Larkhill and Durrington.”

Can you believe it?  130 Tasmanian Aboriginal relics have been seized after a tip off that they were being offered for sale. Under the Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Act, it is an offence to destroy, conceal, remove or sell Aboriginal relics and the maximum penalty is $795,000.

Compare and contrast the (maybe) 300 mostly legally acquired but unreported British relics held on average by each of 24,000 British relic hunters. Clearly, whatever concerns exist about cultural damage due to the digging up of 130 Aboriginal relics in Australia, the damage is utterly inconsequential compared with Britain where the number of cultural losses is demonstrably more than 50,000 times greater.

But here in Britain we don’t legislate. We ingratiate. It’s the best way, don’tcha know!

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In a recent survey this view from the brow of a hill  on the A303 outside Amesbury was voted the third best in Britain. Some believe it’s THE best.

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tunnel

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Countless travellers have enjoyed it for millennia for free – so it could be said to be “forever, for everyone”, or ought to be. It is as much a part of our shared heritage as the monument itself and consequently must be just as deserving of protection. Yet now there are plans to obliterate it.

What sort of country does that to it’s own heritage? None to our knowledge. And how can it be justified? As to that, it’s significant that Historic England, English Heritage, The National Trust and the Government haven’t even tried! This project is by no means a foregone conclusion so please let the National Trust know their stance is in direct contravention of their founding principles and sign the Stonehenge Alliance petition here.

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PS: here’s Simon Jenkins, ex National Trust Chairman:

I love this view, as I do the distant sight of Lindisfarne or Arundel or Dover. Motorists are as entitled as paying visitors to delight in the English landscape.

Damage to the landscape and a risk of loss of World Heritage status are not the only consequence of Britain’s main heritage bodies defying UNESCO’s advice at Stonehenge. There could be wider consequences arising from their effective message that your judgements are valid if YOU alone believe they are!

Didn’t Shropshire Council take exactly that line when it voted to damage the setting of Oswestry Hill Fort? And haven’t Pegasus Group said much the same over destroying a Jacobean ceiling in Bristol: “Pegasus Group are ….. content that the works needed to be carried out to respect the safety of the building, and were done so lawfully in association with ongoing refurbishment works, irrespective of the outcome of the submitted planning application.”

English Heritage weren’t coy about seeing the Shropshire decision as regrettable and Historic England were equally upset about not being consulted at Bristol: “Had we been able to continue with our planned inspection of the building, before the ceiling was deliberately removed, we could have had constructive discussions with the owner about managing changes to the building in a way that respected its remaining historic features.”

But irony of ironies, both those organisations are blatantly ignoring UNESCO’s views at Stonehenge! How far will the ripples from that travel? Who in future will feel obliged to listen to either of them if it’s feared their advice would be inconvenient and they have already indicated that your judgements are valid providing YOU alone believe they are and it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore superior advice?

 

The Government has today announced it supports an amended short tunnel (see details here). Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust, who have faithfully supported a short tunnel from the start, have reacted precisely as expected – with tricky words intended to cover their shame:

“It is now critical to ensure that the benefits of this new route can be realised through careful design and mitigation of archaeological risks”.

Note, no more pretence that the route would do no harm if carefully designed.  There must be “mitigation of archaeological risks” which, with the route now decided, actually means mitigation of actual damage.

Our three main heritage bodies can no longer hide behind ifs and buts: they are openly supporting massive new damage to the World Heritage Site in defiance of UNESCO’s wishes.

Update:
Meanwhile, Tony Robinson puts the whole scheme in a nutshell (and consequently  highlights the awfulness of the HE, EH, NT posturing):

The Scheme is “The most brutal intrusion into the Stone Age landscape ever….. Archaeologists have understood over the last 10 to 15 years that Stonehenge isn’t a monument, Stonehenge is a landscape. Unesco understood that, which is why they made the area into the World Heritage Site. What’s happened is that the Department for Transport is literally driving a thousand coaches and horses through the World Heritage Site ……. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

Bravo. The stone cold truth.

 

Back in 2015 we suggested detectorists should stump up some cash to help PAS as it’s PAS that has kept them in existence, and a mere £3 a week each would provide thirty new FLOs. As we said at the time, PAS is entitled to expect that detectorists, whose bacon they and the taxpayer have saved for so many years, would promptly respond.

PAS did indeed ask for donations. Trouble is, after 2 years, the total raised is only £981.53 from a derisory 25 donors (one of whom was the CBA and another of whom was us!). Dr Sam Hardy reckons there are nearly 24,000 active detectorists which means detectorists are supporting PAS not at the rate of £3 per week each but at the rate of £0.0004 per week each – whereas most commercial detecting rallies cost £40 per week each (100,000 times more!)

Maybe it’s time PAS stopped pretending the majority of detectorists are their “partners” and stopped organising conferences to give that impression? Instead, shouldn’t they be telling the Government that what the vast majority of them are doing is seeking for their own benefit alone and the whole activity urgently needs regulating by Parliament. As a FLO tweeted a while back: “Today detectorist told me generally detectorists in the area don’t trust PAS/BM because they get nothing back….. Totally sick of hearing this“. So are we.

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As previously reported, a massive head of steam is building up against the Trust’s willingness to allow hunting on its land and as a result a Members’ Resolution has been tabled at next month’s AGM proposing a complete ban!

Oh so predictably, the Trust is urging members to vote against and to go instead for a watered-down reform. It says it believes it should be “generous in providing access to the fullest range of supporters”. A case of “forever, for everyone” providing the everyone is a powerful pro-hunting minority of members perhaps! We prefer Dr Brian May’s forthright summation: surely they should be protecting our wild animals “rather than protecting the scummy people who take pleasure in persecuting them ?

Anyway, to describe the AGM as “historic” would be no exaggeration because there’s a good chance the Trust will lose the hunting vote and thus be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the twenty first century and become aligned with the views of the vast majority of the public.  Its reputation and finances could only benefit.

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