Long ago we were regularly berated by a previous PAS Director for not “getting on the train to Liaisonville”. Luckily, that sort of dialogue (together with “just give it another few years, things will get better”) has been dropped as reality hammers daily on the doors of the British Museum.

But we have continued to bang our drum over the fact so few detectorists play ball, a regret that PAS expresses far too rarely. Here’s a selection of the sort of things we say, week in and week out (which have earned us much abuse and the occasional death threat):

  • As much as people like to say it is about the history, if that were the case these objects wouldn’t end up at auction at all.
  • The significant problem here is the perception of the archaeological record as a place for financial gain than historical enquiry and something to be privately possessed.
  • No one is able to show finds to more people in a home than in a museum.
  • This is especially true for objects from rallies that disappear in different directions and lose the context of being together in the same display.
  • Also, in a private collection they are not available for XRF, residue analysis, X-ray, conservation, etc.
  • This is not about elitism or an us vs. them attitude. It is about working together with specialists to get the most out of an objects history for all to enjoy.

However: those aren’t our words! They are direct quotes from a Finds Liaison Officer last week! It’s gratifying that such things wouldn’t have been said publicly by a PAS employee years ago, so things ARE changing. There’ll be no bad consequences, no addition to the 16 threats of a retaliatory “recording strikes” from NCMD and no public criticism from PAS.

Plus, something GOOD will happen: farmers, stakeholders and legislators will be better informed. We’ve been calling for PAS to stop pulling its punches for two decades while fuming that the Emporer often prances around totally naked on closed detecting forums while wearing his Sunday best in public! Let’s hope things are changing for the communal good.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Jane is an artist, whose earlier works included many watercolours of ancient sites. She is a founder member of Heritage Action, and the partner of Moth, one of our previous respondents. They met at the inaugural meeting of Heritage Action at Uffington White Horse in 2004. Jane has provided the following responses to our standard questions:

* What is/was your day job?

Primarily, I am an artist. My paintings are inspired by the natural world, but history often creeps in. I love to hand-paint maps. You can see my paintings at janetomlinson.com. I also work part time as a marketer for a specialist IT training company.

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

As a tiny girl in the 1960s, on our way back from a holiday in Cornwall, we stopped at Stonehenge. At that time, you could walk right up to the stones – and we did. I remember the overwhelming scale of the massive stones, and Dad telling me how long ago they were built. I think Dad’s own sense of wonder infected! 

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

My interest lies in the fact that our neolithic ancestors built such big and complex stuff, and so long ago with little more than their bare hands, basic tools, and sheer ingenuity. That so much of it still stands fills me with the same wonder as I felt as a tiny girl at Stonehenge more than 50 years ago.

I love how the monuments – broken remnants of our history – are in remote and wild places. I love their sculptural forms in the landscape. I love to wonder at the skills of the engineers who conceived and built such massive structures.

I don’t feel anything spiritual at ancient monuments, or indeed, anywhere else. I don’t really know what ‘spiritual’ means. Ancient monuments make me feel a profound sense of wonder. They make me realise that although the neolithic people didn’t have writing or the internal combustion engine, our ancestors were exactly the same as us – creative, organised, resourceful, thoughtful.

* What is your favourite time period or era? 

Neolithic and Bronze Age is the period I find most fascinating. What just a few generations did then – settling down, farming, building permanent shelters, domesticating animals and plants, organising themselves into successful and functioning societies, meant people had the time and resources to do more than just survive. They could think, create, specialise and experiment with new technologies, materials and ideas. Clay! Metal! Art!

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest? 

There are two. Julian Cope’s ‘The Modern Antiquarian‘ and ‘The Megalithic European‘. These have guided our travels for more than two decades. It’s thanks to Cope’s Modern Antiquarian website, that I met my husband. 

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

Even though they are singularly unsuitable as field guides, Julian Cope’s ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ and ‘The Megalithic European’ are essentials. More practically, Aubrey Burl’s ‘The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany‘ has enabled us to find some really lesser known gems, especially in hidden corners of France.

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why?

The most surprising day, which could so easily have ended in failure, was seeking out and eventually finding the Damiya Dolmen Field in the Jordan Valley. Armed with little more than an idea, a couple of very vague maps, and a general sense of where they might be, we hired a taxi for a day trip out from Amman. We didn’t really expect to find anything. The taxi driver spoke hardly any English and we don’t speak Arabic. He thought we were quite mad. But determination and a sense of where the ancient people might have chosen to build their tombs, and despite the screaming summer heat, unsuitable footwear, and steep rocky hillsides we actually found loads of fabulous dolmens. Built in the very Early Bronze Age, these were already 3,500 years old when Jesus was a nipper. The whole place was mind-blowing, not least its proximity to the heavily barb-wired Jordan/Israel border. I wrote a blog about it here: https://janetomlinson.com/jordan-valley-dolmens/
 
Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

Göbeklitepe and Catalhöyuk in Anatolia. It would be a rare glimpse into early modern history and social organisation just at the time humanity was becoming settled. What those people did then laid the foundations for everything that came after.

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

The phrase “ritual use” really gets my goat! On what basis is something ‘ritual’? And how would we ever know? So much supposition goes on and so often “ritual use” is lazy shorthand for ‘errr…. we just don’t know’. It’s OK not to know. But for goodness sake, be clear that ‘we’re not sure what this was for, but it might have been for … ‘

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

Rupert Soskin’s and Michael Bott’s revelation about Stanton Drew being a kind of amphitheatre for hunting games really struck a chord with me. It makes sense to me.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

Litter – and that includes tea lights and other plastic ‘offerings’ of utter tat. Take your rubbish home with you and dispose of it properly!


Many thanks to Jane for sharing her megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to feature in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above. To see other articles in this series, simply enter ‘Antiquarists’ in the search box on the left (or click the handy supplied link)

Who knows? But in 2018 they hadn’t seen a picture of the scale of the boring machines. They still haven’t, but here’s a smaller one being used for HS2. So here are CBA’s six principles followed by our own comments in red, reflecting the reality of that photograph:

i. minimum damage to known or potential archaeological remains. Seriously?!
ii. minimum visual intrusion on monuments and landscape. See above!
iii. maximum benefit to the visitor in terms of enhanced presentation and understanding of the archaeological significance. What understanding would that massive new scar convey to YOU?!
iv. maximum tranquillity A fallacy. The traffic is merely being relocated to another part of the World Heritage landscape. Surely the WHOLE landscape is equally important?
v. maximum reversibility at the end of use-life. Good luck with reversing THAT!
vi. efficient use of previously-developed areas. We don’t know what that means but it certainly isn’t being depicted in that photograph!

The closure of university archaeology departments won’t help that process. Nor will the fact that (in the words of David Connolly of British Archaeological Jobs & Resources): “We’ve lost a lot of the Europeans … it’s become almost impossible to get anyone here” and “I would say the country is anywhere from 500 to 1,000 archaeologists short”.

So the Government’s determination to “protect” is arguable. Here are four simple questions which a Government determined to protect ought to be able to answer without difficulty (but can they?):

  1. Where exactly was the secret venue in the Leyton Buzzard area where a hundred people dug archaeology for money yesterday? (We don’t know).
  2. Was it an archaeologically sensitive area and was any damage done? (We don’t know)
  3. What was pocketed to avoid sharing with the farmer? (We don’t know).
  4. Did archaeologists approve the venue or attend the event? (No they didn’t).

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No, not that site. That’s the Leighton Buzzard birdwatching site. They have no reason for secrecy.

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It has been confirmed that Sheffield University Archaeology Department, rated as one of the top 50 archaeology schools in the world, is to lose its funding. Similar threats hang over the archaeology departments of the Universities of Chester, Aston, London South Bank and Leicester.

It is to be hoped that some archaeologists and academics will point out to the Government that it’s not a good look for Britain considering that right now a hundred people are digging at a money-making grabfest at as secret location.

We believe it’s somewhere near Leighton Buzzard (with 3 others planned there) but similar events are held somewhere in England by Let’s Go Digging every single week).

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So why bother training people to study archaeology when you can just dig it out and earn £££s!

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Here’s Sheeps Tor, just sold by auction together with 160 acres of surrounding moorland and Yellowmead Stone Circles, for £145,000. The purchaser won’t be able to change it or prevent anyone going on it and will simply be the curator of it for the next generation!

But here’s the Ryedale Hoard, dug up by a couple of far less public spirited metal detectorists, and just sold for personal gain through celebrity telly auctioneer Charles Hanson for £185,000. No-one knows if the public will ever see it again. What a shame the detectorists didn’t donate their share (or even sell it cheap to a museum) and encourage the landowner to do the same. But then, more than 90% of detectorists don’t.

In our opinion there is too little public contempt by officialdom for metal detectorists who don’t donate and for dealers and auctioneers who abet them. Yes they’re within the law, but what stinkers! (And that includes the auctioneer in this case, who seemed unaware of what was being done and said, over and over and over as he sold it: “I’m honoured and humbled… We’re making memories… From the rich soil of England … Long live Marcus Aurelius.)

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The town of Westbury in Wiltshire, is famous for its White Horse hill figure, it is located at nearby Bratton and is one of many in the county. Like many other hill figures of its ilk, Westbury needs to be maintained on a periodic basis, in order to retain the colour and brightness of the figure. This particular horse is made of concrete, so it turns grey through weathering and discolouration from increasing air pollution.

If current plans go through, it may be that the Westbury figure could require much more frequent cleaning in future, as a waste disposal incinerator is under consideration to the west of the nearby town. In our opinion, such a decision would be environmentally disastrous, and not just for the White Horse. 

The proposed site for the incinerator (based on older technology so even less environmentally friendly than could be the case) is located directly next to one of the largest dairy production plants in the UK, owned by ARLA who produce such brands as Anchor Butter, which proudly displays the Westbury White Horse on its packaging. 

With prevailing westerly winds, there is no doubt that emissions from the incinerator would encroach upon the White Horse to the east of the town  and increase the frequency with which the horse turns grey.  And food production at the ARLA plant would undoubtedly also suffer – possibly to the point of having to close the plant, a major employer in the area.

With the G7 meeting in the UK next month to discuss tackling climate and other declining environment issues, we call upon the government to ‘call in’ this planning decision and stop the further rape of the countryside around Westbury. 

Don’t suffocate the horse! The planning application can be seen here.

In our recent article on Castlerigg, we quoted one of our founder members’ thoughts on the site:

The inclusion of this quote got us to thinking why do we visit the sites that we love? What is it that makes us want to seek out these ancient places? Exactly why have we persisted with this web site for so many years now?

Of course, everyone will have their own reasons, and experiences to recount, so we thought we’d delve around our favourite website for some examples and came up with the following, just a small sample of many others of similar ilk:

Its such an awe-inspiring and majestic relic, so open to the natural elements yet isolated and removed from civilisation. It provokes, in me at least, such a sense of time, of change and of loss, while forever maintaining a constant and passivity that’s utterly mysterious and foreboding. A monument once so significant to a people long since departed still holds within its dark stony aura the capacity to bestow such thoughts of wonder and intrigue upon those that now walk within its sacred shadow.

Delazinsky on Avebury – The Modern Antiquarian

It was thrilling to touch the stones again after so long, wonderful to stand in the small forecourt before walking once more into the dark, imposing chambers. Again, the structure of the place struck me through new eyes; the size of the rocks, the creation of this space, the awesome nature of the whole. It occurred to me that the stones appeared very much like the bones of the earth.

Treaclechops on West Kennet – The Modern Antiquarian

Large enough to be awe inspiring, small enough to still feel intimate, remote enough to feel like you stand amidst the cyclopean remains of an ancient civilisation in the furthest flung corner of these islands, …Brodgar is one of the most photogenic of ancient sites, and tonight, a clear Samhain evening we’ve come up to the circle to try some long exposure shots.

It’s cold, and a low mist clings to the henge ditch around the stones, amplifying the already otherworldly atmosphere. There is no sign of anyone else around.

Ravenfeather on the Ring of Brodgar- The Modern Antiquaran

I will never forget my experience at Callanish. It has had a permanent effect on me and whilst I was watching the sun come up I felt a sort of ‘connection’ with those that had come before me.

CARL on Callanish – The Modern Antiquarian

Wow! What an amazing, atmospheric place to be! … I felt so much energy emanating from the circle and walked slowly up the path taking in every sensation as I trod. The air was clean and crisp and the sun was shining. I could feel the build up of energy as I walked closer and the hairs on my body stood on end! …if you want to make the long trek to the stones I would highly recommend it! … For a small circle, the energy there is intense and will blow your socks off!!! 

Astrophel on the Rollright Stones – The Modern Antiquarian

Have you had similar experiences at an ancient site? Leave a comments and let us know about your reactions upon seeing a site for the first time.

When it comes to scoring own goals Highways England is a world beater. We feel so sorry for them we’re tempted to volunteer to take over their PR Department for them. £100,000 a year each should cover it. Anyway, here’s their latest faux pas, part of their “destroying Stonehenge myths” series:

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No, not the whole story but so incredibly close to the truth that the denial looks like a fib or desperation: 99.75% of people who currently see Stonehenge for free soon won’t! So everyone should be grateful to them for making it crystal clear what their scheme involves: not only will 1.6 million people a year continue to have to pay English Heritage £21 a head (and rising without current limit) to even see the stones but soon so will any of the 5 million who travel along the A303 who might want their kids to see our greatest heritage icon.

Such a leap in future revenue for English Heritage (and the National Trust if they can get in on it) is just mind-blowing. What other organisations in history have been handed a fourfold increase in their future earnings potential by the Government? Yet both bodies avoid mentioning that amazing fact and assure everyone the tunnel is a conservation measure even though a dead dog in a cellar can see it isn’t! They probably won’t thank Highways England’s PR Department for hammering home the background to such a claim!

We bet you didn’t know the latest Let’s Go Digging weekly rally is happening right now near Leighton Buzzard. That’s because if you’d Googled “Leighton Buzzard” +”Let’s Go Digging” you’d have got nothing as the events are kept so secret that exact postcodes are only given out at 8.00pm the night before to those who’ve paid.

As a result archaeologists can’t check if sensitive archaeology is involved or “cause trouble” with landowners. That is surely unacceptable? It is to be hoped that such events (together with LGD’s blatant and telling rule “the first £3.000 of each find belongs to the finder”) will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.

(And please, no compromise solutions, no licensing, no codes. These events don’t signal willingness to be citizen archaeologists or even decent citizens).

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