As expected, Dr Michael Lewis of the British Museum’s Learning, Audiences and Volunteers department attended the inaugural European Council for Metal Detecting Conference along with detectorists from seven countries including Ireland. The new (Irish) Chairman said Dr Lewis’s contribution was “outstanding”. But compare the new organisation’s logo with the National Museum of Ireland’s advice to the Irish public …..


Surely the BM should keep out of Irish affairs? The vast majority of Irelands archaeologists and heritage professionals don’t subscribe to the stance which the BM is obliged to adopt over here and many of them aren’t shy about saying so. Just this week Pat Wallace, former Head of the National Museum of Ireland, made himself crystal clear on RTE.  His words may sound harsh to British ears but crucially British ears have been subjected to a continuous pro-detecting din for decades which hasn’t been heard anywhere else.  Mr Wallace described metal detecting as ….

“an evil for our heritage and a major threat to the civilisation of our ancient past….. We’ve the best anti-metal detecting legislation in Europe …. Poor old England, our dear old neighbours, their heritage has been destroyed by metal detectors. I’m very familiar with Lincolnshire and I saw deep ploughing going on there in the eighties and then you see these kind of metal detecting tables, portable finds schemes so called, set up at weekends so that archaeologists and others can pick what’s left over. What a disastrous attitude to your own heritage.




arthur rollrights

This story, from County Westmeath, is worth publicising far and wide:

Being mulched

“In 2005, a 3,000 year old Bronze Age wooden road was uncovered in Mayne Bog in Coole, Co Westmeath. Described by An Taisce as “a major, timber-built road of European significance”, this was an archaeological find of huge importance. According to John Waddell, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at NUI Galway, the Mayne road (or “Togher”) is, in terms of size, age, and antiquity “truly of European significance and on a par with those preserved in dedicated heritage centres like Wittemoor in Lower Saxony, Flag Fen in Peterborough (UK), and Corlea in County Longford”.

Mayne Bog is worked by Westland Horticulture, which extracts peat from the site. Despite carbon-dating the find to 1200 to 820 BC, the National Monuments Service – for some reason – did not issue a preservation order or record the road in the Register of Historic Monuments. Apart from two minor excavations, no serious archaeological work has been done on the discovery and – crucially – no legal impediment has been put in place to prevent the destruction of Mayne Togher. For the ten years since the find, Westland Horticulture has – entirely legally – continued to mulch something as old as Newgrange into compost for window boxes. At least 75% of the road is gone now. Dr Pat Wallace – former director of the National Museum of Ireland – has described this as “an international calamity”.

Not sure why your tomatoes won’t grow? Try Gro-Sure® Tomato Food from Westland Horticulture, which simply grows more.

{See also our previous article ….]

by Nigel Swift

Irish family.

Recently a nice family in Ireland did it right“The find proved a great historical lesson not only for Charles’ children but also for their classmates …..Charles then handed the stone hammer into the county museum”Irish law said he had to but you just know he would have anyway. It took me back to Shropshire, circa 1955. We kids found stuff several times and would process with it in triumph to the schoolmaster or vicar “to take to the museum”. For us, like that Irish family, “finders-keepers” didn’t apply, the finds were beyond question “everyone’s”.

Many still feel that way and The Council for British Archaeology’s logo proclaims it: “Archae-ology for All”. Trouble is, some say “all” includes “me” so it’s “mine”. Two such people searched the field right next to where we used to find artefacts and soon after they argued in front of a coroner about which of them had found something: I don’t care what he says, I swear on the Holy Bible I found it.” Same parish, six decades later, and a whole lot uglier.

The CBA’s logo was re-branded in 2012. It split the first word, archae-ology, to stress that it wasn’t the physical remains but the study of archaeology (the “ology”) which was for all, hence preventing misuse of the sentiment (or in Mike Heyworth’s far politer comment to us: “these are subtleties which inevitably are lost on many people”.) We thought it worked at the time but no, it’s still being seen as a CBA charter for personal entitlement. Maybe it’s time to make it clearer: “Archaeology for all, not just one”. It wouldn’t have the force of law but at least it couldn’t be wilfully misinterpreted. Today the present one will be. Extensively. That’s surely not what the CBA intended?




Sad news to report again, this time that the Maen Penddu standing stone in the Conwy Valley, North Wales, has been severely vandalised. Recent photos show several carvings have been made on the stone. The cross was reported last year, but the rest seems to be more recent. The damage has been reported to CADW.

Damage to Maen Penddu

Photo by Matt Jones

Damage to Maen Penddu

Photo by Matt Jones

The Culture Secretary recently ordered the re-run of the selection process for a new trustee at the National Portrait Gallery, after the candidates he favoured failed to make the shortlist. So we wondered: who wouldn’t make the short list for jobs in connection with Avebury and Stonehenge? We came up with the following:

  • Anyone interviewed by Historic England that opposes the short tunnel ruining the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
  • Anyone interviewed by the National Trust that suggests they avoid expanding their obtrusive commercial operations inside the largest stone circle in the world.
  • Anyone interviewed by English Heritage that has an opinion on how the site should be run.

Few of us need apply then. It seems you have to bite your tongue to get (or keep) a British heritage job!


Hogarth's mocking caricature of John Wilkes who “went too far and criticized the King directly”. A warning to others of similar mind?

Hogarth’s mocking caricature of John Wilkes who “went too far and criticized the King directly”. A warning to others of similar mind?


It seems to come around so quickly, but next month will see the 10th annual Pathways to the Past event, a weekend of walks & talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall, organised by CASPN. And by pure chance(!), I’ve managed to book my next holiday to the area to coincide with the event once again.


This is what the weekend will involve:

Saturday May 28th

Vounder Gogglas: an ancient traders’ track
A guided walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis following part of a long-distance trading route from Sancreed Beacon to Caer Bran and Chapel Euny wells.
Round and about the Little Lookout Tor
An unusual guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the Nine Maidens circle and cairns, Little Galva view point and propped stone, and Bosporthennis beehive hut.
The power of place: reconstructing Cornwall’s prehistoric environment
An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington based on findings from environmental archaeology about the placing of sites in the landscape.

Sunday May 29th

Mining in Cornwall
An illustrated talk by Adam Sharpe.
In the footsteps of giants
A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda around Chûn Downs.
The geomantic network in West Penwith

To round off the weekend, Palden Jenkins shares his ideas about why the prehistoric sites are located where they are.

Whilst I’m unlikely to be able to attend all the events personally, I’ll certainly try to get along to one or two of them, and will report back later.

Fuller details of each event, including timings, location and cost can be found on the CASPN Events page.


Remember how British detectorists going to France were advised by their official to lie through their teeth? (“It’s best to specify you are searching for modern losses“.) Well something similar is about to happen in Northern Ireland.

On May 14 Minelab will once again be staging their annual marketing exercise – International Metal Detecting Day. It involves them sponsoring detecting rallies (and selling their wares) worldwide. There are several in the British Isles and the one in Herefordshire is the world’s worst, as it’s legal here to dig what you can and take it home or sell it and as a bonus you can get your finds valued but not by a Finds Liaison Officer but an obliging dealer who’ll be on site. Lovely! Citizen Archaeology at its British best!

The event in Northern Ireland (at Delamont Country Park of all places) is different as over there it’s illegal to search for archaeological artefacts without a license so it’s being advertised as a search just for “tokens”. If you want to believe that’s all they’ll be looking for and all they’ll find and all they’ll quietly take home then that’s up to you. Hence the mention of Elvis. In our view though it’s just a couple of tricky words away from an organised crime and the authorities should examine it closely.




Many people opposed to parking charges and sobriety at Stonehenge have said they’ll go to Avebury instead. This seems to have prompted the National Trust to take action:A new plan has been drawn up by the Trust, which owns the stone circle in the Wiltshire village, to clamp down on the growing numbers of people staying outside the village and blocking the Ridgeway, which runs along the hillside just to the east of the village. The crackdown will also see more enforcement of tighter new parking restrictions.”

However, as at Stonehenge the real motivation seems to be less about parking than an attempt to limit numbers and improve behaviour – “to curb the excesses of the revellers who gather there”, to make solstice “a more peaceful occasion” ….. “safe for everyone and respectful of the World Heritage Site”…. “We want the Solstice at Avebury to continue to be known for being a peaceful, respectful occasion which all those who care most about the henge and the village would want it to be”. To this end, “As part of the plan, the Police and Wiltshire Council will increase patrols on the Ridgeway – a byway east of Avebury where the number and behaviour of people gathering during Solstice has become a problem.”

No doubt the Trust will get a lot of stick (and Heaven knows, there isn’t a stick big enough on some occasions!) but it would be nice if the complainants at both Avebury and Stonehenge recognised that there IS a behaviour problem that needs addressing.

Some say so (see Google!) and in April 2009 Stephen Bayley of The Guardian dubbed them “a muddled magic kingdom”. He cited, inter alia, the elaborate “recreation” of a garden that was built for a 19-day visit of Elizabeth I in 1575 which went ahead “on no sound scholarly basis” and was “more Walt Disney than David Starkey” which Simon Thurley nevertheless described as “a really successful experiment”. That sort of attitude, spending shedloads of other people’s money without listening because it knows it is right has become all too familiar, right up to the recent example at Tintagel.

The latest, and most eye-wateringly expensive debacle is the purchase and now abandonment of the Stonehenge land trains in favour of buses. The claim that they were privately financed seems rather economical with the actualité but it’s a fair bet we’ll never hear exactly how much money was lost. What IS absolutely true is that not a penny of it would have been if they hadn’t been so insistent that they were right and all those who said otherwise weren’t worth listening to. Less arrogance, more listening to the public seems to be the lesson to be learned (and we don’t mean “fake” consultation exercises!) As proof that listening can actually save money, here’s what we wrote in April 2010 which, by their actions, they now fully agree with:

So…. why not just use buses? These days there are as many environment-friendly innovations applying to them as to land trains – electric, hybrid, low-impact, you name it. And in addition, they are arguably just as or more flexible, inexpensive, safe, weatherproof, robust, long-lasting, reliable and easy to load – and they have a pretty small turning circle (hence require only a small footprint near the stones). Half a dozen of those and the job could be done – with no expensive, exclusive maintenance agreements with manufacturers, no equally expensive “custom built” elements – and let’s face it, buses are rather well-tested technology so they’d definitely give a high degree of reliability.

[More background from Tim Daw here]



The clue's in the name....

The clue’s in the name….


May 2016
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