We continue our, now long-running, ‘Inside the Mind‘ series with a peek into the head of author and historian Craig Weatherhill.

Brief Bio

Craig is an author, historian, novelist, artist, and an authority on the Cornish language. He worked for many years as a planning officer for West Penwith and has undertaken a number of surveys for the Cornwall Archaeology Unit amongst others. He lives near St Just and plays an active part in many activities celebrating the Celtic revival of Cornwall and its people.


The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

When I was “discovering” prehistoric monuments on the West Penwith Moors at the age of eight, and finding that my school couldn’t tell me anything about them.  I was the sort of kid who had to know, so I set out to find out.  I never stopped!

How did you get started?

In 1971, the late Vivien Russell produced a catalogue list of known archaeological sites in the Land’s End peninsula (which is stuffed full of them).  I realised that few of these sites had ever been recorded by means of accurate measured and drawn surveys, so I tasked myself with doing that.  I surveyed over 300 sites, from large to small before professional archaeologists were ever appointed in Cornwall to do that.  And they were paid to do what I was doing for nothing.

Who has most influenced your career?

The late Vivien Russell that I’ve mentioned, and the late Peter (P.A.S.) Pool, both outstanding local archaeologists and historians and who became close friends.  I still feel very sad at losing them both in the 1990s.  Peter was also a champion of conservation in West Cornwall, using his legal training to take on the mighty and win.  Also, the work of Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, who I met for the first time recently.  What a thoroughly nice man he is, too!

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

My survey of all (then) known Late Iron Age courtyard house sites, which are confined to the Land’s End peninsula, with a single example on Scilly.  It had been called for in the 1930s and no one had done it.  This sort of work was a spare-time pursuit, so it took me 4 years.  Sadly, it was never published, but a copy can be found in the Cornish Studies Library in Redruth.  It would now need updating and adding to.

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

It sounds rather parochial of me, but it’s the courtyard house settlement of Bosullow Trehyllys, north-east of Chun Castle.  It’s an amazing site, with such an atmosphere of peace which is so hard to find in the modern world.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

Never having been able to make archaeology a professional career.  I couldn’t open doors: no letters after my name, you see.  And I’d upset “English” Heritage.  Several times.  I was the old Penwith Council’s Conservation Officer from 1988-98, in charge of listed buildings and conservation areas, but that wasn’t the same.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

I’d abolish the national quango “English” Heritage which, in Cornwall, has been an ongoing disaster.  It cares only for the “honeypot” sites it manages and for nothing else.  It suspended all new scheduling in West Penwith in 1987, lied about that for years, and has never resumed to this day.  In any case, there’s no call for a financially irresponsible two-tiers of administration in the heritage field.  I would devolve all its responsibilities and funding to existing county and regional heritage agencies, on the grounds that you can’t do better than local knowledge and the deep love and respect for the sites and monuments that results.  I feel exactly the same about the natural environment quango, Natural “England” which, like EH, has caused great damage to local landscapes and habitats in recent years – and to archaeology too.  NE’s activities in West Penwith damaged the scheduled Tregeseal stone circle no less than 13 times in 5 years, with neither of the quangoes appearing to care.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

Exactly the same as I’ve said in my previous answer.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I’ve gloriously retired a year early from freelance architecture, but I never really had an archaeology/heritage career.  So, I do what I’ve always done:  research and write.

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

My favourite relaxations include reading and playing music on a mellotron, that legendary, haunting keyboard instrument from the 60s and 70s, and made famous by bands like the Moody Blues. I finally managed to acquire one 3 years ago after decades of wanting one.  They’re quite rare and difficult to play effectively.  I’ve even played it on three songs recorded by others.  The most rewarding relaxation I have comes from my lifelong love of horses and riding them on the moors and cliffs of West Cornwall.  My current steed, Shogun, is a fabulous guy, a gentle giant who stands at 17.3 hands high and is truly amazing to ride and work with.

We’d like to express our thanks to Craig for being so forthright and passionate with his answers.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

Kate Mavor, who is about to become the new Chief Executive at English Heritage, has come out strongly against wind farms saying that they desecrate historic landscapes.

She notes with dismay the way in which environmental impact statements have been ignored or manipulated to ensure that renewable targets are met. The cost of course of this flawed policy is the industrialisation of our countryside and heritage and while she notes that wind farms can have a part to play in meeting our targets, she feels that too often this has been at the cost of the special places which define our very being. She points out that there are alternatives and that these would reduce our need to harm much of what is special about our country.

Up until a few months ago the appointment of someone with such strong views would have been very good news for the future of heritage in England. Sadly the split of English Heritage into two parts means that her views are unlikely to make a huge difference with perhaps the exception of the small number of properties she will be responsible for looking after. National advice on how most of the heritage will be managed will be provided by the spin-off organisation Historic England who we now know see wind farms as a way of paying for conservation works and see the desecration of historic landscapes as a price worth paying for new interpretation boards.(See Sandy Gerrard’s recent article about their decision at Nine Maidens in Cornwall.)

Let’s be optimistic and hope that Historic England will listen to the concerns of the new Chief Executive at English Heritage and in the coming months we will be able to report on a change of emphasis – and even examples of heritage saved.

Dear Colleagues,


You may have heard some people calling for metal detecting to be legalised in Ireland. There’s something they haven’t been straight about. They paint the Irish authorities as simply having closed minds with no reason to oppose the activity but that’s a mega-fib. Their central claim, as displayed on an Irish detecting forum, demonstrates the fact: “Detecting is a skilled activity that is often misunderstood and dismissed by those too quick to criticise. The Irish lads are top class, very knowledgeable and with many years experience. Its an honor to be involved in their struggle for freedom to detect, Liam”

Skilled yes, but the skill in question is the sort of skill no detectorist will explain to you in detail. Basic detecting comprises sweep / beep /dig, nothing else, a monkey could do it (no, that’s not offensive, it’s simply the truth) but the skill – the ONLY skill recreational detecting involves – lies in an ability to be selective about which beep to dig. Detectorists get quite good at it they say (and if they aren’t they can also switch their machines to “discrimination mode” to signal or exclude “undesirable” targets).

That’s not archaeology or science. It’s the opposite. It’s artefact hunting (for personal or financial reasons) and hunting for a tiny subset of artefacts to boot. 99.9999% of artefacts are the “wrong” sort of metal or are non-metallic or broken or not saleable and are ignored or rejected so “context”, which is the essence of archaeology and knowledge and science is totally dismissed and very often distorted or destroyed – purely for reasons of personal acquisitiveness or financial gain. That’s the fundamental problem with recreational metal detecting, it’s selfish cherry picking of everyone else’s history and it’s why the Irish don’t allow it.

All else you may be told is baloney.

Best wishes,

Silas Brown,
Grunter’s Hollow Farm,


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 enquiries@nationaltrust.org.uk. 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

Dan Snow

Our next ‘victim’ for our ‘Inside the Mind’ series comes courtesy of David Jacques, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute and Project Director at Blick Mead, near Stonehenge, which is featured in the May/June 2015 issue of British Archaeology magazine..

Brief Bio

David was educated at Middlesex University and Wolfson College, Cambridge. He has been a 6th Form College teacher, and combined that role with working for the Open University between 2001-2013. Since then he has been a Senior Research fellow for the University of Buckingham.

David Jacquesitmp

David’s field of research explores the use of the Stonehenge landscape in the Mesolithic period (8500BC-4000BC). Since 2005 he has been the Project Director of Blick Mead, a nationally siignificant Mesolithic site, about 2 km from Stonehenge. His team has discovered the oldest settlement in the Stonehenge area, the longest continually used Mesolithic site in the United Kingdom, as well as the communities which built the first monuments at Stonehenge. These discoveries have started to contribute to a new understanding of the initial settlement patterns and practices in the Stonehenge landscape, and to a broader understanding of the sense of place, ritual and memory such hunter-gatherer societies had more generally.

As a Fulbright alumnus, David worked extensively to improve the education system of the Republic of Georgia, setting up and running a charity which stimulated an investment of $12 million into the Georgian education system between 2005-08. In 2011, he was chosen as one of two ‘Outstanding’ British Fulbright Teacher Program alumni of the past 60 years by the US Embassy in London.

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

I can’t remember when I wasn’t fascinated by objects by the past and their stories. I loved ‘Time team’ and the way they were brave enough to show there were lots of different interpretations. Over the years my interests have broadened and deepened and I feel really privileged to have been able to follow my enthusiasms through into a career in such a fascinating area. It has taken a long time, but it is all so worth it.

How did you get started?

Getting involved on a slave plantation site in America when I was on a teaching scholarship supposedly studying varieties of African American English! After I returned to the UK I applied to do an Archaeology Masters at Cambridge directly as a result and then started to get my hands dirty.

Who has most influenced your career?

Ian Hodder, for the way his ultra close engagement and care when thinking about artefacts from the past has helped establish more detailed ‘biographical’ social histories of individuals and communities. Tom Phillips and Tom Lyons; brilliant field archaeologists, project partners and friends.  Tony Legge’s interest in our bone assemblage at Blick Mead, plus his support of us and what we were trying to do as a team, really helped put the site on the map.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

Blick Mead. Not only is it exciting to be involved in a potentially paradigm shifting excavation, but it has been great seeing the way the project has engaged people in the town of Amesbury in such a genuinely meaningful way. A museum/History Centre has come out of this interest, I’m told the Amesbury downtown has re-generated partly as a result, and people’s sense of themselves and their town has been lifted. This is most evident when large numbers of people from the town process to the site just before Christmas by torch light. It really shows what archaeology can do. Many of our most knowledgeable volunteers come from the town and long may it remain so!

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

Mule in the Isle of Man. This Neolithic chambered tomb was excavated just after the war by a German prisoner of war. It is located in an absolutely stunning position which overlooks Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. It is also the only point on Man where you can see right across it. This site, like the Isle of Man itself, is a sleeping archaeological giant in the Irish Sea. It was clearly an enormously important, but now largely ‘lost’ place in the British Neolithic.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

1) That archaeology barely took off as a subject at school and is now already on the decline. It could not be more of an important – it should be a national curriculum subject. There are huge benefits for people’s individual and collective sense of identity.

2) That sometimes new ideas can be given a rough time because people don’t like change. The new needs friends. There’s a need for outsiders in most walks of life.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

That full assessments of sites and landscapes (including hydrogeology) always need be done before plans are drawn up. The Stonehenge tunnel policy is a case in point. It is based on a pretty limited assessment of a limited area in that landscape (only the WHS has been assessed) and would have benefited from broader assessment criteria and broader assessment full stop.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

There are enormous public benefits which come from understanding the historic environment we all live and work in and I think the earlier we can get to excite people about it and get them involved the better. Speaking as someone who has been a teacher, I think that archaeology, including hands-on excavation, should be an integral part of the school curriculum. It really is a subject for all – we have disabled people, the young, the old, people from all different walks of life on site at Blick Mead. What we have found is that people find discovering things and being part of a non hierarchical team enabling and empowering (learning about team skills and the different ways that teams can be structured would be another learning opportunity). I am sure that archaeology in school would vitalise children’s enthusiasm for learning in a way that nothing else can match. It is the ultimate mixed ability subject and it suits and empowers different mentalities. We see it on site all the time. It can also connect well with other disciplines.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I would be working in teaching, or for a charity I should think. I am truly lucky to be working as an archaeological researcher and say that to myself most days!

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

I’ve got a lovely 7 year old, who’s stimulating in a way that is ultimately relaxing. I love reading a bit of fiction when I get the time. I can really recommend ‘” target=”_blank”>Skippy Dies’ by Paul Murray, If anyone is looking for something to read at the moment (it is better than it sounds!).

We’d like to express our thanks to David for taking part during what has been a busy few months for him.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

If you’re looking for something to do on this coming Bank Holiday weekend, the National Trust invites you to help ‘Chalk the Uffington White Horse‘ May 3–4.

Once a year the famous Bronze-Age horse, that watches over the Vale of White Horse in Uffington, needs re-chalking. To take part, booking is essential, and can be done by calling 01793 762209.  30- minute time slots will be allocated to volunteers from 10am onwards. Car parking at the site is free for permit holders, NT members with valid stickers and disabled badge carriers. Otherwise, charges for up to two hours are £2.00, all day £4.00.

Painting of the White Horse, bu Heritage Action member, Jane Tomlinson. See http://www.janetomlinson.com for more of her work.

Painting of the White Horse, by Heritage Action member, Jane Tomlinson. See http://www.janetomlinson.com for more of her work.

A video calling for metal detecting to be legalised in Ireland has just been published. It claims that unlicensed metal detecting in England and Wales is a triumph and uses the familiar tactic of highlighting some positives (in this case that Norwich Castle Museum is replete with detecting finds!) to imply that detectorists in general conform to good practice (“mutual respect and a closely forged partnership”!) If only that was true! We could be campaigning for artefact hunting to be on the national curriculum and for the whole population to be doing it for the national benefit!” Maybe the Norwich archaeologists should be calling for that?! Or maybe they should talk to CBA, EH or even PAS who are in a rather better position to know the wider reality of the activity?

Unfortunately it rather looks as if they’ve been dragged unwittingly into personally endorsing the introduction of unlicensed English-style detecting in Ireland, merely on the basis of their local experience – even though nationally most English and Welsh finds don’t get reported to PAS and the resultant net knowledge loss is scandalous (which neither CBA,  nor EH nor PAS will deny). It seems a bit like someone being manoevered into appearing to say “shoplifters don’t come in my shop so it can’t be a problem elsewhere and laws to control it should be ripped up in an adjacent friendly independent country!”

I suspect if editorial control had been in Norwich some acute embarrassment would have been avoided. Indeed, just a bit of wider enquiry would have avoided it. Looking at PAS’s statistics would have been enough. The fact CBA, EH and PAS weren’t appearing on the video was another huge clue. There was also an even more massive warning light flashing in plain sight – a public comment made by none other than the author of the video, Mr Nolan, about another recent video titled “Ireland’s First Metal Detecting Rally“. That video documented a recent blatantly criminal event in Co Wicklow which appalled Irish archaeologists. The comment he added to it was “Well done everyone!


“Well done”?


In the words of Irish Archaeologist Stuart Rathbone (as quoted by Robert M Chapple) :  “One of the 15 participants at the Wicklow rally busily committing heritage crime. Apparently the participants donated 150 Euro’s to a local charity after the event. Hopefully they will soon be making far larger ‘donations’ considering the maximum penalty for illegal Metal Detecting is a €63,486 fine”
[Stuart Rathbone’s article and Robert Chapple’s blog are here]

More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting __________________________________________

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. After a brief Introduction, part two discussed the Greenland rock carvings. We then considered the Sheep Hill forts. In this final part, we now look at the evidence for a link between the two sites, and what the future may hold.

Were the two sites linked?

The construction of the timber-framed dun is such an obvious explanation for the prehistoric damage suffered by the cup-and ring rock that it may reasonably be adopted as a working hypothesis, albeit one that has to be tested (below). One clear implication of it is that the great double disc symbol on a flat surface exposed by the ancient quarrying had to date to the 10th or 9th centuries BC at the earliest and this is extremely surprising if the majority of such rock carving took place in Neolithic times (Burgess 1990). Yet it is not impossible; such skills could have been handed down for many centuries by families of specialist carvers who could have practised their skills occasionally on existing carved rocks; it would probably be quite hard to detect such additions under normal circumstances. Also there is no doubt that the double disc symbol was known in the Late Bronze Age as it occurs on a few socketed bronze axes in Scotland and NE England (MacKie 1991, 147, pl. 10); these are known as the Sompting type (Schmidt & Burgess, 1981, 243-44).

However the most exciting aspect of this hypothesis is surely the social one. It is hard not to infer that the damaged and re-carved rock means that there were two distinct social groups in the area in the Late Bronze Age – namely the timber-framed fort builders and the descendants of the Neolithic peoples who had venerated the rock carvings for centuries and who retained some of their carving skills. The fort builders could have been a new elite – either local or immigrant but armed with new bronze weapons and evidently with little respect for the local traditions. The re-carving of the rock with a fine double disc after it had been badly damaged suggests a defiance of the new order but in a relatively harmless manner. A parallel with invading Normans and defeated Saxons might be appropriate. The phenomenon of Sheep Hill and the Greenland rock carvings is to my knowledge unique in the British Isles and the sites should surely be preserved for that alone.

Testing the hypothesis

Fortunately the hypothesis can be tested and clear proof of it could be forthcoming. If it is correct there should be on Sheep Hill many fragments of the heated sandstone of which the carved rock is formed, a few perhaps with cup-and-ring carvings on them. A thorough rescue excavation before Sheep Hill is quarried away should find this evidence. However I hope it will never come to that; it might be awkward for archaeologists to find such evidence who had been hired by Thompsons of Dumbarton, especially when there is a suspicion that it was such a group which in 2013 wrote (anonymously) and circulated an attempted refutation of my views on the two sites. In fact it would be easy to find the evidence without disturbing the interiors of the forts. There is just under the turf a vast pile of stone debris at the foot of the cliff-like northern side of the summit the lower part of which should be the debris of the timber-framed wall; it could be explored quite easily. It is already known that rocks were imported on to the site to build the timber-framed wall. Its boulder foundation was exposed during the original excavations and two of the boulders were identified as imports, one of quartzite and the other of sandstone (MacKie 1991, 146 & pl. 9).

Illus. 7. Map of the area westwards from Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, showing how the proposed heritage trail might be laid out. [1] is the Roman fort, [2] the length of Antonine Wall on relatively low, flat and open ground where a section might be excavated add the barrier reconstructed, [3] is the proposed footpath connecting the Roman remains to Sheep Hill fort [4] and the cup-and-ring carved rock [5].

Illus. 7. Map of the area westwards from Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, showing how the proposed heritage trail might be laid out. [1] is the Roman fort, [2] the length of Antonine Wall on relatively low, flat and open ground where a section might be excavated add the barrier reconstructed, [3] is the proposed footpath connecting the Roman remains to Sheep Hill fort [4] and the cup-and-ring carved rock [5].

A possible archaeological heritage trail at Old Kilpatrick?

If Sheep Hill can be preserved from being quarried, the cup-and-ring rock – now stored in the National Museums in Edinburgh – could eventually be re-assembled in its original position and this unique pair of sites could be brought together again. Alternatively a replica could be built there. The quarry’s licence apparently expires in the early 2030s so their future should be safe after that. The existence only 2.5 km to the east of the western end of the Antonine Roman wall – now a World Heritage Site – suggests that the West Dumbartonshire Council could then organise what would surely be one of the most interesting archaeological trails in the country. Illus. 7 shows how it might be laid out; the numbered points on the map are identified below.

The fort at the western end of the Wall [1] is in Old Kilpatrick and, though excavated, is largely inaccessible under a housing estate. However a visitor centre could surely be set up nearby with a car park and could house some of the finds from the site and replicas of the Roman inscribed stones which were found there. A footbridge over, or a tunnel under, the dual carriageway immediately to the north (the A82) could be constructed to lead to the open ground there where the Antonine Wall and its ditch curve round to the east [2]; about 100m of it there might be excavated and reconstructed, thus providing (so far) an unique insight into what the northernmost frontier of the Empire looked like when it was intact. A footpath [3] could then run for 2.5 km westwards along the lower slopes of the Kilpatrick Hills up to Sheep Hill [4] with a short extension northwards to the Greenland 1 rock carvings [5]. Needless to say signposts and explanatory notice boards would be essential.

One intriguing aspect of such a tourist trail is that it could be presented as a step-by-step journey into the past. The Antonine Wall was built during the second Roman invasion of Scotland, from about AD 140 onwards, and was the northernmost formal frontier of the Empire in Europe. The fort at Old Kilpatrick defended the western end of the Wall where it ran down to the river Clyde and this may well have been the time at which the second fort on nearby Sheep Hill was abandoned – either out of caution or because it was attacked and destroyed by the Roman Army. Any future excavations could look for signs of that. Thus Sheep Hill 2 is a vivid example of a later native stronghold of the pre-Roman Iron Age. The primary timber-framed fort takes us back to the Late Bronze Age – perhaps in the 9th century BC – with all the various possibilities of the arrival of newcomers armed with bronze swords. We now know that cup-and-ring carving skills were very probably still present in the area at the time and were exercised then, possibly in defiance of the newcomers after the carved rock had been damaged by them. The original carved surface takes us right back to Neolithic times.

The present situation concerning quarrying.

Sheep Hill was scheduled as an ancient monument by the then Dept. of the Environment in 1970, after brief accounts of my excavations were published. I do not know when the cup-and ring rocks were scheduled but they were de-scheduled by Historic Scotland at the quarry firm’s request, probably soon after 1984 when I was asked to record them. In 1994 the carvings were sawn off and taken to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. Sheep Hill was de-scheduled in about 2005, again at the quarry company’s request. At a meeting with Historic Scotland in Edinburgh Thompson’s representative apparently argued that there were no signs of human activity on Sheep Hill. My verbal assurances that there were, and the preliminary account of the excavations I published in 1976, were evidently not enough and a member of Historic Scotland was sent to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow University to examine the finds and the records. Descheduling went ahead anyway, but the quarry failed to take advantage of this and the hillfort automatically became a scheduled monument again five years later. Now Thompson’s have to re-apply for de-scheduling prior to quarrying and there does not seem to be any doubt this will be granted again; if it is not granted the quarry firm will demand full compensation and it seems that no-one is willing to pay this. One understands that Historic Scotland is expected to accede to what the Scottish Government wants and the Minister for Local Government and Planning – Derek Mackay – has made it quite clear that no compensation will be forthcoming from that quarter. The only obstacle now is that West Dunbartonshire Council now have legal powers to issue a ROMP (Review of Mineral Permission) in which it could set new conditions that the quarry firm would have to abide by – for example to limit the environmental damage in some way. The only realistic hope now is that the archaeological uniqueness of the sites becomes more widely known and appreciated, and that consequent protests from the public will cause the Minister to think again. In the year of the referendum for an independent Scotland it would be sad if the present Scottish government allowed the destruction of such a unique pair of Scottish sites.

Our foremost chronicler of prehistoric rock carvings in Scotland, Ronald Morris, wrote of the Greenland carvings, “This is one of the finest examples of these carved rock surfaces in Scotland.” (1981, 103). It is surely nothing short of a national scandal that this priceless treasure was broken up and removed to make way for heaps of quarried rubble and I fully accept that I should have objected much more strongly about it at the time. The whole episode is an interesting example of how even professional archaeologists can simply assume that the public bodies that are supposed to protect our heritage are always able to do so. I have learnt the lesson and – being retired and less vulnerable – do not propose to let Sheep Hill go without vehement objections.


  • Bruce, J 1896 ‘Notice of remarkable groups of archaic sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 30 (1895-1896), 205-209.
  • Burgess, C 1990 The chronology of cup-and-ring marks in Atlantic Europe. Revue Archaeol Ouest, suppl. no. 2, 157-71.
  • Cowie, T (forth) Ceramic material associated with metalworking from Sheep Hill, Dumbarton. In MacKie forthcoming.
  • Davidson, J M 1935 A Bronze Age cemetery at Knappers, Kilbowie, Dunbartonshire. Proc. Soc. Antiq Scot 69 (1935-36), 352-82.
  • Davis, A 1991 Part 2: the metrology of the carvings. Pp. 150-55 in MacKie 1991.
  • MacKie, E W 1976 The vitrified forts of Scotland, in D.W. Harding (ed) Hillforts: later prehistoric earthworks in Britain and Ireland. Academic Press: London. 205-35.
    –– 1991 New light on Neolithic rock carving: the petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dumbartonshire. Glasgow Archaeol Journ 15 (1988-89), 125-56 (with A Davis).
    –– 2008 The broch cultures of Atlantic Scotland: origins, high noon and decline. Part 1: Early Iron Age beginnings c. 700 – 200 BC. Oxford Journ Archaeol 27(3) (2008), 261-79.
    –– forth. Trial excavations on Sheep Hill, West Dunbartonshire,in 1966-70; a possible timber palisade, a late Bronze Age timber-framed dun and a small Iron Age hillfort. Scott. Arch. Journ.
  • Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway). Oxford.
  • Schmidt, P K & Burgess, C B 1981 The axes of Scotland and northern England. Prahistorische Bronzefunde, ab IX, band 7. Munich.

We are indebted to Dr MacKie for permission to help build awareness of this remarkable site.

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. Please read the Introduction first. Part two discussed the Greenland rock carvings. We now move on to consider the Sheep Hill forts.

The Sheep Hill forts

Timber-framed hillforts tend to be situated on the north-east, south-east, south-west and western fringes of the Highland zone and Sheep Hill is one of the few close to the urban areas of Central Scotland (MacKie 1976, fig. 6). In addition an analysis of the strongholds by size shows that most are true hillforts, even if occasionally quite small (MacKie 1976, 233 ff). There are three situated within the highland zone, where arable land is in much smaller patches than in Aberdeenshire, which are of roundhouse size and enclose from about 100 to 200 square yards. The primary stronghold at Sheep Hill is not as small as that and encloses about 1350 square metres but it is better classed as a largish stone dun rather than a hillfort; it was probably roofed along the inside wall face and was doubtless suitable for the residence of a chiefly extended family and its followers. The destruction of this dun by fire and probably by later demolition was complete; a small length of vitrified wall core was found on the south-west margin of the area enclosed (marked ‘v’ in Illus. 5) and this gave a clue to how far the dun had extended in that direction; it seems only to have occupied the summit of the hill, an area marked in yellow on Illus. 5. A trench across the probable northern part of the wall, at the top of the north cliff of the hilltop, failed to find a clear occupation layer.

My limited excavations of 1967-69 revealed that a larger and more complex hillfort defended by ramparts, was built after the dún was destroyed and that masses of the heated stones from the original building were used in it. In 1969 there was no reason to study the geological origin of this debris but I recall that it was – as one would expect – mostly of basalt fragments. The later hillfort is not easy to date (as explained below two C14 dates for it probably relate to the first fort) but it may well have gone out of use when the Roman Army established itself on the north bank of the Clyde nearby. Finds were fewer than in the dún midden (below) but included a large number of fragments of shale bracelets, as well as many pieces of shale which showed that a bracelet workshop existed on the site – a very rare find. Shale ornaments can be given a black shiny surface by polishing and were popular in the Iron Age.

Illus. 5. Contour plan of Sheep Hill showing the positions of the fortifications and enclosures. The approximate outline of the Phase 1 vitrified (timber-framed) dun is in yellow and the ramparts of the Phase 2 hillfort are in blue. The southern entrance of the second fort is protected by a triangular annexe with its own entrance, which is itself protected by a short traverse. The excavated trenches are marked. The wall of both fort seems to have run along the same track at the top of the steep northern edge of the Hill.

Illus. 5. Contour plan of Sheep Hill showing the positions of the fortifications and enclosures. The approximate outline of the Phase 1 vitrified (timber-framed) dun is in yellow and the ramparts of the Phase 2 hillfort are in blue. The southern entrance of the second fort is protected by a triangular annexe with its own entrance, which is itself protected by a short traverse. The excavated trenches are marked. The wall of both fort seems to have run along the same track at the top of the steep northern edge of the Hill.

The southernmost rampart of the hillfort was cut through and revealed a midden underneath its core, which evidently continued in use after vitrification, presumably by survivors who seem to have camped on the southern part of the hill top for a while. The reason for supposing this, and for not inferring that the midden was simply a refuse tip for the dun, is that a rim sherd of gritty Dunagoil ware was found in the midden which had itself been partly vitrified by intense heat; in other words the sherd had been heated when the dun was set on fire and partly vitrified and was then swept into the midden with other later material. The date of the midden was ascertained by two methods – a C14 date and dateable mould fragments.

Firstly another Dunagoil ware rim sherd was recovered of the kind of Early Iron Age carinated pottery that has been well dated to about 700-500 BC in Orkney (MacKie 2008, 265). Organic residue on this sherd gave a date of 2490 ± 30 bp, or 780-500 BC (SUERC-26969) at a 92.1% level of confidence).

Illus. 6: rim sherd of Dunagoil ware from the midden under the rampart on the southern edge of Fort 2. It has been severely burned and vitrified into a coke-like substance, presumably when the timber-framed dun was destroyed by fire.

Illus. 6: rim sherd of Dunagoil ware from the midden under the rampart on the southern edge of Fort 2. It has been severely burned and vitrified into a coke-like substance, presumably when the timber-framed dun was destroyed by fire.

This seems likely to reflect the destruction of the timber-framed dun. Secondly there were fragments of moulds for casting bronze tools and weapons in the midden, including types consistent with the Ewart Park phase of the Scottish Late Bronze Age metalwork sequence, which is dated to about 1000-800 BC. (Cowie forthcoming) (MacKie 1976, Fig. 3. This suggests that the bronze moulds date from a an earlier time than the carinated sherd – to one when the timber -framed dun was intact and occupied. The midden was therefore probably used both during and after the occupation of the dun.

That the actual construction of the timber-framed dun took place during the Ewart Park phase of Late Bronze Age metalworking is shown by one of two more C14 dates obtained in 2012 from charcoal which was actually found on the floor of the second hillfort, just within its southern main rampart. Since one date was slightly older than that for the stratigraphically earlier sherd in the sub-rampart midden it would seem to follow that large amounts of charcoal from the burnt wooden elements of the original dun were strewn about the site and became incorporated into the later floor levels. The charcoal could either be from wooden parts of the original building or from later constructions; the extensive timber-framing of the stone wall surely makes the former more likely (all date spans are expressed in terms of a confidence level of 93.5%). The dates are 2485 ± 30 bp, or 780-490 BC (SUERC-20968) and a more accurate one of 2605 ± 30 bp, or 830-760 BC (SUERC-26966). In addition a charcoal sample resting on rock, and which probably belongs to an earlier occupation (perhaps a palisaded enclosure ), gave a date of 3095 ± 30 bp, or 1440-1290 BC (SUERC-26967). All things considered a date for the construction of the timber-framed dun in about the 9th century BC, or perhaps the 10th, seems most probable.

Next: Were the two sites linked? 


News release from Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort:

Post-election announcement on hillfort housing could be on the cards

Officials may be keeping a lid on the outcome of controversial proposals for housing close to Old Oswestry hillfort in Shropshire until after the election, say campaigners.

The speculation follows further delays to the expected publication of Inspector Claire Sherratt’s findings on SAMDEV, Shropshire Council’s development blueprint to 2026. The plan includes a fiercely opposed bid to extend Oswestry’s urban edge into the hillfort’s Iron Age landscape for the construction of a large housing estate.

Campaign group, HOOOH (Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort), was originally told that the modified plan would appear by around the middle of February for final consultation. But publication continues to be delayed, with administrators now saying it won’t be until ‘at least the end of April’.

John Waine of HOOOH said: “It’s fair to say that we are very disappointed with the delays in the modified SAMDev plan. It seems that publication may not come through until after the election and people will make up their own minds as to whether this move is politically-motivated or not.”

He added: “From the point of view of HOOOH’s campaign, now coming up to two years, we believe that the case for removal of OSW004 is overwhelming, and we have provided clear evidence to that conclusion with growing support from all quarters.”

Thousands of people, including 8,000+ petition signatories, have voiced their opposition to the hillfort estate during several stages of public consultation across three years. HOOOH believes the protracted delay in a decision on the bitterly contested development is stretching public faith in localism to the very limit. Campaigners say it would be a highly cynical move to postpone what is a politically incendiary planning judgment into post-election safety.

Campaigner Neil Phillips said: “Shropshire Council has refused to take notice of the overwhelming consensus against this very short-sighted development. Not only will it be extremely damaging to the hillfort’s heritage significance, it will also erode its tourism value which creates jobs and brings spend to the County.”

He added: “If we think our voice is not being heard in public consultation, we can always use our 2015 election vote on candidates that can demonstrate they are genuine and active heritage champions.”

Mr Waine said: “Going forward, it is clear that Old Oswestry hillfort is a precious heritage asset of national and international significance, and as such, requires protection from some form of heritage greenbelt.  The well-received BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Making History’, which was partly recorded on the hillfort, is recognition of the fact that it has a worldwide audience keen to know more.

“Whatever the outcome, the campaign will continue to work hard to protect, promote and celebrate the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ and the ancient heart of Oswestry for the town, the county and the country as a whole.”

Speaking on the ‘Making History’ programme, the esteemed archaeology academic and author, Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, and MP Tim Loughton MP called for the wider protection of heritage landscape.

Professor Cunliffe is among 12 eminent academics who have signed an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, and Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, objecting to OSW004. In it they write: “If the bar for acceptable development under the NPPF does not protect the setting of even our most significant heritage sites, then we set a potentially calamitous precedent for the greater part of the nation’s historic environment.”

As well as thousands of objectors via petition and on social media, the hillfort housing bid is opposed by numerous stakeholders, heritage and environmental groups. They include Oswestry Town Council, Selattyn & Gobowen Parish Council, RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust), Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), The Prehistoric Society, The Society of Antiquaries of London,  Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology Group, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Heritage Action (Heritage Journal), and Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, director of The Council for British Archaeology (CBA).


More info from Kate Clarke on 01691 652918 or 07835 924069 or John Waine on 07972 113619,

Twitter: @OldOswestryFort
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort
Web: http://oldoswestryhillfort.co.uk/

Open letter from senior British academics: http://www.britac.ac.uk/news/news.cfm/newsid/1209


May 2015
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