Please warn your elderly relatives. Numerous people are going door to door offering loft clearance for free – but with 3 disreputable conditions:

Scandalous or what! “Finds of a lesser value I shall own”! “We’ll keep you informed of what’s gone by sending photographs! You may well wonder why don’t they just charge a flat fee like any respectable contractor would? It’s clear why, and it’s clear whose interests are being served – and whose aren’t! No doubt the police would like to hear of any sightings of these cowboys. .


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But actually, the above isn’t quite true. Those 3 statements are not from a loft clearance firm, they’re from a model “metal detecting finds agreement” published in this month’s UK Detectornet online magazine!.

It’s strange, isn’t it, how something that is so readily seen to be blatantly unfair, disreputable, unprofessional, exploitative and worth reporting to the police when it refers to lofts is tolerated in silence by The Archaeological Establishment and the Police when it refers to fields! But that’s the horrible mess Britain has constructed for itself. The authorities know it’s wrong but feel they have to keep quiet. And farmers suffer as a result.

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It’s happened before so you never know, but it would put English Heritage in a terrible position. The Government wanted a tunnel for transport reasons and told English Heritage to support them – so they came up with some heritage improvement reasons. And it’s those which may yet leave them in an embarrassing self-made mire if the road project is cancelled – for which of these two possible announcements would they make?

In our role as guardian of Stonehenge, English Heritage regrets the Government’s plans not to invest in a fully bored tunnel of at least 2.9km” thereby implying they still thought a short tunnel would be good for Stonehenge and they’d continue to campaign for one forever!

Or …..
In our role as guardian of Stonehenge, English Heritage welcomes the Government’s plans not to invest in a fully bored tunnel of at least 2.9km” thereby implying they don’t think a short tunnel would be good for Stonehenge and their stance for the last 4 years was insincere!

It seems that it only takes a simple game of “just suppose” to cast a searing light onto the role of the main guardians of Stonehenge. It’s not a pretty sight.

Easter has been and gone, and in timeworn tradition, Cornwall is now ‘open for business’ to tourists once again. The ancient village of Chysaucester was open for the season again from the weekend, and I took a quick run down to see what was going on.

The atrocious weather we have been having meant that visitors to the site were being warned to take extra care as there is a lot of surface water on the slopes of the village at the moment and some areas are very muddy indeed.

My first stop after the entrance booth was to the education hut, where a ‘Living History’ exhibition was put on by local re-enactors. Wool was being spun, clay was available for children to have a go at modelling their on pots, various tools and implements were on view and I met Jasper ‘the Iron Age dog’ – who was very friendly and well behaved! The group have a Facebook page Dark Age Cornwall to discuss what everyday life may have been like for inhabitants of villages like that at Chysaucester.

Moving on up to the main street, I noticed a new wooden intrusion poking over a wall at the top of the hill, which wasn’t there on my last visit.

Over the winter English Heritage have built an observation deck to give an elevated view, principally over House 6, but from where the rest of the village can also be seen. Hopefully it is incomplete – a dark green woodstain would help it to blend into the background and be less intrusive.

The site was quite busy with visitors, but as can be seen from the wideangle shot below of House 4, the ground water was quite bad, so I didn’t stay long in order to minimise my footfall.

On the way back down the hill, I stopped at the fogou, and the effects of the winter could plainly be seen as daylight is now showing through where the ‘filling’ that was used to block the fogou (for Health and Safety reasons some years ago) has been washed away by the rain.

Chysaucester fogou, taken through the railings and showing the clear erosion at the back

When told about the erosion, the site custodian said that the area will be fenced off shortly to avoid people trying to get into the fogou via the back entrance. Only time will tell as to whether English Heritage will do the right thing and excavate/open up the fogou, or if they will decide to refill it again.

Latest news: “Sale of ivory to be banned in the UK as part of government plan to help protect elephants”

Public sentiment and legislation opposing animal cruelty are all moving in one direction. So how much longer will the Trust persist in pretending trail hunting is innocuous under pressure from the Countryside Alliance? It should take a look around, the world has moved on and it is looking more foolish by the day …

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“That bloke is defending the indefensible!”


PS….
The Trust says it believes this from the Countryside Alliance: “Live quarry species naturally live in the countryside, so on occasion, the hounds may pick up the scent. If this occurs, the huntsman and other members of hunt staff stop the hounds as soon as they are made aware that the hounds are no longer following a trail that has been laid.” But it’s not true, as is demonstrated on numerous occasions.

So the public is entitled to ask why is an organisation as respectable and venerable as the National Trust supporting what it must know is a false statement and is it thereby abandoning its claim to respectability?

We note with some surprise that English Heritage have launched a £50,000 appeal for remedial work to four cannon, two 18th-Century nine-pounder guns at Etal Castle Northumberland, and World War Two anti-aircraft guns at Dover Castle in Kent and Pendennis Castle, near Falmouth.

This appeal comes on top of their existing £20million budget. English Heritage (EH) has a duty to care for the nation’s collection of historic places and artefacts, and says it needs the funding to keep up with the rate of deterioration of not only the four mentioned cannon, but also many others at risk from weather erosion.

But it occurs to us here at the Journal that, given that duty of care and the need for funds for restoration work, that EH would be better off reviewing (and cancelling) their plans for work that no-one really wants and that does not fit the duty of care criteria.

The planned ‘bridge’ at Tintagel Castle is a case in point – it certainly cannot be considered to come under the duty of care heading for the site, being something that is out of keeping with the origins of the site. Indeed the bridge (planned costs of £4million) can only be seen as an unwelcome intrusion, designed purely to increase visitor numbers with no concern for the heritage of the site in question.

…and that £4million could pay for an awful lot of cannon to be restored and protected for future generations, with no need for a special appeal.

Highways England has revealed that disgraced Australian cricketers, Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft have been masterminding its attempts to present a short tunnel at Stonehenge as good for Stonehenge, Britain and the World. The crestfallen organisation confessed that its bitterest regret was the fact it had been caught but vowed that it wouldn’t happen again.

It was also announced that Bancroft will not be joining Somerset County Cricket Club for the forthcoming season. He sobbed: “I just couldn’t drive to work along the A303 knowing I had been part of Highways England’s attempt to deprive the people of Britain and the World of that wonderful view of Stonehenge. What was I thinking? I suppose I saw it as my job. Now I know better. My job is to do what’s right.

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The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square has been filled! It’s a life sized replica of the Ninevah winged god destroyed by I.S. in 2015.

It’s very arresting and delivers a powerful message opposing cultural destruction. But not as stunning as if it depicted all the recordable artefacts legally not reported by British detectorists and lost to science since 1975.

But to do that it would need to be hundreds of miles high!

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Much is made of the “knowledge dividend” that digging a mile long scar through the landscape will deliver. But one has to ask: if it’s so beneficial why not do it anyway without building a road?! Clearly the dividend isn’t a true benefit it’s an excuse for supporting massive destruction.

In any case, as all archaeologists know, rushing to find everything in this generation is pure cultural vandalism because so much will be lost. Far better to leave it for the next generations – perhaps hundreds of years hence – who can then learn far, far more using better techniques in a gradual, unhurried, incremental and less damaging way.  There’s even a case for not uncovering some knowledge at all, as Jon Parton suggested in the Journal in 2009:


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A Guest Article by Jon Parton (first published in 2009)

The East Kennet Long Barrow is little regarded compared with its celebrated and far more visited neighbour, West Kennet Long Barrow. This inequality is unjust, firstly because East Kennet is enormous – a cathedral to the parish church that is West Kennet – and secondly because, unlike the opened, eviscerated West Kennet, graffitied, tealit and crassly modernised, robbed of its bones and mystery, East Kennet has not been opened.

This makes it very special amongst the Wessex monuments which have been repeatedly exposed in the name of science or greed, with another neighbour, Silbury, being the most famous example. Unlike in that case, no endless succession of inquisitive seekers has bored into East Kennet in pursuit of that which they destroyed and no-one has felt the need to apologise by writing “Bones of our wild forefathers, O forgive, if now we pierce the chambers of your rest”. Everything – and everyone – within East Kennet lies safe and secure, just as intended by those who sealed it 250 generations ago. Uniquely, miraculously, East Kennet hugs within itself a last precious cache of unsullied mystery.

Should it be opened? “Of course!” say some. “Who knows what treasures might be revealed for the enjoyment of all instead of remaining pointlessly hidden forever more? Who knows what knowledge might be recovered about those who built it and lie within it, providing them with a form of immortality rather than eternal obscurity?” Therein lies the obvious answer. And yet…

For me the choice is the reverse, and clear. For surely, all the gains combined could not compensate for one particular loss: the loss of the last and greatest of Wessex ‘s jewels – the last, true, flawless mystery. Where is the wonderment at West Kennet? What poet can sit alone on its turf and fancy he hears ancient whispers in rustling leaves? Who can visit the mysterious past by pausing at a display case of bones? Who can stand by poor Silbury without an uncomfortable feeling we have betrayed real people who created a private wonder and that we owe them a profound apology? Are we to assert that this is our time, not theirs, our hill, our barrow, our heritage, our mystery? Do we flout the wishes of other humans on the simple grounds that they are dust, we want to and can? Is this the future we want for ourselves?

But mostly, it’s the mystery. Let us not shatter it, as we have all the others, to satisfy our present, self-serving vulgar curiosity. Let us leave it pristine and unattainable forever and thereby of value beyond the wildest dreaming of those with eager or righteous spades…

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How does an organisation that protects, champions and saves heritage justify to itself its support for massive damage to a World Heritage landscape? It seems it can only be down to the fifth of its self-declared functions:

We champion historic places
We identify and protect our heritage
We understand historic places
We deliver national expertise at a local level
We support change.

Surely there are limits to what is acceptable change at our national icon? Do the changes below fit in with their other 4 aspirations? Or is the truth that our Heritage Champions can only think that if they keep their eyes tightly closed?

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UNESCO: “The benefits of a 2.9km tunnel to the centre of Stonehenge World Heritage Site cannot be offset against the damage it would cause to other parts of the site.” Historic England say they disagree.  Sleep tight, Heritage Champions!

 

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We thought we’d mention our Artefact Erosion Counter (of artefacts removed by detectorists since 1975, mostly unreported) recently reached 13 million!

If each was an inch wide they’d stretch the 200 miles from the British Museum to the Louvre in Paris – where, no doubt, archaeologists would speak out. If however our estimate of the number of detectorists is wrong and Dr Sam Hardy is right they’d stretch 600 miles, almost to the Museo Archaeologico in Rome – where. no doubt, archaeologists would also speak out.

Meanwhile in London, archaeologists who are equally dedicated  but are captives of the prevailing legislation, will soon plan another Conference praising the PAS and the small minority of detectorists who report to it. No-one will be highlighting the trail of lost history stretching to Paris or Rome although some detectorist-attendees will no doubt be smirking about the likes of us and our “lying Counter” in the tea break….

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