Back in 2013, we reported upon a project with the lofty ambition to conduct a full GPS survey of the Roman town of Verulamium (modern St Albans).

Here we are, three years on, and the survey has now been completed! (well not quite – all the magnetomentry is completed, but there is still some I’d like to do some more GPR and resistivity to go, along with the magnetic susceptibility survey)

How about some numbers?  Well, Verulamium is the third biggest Roman town in Britain, after London and Cirencester.  It is, however, the largest Roman town in Britain which doesn’t have a modern settlement built over most of it.  We have surveyed 64.5ha of the total area of 81ha.  It has taken us 83 working days starting in the summer of 2013, but we didn’t do much at Verulamium in 2014.  It took 12,900,400 readings to cover those 64.5 ha.   That, of course, doesn’t include the grids we did twice because of frozen sensors or other problems. People pushing the cart walked about 322km, not including having to go back to the start for partials, getting to the squares in the first place, or laying in the tapes and strings.

Hearty congratulations go to all the volunteers who gave up their time to learn how to use GPS equipment and then walk those 322km, and to the project lead, Kris Lockyer. It just goes to show what a dedicated group of people achieve, with the right leadership and training.

Although the walking may be completed for now, and the overall picture is very impressive (below) the work of interpreting the results will continue for some considerable time!

Verulamium Survey

A second “Archaeology in Hertfordshire” conference is planned for November 26th to be held in Hitchin Town Hall, where no doubt the project will be presented at length.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

The Stones of Stenness today

The Stones of Stenness today

 

Today the glossy guide books that you can purchase at the “honey-pot” heritage attractions contain loads of perfect photographs accompanied by a few paragraphs explaining what there is to see and what it might mean. Such publications don’t tout controversy and are very much a product of establishment thinking. This was not always the case and in the “olden” days back in the 1950’s the authors of the so called “Official Guides” produced by the Department of the Environment sometimes used them as a vehicle to vent their spleen.

A wonderful example of this can be found in the “Ancient Monuments in Orkney” Official Guide published in 1952. The description of the Stones of Stenness stone circle on page 21 is remarkable and speaks for itself. “It consists of four erect monoliths together with a spurious dolmen-like structure which dates only from 1906 and is the result of an unfortunate ‘restoration’ of fallen stones by the then Office of Works, misled by certain archaeological ‘experts’ of that time.”

Fairly hard hitting stuff and not the sort of thing you are likely to read in today’s sanitised publications for the general public. Just goes to show that government experts don’t always get it right.

A photograph of the “spurious dolmen” is available here and further information on this particular debacle can found at Orkneyjar.

PAS is staging yet another conference praising metal detecting. (Why, when they were set up to cope with it not promote it? A biscuit to anyone who knows!) It’s titled “Can Detectorists be Archaeologists?” The answer is simple: NO, for the nature of the activity precludes its participants from adhering to the archaeological  practices, aims and ethics developed to maximise knowledge and minimise cultural loss which real archaeologists have to! Why would you need to stage a whole expensive conference to explain that, unless you were trying to pretend short changing the community is acceptable?

The title of the conference is all the more perplexing because the BM specifically told us recently that they’d endeavour to ensure “misinterpretation cannot be inferred from our use of language in the future” and for our part we highlighted Rule 1.4 of the Institute for Archaeology: “A member shall not undertake archaeological work for which he or she is not adequately qualified”. No, metal detecting can never be Archaeology for a multitude of reasons. It’s endlessly claimed by both metal detectorists and PAS that archaeologists shouldn’t be elitist. They’re right. But Archaeology should be.

If it’s not, and if it isn’t done right, it’s one of many inferior ways of interacting with the past of which metal detecting is merely one. By what right does our national museum, uniquely in the world, imply otherwise? The whole bloody farce reminds us of 2011 when Diana Friendship-Taylor, chair of Rescue, wrote witheringly of a previous similar attempt:“We are, frankly, astonished, that the British Museum is prepared to lend its considerable weight to the furtherance of a method of historical inquiry which belongs in the distant past, and which has as much relevance to the practice of modern archaeology as the use of the cranial trepanation has to modern medicine.”

Five years later another million recordable artefacts have been dug up and not recorded yet PAS is STILL promoting something which "has as much relevance to the practice of modern archaeology as the use of the cranial trepanation has to modern medicine.”

Five years later, a further MILLION recordable artefacts, that’s 1,000,000, have been dug up and not recorded and are now lost to science yet PAS is still promoting something whichhas as much relevance to the practice of modern archaeology as the use of the cranial trepanation has to modern medicine.”

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Last Tuesday officials seized earthmovers hired by a temple committee as it was destroying the Karez heritage site in Naubad, India. Following a tip-off, a team led by Tahsildar Jagannath Reddy and those from the Departments of Forest and Mining, inspected the work of cutting trees and levelling hillocks on a portion of the Manjra plateau. They seized the equipment and (most satisfyingly), filed cases against workers and persons who had ordered the work!

If only Tahsildar Jagannath Reddy was an Ancient Monument Inspector in Britain! We could tip him off that 3 conservation organisations are currently plotting to let loose a battalion of bulldozers across a mile of the World Heritage Site.

bulldozers.

You might find it hard to believe that such organisations are in favour of such a thing. But it’s true. Meanwhile one of them, English Heritage, is going for the lower-than-populist approach, no doubt to distract from the Stonehenge scandal ….

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pokemon eh

It has been some time since we started our journey down the Neolithic M1. You may recall that we started at Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, and travelled down the Peddars Way to Knettishall Heath near Thetford. We then continued on the Icknield Way through Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the borders of Hertfordshire at Royston.

So we pick up our journey again in the centre of Royston, by the glacial erratic that gives the town its name. The Royse Stone once held a cross erected by a Lady Roisia. Royston sits at the junction of the Icknield Way and Ermine Street, the latter being one of the most important Roman roads in the country, leading from London to York. Not far from the stone is the entrance to Royston Cave, an enigmatic opening carved into the solid chalk below, discovered in 1742 when a shaft covered by a millstone was uncovered. The cave walls are covered in medieval (and possibly earlier) carvings, and are well worth a visit!

Royse Stone

The Royse Stone

A short distance west from the town is Therfield Heath which contains a barrow cemetery consisting of a long barrow, and several smaller round barrows.

Therfield Heath Longbarrow © AlanS

Therfield Heath Longbarrow © AlanS

The modern Icknield Way Trail diverts south here, following the high ground through the villages of Therfield, Sandon and Wallington toward Baldock. But north of the trail, there are several scattered tumuli, roughly following the course of the modern A505 road. This suggests that maybe the prehistoric way followed the lower ground at this point. The scant remains of a hillfort can be found at Arbury Banks, just outside Ashwell, one of 6 such hillforts spread along the northern Chilterns.

Reaching Baldock, the area contains a wealth of archaeology, including the sites of two known Neolithic henges at Weston and Norton.

Weston Henge

From Baldock, the Icknield Way continues west through Letchworth Garden City, crossing the River Hiz at Ickleford. The modern trail once again diverts from the old path and continues to Pirton, which has a motte and bailey construct. There is a current project, run by Reading University, to investigate whether certain mottes could have had earlier origins as Neolithic mounds, is the motte at Pirton a candidate, I wonder?

South-west of Pirton, the Knocking Knoll long barrow can be found. Although now damaged by ploughing activity, this was excavated by Ransom in 1856. Some 100 years later, in the mid-1950s farm labourers uncovered a chalk cist containing a crouched burial, which was presumed to have its origins in the ploughed E half of the barrow.

Rejoining the old path and continuing south-west past the Pegsdon Hills nature reserve, Ravensburgh Castle can be seen to the north. Finally, the trail passes the Galley Hill barrow cemetery before getting lost in the urban sprawl of Luton.

We’ll pause for a while once again here, and continue our journey anon.

As everyone knows, The National Trust is part of the short tunnel lobby, the group calling for massively damaging new roads within the World Heritage Site. To this end it has suddenly deployed what looks to be the mother of all dirty tricks. It has invited people to fill in aStonehenge landscape Spirit of Place survey”. Why? And why now?

Well mostly the questions are bland and meaningless, but Question 2 isn’t: “Is there any aspect of the Stonehenge landscape atmosphere or ‘feel’ that we should be particularly careful to preserve?The proper answer is “all of it – the World Heritage Convention doesn’t authorise cherry picking” but the agenda, blatantly, is to get people to innocently pick a favourite, which of course will be the stones, and to then announce in a big press release that the public wants the stone circle’s atmosphere to be preserved over and above the other parts of the World Heritage Site. That would fit in with the Trust’s stance – building massive new roads in part of the WHS is justified if it enhances the atmosphere round the stones.

So it gives every appearance of an attempt to harvest well-meaning people’s votes and use them in a way they didn’t authorise by claiming that since most people put preserving the atmosphere round the circle at the top of their priorities they therefore support the wrecking of other parts of the WHS. If that was the intention it has blown up in their faces and dealt yet another massive blow to the Trust’s reputation.

It’s exactly a year since PAS got the begging bowl out. They probably wish they hadn’t for only 22 people have contributed and the total is only £901. Not all of the contributors were detectorists (there’s us for a start!) and we reckon probably just 18 detectorists out of 10,000 have given anything at all.

Since the very existence of PAS is an acknowledgment that metal detecting does damage the archaeological record, the figures seem to be a particularly spectacular failure of an attempt to apply the “polluter pays” principle. Particularly so given that every detectorists at every farm gate declares their undying support for the PAS whereas 70% of them fail to report all their finds to PAS and 99.5% of their clubs don’t  make reporting to PAS compulsory.

Actually, it’s not just unacceptable, it’s a scandal. On Thursday Simon Jenkins in the Guardian called for the restoration of war damaged monuments in Syria, saying “we can redress the murder of memories”. In Britain the murder of memories caused by the mass failure to report metal detecting finds is utterly impossible to redress. Instead, ten thousand British detectorists have deigned to mitigate it at a rate of only about 8p each per year.

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Geraint Davies MP

On 13 July, Geraint Davies MP introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the Commons to make provision for the safeguarding of standards of environmental protection derived from European Union legislation after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The UK Environmental Protection (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill 2016-17 expands upon those areas of environmental protection with respect to water, air, soil, flood protection, and climate change. It is expected to have its second reading debate on Friday 28 October 2016.

The heritage community will be especially keen to know whether it will include aspects of cultural heritage, as currently provided for in EU Directives on Environmental Impact Assessment.

From The Heritage Journal, 27 July 2005 :

Heritage Action welcomes the news that the A303 improvement scheme that threatened loss of archaeology and further intrusion into the surroundings of Stonehenge has been withdrawn. However, we are concerned that other options will leave the entire WHS site fragmented by expanded approach roads that will cut into the heritage landscape of the Stonehenge complex and the archaeology it contains.

ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, has also welcomed the news. They say: “We believe that the review announced by the Minister allows time for serious consideration to be given to alternative schemes for upgrading the A303 that do not involve cutting across the heart of the World Heritage site.”

Now, exactly 11 years later, it looks like the bloody bulldozers are back. The Government, English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust are effectively saying sod what ICOMOS said, we want new dual carriageways to be bulldozed deep and wide across at least a mile of the World Heritage Site.

If you’re outraged please sign the petition. (Incidentally, it’s to be hoped that if earth moving equipment is deployed at Stonehenge, none of it will belong to Mr Penny, the man convicted of allowing a Priddy Circle to be bulldozed. Why on earth would we think anything so crass  would be allowed? Clue: it wouldn’t be the first time!)

The Government says a 1.8 mile tunnel is all they can afford at Stonehenge. Conservation bodies English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust have said that would be OK and they’ll support it, even though a mile of massive approach roads will have to be driven through the UNESCO protected World Heritage Site. Logic suggests they CANNOT be right to do so but now there’s something happening to suggest that their stance is not only wrong but foolish. Britain is talking about building an 18 mile long road tunnel between Manchester and Sheffield –  that’s ten times longer than at Stonehenge!

Pennine tunnel

Someone in the Government is telling porkies about what can be comfortably offered at Stonehenge. By the same token, supporting the short tunnel there on the basis that’s all that can be afforded is going along with – and aiding – a falsehood.

And here’s a funny thing: the latest rumour is that Brexit may mean major projects including Stonehenge are cancelled. If it happens it will put English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust in a ticklish spot. Will they express regret about it, which will be ludicrous or will they welcome it, which will indicate their existing stance is ludicrous? We’ll see. They may yet come to ruefully reflect that supporting the Government is riskier than supporting what’s right – since the former may change whereas the latter never will.

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