The Heritage Trust

Ed Caesar’s article, in the Smithsonian Magazine, deals with a ground-breaking survey which is revealing tantalizing new clues as to what might have gone on in the Stonehenge area four and a half thousand years ago -

Gaffney’s [Vince Gaffney, archaeologist from Newcastle upon Tyne in north-east England] latest research effort, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is a four-year collaboration between a British team and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria that has produced the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, totalling more than four square miles. The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area – to which few people might ever have been admitted… Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing… something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really.”

Read the full Smithsonian article here.


Another nail in the coffin of the mobile Neolithic theory! Cartoon by Phil Millar (Pedro)
Harry Mount, writing for Newsweek in June, reports on the recent reconstruction of five Neolithic roundhouses at the new  Stonehenge Visitor Centre. The reconstructions reveal how people, 4,500 years ago, may have lived at the time -
At first glance, we could be forgiven for thinking they were built in the modern age. Certainly, their building techniques are very similar to those used on Victorian cottages in nearby Wiltshire villages. The walls were made from cob, a mixture of the local chalk and hay, slapped, when wet, onto seven-year-old hazel stakes. These walls were then topped with thatched roofs, made from knotted straw tied onto a woven hazel frame.
Far from being dark, little Hobbit spaces, the interiors are surprisingly bright, illuminated by the white chalk walls and floors, and open door. A tall man can easily stand up straight inside. In the middle of the room, the ash-log fire on the hearth sends up smoke, which seeps through the thatch. As the smoke slowly dissipates, it creates a thin carbon dioxide layer against the straw that stops any spark from the fire igniting the thatch. As if that weren’t ingenious enough, the thatch expands in the rain, providing an even more waterproof membrane.
Full Newsweek article here.


The Rillaton Gold cup (left) discovered by workmen robbing stone from a cairn on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, in 1837, and the Ringlemere Gold Cup (right) discovered by a metal detectorist in Kent in 2001. Both now in the British Museum
Image: The Heritage Trust

A crowdsourcing archaeology project is on target for completion within a year. Thousands of volunteers worldwide have logged on to help transcribe more than 30,000 British Museum handwritten catalogue cards dating back to the late 18th century. Maev Kennedy, writing in The Guardian today, reports -

A 3D plastic model of a 3,000-year-old bronze axe – stored in the British Museum since it was found more than 30 years ago at Jevington, East Sussex – has been printed out in a public library in Washington DC through a unique experiment in crowdsourcing archaeology. Volunteers worldwide are logging on to help transcribe more than 30,000 handwritten catalogue cards dating back to the late 18th century, and making digital photographs of thousands of ancient bronze objects so they can be stitched together to form 3D images. There will be no copyright on the objects or the information, and the project is entirely built on open-source software, so could be copied anywhere. Producing the axe at an archaeology open day in Washington DC was the idea of volunteer Joseph Koivisto, a research assistant at the Catholic University of America.

Wilkin [Neil Wilkin, curator of the bronze age collections at the British Museum] said museum staff would have taken years to do the job, and the funding would probably never have been found. The crowdsourcing was launched in April, with a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and is on target to complete the project within a year. The information will be added to the huge Portable Antiquities database – recording archaeological finds made by members of the public, mainly with metal detectors – which will soon record the millionth object since it was launched as a pilot scheme in 1997.

Full Guardian article here.


On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe

Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 this week is Adam Thorpe’s On Silbury Hill (see our earlier feature here).

The novel pays personal tribute to the Neolithic monument. The base of Silbury Hill covers five acres of Wiltshire turf that has not seen the daylight for 4,300 years. Adam Thorpe has known the place since he was 13 years old. Abridged by Jill Waters. Read by Philip Franks. Broadcast daily from 9:45am – 10:00am.


Discover the hidden secrets of the Great Gold Cross, one of the Staffordshire Hoard’s most iconic objects. View other films in this series and find out more about the history of the West Midlands, on the History West Midlands website.

Banksy’s Spy Booth mural before being defaced
In a race against time an effort is underway by conservators to save Banksy’s Spy Booth mural from permanent damage. The mural appeared on the wall of a house in Cheltenham (south-west England) in April this year and shows three 1950s-style agents ‘snooping’ on either side of a (real) public telephone box. The mural is only three miles from Britain’s GCHQ’s ‘listening post’ which, in GCHQ’s own words, “…is an intelligence and security organisation, working to keep Britain safe and secure in the challenging environment of modern communications.” At the beginning of August, however, residents noticed that the mural had been defaced with red and silver spray paint. Fortunately, a transparent, anti-graffiti film, had already been applied to the mural to protect it from such vandalism. Unless remedial work is undertaken without delay, however, the spray paint is likely to seep through to the original and cause it permanent damage.
Banksy’s Spy Booth mural after being defaced
Campaigners have been trying to keep the artwork in situ after the owners of the house claimed it had been sold to an American buyer and workmen had arrived to remove it. Last month Cheltenham Borough Council issued a temporary stop notice preventing further removal work from taking place on the Grade II listed building. Meanwhile, a local businessman has generously agreed to pay ‘whatever it takes’ to keep the artwork in place.
It’s difficult to know what can be done to protect similar works of art from such vandalism – though it’s good to know that there’s such civic pride towards protecting Banksy’ works of art, and others like them. One thing’s for sure though, GCHQ seems to have been lacking in its objective of ‘working to keep Britain safe and secure in the challenging environment of modern communications’ in this instance!
See our earlier features about Banksy here.
Press cutting from the Essex County Standard
The Colchester Archaeological Trust has discovered part of a Roman water-main off Colchester High Street -
Today (8th August), the Trust’s recent discovery of the remains of a Roman water-main in Colchester [south-east England] was reported on in the local press. Last week we excavated the remains of a water-main on our site at the Williams & Griffin store in the High Street at Colchester; this would have formed part of the Roman town’s pressurised water-supply system. The water-main is represented by several corroded iron collars, with attached fragments of mineral-replaced wood, lying in a straight-sided Roman trench. The remains of the water-main provide a fascinating snapshot of Roman engineering and urban infrastructure. The item was published on page 4 of the Essex County Standard, with a small illustration, and titled ‘”Water” discovery! Roman technology is unearthed’. The illustration is a photo. of Trust volunteer Gemma with one of the iron collars of the water-main, back at Roman Circus House.
Full article here.

A guest feature by Roy Goutté. Text and images © Roy Goutté

King Arthur’s Hall, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

Many, many years ago, nobody really knows quite when, work began on constructing a banked ‘enclosure’ on the north-west corner of Bodmin Moor near St Breward, an area known for its collection of early stone circles, cairns, hut circles and settlements. The enclosure was eventually to become known as King Arthur’s Hall and the portion of moor it was located on, King Arthur’s Downs… but what was the exact purpose of this Scheduled Monument?

Many ideas have been put forward as to what its purpose was, including things as diverse as a Neolithic mortuary enclosure, a Medieval animal pound, a gathering place for ceremonial or ritualistic purposes or an ancient reservoir, but until it has been professionally excavated and dated in the quest for clues its use has to remain speculative as there is little or nothing to compare it with.

Basically, earth appears to have been extracted from a rectangular north to south orientated area 160ft x 66ft and banked up on the four sides of it, thereby forming a type of sub-level ‘tank’ with an 8ft ‘apron’ between that excavated area and the banks.

Removing the earth to form the banks from the centre of the structure strongly suggests that the sunken tanked appearance was a pre-requisite, otherwise the soil would surely have been either imported from elsewhere, or obtained from the immediate area surrounding the entire structure, thereby leaving a level surface internally. This lowered area must then surely be our first clue as to its possible use.

It then appeared that granite standing stones of varying heights and profiles were erected to the inner face of the banks on the apron in what appears to be a continuous pattern of stone-gap, stone-gap sequence until reaching what could have been an original entrance to the south-west corner.

However, I have now, due to a recent fortuitous discovery made by myself and a co worker as part of a team of clearance workers, re-named these standing stones the façade stones, as they stand immediately in front of what appears to be a revetment wall built to retain the inner bank that had never been recorded before as far as I can determine as it lay hidden within the banks. Due to time, and one assumes roaming cattle, sheep and ponies over the centuries clambering over the banks and those same banks being washed over the top of the revetment wall, the majority of what was once around 140 uprights, have now either fallen and lie buried beneath the ground surface, lying recumbent on the surface itself, or indeed still standing but angulated.

Discovering this revetment wall has made me rethink what the original sequence of build was and whether the upright standing stones were an original feature, or introduced later and if so, for what purpose?

The revetment wall lying behind the granite standing stones makes its presence known during a clearance of the eastern bank in 2013. A modest investigation in 2014 showed it continuing in at least a northerly direction with other stones beginning to protrude through the newly exposed bank

Prior to the revetment wall discovery, the former description is really all we knew about its possible method of build but nothing about its age and purpose, whilst others, myself included, believe it could be much older and possibly Bronze-Age or even Late Neolithic in keeping with many of the ancient remains over this moorland landscape such as the three ‘ceremonial’ stone circles of Stannon, Louden and Fernacre about a mile or so to the north, the twin stone circles on Emblance Down to the south-east and Leaze stone circle just beyond them about half a mile away from the Hall. To the immediate west and east are the settlements of Candra and Garrow. King Arthur’s Hall sits comfortably in the centre of this wonderful landscape overseen by both Roughtor and Brown Willy and it would be easy to believe that there just may be a shared connection between them all. I would seriously like to think that is indeed the case!

So what exactly could its purpose have been and why are there not more structures identical to this spread over the vast expanse of Bodmin Moor known historically for its roaming cattle, sheep and horses if indeed it was just an animal pound as suggested in a study carried out by Cornwall Archaeological Unit (now Historic Environment Projects) in 1991:-

‘Although King Arthur’s Hall is actually on King Arthur’s Down in the Manor of Hamatethy, it features significantly in the landscape of the Manor of Blisland. The rectangular earthwork is considered to be originally an early medieval animal pound for the hundred of Trigg, later retained as a pound for both the manors of Hamatethy and Blisland’.

A ‘pound’ was where straying animals were impounded. Some probably date from the Bronze Age but most of them won’t be more than around 1400-1500 years old. When some of the early Cornish settlements were evolving into villages, many of the ancient Commons became literally just open fields. Although most of them were hedged the banks were often quite low and often in need of repair. As no-one in particular would have been responsible for their upkeep, other than collectively, they would, on occasion fail and stock escape. Livestock allowed to wonder and roam free on the Common land were often found straying on to someone’s private land so would have been driven into the local pound from which the owner could only retrieve them by paying a fine. About fifty of these pounds, or the remains of them, have been found in Cornwall although there would originally have been many more because every Parish had them, sometimes two or three. In fact Mawgen-in-Pydar is recorded as having four!

They weren’t always huge secure areas either as they varied according to the size of the parish and the likely amount of stock likely to be escapees. The pound at Stratton for instance only measured 20ft x 24ft and was still in use in 1826 when its 9ft high walls were rebuilt. The hedges around a pound had to be especially stock-proof in order to keep in livestock which had already strayed from home so were often built more as walls than hedges. Anyone who has sheep for instance will know that the first thing they do when introduced to a new field or paddock is look for a way to escape… and often do!

King Arthur’s Hall prior to its perimeter fencing being seriously erected. These sheep had no trouble getting in as well as out! Note the gap between the façade stones which would have allowed for an easy escape route at any stage in its history

There are too many differences I feel between King Arthur’s Hall and a typical pound in Medieval times on Bodmin’s various moors. Where is there another that has been built in the same manner and so grand? A level patch of scrubby land with a basic wall/hedge or timber stockade high enough to prevent an animal escaping was good enough without going to all the trouble of digging out a massive hole by hand, banking all the soil up around it and held back by a revetment wall that had to be built, then lining it with granite standing stones of varying heights, some only about 2ft high! Add the 2ft wide gap between most of them that an animal could walk over or through and it’s like being jailed in an open prison! It makes no sense at all.

Assuming the sub-level tanked area of King Arthur’s Hall was indeed an integral part of its usage and purpose which seems highly probable, then it would obviously have filled with water, either rising or from rainfall being the two natural ways. Now, was that water purposely retained until overflowing, or was it drained out automatically by a purpose made ditch or possibly a stone-lined gully to keep it dry or at least free of standing water if not a pre-requisite? There is an entrance-way to the south-west corner but that may be more recent and as it stands higher than the excavated base of the tank any drainage construct would have to be formed underground. This is an important point as it would help our understanding more of what possibly the Hall was used for. Obviously if the water was retained then it would certainly not have been built as an animal pound that’s for sure and if constantly damp would turn into a mud swamp if it was!

The depth of the excavated area seems to be variable but is now entirely silted up with sedge-type grass growing profusely to the outer perimeters of the tank and to around a quarter of its length to the southern end. It is this and the other vegetation/plant life that proliferates here that indicates to the trained eye that the excavated area to this southern end and to a lesser degree the northern end and all perimeters is shallower than the more central parts and this could be significant.

I have plumbed the depth as best I can with rods and have found the southern and northern ends to be two feet deep increasing to nearly three feet as you move further away from their perimeters. At the end of the sedge grassed areas the plant life changes and the depth increases and it gives an indication of being ‘stepped’ as the depth increases slowly. I was able to rod down to around 6ft toward the centre on one occasion but unable to reach the absolute centre as it became very bog like underfoot and dangerous as water is always present! I had to wonder if the base has been paved or actually taken down to bedrock as all my probing, with the exception of near the centre, was met with a solid feel to the heavily silted base. On another occasion when accompanied by a friend, we were only able to reach a depth of just over a metre when nearing the centre.

Without dating or a fully investigative excavation having taken place, the mind is allowed to go into a speculative mode and consider alternatives to an animal pound.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that it wasn’t used as a pound at some stage in its history, but too many things tell me that wasn’t its initial purpose, one being that there are no others like it on any of Bodmin’s collection of Moors and Downs which are famous for its wandering horses and other livestock… in fact there is nothing like it anywhere in the UK! Why not if it’s just a pound?

I’ve always felt it was a gathering place, but for people (and maybe not all living ones), not animals, so the term ‘hall’ may not be far off the mark. The ‘tank’ is the sticking point because what would it have been used for other than containing water?

If what I’m saying is proven to be accurate, then it has a longish southern shallow end and sides with a deeper middle. What does that suggest to you in Neolithic or Bronze-Age terms… a pool where a possible ‘ritualistic’ or ‘ceremonial’ practise took place taking into account ancient man’s apparent reverence to water and the belief in the underworld and afterlife? Water rising out of the ground via a spring, a distinct possibility here as I have never once, neither in the height of summer or winter, not seen water in the centre section of the enclosure. This would have been seen as a very ‘holy’ place indeed if ever proven to be far earlier than Medieval times and purposely built directly over an active spring!

And why so complex for just a pound? Surely a stockade fence/wall erected on a level surface would have done the job in a fraction of the time and negated the need for this hand dug mammoth excavation! Aside from the excavation, the building of the revetment wall and the façade of standing stones that would have had to have been dragged over the moor from wherever they came from would have taken considerably more time? I can’t see it as much as I try. Even English Heritage’s own website, PastScapes, doubts it:-

‘There are no traces of associated linear banks or earthworks. The origins and purpose of the enclosure remains obscure but the effort required to both excavate or import material for a bank of such proportions and to erect the slabs suggests that it had a more important function than just an animal pound’.

More recently, after gaining permission to undertake a small remedial clearance excavation, a granite paved area was discovered by myself and two other Heritage Trust members when removing the turf from what was taken to be a fallen upright that was thought to have broken off from its base to the eastern bank. The ‘fallen upright’ although identified as such by probing, was actually paving with a raised centre-line and not a stone at all. It abutted the remains of the façade stone perfectly and gave the appearance of a possible buttress to it. If it was intended as a buttress, then it has succeeded, because the standing stone it abutted to is one of the only ones to have remained completely perpendicular! The paving itself was ‘proper paving’ inasmuch that it was around two/three inches thick, laid flat with no upturned corners and selected or cut to fit its allocated position perfectly.

Paving at the base of a façade stone to the eastern bank discovered in April 2014. As far as could be determined by probing, it continued throughout the whole immediate area

It is said that another small paved area was discovered in the north-west corner either on the apron leading up to the façade stones or indeed in the shallow area of the tank many years ago, but I don’t have, or know of, any official documentation for this claim. But why would you require paving for an animal pound? I can’t think of a reason, but can if it was for people to walk on or cover something! I am of the opinion that this entire site should be re-evaluated because I believe there is far more to it than currently understood.

A section cut through a bank to confirm its construction and to determine the original land surface would be a good start, plus an excavation within the ‘tank’ to see what lies beneath… and of course a dating! At least that would really tell us what exactly we have and whether or not Cornwall has something really special and unusual on its hands… a distinct possibility… or just that Medieval animal pound all along!

Easy said, but how does one go about making it happen when there is likely to be no funding available and possibly not enough interest shown anyway. I firmly believe that this is a special place and hope that one day someone with more authority and knowledge than myself will finally get someone to listen!

Roy Goutté
North Hill

Hambledon Hill Iron Age Fort in Dorset, England
The National Trust/Ross Hoddinott
The National Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has bought Hambledon Hill Iron Age Fort in Dorset (south-west England) for £450,000. Money to buy the Fort came from a Natural England grant and a legacy gift left to benefit Dorset countryside. Hambledon Hill Fort, near Blandford Forum in Dorset, was built more than 2,600 years ago and stands at 190m (620ft). It spans the equivalent of 50 football fields and its historical uses included communal occupation, farming, feasting, conflict and burial.
The National Trust owns seven Hill Forts in Dorset. Hambledon Hill is also important for the range of wildlife it supports. More here.

Middle Jomon Period rope pottery 5,000-4,000bce
Image credit: Chris 73 Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Sainsbury Institute is delighted to present the Second Ishibashi Foundation Lecture Series in Tokyo this October, sponsored by the Ishibashi Foundation and co-organised by Tokyo National Museum. Senior scholars from Europe will share their research with the Japanese audience and illustrate the current status of Japanese archaeology and cultural heritage studies in Europe and also how Japanese art and antiquities are studied and displayed in European museums. Lectures will be given in English and simultaneously translated into Japanese. This Lecture Series aim to offer new perspectives in the studies of Japanese arts and cultures and contribute to the promotion of scholarly and artistic exchange between Europe and Japan.

The Stonehenge Urn. Excavated by William Cunnington in 1802


Lecture 1 | 1.30-2.10pm
British-Japanese Archaeological Exchanges from the 19th Century to Today
Simon Kaner
Head, Centre for Archaeology and Heritage, Sainsbury Institute

Lecture 2 | 2.10-2.50pm
Molecular Archaeology: Investigating Diet, Food and Cuisine from Stonehenge to the Jōmon?
Oliver Craig
BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York

Panel Discussion ‘Euro-Japanese archaeological exchanges’ | 3.00-4.00pm
Moderator: Shirai Katsuya, Chief Curator of Archaeology, Curatorial Research Department, Tokyo National Museum

Venue: Tokyo National Museum, Heiseikan Auditorium, 13-9 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan on Saturday, 25 October 2014 from 1.30 – 4pm. Details here.


40,000 year-old mammoth ivory figurine of a lion (right) and missing fragment (left)
Image credit: Hilde Jensen, Universität Tübingen reports last month that -
Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have found an ancient fragment of ivory belonging to a 40,000 year-old animal figurine. Both pieces were found in the Vogelherd Cave in south-western Germany, which has yielded a number of remarkable works of art dating to the Ice Age. The mammoth ivory figurine depicting a lion was discovered during excavations in 1931. The new fragment makes up one side of the figurine’s head…
The 40,000 year-old figurine is one of the most famous works of Ice Age art. It was on show at last year’s Ice Age art exhibition hosted by the British Museum. According to archaeologist Nicholas Conard of Tübingen University’s Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology, and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment Tübingen, the lion was originally thought to be a relief and was unique for this period. With the small fragment of one side of the lion’s head now reattached however it is clear that the figurine is, in fact, a three-dimensional sculpture. “The site has yielded a wealth of objects that illuminate the development of early symbolic artefacts dating to the period when modern humans arrived in Europe and displaced the indigenous Neanderthals,” says Conard, including evidence of the world’s earliest figurative art and music.
The lion figurine is now on show at the Tübingen University Museum.
Full article here. See also our earlier How to make a thaumatrope… feature.
The Egyptian Sekhemka statue (2,400-2,300bce)
Breaking news: The Northampton Chronicle and Echo reports today that -
The process leading to the multi-million pound sale of an Egyptian statue by Northampton Borough Council contravened museum accreditation standards, Arts Council England has ruled today. As a result of the £16 million Sekhemka sale in London last month, the two museums managed by Northampton Borough Council, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Abington Park Museum, have been removed from the Arts Council’s Accreditation Scheme, effective as of today.
Full article here. See also Mike Pitts’ feature here and our earlier feature here.

Blackrock Dolmen (1987) a sculpture by Rowan Gillespie
Image credit: Sarah777  at en.wikipedia. Transferred to Commons by User: Gerardus using CommonsHelper. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Here at The Heritage Trust we’re very fond of a dolmen or two (as you may have noticed). So, it was a great pleasure to stumble on this sculpture by the Irish born sculptor Rowan Gillespie entitled Blackrock Dolmen which is now on show in Blackrock, Dublin, Ireland.

More of Rowan’s truly inspirational work here.

Described by some as ‘Britain’s Pompeii’, the excavation of the Roman fort at Binchester (County Durham in north-east England) is revealing the remains of buildings whose walls still stand above head height. Among many extraordinary finds is a silver ring (above) its semi-precious (carnelian) stone is engraved with an anchor and two fish and is reputed to be one of the earliest pieces of evidence for Christianity in Roman Britain.

Follow the Roman Binchester blog here. The fort is open to the public every year, from the Easter weekend through to the 30 September. Details on the Roman Binchester Research Project here.


Ancient Stones on Old Postcards by Jerry Bird

Victorian and Edwardian age postcards of Old Stone monuments and prehistoric remains in the English countryside presented for the first time. Every page has a full-size reproduction of an original card with an essay on the subject shown and map references and description of how to find the site arranged by areas. Written with enthusiasm and full of lively commentary, descriptions of both famous and little-known sites are enhanced with local mythology, superstitions and folklore. These are the best from Jerry Bird’s classic collection which he has spent a lifetime building. For the traveller to England this will be an ideal companion for the Antiquarian explorer, Pilgrim or Druid, as well as the everyday enthusiast.

A beautiful book based on a splendid idea: Ronald Hutton.
Will delight the intrepid antiquarian: Geoff Ward, author of Spirals.

Paperback. 226 pages. Published in 2011 by Green Magic. ISBN 9780956188632.

One of the 4,000 year-old gilded bronze masks from the Sanxingdui archaeological site in Sichuan, China
Image credit: momo – Flickr: Gold Mask (黄金面罩). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
New three-part series beginning on BBC4 TV from 9:00pm, Wednesday 30 July.
Andrew Graham-Dixon pieces together the spectacular recent discoveries of ancient art that are re-defining China’s understanding of its origins. He comes face to face with an extraordinary collection of sophisticated alien-like bronze masks created nearly four millennia ago and travels to the Yellow River to explore the tomb of a warrior empress where he discovers the origins of calligraphy.
Always seeking to understand art in its historical context, Andrew visits the tomb of the first emperor and comes face to face with the Terracotta Army. He ends his journey in western China, looking at the impact of the arrival of Buddhism from India on the wondrous paintings and sculptures of the Dunhuang caves.
More on the BBC website here.
“What has it got in its pocketses?” hissed Gollum to Bilbo in the Riddles in the Dark chapter of J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. We all know what it was – the ‘One Ring to rule them all.’ It was Gollum’s obsession with the One Ring that eventually led to his fall into the fiery depths on Mount Doom.
And that, in a nutshell is it. The obsession to ‘own’ something (or someone) and in so doing control its destiny. There’s something even worse than just ‘control’ however, it’s the owning of something and the not sharing of it with the rest of humanity. The denying to humanity its common heritage. We saw that recently with the sale at Christie’s in London of the Egyptian Sekhemka statue which was taken from the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and sold to a private collector who now wishes to remain anonymous (the statue hasn’t been seen in public since the sale and may never be seen by the public again).
The Meiyintang “Chicken Cup” from the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
And now we have the curious case of the Shanghai-based art collector Mr Liu Yiqian who recently spent some £21 million ($36 million) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on a tiny porcelain cup decorated with a rooster, hen and their chicks. Mr Liu bought the cup at the Sotheby’s auction last week during a bidding war that lasted seven minutes. He paid the hammer price of $36.3 million by swiping his American Express card 24 times through the card reader and then took a celebratory sip from his new purchase. Images of Mr Liu sipping away went viral last weekend and sparked condemnation from Chinese observers. One Weibo user wrote, “You think you can drink from the cup and become immortal? Or that it will extend your life? In fact, isn’t it just a way to satisfy your vanity?” The same can be said for all who would satisfy their vanity by denying the rest of humanity their common heritage (whether art, wildlife or the natural world) and perhaps such people should remember the words of Gollum as he plunged to his death in the fires of Mount Doom -
‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried. My precious! o my precious! And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.
Let’s hope Mr Liu (and others like him) will do the noble thing and donate, or put on permanent loan, his new acquisition. Shanghai Museum’s splendid Gallery of Chinese Ancient Ceramics might be the place to start. There, both his countrymen and people from around the world could, metaphorically speaking, also drink from the Meiyintang cup and toast the man who was willing to share it with them.
The tomb of a priest discovered just 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the Great Pyramid at Giza
From Photo by Photo courtesy of Maksim Lebedev
Yahoo News reports -
A wall painting, dating back over 4,300 years, has been discovered in a tomb located just east of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The painting shows vivid scenes of life, including boats sailing south on the Nile River, a bird hunting trip in a marsh and a man named Perseneb who’s shown with his wife and dog. While Giza is famous for its pyramids, the site also contains fields of tombs that sprawl to the east and west of the Great Pyramid. These tombs were created for private individuals who held varying degrees of rank and power during the Old Kingdom (2649-2150 B.C.), the age when the Giza pyramids were built. The new painting was discovered in 2012 by a team from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which has been excavating these tombs since 1996.
Full article here.
We highlighted this issue earlier in the year here and here. On the Letters’ page of today’s Telegraph the issue is raised yet again. The time to ratify the convention is now long overdue and should be done without further delay. The letter, and the signatories to it, are as follows -
SIR – In 1954, the international community agreed the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, following the devastating impact of the Second World War on some of Europe’s most valued heritage, including paintings by Van Gogh and Caravaggio; the St Petersburg amber room; and architecture such as St Mary’s Church, Lübeck, and the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino.
After the looting in 2003 of museums and archaeological sites in Iraq, Britain announced its intention to ratify the convention. A decade later, we have yet to honour this commitment.
Britain is the most significant worldwide military power not to have ratified the convention, the United States having done so in 2009.
In 2008 a draft Cultural Property Protection (Armed Conflict) Bill passed through parliamentary scrutiny with only minor revisions suggested. Ministers of successive governments have pledged their commitment to ratification as soon as parliamentary time can be found.
This commitment is to be applauded, but continuing failure to ratify is mystifying. It has all-party support. Protecting cultural property in conflict is seen by the Armed Forces as a “force multiplier” – something that makes their job easier.
The latest Queen’s Speech left ample parliamentary time free to pass additional legislation in the current session. So the Government should delay no further in introducing the necessary legislation to ratify this important treaty.
Earl of Clancarty
London SW1
Professor Peter Stone
Secretary General of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield; Head of the School of Arts and Cultures, Newcastle University
Sir Laurie Magnus
Chairman English Heritage
Sir Simon Jenkins
Chairman National Trust
Lucy Worsley
Chief curator Historic Royal Palaces
Michael Palin
David Anderson
President, Museums Association; Director General, National Museums Wales
Dan Snow
President, Council for British Archaeology
Amanda Foreman
Dame Rosemary Cramp
Professor Emeritus, Durham University
Sir Adam Roberts
Senior Research Fellow in International Relations, Oxford University
Dame Fiona Reynolds
Master, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
Chairman, all-party parliamentary archaeology group
Lady Antonia Fraser
Sir Barry Cunliffe
Loyd Grossman
Chairman, Heritage Alliance
Sir Tony Robinson
David Starkey
Bettany Hughes
Baroness Andrews
Lord Stern of Brentford
President, British Academy
Lord Cormack
Peter Hinton
Chief Executive, Institute for Archaeologists
Dame Margaret Drabble
Sue Cole
International Council on Monuments and Sites UK
Lord Howarth
Gillian Slovo
Baroness Bonham-Carter
Professor Stephen Shennan
Director of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London
Lord Maclennan of Rogart
Dr Neil Curtis
Convenor of University Museums in Scotland
Nick Poole
Chief Executive Officer Collections Trust
Baroness Young of Hornsey
Professor Mike Robinson
Director, Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage
Dr Eleanor Robson
Chairman, British Institute for the Study of Iraq
Sir Bob Russell MP
Dr Mike Heyworth
Director, Council for British Archaeology
Kamila Shamsie
Lord Roper
Professor Andrew Wilson
Head of the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Glenda Jackson MP
Iain Watson
Director Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Susan Ronald
Peter Trowles
Mackintosh Curator, Archives and Collections Centre, Glasgow School of Art
Lord Collins of Highbury
David Mander
Chairman, Archives and Records Association
Professor Nicholas Thomas
Director, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge
Baroness Butler-Sloss
Dr Jonathan Tubb
Keeper at the Middle East Department, British Museum
Dr Robin Skeates
Director, Museum and Artefact Studies, Durham University
Professor Niall Sharples
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Cardiff
Dr John Schofield
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of York
Lord Colville
Peter Ride
Research Fellow in Visual Culture, University of Westminster
Dr Joshua Pollard
Head of Archaeology, University of Southampton
John McDonnell MP
Dr Dominic Perring
Director Centre of Applied Archaeology, University College, London
Dr Mark Pearce
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham
Dr Alan Outram
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter
Lord Redesdale
Dr Nick Merriman
Director, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester
Dr Antoinette McKane
Programme leader, Museum and Heritage Studies, Liverpool Hope University
Dr Sam McGuiness
Head of School of Education, University of Ulster
Professor Tom Jackson
Director of Centre for Information Management, Loughborough University
Professor Audrey Horning
Head of School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, University of Belfast
Professor Carl Heron
Head of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
Professor Roberta Gilchrist
Head of School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading
Professor Chris Gerrard
Head of Department of Archaeology, Durham University
Dr Allen Foster
Head of Department of Information Studies, University of Wales
Dr Andrew Flinn
Director, International Centre for Archives and Records Management Research, University College, London
Professor Keith Dobney
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen
Professor Tim Darvill
Director, Centre for Archaeology, University of Bournemouth
Dr Vicki Cummings
Reader in Archaeology, School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences, University of Central Lancashire
Professor Jim Crow
Head of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
Dr Gillian Carr
Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Professor Stuart Campbell
Head of School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester
Dr Alexandrina Buchanan
Chair of the Forum for Archives and Records Management in Education and Research; Co-director, Centre for Archive Studies, University of Liverpool
Dr Andrew Bracey
Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, University of Lincoln
Professor Graeme Barker
Director McDonald Institute for Archaeology, Cambridge University
Professor Douglas Baird
Head of Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool
Dr Ian Anderson
Coordinator of Museum Studies, University of Glasgow
Adrian Sanders MP
Mike Williams
Secretary of the Nautical Archaeology Society
Hafed Walda
Archaeologist, King’s College London
Dr Lutgarde Vandeput
Director, British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara
Bijan Rouhani
Vice-president, International Scientific Committee on Risk Preparedness
Julian Radcliffe
Chairman, Art Loss Register
Dr Nigel Pollard
Swansea University
Jan Picton
Secretary of the British Association of Near Eastern Archaeologists
Suzanna Pembroke
Fiona Macalister
John Lewis
General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Society of Antiquaries of London
David Lakin
Paul Fox
University of York and University College London
Peter Clayton
Hugo Clarke
UK National Committee of the Blue Shield
Dr Neil Brodie
Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow
Dr Suzanne Macleod
Bizen-ware pot containing more than 40,000 15th century Japanese coins
Image credit Tsuyoshi Sato
Tsuyoshi Sato, Staff Writer for The Asahi Shimbun, reports on the 9 July that construction workers in Kyoto’s central Kawaramachi shopping district had unearthed a huge Bizen-ware (備前焼) pot containing more than 40,000 coins. The coins date from the 15th century and were found during work for an apartment complex.
The 66-centimeter-tall Bizen ware pot was found 50 cm below the surface in the city’s Shimogyo Ward. The site lies toward the southern side of Takashimaya Kyoto Store. The coins, each drilled through the center, are tied together in bundles of 97 by thongs. It was customary during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573) to count a bundle of 97 coins as 100, Ibisoku officials said
The coins are estimated to be worth some 4 million yen (£23,000) and the Kansai (western Japan) branch of the Ibisoku Archaeological Research Company has announced that it is considering putting the find on public display.


August 2014
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