Mike Pitts – Digging Deeper

Cover with Spine

The July/August edition of British Archaeology is published online today, and members and subscribers will start getting their copies in the post. It’s a terrific issues, with a striking front cover featuring Star Carr. You’ll be able to find it in the shops on Friday. Here are some of the highlights.

Star Carr
For the first time full details have been published of a major excavation at an iconic ancient site, where deer hunters lived on a Yorkshire lakeshore 11,000 years ago. Finds include five timber platforms, digging sticks, a bow and a house older than that previously said to be the UK’s oldest

The Battle of Dunbar’s diaspora
Works for a new cafe in Durham led to an excavation that solved a 360-year-old mystery. As an exhibition opens following a reburial ceremony, we feature a remarkable project that found two mass graves and tracked the shocking story of the…

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Bulguk Temple before restoration

In February of 2012 we ran a feature entitled, Not all is doom and gloom… on the restoration of Bulguk Temple in South Korea. With tension now lessening a little between North and South Korea we hope that this trend will continue and that one day this unique country will once again be peacefully reunited and its wonderful cultural heritage protected and preserved.

Not all is doom and gloom, as this early photo and recent video of Bulguk Temple, today, so eloquently illustrates – enjoy!

Bulguk Temple now. A HERITAGEchanel.tv production

Sharing an Umbrella. Japanese Tanzaku woodblock print. Artist unknown. Colour and ink on paper. 2 x 9 and a quarter inches
Private collection Great Britain

This month we focus on a Japanese Tanzaku woodblock print from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). What is a Tanzaku print? A Tanzaku print, or ‘poem slip’ print, is a narrow, vertical woodblock print with a verse already printed on it or, alternatively, a space where a poem can be handwritten. Tanzaku prints typically feature landscapes or nature subjects. This traditional Japanese form of poetic expression dates back centuries, and is still in use today, with Tanazaku prints decorating bamboo branches for the annual Tanabata Festival held in Japan on the seventh day of the seventh month.

This charming little print is waiting for a poem to be written on it. But what can the scene already tell us, and what sort of poem might it suggest to the poet? We have two figures, male and female (the star-crossed Tanabata lovers perhaps?), sharing a (lacquered) paper umbrella; perhaps they are walking out together for an early evening stroll. They are barefoot and not dressed particularly warmly. The rain, and the willow branch above them is in leaf, suggesting a time during the rainy season (the middle of June to the end of July in Japan) which would also coincide with the Tanabata Festival there. The Manji motif on the umbrella is an ancient symbol in Japan, and throughout much of Asia, implying something fortunate, lucky or auspicious. It’s invariably found in Shinto shrines and in some Buddhist temples. Does the umbrella belong to one of those shrines or temples, or perhaps to an inn associated with one of them? The most curious feature in the print are the diagonal lines running from right to left. They suggest a mosquito net, but who would be peering out from a mosquito net at this couple taking an early evening stroll in the rain?

The Logan Rock on Louden Hill, Cornwall, with Rough Tor in the background
©
Elizabeth Dale

Cornwall is blessed with a long and fascinating history. Although visitors are often drawn to the county by the so called ‘Poldark effect’ many more are also seeking out our enigmatic prehistoric monuments. Elizabeth Dale investigates the hidden threat to this precious heritage.

Cornwall has some of the oldest prehistoric sites in England. The rolling landscape is dotted with hundreds of stone circles, cairns and quoits, some predating the Egyptian pyramids.

“One of the outstanding things for me about Cornwall is the huge number of stone monuments,” says Ann Preston-Jones, Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Officer for Cornwall, “We’ve got so much still standing. You can walk on Bodmin Moor and into a house that was inhabited 3000 years ago, that is just amazing.”

It is startling then to learn that more than 93% of Cornwall’s ancient monuments remain almost completely unprotected.

The Historic Environment Record, the principle source of information on archaeological sites in the UK, lists more than 13,000 prehistoric monuments in Cornwall, only 816 are scheduled. In recent years a lack of government funding has meant a slowdown in scheduling across the country. Between 2007 and 2017 only six prehistoric monuments were scheduled in Cornwall, of those just two were previously unprotected sites, the rest were updates to monuments already recorded.

“Scheduling of archaeological sites started tailing off in 2003” says Dr Sandy Gerrard who worked for the Designation Department of English Heritage for over 20 years. Part of his job involved identifying sites which needed to be protection.

According to Sandy when the Monuments Protection Programme merged with the department for Listed Buildings in 2002 scheduling essentially stopped.

“Requests for scheduling were mostly kicked into the long grass and only in exceptional circumstances were assessments carried through to fruition. . . An obvious question is does it matter that the designation department at English Heritage has turned its back on protecting archaeology, the answer must surely be yes. English Heritage has a clear duty to identify and seek to protect nationally important archaeology.”

Much of the scheduling in Cornwall was done in the early part of the 20th century and worryingly some records haven’t been updated for almost 100 years. Early scheduling relied on an archaeologist marking the spot to be designated on a map. At that time they usually thought only in terms of an isolated feature, such as an individual barrow or quoit, and didn’t considered the importance of protecting the surrounding landscape. This leaves undiscovered archaeology beneath the ground vulnerable.

To be scheduled a monument must be of national importance, clearly not all of the 13,000 ancient sites identified on the HER list would warrant that designation. It is also a discretionary process, not mandatory. However the halt in new designations means some significant sites are being left relatively defenceless and some question the message that this sends to the public about the importance of our heritage sites.

“The clear message that archaeology can be ignored is a dangerous one to send out.” Says Dr Gerrard.

Ann Preston-Jones agrees, “I’ve always thought that everyone should recognise how wonderfully important the archaeology is here and that it shouldn’t matter whether it is scheduled or not but I’ve come to realise sadly that it really does matter. Scheduling gets into people’s consciousness far more.”

This argument is borne out by events in Penwith in 2013 when an ancient standing stone near Crows-an-Wra disappeared over night. The Rissick stone, which wasn’t scheduled, was pulled up by an agricultural firm who wished to clear the field for potato planting.

Cheryl Straffon, editor of the Meyn Mamvro magazine, says that its removal highlights a very worrying situation. “How can it be that a standing stone can be simply removed or destroyed with nobody being informed or consulted? The ‘unknown’ stone at Rissick . . . was unceremoniously removed and sold on without anyone being informed.”

Ann confirmed that if the stone had been scheduled Historic England would certainly have looked into having it returned to its rightful place. “Strategically English Heritage works really hard to demonstrate the value of heritage especially in a place like Cornwall where tourism is such an important part of the economy. A lot of the tourists that come down here, certainly to West Penwith and Bodmin Moor, are here to look at the old sites.”

With only 6% of Cornwall’s prehistoric monuments protected, a population boom and a government keen on building houses the potential risk to smaller unscheduled sites is growing.

There are also some glaring omissions in the scheduling as Roy Goutte explained. Roy, an amateur archaeologist, works on Bodmin Moor with his volunteer team TimeSeekers, providing much-needed clearance work.

Last summer Roy and his team worked clearing turf away from two stones circles and uncovered a 300m long stone row at Leskernick Hill. They were shocked to discover that none of the features, most dating from the early Bronze Age, were scheduled.

“It was a great surprise to me to discover that the whole Leskernick complex was not scheduled.” Roy told me and his concerns were justified as the work got underway. “During the clearance there were signs of damage by recent metal detectorists and earlier ‘treasure seekers’ who had dug into the cairn nearest the stone row and those on Leskernick Hill itself. Throughout the settlement there are indications of damage where stones from the round houses have been lifted, there were also clear signs of [farm] vehicles damaging the stone circles and also the removing or breaking up of the now recumbent stones.”

Ann Preston-Jones agrees that the Leskernick site is unique in Cornwall and of national importance but as one of what is now a much smaller department her time is understandably taken up with the 250 scheduled sites unfortunately on the At Risk Register. She also works one day a week for the Cornwall Archaeological Unit which is part of Cornwall Council.

“Before the crash happened, when the council suddenly had to contract, until then we had quite a thriving historical environment team . . . now we’ve all now been fragmented into different departments and have less funding than we ever did have.” The Cornwall Archaeological Unit has no core funding, this means they rely solely on money designated for individual projects and therefore are unable to be proactive in their work.

Ann is clearly passionate about Cornwall’s heritage but in recent years has been working very hard with very little. “I am always, always being reactive, I don’t have time to go out and look at sites but what I do have is this list of high risk monuments and those are my priority.”

Meanwhile there are other sites arguably of national importance left unscheduled and unprotected such as the iconic Brown Willy tor or Largin Castle near to Fowey. This massive
hill fort lies in woodland not far from the A38. Built in the Iron Age Largin has triple ramparts surrounding a central enclosure 105m across. All unscheduled.

It is not only the prehistoric remains that are at risk. Many of Cornwall’s medieval crosses are not scheduled or listed either. Many of these unique artefacts are on private land and are small and potentially portable. Without the necessary protection theoretically the landowner could move and decide to take the cross with them without breaking any law.

Stuart Dow, a member of Roy’s clearance team, feels passionately about the situation and its possible consequences “I feel that it is imperative that all ancient sites are scheduled and protected by law from any disturbance or alteration. Too many have disappeared under the farmer’s plough or the tardy planners failure to care. For the sake of the generations yet to come it is this generation’s duty to safeguard all of our ancient sites.”

For more articles by Elizabeth see her website, cornishbirdblog.

 

 
Rock art: Buttony
 
Newcastle University reports on a new app that locates the site of rock art –
 
Some of the world’s most ancient art could be protected with a new app designed by Newcastle University heritage and software experts.
 
Rock art – also known as cups and rings – is under threat. Made by our Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ancestors between 6000 and 3800 years ago, it is mostly found in the countryside. There are more than 6,000 panels in the UK and Ireland – but increasing population densities and agriculture, along with climate change, pose a danger to it.
 
That’s where the new app comes in. GPS locates the site of the rock art, and users then log its condition. It registers the state of the motifs and  any potential threats – such as damage from being driven over or livestock.
 
More here.
  

We’re six years old today. Many thanks to all our readers and contributors – your input is much appreciated!

The Heritage Trust Team.

 

 
Sarah Knapton, Science Editor on The Telegraph, reports on a newly discovered ‘Jumbo Jet-sized’ void discovered in the Great Pyramid of Giza. The void is around 100ft long and the same height as the Statue of the Liberty.
 
A mysterious void has been discovered in the Great Pyramid of Giza and Egyptologists believe it could finally shed light on how the ancient tombs were constructed. The enigmatic gap, which is around 100ft long is situated directly above the Grand Gallery, an elaborate access route which cuts through the pyramid. It was found using a state-of-the-art scanning process called ‘muography’ which picks up tiny cosmic particles known as muons. Muons lose energy and eventually decay when they move through matter, so if large numbers are picked by a detector it means a hole must exist, which has allowed them to pass through unimpeded.
 
Today a team of scientists from France and Japan announced that months of scanning had shown a clear void in the pyramid, and they are hoping to drill a small hole and release a tiny flying drone to video the chasm.
 
Full Telegraph article here.
 
 
A ‘licking dog’ statue. Part of an extraordinary Roman hoard found this year in Gloucestershire, England. It is thought that the statue might have been used in healing
Image credit Bristol City Council
 
Current Archaeology reports that –
 
A Roman hoard dating to c.AD 318-450 and holding several hundred bronze objects has been found in Gloucestershire. Discovered by metal-detectorists in September, its contents included pieces of a large bronze statue, jewellery fragments, and a coin of ‘Crispus globe on altar’ type, dated to AD 321-324 and minted in Trier, Germany. It is thought that many of the objects in the hoard were deliberately broken before they were placed in the ground – perhaps by a local metalworker who was intending to melt and recast them later.
 
Full article here.
 
 
Mackenzie Crook (right) and Toby Jones (left) in their roles as Andy and Lance in the Detectorists
Image credit Chris Harris
 
Ben Dowell writes in the RadioTimes that –
 
Detectorists is a gem of a series, a buddy tale of two men who are as far from being ‘lads’ as it is possible to imagine, all set in beautiful English countryside where the sun always seems to shine – or at least peak through the clouds.
 
Their constant search for treasure below ground has always carried symbolic weight: searching for a purpose in life and, perhaps above all, for love.
 
So what happens now, when Mackenzie Crook’s metal detecting enthusiast Andy has left with his young family to follow his dreams in Botswana, and Toby Jones’s character Lance has unearthed actual treasure?
 
Detectorists series three starts on Wednesday, 8 November at 10pm on BBC4. More here
 

Here is a video of the damage to the site created by farm machinery and horses with no concern shown to the quoit in the slightest
©
Roy Goutté

Not Before Time…

After what seems an age, East Cornwall’s Jewel in the Crown site Trethevy Quoit, a portal dolmen, has finally been placed on the Heritage At Risk Register by English Heritage.

In my book Trethevy Quoit: Cornwall’s Megalithic Masterpiece, I warned of the possibilities of the quoit collapsing sooner rather than later if it wasn’t protected more from stock eroding its supporting base coupled with the movement of the front closure stone that is being pushed out alarmingly by the massive capstone. The later placing of a leaning stone to the front of the quoit has been misunderstood for years as ‘forming a porch’ when in fact it has been vital to the structure to prevent the closure stone from moving out further. This can only go on for so long as the support is now all but done!

Trethevy Quoit from the rear showing it listing as the main supporting front closure leans perilously outward
©
Roy Goutté

It makes my blood run cold when I see local children and holidaymakers climbing inside the rear of the tomb and sitting on a leaning divider that is resting against that heavily leaning closure stone putting added pressure on it. Whole families sit on the stone while a family photograph is taken and children enter the front chamber and crawl under said stone – and there is nothing to stop them. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

Fortunately, since the publication of my book, the field housing the dolman has been bought by The Cornwall Heritage Trust. When the site came up for sale Historic England helped to safeguard it by giving a £19,000 grant to the trust to purchase the field. It is now working with the trust and English Heritage to improve the site, protect the monument and ensure that it can still be enjoyed by local people and visitors. I sincerely hope that its stability is prioritised first above everything else and the monument shut down to visitors until that is complete. A simple temporary wire fence with signage surrounding the monument would suffice I’m sure and still allow the public to view it. Whatever, I’m sure the trust will do the right thing and safeguard this remarkable construct that our great ancestors bequeathed to us to marvel at and hopefully will still do for many generations to come.

 

Trethevy Quoit
©
Roy Goutté

The main supporting orthostat, the front closure stone to the right, is leaning out 56cm (22″) out of the perpendicular. Being only 3m.10cm tall (10ft 3inches) that is some lean and very close to the point of no return IMO. To the left is the added buttress with a granite block between it and the closure stone. It can only support so much. Urgent intervention is required. In my opinion the buttress stone came from a former position in the construct and is documented.

Roy Goutté

Please also see Chris Matthews’ report in CornwallLive here.

 

  

The ‘entrance’ stones to the west circle
©
Roy Goutté
 
Earlier this year the TimeSeekers volunteer clearance group highlighted three or four stone circles on Bodmin Moor that could benefit from a vegetation clearance and general tidy up. The twin circles on Emblance Downs were two such circles, so, after gaining the necessary approval from the Landowner, Natural England and Historic England, we were set to commence our work on the 21st August.
 
Having twin circles to work on is not an everyday event and as little appeared to be known about them we felt privileged to be given the chance to at least tidy them up and bring them back into the public gaze. As all members of TimeSeekers are furiously enthusiastic amateur archaeologists, it also gave us the opportunity to study the circles and general area to a much greater extent than just paying them a casual visit.
 
The enigmatic King Arthur’s Hall is but a stone’s throw away from the circles and walkers visiting the Hall often then carry on to Garrow Tor. In doing so they have to pass within sight of the circles, but unless they know that they are there, don’t spot them due to the reed and other vegetation coverage. Couple that with the fact that the eastern circle was very devoid of ring stones anyway and they have become almost forgotten. 
 
Within the TimeSeekers group we have some very enthusiastic dowsers and they found the twin circles to be of great interest. Regular followers will recall that when I submitted the article King Arthur’s Hall: The Dowsers’ Perspective to The Heritage Trust two years ago, a group of dowsers from the far west of Cornwall had paid the site a visit themselves and then submitted their own findings to me. It was of great interest to many readers so I will be featuring the findings of our own group of dowsers who took part in the Emblance Downs clearance as a follow-on to this article at a later date.
 
Roy Goutté
 
Full report here.

The Red Lion (centre with white car parked in front of it) at Avebury in 1947
Aerofilms Ltd © Historic England Archive

Historic England reports –
 
Situated in the heart of one of the world’s greatest Neolithic monuments, Avebury’s Red Lion is supposedly home to at least five different ghosts. Built as a farmhouse in the late 16th or early 17 century, it became a coaching inn in the early 19th century. One of its more spectacular ghostly apparitions is a phantom carriage that clatters through its yard. Inside, the ghost of Florrie haunts the pub. Florrie took a lover while her husband was away fighting during the Civil War. He returned to find the couple, shot his wife’s lover and stabbed Florrie, throwing her body down the well. The glass-topped well now serves as a table in the bar.
 
More here.
 
A 400bce gold torc from the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs collection
©
Staffordshire County Council
 
A fundraising campaign has been launched to save ancient jewellery believed to be the earliest example of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain.
 
The four intricate artefacts that make up the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs first captured the public imagination – and global media – when they were unveiled for the first time at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in February. They went on to attract 21,000 visitors in just one month.
 
The valuable torcs, which experts believe may be Britain’s earliest examples of Iron Age gold have now been valued at £325,000 by a panel from the Treasure Valuation Committee, and the museum is embarking on a three-month campaign to raise the money so that they can be kept on public display.
 
Stoke-on-Trent City Council, in partnership with the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery – which is leading the public fundraising campaign on behalf of the museum – has until December 5 to meet the valuation price, or risk the artefacts potentially being separated out and sold to private bidders.
 
More here.
 

 

Olga Winsinger-Florien (1844-1926) Austrian painter

 

 
Stonehenge on right, traffic flow on the nearby A303  left
©
Mike Pitts
 
In his letter to The Times (Saturday, 16 September) Mike Pitts, Editor of the British Archaeological magazine, writes –
 

Sir, Tom Holland (letter September 13) notes that archaeologists have found ancient remains across the Stonehenge world heritage site, and implies that a road tunnel would threaten more. He is correct, but this is a red herring. Any works close to Stonehenge must be preceded by an archaeological survey. In the latest announcement the proposed route has been adjusted to avoid newly discovered sites. It is inevitable, however, that not everything can be saved in this way, and then excavation must occur. Remains will be disturbed, scientific studies will be conducted and finds will go to the local museum. We will learn more about Stonehenge. The process – turning loss into enlightenment – is exactly the same for all excavations, including those that have impressed Holland. All archaeological excavation is both destructive and creative.

If there is a problem, it is that the two excavating sides – one led by pure inquiry, one by development – do not talk to each other enough. In the years ahead, it is vital that all organizations work together for the benefit of Stonehenge and the public.

Mike Pitts
Editor, British Archaeology

Photo and letter published with the kind permission of Mike Pitts. See also Mike’s What would Trump do with Stonehenge?

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