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A guest feature by Littlestone. This article first appeared on The Modern Antiquarian in November 2008.

One of two trapdoors with sarsens beneath them
Image credit and © Littlestone

Pulling in to a dead-end bit of road by Alton Priors church (now closed off by a farm gate) I was about to head across the field towards the church when a herd of cows started ambling by with a few of their calves in tow; I held back behind the gate to let them pass (good thing too because the cows were being gently herded forward by a very handsome and very big black bull). Halfway across the field, and between the gate and the church, I passed someone coming in the opposite direction. The gentleman turned out to be the landowner and he told me, as we stood chatting in his field, that his family had farmed the area for more than a hundred years (and that the big black bull was really a bit of a softie).

I asked the gentleman if the church was open and he assured me that it was. I asked him if he knew anything about the sarsen stones under the church floor and he assured me they were there. We talked a little more and then he casually mentioned that I should also take a look at the 1,700 year-old yew tree in the churchyard and the spring that rose close by. I thanked him for his time and we parted.

The church was indeed open. Hot English summer without, cool sacredness within. Just your regular little country church. But where were the trapdoors leading to another sacredness? I ambled about the church for a bit then spotted a trapdoor that was partly boarded over and couldn’t be lifted.* Disappointed, I was about to leave when I spotted another trapdoor. Kneeling alone there in the silence, slowly pulling the clasp and watching as the trapdoor lifted to reveal a sarsen stone below was… mmm… more than a little magical.

I went outside and spent some time under the ancient yew tree in the churchyard – then tried to find the spring that the farmer had mentioned. I found the stream but everything else was too overgrown and the day too hot to look for more.

Alton Priors is a very, very special place. A little church built upon a sarsen circle set in the Vale of Pewsey. I’ve been to a lot of circles but none have had the sense of continuity that Alton Priors has. Go there and be at home (the church is open during the summer months; at other times the key can be obtained from one of the nearby houses).

* Since writing this the larger of the two trapdoors can now be lifted revealing a sarsen beneath. There is also a sarsen under the north-east buttress. See also The Church of St Peter’s, Clyffe Pypard, Wiltshire England.

Sarsen under north-east buttress
©
Littlestone

Leskernick North & South Stone Circles and Stone Row clearance, including the re-exposure of buried ring stones by the TimeSeekers Clearance Group Team Members. (Part 3 of 3 reports). Text and images © Roy Goutté.

Leskernick Stone Row
SX 18707986 to SX19017991
Field workers:
Roy Goutté
Colin Green
Jacqui Rukin
Stuart Dow
Elizabeth Dale
 
And so we came to the third and final stage of our Leskernick clearance project – the Stone Row. Little did we know at the time but we were in for quite a surprise when we made what could turn out to be potentially an exciting find and if confirmed, one that could have a profound effect on our current understanding of the stone row and possibly the whole Complex itself.
 
We’ve carried out quite a few stone circle clearances now amongst other things, but for me none of them match up to what Leskernick has to offer. The rain and wind it can keep, but the surrounding landscape and the feeling of wonder it offers I’ll take all day long. I felt that ‘something’ made us welcome there and that feeling has only happened to me at one other place on Bodmin Moor even though I love all of it! Even the moor ponies that frequent the area were at ease when in our presence and to see them with their foals wandering about the Settlement like it was now their home very touching.
 
There are other parts of the moor where Rough Tor dominates the skyline and many of our stone circles lie within its gaze, but in this case there is no shadow of a doubt that it is Brown Willy that calls the tune here. Even more so is the draw that if offers when walking the stone row. I’ve never been a ‘for ceremonial and ritual purposes’ man because the term I feel over-used, but I am here, no question as it simply oozes it. As I said in Part 1 of these reports – from the very moment we arrived at Leskernick we felt we were in a special place – a place of wonder and great importance and felt we would find things not recorded here before. By the conclusion of this report you will see that there is a very good chance that we were correct in our assumptions.
 
For the full report click here (PDF).
 

 

Leskernick North & South Stone Circles and Stone Row clearance, including the re-exposure of buried ring stones by the TimeSeekers Clearance Group Team Members (Part 2 of 3 reports). Text and images © Roy Goutté.

 
A view south-east through the North Circle prior to its clearance
Just two of the three earth-fast ring stones and the centre stone visible above ground
 
Leskernick North Stone Circle
SX 18587992
 
First recorded in 1983 by Peter Herring, Leskernick North Stone Circle lies at the southern base of Leskernick Hill on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall on what is generally considered as being the end of the hills clitter line – although in reality it seems to spread out far and wide – and the start of open moorland to the south and east. Along with the South circle about 350 metres to the south-east it is the second of two known circles in this area and both within the dominant gaze of the impressive Brown Willy the highest hill on Bodmin Moor and Cornwall at 420m above sea level.
 
If not for the presence of the 3.9m long ‘whaleback’ recumbent centre stone and two prominent earth-fast ring stones, you would never know the circle existed such is the amount of partly covered clitter it is hidden amongst. Once found however, a third, but not so obvious earth-fast ring stone can then be observed, but after that, precious little. That was the situation when we arrived.
 
The Intent and Methodology of clearing the circle remained the same as at the South Stone Circle and can be seen in Part 1 of these Reports.
 
Commencement date: June 20th 2016.
 
 
TimeSeekers Field workers:
 
Roy Goutté
Colin Green
Jacqui Rukin
Stuart Dow
Elizabeth Dale
 
For the full report click here (PDF).

Leskernick North & South Stone Circles and Stone Row clearance, including the re-exposure of buried ring stones by the TimeSeekers Clearance Group Team Members (Part 1 of 3 reports). Text and images © Roy Goutté.

Leskernick South Stone Circle
SX 18817969
 
Discovered in 1973 by M Fletcher of the O.S. Archaeology Division, Leskernick South Stone Circle lies on slightly rising open moorland within a landscape of outstanding natural beauty some 400 metres to the south-east of the base of Leskernick Hill on the eastern perimeter of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. It is one of two known circles within this area and both within the dominant gaze of the impressive Brown Willy the highest hill on Bodmin Moor and Cornwall at 420m above sea level. The hill has a variable appearance that depends on the vantage point from which it is seen, rather like its close neighbour, Rough Tor.
 
From the very moment we arrived at Leskernick we felt we were in a special place – a place of wonder and great importance. It is enclosed by a series of hills, ridges and tors in all directions and just shouts out that importance. The landscape is breathtaking. To stand on the top of Leskernick Hill you can’t help but feel that you are in the centre of a world that was once a Kingdom – an enclosed world – with only a hint or speculation of a possible world beyond. The Beacon, Tolborough Tor, Catshole Tor, Brown Willy, Rough Tor, Showery Tor, High Moor, Buttern Hill, Bray Down, and Carne Down all lock you in – and beyond in the distance, Brown Gelly.
 
Before we even commenced our work there we had a feeling that whatever we were to find during our excavations, there would be far, far, more lying hidden than what was already known about or still present – which even then is surly just part of a much greater story! Of great surprise to us was to discover that Leskernick Hill with its Bronze-Age settlement, combined with the two stone circles, the stone row, the nearby large cairn, or in fact anything connected with the whole complex, were not scheduled. To be honest it was more shock than surprise, so before we even commenced our work, I had decided to apply for scheduling on its completion. We all felt it was the least we could do to help protect and preserve our heritage.
 
For the full report click here (PDF).
 

The Taisho Photographer’s House by Hamish Campbell

Hidden in an old and collapsing home, an incredible discovery sheds light on the lives of a Japanese family during Japan’s Taishō Period (1912–1926). As this remarkable family home, and its contents, slowly disintegrates and disappears Australian photographer Hamish Campbell captures what still remains.

The Heritage Trust strongly urges the appropriate Japanese authorities to take steps to protect and preserve this unique and invaluable house and its contents for future generations.

Nexus – Genkan I
A superimposed image showing the condition of the Taisho Photographer’s House today, with a Taisho family bride entering the house’s genkan (hallway)
Image credit Hamish Campbell

See also Hamish Campbell’s I Found 100-Year-Old Glass Plates in an Abandoned Japanese Home here.

 

Text and images © Roy Goutté.

Within the southern end of Leskernick South Stone Circle after its clearance
 
The South Circle
 
I am pleased to be able to deliver a short Interim Field Report on the progress the TimeSeekers clearance group are making at the Leskernick stone circles and stone row on Bodmin Moor.
 
We commenced our work on the 6th June and over a three day period had all but completed our work on the South Circle.
Sixteen recumbent ring stones were evident – most only just – on commencement but we were to discover four further buried complete ones. Sadly, six further ring stones had been removed after being broken up with just their remains left where they had once fallen. Consistent gaps between the ring stones had enabled us to detect their remains under the surface exactly where they would have been positioned. Just two ring stones were earth-fast.
 
The northern end of the circle has a wide empty stone gap with no evidence found of their demise or previous existence, but there is an unusual longish low mound running parallel to the inner arc of the circle at this point which would benefit from further professional investigation.
 
Exactly in the centre of the circle was a stone about 6 inches in diameter just poking out of the turf. On further inspection it proved to be set into the peat about 6 inches and beneath it the broken remains of a likely recumbent central upright was evident.
 
Although we only exposed a small section of each of the broken and removed stones, the remains of them all were patently obvious beneath the surface and their fall direction easily detected by the spiking of the ground – see photos.
 
We made other discoveries and one in particular cannot be revealed at this time but will of course be included in the completed Survey and Field Report.
 

 

The above photo of the southern end of the South Circle taken in April 2016

The North Circle.
 
Prior to commencement there were just three earth-fast ring stones remaining above ground and the whaleback centre stone lying recumbent. Just a handful of other ring stones could just be seen through the turf.
 
We commenced work here on the 20th June and by the end of the first day we had exposed all of the remaining ring stones and the obvious remains of removed stones after being broken up. I am pleased to announce that this was once a complete circle of 21 original ring stones with no apparent ‘gaps’ or entrances.
 
Without going into the full details at this moment or possible reasons why, it soon became obvious that the standing stones in this circle were much smaller than those in the South Circle.
 

The North Circle prior to excavation
 
 A few of the reclaimed ring stones on exposure
 
 
l6 (2)
l7 (2)

On the summit of Leskernick Hill looking westward toward Brown Willy and Roughtor

Leskernick Stone Circles and Stone Row Clearance: Press release by Roy Goutté. Images © Roy Goutté.

I am delighted to announce to The Heritage Trust that, after an application was made to Natural England by myself, consent has been granted to excavate and clear the recumbent and buried standing stones of the north and south stone circles to the base of the Bronze-Age settlement at Leskernick Hill, near Altarnun, Cornwall. Consent has also been granted to carry out the same procedure on the stone row running south-west to north-east between the two circles. The work is to be carried out by a small team of experienced Bodmin Moor clearance volunteers (TimeSeekers) under the periodic watchful eye of the area’s Historic England Heritage at Risk Officer.

The Methodology involved:

As the two stone circles and stone row beneath the southern slopes of Leskernick Hill are at serious risk of losing their identity now that 95% of the standing stones have fallen and returning to nature, the aim of the clearance would be to bring the hidden parts of the circles and stone row ‘back to life’ by sympathetically removing the vegetation and turf ‘carpet’ off the stones without damage taking place and without any soil being removed below the exposed top surfaces. The removed material is to be suitably relocated locally.

Procedure:

. Record and photograph the existing visible stones and stone mounds to be cleared prior to work commencing on both the circles and stone row. Video recording to also take place.
. Carefully cut through the turf/vegetation just beyond the exterior edge of the covered/partly covered stones.
. Carefully and without damage to the stone surfaces, peel back the turf/vegetation and reposition in previously sought out local areas requiring repair/improvement. Clean and wash stones off with clean water only.
. Buried ring stones and those in the stone row detected by probing but not identified by exterior mounding of the turf, to be exposed, recorded and photographed, but, if considered to be too deep to be left exposed and a danger to both stock and the public alike, to be re-covered.
. On completion of all work, leave the three cleared areas in a tidy condition and provide a field report and survey of the works carried out together with photographs and video links.

We feel privileged as amateur archaeologists to have been granted this permission on such a prestigious and important site as Leskernick. To stand amongst and look down from the proliferation of round houses on the southern side of Leskernick Hill to the landscape beneath where surely ceremonial and ritualistic activities took place in sight of so many ancient local landmarks, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Our great ancestors may no longer be there in person but I wonder if they ever really left, as judging by the sheer number of small earth-fast tri-stones dotted about it may also be their last resting place. To be given the opportunity to once again bring the circles and stone row ‘back to life’ and in the public gaze is why we do this. Our heritage means everything and we should do everything to keep it that way!

Two of the three only remaining standing stones and the recumbent central pillar of the North Circle. The remaining stones lie buried beneath the surface

One of the many round-house remains on Leskernick Hill

A last resting place?

Roy Goutté
North Hill
Cornwall

 

The second in a new series highlighting Cornwall’s megalithic masterpieces. Part Two: The Stripple Stones… Cornwall’s premier stone circle fights back. Unless otherwise stated text and images © Roy Goutté.

Nearly three years ago now I made a very belated first visit to a very special stone circle erected at the southern base on Hawks Tor, north of the A30 dual carriageway on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor… The Stripple Stones (SX 14374 75215).

On private land and just a stone’s throw away from the Trippet Stones, another stone circle on Manor Common, the Stripple Stones are a rare breed indeed as they are just one of a very small number of henged stone circles built in the British Isles but… in terms of visitation compared to others, almost forgotten about!

At the time it was one of the last of two circles I still had to visit on Bodmin’s extensive collection of moors, downs and commons and potentially the most exciting. Stone circles with a ditch and bank circling them (ditch to the inside of the bank) don’t grow on trees and I was very excited at the thought of seeing one just ten miles away from my home.

I made my way to the henge via the Trippet Stones and the track leading to the western side of Hawks Tor then made my way to the top where the views are spectacular. Rough Tor, Brown Willy and Garrow Tor dominate the skyline to the north and the A30 and Colliford lake to the south.

Nearing the summit of Hawks Tor

My first view of the circle, through the lens of my bridge camera, picked out what I’d been hoping and praying to see in the stone setting… a tri-shaped stone… and it was initially to make my day as I have reason to believe they meant something special to the circle builders over the expanses of Bodmin Moor, particularly those in sight of Rough Tor!

At that moment in time the only thing missing was my ever faithful Border Collie Chief who accompanies me on all of my moor walks, but because of the dangers of adder bites on the day (there had been 13 reported in the past month) I had left him at home.

Within minutes I was approaching the henge, but with every step I took my excitement was waning. I have a habit of doing very little research whenever I plan to visit a new site other than finding out how to reach it, so that I don’t have a pre-formed opinion in my mind based on someone else’s findings.

Stood before me was the mere shadow of a former iconic Cornish jewel in the crown. Just four ring stones left standing, the rest recumbent and either lost to nature or on the way to being so. Even the apparent tri-stone I had viewed from the top of Hawks Tor was not quite what I was expecting. The ditch and bank where still discernible were covered in reeds and showed the signs of being overrun by cattle, ponies and sheep over the years. The base of two of the surviving four uprights and also some of the prostrate stones were ringed by hollows filled with water where trodden on and scraped out by stock over the years, or the uprights used as rubbing stones. It was heart-breaking to see, but worse was yet to come!

Stone 8 in the foreground broken in three pieces and Stone 9 recumbent. Stone 10 in background just one of four left standing

Stone 10. Not quite the tri-stone as I was expecting

Unbelievably, in the past, a boundary wall had been built across about a quarter of the bank, ditch and ring setting in the NE sector! I stood there in disbelief that someone years ago had actually shown such disrespect for our heritage that this had been carried out and felt compelled to video all my findings and report them to Ann Preston-Jones the Heritage at Risk officer for the area. I feel exactly the same today and always will when faced with such wanton destruction of our heritage even though it had occurred long ago in the 19th century and the recumbent stones a victim of wandering stock and shallow stone sockets in peaty soil… always a recipe for disaster. This was a rare henged circle for heaven’s sake and should have been protected much more!

The stone hedge/bank cutting through the original ditch and bank with the ‘modern’ ditch between it and the remaining ring stones

I could go on but things are different now as a wrong is finally being put right and must now be the centre of attention and the very reason for this article.

Over the past few months I am delighted to report that a transformation has taken place and I would like to think that my reporting of the condition the circle was in at the time of my visit helped play a small part in that with Ann then championing the cause further by taking up the cudgels and by doing so set the wheels in motion to reverse the trend.

I first heard of the restorative work to be carried out on the site when Ann contacted me to ask if I’d like to help out with others on an initial GPS and geophysical survey in March 2015 to determine the original position of the ditch, bank and line of ring stones where destroyed by the boundary wall. You bet I would, and thank you Ann for the invite which was gratefully accepted.

To make things complete, I then learnt that CAU archaeologist James Gossip was to be on site as was Richard Mikulski who was to carry out the earth resistance survey. I’d worked with James before on a couple of clearances and he brings such professional knowledge and enthusiasm with him that he is a pleasure to work alongside. Richard I had not met so looked forward to learning more about his work and helping him out when called for. We were joined and assisted by Caroline, Tom, Henry and Graham on the day and all joined in with the surveying and clearance work which was carried out in good humour on a very cold and bleak Bodmin Moor day. Richard explained in full detail how the geo-fizz worked and all helpers were given the opportunity to experience it practically which was much appreciated.

It was here that I was also introduced to David Attwell of Attwell Associates (Environment & Heritage) himself a very pleasant and knowledgeable person that it was my pleasure to meet. It was David that was the first to fill me in on the details of the work to be undertaken:-

The Stripples Stone restorative works formed part of a Heritage and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant awarded to Adrian and Julie Mansfield as part of a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement. This is an agri-environment scheme administered by Natural England (DEFRA) and is a 10 year agreement. The landowners receive an annual payment in return for managing the land to meet specific prescriptions designed to benefit key habitats, species and features of interest. This includes archaeology and under the capital works programme (physical improvements required to meet the objectives of the scheme) there is an option entitled ‘Heritage and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant’. Prior to entering HLS the applicant has to complete a detailed survey of the holding and this identifies all the features of interest and their condition. Information is supplied via the county’s Heritage and Environment Record and the results of the fieldwork are fed into the formulation of the agreement helping to identify potential works. In this particular case the holdings contain some of the densest and most important monuments on Bodmin Moor and a HAP was developed by NE in partnership with the landowners, Historic England and Ann Reynolds of Cornwall Council. This included a number of elements ranging from repairs to boundaries, a beehive hut, medieval longhouse settlements and the Stripple Stones.

A brief was prepared by the landowners and NE and this was tendered in December 2014 and awarded to Attwell Associates (Environment & Heritage) in February 2015. The contract required a full project management role from applying for statutory consents to delivering the works on the ground. We put together a proposal which involved CAU (James Gossip and Ann Preston-Jones) as the principal archaeological contractor and a number of other individuals to assist in delivering the HAP package. Central to this were Adrian and Julie Mansfield given that the project needed to work alongside the farming business and they played a hands-on role throughout. Physical works initially focussed on Garrow but moved to the Stripple Stones in September 2015 following receipt of the SAM consent.

A meeting was held with Nick Russell (South West Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments) in May where the principles of the project were shared and challenged. A formal application was registered in July and approval received in late August. This allowed for the erection of up to 5 recumbent stones, erosion repairs along with the removal of a 19th century field boundary. This had been built through the monument as part of a late phase of enclosure for Higher Hawks Tor Farm. The HAP brief stipulated three stones to be erected and these were selected by the project team, guided by Ann Preston-Jones of HE.

James and Richard setting out in preparation for the survey

Following the geophysical survey and until my next invite with my small team of clearance workers from the TimeSeekers amateur archaeology group on the 1st December 2015, work commenced on the circle and the re-directing of the old boundary wall.

The initial works involved the removal of the boundary wall with the stones carefully dismantled for re-use as part of the realigned boundary. This took the hedge away from the inner circle approximately 3 metres to the east of the outer ditch edge. During the work two previously recorded stones (Lukis and Borlase) were found in situ at the base of the bank plus an additional stone within the hedge core which displayed signs of stone packing so could possibly have been an original ring stone. The two recorded stones showed signs of being split so could possibly be a former circle stone as the marks when aligned suggest they were originally a single slab.

The section of offending boundary wall during its removal and re-positioning by Adrian and Julie Mansfield with the help of David and Attwell Associates employees. Photo: David Attwell

At the same time that the wall was being removed, work began to excavate the socket of one of the three stones to be raised. This failed to establish any notable ‘finds’ (a small Mesolithic flint was found in the hedge stone socket) but once again suggested that the original sockets were very shallow given the size of the stones. The recumbent stone was moved to enable this work to progress and then carefully drawn into an upright position using strops and a nine tonne swing shovel. A layer of white sand was placed to create a distinct horizon and then granite packing stones used to trig the base before successive layers of growan (rab) and granite were set and compacted to ground level. The finished surface was slightly domed to shed water before soil and turves were laid to finish the repairs. The re-erection of the further two stones followed on using a similar methodology. All were left unprotected as a key outcome of the HLS project was to restrict grazing by fencing off the area, without the public’s view or access being denied, to primarily prevent sheep and cattle poaching the ground or applying pressure on the surviving upright ring stones.

Stone 15 prior to re-erection

Nearly there… Stone 15 arises! Photo: David Attwell

The final main work involved the re-building of the new stone hedge alignment. This re-used the original stone on the inner face against the circle whilst some newer material (extracted from foundations for new farm sheds) was built on the western face. A gap was left for a gateway on the alignment identified through the field survey which suggests a further entrance opposite the known access on the western side of the circle. This new section is 90 metres in length but in total the project repaired just over 500 metres of hedgerow which included four gateways and three sheep creeps.

I have to say, without fear of contradiction, that the planning and work carried out to this point was of the highest order and all credit must go to David and his employees, Adrian and Julie Mansfield and also to James and Ann and all those working away in the background.

Then, on 1st December, under James and David’s guidance, four of the TimeSeekers clearance group (Jacqui Rukin, Caroline Lavelle, Colin Green and myself) were then asked to help out when the time came to begin a tidy-up within the circle itself and also help to re-expose a recumbent and buried ring stone that Gray had surveyed and recorded during his 1905 excavation and survey of the site. It was a bit of a puzzle to us though as to why it had not been exposed at the time but I’m sure there were acceptable reasons given as to why not!

As it was this was an easy undertaking as the stone was only some 4” to 6” under the surface and easily detectable by the slight mound above ground being visible.

Members of the TimeSeekers clearance group after the re-exposure of the long-lost ring stone. Left to right, Colin Green, Jacqui Ruken, Roy Goutté, Caroline Lavelle. On completion James re-turfed the sides to the stone to form a sloping surface which was very pleasing to the eye. Photo: James Gossip (CAU)

Further investigation around part of the circle where the clearance of other recumbent stones was felt necessary also detected two further buried ring stones thus adding more to James’ current survey although neither were re-exposed at the time.

There is something very special about re-exposing a buried stone that you know was once part of what we possibly perceive as being a ‘ritualistic or ceremonial’ monument and once likely to have been last handled by our great ancestors some 4,500-5,000 years ago! We often refer to these stones as being ‘sacred’ and I have to admit to feeling a tingle when they first see the light of day again and always hope that they are not too deep to leave exposed once recorded. They were meant to be seen and although no longer all standing are nevertheless there for our wonderment and why we as a group find great pleasure and privilege in re-exposing them at any given opportunity.

Without a doubt the discussions, site visits, planning, decision making, approvals, consents, putting out tenders etc is a lengthy process and maybe not appreciated by those who just want to get on with things, but has nevertheless got to be done. I asked James how it was for him as the leading archaeologist on site:-

Cornwall archaeological Unit were commissioned by David Atwell Associates to carry out a programme of archaeological recording at The Stripple Stones henge monument (located on Bodmin Moor at SX14374 75215) in advance of and during conservation work The Stripple Stones is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM CO124) and consent was therefore required from Historic England to enable conservation repairs to specific elements of the monument on behalf of the landowners Adrian and Julie Mansfield. This formed part of a Historical and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant (HAP) included within a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement with Natural England.

This work involved the survey of the existing monument, to include standing and recumbent stones, an 1885 field boundary and topographic survey of a ploughed-down barrow to support geophysics results. The initial survey helped identify the location of a probable former entrance on the NE side of the monument which had been lost as a result of the improvement of agricultural land where enclosed by the nineteenth century field boundary bisecting the monument. The conservation work included erosion repair around selected stones, where stability was under threat. These were at risk of falling as a result of damage by livestock, compounded by the poorly backfilled excavations of George St Gray in 1905.

Removal of the 19th century hedge resulted in the discovery of two stones marked on the Borlase and Lukis plan of 1879 – although one had been moved as a result of splitting it is likely to have been left close to its original position. The two stones helped confirm the theory of an entrance on the north-eastern side, ‘framing’ a causeway across the ditch (now almost entirely backfilled) in alignment with the opposing entrance. The new hedge has been rebuilt outside the monument and respecting the arc of the ditch – a new gate now hangs in position leading the eye through the north-east entrance and through the entrance on the western side. The removal of the 19th century hedge and building of the new one, expertly constructed by Adrian and Julie Mansfield and David Atwell, has helped to re-establish the monument as a complete entity once more. 

Following erosion repair and stone re-erection a team of experienced Bodmin Moor volunteers (Roy Goutte, Jacqui Ruken, Caroline Lavelle, Colin Green) were invited to take part in some further enhancement works at the Stripple Stones. Most exciting of these was the de-turfing over a peculiar ‘stone-shaped lump’ on the north-west perimeter of the monument, as visible today as it was when ‘probed’ by Tregelles in 1902 and surveyed by Gray in 1905. As suspected, removal of turf revealed a long, recumbent granite stone, exposed for the first time in hundreds of years, if not millennia.

Thanks to the efforts of the Mansfield’s, David Attwell and the Bodmin Moor Team the Stripple Stones have been transformed, giving the visitor just a sense of its original glory once again.

It was wonderful to see many of the recumbent stones that had been partially covered once again being fully exposed and hope that it is something that can be carried out on a more regular basis otherwise they will be lost to nature yet again. The new boundary wall/hedge is exceptional and matches in perfectly with the existing walling and the builders are to be applauded.

Without sounding too flowery about it, these monuments have been left for us to enjoy and marvel at by our great ancestors and should be far more respected than many currently are if our future generations are to also benefit from them. In these times of financial cuts when funding for such projects are limited, it is a great opportunity for the public to ‘get involved’ and offer their services to help clean up many of our sites as we do on Bodmin Moor. It is very rewarding and at the same time a great privilege to be able to work alongside archaeologists on monuments erected thousands of years ago! Their builders may no longer be with us but that is no excuse to let things slide and we must all jointly take over the baton and share the responsibility of becoming the custodians of these wonderful structures that we are still puzzling over after all these years.

Work is still active on the Stripple Stones and will be completed in August when a new permissive access for visitors will be available to view the monument and provided by the landowners. Adrian has kindly offered to provide access to the circle even though it lies outside of the CROW Act land. This will be achieved by an access through the fence-line to the south of the Tor which separates the two compartments.

David has informed me that in discussion with the landowners, they would prefer at the moment that we promote the route via the lane off Manor Common (NNW of the Trippet Stone Circles) which then leads onto Hawks Tor Downs where there is open access. It is still currently possible to reach the Stripple Stones via two existing gateways but involves a somewhat zig-zag route.

A detailed report will be issued at the end of the project and I will notify the Heritage Trust accordingly and pen a follow-on article which will be much more descriptive in content and the reader made more aware of the circles surroundings and setting in the landscape.

In the meantime and with the promise of warmer and dryer weather just around the corner, why don’t you all get out your maps, re-dubbin the walking boots and get out there into the fresh air to see first-hand the fantastic views from the top of Hawks Tor before descending onto the West Countries only henged stone circle… the Stripple Stones. You know you want to and all of those involved with the planning, surveying and working on the project to make your enjoyment of the circle a much nicer experience would love you to make the journey. Go safely and have fun.

Roy Goutté
North Hill
Cornwall

 

Harold St. George Gray’s Surveyed Plan of the Stripple Stones 1905.

Note the walling running through the north-east section of the bank, ditch and ring stones but has now thankfully been removed and re-aligned.

 

One of the five Stonehenge land trains
©
The Heritage Trust

Just over a year ago we ran a feature here entitled End of the line for the Stonehenge land trains? Then it was a question, now it’s a fact (see Friday’s Western Daily Press’ article here).

To quote from our earlier feature –

According to Historic England (formerly English Heritage), “They [the land trains] have all gone for the moment. They went about a week ago. We do not know when they will be back. The land trains are being serviced and will be offsite for several weeks while we also take the opportunity to look at design improvements.”

According to the Western Daily Press article however (quoting an EH spokeswoman), “Over time it became clear that the land trains were unable to cope with the daily demands of a site as busy as Stonehenge and English Heritage now intends to find new homes for them at other English Heritage sites…”

The Heritage Trust contacted Historic England several times over the last year to ask when the land trains would be back in service, ony to be told, “We do not know.” It’s now patently obvious that when the trains were withdrawn last year Historic England knew full well that they would not be returning so why fob the public off with wishy-washy statements like these (we’ve seen enough of those recently with David Cameron’s statements on his tax affairs!). Such statements do not engender confidence in the public; indeed they generate mistrust and, specifically at Stonehenge with its proposed tunnel plans and new solstice celebration arrangements, plant seeds of doubt in the public’s mind that not all is as transparent as it should be.

What is really sad about the end of the line for the land trains is that, though totally inadequate when it came to transporting hundreds of people from the Visitor Centre to the Monument (and someone should have known that!), they were a load of fun. Children loved them, and the slow pace they travelled at gave people a chance to take in the surrounding landscape. So, why not have both conventional coaches for those in a hurry and the land trains for those who don’t mind waiting for the opportunity to ride them. Far from being a failure the land trains could become an added attraction to those visiting Stonehenge.

See also our feature, The new Stonehenge Visitor Centre: First impressions…

 

The northern façade of the Church of Yemrehanna Kristos. Seen here within the cave which houses it
Image credit Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund

Martin Bailey, writing in The Art Newspaper, reports that a team of British conservators will help preserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings. The paintings are in the twelfth century Church of Yemrehanna Kristos in Northern Ethiopia –

A project to conserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings, which experts believe date to around 1100 or soon after, is due to begin this month. They are in the church of Yemrehanna Kristos, a full-sized building constructed inside a cave in the Lasta Mountains at an altitude of 2,700m. The cave is above a valley of juniper trees and, until recently, could only be reached by a day’s journey on foot or mule from the town of Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia. The church’s interior is so dark that international specialists did not note the paintings’ existence until the 1990s; the first published account was in 2001.

The London-based Ethiopian Heritage Fund, with support from the World Monuments Fund, is undertaking the project. The conservation team consists of two British specialists, Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby; the latter describes the paintings as being in a “highly vulnerable and threatened condition”.

The initial investigation will include in-situ microscopy, along with ultra-violet and infra-red examinations. Paint samples will be tested, partly to determine the original pigments and media used and to identify added materials. There will be small-scale cleaning trials, to test which materials should be used. Monitoring sensors will be installed to record temperature and humidity changes. A separate team from the University of Cape Town will undertake a laser scan survey to create a three- dimensional data model of the church and cave, to map structural movement.

More here and here.

  

The first in a new series highlighting Cornwall’s megalithic masterpieces. One: Boscawen-un Stone Circle. Unless otherwise stated text and images © Roy Goutté

Boscawen-un Stone Circle
(SW 41222737)
 
The stone circle at Boscawen-ûn is considered to be one of Cornwall’s most popular prehistoric ceremonial centres as well as one of extreme aesthetic beauty. It lies beneath the southern slopes of Creeg Tol, enclosed by a later raised circular bank which, built in the 19th century to replace an earlier boundary that went straight through the circle, is an early example of archaeological conservation. The circle appears to have been carefully positioned within the landscape in such a way as to relate with key prehistoric landmarks, both natural and contemporary. To the north-west the rounded hill of Chapel Carn Brea fits neatly between the slopes of Leah and Creeg Tol. An unusual Neolithic long cairn lying on its southern slopes and an entrance grave on the summit are highlighted from the centre of the circle whilst to the south-south-east the dual menhirs of The Pipers and the Merry Maidens stone circle can be seen just below the skyline. The only glimpse of the sea is also in this direction at Boscawen Cliff. A positional change of the circle by just a few metres would render these sites invisible. (Historic Environment Service of Cornwall 2007).
 
And what a magical site it really is. Erected in the Bronze-Age the circle consists of an off-central leaning granite standing stone with what is believed to be two crude stone axes carved at the northern base of it and encircled by nineteen other upright standing stones, eighteen made of grey granite and one of white quartz. It is somewhat elliptical in shape with an axis of 24.9m and 21.9m. At the north-eastern edge of the circle two main ring-stones (7 & 8) have a cist type structure between them consisting of two reasonably large prostrate stones along with two smaller ones.
 
There is a wide gap in the west of the circle which suggests the loss of a stone, but on saying that, this gap may represent, as with the nearby Merry Maidens stone circle, an entrance. The centre stone is 2.7 metres high, but because of its strong inclination to the north-east, the tip is now about 2 metres above the ground. It is thought by some researchers that the off-central stone could represent the male phallus and the quartz stone representative of the female powers of the circle. We are all entitled to our views. There is reason to believe that the circle was not the first construct and it may be that the tall central stone was erected first in the 4th millennium BC followed by the stones 7 and 8 with the cist-like layout between them, and finally the circle itself. The two ring stones 7 and 8 which flank said cist are as close to a matching pair that you could get, both having opposite but identical slopes to their tops like a pair of book ends and straight inner sides. This would appear to be a deliberate act and once a stand-alone feature. Of course this then leaves the question…why would the circle then be built off-set from the ‘centre’ stone after using stones 7 and 8 as initial markers if it was indeed erected first?
 
 
Stones 7 and 8 and the ‘cist’ arrangement give the appearance of being a separate construct
 
William Camden the 16th century antiquarian and historian described the stone circle as, “In a place called Biscaw Woune are nineteen stones in a circle, twelve feet from each other, and in the circle stands one much larger than the rest.” Born in London, and educated at Christ’s Hospital, St. Paul’s School, and Oxford, Camden was in 1575 appointed Second Master in Westminster School, and Head Master in 1593, Camden spent his vacations in travelling over England collecting antiquarian information. His great work, Britannia, was published in 1586, and at once brought him fame both at home and abroad. It is a work of vast labour and erudition, written in elegant Latin. In 1597 Camden was made Clarencieux King-at-Arms which, setting him free from his academic duties, enabled him to devote more time to his antiquarian and historical labours.
 
It is very interesting that Camden does not mention the central stone leaning at an angle and that is important because it is the first thing observed and mentioned by all later antiquaries, authors and anyone visiting the circle for the first time. It suggests that in his time it was but a normal upright so we have to be careful how we interpret it today. In 1749 William Stukeley thought it may have been disturbed by someone looking for treasure resulting in the lean commencing. Measurements given over the years since Camden’s time by different antiquaries and archaeologists indicate that the lean has been gradually increasing. There could be a certain amount of truth to Stukeley suggestion, but not the whole reason surely as something that seems to have been overlooked is the ferocious winds that can cause havoc down in the far west of Cornwall. “Cornwall is exposed to the full force of the prevailing south-westerly winds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean.” (Wikipedia, Geography of Cornwall). The stone leans to the north-east and the prevailing wind is from the south-west, so put two and two together, coupled with the possibility of treasure seekers digging away at the base of the stone and what have you got? Certainly a disaster waiting to happen that’s for sure!
 

A claim that keeps cropping up is that a direct line drawn from the quartz stone (18) through the centre stone passes straight through that collection of prostrate stones between stones 7 and 8. This simply isn’t true because a direct line goes directly between stones 9 and 10! Yet another claim is that the central stone was designed to lean towards that same collection of stones, but it doesn’t do that either as it actually points between stones 8 and 9! (See ground plan). Another well-known author states that the central stone is quartz which makes you wonder if they’d ever visited the circle at all!

The central stone as seen from the quartz ring stone
Photo by kind permission of A Brookes  ©
 
  

A cist between ring stones 7 and 8?

With regard to the axe carvings to the base of the leaning centre stone, I Cooke (Mermaid to Merrymaid, Journey to the Stones) wrote in 1987, “I visited the circle just after the summer solstice in 1986 and arrived shortly before dawn with the purpose of making some drawings. As the sun rose, I could see two very sharp and most unnatural shadows low down on the northern face of the pillar. On closer examination they turned out to have been caused by the sides of two elongated triangular ‘axe-heads’ which had been cut into the stone… the axes faced the direction from where the sun would rise on the long summer days and they could only become visible during that time for a few hours after dawn.”

William Borlase mapped the circle in 1754 showing eighteen stones standing and one fallen and sometime in the next one hundred years a Cornish hedge (stone wall) was constructed through the circle. The hedge is first mentioned in 1850 by Richard Edmonds and around 1862 the owner of the land, Miss Elizabeth Carne, had it removed and the hedge around the circumference of the site we still see today, built. This is, as such, an early example of the preservation of an archaeological monument. In 1864 the area around the stone circle was first studied in depth. The excavation reports show that the central stone was already inclined. A burial mound was discovered near the stone circle, in which urns were found. From this time originates one of the first illustrations of the circle, which John Thomas Blight sketched and included in his book Churches of West Cornwell. He also drew a plan of the burial mound and sketched one of the excavated urns.

John Thomas Blight’s 1864 sketches of the Burial Mound, Urn and Circle

Interestingly, at the time, a circle with 19 ring stones were not thought uncommon in Cornwall. In his Antiquities Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall (1754), W Borlase says that Boscawen–un is just one of four circles in Penwith with 19 stones, the others being the Merry Maidens (now thought to have been 18), Tregaseal (now thought to have had 21/22) and Boskednan (now thought to have had 22). However, although not mentioned, there was once another now lost. At this time, although Gulval was to be incorporated into the parishes of Penzance, Madron and Ludgvan in 1934, it was within the district of Penwith in 1754 and researching has discovered yet another 19 stone circle there. In his 1819 book The Circles, or Historical Survey of Sixty Parishes or Towns of Cornwall, author William Penaluna says: “In this parish of Gulval, there is an elliptical ring, formed wholly of perpendicular stones. These stones were originally nineteen in number, all placed at nearly equal distances from one another, but not with any particular regard to exactness. Of these stones, thirteen only remained erect, when Dr. Borlase wrote; the other six, having been thrown down, lay on the ground near the places in which they once stood. No rule seems to have been observed in the selection of these pillars or stones, with regard either to their height or their magnitude. They vary from one another in a promiscuous manner, leaving us wholly at a loss to conjecture the end for which they were collected, and placed in their erect positions.”

Casting an eye around the area of the Boscawen-un circle with the help of a detailed map, it is comparatively easy to pick up on some local landmarks whether they be naturally occurring or placed there by man. In the near distance are two tall standing stones to the north-east in the field west of Boscawen Noon Farm built into a hedge alongside the farm driveway and the other one to the north. But to get a fuller picture check out the plan of Boscawen-un below and the directions of principal landscape features around it.

Alignments, which always seems to be of interest to some but nonsensical to others, are a very important part of the megalithic and mystical scene and can keep discussion alive for hours on end, even though sometimes it can get somewhat over-heated! To me, this is one of the most interesting parts of our hobby trying to decipher what monuments such as Boscawen-un stone circle are all about and why they are placed where they are in the landscape, because, if truth be told, we are really no further significantly advanced about their use and placement than we were in the days of the likes of John Aubrey and William Stukeley! Plenty of assumptions but little concrete proof… and maybe there never will be!

Boscawen-un stone circle showing the stones together with directions of principal landscape
features from the approximate centre of the circle

Directions to Boscawen-un stone circle:

The more easy-going route avoiding what can be deep cover, nettles and undergrowth if you are walking. Travelling westwards on the A30 past Penzance toward Land’s End and just prior to the turning right to Sancreed, you will see an upright rectangular double-brown sign at the entrance to a driveway on the left with Boscawenoon and Chyandwens Farmhouse written on them.

The driveway and public footpath to the farmhouse

Park up sensibly to avoid blockages

Not only is it a driveway but also a public footpath up to the aforementioned properties. If driving a car make your way up this driveway very nearly to the farm until reaching a very nice long pull-in on the right adjacent to a tall pointed standing stone (previously mentioned) built into the hedge/wall with a large farm building just a little further on to the left. Park sensibly to avoid blocking farm vehicles from passing. From there, continue on foot down the driveway passing some farm buildings on the left and follow the driveway around to the right and past a house on the left. Continue on and you will shortly come to a divide in the driveway with a vertical sign between the two declaring that Boscawen-un is straight ahead!

The divide… take the path to the right

You’ve arrived… a magical moment awaits!

Take the path to the right which is like a high-hedged alleyway. Midway along you will come to a stile on the left showing the right of way but don’t go over it keep straight on up the alleyway until reaching the Boscawen-un stone circle entrance sign and gate on the left. You have arrived and once through the gate the circle awaits you!

If you prefer to take the ‘ramblers route’, then drive/walk on past the driveway entrance to Boscawenoon on the A30 for about half a mile until you reach a small pull-in on the left (2 cars) with a gated entrance and a small sign. A rough path takes you to the circle but it can be heavy going in the summer months if the undergrowth has not been kept down. Whatever route you choose to take, go carefully and enjoy your visit. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Coursing at Stonehenge in 1865
Coursing at Stonehenge in 1865. The Illustrated London News
 
In a recent BBC regional news report, Stonehenge manager Kate Davies is reported as saying an alcohol ban at Stonehenge would, “…help everyone to have a better experience of solstice.” In what way, Ms Davies, would such a ban help people have a better experience? Are you saying that by presently allowing a moderate degree of drinking at solstice time that is somehow adversely affecting people’s enjoyment of the overall solstice event there? If so, do you have details and the statistics to support such a claim? No-one, of course, wants to see drunkenness and rowdiness at Stonehenge but aren’t you perhaps taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut here? Perhaps this is an opportune time to remind you that, just over thirty years ago, a hard-won battle was fought to allow –
 
The Peace Convoy, a convoy of several hundred New Age travellers, from setting up the 1985 Stonehenge Free Festival in Wiltshire, England. The police were enforcing a High Court injunction obtained by the authorities prohibiting the 1985 festival from taking place. Around 1300 police officers took part in the operation against approximately 600 travellers.
 
Dozens of travellers were injured, 8 police officers and 16 travellers were hospitalised. 537 travellers were eventually arrested. This represents one of the largest mass arrest of civilians since at least the Second World War, possibly one of the biggest in English legal history.
 
Two years after the event, a Wiltshire police sergeant was found guilty of Actual Bodily Harm as a consequence of injuries incurred by a member of the convoy during the Battle of the Beanfield. Source: the Wikipedia entry on The Battle of the Beanfield.
 
In the same BBC report, Senior Druid King Arthur Pendragon is reported as saying English Heritage was, “…looking for confrontation [and that he will fight] “…the total ban on alcohol. It’s a celebration – not to be sanitized. It does not matter how they dress it up, we will not Pay to Pray.”
 
Well, is there a possible middleway here? The problem really comes down to a minority who spoil the event for everyone else. Would it not be more sensible, therefore, to control the amount of alcohol taken on site (as is now the case) and to restrict access to the actual stones; meanwhile allowing people the freedom to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the event from the perimeter?
 
If King Arthur were to bend just a little, and if English Heritage were to think a little more laterally, could we possibly achieve the best of both worlds? Last year 23,000 people attended the summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge. If each were to pay just £1 that would achieve £23,000 and would probably cover the cost of providing portaloos, litter pickups etc. Actually, why not go a little further and give people rubbish bags as they arrive on site with, Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site and sacred to many. Please take your litter home with you, printed on them. Why not try to persuade people to be considerate rather than employing what might be seen as profit-motivated, strong-arm tactics against them. Stonehenge has, after all, been a gathering place of one sort or another from the beginning. Let’s not relegate that fact to the rubbish bin through lack of compromise and creative thinking.
 
Heritage, after all, is not just about stones, architecture and artefacts; it’s also about real-time cultural awareness and real-time human interaction.
 
Published by the Sketch 1896 an open-air concert
An open-air concert at Stonehenge. Published by the Sketch 1896
 

The first day in the life of a rookie Metal Detectorists. By Roy Goutté.

Well, Christmas had arrived and with it a metal detector in my stocking. Wow! I knew it was coming of course as I made mention of it in Part 1 of this article, but now it had. In waiting I found myself reading all sorts of articles and watching YouTube clips on detecting and detectors themselves and I couldn’t wait to get started! Everyone seemed to be finding coins, modern-ish and otherwise, with all the other stuff such as ring-pulls, fencing staples and bits of wire conveniently overlooked. That was encouraging and I couldn’t wait to get out there!
 
However, I needed first to become ‘accustomed’ (as the supplied video advised) to the detector and its settings. Blimey, looking at them it reminded me of the inside of the cockpit of a stealth bomber! There were settings for All Metals, Jewellery, Relics, Coins and what they termed a ‘Custom’ one. A table showing the depth the object was at from 2” down to 8”+. Buttons were various… Power, Mode, Sensitivity, Discrimination, Pinpointing and Eliminator. That last one sounded rather ominous I thought! But wait, there was more to come, as it could also distinguish by way of bleeps and their tone, the type of metal it was. Magic!
 
Well that was Christmas, but due to the appalling weather we have been having I wasn’t able to get out and give it a test drive until very recently, and only if I wore waders and a trench coat! Jeepers haven’t we had some rain! Anyway, after playing around with a few modern coins buried in various places around our lawn I set off into the big wide world with my detector slung over my shoulder for my first trip out on a windy dull day with showers.
 
As I mentioned in Part 1, I am very fortunate inasmuch that I have loads of land at my disposal owned by various friends, but for starters I chose a 50 acre field very close to home because if the weather really broke I wasn’t far away from the dry and warm!
 
I had chosen to ‘sweep’ an old track used many, many years ago by church goers who had a one and a half mile walk from a hamlet of about a dozen cottages to a chapel in the closest village. Naturally I had gained permission to do so as it is the number one rule. In the summer it would be an idyllic walk, but not on the day I was there it wasn’t! Slopping about in mud on a gravelly base, I was frequently finding an odd selection of rusty pieces of metal. One find was expected… the old fencing staple from the sheep netting fence that had been erected along the length of the path and was now a sorry sight, rusting away as it was so old and not galvanised. The other objects I was not sure of but I suspect were broken bits off a plough hitting the gravel under the topsoil and no doubts some more fencing bits. Doesn’t seem much does it but keeps you totally focused on what you are doing.
 
I never found a thing of any real interest (I mustn’t say value because in some quarters I’d be seen as a heritage thief) but actually had a very successful day in respect that my detector was a joy to use and for the first time realised why the hobby is so popular… the complete concentration that takes you over and clears your mind of all your worries and problems. It is extremely therapeutic and calming while at the same time very exhilarating which is a wonderful experience.
 
 
My first finds
 
Getting home earlier than planned because of the weather and having time to spare, I once again began doing a bit of trawling on the net with detecting in mind as I had decided to buy what is known as a ‘pinpointer’. It is a hand-sized small version of a metal detector with a projecting point on it to seek out the actual position of the ‘find’ amongst the removed earth which may have to be broken up a little. Now ordered off the ‘Bay’, I await its arrival from China (where else eh to keep the price down!).
 
While I was doing this I received a call from a pal. He said I would be disappointed to hear that once again detectorists were getting another panning from a familiar ‘heritage’ website. I thought, ‘Here we go again’. Sure enough, on checking it out someone was hell-bent on stirring up trouble for them once again. It is a sad state of affairs when detectorists can’t go out for a weekend’s legitimate detecting without someone spoiling their fun isn’t it. To certain sad and misguided people everyone brandishing a metal detector is more than capable of being a heritage thief, raping our land of artefacts and not officially reporting them (70% of them apparently). Capable certainly, but no guarantee that they will, but let’s heavily suggest they might would seem to be the name of the game!
 
The situation this time was that a rally that had taken place in 2014 on land that had an interesting historical background was going to be repeated again this year, in March, the writer believed. Prior to the said 2014 rally taking place they had implied on their website that detectorists would be ‘pocketing or destroying’ artefacts that would then be beyond the reach of science. Quiet a claim that isn’t it, giving the reader the impression that the event was going to be packed out with unscrupulous villains without a decent and honourable one in sight! At first I thought it sounded like an illegal activity was going to take place but the truth was that it was a perfectly legitimate and organised event and each detectorist would be paying £35 for the weekend, or, as it was so cynically put by the usual suspect… ‘for just £35 you can help yourself for the whole weekend’! Sounds like heaven to a hobby detectorists but a nightmare for an over-reactive anti-detectorist don’t you think.
 
The land in question had no Scheduling on it and was not a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) as far as I am aware and they had full permission to ‘sweep’ it which more or less confirms that, yet again the reader was being seduced into believing they were likely to be a bunch of villains plundering a site for their own benefit!
 
Nobody seems to have shown an interest in carrying out investigations or excavations there previously, so my first thoughts were that it would be a great opportunity for the detectorists to find out more if they were fortunate enough to discover things of interest which would then filter its way back to us via their clubs or finds officer. They gave no idea how many clubs or individuals were taking part in the rally and I don’t suppose for a single moment they even troubled to find out either, but you can be sure that because of their Codes of Conduct nothing was going to be ‘pocketed’ that shouldn’t be while they were on site and observed, but of course the anti-detectorist obsessives always think differently because they seem to be predisposed to think that way. Protecting our heritage is one thing, and to be applauded, but to give false impressions another thing altogether and shameful.
 
And forget commenting on one of the myriad of MD articles on said ‘heritage’ website. If you don’t agree with them you will be treated as I was; your comments are likely to be binned and you will be asked not to post there again. You won’t even be met half-way. There didn’t appear to be a balance struck at all, you either agreed with the article or were asked to leave as I was. My comments were only used when it suited them and some not published at all unless sections within it were selected, but only in an attempt to put me down to the other readers who were then denied my completely unpublished posts because, to do so, would reveal a few truths. I thought it a very cowardly and discourteous way of doing things and in doing so confirmed to myself what I always suspected about the way an individual can operate, so tossed in a few remarks of my own to balance things up a little.
 
For example, I asked a perfectly reasonable question on this ‘heritage’ website which was, ‘Where did the solid proof come from claiming that 70% of finds were not reported’? What I got back was a claim that four separate entities had said the same. That wasn’t ‘proof’ to me unless I and other readers could see the written documentation to back that up so asked for it. Common sense told me, as it will to others, that there is absolutely no way that every single ‘find’ found can be witnessed to substantiate such a claim so to claim that the 70% was a proven fact was complete nonsense. Where for instance was the person watching me on my first venture out in the field in case I found a significant artefact and did a runner with it… hiding up a tree? Of course the readership was denied that post and instead was told that they would not be hearing from me again! Neat eh!
 
It’s a great shame really as some good stuff has come out of that website, particularly when written by a certain person that I have met and who always gives a good account of himself in print with his well-balanced views and interesting well researched articles. That’s how it should be done.
 
Moving on, it is quite obvious that by far the greatest number of important metal artefacts found underground in the UK are discovered by amateur metal detectorists and not by professional archaeologists who, on the whole, are not looking for treasure of that kind and certainly not where the majority are found. Without detectorists there must be a very high percentage of those fabulous artefacts that would never have seen the light of day again without their help. Of course there will always be detectorists that don’t play by the rules and that will never stop no matter what legislations are put into place, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. I’m also sure that most level-headed people understand that obvious statistic and accept it, but some are so obsessed with only seeing the bad side of things that they treat people like idiots for thinking otherwise. I know someone like that. Good intentions without a doubt, but unrealistic.
 
Finally, check out this small sample of fabulous finds which without the help of metal detectorists may never have been found and I’ll catch up with you all again shortly.
 
 
The Silverdale Hoard 2007
 
 

The Hoxne Hoard 1992

  

A very small part of the 3,500 piece Staffordshire Hoard 2009

 
 
And finally the Jersey Hoard 2012
 

Video impression of how Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape would look without traffic
 
Alex Rennie, for the Salisbury Journal, reports on a film that’s been released by three public bodies which are promoting a tunnel for Stonehenge –
 
A YEAR after the Government announced plans to build a 2.9km tunnel under Stonehenge three public bodies have released a film promoting the benefits of burying the A303. Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage hope that construction of the tunnel will improve wildlife and nature at the World Heritage Site.
 
Ian Wilson, Assistant Director of Operations for the National Trust in Dorset and Wiltshire, said: “We really hope the film brings to life the very real benefits that a tunnel could bring to the Stonehenge Landscape, for people and for wildlife.”
 
More here.

A metal detector in my Christmas stocking. By Roy Goutté.

I have to say that I have longed to own a decent metal detector for some years now. Yes you can buy cheap versions in stores that you would be lucky to find a metal dustbin with just 1” under the soil, but at my age and with time on my hands I am about to have my wish come true, as I am being bought that decent one for Christmas!

It wasn’t what was planned though as the family had asked if I would like to have a quadcopter (drone) as a Christmas gift so that I could take aerial videos of stone circles and the like, being my main hobby these days. Having the whole of Bodmin Moor to ‘fly’ over subject to permission if required, it was very appealing. However, on checking out the prices for the type of one I would prefer, it soon became apparent to me that it would be a very costly purchase for them, so I declined their generous offer but suggested an alternative. ‘Could I have a decent middle-range metal detector instead please?’.

So that’s where I am today and really looking forward to owning one, especially as we have our own field to ‘test drive’ it in. So now, instead of flying above ground, I’ll be digging beneath it for the time being!

My interest in archaeology and the metal detector are not far apart these days and I’m rather hoping the two will go well together when the approved occasion arises. MD’s are widely used by archaeologists today, but by a strict code of practise as I was to discover when I went out of my way to get the low-down on where exactly you could use them.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t use them ANYWHERE without permission,  unless you happen to own your own land and it’s not already protected that is. That was a surprise for a start as I assumed you could still pretty much wonder down to any public beach, park and scrub land and detect away. Not so these days it would seem and for good reason for there would appear to be much going on that is spoiling things for the everyday detectorist out for a quiet and relaxing day in the countryside or beach hoping to discover a few old coins or lost rings instead of the regular flow of ring-pulls, bits of wire and rusty nails associated with metal detecting.

Over more recent years and probably since the introduction of more powerful depth seeking metal detectors, fantastic hoards of gold, jewellery and coins have been discovered along with literally 1,000’s of individual items of antiquity and very often in areas where nothing was ever expected and certainly where archaeologists had no reason to take an interest in!

This has led to a number of those everyday ‘weekender’ detectorists turning to the dark side and purposely targeting these items of great value and not declaring them… an illegal and prisonable offence! Commonly known as ‘Nighthawks’ these thieves are selling off our heritage for personal gain and giving the honest and respectable detectorist who are members of local clubs a bad press. In other words, they are stealing from the nation and whilst doing so bringing honest metal detectorists into disrepute. It has to be stopped.

So how exactly is the law, archaeologists and detectorists working together these days to resolve this situation?

In an article written by Alex Hunt of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and updated in 2011 he explained much of that early history:-

‘A 1995 survey on metal detecting in England, by the Council for British Archaeology, pinpointed some gloomy facts about the impact of the hobby. It concluded that of the hundreds of thousands of artefacts recovered by detectorists every year, only a fraction was being reported to museums.

Even worse, three-quarters of archaeological field units had experienced raids of their excavations by detectorists, and between 1988 and 1995 illicit metal detector users damaged at least 188 scheduled ancient monuments (archaeological sites of national importance, protected under law, where special permission is required to dig or to use metal detectors).

Two particularly high-profile cases of looting were the illegal removal of a hoard of fine Romano-British bronzes from Icklingham in Suffolk in the 1980s, and the plunder of the site of a Roman Temple at Wanborough in Surrey in the 1990s.

This kind of looting appals archaeologists and responsible detectorists alike, because the combined effect of both looting and non-reporting of finds is that crucial information about archaeological sites is being lost’.

He continued :-

‘Archaeology lives and breathes on context. Knowing exactly what comes from where, the soils in which it lies, and the relationships or associations between artefacts, features and other forms of evidence, is critical for interpreting archaeological remains.

An object on its own may tell us quite a lot. For instance, using some of the many scientific techniques available, we might find evidence about the technologies and resources used in its manufacture. Or the form and design of the object, and the way it shows evidence of patterns of wear or repair, might tell us about its function and use. Techniques such as radiocarbon dating also allow us to work out the age of some artefacts. Yet there may be little point in doing this work, if we know nothing of where the object was found.

By contrast, understanding an object in relation to other objects, and to the deposits in which they are found, can allow a much more powerful level of interpretation. An artefact of one type, for instance, which can be dated, can – if looked at in its proper archaeological context – also help date whole layers and features and other kinds of artefacts, which cannot be dated in any other way.

In the light of this, some archaeologists have advocated a much stronger regulation of metal detecting, but others suggest that the best approach is to foster a responsible approach among the detecting community, through better liaison and education’.

Finding common ground:

‘In Norfolk for instance, the late Tony Gregory recognised early on that not all detectorists behave irresponsibly. He set about forming fruitful links with those whose primary interest was in the sense of discovery and a real interest in what they found.

For instance he sought the permission required for a group of detectorists to systematically survey the Roman temple site at Caistor St Edmund. This was to assess the damage being done by groups of treasure-hunting thieves who were regularly working over the monument by cover of dark, and to pre-empt any further damage. Bit by bit Tony and successive archaeologists built a lasting relationship with responsible detectorists across the county, who helped foil this vandalism.

In areas where archaeologists have been constructive in this way, detectorists are much more confident in reporting their finds. And they have been recovering a lot of useful material – metal detected finds have, for instance, significantly contributed to understanding Iron Age coinage, and also the deposition of Bronze Age metal hoards in south-east England. Finds can be reported to Finds Liaison Officers of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and metal detector users continue to contribute to the archaeological process and historical studies’.

Read more here:

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) mentioned above, has an interesting history. It is a Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) funded project to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are discovered, not just by metal detectorists, but also by people out walking and even just working in their gardens.

In July 1996, the Treasure Act was passed. The Treasure Act replaced the medieval law of Treasure Trove in England and Wales. This Act gave some protection to certain archaeological finds, acting to encourage their reporting. However, a great many objects were being found by members of the public which were not ‘treasure’, but which were nonetheless important in building up knowledge of the archaeology and history of England and Wales.

In the past, finds such as these were, in some cases, taken to local museums to record. However, many more finds were unrecorded as there were not always systems in place to do so, often due to lack of resources.

A further problem was presented as the removal of an archaeological object from the ground without properly recording the circumstances of the find can lead to loss of knowledge of an object’s context, or provenance. Context is vital in archaeology in order to be able understand past human activity. Archaeology is not simply about studying isolated objects. How these came to be where they were found, their relationship to other objects and stratigraphy (position in the ground), among other factors help build up a picture of the past as a whole. These unrecorded or un-provenanced finds meant a loss to knowledge of the archaeology and history of England and Wales.

The Act has been subject to ‘improvement and change’ since its introduction and it can be read here in full.

So, it is no longer just a matter of driving down to the local park or beach and getting on with it, although by all accounts, some still do. Permissions have to be sought and other rules complied with. And it’s not just about finding the odd 50p or a bit of modern jewellery and having a relaxing day out in the fresh air anymore for some it would seem, but the possible theft of our heritage by those who flout the rules and are in it just for the money gained by not reporting important finds of antiquity and selling them to private collectors or indeed keeping them for their own collections.

Looking at the rules of a local MD club in my area below, their rules are quite clear and I wonder if in the main the protagonists are loners with no connections with clubs whatsoever. It is supposed to be a hobby and certainly for the much greater majority and honest ones it still is, but how do you deal with those who are in it for profit and blatantly disregarding the law without an apparent care in the world?

Typical Metal Detector club rules:

  1. All members will hold a current membership of the NCMD. These will be shown to the club secretary upon joining.
  2. Do not trespass. Obtain permission before venturing on to any land.
  3. Respect the Country Code, leave gates and property as you find them and do not damage crops, frighten animals or disturb nesting birds.
  4. Wherever the site, do not leave a mess or an unsafe surface for those who may follow. Always re-fill your holes, do not leave unwanted finds in your hole remove them from the field.
  5. Membership of the XXXXXXXXXXXXXX will be open to all members of the public interested in metal detecting as a hobby and who are willing to both, support the interests of the club by keeping to its rules and make the payment of the current membership fee(non refundable).
  6. Before being accepted as a member of this club, applicants will be required to declare that they are not already members of any other club. If in the past applicants have held membership of any other club or clubs, they must have given formal notice of resignation to their previous club or clubs before their application will be considered.
  7. Members of this club may not join any other metal detecting club without immediately forfeiting both membership and member’s rights to this club.
  8. If you discover any live ammunition or any lethal object such as an unexploded bomb or mine, do not disturb it. Mark the site carefully and report the find to the local police and landowner.
  9. Help keep Britain tidy. Safely dispose of refuse you come across.
  10. Report any dead or injured livestock to your land owner.
  11. Remember it is illegal for anyone to use a metal detector on a designated area (e.g. scheduled archaeological site, SSSI, or Ministry of Defense property) without permission from the appropriate authority.
  12. Acquaint yourself with the Treasure Act 1996
  13. Remember that when you are out with your metal detector you are an ambassador for our hobby and club. Do nothing that might give us a bad name.
  14. Report all finds assumed older than 300 years to the local F.L.O.
  15. Never miss an opportunity to explain your hobby to anyone who asks about it, you never know, it may lead to new permissions.
  16. All club obtained land will only be detected on via an organized club search and at no other times.
  17. Annual memberships will run from the 1st April to 31st March with an annual fee of £XX
  18. Officers of the club, Chairman, secretary and treasurer shall be elected at the AGM.19. Club search fees shall be £X per member unless stated otherwise and payable on the day

Returning now to my own plans and how I am going about things so that I can enjoy this hobby without falling foul of the law.

My first move is going to be to contact a local MD club and become a member if they have vacancies and will accept me. By doing this I am hoping that I will be able to become really conversant with the accepted and approved rules and legislation in place, and of course to have detecting days out with them learning the ropes. I will only join a club that is registered with a recognised National authority as that has to be the only way forward for a newbie surely. See here for more information.

I have already found out how I go about obtaining permission and a permit to use a MD on the foreshore and by all accounts it is a very simple matter and free… but you must have one!

I am also very fortunate in having many farming friends with hundreds of acres of land that I hope I will be given access to and in time maybe also the club I decide to join. I’m in this for the enjoyment and relaxation and of course that glimmer of hope that one day a magic moment will arrive when something special makes its presence known to me and I can add just that little bit more to our understanding of our past. I see it, as in all aspects of my archaeology research and work, as my chance to put just a little something back in appreciation of our great ancestors gifts from the past, whether it be stone circles, dolmans, long barrows or Saxon gold and jewellery lying tantalisingly close just out of sight beneath our feet.

Footnote:

I don’t feel I can finish an article on metal detecting and its connection with archaeology without mentioning the wonderful BAFTA winning BBC4 television mini-series called Detectorists that is currently on our screens. Wonderful entertainment with superb acting from a brilliant cast all put together and including Mackenzie Crook (Andy).

It centres around detectorist pals Andy and Lance (the brilliant Toby Jones), their local club the Danebury Metal Detecting Club and its members and their love lives (or lack of it in Lance’s case). Adding further to the cast are two members of a rival club affectionately known as Simon and Garfunkel.

They typify the classic hobby detectorists in my book. Out all day in a world of their own finding ring-pulls, rusty wire, bits broken of ploughs and the occasional coin to keep the interest and enthusiasm alive… and all the time in the back of their minds is the possibility of them hitting the jackpot and discovering a Saxon hoard… something that unbeknown to them they have already walked away from being right under their feet at the end of yet another fruitless day!

Andy (right) and Lance (left) in Detectorists

According to Mackenzie, there is some skill involved in the whole exercise, and he’s now one of an astounding 30,000 enthusiasts who practise this hobby in the UK alone. “They’re not anoraks,” Mackenzie insists. “They’re amateur archaeologists.”

If like me, you are, or were contemplating taking up the hobby, do check out this very excellent and informative ‘Beginners guide to metal detecting’.

And finally, this clip from Series One of Detectorists. I loved it when Becky, Andy’s partner, suggests he may have missed a lot whilst he’s been detecting. What follows just about sums up their luck. Superb.

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