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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.

 

Modern ‘Fairy Stacks’ at Stowes Pound
© Roy Goutté

In July we published an article by Heritage Trust member Roy Goutté and his TimeSeekers volunteer archaeological clearance group on the damage being done by visitors to the Neolithic site of Stowes Pound in Cornwall, some of whom are removing stones from the structure to build so-called ‘Fairy Stacks’ there. Now, Historic England, BBC News Cornwall and The Telegraph have picked up on Roy and his team’s concerns and are urging visitors not to engage in the practice as it is not only illegal but is also eroding an important feature of our Neolithic heritage.

Roy adds –

Now that the media are covering this it is to be hoped that action will now be taken to protect this wonderful Neolithic monument from further damage. I have observed this happening for years by visitors mainly there to see the Cheesewring as I live but a few minutes away. I have never felt it was deliberate vandalism, just seen as a bit of harmless fun. To the uninformed they are ‘just stones’ as there are no information boards on site to say differently – but there should be IMO. However, mention this to holiday makers and you are met with either thanks for enlightening them – or hostility, because you have no authority to tell them what they can or can’t do. I keep reporting it and I know that my concerns are passed on, but to date nothing practical seems to have been done and it needs sorting!

To make it clear, the stones in question are the stones that form the continuous defensive rampart that create the Pound. It is roughly teardrop shaped and in my opinion a Neolithic work of defensive art as attempting to scale it on foot is sure to cost you your life if defended well from inside. Your progress would be so slow with your eyes constantly fixed on where you placed your feet, you would be dead before reaching the top!

The two photos were taken in 2014 when members of the TimeSeekers clearance group helped to topple the towers and replace the stones as near as possible to their original positions – something very time consuming and not always achievable.

French President François Hollande officially launches the Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas on the 20 March 2017 at the Louvre in Paris
Image credit Élysée

A new global fund for endangered heritage sites has been launched by France and the United Arab Emirates. Writing in The Art Newspaper, Vincent Noce, reports that –

A new global fund to protect cultural heritage in war zones, spearheaded by France and the United Arab Emirates, has so far raised $75m of a planned $100m. The fund was officially launched [yesterday], 20 March, at the Louvre in Paris by the French President François Hollande and the vice premier minister of the Emirates, Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

More here.

 

Section of the rampart of Cissbury Ring Iron Age hill fort, near Worthing, West Sussex, England
Image credit Simon Burchell. Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0. Source Wikimedia Commons

The Telegraph reports yesterday that the Iron Age fort, know as Cissbury Ring, and located in West Sussex, southern England, has been damaged – probably by illegal metal detecting.

An ancient hill fort dubbed “one of the jewels in the crown” of the South Downs National Park has been damaged, police have said. Illegal metal detecting is believed to be behind the disturbance to the ground at the 5,000-year-old Cissbury Ring site near Worthing in West Sussex.

Described by the National Trust as the most historic hill on the South Downs, its ditch and ramparts enclose some 65 acres and it is a habitat for butterflies, flowers and rare plants.

The damage caused at the largest hill fort in Sussex, which police have said is “irreversible”, has provoked outrage in the metal detecting community.

Full article here.

 

 
 
The Nimrud Ziggurat before its destruction by Daesh. Image credit ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives
 
Islamic extremists have bulldozed  to the ground a massive 2,900 year-old Assyrian structure in northern Iraq. “One of the tallest surviving structures from the ancient world has been totally destroyed by [Islamic] extremists at Nimrud, the former capital of Assyria, which was captured by Iraqi government forces on 13 November. The ziggurat, which was nearly 2,900 years old, was obliterated. Only the largest Egyptian pyramids are higher than Middle Eastern ziggurats and central American step pyramids.”
 
More here and here.
 
 
A little-known rock covered in Buddhist carvings in Sichuan Province, south-west China, is said to be all that remains of a temple complex
Image credit Newssc.org.
 
Chen Binglin, writing in the South China Morning Post, reports on the damage being done to the 1,000 year-old carvings of Buddhas in south-west China –
 
A 1,000-year-old giant boulder covered with carved images of the Buddha statues has been severely damaged due to government neglect in southwest China, according to the official news website of Sichuan province. Local officials say they did not protect the site because they could not find any writings on the rock to tell them when it was created, Newsssc.org reported.
 
 
Detail of the One Thousand Buddhas
Image credit Newssc.org.
 
The intricate carvings were created between the mid-Tang Dynasty, more than 1,000 years ago, to the Qing Dynasty, according to archaeologists. Some farmers took rocks with carvings from the site to build or decorate their houses, archaeologists said. The main cause of damage to the relic was vandalism, although serious weathering also played an important role due to the lack of protection.
 
More here.
 
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Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, sign an agreement to pave the way for a heritage protection taskforce
Image Credit Domenico Stinellis/AP
 
The Guardian newspaper reports yesterday that –
 
Italy is to work with the UN’s cultural agency to protect ancient artefacts and archaeological sites in conflict areas from extremists. The Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, and Unesco’s director general, Irina Bokova, signed an accord in Rome creating an Italian taskforce and a centre in Turin to train heritage protection experts.
 
Last year, activists reported that [Daesh] killed three captives in Palmyra, Syria, by blowing them up after tying them to ancient Roman columns. It also destroyed other monuments in Palmyra, a desert oasis standing at the crossroads of ancient civilisations, including the temple of Bel, temple of Baalshamin and the triumphal arch.
 
“We are witnessing a tragedy of destruction of heritage, systematic and deliberate attacks on culture,” Bokova said at the signing ceremony…
 
Full article here.
 
 
 
Daesh vandals destroying part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud
 
Martin Bailey, writing in the The Art Newspaper, reports that –
 
The British Museum is to set up a training scheme for Iraqi archaeologists to tackle the aftermath of Isil destruction. A museum spokeswoman said the programme, which has been awarded a £3m grant from the UK government, would help Iraq to document the damage and start the process of reconstruction and preservation.
 
Full article here. See also our earlier feature here.
    

The ancient site of Palmyra, parts of which have now been destroyed by Daesh vandals Reuters/Mohamed Aza

Lancaster University has asked us if we’d reblog this article by Professor Natasa Lackovic. Here are the first three paragraphs of Professor Lackovic’s article; the rest can be found here.

“Details are still emerging of the scale of destruction  on the heritage site of Palmyra in Syria. Now work is beginning by archaeologists at Oxford and Harvard, determined to create a digital record of the ancient sites that remain. They are planning to get thousands of 3D cameras into Syria and Iraq that can be used by people on the ground to take 3D images of the countries’ cultural heritage.

“This work is part of a growing trend to create heritage archives that can be used to support young people learning about world cultures. Online photo banks of heritage artefacts are growing. In the UK, there are quite a few heritage–based visual resources that can be used in the classroom, such as  The British Museum’s project “teaching history with 100 objects” and the Wessex Archaeology collection.

“Recently, special attention has been placed on 3D heritage visualisations, especially in the emerging area of 3D printing for education. The start-up project Museofabber  aims to 3D-print museum collections and use them in the classrooms, inviting teachers to send in requests for objects to be printed. Other 3D printing initiatives include 3D miniatures made by the Virtual Curation Laboratory and 3D printed bones at the University of Western Florida.”

 
 
The 1st century Temple of Bel at Palmyra before its destruction by Daesh
Image credit Bernard Gagnon. Source Wikimedia Commons
 
The United Nations says a satellite image has confirmed that the Temple of Bel, the main temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in northern Syria, has been destroyed by Daesh.
 
More here.
   
 
 
The Temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria
Image credit Bernard Gagnon. Source Wikimedia Commons
 
The ancient temple of Baal Shamin in the Unesco-listed Syrian city of Palmyra, has been destroyed. Maamoun Abdulkarim, the country’s antiquities chief, has said that the, “Daesh placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin … and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple.”
 
More here.
 
 
The Temple of Baal-Shamin (circa 1900) by Theodor Wiegand (Berlin 1932)
 
 
 
Archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, 82, was interrogated by so-called ‘Islamic State’ thugs for a month before he was beheaded yesterday in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra
He’s shown here, in 2002, in front of a rare first century sarcophagus from Palmyra depicting two priests
Image credit Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
 
Kareem Shaheen in Beirut and Ian Black in London Report for The Guardian
 
The brutal murder of Khaled al-Asaad, 82, is the latest atrocity perpetrated by the jihadi group, which has captured a third of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and declared a “caliphate” on the territory it controls. It has also highlighted Isis’s habit of looting and selling antiquities to fund its activities – as well as destroying them.
 
More here. See also our earlier feature on Palmyra here.
 
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Two collided bullets from the Battle of Gallipoli (1915-1916)
 
 
One of thousands of rock engravings made over a period of some 30,000 years by the aboriginal peoples of the Murujuga Peninsula of Western Australia
Images courtesy Dr Ken Mulvaney
 
As the United Kingdom celebrates Australian Indigenous heritage at the British Museum and as Sotheby’s London Indigenous Australian Art auction achieves record prices, back in Australia the Western Australian Government silently moves to deregister Aboriginal sacred sites.
 
“The Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi people are deeply concerned about the effects of the proposed development on the Burrup Peninsula. As the traditional owners, we have a spiritual connection given to us by the Mingkala and a responsibility handed down to us by our ancestors to ensure the cultural heritage values of the Burrup are protected for future generations”.
 
Pilbara Native Title Service, June 2002
 
Once Australia is erased it can never be put back. It will be lost forever. To us this is an enormous sadness. When I speak to Wong-goo-tt-oo elder and law man Wilfred Hicks about the Murujuga situation there is great sadness in his voice too and we should all think about the cultural grief and suffering created by the destruction of culture and heritage in Australia. It is a crime against humanity.
 
Peter Hylands
 
Read more here.
 

The Temple of Bel at the Palmyra World Heritage Site in Syria
Image credit Bassem Jarkas. Source Wikimedia Commons
 
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today expressed deep concern over fighting near the Syrian archaeological site of Palmyra that is endangering the nearby population and posing an imminent threat to the iconic ruins, calling out to all parties “to make every effort to prevent its destruction.”
 
“The site has already suffered four years of conflict, it suffered from looting and represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and for the world,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said.
 
“I appeal to all parties to protect Palmyra and make every effort to prevent its destruction.”
 
According to several sources, armed extremist groups raided the city of Tadmur, home to the archaeological site of Palmyra. Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, it is considered one of the most important cultural sites in the Middle East.
 
An oasis in the Syrian desert, northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
 
More here. See also the article in yesterday’s Guardian here.
 
Should the International Community stand by and let the destruction of this World Heritage Site take place. The Heritage Trust appeals to people everywhere to voice their concerns and to stop this tragedy from happening.
    

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