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 Witch marks in the Tithe Barn at Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England
Image credit Peter Williams/PA
 
The public is being encouraged to help map Britain’s historic obsession with the paranormal by searching for ancient scratchings in old buildings, used as charms against witchcraft and evil spirits.
 
So writes Maev Kennedy in The Guardian yesterday –
 
Historic England would like help to find more of the marks, typically concentrated around entry points seen as vulnerable such as windows, chimneys and doorways. Faint symbols have been recorded in buildings and sites across England, including Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Tower of London, and Wookey Hole caves in Somerset – where a tall stalagmite has been shown to tourists for centuries as the petrified body of a witch.
 
Full article here.
 

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
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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).
 
 
Standing stones in the south-west quadrant of the Avebury stone circle
©
Littlestone
 
What has long been suspected, that the earliest stone monuments in Britain were built with astronomy in mind, has now been proven. Writing in the NewHistorian, Daryl Worthington reports that –
 
Through innovative use of 2D and 3D technology, researchers from the University of Adelaide have statistically proven that spectacular stone circles constructed up to 500 years before Stonehenge, were deliberately built in line with the movement of the Sun and Moon.
 
The findings, published last week in the Journal of Archaeological Science, give fresh insight into the relationships ancient Britons held with the sky; connecting the earth to astronomical phenomena through spectacular monuments.
 
“Nobody before this has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind – it was all supposition,” said project leader and University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow Dr Gail Higginbottom, who is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian National University.
 
Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis, and Stenness, Isle of Orkney; are the oldest stone circles in Scotland, built during the late Neolithic over 5000 years ago. It has long been thought that the megaliths were laid out to reflect the cosmos, but the quantitative tests carried out by the team on the patterns of alignment of the standing stones have finally provided convincing evidence that this was indeed the case.
 
More here.
 

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
 
 
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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 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 3,000 year-old Bronze Age wheel recently found at the Must Farm archaeological site in Cambridgeshire, England
Image credit Cambridge Archaeological Unit
 
A 3,000 year-old Bronze Age wheel recently found at the Must Farm archaeological site in Cambridgeshire, England (see our earlier feature here) is said to be the largest, earliest complete example of its kind ever found in Britain.
 
BBC News Cambridgeshire reports –
 
A complete Bronze Age wheel believed to be the largest and earliest of its kind found in the UK has been unearthed. The 3,000-year-old artefact was found at a site dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii”, at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire. Archaeologists have described the find – made close to the country’s “best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings” – as “unprecedented”.
 
Still containing its hub, the 3ft-diameter (one metre) wooden wheel dates from about 1,100 to 800 BC. The wheel was found close to the largest of one of the roundhouses found at the settlement last month.
 
More, with video, here.

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Suffragette film producer Alison Owen surrounded by Law Scrolls in the Act Room of Victoria Tower, the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) London
Image credit Houses of Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The age-old tradition of recording and enshrining British law on vellum is to continue after almost coming to an end last week when the House of Lords decided to stop the enshrinement of British law on vellum for reasons of cost. Fortunately the British Cabinet Office has intervened and is to provide the necessary financing from its own budget for this thousand year-old tradition to continue.

Vellum is not a paper (which is generally made from vegetable fibres) but from carefully prepared calf-skin. Probably the most famous use of vellum in Britain are the several extant copies of the Magna Carta, drawn up some 800 years ago and sealed by King John, and the Lindisfarne Gospels. A more recent use of vellum was for the marriage certificate of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine Middleton in 2011.

Watch the preparation of vellum by Paul Wright, a parchmenter, here.

 

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
 
 
 
Archaeologists working on a wooden platform uncover Bronze Age houses at Must Farm, Cambridgeshire
Image credit Cambridge Archaeological Unit
 
BBC News Cambridgeshire reports that –
 
Archaeologists have uncovered Britain’s “Pompeii” after discovering the “best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found” in the country. The circular wooden houses, built on stilts, form part of a settlement at Must Farm quarry, in Cambridgeshire, and date to about 1000-800 BC. A fire destroyed the posts, causing the houses to fall into a river where silt helped preserve the contents. Pots with meals still inside have been found at the site.
 

Historian Dan Snow introduces the Must Farm site where archaeologists have revealed incredibly well-preserved Bronze Age dwellings. The excavation in the East Anglian fens is providing an extraordinary insight into domestic life 3,000 years ago. The settlement, dating to the end of the Bronze Age (1200-800 BC), would have been home to several families who lived in a number of wooden houses on stilts above water.

 
More here.
   

Watercolour illustrating (bottom left) a fallen Stonehenge trilithon and lintel

In 1797…the large south-west trilithon (two upright stones supporting a lintel) at Stonehenge collapsed. The sound of the collapse was so loud that it was said to have been heard by people working in the surrounding fields. The collapse was blamed on a sudden thaw after a cold spell, or on burrowing rabbits. This trilithon was not reset back into position until 1958. One visitor to the scene was William Maton [William George Maton M.D. 1774–1835] a Fellow of the Linnean Society (our neighbours here at Burlington House). He was travelling in the region, collecting items of natural history and antiquity, and visited the site. He went on to write a report which was read at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of London in June 1797, and by November he had obtained two drawings illustrating the fall of the trilithon before and after.

These drawings are now part of the Society’s collections.

Source: Society of Antiquaries of London.

 

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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