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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
 
The Ring of Brodgar: Unesco World Heritage Site
Image credit Alamy Stock Photo
 
Kevin McKenna, writing in The Observer, reports that, “British archaeologists have never had it so good. The Orkney Ness of Brodgar site is changing perceptions of neolithic man. More than 600 miles south, a bronze-age find is being hailed as ‘Britain’s Pompeii’. But funds are tight.”
 
The story started, one anointed day in March 2003, with a curious stone slab on a finger of Orkney hemmed in by seas. Nick Card, of the University of Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, remembers that it was a typically cold and wet day. He was accompanied by his departmental colleague, Professor Jane Downes, and Julie Gibson, the county archaeologist. What they encountered that day has changed their lives and changed Orkney. Ness of Brodgar was a sacred place that defined the passage of time.
 
What lay beneath their feet, as they discovered bit by bit over the next 12 years, was the world’s greatest neolithic find in the modern era: a complex settlement of buildings and structures made 4,500 years ago which is turning on its head our understanding and perception of this era and its people.
 
The Council for British Archaeology has designated the last two weeks in July as Britain’s Festival of Archaeology, with hundreds of digs and visits being arranged all over Britain. The organisers couldn’t have picked a better time for their festival. Some 650 miles south of Orkney, at Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, archaeologists are still in the first stages of wonder at an extraordinary bronze age site that they have begun to describe as “Britain’s Pompeii”.
 
More here.
 

A small, round-headed sandstone marker, commonly known as a name stone, and dating from the mid 7th to 8th century ce, has been discovered by an amateur archaeologist on Lindisfarne
Image credit DIG VENTURES
 

BBC News, Tyne & Wear, reports today that –

An amateur archaeologist has unearthed what is believed to be evidence of one of England’s earliest Christian monasteries in a dig on Lindisfarne. The rare grave marker, thought to be from the mid 7th-8th Century, has been described as a “stunning find”. A £25,000 project off the north-east coast was crowd-funded by 200 donors, including 60 who took part in the dig.

Project leader Lisa Westcott Wilkins said the name stone was “absolutely fantastic diagnostic evidence”. “It was a spectacular moment and, even better for us, is that…it wasn’t found by one of the team leaders or experts, it was found by a member of the public who had helped to fund and make the project possible,” she said.

More here.

 

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.

  

 
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.
 
 
One of two Anglo-Saxon cross-heads embedded into the south wall of All Saints Church, Sinnington, North Yorkshire
©
The Heritage Trust
 
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
 
 
 
Late ninth or early tenth century fragment of an Anglo-Saxon knot-work cross. The cross is embedded in the east-facing wall of St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale, North Yorkshire
Image credit Moss.
 
More on Kirkdale here.
 

Changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act saw protesters at the Australian State Parliament last year
Image credit and © ABC News: Katrin Long

Laura Gartry, writing for ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), reports that –

A proposed new West Australian heritage bill highlights a “disturbing racial differentiation” between the level of protection offered between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal sites, archaeologists say. It comes after the State Government released for public comment the draft Heritage Bill 2015, aimed at modernising heritage regulation.

The draft bill oversees the protection of all WA heritage sites except Aboriginal sites of significance, which come under the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA), itself also the subject of proposed changes by the Government. The draft Heritage Bill 2015 has been welcomed by the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA), the peak national body for the profession. But spokesman Professor Ben Smith from the University of Western Australia said the discrepancies and contradictions between the two proposed sets of changes were “untenable”.

“There is a perhaps unintentional but nonetheless very disturbing racial differentiation between the two types of heritage,” Professor Smith said. He noted how in the new Heritage Bill, the decision to add or remove a site will remain with the minister for heritage, while in revisions to the Aboriginal Heritage Act the decision will be left with a senior public servant.

“So here we have a very interesting contradiction where a site of state significance is Aboriginal, it will be a civil servant that decides whether it goes on [or off] the register. If the site is non-Aboriginal — that is settler, colonial — it is the minister that decides … the minister is the highest authority possible,” Professor Smith said.

“We have watering down of the Aboriginal Heritage Act whereas we have continued strength of non-Aboriginal preservation.”

“We seem to want to protect white fella heritage, better than we want to protect black fella heritage” adds AACAI WA Chairperson Phil Czerwinski.

Full article here. See also our earlier features on Australian heritage issues by keying in Australia in the search box above.

 
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.
 
 
Before and after images of Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal
Image credit Solêtti
 
UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, has –
 
…expressed her profound sympathy to the government and people of Nepal after the devastating earthquake that struck the country. “I wish to express my sincere condolences following the powerful earthquake that struck Nepal today, causing heavy loss of life and extensive damage, including to historic monuments and buildings of the Kathmandu Valley.
 
UNESCO stands ready to help Nepal reconstruct and strengthen its resilience, based on our strong partnership and shared conviction in the power of education, science and culture to empower people, to heal and restore confidence.” she added
 
More here.
 
The Heritage Trust also expresses its profound sympathy and sadness to the government and people of Nepal and hopes that when the human tragedy has been addressed attention will then turn to protecting and restoring Nepal’s tangible and unique cultural heritage.
 
 
 
 
One of the fifteen gateways of ancient Nineveh
 
April Holloway reports in Ancient Origins that –
 
Militants of the Islamic State have destroyed a large portion of the ancient Nineveh wall in Mosul, which dates back some 2,700 years. The tragic loss adds to a series of archaeological, historical, and religious sites of great historical value that have been reduced to ruins.
 
Nineveh was the largest city in the world for some fifty years, until a period of civil war in Assyria, in which a coalition of Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Chaldeans, Scythians and Cimmerians sacked the city in 612 BC, leaving much of it in ruins. The remains of the wall and city have laid there ever since, standing as a lasting reminder of the once great city of Assyria.
 
However, when militants captured Mosul in June last year, they proceeded to destroy shrines and tombs important to Christians and Muslims because they allegedly “distort Islam.” The destruction of part of the Nineveh wall is the culmination of many such attacks on historic monuments in the city.
 
“Bombing the archaeological monuments by ISIS is a flagrant violation of the right of human culture, civilization and heritage,” said Saed Mimousine [Media Official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Mosul], who has called on the international community to “take a stand to curb the destruction of historic monuments.”
 
More here.
   
 
 
Greenpeace’s publicity stunt adjacent to the famous Nazca hummingbird geoglyph in Peru
Photo credit Thomas Reinecke/TV News
 
While Greenpeace does an excellent job highlighting to the world serious environmental issues, the organization seems to have seriously slipped up this time. During the night a group of Greenpeace activists entered the protected Nazca site and unfurled large yellow letters reading –
 
TIME
FOR CHANGE!
THE FUTURE  IS RENEWABLE
GREENPEACE
 
The Guardian reports today Peru’s vice-minister for culture, Luis Jaime Castillo, as saying, “This has been done without any respect for our laws. It was done in the middle of the night. They went ahead and stepped on our hummingbird, and looking at the pictures we can see there’s very severe damage,” Castillo said. “Nobody can go on these lines without permission – not even the president of Peru!”
 
We agree, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that in April last year part of the Nazca geoglyphs were torn up by heavy machinery owned by a mining company which operates a limestone quarry in the area (please see our earlier feature Lines of Nazca damaged). The company responsible is reported as saying that they had upgraded their operation a few months earlier to produce construction material and, as their land is privately owned, they are free to operate on it as they wish. We would be interested to hear from Peru’s vice-minister for culture, Luis Jaime Castillo, how he feels about this mining activity and what steps have been taken to halt it.
 
Meanwhile Greenpeace has apologised for its latest publicity stunt but, “…last week [it] projected a message promoting solar energy on to Huayna Picchu, the mountain that overlooks the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, another protected archaeological site in Peru.” Greenpeace really should know better than to use heritage sites to promote its own agendas – no matter how worthy those agendas may be.
 
More here with video.
 
 
 
The Beşparmak Dağları, known as “Latmos” in antiquity, is one of the most fascinating and archaeologically richest regions in western Turkey. As early as prehistoric times the Latmos was already revered as a sacred mountain in Anatolia. Upon its peak the Old Anatolian weather god together with a local mountain deity were worshipped. The mountain peak was the centre of weather and fertility rituals. Despite socio-cultural changes that transformed religious concepts, the cultic tradition there continued into Ottoman times.
 
The beauty of the rock landscape and the cultural monuments that it inspired are now greatly endangered by increased stone quarrying in the area. For several decades feldspar, a rock-forming mineral used for the production of ceramics, glass and sanitary installations world-wide, has been quarried in the Beşparmak. This exploitation is causing the drastic metamorphosis of the Latmos from a sacred mountain into a source for bathroom installations! Tax exemptions and lax mining regulations, especially in the past few years, have enabled quarrying feldspar to expand dramatically, so that sites are threatened of the most important group of archaeological monuments on the Latmos: the prehistoric rock paintings.
 
Discovered in 1994 by the Berlin archaeologist Dr. Anneliese Peschlow-Bindokat, these rock paintings, dating to the 6th and 5th millennia B.C., belong to the recent extraordinary discoveries in prehistoric archaeology in Anatolia. The repertory of images focuses on family scenes and reflects the changes that occurred in society with the onset of sedentism. The themes and message conveyed by this imagery are unparalleled in the Mediterranean sphere and the Near East.
 
Please consider signing the Save Mount Latmos petition here.
   

 
The Ishi-no-Hōden (石の宝殿) megalith in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
Image credit Miles Gray
 
The Ishi-no-Hōden megalith is thought to have been cut from its surrounding rock some 1,500 years ago and, if freestanding, would weigh in the region of 500 tons. It sits at the centre of a pond and appears to float above the surface of the water. As with many sacred objects in Japan (including natural objects such as trees) the Ishi-no-Hōden megalith is adorned with a sacred rice-straw rope known as a shimenawa. Milies Gray, on his website, describes the Ishi-no-Hōden megalith as –
 
A mysterious dug-out cube monument in a quarry. Known as one of the three greatest enigmas in Japan. Now worshiped as the god of the Ōshiko Jinja Shinto shrine. Although the structure of the top is concealed by pine trees, they suspect that there may be two holes like Masada-no-Iwafune and Kengoshizuka-kofun. The name of the nearest station is named after this site “Houden”.
 
 
The German doctor Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), who entered isolated Japan disguised as a Dutchman, later presented his drawing of Ishi-no-Hōden in volume 1 of his books “NIPPON” (1832).
 
   
Image credit 阿部 吾郎
 

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