Amusement in Aberdeenshire as newly discovered stone circle turns out to be… well, new.

There has been much amusement in the media over the past few days around the official recording of a stone circle before Christmas by archaeologists from the local council and the national heritage organisation, Historic Environment Scotland, which has turned out to be only around 25 years old.

Described earlier as a smaller variation of sites typical of the region, it was noted that is was in very good condition, and that it was surprising that the site had not been formally recorded before now. The former owner of the land, however, has recently got in touch with the officials explaining that he built the replica in the mid-1990s.

Cue much collective guffawing and some professional embarrassment – neatly summed up on the BBC’s Newsround website as, “Awks!”  The local archaeologist took to twitter noting ruefully, “If you are having an awkward day at work at least you’re not that guy who identified a new prehistoric stone circle to the press that now turns out to be about 20 years old.

A nice piece in the Scotsman this week puts this all into a wider perspective, noting that many archaeological sites of this kind remain mysterious; flags that the honesty and candour of professionals involved will do them good rather than harm; and that there is a history of making ‘new’ monuments.  The example of the Sighthill Megalith is given – and I would encourage you to read Kenny Brophy’s blog on this site, and his other investigations into the past around us in the everyday urban environment.

I agree with the Scotsman article and forsee that the site will indeed become of greater interest to visitors, and should rightly do so.  Given the ’30 year rule’ which applies to listing sites in the built environment, the site is already almost of an age where it could officially be ‘heritage’, and in due course could indeed merit protection – and why not?  It may be a site of its time, and hopefully investigation won’t stop entirely – it would be great to professionally record the motivation of the builder of this new/old site – and, as archaeologists often say, to gain an insight into the society which created it – an advantage we don’t have for sites which really are 4000 years old.

Priene: planned city

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Priene © David Gill

The city of Priene on the north side of the Maeander Valley preserves its planned (‘Hippodamian’) form. One of the most prominent features is the temple of Athena Polias. One of the best viewpoints is from the cliff path to the akropolis.

How do you manage visitors to such an extensive site? How do you protect unexcavated parts of the site? How do you make sense of such a complex site?

Should St Peter’s Cardross ruin be added to the national portfolio of heritage properties in care?

BBC News article

Following the collapse of the project to turn the ruins of St Peter’s Seminary at Cardross into an arts and cultural centre by arts organisation NVA, the future for the site has been looking very uncertain.  The site is still owned and managed (i.e. secured for health and safety) by the Archdiocese of Glasgow, who starkly admitted at the weekend to BBC News that the site is an ‘albatross around our neck’.

The site comes with significant conservation challenges, and it is a great shame that the development plans which had reached an advanced point were unable to proceed.  Love the building or loathe it, it is arguably an iconic site, arguable moreso in its ruined state with so many possible human responses to it. Ruins and their treatment have been back in the spotlight of late – whether via urbex (highlighted by Bradley Garrett); academic consideration such as De Silvey’s ‘Curated Decay‘; or the British Library’s recent consideration of literary responses to ruins.  Much has been written about the Cardross site itself, including a dedicated volume published by Historic Environment Scotland during the time of the most recent rejuvenation proposals.

If ever there was time for serious consideration about the site being an addition to the national portfolio of monuments held in care for the nation either via Guardianship or direct ownership of Scottish Ministers, then this is it.  The state via its national heritage agencies still (I would argue) has a moral duty to act as owner of last resort for important sites such as St Peter’s.   It is understood from the BBC News article that the Scottish Government (I assume via Historic Environment Scotland) is currently considering the site’s potential future. What better and fitting addition to the Historic Scotland catalogue of sites, which includes so many other religious buildings such as the great Border abbeys, than a 20th century building which can currently find no further use than as a ruin but which plays an ongoing role in the public psyche.  Just as English Heritage has been reinventing its approach to the national heritage estate in England, the opportunity in Cardross for Historic Environment Scotland to do something original at a ‘similar but different’ kind of site is intriguing – I hope that we may yet see the site as a new ‘property in care’ for Scotland.

Glenluce Abbey: book cupboard

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Glenluce Abbey © David Gill

Within the cloister at Glenluce is a recessed book cupboard marked by a Ministry sign.

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Glenluce Abbey © David Gill

For other books cupboards:

Reconstructing a Broch and Crowdfunding

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Glenelg © David Gill

It has been announced that a broch will be reconstructed in Caithness (“Bid to build replica Iron Age tower in Caithness“, BBC News 4 January 2019).

The Caithness Broch Project is using crowdfunding to raise support for the reconstruction.

UNESCO World Heritage Committee on Stonehenge

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Stonehenge © David Gill

Over the New Year I tweeted a post on the Heritage Journal relating to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on Stonehenge. I was asked about the source of the quote and therefore cite here the exact wordings from the 41st meeting in Krakow in July 2017. The World Heritage Committee [Decision 41 COM 7B.56]:

Expresses concern that the 2.9km Stonehenge tunnel options and their associated 2.2km of dual carriageway approach roads within the property that are under consideration, would impact adversely the OUV [Outstanding Universal Value] of the property

Goodrich Castle: guidebooks

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1958 (5th impress. 1967)

Goodrich Castle was placed in State Guardianship in 1920. The first official guidebook was prepared by C.A. Ralegh Radford, with a new edition in 1958. It consists of a history, with a section on periods of construction, then a description. A plan of the castle was included inside the guidebook at the start of the description.

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1958 (9th impress. 1975)

The revised DOE blue guide has the foldout plan inside the back cover.

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1993 (repr. 1999)

The English Heritage guidebook was prepared by Derek Renn (whose other guides included Framlingham Castle, Old Sarum and Shell Keeps). This starts with a tour of the castle, walks along the river Wye, and a history of Goodrich. A plan of the castle is placed in the centre of the guide.