A Day of Archaeology (Once Upon a Time)

IMAG0712-1-1After a day spent mostly offline due to a PC rebuild at work, I’ve been catching up this evening, reading many of the wonderful and varied stories from this Day of Archaeology.

As a founder member of Heritage Action, and one of the Features Editors on the Heritage Journal (see http://www.heritageaction.org.uk) I’m not an archaeologist by any stretch of the imagination, but thought I’d write a few words for this Day of Archaeology from my viewpoint as a self-confessed ‘megarak’. In many ways I could be considered the average target audience for the Day: a member of the public, outside of the profession, looking to see how and why things are done, and to understand just what goes on.

I know my viewpoint could be considered by some to be a narrow and prejudiced one. The primary focus of Heritage Action is the pre-Roman remains of the peoples of what came to be known as the British Isles. Our tagline is ‘Ordinary people, caring for Extraordinary places’. By a marvelous piece of serendipity, today is Heritage Action’s tenth birthday, so let me take you back to our humble beginnings on that warm July day in 2003…

It may come as some surprise to those within the archaeological arena to be told that there are a large number of the public out there, interested not only in the wonderful historical treasures that archaeology brings to the fore, but also in the (some would say) unloved ‘lumps and bumps’ of the islands’ prehistory. This interest has spawned several dedicated websites on the subject over the years. Of these, the Megalithic Portal is probably best known to many readers here due to its wider scope, but the Modern Antiquarian (TMA),  based upon Julian Cope’s book of the same name is where my interest came to the fore and many long lasting friendships blossomed.

In those early days, the gazetteer entries on the Portal were much more ‘fact-based’ whilst TMA’s site notes were more concerned with people describing their experiences and thoughts from their visits, along with links to Folklore related to the sites. By comparison, the Portal was seen as more ‘out there’ with it’s acceptance on the forums of some of those ideas less well accepted by the scientific community – Ley Lines, Geomantics, Dowsing etc. The TMA forum seemed a much more serious place to me, with discussions ranging on the why, and how of the listed sites.

And it was here that the idea was mooted of a picnic meet-up for like minded folk to get together and chat. The site chosen was the Uffington White Horse, the oldest chalk hill figure in the country. With a nearby earthwork (Uffington Castle), and a neolithic chamber tomb, Wayland’s Smithy a short walk away there would be plenty to see and talk about.

In the end a group of around a dozen people came together for the first time that day, and with several prominent sites under threat at that time (development, vandalism, all the usual problems) discussion turned to the idea of a campaign group for ‘ordinary people’ to highlight these wonderful places that we all enjoyed so much. So it was that Heritage Action came to be. We have held a ‘HA Megameet’ at Avebury annually ever since that day, with more people attending every year.

Back to the present and members have joined, members have left, some have sadly passed over but there remains a solid core of people from that first picnic. Still interested in bringing some of the lesser known prehistoric sites to wider public attention, but also campaigning against what we see as the random destruction of the archaelogical resource, whether that be from development or from hobbyist metal detectorists. Our tenth birthday today is cause for some celebration as we feel we have managed to make a difference over the years, attitudes are slowly changing – we even have some archaeologists openly agreeing with our point of view on sometimes controversial issues.

So finally a plea – if you care for the prehistory of Britain from anything other than a purely academic viewpoint, please consider writing a short article for the Heritage Journal. We can guarantee a decent audience with over 4500 followers on Twitter and around 10000 hits per month on our web site which publishes a new article nearly every day.