Category Archives: Stonehenge

The new Stonehenge Visitor Center – Display of the ancient dead

Recently in the news was the discovery of a skeleton in a Leicester car park. This is how it was reported by the BBC:

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.

Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family.

Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”

Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral.”

This astonishing discovery of an English King was of great interest to scientists, historians and the public and responsibly many tests were conducted to find out about the health of this King before he died and the nature of his wounds. Doubtless the good people of Leicester could have opened a museum and drawn in tourist dollars by displaying the remains of this unfortunate ancestor, however this is not to be. This is a Christian period King and so his dignity and rank are being respected, and he is to be given a dignified burial befitting his status in life at Leicester Cathedral.

Death is not so peaceful for many of the great founders of our people who were born to pre-history or who chose to be other than Christians. For them, abandonment in boxes in museum and University basements, endless scientific analysis removal and destruction of body parts, or worst of all – BEING DISPLAYED – in the name of education but essentially to draw in the punters to museums and visitor centers.

In 2008 Sheffield University River Side Project excavated human remains from Stonehenge. These particular remains had already been disturbed by science in the 1920’s, stored under an archaeologists bed at home, then for a few years in a potting shed, before being mixed together in a sack and reburied into ‘Aubrey Hole 7’ at Stonehenge. The licence given by the Dept of Justice to remove these remains was under a Victorian law that allowed for the reuse of graveyards and the removal and re-interment of the bodies within two years as close as possible to the place of original burial.

Who were these people? Prof Mike Parker Pearson describes them as the ruling elite of Britain, or members of the priest cast, at the time of Stonehenge. The Druids at the time were OK with the idea of our priestly ancestors remains being studied for a brief time so long as they would be returned to their resting place in Aubrey Hole 7 and afterwards left in peace. We were reassured by English Heritage and the Riverside Project that our fears these remains would be taken from Stonehenge indefinitely were groundless. They pointed us at the licence terms.

I contacted the Dept of Justice to find out about these ‘Section 25’ licences as they are known. I asked them why it is, if all archaeological removals of human remains from the site of their discovery are issued under this same licence, that ancient remains are rarely reburied and our Universities and Museum stores are literally overflowing with them. The answer was that in many cases an extension would be requested, granted, and then no further track of them was being maintained.

A peculiarity of English law is that no-one actually can own a dead body. Not the state, not the family and not the scientists. To steal away a body isn’t therefore illegal as no-one had possession of it. Towards the end of the two years of authorized for the study of the Aubrey Hole 7 remains, I discovered that Sheffield had applied for an extension of five years. In their justification they stated that no-one today would regard these ancestors as sacred. What!? After two years of Druids expressing anxiety about the loss of our sacred ancestors they were surely joking. Apparently not.

I wrote a 37 page objection to the extension on behalf of ‘Aes Dana Grove’ and also to represent the views of another group ‘The Loyal Arthurian Warband’. This was effective in so far as it resulted in the Dept of Justice granting a five year extension but stating clearly that at the end of that time, the Druids wishes should be respected. A victory, if honored. Yet the archaeologists were outraged at this and have demanded a change in the law in their favor. Mis information was spread about our being anti science and ignorant.

With the imminent completion in 2013 of a new Stonehenge visitor center we note that English Heritage plan to display the human remains of ancestors removed from the Stonehenge landscape by archaeologists over the decades of desecration and more professional excavations of recent years.

A spokesman for English Heritage said: “The remains of three human burials found in the landscape will be displayed with ample explanation along with archaeological objects, providing visitors with a direct connection to the people who lived and worked there.

“We believe they have a rightful place in the exhibition and their presentation, treatment and storage will follow strict guidelines set out by the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Visitors will also be made aware of the display before they enter the exhibition.

“Visitor research also shows that the vast majority of museum visitors are comfortable with, and often expect to see, human remains as part of displays.

I’m not convinced that English Heritage have anything more in mind than maximizing revenue from the new visitor center. In my opinion it is wrong to put the remains of human beings on display, it is offensive and lacking in respect for the very people whose achievements the visitor center is supposed to celebrate. To inform and educate we can show video and replicas of the remains without any need to desecrate someones rest and make of them a macabre display for the entertainment of casual tourists. It also robs Stonehenge of part of its enduring magic.

The greatest draw to Stonehenge is its magic and mystery. The science of how heavy the stones are or how they were moved comes a very poor second to the tourist or the pilgrim. It would surely be far more wonderful to display to a visitor “here is an exact replica of what we found, the original was reburied with honor at Stonehenge, by the mysterious Druids and others who still follow the old religion today’. The visitor would leave feeling impressed that England is still a magical country with a spiritual and respectful people. Instead, they will see us treating our sacred ancestors as a commodity with which to raise money.

They will leave wondering how such a once great people as the British have fallen so far.

 

 

The National Trust, Naturally!

We are delighted to have been contacted by Mike Dando of the National Trust and asked to release news of their new conservation programme. Mike is a leading member of their team dedicated to looking after the vast sacred landscape surrounding Stonehenge.

Many people are unaware of the work that the National Trust do to preserve the landscape and our free and open access to it. They are also acting to maintain and improve the environment for our native species of wild plants and animal, and this may soon lead to the removal of some features to make way for appropriate native trees and plants. We fully support their efforts to enhance and preserve our wildlife, improving the environment for everyone.

Their letter:

Fargo Plantation Woodland Improvement Works Autumn 2012 

The National Trust are undertaking woodland management work within the Fargo Plantation near Stonehenge in the autumn of 2012 in order to improve the setting of some of the archaeological features within and near the plantation, the nature conservation value of the plantation, and to make it more accessible to visitors.  The plantation was originally planted in the mid-nineteenth century, later being mostly felled in the early twentieth century, to be replanted  around the 1920s, including many conifer trees. 

By making improvements to the structure of the woodland to remove close cover from known archaeological features, the aim is to protect them from potential damage from roots or ‘tree-throw’, and to improve inter-visibility between monuments and from the grassland nearby. This will entail ‘halo’ cutting trees around Bronze Age barrows and allowing some barrows to become more visible from outside the woodland. 

The planned removal of all of the planted non-native conifer trees will enable the native elements of the woodland to thrive.

This will enhance the wildlife habitat by making it possible to undertake restoration of the hazel coppice currently suffering from shading by the coniferous over-storey. The conifers do not grow well on the shallow chalky soil anyway, which they are not suited to, and some have already died due to this. The intended rotational coppicing of the Hazel once the conifers are gone is a slightly longer term aspiration and one which will in due course bring benefits to wild flower & insect populations and bringing potential for local community involvement.    

We believe that this conifer removal work will also improve the aesthetic qualities from afar. We do intend though to retain most of the broad-leaved native ‘standards’ over these Hazel areas. 

We have a few rather beautiful older Beech trees, which we will give more space to, allowing them to mature further without hindrance from other species that could suppress them. 

We are also undertaking some thinning work within the areas of the plantation that have predominantly deciduous trees, and this will improve the age class structure, allowing a better mix of younger and older trees, and giving the necessary space for those remaining to flourish.  By opening up the woodland, increased sunlight will, we hope, attract more warmth loving insects such as Silver washed fritillary, Gatekeeper and Speckled wood butterflies. 

The plantation will benefit from more paths, making it more accessible for visitors and creating a more diverse habitat through increased ‘edge habitat’ and flight corridors. 

Due to the health and safety constraints of tree work, the plantation will be closed whilst works are ongoing. 

Overall we believe that this work will improve the Stonehenge Landscape for its value as both a wildlife habitat and as an important spiritual and archaeological place.”

Stonehenge Ancestors Update

REBURIAL
 
News from 2nd November 2010
 
Ancestors you are not forgotten! As we approach the 3rd anniversary of their removal, it’s worth revisiting the 
E-Mail from the Ministry of Justice in response to the request to return the Aubrey Hole Seven ‘Ancestors’ to Stonehenge for reburial before December 2012. We must be vigilant.
 
“Dear Mr Somers

This is an email to let you know that a decision has now been reached in this matter.

Careful thought has been given to the arguments put forward by all parties. While Druid representatives have set out clearly the reasons why they believe the remains should be re-buried without delay, the significance of the remains from what is a World Heritage Site was also taken into account.

Permission for the original excavation was only granted after very careful consideration, and the interests of stakeholders including Druids and Pagans were considered. While it is unfortunate that the time needed to undertake the research work was underestimated, it is not considered right to curtail the work that has been carried out so far.

The decision has therefore been made to grant an extension to the re-burial condition for five years, in accordance with the application made on behalf of the Stonehenge Riverside Project.

Instructions for the licence to be amended have therefore been given. However, it is proposed that once the work has been completed the religious views of the Pagans and Druids will be respected and the remains reinterred.”

It is bad news that our ancestors remains will be withheld until 2015, but a definite step forwards that the MoJ propose that we will have these remains reinterred.

You can read the 37 page argument that we presented to the MoJ that led to this response below.

Formal-response

What could be done to challenge the length of the extension granted?

To have the ancient human remains returned to Stonehenge earlier than 2015 recommended by the Ministry of Justice we would need a Judicial review.

Update 23rd August 2011.

Mr Pendragon, or ‘Arthur Rex’ as he allegedly signed his name in court, bungled the filling in of the Judicial review application form by not giving adequate reason for such a review being necessary. All was not lost at this point, there was still an opportunity to speak before the judge in person to make a case about why a judicial review is justified.

To be fair to Mr Pendragon the odds were stacked against him from the outset, and he gave it a go when many others couldn’t be bothered or didn’t have the bottle. All credit to him for that much. However there are perhaps lessons to be learned from this failed appeal and the way in which the pro reburial position was represented.

We mustn’t continue to lose important tests of morality and faith in the courts. These losses eat away at the justice in our land, and to do less than our best is to fail those who would see justice done.

We will continue to work towards the reburial of these ancestors at Stonehenge on or before 2015. This is a commitment that we have already achieved from the MoJ through our own efforts and we will be watchfull for any move to break from this pledge.

We will be working independently from Mr Pendragon in this regard.

The Druid and the Minister

This article was originally posted to www.eternalidol.com back in April 2011

 

I wake up in the mornings slowly and switch on the BBC breakfast news to help keep me awake. I was still bleary eyed and half within the realm of dreams when the television presenter declared that two government ministers would be making an important announcement from Stonehenge this morning. Unusually, in these times of spin, where government tells the media to report what will happen, what will be said, and how to report it before it occurs; this time no-one knew what it was all about.

Including myself.

The announcement could be about anything, and given how totally out of touch with reality most governments of any political flag are, it could range from selling the Stones to China to help with our national deficit to announcing that elves have returned and are in communication with our military. In between these extreme scenarios sit the more likely subjects of the The Visitor Centre, or the return of the Ancestors.

As I sat in my van ready to head off to work in my business suit, I weighed up my responsibilities as a spiritual guardian of the Stones with my very real need to pay my mortgage and keep my employers happy. Stonehenge narrowly won, so I set off cross-country at the best pace that tractors and OAPs on a day out would allow me. An hour or so later I was pulling into the Visitor centre car park, past security, and I parked up. I grabbed my SLR camera which by chance was in my van and I walked to the visitor centre, where a gaggle of media, TV and national press were reading the freshly issued press releases.

I asked an unfamiliar EH Press officer for a release and was duly handed one. Shortly afterwards, we were all waved through to the underpass that leads through to Stonehenge for the press announcement with the waiting ministers. As I walked under the tunnel, I was wondering why no-one had hooked me out of this elite group of media professionals, because under some circumstances, the EH staff might want to keep the Druids and their special guests as far apart as possible. Maybe they were happy that a senior Stonehenge Druid had turned up, but it then also dawned on me that in my business suite and carrying a big SLR camera, I probably looked just like one of the media and not my familiar, white robed Druidic self.

So, with my media hat on I decided to play along.

We reached the presentation area in front of the Heel stone and everyone around me started snapping photos with the enormous cameras that the press always carry. Doing my bit, I picked up my camera and tried to take some photos, but nothing happened. I had forgotten to put in a battery! Drat. We Druids prize resourcefulness, so I utilised my trusty i-phone instead. One media guy saw what I was using and laughed, muttering something like “my editor would kill me”. Then, after a short speech from the ministers, the TV people started interviewing them in rough order of size of organisation; BBC first, local papers last, so I waited and listened.

Finally left alone, John Penrose, Minister for Tourism and Heritage, made eye contact, stepped forward and I did likewise, and shaking his hand warmly introduced myself: “Frank Somers, STONEHENGE DRUIDS”. I have to credit him with recovering very deftly from the surprise.

I congratulated him on his achievement and I had a polite and very agreeable conversation with him before eventually wandering back to my van. We might argue with the Government over many things, but when they do get things right we are happy to acknowledge this.

He said “The long awaited transformation of the Stonehenge landscape is finally within grasp.”

The plans which will improve the current disfiguring visitor facilities from the vicinity of the stones have been given a huge boost following Government moves to help English Heritage secure a unique funding mix to achieve the project.

The funding package which mixes private philanthropy, lottery cash and commercial funding, has been supported by today’s government announcement about English Heritage reserves and road improvements.

He has also confirmed that English Heritage will be allowed to access 2 million pounds of historic reserves raised from philanthropic sources, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to philanthropic support for major cultural projects

“This is fantastic news for everyone involved in the project. It is a real step forwards in making sure this world heritage site – a unique and iconic symbol of our prehistoric past – is not simply preserved, but also presented in the best possible light for visitors in the future. Stonehenge is also an important draw for tourists from all over the world. But for too long the way it has been presented to visitors has been woefully inadequate – decades of dithering and indecision have got us nowhere. So it’s only right – and long overdue – that new thinking and cooperation between parties come together to ensure the whole visitor experience is world class too.”

“It was bitterly disappointing when the country’s dire financial state meant that we had to withdraw government funding for the visitor centre last June. But I – along with EH and my colleagues across government – have been committed to finding other ways to support the project. The fact that we have now almost secured private funding is an example of the Big Society in action, with everyone working together to ensure a mix of funding solutions.”

Mike Penning said “I fully recognise the importance of preserving this iconic heritage site and I am delighted to help the Stonehenge improvements take an important step forward. I have agreed around 3.5 million pounds funding to allow the highways agency to close the junction of the A303/A304 – improving the setting at one of the world’s most popular ancient monuments and aiding its conservation. This is subject to successful completion of statutory process to remove traffic from the Wiltshire controlled A344.”

“The funding would also allow the HA to increase capacity on the TA360/A303 at Long-barrow crossroads, which will help ease congestion around Stonehenge, including for those travelling to the new visitor centre”.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage said “These are crucial steps which bring closer the transformation of the currently blighted Stonehenge landscape.”

So there we have it. After years of successive governments talking and holding enquiries with no progress and allegedly nearly 100 million pounds spent in the process, something is finally going to happen. That something will begin next year with two improved roundabouts, a high tech road surface for the A303 past Stonehenge that will mute the road noise, and filling in the eastern end of the old access road with dirt so that it can be grass once more, linking Stonehenge to the northern sacred landscape.

Credit where it’s due, that is good progress, and I totally approve. Well done chaps.

Thanks too must go to whoever it is that has donated freely of their own money to help with this, which just goes to show how deeply Stonehenge touches peoples’ hearts.

And Ministers please note that I was nice about you this time!

Frank