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5 December 2007

“Devaluation Strategy” destroys archaeology
near Thornborough henges

Having countenanced the destruction of more than 200 archaeological finds at Nosterfield Quarry close to the unique Thornborough Henges, North Yorkshire County Council is now allowing the same thing to happen at the adjacent Ladybridge Farm. This is the 109 acres site from which Tarmac has applied to extract 2.2 million tonnes of sand and gravel by open-cast mining.

At the open planning meeting at Masham on 20th September, the committee decided to defer a decision on Tarmac’s quarrying application to allow the company extra time to undertake a second, more detailed archaeological evaluation. However, the chairman made clear to the public that the strategy for doing so would first be discussed and agreed openly.

Accordingly, the Friends asked for Dr Jan Harding, the Newcastle University archaeologist who had identified a Neolithic settlement on the site, to be involved. The council’s Heritage Manager, refused on the grounds that “it wouldn’t do to have private individuals commenting, because there would be no end to it.” The Director of the British Council for Archaeology, who had asked to participate, was also excluded.

It is evident that, in North Yorkshire, senior officers make the decisions rather than our elected representatives!

So, in order to evaluate the extent of nationally important remains on Ladybridge Farm, a method of investigation was privately sanctioned and implemented with undue haste despite weather conditions totally inappropriate for good archaeology. The topsoil from three 100 x 50 metre trenches was mechanically stripped with quarry diggers and all subsoil features excavated by hand in atrociously wet weather. Only a fraction of the soil was subjected to the careful sieving that Dr Harding insists is necessary to identify 5,000 years old remains from the Stone Age. Unsurprisingly, few fragile remains were found in the theoretical “transitional zone” selected for examination, and English Heritage continues to maintain that the preservation of the remaining setting of the henges is of national importance.

At a monitoring meeting on site, Neil Campling, the Canadian-born County Archaeologist decided that the compaction that would be caused by mechanically backfilling the trenches with one foot of wet soil would make deep ploughing necessary to restore drainage prior to future cultivation. Accordingly, in a departure from the agreed strategy that required any finds to be preserved in situ, he authorised the complete excavation of the early prehistoric features. As a result, the buried archaeology found in the excavation trenches has been removed from its context and destroyed, thereby offering Tarmac this area on a plate.

And, hey presto, an evaluation strategy has effectively been transformed into a devaluation strategy! Is it any wonder that our county council is suspected of operating to a covert pro-quarrying agenda, spear-headed by an officer who favours “excavate and destroy” developer-funded archaeology and was recruited by the man who is now Tarmac’s consultant archaeologist?


For further information, contact:

Dick Lonsdale, The Friends of Thornborough Henges ()

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