Olympics overspend hits HLF

I’m not a great sports fan. The nearest I get to active participation is the occasional length of the pool and a beer in front of the rugby. However, when I heard that London had won the Olympics bid in 2005 I can’t deny that like many others I was pleased.

Since, then though, my feelings about the Olympics has become less and less enthusiastic in almost exact proportion to the project overspend. Certainly, the Olympics will help regenerate a deprived area of east London, and may well inspire a generation of dumpy English people (myself included) to put on an ill-fitting tracksuit and jog round the block for a bit. But at what price?

The most recent budget projection for the games is now a wopping £9.3 billion – this is FOUR TIMES the projected cost in 2005 when we won the games. This is not a slight overspend, this smack of at the very best incompetence and at the worst dishonesty when setting out the finances to the public and the IOC. Just think, if the costs have risen that much in 2 years, what will the final spending be by 2012.

Does this matter? Well, yes it does. This extra money has to be found somewhere, and one of the kittys from which the money is being directed is the Lottery Fund, which is being hit to the tune of a cool £675 million. This adds to the money from the fund which had already been promised to fund the games.

Obviously my main interest is in how this will effect the Heritage Lottery Fund. According to a press release from the HLF it’s going to have £90 million less thanks to the Olympic Games debacle. £90 million is a lot of money, but what does this translate to in practical spending on our heritage. This would pay for four year’s spend on smaller community and voluntary sector grants and the funding entire stream aimed at involving young people (around 6000 projects). Alternatively it could pay for the planned HLF spend on churches and historic town centres from Gateshead to Great Yarmouth (around 1400 schemes) for four years. The HLF is currently the biggest source of funds for the historic and natural environment, and cultural heritage, far outweighing the amount spent by government. This slashing of HLF funds comes after four years of de facto spending cuts for English Heritage. There appears to be no real interest within the government about the adequate funding for heritage in the UK. The good intentions laid out in the recent White Paper will come to naught without supply of adequate resources.

Heritage in the 21st Century: White Paper

The government has just published Heritage in the 21st Century, its White Paper on the future of the protection of archaeological and historic sites in England and Wales. It outlines its proposals for the way in which they hope to change the system which designates particular monuments or structures as worthy of protection. Currently, important buildings are protected by “Listing”- with Grade I Listed Buildings being the most important and Grade II being of lesser, but still significance, import. However, archaeological monuments, such as earthworks are protected by being made Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMS). Under the new proposals it is suggested that rather than having a separate system for buildings and monuments that they are brought together under the same system.

Other important proposals in the White Paper include the welcome suggestion that Sites & Monuments Records/ Historic Environment Records are made statutory, and that all county councils or local authorities should have access to one. It is also suggested that Class Consent (general standing consent given to carry out certain activities on SAMs) for ploughing should be removed. Until now, the subsurface areas of many protected ancient monuments have been annually damaged by continued ploughing, which often badly disturbs archaeological deposits. This would be ended under the White Paper, instead farmers would be encouraged to come to management agreements with English Heritage to protect the sites, potentially through the existing DEFRA Environmental Stewardship Schemes.

The White Paper is currently out for consultation- some bodies such as the The Archaeoligcal Forum have already responded. What do you think of these proposals?

Tomb of Christ

Lots of press coverage of the claims by James Cameron (erstwhile producer of Titanic) that archaeologists have discovered the tomb of Jesus and his family. A tomb with a number of ossuaries (boxes for storing bones) were found in excavations in 1980. Six of the ossuaries were marked with the names Mary; Matthew; Jesua son of Joseph; Mary; Jofa (Joseph, Jesus’ brother); and Judah son of Jesua. This, Cameron and his cohorts claim is clear evidence that this was Jesus’ tomb. Not surprisingly, the press released are being issued in advance of a forthcoming documentary on the topic directed by Cameron.

This is not the first time that a claim has been made linking an ossuary to Jesus. Several years ago a stone box bearing the name of James, brother of Jesus was found. In this case it was soon proved to be a forgery However, the press excitement at the time was just as great.

This is a potent reminder of the great popular interest in biblical archaeology (particularly in the States). There are still many people who look to archaeology to prove or disprove what is found in the bible.

In this case however most people’s critical faculties do seem to have remained intact (including in the media). Many people have pointed out how incredibly common the names found on the boxes were in 1st century AD Jerusalem.

Chimpanzee Archaeology

For most of us the idea of chimps using tools tends to bring to the mind the old PG Tips adverts. However, it appears that the truth might be a little more complex. An recent article in The Guardian describes recent observations of female chimpanzees making wooden spears and using them to hunt other animals for food. (Chester students also have a look at the original article in Current Biology – available on-line via IBIS. It’s in the “articles in press” section) discovery of stone tools apparently utilised by chimpanzeesover 4000 years go raised the intriguing possibility of being able to write the archaeology of another species.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra

Some of you may have recently noticed a flurry of news articles about Cleopatra being revealed as not the beauty that portrayed in legend. An image of her on a coin depicts her with a bulging eyes, a thick neck and a hooked nose. This is not a particularly new angle- a similar suggestion emerged in 2001 (thanks to Liz Dean for this reference).

The interesting thing about this is not whether or not Cleo was a beauty, but rather the way in which new discoveries or insights are publicised. In both cases, the suggestion came in advance of the opening of a new museum exhibition; one at the

VANdalism

A controversial archaeological project has recently been carried out at the University of Bristol. Archaeologists from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology “excavated” a transit van used by workers and archaeologists at the Ironbridge Museum.

This has caused some raised eyebrows- is this useful archaeology or a waste of time? Can archaeology tell us something new, useful and important about something as mundane a 1991 van?

Archaeology and wind power

There has been a lot of recent interesting work being carried out on off-shore archaeology. This does not just include traditional nautical archaeology focussing on the study of ships and maritime installations. Work such as Birmingham University’s research into North Sea palaeolandscapes is extremely important. It aims to better understand the early landscape of areas now covered by water. Similar work could undoubtedly be carried out elsewhere on the British continental shelf.

Whilst of undoubted inherent importance, this research also has clear implications for resource management. With the push towards the expansion of renewable energy, there is inevitably going to be a greater push towards wind power, particularly in off-shore locations where more consistent winds are available and there is likely to be less opposition from local interest groups. However, the work at Birmingham serves as a useful reminder that such projects need to remember that seabeds are as much historic landscapes as on-shore locations. As such it is encouraging to see that COWRIE (Collaborative Offshore Wind Research Into The Environment), an independent company set up to raise awareness and understanding of the potential environmental impacts of the UK offshore windfarm programme has just published a guidance note for best practice in survey, appraisal and monitoring of the historic environment during the development of offshore renewable energy projects in the United Kingdom.

However, as always the proof of the pudding will be in the eating- will this guidance be followed or ignored in the push to meet government targets for renewable energy?

BBC Folk Awards

Last Wednesday saw the BBC Folk Awards , a handy reminder that the British folk music scene is undergoing a real renaissance (although one might quibble about the decision to award Seth Lakeman best album over both Bellowhead and Tim van Eyken). It would certainly be worth be signing the e-petition protesting against the ridiculous government licensing legislation restricting the performance of live music in pubs and bars.

It’s also worth having a think about how we approach this type of intangible heritage. Scotland, Ireland and Wales all have centres dedicated to their popular music. Whilst the Folk Music degree at Newcastle University is a fantastic development it is aimed at training existing performers rather than presenting folk music to the general public. In Scotland there is the National Piping Centre and in Wales there is Ty Siamas , there is no equivalent in England.

However, it is great to see that Somerset County Council has just published the Somerset Folk Map tracing the biographies and pinpointing the homes of the singers from whom Cecil Sharp collected his remarkable archive of traditional song, dance, tunes and children’s games. Much of the work was done by Yvette Staelens, who works in the archaeology department at Bournmouth, and more importantly was once a backing singer for Blyth Power , possibly the best slightly-dodgy folk punk band in history!