5,000 year old site in England defaced, and protest at Stonehenge over proposed A303

BATH, England – Stony Littleton Long Barrow has been subjected to vandalism, allegedly by Pagans. Red handprints, made from food dye, have been left on the monument recently and the police are currently conducting an investigation.

Stony Littleton Long_Barrow – Image credit: Neil Owen, CC BY-SA 2.0

The monument itself lies near the city of Bath and is estimated to be in the region of 5000 years old. It is described by English Heritage as “one of the country’s finest accessible examples of a Neolithic chambered tomb.”

The 100 foot-long monument consists of many chambers, for different burials or perhaps for different shrines: these monuments tend to generally be viewed as burial chambers but some archaeological experts think that they might have been places of worship for the living, too.

Stony Littleton barrow survived intact until the late 1700s when a local farmer broke it open for building stone. Its mysteries have, however, remained largely unsolved: it has not yielded a great deal up to archaeological investigation.

Interior passage of Stony Littleton Long Barrow – Image credit: Neil Owen, CC BY-SA 2.0

Those responsible for the site, which is a Scheduled Ancient Site under the care of English Heritage, say that this latest episode could have caused substantial damage to the monument.

Win Scutt, properties curator said, “This attack on its historic fabric is not only thoughtless, it is a crime. Whilst our specialist team will be working to remove the graffiti, there is every chance it might have caused permanent damage to the stonework. The motivation behind a wanton attack like this is unthinkable, and we have been working with Avon and Somerset Police to aid them in their investigations.”

The police have asked for any witnesses to come forward.

Police Constable Matt Bendall, speaking for Avon and Somerset Police said, “The area is very isolated and not easily accessible, therefore my suspicions are that someone has come to the site and placed these red handprints on the stones perhaps as a sacrificial offering to the monument but have not really considered the long term effects of doing so.”

Local Pagans have expressed the hope that those responsible left fingerprints and were caught red-handed! – but more seriously, opinions among the British Pagan and academic community vary:

Tej Turner, a Pagan from South Wales said, “This could just be an act of senseless vandalism, but it is also quite possibly a misguided expression by some rather thoughtless members of our neopagan community.

“While I do understand (and appreciate) the draw some of our community feel towards sites like these, I wish we could all respect them as historic monuments, and people would stop acting as if they own them and are entitled to use them as they please. I quite regularly come across evidence that people have built fires not just close to but actually inside megalithic sites.

“Also, while on this topic; I don’t too much mind people leaving flowers and other such biodegradable offerings at sacred places (and clooties on trees) but the amount of ones made from materials such as plastic really infuriates me. For me, paganism is primarily an earth-based tradition, so this really shouldn’t need explaining.”

Celtic historian, Kari Maund and Pagan writer and teacher Caitlín Matthews both condemned the vandalism as an assault on history.

Maund said, “Histories are the inheritance of us all, not just for a specific few, whether they define themselves as a social elite, as just an everyday person or any other identity. When you lay hands on histories (literally in this case) and warp them to be only for you, you steal from and damage us all.”

Matthews pointed out the dissonance of the act and the lack of understanding of ancient monuments, “The handprints made here were applied in ignorance and out of the original ancestral context of a monument made in a previous era. Had they been applied to a structure made by the hand-printers today, they would have been perfectly in context. Just as we do not start carving or writing upon the pillars of a medieval cathedral, so too, we should not deface a megalithic monument.”

Druid Nimue Brown had a slightly different view, “So many of our ancient monuments were reused by people who could not have known what the builders intended. I’ve seen so many handprints in Stone Age cave art, that I can’t see this modern one as anything other than a continuation of use and engagement, not as an act of harm.”

Mass Protest at Stonehenge

Stonehenge has been in the news a lot recently due to the controversial scheme to take the A303 carriageway beneath the southern edge of the wider site, through a tunnel. TWH reported on this last month.

By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0

Over the weekend, a mass trespass was organized at the site, consisting of local Pagans, ecologists, and archaeologists. English Heritage, who are responsible for the site, closed it off until Sunday.

There has been confusion over exactly who organised the protest. The Stonehenge Alliance (SA) and the Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) were both initially reported as being involved in the organising of the mass trespass. Stonehenge Alliance has since released the following statement claiming to have not been involved in the trespass:

We appreciate that recently there has been a confusing proliferation of organisations regarding objections to the A303 Stonehenge scheme but we must ask you, please, to correct any suggestion that we were the organisers of a mass trespass.

The Stonehenge Alliance does not condone illegal acts, however sympathetic the protesters might be to our cause. Our focus is on supporting the legal process ahead.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said: “It is an offence under the Ancient Monuments Act (1979) for people to enter the monument area without English Heritage’s permission. Whilst we respect people’s right to demonstrate peacefully, we do not condone behaviour that disrupts and endangers the site and the people who visit or work here.”

Police and heritage officials were present at the protest, which has been described as “peaceful.” No arrests were made.

Dan Hooper, the activist known as “Swampy” during road protests in the 1990s, was reported in The Guardian as saying, “The government is ignoring the uncomfortable but very real truth that time is running short. Now is a critical time to rethink our connection with nature. We need to put a stop to these road schemes as we did before.”

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) has brought law firm Leigh Day on board, including barristers Victoria Hutton and David Wolfe QC, and will be mounting a legal challenge to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ recent greenlighting of the tunnel.

TWH will continue to follow this story and report on any new developments.

Editorial Note: We initially reported that Stonehenge Alliance was  involved in organizing the trespass event. Stonehenge Alliance has since issued a statement claiming they were not involved. We have updated the story accordingly.

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