Scheduled monuments have been in the news recently with Cadbury ultimately having to pull one of their advertising campaigns due to encouraging illegal activity – metal detecting or digging on a scheduled monument. It was an unfortunate mistake for Cadbury, as their chief intention had been to get people interested in history, which is a great idea! However, to request kids get a shovel and start digging in the vicinity of several scheduled monuments did not go down well with Archaeologists, Historians, or the Curators of the Monuments in question and so the campaign was pulled. On another more personal note, just recently I have been actively involved in the protection of a Scheduled Monument. But what is a Scheduled Monument? Why is it Scheduled and how can anyone find out if land is considered to be part of a Scheduled Monument or not?
So, to start at the beginning, a Scheduled Monument is defined as an Historic Building or Site considered to be of significant National or International Historical or Archaeological importance. The current Schedule of Monuments is held by Historic England and contains upwards of 19,000 entries including Roman villas, castles, deserted medieval villages, cemetery sites, burial mounds, industrial sites, bridges and earthworks. Some of these are upstanding features in the landscape and are clearly visible; stone circles for example. Others are not standing but equally visible (the Uffington White horse chalk hill figure) and others have been discovered and recorded via aerial photography or geophysical surveys and lie below the ground, invisible, but protected. As such all scheduled monument records include a map detailing the location and extent of the historical asset.
A complete list of Scheduled Monuments in this country is held both online (on the National Heritage for England Archive – currently undergoing updates) and in a physical archive at the Historic England Archive in Swindon. Any monuments considered as having World Heritage status (Stone Henge and Hadrian’s Wall to name but two) can also be found on this list and are recorded by UNESCO alongside other global sites of similar significant importance, of which the UK has a considerable number – Hence our potential withdrawal from UNESCO as part of Brexit and various other current debates, is somewhat concerning. However, World Heritage Sites have other regulations and it would be too much of a digression to discuss them all here. (UNESCO’s list and more about it can be found here: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/?)
It is illegal to metal detect, or excavate on a Scheduled Monument without explicit permissions (a Scheduled Monument Licence) obtained from Historic England and the Secretary of State. That’s not to say that excavations cannot be conducted on a scheduled monument. A site I worked on recently was the known location of a Scheduled Monument – In this case a prehistoric settlement. The area was subject to two archaeological evaluations which unfortunately found no trace of the monument and so development was able to proceed with an archaeological watching brief enforced (see my previous blog entry for more on watching briefs). During the watching brief an area was uncovered where archaeological remains, those of the Scheduled Monument were uncovered. The development was subjected to a temporary halt in this area – although able to continue outside of the scheduled area whilst the archaeologists were able to take the opportunity to learn more about the monument and obtain dating evidence via archaeological excavation.
Archaeological excavation is itself a destructive process, with the intention, certainly on the commercial site, to preserve the site by record. On a scheduled monument like this we only excavate as much as deemed necessary to add to our knowledge and produce a detailed plan of the remains in order to update the scheduled monument record, leaving most of the archaeology untouched, preserving the monument in-situ. This means that the development can technically still go ahead, but plans may need to be adjusted somewhat in order to ensure that the area of the monument is not disturbed by deep foundations or ground reduction.
To protect the monument, having exposed it, we lay down a thick white sheet (terram) and backfill all the slots that we had excavated into the monument. This ensures a layer of breathable material above the archaeology and forms a clear barrier/ sign to anyone undertaking works on the area in the future. Once the whole area of the monument was sheeted and backfilled, half a meter of type 1 gravel (clean dry softer stone) was laid over it, both to protect the monument and build up the ground to allow the development to continue above the monument. A 0.3m clearance is required for any excavation into the gravel layer hence the 0.5m build up which allows the development to go ahead with no threat to the preservation of the underlying archaeology. All of this is recorded in the Scheduled Monument record and will be consulted again should any further development take place on this site.
This is by no means a comprehensive account of what why and how Scheduled Monuments work, more of an overview. The Scheduled list is being updated all the time as new sites are discovered and added, or previously scheduled monuments are proven not to really exist, or are reconsidered in light of further information and declassified. And there are other factors at play alongside Scheduled Monuments the UK also has listed buildings, a sort of scheduling for structures that works on a ranking system based on various criteria, there are areas considered to be of archaeological, natural or historical value, which are recognised as significant but not as important as those that are scheduled monuments. There are also different rules for different counties, Districts and Towns in terms of planning and infrastructure. In short, the UK does a lot to protect its heritage and natural rural environment, yet makes allowance for compromise where possible to allow development to proceed.
You can find out more about Heritage Protection here: https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/hpg/hpr-definitions/#cat_N_word_Definition:%20National%20Heritage%20List%20for%20England
And about Scheduled Monuments here:
S. M. Porter
Professional archaeologist and author, S. M. Porter loves history, adventure and digging in the mud. Her career is in ruins - just where she wanted it to be.