The subject was the nature of an epic battle in the 1970s between the archaeological establishment and the alternative theorists. Although I had wandered the stones of Stonehenge as a child in the Seventies, I first discovered the appeal of standing stones when touring some of the sites in a friend's camper van in the Eighties.
I have often found the best way of discovering site is to pick up guides written by local people with a passion for the stones of their area. These tend to be of the 'earth mysteries' persuasion rather than from an archaeological background. You only really find these guides in independent local bookshops of the area, often photocopied or duplicated where a local author has run off a hundred or so copies. Although computer technology has improved the presentation from the typed 'inkies' of the Seventies, the consolidation of bookshops and retailing generally during the Thatcher years and the 1990s meant these local guides could get harder to find though more are probably made.
There is definitely a different slant in earth mysteries writing after the ley line battle was lost - the bright spark of the Earth Mysteries groups which seemed to have blazed brightly in the late 1960s and particularly the 1970s was dulled by the fallout, which the archaeological establishment won convincingly. I'd always wanted to know what had gone on, and why the mention of the subject seemed to cause lots of shuffling and an urge to change the subject, together with a timidity in dealing with alignments of any sort in much of the earth mysteries literature after the early 1980s.. The 1970s newsletter 'The Ley Hunter' has been put on the web at http://www.tlh6976.fsnet.co.uk/ by Jim Goddard, the original editor of the newsletter, and here is the story, and my attempt to replicate the results of John Mitchell's Cornish sites results which seemed to be at the centre of the barney. A lot of things make this job easier now than it was in the 1970s - in particular drawing lines on maps is no longer as destructive as it used to be!
The original concept of ley lines was proposed by Alfred Watkins, a photographer in Herefordshire who published 'The Old Straight Track' In it he wrote
"Imagine a fairy chain stretched from mountain peak to mountain peak, as far as the eye could reach, and paid out until it reached the "high places" of the earth at a number of ridges, banks, and knolls. Then visualise a mound, circular earthwork, or clump of trees, planted on these high points, and in low points in the valley other mounds ringed around with water to be seen from a distance. Then great standing stones brought to mark the way at intervals, and on a bank leading up to a mountain ridge or down to a ford the track cut deep so as to form a guiding notch on the skyline as you come up.... Here and there, at two ends of the way, a beacon fire used to lay out the track. With ponds dug on the line, or streams banked up into "flashes" to form reflecting points on the beacon track so that it might be checked when at least once a year the beacon was fired on the traditional day. All these works exactly on the sighting line."
You have to have a heart of iron to not be inspired by that passage - it brings a vision of ancient people alive in the mind in a way that few academic texts on archaeological sites do. It seemed reasonable to take out an ad in the fledgling journal Antiquity, edited by OGS Crawford, a pioneer of aerial photography in archaeology and who had worked with Keiller on Avebury in 1934. Watkins should have scented problems on reading Crawford's founding editorial of March 1927, which set out its aims clearly.
"ANTIQUITY will attempt to summarize and criticize the work of those who are recreating the past. Archaeology is a branch of science which achieves its results by means of excavation, field-work and comparative studies; it is founded upon the observation and record of facts. Today the accumulated riches of years lie to our hand, and the time is ripe for interpretation and synthesis. We are emerging from the archaic stage, and we are able at last to see single facts in their relation to an organic whole - the history of Man. Simplification supervenes, and the outline of the past becomes intelligible. Here and there attempts are made to summarize a period or interpret a group of facts but they seldom reach the general public, and remain buried in obscure publications. ANTIQUITY will publish creative work of this character."
So far, so good. However, Crawford continues -
The Editor has secured the willing support of specialists who will contribute popular but authoritative accounts of their own researches. Knowledge thus acquired is alive, for it is derived at first hand from things, not merely compiled from books. Each article will be but a tiny facet of the whole ; for our field is the Earth, our range in time a million years or so, our subject the human race.
We shall keep our readers informed about important discoveries made and books published; and we shall warn them of mare's nests. Many so-called discoveries are nothing but newspaper "stunts"; many best-sellers are written by quacks. The public is humbugged, but it is nobody's business to expose the fraud. Such books are ignored by the learned world. Reviewers in literary papers are therefore tolerant, if not favourable, for they hear no word of dissent; there is a demand for stuff like this, and the case goes by default. Every page may contain gross errors and wild guesses which pass unchallenged. The antidote is to create a sound and informed body of opinion, and to make it articulate".
which shows he has a limited tolerance for speculation, and Watkins' thesis is highly speculative. It supposes a high degree of abstraction. A map is a bird's eye view, and over long distances the UTM projection of the OS grid makes 'straight' questionable, though this does not affect lines over just one Landranger sheet (25km x 25km). Watkins' theory of how the straight track is achieved, namely lighting fires at the end points and using sighting staffs, is reasonable, but errors creep in. This can be seen in the track of Roman roads, which are a succession of straight segments with ever so slight kinks between the sections, even in sections like the Fosse Way, when the road runs for long distances without passing through any settlements which might give reason to divert the course.
There is something delicious about Crawford rejecting Watkins' ad since Crawford had been Archaeology Officer for the Ordnance Survey, and was instrumental is saving the early Ordnance Survey maps in 1939 before the OS offices were bombed, removing them to his home .
This set the stage for the young editor of the Ley Hunter magazine to repeat the battle three and a half decades later. Paul Screeton was 24 years old when he picked up the baton and took on the Establishment as the editor of a dense typewritten newsletter titled The Ley Hunter, and the target was once again Antiquity. Crawford's action had pitched ley hunters against the archaeology establishment, and yet his action in saving the maps is one of the reasons why there were still the records of many of archaeological sites on the OS maps, and were the only reason that older sites which had been destroyed in the 20th century could still be referenced on ley lines!
Screeton's youthful enthusiasm of his June 1970 editorial hits the editor of Antiquity with both barrels:
Glyn Daniel in a fit of paranoia, seeing the tidy present- day archaeological theories crumbling to the state of the ruins they pretend to understand, lashes blindly at many peo- ple who ley hunters respect in the March-May quarter issue of "Antiquity." Maybe it would have been as well to ignore the ludicrous put-down of Professor Lyle Borst, John Mitchell and Ian Rodger, but my policy has always been to present every- thing I can bearing on our study, and to draw attention to the fearful narrow-mindedness of those professional archaeolog- ists who shun the evidence of the ley system and its implic- ations - which casts grave doubts on their qualifications to pontificate on our ancestors. Briefly, Dr Daniel begins with an attack on Prof. Borst's "highly personalized and deplorable astro-archaeology," goes on to claim the editors of "Nature" were taken in by Borst, and that Sir John Betjeman was wrong to take such a stand against possible destruction of Wing Church by the tarmacad- emicians who propose the site could well be made an airport. Next the B.B.C. come in for a brickbat for letting Ian Rod- ger give his talk "Megalithic Mathematics." In this context Dr. Daniel comments "we were back at once to the old straight- trackers." Then he ponders in print as to whether the print- ing of this, a book review by Prof. R.J.C. Atkinson, and a book review by Geoffrey Grigson were maybe included purely for fun. Unsurprisingly the vitriolic trash by Grigson (who sugg- ests in "The Shell Country Alphabet" that some Bronze Age circles "may be all that is left of circular cattle pens or stockades surrounding a homestead") on "The View Over Atla- ntis" is lauded as "brilliant." John Michell's impressive book is described as "one of the dottiest books to have appeared for some while." Dr. Daniel is no doubt a busy man, but perhaps he would write an article or letter for "The Ley Hunter" setting out his conclusions on the countrywide system of prehistoric alignments. I shall send him a copy of this issue so he may judge for himself how seriously we take our study, and will gladly give him space in the magazine to reply.
Whoa - don't hold the horses :) Glyn Daniel took up the bait, and his response, dripping with sarcasm, was duly printed in the July 1970 issue of "The Ley Hunter"
READERS' FORUM ============== From Glyn Daniel: I am always delighted to get letters from what my predecessor as Editor of ANTIQUITY described as 'the lunatic fringe of archaeology', and it was kind of you to send me a copy of The Ley Hunter. I naturally cannot often find space in ANTIQUITY to comment on these very marginal activities - not, I know, marginal to you but to the readers of ANTIQUITY - but I may be able to find space to say something about your magazine in the December number. I hope you do realise that it is not just myself but practically every serious archaeologist who finds no cogency or conviction in the various arguments put out by straight trackers. I must congratulate you on the title of your article on page 2. Thank you again for writing. -/-
For what it's worth the article that tickled Daniel's fancy was entitled "Bats, Ghosts, Old Mother Midnight and the Wishing Stone", the article was about a visit to Hart Village, and Paul Screeton had a newspaperman's gift for a headline!
John Michell (author of "A View over Atlantis" which had taken a hit in Daniel's Antiquity review) weighed in on the letters page in the next (August 1970) issue, adding some fuel to the fire
From John Michell: Dear Paul, Your correspondent, Dr Glyn Daniel, appears to believe that unreasoned abuse is a more effective instrument of criticism that reasonable treatment of evidence. Despite what he says, however, there is growing interest in the ley system among archaeologists, although few are prepared to commit themselves to further research until it is poss- ible to find the scientific proof that Alfred Watkins was right, and that ancient stones were deliberately placed across the country in straight alignments. Since you kindly asked me to contribute to "The Ley Hunter", I should like to describe some results of researches in West Cornwall, which appear to demonstrate the fact of leys beyond any possible doubt. Several attempts have been made over the years since the publication of Watkins's "The Old Straight Track" to find a statistical proof that prehistoric alignments were deliberately set and do not merely occur by chance. The results have never been entirely satisfactory, for there are many uncertain aspects of the ley system that still elude precise classification. There is, however, one method by which it is possible to prove the existence of planned alignments or leys beyond the possibility of coincidence, and the correct approach is indicated by Watkins in his "The Ley Hunter's Manual", in the chapter dealing with ley hunting and astronomical archaeology. Watkins points out that the same ley phenomena are studied both by those who investigate leys and by scientists who are concerned wit the astronomical significance of stone circles. But while the astronomers such as Lockyer and Thom use large scale plans of a small area and concern them- selves only with short alignments in the immediate vicinity of a circle, which indicate a significant astronomical declination, followers of Watkins have come to the further realization that these same alignments may often be extended, over many miles of country to other prehistoric points, forming a long distance ley. If this can be shown to be in fact the case, the existence of leys is put beyond doubt, for the possibility of prehistoric stones falling by chance exactly on those very lines, which have already been indep- endently established as prehistoric astronomical lines, is too remote to be considered. --OoO--
The Survey, along with a recent map representation can be read here.
A copy of the August issue was sent to Glyn Daniel, the editor of Antiquity and all seemed to go quiet until Paul Screeton got wind of a response, which he detailed in the December issue of the Ley Hunter, in a piece titled "The View Over Ivory Towers"
The View Over Ivory Towers The editor of "The Ley Hunter" and John Michell have tried to persuade the professional archaeologists that leys are worthy of their attention. The attempt has proved abortive. The following is a step by step account of the moves we made in the hopes of gaining recognition for the ley system from the orthodox archaeologists. The August issue of "The Ley Hunter" included an article by John Michell on a thorough, scientific piece of research into Megalithic alignments in a part of Cornwall. The alignments being traced on maps and examined in situ. A copy of this issue was sent to Dr Glyn Daniel for his comments
(Ed - you can read that here. Though possible to follow, Michell could have made this easier to try and reproduce with grid refs of all stones on the leys)
-/- Hearing that Dr Daniel, the editor of "Antiquity", had written somewhat abusively about ley hunters, myself, and others in the September number of this publication, I sent for a copy. Dr Daniel wrote: "Mr Paul Screeton takes us to task for some of our jibes at what the previous editor of ANTQUITY called 'the lunatic fringe of archaeology'. He says, in a letter: 'I found your comments about straight trackers, John Michell and Professor Borst most odious and unwarr- anted.....your comments reveal either narrow-mindedness or ignorance of the present evaluation and allied avid- ence of a highly technical civilization in Bronze Age Britain. I find what I can only assume to be utter con- tempt for our researches and evidence most disturbing in someone with so high a reputation in archaeological circles.' Mr Screeton was kind enough to send me a copy of a journal he edits called The Ley Hunter, which is certainly a collectors piece for those archaeologists who, for personal interest, or from professional necessity (like the editor of ANTIQUITY), have to keep abreast with the widening lunatic fringes of a subject now an accepted part of humanistic study everywhere.... "I had not thought that any archaeologists who were seriously occupied with the study of the ancient past would dismiss any theory without giving the most serious and careful consideration, and it is in this way that most people dismiss as extravagant nonsense the ideas of Prof. Elliot Smith that all civilization came from Mesopotamia, or of others that America was first colonized by Madoc or Brendan or the Phoenicians. The straight trackers, the ley hunters, John Michell and Professor Borst are all part of this extravagant nonsense......." Dr Daniel then gives the address of "The Ley Hunter" for the benfit of those who wish to mock what the "beyond-the-fringers" are researching, and then purposely misinterprets an article of mine on Hart to gain comic effect. He ends with: "But how sad it is that so many obviously intelligent and interested people these days should spend their time writing and thinking dottiness while the whole world of man's past endeavour and chi- evement is theirs to appreciate, understand and admire." When writing for a copy of this 15/- publication (a voucher copy and invitation to reply to the criticisms might have been in order), I inquired about advertise- ment rates. I had no intention of advertising "The Ley Hunter" in the magazine, but was curious to see if Dr Daniel would follow the policy of O.G.S. Crawford, who in the 1930s refused a paid advertisement for Alfred Watkins's "The Old Straight Track." However, someone acting for "Antiquity" forwarded an advertisement rates card. I then received the following letter from Dr Daniel, dated September 22: "Thank you for your letter of 7 September and for sending me a copy of the current issue of The Ley Hunter. "I am afraid that mr John Michell's article convinces me in no way, but you will see that I have put a few more comments in the September Editorial of Antiquity. But I do not propose to continue this discussion, which has been ventilated sufficiently in the pages of Antiquity. Nor am I prepared to print an advertisement for The Ley Hunter. And, in this, I take the same point of view as did my predecessor, O.G.S. Crawford, who declined to print an advertisment of Watkins's book. We cannot really advertise in a serious and learned journal, with a world-wide circulation, books and magaz- ines which, as I have said before, belong to what I regard as, to quote Crawford 'the lunatic fringe of archaeology'. "These may seem hard words to you and others of your persuasion, but it would be unkind and unhelpful to dissimulate my views." -/- John Michell then wrote to me with and offer to be made to Dr Daniel. From John's letter I wrote the following to Dr Daniel:"I do not wish to be a nuisance, taking up your valuable time, but I wish to make a proposition. "If you will appoint a representative, perhaps a student, to spend an hour with John Michell looking at the documented evidence of Cornish Megalithic Alignment, then if he is mot convinced that those alignments exist, John Michell will pay £50 to a fund of your choice. If your rep- resentative is convniced than a factual article on the sub- ject is to be published in 'Antiquity.' "John Michell will pay any expenses involved and I will arrange the meeting with John. "I hope you will find this proposal acceptable." -/-Dr Daniel's reply of October 9: "Thank you very much for your letter of 1 October. "No, you are certainly not being a nuisance and certainly not wasting my time. As a person who writes and lectures about the history pf archaeology, I am only too well aware that writers who have from time to time seemed well away from established lines have, subsequently, been shown to be right. "Your proposal is an interesting one, but I think what you should do is get John Michell to talk to somebody who knows about Cornish megalithic alignments (Do you really mean Cornish, ro do you mean Devon?). I suggest you write to Lady Fox in the Department of Archaeology in the Univer- sity of Exeter, or Professor Charles Thomas, who is head of the Department of Archaeology in the University of Leicester. Tell me what both these people say: I trust their judgments. Why not write to them both, which will give you and Michell independent testimony." -/-
The following letter was sent by me to Lady Fox and Prof. Thomas:"As an expert on Cornish megalithic alignments, I wonder if it would be possible for you to give an opinion on the letter on pages 13-18 by John Michell in the issue of "The Ley Hunter" which I enclose. "As editor of "The Ley Hunter" I am anxious, together with fellow researchers, to confirm the validity of Alfred Watkins's discoveries in this field. John Michell, whose book 'The View Over Atlantis' you may have read, is as keen as I am to see leys studies not only by amateurs but by professional archaeologists. "You have probably read Dr Daniel's comments on the subject in 'Antiquity.' Following his diatribe against ley research, I made him an offer that John Michell will pay £50 to any charity he chooses to name if a representative whom he names is not convinced that these alignments exist. If the representative is convinced then a factual article on the subject is to be published in 'Antiquity'. "In fact you are one of the two people he regards as an expert in this field and whose judgment he trusts. "I hope the letter/article will be sufficeint to prove our point, but should you require further precise evidence, John Michell is willing, at his own expense, to arrange a meeting with you, at which you may study his maps. "I hope that this request is not too much trouble to you, but I believe that leys are a reality, requiring further investigation by professional as well as amateur archaeo- logists." -/-From Prof. Charles Thomas: "Thank you for your letter, and the enclosed, which I return. The examination of Mr. Michell's remarks in any detail would, however, require far more time than I have at my disposal in the foreseeable future - under pressure of both my academic and my public duties - and I suggest you approach someone else. -/- From Lady Fox: "I am not an expert on Cornish megalthic (sic) alignments. My only comments on the ley Hunter is to remind you that a straight line is the shortest distance between any two given points, and that all prehistoric monuments are not contem- porary. -/-
From Dr Daniel:"Lady Fox has sent me your letter to her of 21 October in which you say:- I made him an offer that John Michell will pay £50 to any charity he chooses to name if a representative whom he names is not convinced that these alignments exist. If the representative is convinced then a factual article on the subject is to be published in Antiquity. In fact you are one of two people he regards as an expert in this field and whose judgment he trusts.' "I am writing to point out that this is a misrepresentation of what I said. I have never at any time promised to publish an article in Antiquity of the kind you mention and I did not say that Lady Fox was an expert on Cornish Alignments. "It is clear from the nonsense that you and your associ- ates put in The Ley Hunter that you are incapable of reading straightforward books on archaeology and understanding what they are about. This I can forgive, but I cannot forgive direct misrepresentation of a letter to you. May we now please bring our correspondence to an end." -/-A RIDICULOUS ------------- JOHN MICHELL'S EPISODE COMMENTS Anyone who fails to understand why it is that so many students are dissatisfied with the standards of academic scholarship and integrity at the universities may be int- erested in the following account. In No. 10 of "The Ley Hunter" I wrote an article des- cribing some megalithic stone alignments in West Cornwall. The intention was to demostrate that astronomical align- ments already established as such by the astronomer - archaeologist Sir Normal Lockyer and set out as diagrams in his book Stonehenge, are more significant that has previously been realized, for they continue over other megalithic stones at some distance from the stone circle from which they are set in a way which can not be coincid- ental. The editor send this article to Dr. Glyn Daniel for his comments, which were to the effect that he found the art- icle unconvincing. The purpose in writing the article was not to "convince" D r Daniel or anyone else, not to convert them to any part- icular theory. I merely pointed out the facts which may be confirmed by anybody on inspection of the 6 inch map. At the same time I suggested that these stones, many of which are not recorded, should be properly surveyed and made known to archaeologists. Dr Danel's comment that he found my evidence uncon- vincing could only mean that he doubted either the existence of these stones or their geographical positions as stated. Yet my authority is the 6" O.S. map, generally accepted as accurate. I therefore requested him to appoint a representative to examine my maps, and as an inducement I offered to cover all expenses and to pay a sum of money to any fund of Dr Daniel's choice if his nominee should consider that my evidence was invalid. Should it be found correct, Dr Daniel was to publish a short, factual note in Antiquity. I required only the space which he has recently devoted to attacks on Watkins, myeslf, "The Ley Hunter", and our subject in general, to which we have no means of making any audible reply. Dr Daniel acknowledged the communication and nominated Prof. Thomas of Leicester and lady Fox of Exeter as arch- aeologists whose judgment he trusted. Prof. Thomas, when approached, answered that he was too busy with academic and public duties and declined to review the evidence. This is scarcely a matter for complaint; if this man does not wish to know the facts in his subject, no one will compel him. But this blank refusal directly contra- dicts Dr Daniel's statement in a recent Antiquity editorial: "I had not thought that any archaeologists who were seriously occupied with the study of the ancient past would dismiss any theory without giving the most serious and careful consideration." Not only does Prof. Thomas refuse to con- sider the theory, the will not hear facts. Lady Fox's contribution was the observation that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The purpose of this comment is obscure; the lady is either ignorant of her subject, or - and this is more disturbingly probably - desperately concerned not to compromise her pos- ition by even considering facts which might tend to confirm theories that her professional colleagues have declared heretical. As a final absurdity, Dr Daniel wrote to Paul Screeton accusing him of distoring his meaning, even though Paul did no more than transmit my offer and iots acceptance in exactly the same terms as set out in the correspondence. Dr Daniel then declared the matter closed. The whole episode reflects extreme discredit on Dr Daniel, who has acted throughout in a way which may aptly be described as deceitful, and it must astonish anyone who has ever bel- ieved that archaeologists are scientists concerned with dis- covering the truth about the the past. Until members of this profession are prepared to consider factual evidence, from whatever sources, the position remains as A.M Hobart wrote in 1927 in Kingship that "archaeology can scarcely claim to be considered a science." Dr. Daniel suggests we read some straightforward books on archaeology. Which does he suggest? His own are based through- out on assumptions now known to be false and on theories which, as Prof. Thom has conclusively demonstrated, are totally unfounded. This is probably the root cause of his attitude. Almost every academic book on archaeology, includ- ing those of the modern predecessors of the subject, are founded on such deep misconceptions that they are practically valueless. In fact most are actively pernicious in that they encourage the destruction of ancient sites by clumsy excav- ation, thus removing any evidence which would later be of sig- nificance. Among established archaeologists there appears to be a complete lack of comprehension of recent developments in their field, and this is so blatant that Dr Daniel was able to praise a recent review in the Listener which derived its authority form a remark by the long discredited Maxist theorist, Gordon Childe, to the effect that megalithic men, poorly clad in cold weather, could never have cared to practise astronomy in Britain. If Dr. Daniels knows of any reliable, up to date works on Megalithic sites, other than those of lockyer, Watkins and Thom, we would be grateful for the recommendation. All this is a waste of time and spirit, but it is a terrifying state of affairs that an entire profession is so intimidated by its establishment that no member dare consider unpopular facts for fear fo receiveing the same tratement as was accorded to Watkins and Lethbridge. Dr Daniel's devious behaviour in the above matter derives from the fact that he is simply unwilling to face the consequences of being shown wrong. If any archaeologist cosiders these remarks unjust, he may prove them so by indicating his willingness to consider the facts of the case. CONDUCT ------------------------------ The editor sums up UNBECOMING the sordid episode The material on pages D1, D2, D3, and D4, being factual, speaks for itself; John Michell's appraisal is reasoned and contains nothing with which I do not agree wholeheartedly. There is really very little left for me to say. It is up to the reader to decide whether there was any muisrepresentation, and decide whether Dr. Daniel and his cohorts have behaved unbecomingly. Pertaining directly to the attitudes of those quoted above, here are a number of other comements made recently, which I want to put before you. On October 31, B.B.C.-2 screened a 30-minute document- ary on Professor Alexander Thom, former professor of engineering science at Oxford University, who has sur- veyed a great number of megalithic stone circles. In the programme we heard Professor Stuart Piggott absurdly state that archaeologists are the only persons qualified to study archaeology and make judgments on the subject. In an article, regarding the programme, in the Radio Times, Dr Daniel is quoted as saying: 'I think the first thing one must remember is that all the professional archaeologists are beset by what has been called the lunatic fringe of archaeology and the second thing is that Professor Thom is not part of this." Hands up those who know just who he was referring to. Prof. Thom, a brilliant man, has not been accepted by all the "top" archaeologists, however. Of megalithic men he says: "The boys knew what they were doing." I don't know why he should call them "boys" when he stated that they were further advanced scientifically than himself. At the BUFORA meeting (reported elsewhere in this issue) Mrs Carey, of Corton, Warminster, claimed she had found that a number fo distances between megalithic sites kept repeating and repeating on maps, and she deduced there to some for of standard measurements used in Neolithic times. She told the meeting that she had written to Prof. Richard Atkinson, who replied to the effect that this could only be coincidental as these people, he knew could not have managed to lay things out to specific measurements. Lastly, if any reader is a great follower of Dr Daniel's opinions, the November 5, 1970, "Daily Express" provides food for thought. In an article by Sheila Hutchins on simple meals, Dr Daniel is quoted on childhood dinners in a Carmarthenshire farmhouse where he tucked in to cockles, trout, cheese and buttermilk.