'Stone stacking' is destroying Britain’s Neolithic monuments, warns Historic England

Camilla Turner
Archaeologists say a new trend of

It is a seemingly harmless endeavour that is growing in popularity among ramblers with a creative touch.  

But now Historic England has said that “stone stacking” is akin to "rubbing out history" as they warn that it is destroying Britain’s Neolithic monuments.

Stone stacking – which is described as a “meditative artistic skill” – is the practise of placing stones on top of one another to produce sculptures.

They are a common sight at the summits of hills, at famous landmarks or other countryside beauty spots. Following a number of complaints about the stone stacking at historic hilltops on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, Historic England has urged enthusiasts to halt the practise.

Scores of balanced stones have appeared at Stowe's Pound on Bodmin Moor, an early Neolithic site which is about 6,000 years old and is classified as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

"Stone stacking" at Stowe's Pound on Bodmin Moor, an early Neolithic site Credit: APEX

Visitors have been removing stones from the site and piling them up – apparently unaware the site is protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act of 1979, and anyone damaging or removing objects could face criminal prosecution.

Daniel Ratcliffe, inspector of ancient monuments at Historic England South West, said that moving the stones to build the "inevitably temporary" stacks of stones, it is in fact eroding nationally-protected archaeological features.

"Taking away the stones is like rubbing out history," he said, adding that Historic England is prepared to work with the landowner, the Duchy of Cornwall, to come up with a solution.

Stuart Dow and Roy Goutte, from the amateur archaeology group Time Keepers, have called for signs to be erected at the site explaining its significance and warning that those removing the stones could face prosecution.

Taking away the stones is like rubbing out history

Daniel Ratcliffe, inspector of ancient monuments at Historic England South West

"They may think they're being artistic, but they don't realise the damage they're doing," Mr Dow said. "Some of these may be lovely to look at, but knowing what they represent, I believe it's disrespectful to our ancestors."

Time Keepers say simple signage should prevent any more damage and in the meantime, they have offered to remove the stacks are put them back where they should be. "We don't think for a moment this is malicious, nevertheless it's historic vandalism and we have to try to stop it," Mr Goutte said.

Stuart Dow, 67, from Launceston, Cornwall, was among those who reported the stacking at Bodmin Moor to the authorities.

He said: "I wasn't aware it was a crime but I knew it was disrespectful. I like stone standings in the right context, but a Neolithic site is not the right place."

A spokesman for Historic England said that “any action that is potentially damaging to a scheduled monument” will be investigated by the police.

They said: "Monuments scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 are of national importance.

"Permission is needed from Historic England if anybody wishes to make any changes to these protected monuments, including the moving of objects that belong to them.”

The spokesman said that Historic England has a “range of interventions” at its disposal to preserve the country’s heritage and “historic environment”.

These include restorative resolution, formal warnings and criminal prosecution, which could lead to imprisonment in some cases.

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