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Cover of British Archaeology 85

Issue 85

November/December 2005



Archaeologists find trowel - and other stories

Bid to list first commercial nuclear power station

Model views - arial photography on the cheap

Return to Gwithian, Cornwall

Cave archaeologists find human remains

In Brief


From Ashes to Dust: who cares about sports heritage?
Jason Wood thinks the historic environment is losing out to sport in government spending - and this will worsen as the London Olympics approach. He has a solution

Coast Survey special
Archaeology on the shores of Norfolk and the Isle of Wight

White Badges
Mike Pitts visits poignant wartime field art asking 'Will we remember them?'

Roads to the past: Ireland's archaeological revolution
It's a long road: Dàire O'Rourke reveals extraordinary Irish archaeology in danger from the expanding road network.

on the web

Recommended websites


Views and responses

CBA news

Headlines from the CBA office.


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

Issue 85 November/December 2005

on the web

Internet exhibitionists

Caroline Wickham-Jones enjoys virtual museums.

From city ( to island ( virtual exhibitions allow world travel whatever our fitness or wealth. They help us plan (, mug up ( or simply wander (

Sites reflect their hosts' ethos. The British Museum's is classy and wideranging. They want us to visit in person – there are no dedicated virtual exhibitions – but informative on-line tours link to current shows (

The Marischal Museum, Aberdeen, in contrast, offers a sophisticated tour (, with 3D displays and a peek behind the scenes of conservation, reserve collections and offices: almost as good as an afternoon in the galleries.

London and Aberdeen are not hard to visit. Other virtual exhibitions showcase remoter areas, in Britain few more so than St Kilda. An enterprising Hebridean offers day trips to the island (not for the faint hearted), but the "window of accessibility" is short. The National Trust for Scotland's evocative website (try with your eyes shut) provides a mine of information and photographs and saves on seasickness tablets.

Google yields virtual museums around the world. Most are based on physical collections and, despite the attraction of the internet for children, are aimed at adults. ( seeks to remedy this with a roundup of children's games and information. The 24 Hour Museum (,'s parent site, provides a guide to over 3,500 uk museums and galleries including many virtual resources.

The versatility of the internet means that it is not just visual, nor static. The Imperial War Museum's online exhibitions ( incorporate sound and film clips in a way often yet to be developed fully elsewhere. Increased broadband means that this is a realistic option, and the wide variety of media used by the IWM makes it a useful resource for historians, teachers and children.

Museums also serve the professional. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (, hosted by the British Museum and supported by Museums, Libraries and Archives across England and Wales, is a good example. The formal home page hints that we have left the leisure world, though it is clear and comprehensive, including material on getting involved, what to do if you find something, and legal information. pas has a dedicated children's section ( with a wonderful game based on packing to go fieldwalking ( I liked the advice not to clean finds with Coca-Cola. There is also a site-based tour of the Anglo-Saxon village at West Mucking ( fascinating, but is everything found across England and Wales Saxon?

Comparable information is provided by the Treasure Trove in Scotland site ( hosted by the National Museums of Scotland, though it lacks material for children. Both sites include galleries of artefacts they have examined.

Many virtual tours lie well hidden: are the museum hosts embarrassed? Do they consider virtual access a poor second best? Many people can benefit, accessing the upper floors of a cathedral, exploring a fragile cave or reaching an exotic ruin without huge cost. Virtual reality has a strong future.

Sites to search for web museums

  • Marischal Museum, Aberdeen -
    • Unlike many web museums, information and images are integrated into the galleries where the objects lie
  • Virtual Victorians -
    • Tiverton Museum's imaginative mix of social history and artefacts provides a maze of information
  • Virtually the Ice Age -
    • Travel, not only in space but also in time and a lot more comfortably. Discover a bloodless way to butcher a horse
  • The National Virtual Museum -
    • Regularly updated virtual museum resource par excellence: links to all aspects of British culture including death, the Queen and 10 Downing Street
  • The Virtual Museum of Computing -
    • There has to be one – more a link list than a museum, not a snazzy site, but will find you enough virtual history to doubt your own reality

Open door

Victoria Morgan introduces an extraordinary website created by enthusiasts and volunteers.

The Megalithic Portal ( is dedicated especially to prehistoric archaeology. Many ancient sites have disappeared over the last 50 years or so due to development and intensive agriculture. Even scheduled monuments have limited real protection. The Portal's mission is to document, publicise and protect those that remain and help to ensure their preservation for future generations.

The site is crammed with useful information contributed by thousands of visitors from all over the world: a kind of Hitchhikers' Guide to Ancient Sites, from chambered tombs and standing stones to hillforts and settlements, and much in between. Over the years the site has extended beyond prehistoric megaliths, for example taking in Pictish symbol stones, so while still calling itself the Megalithic Portal, it is also the biggest online repository of data on holy wells and ancient crosses.

Founded by electronics engineer Andy Burnham, the immense site database began in 1997 as a prehistoric web index in a Microsoft Access database. It now runs entirely on free Linux and open source software, showing that online archaeology does do not have to be expensive.

The Portal runs without any external funding, save for a few member contributions and sales from a small online shop. With many thousands of photos catalogued, and complex map plotting programs to run, it soon outgrew conventional web hosting, and the site now runs from a dedicated server.

The Portal has been in its current form since February 2001. It is an increasingly popular resource, with four million page views in 2004. The information is maintained by a dedicated team of voluntary editors and administrators, distinguishing it from photo repository/blog type sites with little or no quality control. It has become the centre of a keen user group. One contributor left his job as an aircraft design engineer to travel Europe in a camper van, researching little-known megalithic sites to add to the fast-growing sections on France and Germany. Site features include:

  • Comprehensive listing of prehistoric and related sites in the UK, Europe and worldwide searchable by name, type, location, grid reference, quality of remains and ease of access. Entries contain descriptions, comments and photographs from visitors, with links to local weather, accommodation, maps and further websites (over 2,500). Over 50 site types include stone and timber circles, rows, barrows and tombs of all sorts, surviving and destroyed
  • The interactive Megalith Map of ancient UK sites, now recently upgraded to cover the whole of Europe (other areas under construction). Over 12,000 sites are plotted, arranged as layers that can be turned on and off, zoomed and browsed according to site type and area. The map leads to live database entries containing, where possible, details of what remains today, what has been found in the past, and information on access, photographs, visitors' comments and a list of other nearby sites
  • The egallery containing over 15,000 photographs of ancient sites from around the UK and worldwide (over 150 of Stonehenge). Photographs are divided by location, with specialist galleries such as the Spirit of Place (best pictures of ancient sites) the Art Gallery (visitors' drawings and paintings) and the History Gallery (places of interest outside the definition of prehistory)
  • News stories from the world of prehistory, updated daily, with original articles and book reviews
  • A Forum for the exchange of ideas and thoughts on stones, sacred sites and prehistory
  • A facility allowing visitors to submit their own articles and photographs
  • Downloads of data suitable for use with gps and third-party mapping tools, links to download e-books, articles, audio and other resources
  • 50 site guides offering personal experiences of local areas. All are most welcome to participate and share their knowledge.

Victoria Morgan is editor of the Megalithic Portal.

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