It is disheartening to read about another Bronze Age cup and ring marked stone being destroyed in Wales. However, this story reaches a new level of repugnancy, because the 52-year-old-vandal filmed himself destroying the 4,500 years old standing stone, and he posted it on social media for likes.
Filming oneself destroying archaeology is an act driven by a mix of misguided motivations, but in this case, the cultural vandalism was an act of “attention-seeking.” Such acts can stem from a lack of understanding about the historical and cultural significance of archaeological sites, and a disregard for preserving our shared human heritage, but in this case, the man filmed himself, seemingly to garner attention on social media.
Dating back to the early Bronze Age [2500 BC], the buried monument was situated on Eglwysilan hill, a 355-meter [1164 feet] high rise in the Caerphilly county borough, South Wales. The two large sandstones featured shallow cup-like depressions surrounded by concentric rings etched into the surfaces. While these stones are found across the British Isles, the purpose of the cups and rings remains a subject of speculation.
Screenshot from Sketchfab 3D model rendering of the stone, taken before the vandalism occurred. Mynydd Eglwysilan. ( Sketchfab)
Destroying the Cup and Ring Enigma
Many researchers believe cup and ring marks hold religious and ritual significance. However, others suggest they belong to an astronomical or navigational system, serving Bronze Age communities as territorial boundaries or route markers. This theory was championed by archaeologist Ronald Morris who suggested the cup-like depressions could have held oil, which could be set alight, creating a ceremonial or ritualistic illumination, or perhaps guiding distant travelers.
A BBC article explains that Julian Baker, 52, of Abertridwr, Caerphilly, posted video on Facebook showing himself deliberately separating the rock art panel from the stone, irreparably damaging the artwork. A spokesperson for the Welsh government heritage body CADW said Baker ruined part of the artwork “beyond repair,” and that it is now “lost forever.” And while some evidence of the cup and rings remains, the significance and value of the monument has been “significantly diminished”.
While £4,400 sounds like a lot of cash, it represents only £1.00 a year since the monument was carved. Those in favor of deterrents, might agree that fines closer to £10.00 a year would help protect ancient monuments. And if criminals can’t pay up, then perhaps they could serve a year in prison for every millennium of heritage they destroyed.
The UK is cursed with vandalism of archaeology, stemming from ignorance about the significance of these sites, fueled by a lack of awareness and respect for the nation’s cultural legacy. Another recent example of the willful vandalism of archaeology in Wales is the case of Maen Llia, a Bronze Age standing stone marked with cups and rings, situated between Heol Senni and Ystradfellte.
In 2020, Wales Online reported that the iconic 3.7 meters [12.14 feet] tall standing stone had been spray painted with a “smiley face”. Natalie Ward, Heritage Officer for Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, said:
“The person who did this may well think it was harmless fun but archaeological sites like Maen Llia are fragile and causing damage to a Scheduled Ancient Monument is a criminal offence.”
The mental condition that leads individuals to vandalize archaeology does not have a formal psychiatric diagnosis, but it could be associated with various psychological factors like impulsivity, a lack of empathy, sensation-seeking tendencies, and a disregard for social norms and the consequences of one’s actions. But when this behavior is posted on social media, like Julian Barker did, it suggests a need to feel powerful, or a deep desire for attention, which he is now getting.
Top image: Mynydd Eglwysilan, the hill near the location of the damaged stone. Source: Colin Smith / CC BY-SA 2.0