I looked down from the
police helicopter at the gridlocked streets. We
landed near the cause of the chaos, and I walked
to the hole in the road.
I knew we were on the site
of a first century Roman villa. The neatly
excavated trench that spanned the full width of
the main road confirmed my suspicions - this had
been another ALA action.
As a detective, I had
encountered many individuals and groups who held
beliefs with intense, ideological passion -
beliefs that they thought justified disregard of
the law. Sometimes their actions would cause
inconvenience, sometimes criminal damage and
sometimes would pose a risk to life. The ALA, or
Antiquities Liberation Army, was the latest such
Children had watched the
Channel Four archaeology series, Time Team.
They had developed a passion for the subject
together with a realisation that it was possible,
with good planning, to undertake digs quickly.
When older, some had become radicalised by
exposure to the dangerous and irresponsible
archaeological example of Indiana Jones. Why,
they had demanded, should vital excavations
be prevented simply because sites lay in
traditional no go areas?
It was true that many
potentially important discoveries lay beneath
roads, railways, houses and other structures. The
ALA asserted that freedom for archaeologists to
excavate was a basic human right. They claimed
that oppressive laws to the contrary compelled
them to engage in guerrilla archaeology.
The movement burst into
public awareness due an Iron Age settlement
buried beneath a major runway at Heathrow. The
hijackers forced the pilot to taxi to the site
and then demanded drilling equipment, shovels and
trowels. They managed to confirm post holes
consistent with a large ceremonial roundhouse
before the SAS ended the excavation.
Residents of properties in
archaeologically rich locations, such as
Winchester or York, became frightened to leave
their homes. Others had returned to find their
houses demolished to facilitate digs in the
ground beneath. The guerrillas then often posted
comprehensive records on the Internet, including
site diagrams and find photographs, to the horror
and disgust of the homeless ex-householders.
Motorways frequently follow
the lines of Roman roads and thus became
particular targets. Motorists had wondered why
large stretches of motorways were frequently
coned-off and why there were always so many
roadworks. Bowing to public pressure, the
Department of Transport undertook a count of the
number of motorway renovation or enhancement
projects. They were horrified to discover that,
although there were only two hundred officially
sanctioned schemes, there were over one thousand
Digbust led to the arrests of several
hundred ALA activists. Those digs, however, led
to an invaluable understanding of Roman paving,
and although archaeologists publicly condemned
the ALA, many privately supported them.
I believe such
establishment sympathy has lead to the unchecked
escalation of guerrilla archaeology. My team have
certainly been mysteriously reassigned from cases
when close to unmasking ALA cells.
No finds or clues remained
in the road trench and backfilling began. As I
returned to the helicopter, my mobile rang with
news of another outrage: The London Underground
system had been disabled as ALA teams had begun a
series of lightning excavations from the tunnels
beneath major London monuments.
For those of us in the Anti-guerrilla
Archaeology Unit it would be another long day.