Alan Cadbury Writes: The Stupidity of Gravel

Alan Cadbury WritesDigVentures is thrilled to welcome our new columnist, Alan Cadbury. Every month (or when he can be bothered), Alan will be sharing his unique views in a series we like to think of as “Zen and the Art of Exposing Archaeological Inanity”. Our man in the field is a straight shooter, and these blogs are unedited.

I’m currently the Site Director of an excavation at a large quarry on the Trent gravels, so I suppose I ought to be thankful that people nowadays want to get rid of their front gardens and cover them over with nicely washed gravel, which they then park their cars on. But I don’t like it. And it’s not just that I like to look at grass and shrubs as I drive by, either. It’s just the brainlessness of extracting gravel to use in such a pointless, stupid fashion. I mean don’t they know that gravel is a finite resource, that we can’t go on digging it up for ever? Or are they so brain-dead that they think it’s manufactured, maybe as the by-product of a breakfast cereal producer. If so, I suggest they try pouring milk over a nice bowl of 10 mm washed and tuck in vigorously. I like the sound of splintering teeth.

But seriously I get so angry when I walk round garden centres and look at 20 kilo bags of decorative rock. Yes, I’m aware that we need to keep quarry workers, and archaeologists like me gainfully employed, but that’s true of peat mill workers too – and at last the public has begun to realise that we can’t go on draining and mining our few remaining peat bogs. But somehow, gravel and decorative rock doesn’t seem to count. Yet it won’t last for very much longer and we’re already extracting  (in actual fact it’s mostly the Dutch) aggregates from the bed of the North Sea. And where are the best preserved Early Mesolithic and Upper Palaeolithic landscapes? You’ve guessed it: in the buried creeks and valleys out there in submerged Doggerland.

And there’s another thing, all those paved and gravelled front gardens are allowing the rain to drain away far too quickly, which in turn is leading to flash flooding. So why do people do it?? More to the point, The Stupidity of Gravelwhy don’t Town Planners do something to stop it??

I can remember a few years ago I’d regularly have to work on housing developments (in the years before the Bankers’ Bubble, when home building ground to a complete stop), and we’d usually have to machine-off anything from 10 cm to a full metre of clay alluvium. Well, I can remember having a conversation with a Planner and a developer in which I pointed out that the alluvium was deposited by flooding rivers – so why the Hell were they covering the river floodplain with thousands of new homes? ‘Oh, don’t worry,’ I was told, ‘this river never floods.’ Then a couple of years later it did – and has done so many times since. Patronising gits.

People talk about the lessons of history, but archaeology can teach the world a thing or two, as well. Trouble is, most people are too busy box-ticking to notice something as old fashioned as Common Sense…

If you would like to follow up with Alan, pick a fight, or otherwise get in touch, you can find him on twitter: @alancadbury


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Written by Alan Cadbury

Commercial archaeologist with a flair for forensics, Alan Cadburry's currently working on a book on Bronze Age settlement and land-use. Oppinion's are his own - but you can have 'em!

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