The Blick Mead excavations have transformed the understanding of the Stonehenge landscape.

15 01 2017

In the early 2000s, Professor David Jacques was researching the estate records of Amesbury Abbey and realised that the archaeology around the Iron Age hillfort known as Vespasian’s Camp had probably not been obliterated by landscaping of the parkland in the 18th Century, as had previously been assumed.

The subsequent excavations, from 2005 onwards, around the spring pool at Blick Mead have transformed the understanding of the Stonehenge landscape.

historic-amesbury

Archaeologists at the University of Buckingham, led by David Jacques found the ancient site in October 2014, which is around one-and-a-half miles (2.4km) from Stonehenge

The earliest datable “monumental” activity at Stonehenge comes from pine charcoal found at the bottom of two of the three enormous post pits that were discovered in the late 1960s when the old car park was being extended.

Radiocarbon-dated to around 7,500 – 7,900 BC these almost 1m diameter pine posts were erected back in the Mesolithic Age when the people inhabiting the British peninsular (not yet separated from Europe by water) were hunter gatherers.

The puzzle for archaeologists since has been to try and find where these people were living in the Stonehenge landscape.

The answer, it seems, is at Blick Mead.

In the last hundred years of research activity in the 26 sq. km. World Heritage Site only a tiny number of mesolithic flint tools have been found within a couple of miles of Stonehenge – fewer than 50 examples.

Jacques’ team of excavators have found, around the constant-temperature (11°C) chalk spring pool, more than 35,000 pieces of mesolithic worked flint, over 2,400 pieces of animal bone (some cooked), artifacts from very far afield and the possible remains of a mesolithic pit dwelling.

What’s more, it’s clear from the 16 radiocarbon dates so far obtained that these people were returning time and again to this resource rich sheltered spot, with its dependable non-freezing fresh water and abundant game, over at least 4000 years.

The dates range broadly from 7900BC to 4050BC, with multiple RC dates in each horsham-point-slate-toolmillennium from the 8th to the 5th BC, and they provide the first evidence of a possible continuity of societal activity across the mesolithic/neolithic boundary period.

One of the far-flung artifacts is a piece of slate that comes from Wales or the Welsh borders and which bears a striking resemblance to a kind of middle mesolithic tool called a Horsham Point – usually identified with the Sussex Weald.

Another is a unique (in Britain) sandstone tool made from material only found in the West Midlands.

Isotope analysis of a dog tooth from the dig suggests that its original owner grew up in the Yorkshire Wolds, implying that long-distance travel in the mesolithic was a commonplace – something that shouldn’t come as a surprise to us if we think about it.

spring-pool-and-ankle-bone

Over 50% of the animal remains are from aurochs (Bos Primigenius), a now extinct species of enormous cattle that once dominated the open grasslands of upland southern Britain. The ankle bone of one of these 2-tonne, 2m at the shoulder, beasts has the tip of a flint arrow or spear embedded in it. Presumably if you want to bring down a 40mph angry bull with thick skin and massive horns, you aim at its feet.

One of the oddest discoveries at the site was that flint removed from the spring pool and left to dry turned a vivid magenta pink colour. The transformation from brown stone to pink is magical to watch – who knows what it meant to the people who first encountered it.

The coloration is due to the existence of algae called Hildenbrandia Rivularis which grows on the cortex of flint nodules and requires very specific conditions of dappled sunlight, stable temperature water around 10-15°C and no competition.

pink-flintThe combination of conditions at Blick Mead have lead the researchers involved to suggest that the site acquired a special significance through long association in tradition with being a place of ancestral return. Perhaps this is part of the reason Stonehenge itself was eventually built close by.

The work at the site (which is on private land and therefore inaccessible to the public) continues each year and involves both professional archaeologists and dozens of volunteers from the local community in Amesbury and also further away.

The dig itself is being run by the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute: http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/humanities/ma/archaeology

An extensive display of some of the items found, along with explanations, can be visited at the Amesbury History Centre – a volunteer-run community project in Melor Hall on Church Street in Amesbury. See https://www.facebook.com/amesburyhistorycentre for opening times.

Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours are considered the Stonehenge local experts should you wish to explore the Stonehenge Landscape and here more about the Blick Mead excavations.  Stonehenge Guided Tours operate more general Stonehenge day tours from London but also arrange custom guided tours for those who want a more in-depth tour with an archaeological insight.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Blick Mead News Links:
Is this the home of Stonehenge’s forefathers? 6,000-year-old settlement at Blick Mead ‘could rewrite British history’
The New Discoveries at Blick Mead: the Key to the Stonehenge 

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Medieval Depictions of Stonehenge

14 01 2017

The current controversy over plans to build a tunnel under Stonehenge has made me think about medieval depictions of the site again. Over the years, I’ve come across various descriptions of S…

Source: Medieval Depictions of Stonehenge





Standing Stones. By Steve Marshall

14 01 2017

Standing stones come in a variety of guises. Some are erected in circles; some make up megalithic tombs; some have intriguing patterns on them, or are steeped in myth.

Standing Stones by Steve MarshallLong-standing questions include why they were erected and how? What do they tell us about Britain’s cultural history? As a standing stones enthusiast, Steve Marshall has travelled the British Isles to inspect these fascinating monoliths.

Stonehenge and Avebury are possibly the most famous sites in Britain, but the Standing Stones of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis also have a magical quality; and at the Ness of Brodgar, a Neolithic complex has recently been uncovered by archaeologists. With accompanying photographs taken by the author, this accessible guide to standing stones in Britain will tell you all you need to know.

Publication Date: 2nd Marh 2017
Buy Now

Steve Marshall: Independent archaeological researcher writer & musician. Author of ‘Exploring Avebury: The Essential Guide’. Ex-Radiophonic Workshop; writes for Fortean Times.

Talks and Tours
Author Steve Marshall is available for specialist talks and tours of Avebury.
For more information on his other books, visit his website and follow him on Twitter

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Stonehenge tunnel plans finalised by government.

12 01 2017

Long-awaited plans for a road tunnel past Stonehenge have been finalised by the government.

The proposal for a 1.8-mile (2.9 km) dual carriageway tunnel is aimed at easing congestion on the nearby A303.

a303

The proposals involve building a tunnel for the A303 which runs past the ancient monument

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the proposal will “transform’ the road and benefit people by “cutting congestion and improving journey times”.

A public consultation aimed at drivers and residents will run until 5 March.

The tunnel plans form part of a £2bn government scheme to upgrade all remaining sections of the A303 between the M3 and M5.

Highways England’s Jim O’Sullivan said: “Our plans for the A303 recognise the national importance of the route and these improvements will bring real benefit to the region and local communities.

“The public exhibitions will provide an excellent opportunity to explain further our plans and to hear feedback from stakeholders on our proposals to deliver the scheme.”

A report by UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites has recognised the benefits of the project.

At the moment the busy A303 passes within a few hundred metres of the ancient monument.

However, campaign group Stonehenge Alliance believes any tunnel shorter than 2.7-miles (4.3 km) would do “irreparable damage to the landscape”.

In 2015 it launched a petition calling for a longer tunnel which gained 17,500 signatures.

A spokesperson said: “The Alliance does not advocate new road building at Stonehenge but accepts the need to improve the tranquillity and appearance of the World Heritage Site and its setting.

“If the government insists on widening the A303 by means of a tunnel it must be sufficiently long to avoid any further damage to [Stonehenge] and its setting.”

English Heritage and the National Trust have also given their support to the option of “the longest tunnel possible”.

Chairman of Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust Andy Rhind-Tutt described the tunnel plan as a “self-destructing time bomb” which would “do nothing” for traffic problems in the area.
BBC NEWS

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English Heritage are hiring a new ‘solstice coordinator’ at Stonehenge.

12 01 2017

How would you like to help organise this year’s solstice celebrations at Stonehenge?

English Heritage is advertising for a solstice coordinator to help put on seasonal gatherings at the ancient site near Salisbury.

The successful candidate will be tasked with arranging access to the stones during pagan celestial celebrations.

Druid greets the dawn at Stonehenge

Druids were traditionally allowed to attend Stonehenge for free on the solstice but there has been controversy recently over parking charges.

English Heritage is looking for somebody to: “Coordinate the planning and delivery of safe managed open access to Stonehenge for celebration of the summer solstice, winter solstice, spring and autumn equinoxes (and any other agreed seasonal gatherings).”

The salary is £20,000 pro rata on a part time basis working 14 hours a week and you must be available overnight on the night of each seasonal gathering.

There is a history of tension between the druid and pagan communities and English Heritage. Last year tempers flared when King Arthur Pendragon, Britain’s head druid said high parking charges meant solstice visitors had to ‘pay to pray’ at the sacred stones. English Heritage has also accused protestors of ‘vandalising’ the site.

According to the job advertisement, “The right person for this role will have excellent organisational skills and experience of organising events and controlling budgets. Resilience, empathy, diplomacy and a good sense of humour are a must.”

English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites – from world famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles; from Roman forts on the edges of empire to a Cold War bunker.
Article by By JoeTSmith SomersetLive

Visit the English Heritage Jobs page

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Druid Protester King Arthur Pendragon granted Stonehenge ‘pay to pray’ court date.

10 01 2017

Senior druid Arthur Pendragon has been told he can take English Heritage to court to challenge “pay to pray” car parking charges at Stonehenge.

King Arthur Pendragon believes the £15 parking fee at Stonehenge was “an illegal charge” A senior druid has been told he can take English Heritage to court to challenge “pay to pray” car parking charges at Stonehenge. King Arthur Pendragon argued a parking fee of £15 for the 2016 summer solstice breached his human rights. Parking at the Neolithic monument, managed by English Heritage (EH), usually costs £5. A judge at Salisbury County Court granted Mr Pendragon a full hearing at a small claims court.

8012908913_1b46a670da_zOther druids and pagans were at the court to support King Arthur Pendragon, who was joined by other druid and pagan supporters to protest outside the court, believes the £15 fee was “illegal” and excluded 12,500 from the event. He told the judge at the allocation hearing that the claim was not about money or costs, but the fact it “unfairly targeted his religion”. An estimated 23,000 people attended the Neolithic site in 2015 compared to 12,000 in 2016 The increased charge was introduced to encourage more people to car share or travel by bus, but Mr Pendragon said he wanted to prove EH was wrong to turn him away when he refused to “pay to pray”. A spokeswoman for EH said: “This was a procedural hearing establishing the next steps and we look forward to presenting our full case at a later date. “As legal proceedings are ongoing it…

Mr Pendragon asked that the date for the full hearing does not clash with the spring or summer solstice.

PAY TO PRAY NEWS LINKS
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-38558778

http://www.spirefm.co.uk/news/local-news/2193973/king-arthur-pendragon-taking-english-heritage-to-court/

https://www.wbnews.info/2017/01/king-arthur-pendragon-granted-stonehenge-pay-to-pray-court-date/


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Stonehenge, King Arthur and Merlin

8 01 2017

Merlin makes his first appearance in the Stonehenge story in Book 8, Chapter 10, of Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s epic work “Historia Regum Britanniae” (The History of the Kings of Britain, c. 1136AD) when Aurelius Ambrosius – recently annointed King of Britain and the brother of Uther Pendragon – seeks his advice for a lasting memorial to the British princes treacherously slain by the Saxons during a truce.

Merlin says:
“If you are desirous to honour the burying-place of these man with an everlasting monument, KIng Arthurs Merlin at Stonehengesend for the Giant’s Dance, which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand for ever.”

When Aurelius laughs at the idea of going such a long way when there are ample stones in Britain, Merlin continues:

“I entreat your majesty to forbear vain laughter; for what I say is without vanity. They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coasts of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design in this was to make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is no a stone there which has not some healing virtue.”

And so off to Ireland goes Uther along with Merlin and 15,000 men to fetch the Giant’s Dance.

Robert Wace’s Roman de Brut from about 1155AD retells this story for a Norman French audience. A 14th Century manuscript version of the Brut accompanies the tale with an illustration of Merlin carrying out the work of re-erecting the monument, employing a giant to help him (a detail that Wace added that wasn’t in Geoffrey’s original text).

Aurelius subsequently dies – poisoned by a Saxon at Winchester – and is buried near the Giant’s Dance, reputedly in the largest barrow on Coneybury Hill (Amesbury G23 “King Barrow”) according to local tradition written down by Stukeley in the 18th Century.

Uther succeeds Aurelius and then Uther’s son Arthur receives the crown after Uther also succumbs to Saxon poison whereupon “the bishops and clergy of the kingdom assembled, and carried his body to the convent of Ambrius, where they buried it with regal solemnity, close by Aurelius Ambrosius, within the Giant’s Dance.”

Arthur’s famous exploits are well documented in the romances, but ultimately Geoffrey reports him mortally wounded and departed to the Isle of Avalon, to be replaced by Constantine, son of Cador of Cornwall.

Constantine was eventually killed by Conan and “buried close by Uther Pendragon within the structure of stones, which was set up with wonderful art not far from Salisbury, and called in the English tongue Stanheng”.

There is only one documented burial of a body actually within the centre of the stone circle of Stonehenge itself, known as WA2724, which was discovered by Col. William Hawley in 1926. Whether this is either Uther or Constantine (or neither) is unknowable and the dating is difficult since the burial was badly disturbed and found with pottery from medieval to Bronze Age in date plus a Roman coin and some Victorian and Georgian artifacts as well.

The next nearest inhumation is from fractionally outside the circle on the east side, known as WA1676 and discovered by Hawley in 1923. This person was decapitated from behind, probably with a sword, and then unceremoniously stuffed into a grave not big enough for the body. It does date from Anglo-Saxon times, around 650AD. Interestingly, the very first radiocarbon date for this burial was commissioned by a Welsh dentist called Wystan Peach in 1975 – he was convinced the bones were those of King Arthur himself and published a booklet describing his theory in 1961.

More recently two novels have sought to place Arthur and Merlin back in the Bronze Age at the time of the construction of Stonehenge rather than in the post-Roman Dark Ages – “Stone Lord” and “Moon Lord”, by J.P. Reedman. Drawing on the latest archaeological discoveries from the Stonehenge landscape these novels are a fascinating addition to the mythology of these legendary characters that are so iconic to the British sense of self.

stonelord moonlord

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

MoonLord: The Fall of King Arthur – The Ruin of Stonehenge.  Buy on Amazon
StoneLord: The Legend Of King Arthur, The Era Of Stonehenge. Buy on Amazon
Visit Janet Reedmans Blog for more information

Recent Blog: Druid Leader King Arthur Uther Pendragon, Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband.

English Heritage: The King Arthur Story and links to Arthurian locations
BBC HistoryKing Arthur, ‘Once and Future King’

Stonehenge Guided Tours offer King Arthur Tours including Stonehenge and associated sites in the South West of England.

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