Walk with an Archaeologist: Durrington and the Stonehenge Landscape Revealed

25 03 2017

Durrington Walls is beginning to give up its secrets and here is your opportunity to join Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the World Heritage Site on a half day exploration of this enigmatic site to find out the latest discoveries.

Durrington_Walls

“Follow in the footsteps of the people who built and used Stonehenge and visit the ancient places, prehistoric monuments and former settlements surrounding the famous stone circle. The National Trust cares for over 800 hectares of land within this World Heritage Site and visitors can wander freely across the grasslands. Step back in time and discover what lies beneath.”

Follow in the footsteps of the people who built and used Stonehenge and visit the ancient places, prehistoric monuments and former settlements surrounding the famous stone circle. The National Trust cares for over 800 hectares of land within this World Heritage Site and visitors can wander freely across the grasslands. Step back in time and discover what lies beneath

Durrington Walls is beginning to give up its secrets and here is your opportunity to join Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the World Heritage Site on a half day exploration of this enigmatic site to find out the latest discoveries. Neolithic expert and archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall has been working in this globally important landscape for many years. During this gentle 3 mile walk, she will paint a picture of what life was like when Durrington Walls was a thriving and busy village supporting the builders of Stonehenge, and she’ll explain how the latest discoveries are revealing the secrets of our ancestors.

8th April 2017.  Booking essential.  Visit the National Trust website for more dtails

More ways to explore the Durrington Walls and the Stonehenge landscape.
The Stonehenge Travel Company based in nearby Salisbury are considered the local experts and offer archaeological guided walking tours of Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and the greater Stonehenge landscape. Stonehenge Guided Tours include photo stops and private group walking tours with transport from London.  London Walks offer guided tours from London cia the train. Stonehenge Walks offer 1 – 5 hour guided tours from the Stonehenge visitor centre throughout the year.

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Breaking News: up to sixteen upgrades to England’s busiest roads including the Stonehenge tunnel “could be scrapped”!

22 03 2017

The Heritage Journal

Whitehall’s spending watchdog has suggested that sixteen upgrades to England’s busiest roads could be scrapped because they do not represent value for money. See details here. Great news for Stonehenge World Heritage Site, so long as value for money is given its proper meaning…….

Is it value for moneyto spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money on a tunnel that would cause almost incalculable  damage to a World Heritage site?

Is it value for moneyto spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money to remove the public’s favourite free view of Stonehenge?

Is it value for moneyto spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money on a road scheme that doesn’t include spending a single penny on direct traffic calming in the local villages?

Is it value for moneyto spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money to grant the National Trust’s wish for a theme park walk? 

If those questions…

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The Knotty Problem of the A303 and Stonehenge.

16 03 2017

For over 30 years people have been trying to come up with a solution to the problem of the A303 road that runs past Stonehenge. It’s a stretch of single carriageway road with a dual carriageway at either end. As a result it’s a traffic bottleneck, especially during holiday season, and people slow down to take a picture of Stonehenge as they drive by.

A number of options have been proposed – from upgrading the single carriageway road into a dual carriageway on the existing route, to a tunnel to hide an upgraded road from view. Tunnels have been suggested that range in length from 2km to 4.5km constructed either as “cut and cover” or “bored”.

Over 50 alternate routes – some that take the road entirely out of the World Heritage Site – have been put forward, so many that the map showing them all is called the Spaghetti Diagram.

A303routes
Most recently, a 2.9km long bored tunnel has been proposed which would run about 200m south of the existing A303. The tunnel would be below the archaeological layer, well away from Stonehenge itself and remove the view, noise and fumes of traffic from the immediate vicinity of the monument.

You’d think everyone would be delighted. They’re not.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) runs from the A345 road in the east to the A360 road in the west, a distance of 5.4km. A tunnel of 2.9km clearly isn’t long enough to span its entire width, and this means that the tunnel portals must be dug into the ground within the WHS itself.

On top of that, new lengths of road and new junctions must also be built within the WHS – at the western and eastern end of the tunnel – to link up with the existing roads.

When the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS was inscribed in 1986 they were recognised as Cultural Sites. At the time, there was no designation of “Cultural Landscape” but the inscription said:

Criterion (iii): The complexes of monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury provide an exceptional insight into the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Together with their settings and associated sites, they form landscapes without parallel.

The proposal to destroy large areas of the Stonehenge landscape with new roads and tunnel portals is what has upset a lot of people.

The Stonehenge Alliance is a group that represents the views of a number of organisations, their view is that the tunnel is too short and would cause “irreparable damage to the WHS”.

SA Leaflet

ICOMOS is an important heritage advisory group to UNESCO and it firmly objects to the current option for a 2.9km tunnel for the substantial negative and irreversible impact it would have on the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage site (WHS) of Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated sites.”

A group of 21 leading archaeologists who have worked in the Stonehenge landscape over decades says that the proposal has dreadful consequences for the world’s most famous archaeological site and its landscape setting.

The list of objecting organisations goes on and on – the Council for British Archaeology, the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, the Prehistoric Society, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Society of Antiquaries, the International Astronomical Union Commission on Heritage and Astronomy….

The National Trust, English Heritage and Historic England have also expressed very strong concerns over the positioning of the western portal and its approach road.

Historic England said The current location is very close to the Normanton Down barrow cemetery, one of the best preserved and most significant Neolithic and Bronze Age cemeteries in the UK. The portal would certainly have a significant adverse impact upon the setting of this barrow group and upon the OUV of the WHS.

The National Trust’s chief archaeologist for the WHS says, in an appendix to the Historic England report, The western portal is very close to the Normanton Down Barrow Group while both surface routes have adverse visual and aural impacts on the surrounding Winterbourne Stoke, Normanton Down, Lake and Diamond Groups (nearly a quarter of the identified key attribute groups).

The proposal actually places the western tunnel portal directly on the Winter Solstice Sunset line as seen from Stonehenge, and the new road leading away from it runs along this alignment.

Western Portal Trenching SMR Montage

Astronomers have viewed this idea as absolutely crazy.

Prof. Clive Ruggles, a leading archaeoastronomer and key figure in the interpretation of astronomical sightlines of ancient monuments across the world says there are serious concerns that the integrity of the SW sightline from Stonehenge could be permanently destroyed, eliminating forever the possibility of visitors to Stonehenge once again seeing the winter solstice sun setting behind the distant natural horizon along the axis of the monument.

The public consultation for the initial route proposals finished on the 5th March 2017. Highways England now have several months of work ahead of them to refine their proposal to take into account the more than 7,000 submissions they’ve received so far.

Local residents, holidaymakers and hauliers have suffered traffic problems along the A303 for over 30 years, so a solution that speeds up traffic is desperately sought by Government.

What’s crucial to bear in mind is that whatever solution is implemented, unless a route entirely outside the WHS is found, it will have a permanent impact on the setting of one of the most important landscapes in the world, and that we all have a responsibility to the future not to make a terrible mistake.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Were there ever any sacrifices at Stonehenge?

2 03 2017

The mythology of Stonehenge is deeply tied to the Druids.

Stonehenge sacrifice

The Slaughtering Stone

This is because some historians in the 17th century felt that the monument represented a temple and that it had been built by a pre-Roman society. As the only pre-Roman society that they knew of was the Ancient Britons and because the Romans had spoken of a priesthood called the Druids, it was obvious to them that Stonehenge was a Druid Temple.

This turned out to be the wrong conclusion, but the idea stuck.

druids_inciting_the_britons_to_oppose_the_landing_of_the_romansOne thing that everyone thinks they know about Druids is that they performed human sacrifice – that information comes to us from Julius Caesar in his accounts of the Gallic Wars of 58BC to 50BC, but he may have been exaggerating the ferocity of the Gaulish tribes to increase the prestige of his victories.

The famous imagery of a Wicker Man stuffed with prisoners and set alight comes from these writings.

Certainly the Druids were a problem for the Romans, being the closest thing to a centraldruid-human-sacrifice authority held in respect by the many tribes and with the notable ability to raise opposition to the invading armies.

Other classical writers wrote that the Vates (part of the priestly class) used to slice open the guts of a victim and read auguries of the future from the twitching entrails on the ground, while a Druid presided over the ceremony.

By the 19th century one recumbent stone at Stonehenge had acquired the name “The Slaughtering Stone” because the hollows on its upper surface fill with rainwater that turns red – supposedly from the blood of the victims sacrificed upon it, but in fact due to iron in the stone and particular algae on it.

human_sacrifice_druidAs with so many other myths, this bloodthirsty idea has stuck.

So far so gruesome, but when it comes to Stonehenge is there actually any evidence of sacrifice being carried out there?
We have records of four bodies having been found within the area enclosed by the henge bank and ditch earthwork.

Of these burials, two are missing entirely: the one found in the centre of the stone circle is long lost and the whereabouts of the partial burial from the henge ditch on the eastern side is also unknown (the excavator believed it not to be ancient).

The other two are more interesting – one was found close by the southeastern side of the monument just outside the stone circle in 1923 and the other was found in the ditch to the west of the main entrance in 1978.

The southeasterly burial was that of a man who had been decapitated from behind with a sharp bladed instrument, probably a sword – the evidence is in the cut marks through his 4th cervical vertebra and below his jaw – and then unceremoniously stuffed into a grave hole not quite big enough for the body. This is certainly an execution but it dates to between 600AD and 690AD, the Anglo-Saxon period.

The final burial is very interesting. When discovered, the body was in a neatly prepared grave (rather than a hurriedly scraped hole) and accompanied by what appeared to be grave goods – a stone “bracer” or wrist guard to prevent his bow-string hitting his wrist, and several flint arrowheads. The young man buried in the grave was dubbed “The Stonehenge Archer”.

On closer inspection it became clear that the tips of these arrowheads were embedded in the bones of the body, so he was the Stonehenge ArchEE, not the ArchER. He had been shot in the back, at least three times from different directions, and the coup de grace had been delivered when he was face down on the ground – the final arrow pierced his body and ended up in the back of his breastbone. The victim was killed between 2400BC – 2140BC.

800px-stonehenge_archer_-_salisbury_and_south_wiltshire_museum

Does the care taken in preparing his grave, coupled with the prestigious position of it next to the entrance, mean that he was a ceremonial sacrifice?

Perhaps.

For now, this remains the only clear evidence of a violent death at Stonehenge during the time when the monument was almost certainly in active use.

The Stonehenge Archer’s remains are now on display at Salisbury Museum.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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