Stonehenge finds tell of divided society

8 02 2017

Mike Pitts – Digging Deeper

west-amesbury-digThe new British Archaeology, which went live online today (February 8), reports significant new discoveries near Stonehenge, among them the grave of a man who might have seen the earliest megaliths erected at the site.

West Amesbury Farm copyright Judith Dobie .jpgCremated remains of over 100 people were buried at the first Stonehenge, from 3100BC – the largest cremation cemetery in prehistoric Britain. Human remains of this age are otherwise rare in the world heritage site, or across Britain as a whole. So it is noteworthy that the man buried at West Amesbury, who was not cremated, probably saw funerals at Stonehenge quite different to his own.

W Amesbury pit.jpgFive pits in the chalk contemporary with the henge’s origins contained huge amounts of artefacts. These include quantities of Peterborough pottery, in large fresh sherds, all in the Fengate style (one of these pits has more pottery in it than the whole of prehistoric Stonehenge).

Stonehenge W Amesbury pot.jpgHitherto, discussions about the…

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Lunar eclipse, comet and snow moon to fall on the same day.

8 02 2017

Now might be a good time to invest in a telescope because come Friday you’re going to want one. 

On February 10th, we are not going to be treated to not just one celestial event on the same day but three.

stonehengemoon

The lunar eclipse will take place in the early hours of Saturday morning

A lunar eclipse, snow moon and New Year comet should all be visible this Friday night into Saturday morning.

But unless you’re clued up on your astronomical happenings, it’s unlikely you’ll be familiar with them all, so here is a brief guide on how to spot them.

LUNAR ECLIPSE
The rare penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, earth and moon almost align behind one another.

The earth blocks the sun’s light from reaching the surface of the moon

It will first be visible at 10.30pm on February 10 as a subtle shadow and will be most visible at 12.43am and will end at 2.52pm.

It will be visible from Europe, most of Asia and North America, and Africa.

SNOW MOON
February’s full moon is traditionally known as a Snow Moon because this month usually sees the heaviest snowfall.

You might have also heard it referred to as the Hunger Moon – due to the struggle of some tribes to find food this month.

As it’s the moon it should be very easy to see and you’ll have a decent amount of time to see it too.

The moon rises at 4.44 pm on Friday and then sets at 7.30 am.

NEW YEAR COMET
So we are not that near New Year –  or Chinese New Year for that matter – but the New Year comet gets its name as it began its journey across the northern hemisphere at the end of last year.

comet45p_hemmerich_960

The New Year comet returns once every five and a quarter years (Picture: Fritz Helmut Hemmerich)

It will be visible to the naked eye on February 11 so you might have to stay up late to catch it.

First spotted in 1948, it’s a periodic comet and visible from earth every five and a quarter years.

It is likely to appear as a faint object moving across the sky.
Article source: 

Moving on from Stonehenge: Researchers make the case for archaeoastronomy
The field of archaeoastronomy is evolving say researchers seeking a closer relationship between astronomy and merging of astronomical techniques and archaeology. Full story

Learn about the connection between the stones and the sky and see the night sky from Stonehenge with a leading archaeologists and astronomer on a guided walking tour. Stonehenge and Guided Tours and Stonehenge Walks organise these exclusive  tours.

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Other Sarsen Stones near Stonehenge and Woodhenge

5 02 2017

Sarsen boulders lie scattered in substantial “drifts” across the landscape of the Marlborough Downs near Avebury.

By contrast, close to Stonehenge there are almost none. This is one of the reasons why most archaeologists believe that the large sarsens for the monument were not locally sourced.

There are, however, a few examples of substantial sarsens dotted about Salisbury Plain within a couple of miles of Stonehenge. And there are tantalising hints that others used to exist.

The most obvious, and easily accessible, is the Cuckoo Stone. This stone is about 2m long by 1.5m wide by 1.5m thick and lies in the field immediately west of Woodhenge.

Cuckoo Stone

The Stonehenge Riverside Project excavated around the Cuckoo Stone in 2007 and discovered that the stone once had been set upright right next to the hollow in which it had originally formed.

Close by were two neolithic pits containing pottery worked flint, deer antlers and animal bones, dating to between 4000BC and 2000BC. A series of three burials were also found close by, dating to around 2000BC.

The stone remained a focus of activity right down to Romano-British times, and a small square wooden building – most likely a shrine – was built immediately to its southwest. Coins and pottery found in the ploughsoil date this to between 200AD and 400AD.

The other readily accessible sarsen is the Bulford Stone which lies in an arable field east of Bulford Village. It’s rather larger than the Cuckoo Stone at 2.8m long and again the excavation evidence shows that it too was once stood upright next to the hollow in which it formed.

It’s also closely associated with burials from the neolithic, the pottery found here dates to between 2300BC and 1900BC. The grave goods found were remarkable, including a flake of transparent rock crystal from either South Wales or the Alps and a “mini megalith” carved from a piece of limestone.

Bulford Stone.jpg

Lying in the northern ditch of a badly degraded long barrow within the Salisbury Plain military training area (and therefore not accessible to the public) are three more sarsen boulders.

They vary in size and – being half buried in the turf – are difficult to see, but the largest seems to be almost 2m long.

This long barrow was excavated by John Thurnam in 1864 who found an early neolithic burial on the original ground surface and an later Beaker burial just below the top of the mound.

Subsequent digging by the military in the early 20th century has almost obliterated the barrow but its outline can still be made out.

There is some debate about whether the sarsens lying in the ditch were originally part of the structure of the long barrow or if they were dragged there by farmers clearing fields at some later date. The stronger possibility is that they were part of the structure.

long-barrow-sarsens

John Britton in his “Beauties of Wiltshire (1801)” says:

“About two miles north of Amesbury, on the banks of the Avon, is Bulford. Near this village are two large stones of the same kind as those at Stonehenge. One of them is situated in the middle of the river, and, as I am informed, has an iron ring fixed in it; but the waters being very high I could not see it.”

Old OS maps of the area show where this stone in the river once lay, but sadly it has now been removed and its present location is unknown to this author (please get in touch if you have any information about or pictures of it):
location-of-sarsen-in-river-os
“…
an interment which was lately discovered above Durrington Walls, by a shepherd, who in pitching the fold, found his iron bar impeded in the ground : curiosity led him to explore the cause, which proved to be a large sarsen stone, covering the interment of a skeleton”

There are other references to large local sarsens from antiquarian reports – one is mentioned by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in the early 1800s:

… and another by the Rev. Allan Hutchins from about the same time:

“In a field, not far from the road which leads from the Amesbury Turnpike into Bulford, is a Barrow of chalk facing the parish and standing by itself… When I came nearly to the virgin earth in this Barrow, my progress was impeded by an immense oval sand stone, underneath which was a skeleton, a beautiful lance head, and a handsome drinking cup”

Perhaps there are still more to be found. Certainly it seems that sarsen boulders of “large” or even “immense” size are not unknown in this part of Wiltshire so maybe the idea that the sarsens of Stonehenge were brought from the Marlborough Downs shouldn’t be accepted at face value.

Here’s a view from Beacon Hill on the east side of Amesbury:

labelled-view-from-beacon-hill

… and here’s an overhead view from Google Earth:

locations-of-sarsens-around-stonehenge

Curiously the Cuckoo Stone, the Avon Sarsen and the Bulford Stone all lie precisely on a straight line, with the Avon Stone being 1500 yards from the Cuckoo Stone and 1450 yards from the Bulford Stone.

But that’s another story……….

Want to learn more and here more Stonehenge stories? Hire a local expert tour guide or join a scheduled group tour
The Stonehenge Travel Company based in nearby Salisbury are considered the local experts and conduct guided tours of the Stonehenge landscape. Stonehenge Guided Tours include photo stops of Durrington Walls and Woodhenge and their private group tours service offer trips from London, Salisbury and Bath.  Stonehenge Walks offer archaeological guided walking tours

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Visiting Stonehenge this year for the Equinox or Solstice Celebrations? #ManagedOpenAccess

28 01 2017

Respecting the Stones
The conditions of entry for the Managed Open Access events at the Solstices and Equinoxes contain the following statements:

Stonehenge is a world renowned historic Monument and part of a World Heritage Site. It is seen by many who attend as a sacred place.  Please respect it and please respect each other.

Do not climb or stand on any of the stones – this includes the stones that have fallen.  This is in the interest of personal safety, the protection of this special site and respect for those attending.  As well as putting the stones themselves at risk, climbing on them can damage the delicate lichens.

… but some people seem happy to ignore these requests. I’m going to take a little time to explain that, strange as it may seem, the monument is actually quite delicate and damage to it does occur.

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice

The popularity of the summer solstice has grown over the years

In 1953 during an archaeological investigation a set of carvings were noticed on the inner face of one of the stones of the central trilithons (Stone 53, to be precise). These carvings weren’t the usual graffiti that’ve been incised into many of the stones over the last 200 years or so – people’s names, initials, dates and so on. They were in fact very ancient indeed, dating back to the middle Bronze Age around 1700BC and were of bronze axe heads and a dagger.

Here’s a photo from 1953 showing the ancient carvings, followed by a more recent one:

atkinson-croppedstone-53-modern

The ancient carvings are noticeably “softer” around the edges in the modern shot and this is largely due to the action of people’s fingers tracing their outlines over the course of the last 63 years. Sarsen may be hard, but it’s still a sandstone.

Some bluestones exist only as stumps and many are fallen. These get trampled over by thousands of feet at the solstices and equinoxes, and many have acquired a polish as a result.

One of two examples of bluestone are so soft that they crumble away at a touch and these have eroded down to stumps that barely break the surface of the ground.

It’s been a while since tourists were rented hammers by the local blacksmith so they could take souvenirs, but it’s not unknown even in modern times for people to try it.

vandals

Although deliberate damage is rare, it does happen. At the 2014 Summer Solstice, someone thought it’d be a good idea to start writing the date (in US format – 6.21.14) in letters about 3” high, using a marker pen, near the bottom of Stone 3.
stone-3-graffiti
This damage is permanent. The ink has been carried deep into the stone surface and the conservators have been unable to remove it.

At the winter solstice that year, another bright spark decided to annoint the sides of about a dozen stones with some kind of oil, leaving dark streaks over 18” long that will take decades to fade. If you’re going to annoint the stones with anything, then use pure spring water and not some nasty goo you’ve bought off eBay.

Thoughtless damage happens every year – candlewax from spilt tealights, rubbings with crayon that goes through the paper, forcing random items like crystals or coins into crevices, digging in the ground and even trying to light a fire on a stone.

Disrespectful damage – vomiting, urinating or even defecating on the stones – is less common but also occurs. It’s hard to imagine the kind of person who thinks that sort of behaviour is acceptable anywhere, let alone at our most famous ancient monument.

Stonehenge Summer Solsice

While standing on the stones is bad enough, climbing up them is far worse.

 

The fuzzy grey-green lichen that coats the upper reaches of most of the sarsen stones is a species called Sea Ivory (Ramalina Siliquosa) and usually only grows on marine cliffs, particularly in southwest England and Wales. It’s very easily knocked off by people brushing against the stones and large areas are destroyed by someone sliding back down having scaled any of the uprights.

There are at least 9 marine cliff species of lichen present, and how they ended up 50km from the sea is something of a mystery.

The last major study of the Stonehenge lichens was carried out in 2003. It found 77 different species, including two that are found in a particular recess of one specific stone and nowhere else on site, and another that only grows on one single stone at Stonehenge and nowhere else in southern England.

So the next time you decide to come along to an Open Access Equinox or Solstice Dawn, please be one of the people who understands how fragile the monument is and who treats it with respect.

Tell your friends too and – even better – if you find any litter that other people have dropped, please pick it up and put it in one of the bins.  Please share this article on social media and help raise awareness.

The stones, the ancestors, and the staff who do the tidying up after you’ve gone home and who genuinely love Stonehenge, all thank you! (This article was submitted with thanks by Simon Banton who worked at the monument for many years)

Stonehenge is protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act and you must adhere to the regulations outlined in the act or face criminal prosecution. No person may touch, lean against, stand on or climb the stones, or disturb the ground in any way. The Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (as it then was). It was introduced by John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, recognising the need for a governmental administration on the protection of ancient monuments – more information

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join an organised tour.  Use a reputable tour operator who respect the conditions.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are the longest established company and Solstice Events offer small group Solstice tours using only local expert guides.

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Woodhenge Henge Timber Circle – Amesbury, Wiltshire. A wooden version of Stonehenge?

21 01 2017

“A little further on the right of the road leading to Amesbury, we see the mutilated remains of an enormous Druid barrow”

This is how Richard Colt Hoare described Woodhenge in the early 19th century, and it continued to be viewed as a disc barrow (with the name “Dough Cover”)  until 30th June 1926.

On that day, Squadron Leader Gilbert Insall VC took an aerial photograph that showed a series of dark circular cropmarks inside the area enclosed by what had been regarded as the barrow’s ditch.

Insall’s photo is shown below, Woodhenge is just above left of the centre.

gilbert-insall-woodhenge

These marks later proved to be the surface traces of six concentric rings of postholes, uncovered by Maud and Ben Cunnington in their excavations between 1926 and 1928. These posts date to between 2600 and 2400BC.

When their excavations were over, they installed short concrete markers to show the positions and sizes of the postholes, using colour-coded tops to indicate which holes belong to each concentric ring.

These are the markers that are still in place today.

The monument shares the same solstitial alignment as Stonehenge, pointing to summer sunrise in one direction and the winter sunset in the other. This photo shows winter solstice sunset.

As well as the postholes, the Cunningtons also discovered two burials and evidence that at least two stones had been erected on the site. Subsequent investigations in the mid-2000s found three more stone holes which show that large sarsens had been erected after the wooden posts had disappeared.

woodhenge-winter-solstice-sunset

One of the burials was near the centre – that of a small child about three years old whose skull was broken. At the time that was interpreted as evidence of sacrifice although it’s also possible that the weight of earth on the body was the actual cause of the damage.

The second burial was in a grave in the bottom of the surrounding henge ditch, dateable by the fragments of Beaker pottery found within. The ditch dates to between 2400 and 2100BC.

Other pottery discovered at the site is the distinctive earlier Grooved Ware style from the time of Stonehenge and some fragments of a much older style that indicates activity at the site dates back at least to between 3,800 and 4,000 BC.

Woodhenge is on a low ridge that overlooks the River Avon to its east, and is due south of the huge neolithic henge of Durrington Walls. Along this ridgeline to the south is evidence of a number of other barrows and also structures that made use of large timber posts.

It’s been suggested that these “four posters” might be the remains of excarnation platforms – elevated wooden areas where the bodies of the dead would be placed to be defleshed by the elements and carrion birds.

The fields around Woodhenge are rich in other archaeological remains. Apart from those already mentioned there is a ploughed-flat long barrow to the southwest. Recent geophysical research by the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project has shown that beneath the ground surface there appears to be evidence of some kind of timber mortuary building.

woodhenge-longbarrow-geophys-comp

Access to Woodhenge is via a small slip road off the A345 north of Amesbury. There is a small, free, car park area and the monument itself is open at all times. The neighbouring fields immediately to the west (“Cuckoo Stone Field” and north (“Durrington Walls Field”) are owned by the National Trust and allow open access.

It’s well worth exploring this area to get a wider perspective of the landscape within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. The Ordnance Survey Explorer series map #130 “Stonehenge and Salisbury” shows the public footpaths.
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Circular walking route from Woodhenge to Stonehenge
This walk explores two major historic monuments, Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, in the heart of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Visit the National Trust site for this trail.

Durrington Walls and Woodhenge, Wiltshire: Walk of the week
The first of our new series of weekly walks, provided by the National Trust, is a ramble around mysterious Durrington Walls in Wiltshire, with views towards Stonehenge. Visit the Times Travel webpage

How to see Woodhenge on a guided walk
The National Trust are hosting ‘Discover Durrington Walls and Woodhenge’ events throughout the year. On this 3-mile walk, you’ll explore the secrets of Durrington Walls – once home to the builders of Stonehenge – and discover 6,000 years of hidden history with National Trust’s landscape guides. Visit the National Trust events page.  Booking essential

Hire a local expert tour guide or join a scheduled group tour
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

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Stonehenge NEWS and updates from the World’s most famous ancient monument.

20 01 2017

Featuring independent, unbiased, alternative news and commentary on Stonehenge Stone Circle. We have 10’000’s of followers on Twitter and our Stonehenge News Facebook page.  Our media channels have a vast local / international audience and our daily Stonehenge News blogs are shared globally – frequently having a readership reaching 100,000’s

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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 hear 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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