Stanton Drew stone circles yield more clues to the past

18 10 2011

 A geophysical survey at the three stone circles at Stanton Drew near Bath, England, has uncovered more details about the prehistoric monuments.

This is Bath reports that subsurface imaging has added to a similar survey done in 1997. That survey revealed that the largest of the three circles was surrounded by a ditch with a wide entrance. The new survey, done with more modern equipment, discovered a second, smaller entrance. Archaeologists also found that one of the smaller stone circles stood on a leveled platform.

Stanton Drew’s main circle is more than 110 meters in diameter, making it the second largest stone circle in the UK, bigger than Stonehenge and second only to Avebury. The main entrance of its surrounding ditch faced a smaller stone circle to the northeast. Further away to the southwest was a third circle. Inside the main circle were nine concentric rings of wooden posts. These rings may have served as a sort of calendar marking important celestial events such as solstices and equinoxes. The megaliths of the three stone circles served a similar function.

Local folklore says the stones are a wedding party tricked by the Devil into celebrating on a Sunday. Stone circles have accumulated lots of folklore and several are said to be petrified people, including the Rollright Stones.

The complete archaeological reports are available here.
Sean McLachlan

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour’ Company

Merlin @ Stonehenge

Digging up a new look of a famous old site

24 09 2011

Startling new evidence of one of the most famous ancient sites in the world has been uncovered by a mid-Somerset archaeologist – without setting foot on site.

Wells-based digital archaeologist Henry Rothwell has been working on a reconstruction of the entire site of Stonehenge, to show visitors what it would have looked like at various intervals in its long history.

It was when he turned his attention to recently discovered Bluehenge, sited between Stonehenge and the river Avon, that he made the startling discovery – it would not have been a circle at all but an oval.

If correct, Bluehenge would echo the oval circle already known to be at the centre of the famous Stonehenge.

And it raises an intriguing possibility: did the neolithic builders uproot Bluehenge, drag it a mile up the avenue and reconstruct it within Stonehenge itself?

It is certainly a possibility, according to Henry, who is a very modern-day archaeologist.

Any fan of TV archaeology programmes such as Time Team know that archaeologists are usually found in ditches, using trowels to peel back the layers of time to uncover the secrets of the past.

But not Henry Rothwell.

He might have a degree in archaeology but it is a computer mouse that is his chosen tool of trade as he sets about bringing back to life some of the most famous sites in the world from the comfort of his office chair at his base in Wells.

Thanks to his popular website Digital Digging, his reconstructions of wood and stone henges have helped archaeologists and the general public to visualise how such monuments would have once looked.

Using his extensive knowledge of prehistory, pouring over excavation reports and using CAD technology, he tracks where each stone or wooden post would have been and constructs diagrams showing how each monument would have looked set into the ancient landscape.

The latest breakthrough at Bluehenge came as he worked on a new initiative, to make a digital application for people to view Stonehenge via their mobile telephones.

Henry has joined forces with world-renowned photographer Adam Stanford, who uses a camera attached to a 70ft telescopic mast on the top of a 4×4 to take unique perspectives of famous sites, and well-known archaeologist, writer and broadcaster Julian Richards, from TV’s Meet The Ancestors to produce the app.

It was as they were working on The Journey To Stonehenge app – which it is hoped to be ready for iPhones and other smartphones by the mid-winter solstice – that Henry and Adam made the discovery.

“We were using a low-level aerial image taken by Adam that showed the full extent of the Stonehenge Riverside Project excavation of 2009, including the socket holes of Bluehenge, into which the Stonehenge Riverside Project team had placed upturned black buckets,” explained Henry.

“We started constructing the model, but then realised we had missed another bucket on the far right. Initially we tried expanding the circumference to make it fit but it would have been put Bluehenge into the river.

“By going back and tracing each of the socket sites again, it made the overall design of Bluehenge an oval – exactly as the one inside Stonehenge would have looked.”

The new monument was 10m (33ft) in diameter and surrounded by a henge – a ditch with an external bank.

When the Bluehenge’s stones were removed by Neolithic people, it is possible that they were dragged along the route of the Avenue to Stonehenge, to be incorporated within its major rebuilding around 2500 BC.

After posting his findings on archaeological websites last week, Henry’s views soon received the backing of influential archaeologists.

One of the first was renowned Stonehenge expert Mike Pitts, who explained that it matters if it is oval because it strengthens links between Bluehenge, Stonehenge and Woodhenge which also has an oval henge.

“The point is, if Bluehenge was an oval, it matters to how we think about it,” he wrote.

“Which makes finding out what really does happen to the rest of it under the ground important.”

To see the Bluehenge reconstruction and read more see Henry’s website.

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Merlin at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

Marlborough mound mystery solved – after 4,400 years

1 06 2011

Hill in Wiltshire school grounds nicknamed Silbury’s little sister revealed as important neolithic monument

Ancient mound in the grounds of Marlborough College, Wiltshire. Photograph: Steven Vaux /Marlborough College

For generations, it has been scrambled up with pride by students at Marlborough College. But the mysterious, pudding-shaped mound in the grounds of the Wiltshire public school now looks set to gain far wider acclaim as scientists have revealed it is a prehistoric monument of international importance.

After thorough excavations, the Marlborough mound is now thought to be around 4,400 years old, making it roughly contemporary with the nearby, and far more renowned, Silbury Hill.


The new evidence was described by one archeologist, an expert on ancient ritual sites in the area, as “an astonishing discovery”. Both neolithic structures are likely to have been constructed over many generations.

The Marlborough mound had been thought to date back to Norman times. It was believed to be the base of a castle built 50 years after the Norman invasion and later landscaped as a 17th-century garden feature. But it has now been dated to around 2400BC from four samples of charcoal taken from the core of the 19 metre-high hill.

The samples prove it was built at a time when British tribes were combining labour on ritual monuments in the chalk downlands of Wiltshire, including Stonehenge and the huge ditches and stone circle of Avebury.

History students at the college will now have the chance to study an extraordinary example just a stone’s throw from their classroom windows. Malborough’s Master Nicholas Sampson said: “We are thrilled at this discovery, which confirms the long and dramatic history of this beautiful site and offers opportunity for tremendous educational enrichment.”

The Marlborough mound has been called “Silbury’s little sister”, after the more famous artificial hill on the outskirts of Avebury, which is the largest manmade prehistoric hill in Europe.

Marlborough, at two-thirds the height of Silbury, now becomes the second largest prehistoric mound in Britain; it may yet be confirmed as the second largest in Europe.

Jim Leary, the English Heritage archeologist who led a recent excavation of Silbury, said: “This is an astonishing discovery. The Marlborough mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape. For centuries, people have wondered whether it is Silbury’s little sister, and now we have an answer. This is a very exciting time for British prehistory.”

 The dating was carried out as part of major conservation work amid concerns that tree roots could be destabilising the structure.

Sponsored by the The Stonehenge Tour Company –

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

Britain may pull out of UNESCO

1 03 2011

Britain is threatening to withdraw its support for the United Nations agency

Avebury Stone Circle

Avebury Stone Circle

Unesco has designated more than 900 cultural and natural world heritage sites and 28 are in the UK including the City of Bath, Stonehenge, Avebury and Dorset and east Devon’s coastline.

Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, is expected to reveal tomorrow that aid to about 16 countries will end and that more than half a dozen UN agencies will either lose British help completely, or be warned they face losing it unless they reform.

UNESCO – United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization: an agency of the United Nations that promotes education and communication and the arts
Sponsors: The Stonehenge Tour Company

Merlin @ Stonehenge  and Avebury
The Stonehenge Website

Put those bones back! Future of archaeology threatened by law forcing scientists to rebury ancient remains

12 02 2011

A controversial law that requires all human remains unearthed at ancient settlements to be reburied within two years threatens the future of archaeology, it is claimed today.

Under legislation introduced in 2008, bones and skulls found at sites in England and Wales, such as Stonehenge, have to be put back where they were found after 24 months.

A group of leading archaeologists has writt

en to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke to protest that this will vastly diminish their ability to research the history of humans in Britain.

Scientists search an area at Starr Carr, North Yorkshire, last year after locating Britain's earliest house. Leading archaeologists today protested a law that requires all human remains unearthed at ancient settlements to be reburied

Scientists search an area at Starr Carr, North Yorkshire, last year after locating Britain's earliest house. Leading archaeologists today protested a law that requires all human remains unearthed at ancient settlements to be reburied

Forty archaeology professors wrote to express their ‘deep and widespread concern’ in a letter published in today’s Guardian newspaper.

‘The current licence conditions are impeding scientific research, preventing new discoveries from entering museums, and are not in the public interest,’ their letter states

‘Your current requirement that all archaeologically excavated human remains should be reburied, whether after a standard period of two years or a further special extension, is contrary to fundamental principles of archaeological and scientific research and of museum practice.’

The 2008 legislation applies to any piece of bone of historical interest found at around 400 archaeological sites across England and Wales; the 1857 Burial Act applies to more recent remains.

‘The current licence conditions are impeding scientific research, preventing new discoveries from entering museums, and are not in the public interest’

Scientists working at Stonehenge who discovered 60 bodies in 2008 have been granted an extension before they have to return the remains to the ground.

Their colleagues at the Happisburgh site in Norfolk are currently digging after finding the oldest stone age tools that date back 950,000 years.

Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology who signed the letter, said: ‘If human remains were found at Happisburgh they would be the oldest human fossils in northern Europe and the first indication of what this species was.

‘Under the current practice of the law those remains would have to be reburied and effectively destroyed.

‘This applies to everything. If we were to find a Neanderthal fossil or a Roman skeleton, it would all have to be reburied.’

Among the high-profile signatories are Barry Cunliffe, from University of Oxford; Chris Stringer, from the Natural History Museum; Graeme Barker, from University of Cambridge; and Stephen Shennan, director

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

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