The New Discoveries at Blick Mead: the Key to the Stonehenge Landscape

29 10 2013

An archaeological team from the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute has been uncovering very large amounts of Mesolithic material from a site immediately adjacent to Stonehenge.

Stonehenge At a point called Blick Mead (a part of the Stonehenge landscape known as ‘Vespasian’s Camp’ on the mistaken assumption that it was the remains of a former Roman settlement) around 12,000 pieces of worked flint and burnt flint have been unearthed, as well as over 500 pieces of bone dating from over 8000 years ago. Virtually all the tools are in pristine condition – indeed, some of the team have had their fingers cut by them as they are still so sharp.

The most significant consequence of the excavation is that we have now discovered where the communities who built the first monuments at Stonehenge once lived – something that has eluded archaeologists for the best part of two centuries.  But the fact that the site also provides evidence for ritual activity in later periods suggests that the Buckingham team has also discovered a rare ‘multi-phase’ site, which was occupied over several millennia – indeed into the early medieval period.

David Jacques, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute, has been directing the excavations at Vespasian’s Camp, Amesbury, Wiltshire, since 2005.

Burnt flint used in cookingThe archaeological potential of Vespasian’s Camp first came to light as a result of David Jacques’ detailed research of the site’s estate and nearby farm records. Indeed, before his team started their excavations, there was no evidence of Vespasian’s Camp having played any significant part in the Salisbury Plain ritual landscape or its history, and the site had been generally ignored by archaeologists, who assumed that any archaeological evidence on the site had been destroyed in the course of the landscaping of the area as a park for a neighbouring country house during the course of the 18th century.

Radiocarbon dating of objects from the Buckingham-sponsored excavations now shows that this site was occupied between 7550-4700 BC, which means that the Blick Mead site was in continuous use for almost 3,000 years.

This is generating great interest from archaeologists who have long pondered the possibility of a ‘missing link’ between the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods of activity at Stonehenge. The radiocarbon dates make this the oldest ever ‘homebase’ found in the Stonehenge area and could be one of the reasons why Stonehenge is sited where it is.

The findings produced by the Buckingham-funded excavations have led English Heritage to describe Vespasian’s Camp as potentially ‘one of the pivotal places in the history of the Stonehenge landscape’.

The 7500 BC dating of Blick Mead correlates strongly with the enigmatic posts found underneath Stonehenge car park in the late 1960s, which appear to be marking this area up as somewhere of special cultural significance

Finds from the springA copper alloy Bronze Age dagger, found nearby, at the Bluestonehenge monument in 2009, a 5th-century Anglo-Saxon disc brooch from a nearby spring, and medieval wooden staves from the main spring also connect Blick Mead to the early Anglo-Saxon and Amesbury Abbey periods. They add to the picture of the Blick Mead area being a place associated with veneration over the longue durée.

As a result of the support from the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute, further work is planned over the next two years.


Article Source: http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/research/hri/blickmead

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Stonehenge may have been burial site for Stone Age elite, say archaeologists

9 03 2013

Dating cremated bone fragments of men, women and children found at site puts origin of first circle back 500 years to 3,000BC

Centuries before the first massive sarsen stone was hauled into place at Stonehenge, the world’s most famous prehistoric monument may have begun life as a giant burial ground, according to a theory disclosed on Saturday.

Theories of what Stonehenge was include a temple, observatory, calendar, a site for fairs or ritual feasting, or a centre for healing. Photograph: Eyebyte/Alamy

Theories of what Stonehenge was include a temple, observatory, calendar, a site for fairs or ritual feasting, or a centre for healing. Photograph: Eyebyte/Alamy

More than 50,000 cremated bone fragments, of 63 individuals buried at Stonehenge, have been excavated and studied for the first time by a team led by archaeologist Professor Mike Parker Pearson, who has been working at the site and on nearby monuments for decades. He now believes the earliest burials long predate the monument in its current form.

The first bluestones, the smaller standing stones, were brought from Wales and placed as grave markers around 3,000BC, and it remained a giant circular graveyard for at least 200 years, with sporadic burials after that, he claims.

It had been thought that almost all the Stonehenge burials, many originally excavated almost a century ago, but discarded as unimportant, were of adult men. However, new techniques have revealed for the first time that they include almost equal numbers of men and women, and children including a newborn baby.

“At the moment the answer is no to extracting DNA, which might tell us more about these individuals and what the relationship was between them – but who knows in the future? Clearly these were special people in some way,” Parker Pearson said.

A mace head, a high-status object comparable to a sceptre, and a little bowl burnt on one side, which he believes may have held incense, suggest the dead could have been religious and political leaders and their immediate families.

The team included scientists from the universities of Southampton, Manchester, Bournemouth, Sheffield, London, York and Durham. Their work is revealed for the first time in a documentary on Channel 4 on Sunday night, Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons.

Archaeologists have argued for centuries about what Stonehenge really meant to the people who gave hundreds of thousands of hours to constructing circles of bluestones shipped from Wales, and sarsens the size of double-decker buses dragged across Salisbury plain. Druids and New Age followers still claim the site as their sacred place. Others have judged it a temple, an observatory, a solar calendar, a site for fairs or ritual feasting or – one of the most recent theories – a centre for healing, a sort of Stone Age Lourdes.

The latest theory is based on the first analysis of more than 50,000 fragments of cremated human remains from one of the Aubrey holes, a ring of pits from the earliest phase of the monument, which some have believed held wooden posts. Crushed chalk in the bottom of the pit was also revealed, suggesting it once supported the weight of one of the bluestones. Dating the bones has pushed back the date of earliest stone circle at the site from 2500BC to 3000BC.

Parker Pearson believes his earlier excavation at nearby Durrington Walls, which uncovered hut sites, tools, pots and mountains of animal bones – the largest Stone Age site in north-west Europe – is evidence of a seasonal work camp for the Stonehenge builders, who quarried, dragged and shaped more than 2,000 tons of stone to build the monument. Analysis of the animal bones shows some of them travelled huge distances – from as far as Scotland – and were slaughtered at Durrington in mid-summer and mid-winter: “Not so much bring a bottle as bring a cow or a pig,” Parker Pearson said.

Mike Pitts, an archaeologist, blogger and editor of the British Archaeology journal, who has excavated some of the cremated human remains from Stonehenge, says the new theory proves the need for more research and excavation at the site.

“I have now come to believe that there are hundreds, maybe many times that, of burials at Stonehenge, and that some predate the earliest phase of the monument,” Pitts said. “The whole history of the monument is inseparably linked to death and burial – but I believe that there are hundreds more burials to be found across the site, which will tell us more of the story.”

Almost all the prehistoric human remains come from the eastern side of the circle, and many had been excavated by earlier archaeologists including William Hawley in the 1920s, who regarding them as unimportant compared with the giant stones, reburied them jumbled together using one of the Aubrey holes as a convenient pit.

“There must be more, in the western quadrant, or buried outside the enclosure ditch. A new excavation could clinch it,” Pitts said.

This autumn visitors to Stonehenge will see more interpretation of its complex history than ever before, when English Heritage finally opens its long-awaited visitor centre – originally planned to usher in the new millennium in 2000.

Link Source:  The Guardian

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog








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