World Heritage Site Landscape Project: Stonehenge, Amesbury, Wiltshire

10 06 2011

Summary of an English Heritage Report on Stonehenge by David Field and Trevor Pearson:

Analytical survey of the ground surface at Stonehenge revealed the presence of a number of interesting earthworks that have a bearing on interpretation and the development of the monument. Chief among these is a low mound that was revealed within the stone settings. Its location focuses attention on that part of the arrangement which is ruinous and supplements former reservations as to whether the monument was ever complete. Survey also revealed that the Y and Z holes are visible asStonehenge plan earthworks and that each circuit has a shallow bank within it. The feature known as the North ‘Barrow’ may have preceded the enclosure and therefore be one of the earliest elements at the site. The South ‘Barrow’ by contrast is, at least in one of its phases, a later feature. These are clearly not barrows and the more neutral term ‘circles’ is therefore preferred. An outer bank to the enclosure has been largely truncated by cultivation, while a mis-match of the Avenue at the enclosure entrance indicates that the two may have been mutually exclusive entities. The eastern ditch and bank of the Avenue is revealed to have changed course, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the pre-existing ditch around the Heel Stone.

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Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

A Stonehenge found in America. Is it bigger and better ? Probably…..

28 05 2011

A Stonehenge under Lake Michigan
While scanning underneath the waters of Lake Michigan for shipwrecks, archeologists found something a lot more interesting than they bargained for, as they discovered a boulder with a prehistoric carving of a mastodon, as well as a series of stones arranged in a Stonehenge-like manner.

Stonehenge found under Lake Michigan

Stonehenge found under Lake Michigan

At a depth of about 40 feet into Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, using sonar techniques to look for shipwrecks, archeologists discovered sunken boats and cars and even a Civil War-era pier, but among all these they found this prehistoric surprise, which a trained eye can guess by looking at the sonar scans photos in this article.

“When you see it in the water, you’re tempted to say this is absolutely real,” said Mark Holley, a professor of underwater archaeology at Northwestern Michigan University College who made the discovery, during a news conference with photos of the boulder on display in 2007. “But that’s what we need the experts to come in and verify.

The boulder with the markings is 3.5 to 4 feet high and about 5 feet long. Photos show a surface with numerous fissures. Some may be natural while others appear of human origin, but those forming what could be the petroglyph stood out, Holley said.

Viewed together, they suggest the outlines of a mastodon-like back, hump, head, trunk, tusk, triangular shaped ear and parts of legs, he said.

“We couldn’t believe what we were looking at,” said Greg MacMaster, president of the underwater preserve council.

Specialists shown pictures of the boulder holding the mastodon markings have asked for more evidence before confirming the markings are an ancient petroglyph, said Holley.

“They want to actually see it,” he said. Unfortunately, he added, “Experts in petroglyphs generally don’t dive, so we’re running into a little bit of a stumbling block there.”

If found to be true, the wannabe petroglyph could be as much as 10,000 years old – coincident with the post-Ice Age presence of both humans and mastodons in the upper midwest. The formation, if authenticated, wouldn’t be completely out of place. Stone circles and other petroglyph sites are located in the area.

The discovery was made back a few years ago, and surprisingly enough the find hasn’t been popularized at all, with little to no information available online, but I’ll be sure to update this post as soon as I can get ahold of more info. So, who’s from Michigan?

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Come and visit Stonehenge in England – you went get wet at this one!

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle website

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Mystery origins of Stonehenge unravelling

9 05 2011

Stonehenge is an ancient site which dominates Salisbury Plain in the south Stonehenge Blue Stoneswest of England. Much of where the stones came from and how they were moved is still an enigma.

Built around 3100 BC, the origins and purpose remains the subject of much debate around the world.

At the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff some detective work is taking place that could help solve this historical conundrum.

With precision and patience Dr. Richard Bevins is examining a minute piece of stone that is part of a 5000-year-old mystery.
Under his microscope is a sample taken from Stonehenge.

Bevins says the whereabouts of some of the stones is already known.

“Stonehenge comprises an outer circle, an inner circle and an inner horseshoe. The outer circle, which are the very big stones are actually local to the Stonehenge area, to Salisbury Plain.”

In the 1920s scientists traced the origins of the remaining stones, known as Bluestones, to an unspecified part of the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

This is 240km from Stonehenge. It remains unclear how an ancient civilisation would have transported such heavy stones such a huge distance.

Bevins says: “These stones that form the inner circle and the inner horseshoe, the Bluestones, they still weigh two to three tons so they’re substantial pieces of rock to be moving around the countryside, if it was humans.”

A unique discovery is now fuelling further debate about how the architects of Stonehenge moved their building materials from Wales to the south west of England.

Dr. Bevins and a team of scientists have matched stone samples from Stonehenge with ones taken from the Preseli Hills and uncovered their precise origin.

They have done it by using new technologies by analysing and comparing their mineral content.

“We got a good match in terms of what they looked like in hand specimen and down the microscope,” says Bevins. “But we wanted to go one stage further, we wanted to have a diagnostic technique, we wanted some data.”

Still in Wales, at the University of Aberystwyth, geochemist Dr Nick Pearce was tasked with analysing the zircon crystals that are embedded in the stone samples.

He pioneered a technique that uses a laser to vaporise the crystals so that their chemical make up can be scrutinised.

Pearce explains how the technique works.

“We get hold of the samples as thin sections. We’ve identified in those where the grains of zircon are that we want to analyse and then we put those samples into the glazer abrasion ISO PMS system, fire a very powerful laser on top of the samples, on the individual grains within the sample. The vapour gets transported then into a mass spectrometer and we analyse the components of that mineral grain.”

By matching the chemical finger prints of their stone samples they have proven the origin of stones used to build parts of Stonehenge.

In a picturesque and quiet corner of West Wales called Pont Saesnon is a rocky outcrop that looks like any other in this mountainous country.

But thousands of years ago it provided the building blocks for the ancient structure of Stonehenge that still captivates people today.

Pearce says their research has located the exact spot the stones came from.

“It pins them down to place where nobody has really considered they came from before; on the north side of the Preseli Hills in North Pembrokeshire and not localities on the top of the Presellis.”

The unearthing of the stone’s origins also challenges the theories on how the builders of Stonehenge transported their materials to Salisbury Plain.

“It was always thought they were transported by humans south down towards the Bristol Channel and put onto rafts at Milford Haven. Well this location changes that perspective,” Bevins says.

It’s now thought the stones took an alternative route and travelled 16km west to the natural harbours that dot the Welsh coastline then shipped to their final resting place on Salisbury Plain, in England.

This theory now needs to be tested by archaeologists.

These new discoveries bring people who are fascinated with Stonehenge one step closer to unlocking its mysteries.

More information:
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Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

How Stone Age man kept his pores clean… in the SAUNA

28 02 2011

The remains of a 4,500-year-old sauna have been discovered by archaeologists excavating a Stone Age temple.
They unearthed the foundations of the building at Marden Henge, near Devizes in Wiltshire. Located close to the River Avon, the neolithic ‘sauna’ was in a key position overlooking a ceremonial area at the site.

English Heritage’s Jim Leary said: ‘The building brings to mind the sweat lodges of the native North Americans and the reason for that sauna or sweat lodge interpretation is that the floor plan was utterly dominated by a large hearth – so large in fact there does not appear to be any space for living, cooking or doing anything much at all.

‘It is also located very close to the River Avon and would have had a ready source of water, which is a necessary criteria for a sweat lodge. ‘If it was a sweat lodge then perhaps one could envisage it being used for purification ceremonies within the henge.

‘Unfortunately we’ll never know exactly what it was for – that’s the nature of archaeology.’

Marden Henge, which has no standing stones, is located on a line which connects stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury but remains a mystery for archaeologists. Some believe the huge Stonehenge megaliths were stored there after being dragged from Avebury.

Mr Leary said: ‘The relationship between the three monuments is interesting. They are broadly contemporary and one wonders what the interaction between them must have been – were they competing with one another or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? ‘We don’t know the answer yet

Merlin @ Stonehenge

Scientists ‘step closer’ to solving Stonehenge mystery

23 02 2011

IT is a mystery that has baffled geologists and historians for centuries… how were the Stonehenge rocks transported from Wales’ Preseli mountains to their resting place 120 miles away.

Scientists are today one step closer to solving the 4,000-year- old mystery after making their most significant discovery in 15 years.

Of the six to eight different bluestone types found in the inner circle of rocks on Salisbury Plain, only one, the so- called “spotted dolerite”, was convincingly traced to the Mynydd Preseli area in north Pembrokeshire in the early 1920s.

But modern technology has now assisted geologists at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales – in creating a “fingerprint” for one of the other rock types found in Wiltshire.

And that “fingerprint” has been identically matched to stones found in an area north of the Mynydd Preseli range, in the vicinity of Pont Saeson.

The discovery means archaeologists are now a step closer to retracing the footsteps of Neolithic engineers who moved the stones in the first place.

Dr Richard Bevins, Keeper of Geology at Amgueddfa Cymru, said: “The outer circle of Stonehenge is made up from stones sourced locally in Salisbury Plain but it is the mismatch of rocks found in the inner circle that have caused so much mystery.

“We have known for some time that spotted dolerite came from Preseli but of those remaining stones we think that six to eight more may have come from Pembrokeshire, until now though we haven’t been able to be sure because the stones are very fragile and we didn’t previously have the technology to extract their DNA.”

Dr Bevins added: “Theoretically if we could trace the source of the other rhyolites (rock types) we could create a map with six or more locations pinpointing where each stone was sourced.

“Archeologists could then essentially see the route that was taken by these people, they could re-trace those steps, set up archaeological digs and make who knows how many new discoveries.

“In terms of looking at where the stones came from this is the most important discovery we’ve made regarding Stonehenge in 10 or 15 years.”

Dr Bevins, in partnership with Dr Rob Ixer at the University of Leicester and Dr Nick Pearce of Aberystwyth University, made the discovery by analysing microscopic crystals found in the rock, vaporising them and analysing the gases found as a result.

The composite of gases makes up the rock’s DNA which can then be matched to other rock forms.

Sourcing the rhyolites also provides the opportunity for new thoughts on how the stones might have been transported to the Stonehenge area.

Much of the archaeology in recent years has been based on the assumption that Neolithic Age man had a reason to transport bluestones all the way from West Wales to Stonehenge and the technical capacity to do it.

Dr Bevins said: “It has been argued that humans transported the spotted dolerites from the high ground of Mynydd Preseli down to the coast at Milford Haven and then rafted them up the Bristol Channel and River Avon to the Stonehenge area.

“However, the outcome of our research questions that route, as it is unlikely that they would have transported the Pont Saeson stones up slopes and over Mynydd Preseli to Milford Haven, we would assume that they would not carry the rocks up and over a steep mountain range.

“If humans were responsible then an alternative route might need to be considered.”

Some believe that the stones were transported by the actions of glacier sheets during the last glaciation and so the Pont Season discovery will need appraising in the context of this hypothesis.

Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of Archaeology at Sheffield University, added: “This is a hugely significant discovery which will fascinate everyone interested in Stonehenge.

“It forces us to re-think the route taken by the bluestones to Stonehenge and opens up the possibility of finding many of the quarries from which they came.

“It’s a further step towards revealing why these mysterious stones were so special to the people of the Neolithic.”

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Merlin @ Stonehenge

The heat was on at Marden Henge

14 02 2011
Marden henge’s chalk foundations contained a sunken hearth which could have been used for purification ceremonies

Marden henge’s chalk foundations contained a sunken hearth which could have been used for purification ceremonies

A building whose foundations were unearthed during an excavation at Marden Henge near Devizes last summer could have been a Neolithic sauna.

Archaeologist Jim Leary told his audience at Devizes town hall on Saturday that the chalk foundations contained a sunken hearth that would have given out intense heat.

“It brings to mind the sweat lodges found in North America,” he said. “It could have been used as part of a purification ceremony.”

Also found was a midden or rubbish heap with dozens of pig bones, some still attached, likely to be the remains of a huge feast that took place 5,000 years ago.

Mr Leary was supposed to give his talk at the museum, but such was the interest in his subject that it was transferred to the town hall. All 150 tickets were sold and people queued for returns.

Mr Leary said Marden Henge is the biggest henge in England but because it did not have a stone circle associated with it, tended to be overlooked. Before Professor Geoffrey Wainwright examined its northern sector in 1969, it had not been investigated since the early 19th century.

A huge mound, like a smaller version of Silbury Hill, named Hatfield Barrow, once existed there, but it collapsed after a shaft was dug through its centre and was levelled shortly afterwards.

The English Heritage team investigated that area as well as two sites further south, and it was at the area known as the Southern Circle that they made their most exciting discoveries.

It was in the bank of this henge within a henge that they found the chalk floor. Mr Leary described the dig as a work in progress. He said: “We are at a very early stage and there is a lot more to be found. But our fate is in the hands of the government cuts.

“Clearly there is more work to be done, at least another season, but we need funding to do any further investigation.”

Merlin @ Stonehenge
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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