Dynamic Diversity – the nature of working on a prehistoric archaeological site. #DurringtonDig

10 08 2016

The team has been digging for 8 days and ideas are continually evolving and being re-evaluated. What is exciting about this excavation is that no matter what day you visit or read the blog, you will hear something different from the previous day – and tomorrow will likely be different from today.

Theories, which can develop in tandem, are either abandoned, held on to, proved or disproved, or sit in the background quietly in wait. There are many specialists and highly experienced archaeologists on site who are all sharing and debating their ideas with each other – and if you’re lucky you may have caught them on site in deep discussion.

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Three different areas under excavation – different ideas for each one

Read the full story on the National Trust blog

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Durrington Walls Dig: August 2016

3 08 2016

Over the course of the last six years a team of archaeologists from across Europe led by Professor Vince Gaffney of Bradford University have been carrying out a series of cutting-edge geophysical surveys across an area approaching 10 square kilometres in the Stonehenge landscape.

They’ve made dozens of new discoveries, some of them entirely new sites. But one of the most astonishing things they’ve found is that something – in fact a whole series of somethings – lie buried beneath the 4,500 year old bank of Durrington Walls henge. Their surveys revealed an arc of large solid anomalies, some over two metres long. But the question was what were they?

Durrington 20160802

There was only one way to find out and that  was to dig. Which is why the combined forces of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, the Hidden Landscapes team and the National Trust are digging at Durrington Walls this August.

At the start of our  dig our best guesses were that they could be one of two things.

  1. they might be the remains of standing stones – now lying flat OR
  2. they might be pits dug to hold giant timber posts but then backfilled, similar to some unearthed by Professor Mike Parker Pearson and the multi-university Stonehenge Riverside Project near the southern entrance of the henge.

Durrington 1st post pit

The work has progressed incredibly quickly and we’ve already been able to answer the first part of our conundrum. We have what appears to be one very definite pit (in the picture above) and another taking shape on the opposite side of the trench.

Antler tine

Right next to the pit lay an antler tine. It needs to be cleaned and studied more closely but it may be the tip of an antler pick – and could be one of the tools used to dig the pit itself.  Our dig team have been going great guns with their modern steel pick axes – I’m not sure they would be so quite so keen if they had to use one of these. But our henge builders were made of sterner stuff – the whole of the massive henge bank and ditch was dug with antler picks.

Article source: https://ntarchaeostonehengeaveburywhs.wordpress.com/2016/08/02/durrington-dig-2016-tuesday-2-august/

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Stonehenge may have been first erected in Wales, ‘amazing’ finds suggest

7 12 2015

‘Evidence that bluestones were quarried in Wales 500 years before they were put up in Wiltshire prompts theory that Stonehenge is ‘second-hand monument’

Archaeologists at one of the Stonehenge quarry sites in Wales. Photograph: UCL

Archaeologists at one of the Stonehenge quarry sites in Wales. Photograph: UCL

Evidence of quarrying for Stonehenge’s bluestones is among the dramatic discoveries leading archaeologists to theorise that England’s greatest prehistoric monument may have first been erected in Wales.

It has long been known that the bluestones that form Stonehenge’s inner horseshoe came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, around 140 miles from Salisbury Plain.

Now archaeologists have discovered a series of recesses in the rocky outcrops of Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin, to the north of those hills, that match Stonehenge’s bluestones in size and shape. They have also found similar stones that the prehistoric builders extracted but left behind, and “a loading bay” from where the huge stones could be dragged away.

Carbonised hazelnut shells and charcoal from the quarry workers’ campfires have been radiocarbon-dated to reveal when the stones would have been extracted.

Prof Mike Parker Pearson, director of the project and professor of British later prehistory at University College London (UCL), said the finds were “amazing”.

“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC,” he said. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”

The dating evidence suggests that Stonehenge could be older than previously thought, Parker Pearson said. “But we think it’s more likely that they were building their own monument [in Wales], that somewhere near the quarries there is the first Stonehenge and that what we’re seeing at Stonehenge is a second-hand monument.”

There is also the possibility that the stones were taken to Salisbury Plain around 3200 BC and that the giant sarsens – silicified sandstone found within 20 miles of the site – were added much later. “Normally we don’t get to make that many fantastic discoveries in our lives,” Parker Pearson said. “But this is one.”

Parker Pearson heads a project involving specialists from UCL and the universities of Manchester, Bournemouth and Southampton, among others. Their findings are published on Monday in the journal Antiquity alongside a new book by the Council for British Archaeology titled Stonehenge: Making Sense of a Prehistoric Mystery.

Prof Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, said the ruins of a dismantled monument were likely to lie between the two megalith quarries. “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising. We may find something big in 2016,” she said.

The long-distance transport of the bluestones from Wales to Stonehenge is one of the most remarkable achievements of Neolithic societies. The archaeologists estimate that each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than two tons and that people or oxen could have dragged them on wooden sledges sliding on rail-like timbers.

Parker Pearson said people in Madagascar and other societies were known to have moved such standing stones long distances and that doing so created a spectacle that brought together communities from afar.

“One of the latest theories is that Stonehenge is a monument of unification, bringing together people from across the many parts of Britain,” he said.

He recalled the moment he looked up the near-vertical rock-face and realised that this was one of the quarries. “Three metres above us were the bases of these monoliths that were actually sitting there ready simply to be lowered out of their recesses,” he said.
“It’s the Ikea of Neolithic monument building. The nice thing about these particular outcrops is that the rock has formed 480 million years ago as pillars. So prehistoric people don’t have to go in there and bash away … All they have to do is get wedges into the cracks. You wet the wedge, it swells and the stone pops off the rock.”

 Article source:  (Guardian News)
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Stonehenge discovery could rewrite British pre-history

20 12 2014

The most important discovery at Stonehenge for a generation could be destroyed by David Cameron’s plan to build a tunnel at the World Heritage Site

David Cameron announced plans to route the A303 into a tunnel to take traffic away from the world heritage site of Stonehenge Photo: AP

David Cameron announced plans to route the A303 into a tunnel to take traffic away from the world heritage site of Stonehenge Photo: AP

Archaeologists have discovered the earliest settlement at Stonehenge – but the Mesolithic camp could be destroyed if government plans for a new tunnel go ahead.

Charcoal dug up from the ‘Blick Mead’ encampment, a mile and a half from Stonehenge, dates from around 4,000BC. It is thought the site was originally occupied by hunter gatherers returning to Britain after the Ice Age, when the country was still connected to the continent.

Experts say the discovery could re-write history in prehistoric Britain.

There is also evidence of feasting – burnt flints and remains of giant bulls – aurochs – as well as flint tools.

The dig has also unearthed evidence of possible structures, but the site could be destroyed if plans for a 1.8 mile tunnel go ahead.

Earlier this month David Cameron, the prime minister, visited Stonehenge, in Amesbury, Wiltshire and announced plans to duel the A303 and build a new tunnel to take traffic away from the world heritage site.

But archaeologists want more time to assess the importance of the site and record new findings.

“The PM is interested in re-election in 140 days – we are interested in discovering how our ancestors lived six thousand years ago,” said archaeologist David Jacques, who made the discovery on a dig for the University of Buckingham.

“British pre-History may have to be rewritten. This is the latest dated Mesolithic encampment ever found in the UK.


A shard of bone found at the site

“Blick Mead site connects the early hunter gatherer groups returning to Britain after the Ice Age to the Stonehenge area all the way through to the Neolithic in the late 5th Millennium BC.

“Britain is beginning across this time period. Blick Mead connects a time when the country was still joined to the mainland to it becoming the British Isles for the first time.”

The experts believe that the site could show the Stonehenge was built as a monument to the ancestors of Neolithic Britons.

“Our only chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain’s history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead,” added Mr Jacques.

A previous dig at the site, led by the University of Buckingham, revealed Amesbury is the longest continually-occupied place in the country. They discovered that frogs’ legs from 7,000 years ago were a delicacy here long before the French took a liking to them.

Archaeologists believe that early Britons were drawn to the site because of a natural spring. A The combination of a water of a constant temperature and a rare algae also produced the only colour-changing stones, which change from brown to pink, found at any archaeological site in the country.

Professor Tim Darvill, of Bournemouth University has described this as “This is the most important discovery at Stonehenge in over 60 years.”

Experts are calling on the government to rethink plans to build on the critically important landscape.

Andy Rhind-Tutt, of Amesbury and chairman of the Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust, added: “Traffic congestion to one of the country’s most visited attractions will not be solved by a tunnel with one exit lane – the current tailback can extend five miles and can take two hours to get through.

“Any tunnel would need to be motorway standard, and even with four lanes there would still be tailbacks.

“A much more practical solution would be to reroute the A303 supporting South Wiltshire as well as the West Country.”
Article by , Telegraph Science Editor: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/archaeology/11303127/Stonehenge-discovery-could-rewrite-British-pre-history.html

Merlin @ Stonehenge
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Bradford researchers help uncover hidden secrets of Stonehenge

12 09 2014

Bradford archaeologists are part of an international research team that has uncovered a host of previously unknown archaeological monuments around Stonehenge in a project that will transform our knowledge of this iconic site.

Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath, can be seen on BBC iPlaver here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04hc5v7/operation-stonehenge-what-lies-beneath-episode-1

Results from the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project are unveiled today at the Stonehenge_new_monumentsBritish Science Festival in Birmingham. They show how, using new remote sensing techniques and geophysical surveys, the team has uncovered 17 previously unknown ritual monuments around the site, along with dozens of burial mounds – all of which have been mapped in minute detail.

Researchers at the University of Bradford are partners in the project, which is led by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, in Austria.

Alongside previously unknown features, the team has also uncovered new information on other monuments, including the Durrington Walls ‘super henge’, a vast ritual monument of more than 1.5 kilometers in circumference which is situated a short distance from Stonehenge.

Hundreds of burial mounds, and settlements from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman period have also been surveyed at a level of detail never previously seen. Taken together, the results show how new technology is reshaping how archaeologists understand the landscape of Stonehenge and its development over a period of more than 11,000 years.

Dr Chris Gaffney, Head of Archaeological Sciences at Bradford, says: “The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes project is the pinnacle of a recent trend to apply new and rapid technologies to collect accurate non-invasive data for mapping our buried heritage.

“In many respects, the Stonehenge project goes far beyond any other project – both in the complexity of the data sets generated but also in the immense impact it will have on our understanding of Britain’s greatest and best-known archaeological site.

He adds: “Archaeology studies the past, but, in the application of remote sensing at this scale, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project demonstrates how future researchers will investigate our archaeological heritage. Increasingly, the investigation and understanding of iconic sites across the globe will be enhanced by rapidly mapping the larger-scale environment that they have come to dominate.”

British project leader Professor Vincent Gaffney, Chair in Landscape Archaeology and Geomatics at the University of Birmingham, and Chris Gaffney’s brother, said:

“This project has revealed that the area around Stonehenge is teeming with previously unseen archaeology and that the application of new technology can transform how archaeologists and the wider public understand one of the best-studied landscapes on Earth.

“New monuments have been revealed, as well as new types of monument that have previously never been seen by archaeologists. All of this information has been placed within a single digital map, which will guide how Stonehenge and its landscape are studied in the future.

“Stonehenge may never be the same again.”

The results of the project will be featured in a major new BBC Two series, Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath, is due to be broadcast at 8pm on Thursday 11 September.

Full article: http://www.bradford.ac.uk/life-sciences/news-and-events/news/bradford-researchers-help-uncover-hidden-secrets-of-stonehenge.php

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Summer Discoveries at Stonehenge Stone Circle

13 09 2013

Two ditches belonging to the Stonehenge Avenue buried beneath the modern roadbed of the A344 have been uncovered during works to decommission the road as part of English Heritage’s project to transform the setting and visitor experience of Stonehenge.

The two ditches represent either side of The Avenue, a long linear feature to the north-east of Stonehenge

The Avenue, severed by the A344, will be reconnected to Stonehenge soon

The Avenue, severed by the A344, will be reconnected to Stonehenge soon

linking it with the River Avon. It has long been considered as the formal processional approach to the monument and is aligned with the solstice axis of Stonehenge. But its connection with Stonehenge had been severed by the A344 for centuries as the road cut through the delicate earthwork at an almost perpendicular angle.

The two ditches were found in excavations undertaken by Wessex Archaeology in their expected positions near to the Heel Stone, about 24 metres from the entrance to monument.

                                                  

Missing Piece in the Jigsaw

Heather Sebire, properties curator and archaeologist at English Heritage, said: “The part of the Avenue that was cut through by the road has obviously been destroyed forever, but we were hopeful that archaeology below the road would survive.  And here we have it – the missing piece in the jigsaw.  It is very exciting to find a piece of physical evidence that officially makes the connection which we were hoping for.”

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the World Heritage Site, said “This is a once in several life time’s opportunity to investigate the Avenue beneath the old road surface.  It has enabled us to confirm with total certainty for the first time that Stonehenge and its Avenue were once linked and will be so again shortly.”

The Avenue is difficult to identify on the ground but is clearly visible on aerial photographs. Once the A344 has been restored to grass in the summer of 2014, interpretation features will be put in place to clearly mark out the solstice alignment to enable visitors to appreciate the position of the Avenue and its intimate connection with and significance to Stonehenge.

                                                         

Parchmarks discovered at Stonehenge by staff Simon Banton and Timothy Daw © Simon Banton/English Heritage

Parchmarks discovered at Stonehenge by staff Simon Banton and Timothy Daw
© Simon Banton/English Heritage

Parchmarks at the Stone Circle

The recent prolonged spell of dry weather has also led to some exciting discoveries within the stone circle. Two eagle-eyed members of staff spotted some dry areas of grass, or parchmarks, amongst the stone circle in July. After investigation by English Heritage experts they seem to be positions of three holes where stones 17, 18 and 19 might have stood on the south-west side of the outer sarsen circle.

Susan Greaney, senior properties historian at English Heritage, said: “There is still debate among archaeologists whether Stonehenge was a full or incomplete circle, and the discovery of these holes for missing stones has strengthened the case for it being a full circle, albeit uneven and less perfectly formed in the south-west quadrant.”

NOTE: This story as reported in the Guardian on 9 September contains a number of inaccuracies. The article, including the headline, failed to distinguish between fact and interpretation, and presented one expert’s view as established fact. It also gives the impression that the expert’s view has been adopted by English Heritage. This is very confusing. English Heritage is firmly of the view that Stonehenge was built as a prehistoric temple aligned with the movements of the sun, contrary to what was implied in the article.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson’s theory about the naturally formed ridges is interesting, but is by no means established. English Heritage’s role was to record any archaeology that survived under the A344 and present the results of the recent discoveries clearly to the public. English Heritage’s interpretation of Stonehenge in general will be presented at the new visitor centre due to open in December 2013.

Article Source from English Heritage: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/summer-discoveries-stonehenge/

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Discovery of 5,000-year-old skull ‘in fabulous condition’ on side of river sparks mystery as archaeologists claim it would not have survived in water

1 09 2013
  • Skull is  believed to be of a middle aged woman living in 3,300 BC
  • Unbroken  skull found on the banks of the River Avon in Worcestershire
  • Carbon  dating technology places the piece between 3,338BC and 3,035  BC
  • The  ‘exceptional’ find suggests there is an undiscovered burial site  nearby

A 5,000-year-old human skull in ‘fabulous’  condition has been discovered on the banks of a river in Worcershire by a walker  who thought it was a coconut.

Remarkable discovery: Nick Daffern, senior archaeologist with Worcestershire Archaeology holds the 5,000-year-old skull which has baffled experts

Remarkable discovery: Nick Daffern, senior archaeologist with Worcestershire Archaeology holds the 5,000-year-old skull which has baffled experts

Experts said the piece of ancient skull is an  ‘exceptional find’ as the intricate marks  from blood vessels are still visible on the inner surface.

The smooth dark outer side gives only a  tantalising glimpse as to what the person may have looked like, although there  are ‘tentative’ suggestions it may have belonged to a woman in middle age living  in the Neolithic period – around the time Stonehenge was built.

The skull is not only prompting questions  about the person it belonged to, but where it may have come.

A dog walker first stumbled across the skull  piece, which is about 15cms (6ins) in length and 10cm (4ins) in width, earlier  this year but initially thought it was a ball or a coconut shell.

Detectives from West Mercia Police  investigated the scene and contacted experts at Worcestershire Archaeology, who  sent the skull to be radiocarbon dated.

‘When I first saw the skull, I thought it may  have been Anglo-Saxon or Roman but I knew that it was not recent due to the  colour,’ said Nick Daffern, senior archaeologist.

‘But we were all surprised when the  radiocarbon dating put it at between 3,338 BC and 3,035 BC, or about the middle  Neolithic period.’

‘It is so well preserved, it is unthinkable  that this had been in the river for any length of time which begs the question  as to where it has come from.

‘We know of Roman, Saxon and medieval burials  along the river, but this is very rare – it is an exceptional  find.

‘What it suggests is that we have a Neolithic  burial site very near here – we just don’t know where.’

He said: ‘I don’t think it was found where  the remains were buried, I think we’ve got a riverside burial and then flooding  has brought this down the river.

‘Finding that burial site though would be  like finding a needle in a haystack.’Who was neolithic man

Mr Daffern said that without the rest of the  skeleton it was difficult to draw conclusions about the person found, and  certainly there is no clue as to how they met their death.

‘Both myself and a forensic anthropologist  believe it is a woman due to the slightness of the skull and the lack of any  brow ridges although our conclusions are very tentative because we’re dealing  only with the top of a skull,’ he added.

‘There’s no trauma to the bone, and where it  has broken those are natural breaks, nor is there any sign of disease so we’ve  no idea as to cause of death.

‘The natural fusion of the bone in the skull  leads me to believe it may be an older woman, possibly in her 50s, but that is  very tentative again.

‘Unfortunately, it remains a bit of a  mystery.’

The find is a few miles from Bredon Hill,  which has been a scene of human activity down the ages and still boasts the  earthen ramparts of what was an Iron Age hill fort, however finds of Neolithic  remains are rare.

‘Whenever we come across Neolithic remains,  there seems to be a solid dividing line between where they buried their dead,  and where they lived and that is no accident,’ he said.

‘But it is frustrating as an archaeologist  because although we have the physical evidence, we still don’t have the answers  as to why.’

The skull is only the second set of Neolithic  remains to be found in the county, although two large 6,000-year-old ‘halls of  the dead’ were found in nearby Herefordshire this year but without any human  remains present.

Article source: By  Daily Mail Reporter – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2407337/Discovery-5-000-year-old-skull-fabulous-condition-sparks-mystery.html

Merlin @ Stonehenge
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