Ticking Stonehenge off your bucket list.

30 11 2019

For people across the world- Stonehenge is a must see location, it’s majesty as well as it’s mystery has made it a mainstay on everyone’s bucket list. 

Stonehenge sunset

However, here lies the problem. Is Stonehenge merely a pretty collection of stones which need only be sited to be ticked off the list? There is no doubt that the site itself, taken as it is, is fulfilling. However- the occasion of ticking such a magnificent and ancient spectacle off a list of things to do on this earth before you die, should be done properly. The site and the whole surrounding area deserve more than tentative voyeurism. To truly ‘tick off’ Stonehenge, one must engage with its history its myths and crucially observe the entire  surrounding area which is a veritable tapestry of Neolithic history. A tapestry which considered in its entirety enriches the ultimate site to see- Stonehenge itself. 

I want to take you on a preliminary journey around Neolithic Wiltshire’s most fascinating sites- all a walking distance from the stones, which an expert guide can take you on for a holistic experience- Weaving together the history and myth of this most beautiful landscape.

On ground level-  you and the stones in front of you, it is hard to appreciate anything else. However, imagine you could fly straight up in the air and take a birds eye view- looking down on the ancient henge and its famous stones- so they are a wonderful miniature series of concentric circles…

…then go higher and take in more and more of the landscape and you’ll notice the ground is littered with meaningful scars- tell tale signs that the entire area surrounding Stonehenge has been heaving with meaning for 5,000 years. 

Luckily the wonder of the modern day means we needn’t defy gravity to appreciate the Neolithic saturation of the landscape- a simple satellite picture reveals all the key location you need to visit.

stonehenge-map

Durrington Walls 

Starting 2 miles east of the stones with Durrington walls. This was once a Neolithic settlement and may have even been the largest village in Northern Europe sometime between 2800-2100 B.C.

Woodhenge 

Heading immediately south from Durrington walls we soon will encounter Woodhenge, the elemental antithesis of Stonehenge itself. Sadly, due to the nature of wood,  the former structure has long since rotted away. This ancient site may well have been lost forever if it wasn’t for aerial photographs which revealed dark spots in wheat crops. These dark spots signalled the former post holes of large wooden posts which formed the ancient structure. Today the post holes have been filled with concrete to partially recreate the previous composition of woodhenge. It represents a magnificent symbiosis of past and present, modern techniques ensuring the survival of ancient monuments and their memory and preserve the heritage of Wiltshire .

The Cursus

Around 4000 years ago from our aerial view the Cursus would have been a bright white scar across the land, thanks to wiltshires famously chalky ground. In the Neolithic period the cursus was a 3k avenue cut into the earth for an unknown purpose.

The cursus is so named because the famous antiquarian William Stuckley and the Cursus’ discoverer- imagined roman chariots riding along its length (cursus meaning race course in Latin). Although the earth is no longer dredged along the cursus it still makes a fascinating route to wander along and to ponder, with its purpose still not totally understood

The Cursus group

At the west end of the cursus you might expect to get a good view of the Stonehenge- however your view is blocked. Instead you  are met with the curious view of a ridge of land, topped with a barrow; a Neolithic burial mound. Between the west end of the Cursus and Stonehenge itself lie the ‘Cursus Group’ an assortment of sixteen  of these Neolithic round barrows. The land literally bulges with history at this point- on top of the ridge you can see the land ripple with various barrows as you survey it- before your eyes are drawn magnetically to the stones themselves. But before you reach them it is fascinating to hear the tales of the barrows, how they had once concealed pottery, weaponry and even jewels for thousands of years.

Beyond tales of treasures it is edifying for those who wander the mounds to ponder their ancient logic- for there certainly appears to be a system- but it is yet to be determined. 

Stonehenge Avenue

Heading East from the swollen turf of the Cursus barrows you will intersect the penultimate Neolithic wonder of our imaginary tour. Like the Cursus, Stonehenge Avenue is an ancient Avenue, stretching for 3 kilometres. And like the cursus Stonehenge Avenue would have been an brilliant white scar on the earth- an alabaster pathway connecting Stonehenge with the river Avon. 

Today the avenue is still recognisable, If a slightly more furtive path then it once was but is nonetheless the pathway to the enigmatic stones, linking up with the henge as though drawn on by a higher being.

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Photo taken by Stonehenge Dronescapes. Visit their Facebook Page for more amazing photos of Stonehenge and Wiltshire.

Stonehenge Stone Circle

At last you reach the stones themselves. The colossal upright sarsen stones, rendering you minuscule in comparison- whilst the horizontal blue stones, quarried from South Wales, add the real dimension of wonder to this wonder of the world. The stones are the crowning sight to this antiquarian tour of Wiltshire’s Neolithic sights. 

Words can hardly to this magnificent structure justice and it really must be beheld to be appreciated. What is certain is that the truest appreciation of this cultural icon is ascertained through a thorough engagement with its surroundings- appreciating the wider history and indeed mystery of the land and truly attempting to cast your mind back to the remote past; ticking Stonehenge off your bucket list in the process.

Relevant Stonehenge Links:
English Heritage – Interactive Maps of the Stonehenge Landscape – click here
Stonehenge Guided Tours – The Stonehenge Touring Experts – click here
National Trust – The Stonehenge Landscape – click here
Stonehenge – Neolithic / Bronze Age Henge and Stone Circle. Click here
Salisbury and Stonehenge Guided Tours – The local megalithic tour operator – click here
Stonehenge Dronescapesclick here

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Stonehenge monoliths may have been dragged there using greasy sledges lubricated with pig fat

21 07 2019

This new theory is based on pig fat residue on ancient pottery found near the famous monument and fits in with the generally accepted concept that the monoliths were dragged by people all the way from quarries in west Wales.

Stonehenge

Archaeologist Lisa-Marie Shillito say residues of fat on pottery discovered near the monument suggest Neolithic people greased the sleds used to move the huge stones with lard.

  • Scientists claim the enormous stones were dragged using ‘greased sledges’
    Newcastle University archaeologists found fat residues on shards of pottery
    They suggest the same lard could have been used to lubricate the sledges

The pig fat concept was proposed by researchers from Newcastle University after they studied pottery found at Durrington Walls, a Neolithic settlement that is just a couple of miles away from Stonehenge.

According to Science magazine’s Eva Frederick, archaeologists previously posited that the high concentrations of lard left in bucket-sized ceramic containers at the prehistoric village resulted from elaborate feasts hosted by Stonehenge’s builders. Shillito believes otherwise, arguing that the size and shape of the pottery make it better suited for storing animal fat than cooking and serving meals. Additionally, the archaeologist notes in a statement from Newcastle, “The animal bones that have been excavated at the site show that many of the pigs were ‘spit roasted’ rather than chopped up as you would expect if they were being cooked in the pots.”

Analysis of residues of absorbed fat is a widely-used technique which can reveal what foods different type of pottery was used for. There are still many unanswered questions surrounding the construction of Stonehenge’, she says.

‘Until now, there has been a general assumption that the traces of animal fat absorbed by these pieces of pottery were related to the cooking and consumption of food, and this steered initial interpretations in that direction.

‘But there may have been other things going on as well, and these residues could be tantalising evidence of the greased sled theory.

‘Archaeological interpretations of pottery residues can sometimes only give us part of the picture.

‘We need to think about the wider context of what else we know and take a ‘multi-proxy’ approach to identify other possibilities if we hope to get a better understanding.’

RELEVANT LINKS TO THIS STORY:

ROCK SLIDE Stonehenge builders may have ‘dragged rocks into place on sledges greased up with PIG FAT –  THE SUN

Did Stonehenge’s Builders Use Lard to Move Its Boulders Into Place? SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE

STONEHENGE: NEOLITHIC PEOPLE MOVED ENORMOUS ROCKS USING PIG FAT FOR LUBRICATION, ARCHAEOLOGIST SAYS – THE NEWS WEEK

Stonehenge was ‘dragged into position using LARD’: Massive stones of the 5,000-year-old Wiltshire monument may have been slipped into place using ‘greased sledges’ lubricated with pig fat – THE DAILY MAIL

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Stonehenge feasters came from far and wide. New study unearths clues to Neolithic celebrations

15 03 2019

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the earliest large-scale celebrations in Britain – with people and animals travelling hundreds of miles for prehistoric feasting rituals.

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Autumn Equinox Celebrations

Four sites close to Stonehenge and Avebury, including Durrington Walls, Marden, Mount Pleasant and West Kennet Palisade Enclosures hosted feasts which drew people and animals from all over the country.

A study examining the bones of 131 pigs from four Late Neolithic complexes show that the animals came from as far away as Scotland, the North East of England and West Wales, as well as other sites in Britain.

Archaeologists have found people travelled from Scotland, Wales and North England to take part in feasts at Stonehenge.

Researchers believe that those attending the feasts may have wanted to contribute animals raised locally at their homes.

Before this study, the origins of the people who took part in the rituals and the extent of the journeys people would take, have been a mystery.

Stonehenge was ‘hub for Britain’s earliest mass parties’

Study lead Dr Richard Madgwick from the University of Cardiff said: “These gatherings could be seen as the first united cultural events of our island, with people from all corners of Britain descending on the areas around Stonehenge to feast on food that had been specially reared and transported from their homes.”

Dr Madgwick said finding pigs in the vicinity of the feasting sites would have been “relatively easy” making the fact they brought the animals long distances “arguably the most startling finding” as this would have required “a monumental effort”.

“This suggests that prescribed contributions were required and that rules dictated that offered pigs must be raised by the feasting participants, accompanying them on their journey, rather than being acquired locally,” he said.

Related Stonehenge Links:

Study of pig bones shows Stonehenge feasters came from far and wide – SKY NEWS
Stonehenge was ‘hub for Britain’s earliest mass parties’- BBC NEWS
Prehistoric feasts at Stonehenge drew people from across Britain to gather – SALISBURY JOURNAL
Stonehenge mystery UNRAVELLED: DAILY EXPRESS
Neolithic Britons travelled across country for regular mass national feasts 4,500 years ago, new research claims – THE INDEPENDENT
Stonehenge-era pig roasts united ancient Britain, scientists say – NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Ancient Brits ‘travelled to Stonehenge for raves’ – THE EVENING STANDARD

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Walk with an Archaeologist: Durrington and the Stonehenge Landscape Revealed

25 03 2017

Durrington Walls is beginning to give up its secrets and here is your opportunity to join Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the World Heritage Site on a half day exploration of this enigmatic site to find out the latest discoveries.

Durrington_Walls

“Follow in the footsteps of the people who built and used Stonehenge and visit the ancient places, prehistoric monuments and former settlements surrounding the famous stone circle. The National Trust cares for over 800 hectares of land within this World Heritage Site and visitors can wander freely across the grasslands. Step back in time and discover what lies beneath.”

Follow in the footsteps of the people who built and used Stonehenge and visit the ancient places, prehistoric monuments and former settlements surrounding the famous stone circle. The National Trust cares for over 800 hectares of land within this World Heritage Site and visitors can wander freely across the grasslands. Step back in time and discover what lies beneath

Durrington Walls is beginning to give up its secrets and here is your opportunity to join Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the World Heritage Site on a half day exploration of this enigmatic site to find out the latest discoveries. Neolithic expert and archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall has been working in this globally important landscape for many years. During this gentle 3 mile walk, she will paint a picture of what life was like when Durrington Walls was a thriving and busy village supporting the builders of Stonehenge, and she’ll explain how the latest discoveries are revealing the secrets of our ancestors.

8th April 2017.  Booking essential.  Visit the National Trust website for more dtails

More ways to explore the Durrington Walls and the Stonehenge landscape.
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.  London Walks offer guided tours from London cia the train. Stonehenge Walks offer 1 – 5 hour guided tours from the Stonehenge visitor centre throughout the year.

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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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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

The Stonehenge News Blog
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge News





Stonehenge: Up close. English Heritage Members Event. February 2017

26 11 2016

Gain a rare and fascinating insight into the famous World Heritage Site with an exclusive tour around the site led by one of English Heritage’s experts.

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Start the tour with exclusive early morning access to the stone circle at Stonehenge accompanied by our expert. Followed by a light breakfast we will then visit key archaeology sites including Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and The Cursus and learn more about the archaeological landscape and investigative work that has taken place in recent years.

A light breakfast is included. This event has been graded as moderate as there will be plenty of walking over uneven ground. Please dress for the weather as there is no shelter on site. Sturdy footwear is a must, as is a torch.

15th February 2017 (7.30am – 12.30pm) £45 per person

This is an English Heritage ‘Members only’ event.  Please visit their website for more details

HOW TO BOOK
Tickets are available now by calling English Heritage direct on 0370 333 1183.

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