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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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

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The Blick Mead excavations have transformed the understanding of the Stonehenge landscape.

15 01 2017

In the early 2000s, Professor David Jacques was researching the estate records of Amesbury Abbey and realised that the archaeology around the Iron Age hillfort known as Vespasian’s Camp had probably not been obliterated by landscaping of the parkland in the 18th Century, as had previously been assumed.

The subsequent excavations, from 2005 onwards, around the spring pool at Blick Mead have transformed the understanding of the Stonehenge landscape.

historic-amesbury

Archaeologists at the University of Buckingham, led by David Jacques found the ancient site in October 2014, which is around one-and-a-half miles (2.4km) from Stonehenge

The earliest datable “monumental” activity at Stonehenge comes from pine charcoal found at the bottom of two of the three enormous post pits that were discovered in the late 1960s when the old car park was being extended.

Radiocarbon-dated to around 7,500 – 7,900 BC these almost 1m diameter pine posts were erected back in the Mesolithic Age when the people inhabiting the British peninsular (not yet separated from Europe by water) were hunter gatherers.

The puzzle for archaeologists since has been to try and find where these people were living in the Stonehenge landscape.

The answer, it seems, is at Blick Mead.

In the last hundred years of research activity in the 26 sq. km. World Heritage Site only a tiny number of mesolithic flint tools have been found within a couple of miles of Stonehenge – fewer than 50 examples.

Jacques’ team of excavators have found, around the constant-temperature (11°C) chalk spring pool, more than 35,000 pieces of mesolithic worked flint, over 2,400 pieces of animal bone (some cooked), artifacts from very far afield and the possible remains of a mesolithic pit dwelling.

What’s more, it’s clear from the 16 radiocarbon dates so far obtained that these people were returning time and again to this resource rich sheltered spot, with its dependable non-freezing fresh water and abundant game, over at least 4000 years.

The dates range broadly from 7900BC to 4050BC, with multiple RC dates in each horsham-point-slate-toolmillennium from the 8th to the 5th BC, and they provide the first evidence of a possible continuity of societal activity across the mesolithic/neolithic boundary period.

One of the far-flung artifacts is a piece of slate that comes from Wales or the Welsh borders and which bears a striking resemblance to a kind of middle mesolithic tool called a Horsham Point – usually identified with the Sussex Weald.

Another is a unique (in Britain) sandstone tool made from material only found in the West Midlands.

Isotope analysis of a dog tooth from the dig suggests that its original owner grew up in the Yorkshire Wolds, implying that long-distance travel in the mesolithic was a commonplace – something that shouldn’t come as a surprise to us if we think about it.

spring-pool-and-ankle-bone

Over 50% of the animal remains are from aurochs (Bos Primigenius), a now extinct species of enormous cattle that once dominated the open grasslands of upland southern Britain. The ankle bone of one of these 2-tonne, 2m at the shoulder, beasts has the tip of a flint arrow or spear embedded in it. Presumably if you want to bring down a 40mph angry bull with thick skin and massive horns, you aim at its feet.

One of the oddest discoveries at the site was that flint removed from the spring pool and left to dry turned a vivid magenta pink colour. The transformation from brown stone to pink is magical to watch – who knows what it meant to the people who first encountered it.

The coloration is due to the existence of algae called Hildenbrandia Rivularis which grows on the cortex of flint nodules and requires very specific conditions of dappled sunlight, stable temperature water around 10-15°C and no competition.

pink-flintThe combination of conditions at Blick Mead have lead the researchers involved to suggest that the site acquired a special significance through long association in tradition with being a place of ancestral return. Perhaps this is part of the reason Stonehenge itself was eventually built close by.

The work at the site (which is on private land and therefore inaccessible to the public) continues each year and involves both professional archaeologists and dozens of volunteers from the local community in Amesbury and also further away.

The dig itself is being run by the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute: http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/humanities/ma/archaeology

An extensive display of some of the items found, along with explanations, can be visited at the Amesbury History Centre – a volunteer-run community project in Melor Hall on Church Street in Amesbury. See https://www.facebook.com/amesburyhistorycentre for opening times.

Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours are considered the Stonehenge local experts should you wish to explore the Stonehenge Landscape and hear more about the Blick Mead excavations.  Stonehenge Guided Tours operate more general Stonehenge day tours from London but also arrange custom guided tours for those who want a more in-depth tour with an archaeological insight.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Blick Mead News Links:
Is this the home of Stonehenge’s forefathers? 6,000-year-old settlement at Blick Mead ‘could rewrite British history’
The New Discoveries at Blick Mead: the Key to the Stonehenge 

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New discoveries rewrite Stonehenge landscape

29 11 2016

Archaeologists have found new evidence that rewrites the history of the Stonehenge landscape.  One of the newly-discovered sites even predates the construction of the world famous monument itself.

arrow-stones

FASCINATING FINDS: Flint arrow heads give a secure early Neolithic date

The remains, found at Larkhill and Bulford, were unearthed during excavations being carried out before the building of a series of brand new Army houses.

At Larkhill, the discovery of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure – a major ceremonial gathering place some 200 meters in diameter – dating from around 3650 BC radically changes our view of the Stonehenge landscape. About 70 enclosures of this type are known across the UK, although this is only the second discovery in the Stonehenge landscape, with the other further to the northwest at Robin Hood’s Ball on the Salisbury Plain Training Area. In the Wessex region they occur on hilltops and, along with long barrows, are some of the earliest built structures in the British landscape.

FASCINATING FINDS – 700 yrs older than Stonehenge:

The Larkhill enclosure has produced pottery, worked flint, a saddle quern, animal bone and human skull fragments, all placed in the ditches which define the enclosure. Sites of this type were used for temporary settlement, to exchange animals and other goods, for feasting and other ritual activity, including the disposal of the dead. The objects found in the ditches reflect these ceremonial practices. The Larkhill causewayed enclosure is around 700 years older than Stonehenge and is part of a landscape that included other large earth and timber structures such as long barrows and cursus monuments. Its builders shaped the landscape into which the stone circle at Stonehenge was placed, which was already special long before Stonehenge was constructed. The causewayed enclosure at Larkhill shows that they had the social organisation necessary to come together to create significant earthworks, and the resources to support the work, as well as the people to carry it out.

Dr Matt Leivers of Wessex Archaeology told Spire FM

“This is an exciting new find and one that transforms our understanding of this important monumental landscape.”

While part of the site has been investigated, the majority of it lies within the Larkhill Garrison, where it remains unaffected by the current works.

LOOK – PHOTOS: There are more pictures of the finds in the mini gallery below…

UNIQUE DOUBLE HENGE:

At nearby Bulford, archaeologists have found a unique double henge, the only example known in Britain. The earliest phases were created around 2900 BC with circular enclosures formed by ditches dug in segments with openings to the north. In the Early Bronze Age (around 2000 BC) both henges were enclosed within continuous ditches, and perhaps buried beneath barrow mounds. From one of the Bulford henges a skull from a large dog or wolf, perhaps a working companion, a trophy from the hunt, or even a totemic symbol, was recovered.

Martin Brown, Principal Archaeologist for WYG told Spire FM:

“These discoveries are changing the way we think about prehistoric Wiltshire and about the Stonehenge landscape in particular. The Neolithic people whose monuments we are exploring shaped the world we inhabit: They were the first farmers and the first people who settled down in this landscape, setting us on the path to the modern world. It is an enormous privilege to hold their tools and investigate their lives.”

ARMY HOUSING WORKS CONTINUE:

Archaeological work on both sites is being managed and directed by WYG on behalf of Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), with fieldwork undertaken by Wessex Archaeology.

The sites’ development is part of wider plans to accommodate the 4000 additional Service personnel plus their families who will be based on and around Salisbury Plain by 2019 under the Army Basing Programme. In total, the MOD is planning to invest more than £1 billion in the area which will provide more than 900 new homes for Service families, over 2,600 new bed spaces for single soldiers and the construction, conversion or refurbishment of 250 other buildings within bases, such as offices, garages, workshops and Mess facilities.

Find out more about WYG and the work at Bulford and Larkhill here: www.wyg.com

Read the full story (source) on the SPIRE FM website

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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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Ever wondered where the builders of Stonehenge lived? Discover Durrington Walls with a landscape guide.

25 10 2016

Discover Durrington Walls.  Join the National Trust landscape guides to explore the secrets of Durrington Walls – once home to the builders of Stonehenge – and discover 6,000 years of hidden history (2.5 – 3 mile walk).

16th November 2016 at 1pm

Event ticket prices
Adult £8.00
Child £0.00

Booking details
Call National Trust Direct: 0844 249 1895
More details on the National Trust website

Why did the builders of Stonehenge choose Salisbury Plain?

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Why did the builders of Stonehenge choose Salisbury Plain?

23 10 2016

One of the most frequently asked questions about Stonehenge is “Why is it where it is?” and there are several possible explanations for this. They’re described below but it’s important to understand that combinations of these are also possible – there may not be just one single reason.

The location isn’t at all the obvious choice because it’s not at the top of the slope, which rises further towards the west. However, if you analyse the terrain you realise that it’s ideally positioned to give medium to long distance views to the northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest over a horizon that is relatively flat in profile.

In fact, the horizon is less than 1° in elevation in all directions.

Salisbury Plain

Archaeologists believe that there were only isolated stands of trees in the Salisbury Plain landscape at the time Stonehenge was built, far fewer than are evident today, so the far-reaching views that are hidden today by modern plantations wouldn’t have been obscured.

viewshed-and-horizon

In the Google Earth image the areas coloured red are directly visible from Stonehenge while the purple line shows the extent of the visible horizon (without trees in the way).

So why not build it further up the westerly slope and achieve even further-reaching views? To do so would be to lose some of the flatness of the horizon in key directions. As it is, Stonehenge appears to be in the centre of a bowl of visibility where the directions to the important astronomical events of summer and winter solstice sunrise and sunset are clear and level.

The second theory relates to the Station Stone Rectangle. Originally there were four Station Stones situated just inside the henge bank. Only two remain in place, the positions of the others (whose stoneholes have been detected) are known.

The short sides of this rectangle are parallel to the main alignment at Stonehenge – winter solstice sunset to summer solstice sunrise. In 1966, C.A. “Peter” Newham pointed out in an article in

station-stone-rectangle

Nature that the long sides of the rectangle are aligned on the extreme moonrise and moonset positions, in a cycle that takes 18.6 years to complete.

It’s a feature of the astronomical geometry that only at the latitude of Stonehenge (give or take 30 miles) that these solar and lunar alignments occur at right angles to each other. Further north or south than that limit and the Station Stone Rectangle would become a parallelogram.

The third possibility concerns the Heel Stone and the Avenue. The Heel Stone is an unshaped sarsen boulder weighing in at over 35 tons that is positioned to the northeast of Stonehenge at the top of the ceremonial approach way called the Avenue. It is traditionally associated with marking the position of sunrise on the summer solstice as seen from the centre of the circle.

During excavations by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in the mid-2000s, a series of features were discovered at the top of the Avenue which have been identified as “periglacial stripes”. These cracks and runnels in the underlying chalk where water has repeatedly frozen and thawed happen to run exactly along the main solstice alignment down the slope to the northeast beyond the Heel Stone.

periglacial

The SRP team suggest that these features would have been visible as parallel lines in the grass leading towards the Heel Stone. They go on to suggest that since the Heel Stone is unshaped, it may always have been lying in the landscape very close to where it has been set upright.

They conclude that a series of noticeable stripes in the grass leading up a slope towards a massive rock exactly in the direction of the winter solstice sunset may be the reason why this spot was regarded as a special place, worthy of memorialising.

Fourthly, there’s the theory that the combination of Bluestones from Wales with Sarsens from the more local area represents the symbolic political unification of two different groups of people at this spot on the borderland between their separate spheres of influence.

We do know that the area has been a focus of activity for more than 10,000 years going right back to the end of the last Ice Age in Britain, as shown by the recent discoveries at Blick Mead in Amesbury, and there are the massive Mesolithic post holes in the landscape only a couple of hundred metres northwest of Stonehenge.

Perhaps we’re looking at the continuation of a specialness that was handed down across the generations, with each successive group embellishing the stories and the monumentalisation a little for itself until finally we end up with a Visitor Centre that receives over a million people a year.

Ultimately though, the reasons for the choice of this location will remain one of the more puzzling Stonehenge mysteries.
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Salisbury Plain links:
Salisbury Plain Safaris offers a unique look at the dramatic landscapes, rich history and picturesque villages surrounding Salisbury, Stonehenge and the surrounding villages.
Stonehenge Guided Tours offer unique guided tours of the Stonehenge landscape and Salisbury Plain
Stonehenge ATV. This is what you have been looking for – the ultimate two seater buggy Salisbury Plain experience.
Visit Wiltshire.  Looking for more information on the famous Salisbury plain?…If so, click here to get the latest information direct from the official Wiltshire tourism site!

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