The Stonehenge visitor centre and excellent English Heritage exhibition.

6 05 2017

From 1968 until 2013, the visitor facilities at Stonehenge amounted to a collection of brutalist concrete bunkers,  and a small car park almost opposite the monument alongside the old A344 road, with a subway below the road so that visitors could safely reach the stones. The old visitor centre was opened with much fanfare, and a ceremonial gold key.

subway opening 1968

key

As visitor numbers increased year on year these facilities (latterly expanded by the addition of some portakabins) rapidly became overwhelmed, eventually being described as “a national disgrace” in Parliament.

old_visitor_centre

After endless consultations and arguments, with almost a dozen options being tabled and rejected, eventually a location was found over a mile and a half away to the west that was chosen for the new Visitor Centre. The A344 road past the monument was closed and grassed over, the old facilities and car park decommissioned and in December 2013 the new centre opened.

Designed by an Australian firm Denton Corker Marshall, with an initial budget of £27M, the intention was to create a building that sat quietly in the landscape and deliberately didn’t reference the form of Stonehenge in any way.

Its elegantly curved roof was to evoke the sense of a leaf lightly resting on angled columns that called to mind the trunks of trees in a wood, with dappled sunlight falling through the perforations at the roof’s edge and a gentle breeze cooling the central corridor between the two independent building “pods” below it.

For those that geek out on these things, there is one direct reference to Stonehenge – the tallest columns supporting the roof at the NE and SW corner are each the same height as the tallest trilithon at Stonehenge was when first erected 4,500 years ago.

new vc

new vc closeup

There are two major advantages over the old centre – firstly, the café is now indoors and secondly there is an excellent exhibition which showcases artefacts from both the Stonehenge landscape and the monument itself.

There are two major advantages over the old centre – firstly, the café is now indoors and secondly there is an excellent exhibition which showcases artefacts from both the Stonehenge landscape and the monument itself.

Entrance to the exhibition is included in the ticket price and this part of the Stonehenge experience definitely shouldn’t be missed – it helps to place the monument in context without overwhelming a casual visitor, but has enough detail to interest the nerdiest Stonehenge enthusiast.

There is a walk-in 360° video theatre which places you in the centre of the monument at all the major stages in its development, from 3000BC when the henge bank and ditch was dug along with the Aubrey Hole circle of 56 post or stone holes, through the arrival of the large Sarsen stones around 2,500BC, the final rearrangement of the Bluestones in 2,200BC and the 3 minute presentation brings you up to the modern day appearance complete with traffic flowing by on the A303. As the seasons change, you see representations of both summer solstice sunrise and winter solstice sunset as shadowy – almost ghostly – figures process around the circle.

A 360 degree virtual experience video display showing Stonehenge is played at  the new exhibition centre at Stonehenge in Salisbury, southern England

Passing through into the main exhibition space, you find five display cases containing genuine archaeological finds that are on loan from Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum (in Devizes) including some of the grave goods – flint arrowheads, bronze daggers, gold, amber and jet jewellery as well as ceramics – from the burial mounds along with the remains of two occupants. Both museums offer reduced price entry to Stonehenge ticketholders and each have recently enjoyed major upgrades to their own exhibition spaces.

exhibition cases

On one side is a huge dynamic video wall showing the evolution of the landscape and the sites of its key monuments over time, along the other are four large bronze models of Stonehenge at the main points in its evolution (feel free to touch the models, it’s encouraged).

As well as the permanent exhibition, there is a side gallery which houses temporary displays that are periodically replaced. Presently, the side gallery contains Julian Richards’ “Wish You Were Here” exhibition of Stonehenge collectibles and memorabilia down the ages, from postcards through Druidic regalia and some bizarre items that have used the Stonehenge image as part of their marketing. This includes phone cards, stamps and a wonderful brass Trilithon-topped crumpet-toasting fork. No such collection would be complete without a copy of the Spinal Tap Trilithon-shaped single record, and sure enough it’s here too.

Staff and volunteers in the exhibition are happy to explain the items on display in the main hall and the side gallery, so don’t fail to take advantage of their knowledge.

neoliothic houses

These houses were built by experts from the Ancient Technology Centre on Cranbourne Chase and a cohort of keen volunteers, some of whom can often be found in the houses giving demonstrations of ancient skills. It’s only by attempting to replicate the work of our long-dead ancestors that we gain new insights into the subtler aspects of their lives – the houses (not mere “huts”) are spacious, comfortable, sturdy structures and with periodic maintenance will easily last 25 years or more.

The new Visitor Centre may be a building that divides opinion, but within and without there are some fantastic displays that give a genuinely fresh perspective on Neolithic and Bronze Age life.

Just outside the visitor centre, at the back, sits the collection of replica Neolithic houses that are closely based on the remarkable archaeological discovery of such buildings at nearby Durrington Walls – the probable settlement site in use when the large Sarsen stones were being erected 4,500 years ago.

Entrance to Stonehenge is now managed through timed tickets and advance booking is the only way to guarantee entry on the day and time of your choice. By booking in advance you will also benefit from an advanced booking discount. It is also possible to purchase advance Stonehenge tickets here to beat the lines.

If you are short on time and would like to join an organised guided tour of Stonehenge, it is possible to do this from London, Salisbury or Bath. You can even arrange for local expert guide to meet you at the visitor centre for a guided walking tour.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Loop in the Landscape Workshop. Stonehenge Event 13th / 20th May.

3 05 2017

Take your imagination for a walk in this outdoor writing workshop in the Stonehenge Landscape. Working with award-winning poet Holly Corfield Carr, you will explore the ancient contours and hidden corners of the World Heritage Site, learning how to use field writing techniques and observational excercises to draw inspiration from even the smallest rock. (13th and 20th May at 2pm £5)

loop2

This event is generously supported by the National Trust and English Heritage and tickets include parking, refreshments, access to Stonehenge and a return journey to the Visitor Centre on a shuttle bus.

All ages and writing experience welcome. We are keen to meet local residents from Amesbury and Salisbury and the surrounding areas, as well as National Trust and English Heritage members.

Participants will have the chance to have their writing published as part of loop, a book of poems, photographs and walking routes celebrating life in the landscape around Stonehenge and Amesbury, the UK’s longest continuously-occupied settlement. For more information, please visit loop.org.uk.

looproutemap.jpg

Please be advised that the workshop will take place on the move and we will be walking at a gentle pace across 4km of uneven ground so please wear suitable footwear, clothing and sunscreen if appropriate. There will be regular breaks for writing and sitting on chairs which will be provided and the workshop will end with refreshments in the Neolithic Huts at the Visitor Centre.

More details: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/loop-in-the-landscape-tickets-33924131992

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The Knotty Problem of the A303 and Stonehenge.

16 03 2017

For over 30 years people have been trying to come up with a solution to the problem of the A303 road that runs past Stonehenge. It’s a stretch of single carriageway road with a dual carriageway at either end. As a result it’s a traffic bottleneck, especially during holiday season, and people slow down to take a picture of Stonehenge as they drive by.

A number of options have been proposed – from upgrading the single carriageway road into a dual carriageway on the existing route, to a tunnel to hide an upgraded road from view. Tunnels have been suggested that range in length from 2km to 4.5km constructed either as “cut and cover” or “bored”.

Over 50 alternate routes – some that take the road entirely out of the World Heritage Site – have been put forward, so many that the map showing them all is called the Spaghetti Diagram.

A303routes
Most recently, a 2.9km long bored tunnel has been proposed which would run about 200m south of the existing A303. The tunnel would be below the archaeological layer, well away from Stonehenge itself and remove the view, noise and fumes of traffic from the immediate vicinity of the monument.

You’d think everyone would be delighted. They’re not.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) runs from the A345 road in the east to the A360 road in the west, a distance of 5.4km. A tunnel of 2.9km clearly isn’t long enough to span its entire width, and this means that the tunnel portals must be dug into the ground within the WHS itself.

On top of that, new lengths of road and new junctions must also be built within the WHS – at the western and eastern end of the tunnel – to link up with the existing roads.

When the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS was inscribed in 1986 they were recognised as Cultural Sites. At the time, there was no designation of “Cultural Landscape” but the inscription said:

Criterion (iii): The complexes of monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury provide an exceptional insight into the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Together with their settings and associated sites, they form landscapes without parallel.

The proposal to destroy large areas of the Stonehenge landscape with new roads and tunnel portals is what has upset a lot of people.

The Stonehenge Alliance is a group that represents the views of a number of organisations, their view is that the tunnel is too short and would cause “irreparable damage to the WHS”.

SA Leaflet

ICOMOS is an important heritage advisory group to UNESCO and it firmly objects to the current option for a 2.9km tunnel for the substantial negative and irreversible impact it would have on the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage site (WHS) of Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated sites.”

A group of 21 leading archaeologists who have worked in the Stonehenge landscape over decades says that the proposal has dreadful consequences for the world’s most famous archaeological site and its landscape setting.

The list of objecting organisations goes on and on – the Council for British Archaeology, the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, the Prehistoric Society, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Society of Antiquaries, the International Astronomical Union Commission on Heritage and Astronomy….

The National Trust, English Heritage and Historic England have also expressed very strong concerns over the positioning of the western portal and its approach road.

Historic England said The current location is very close to the Normanton Down barrow cemetery, one of the best preserved and most significant Neolithic and Bronze Age cemeteries in the UK. The portal would certainly have a significant adverse impact upon the setting of this barrow group and upon the OUV of the WHS.

The National Trust’s chief archaeologist for the WHS says, in an appendix to the Historic England report, The western portal is very close to the Normanton Down Barrow Group while both surface routes have adverse visual and aural impacts on the surrounding Winterbourne Stoke, Normanton Down, Lake and Diamond Groups (nearly a quarter of the identified key attribute groups).

The proposal actually places the western tunnel portal directly on the Winter Solstice Sunset line as seen from Stonehenge, and the new road leading away from it runs along this alignment.

Western Portal Trenching SMR Montage

Astronomers have viewed this idea as absolutely crazy.

Prof. Clive Ruggles, a leading archaeoastronomer and key figure in the interpretation of astronomical sightlines of ancient monuments across the world says there are serious concerns that the integrity of the SW sightline from Stonehenge could be permanently destroyed, eliminating forever the possibility of visitors to Stonehenge once again seeing the winter solstice sun setting behind the distant natural horizon along the axis of the monument.

The public consultation for the initial route proposals finished on the 5th March 2017. Highways England now have several months of work ahead of them to refine their proposal to take into account the more than 7,000 submissions they’ve received so far.

Local residents, holidaymakers and hauliers have suffered traffic problems along the A303 for over 30 years, so a solution that speeds up traffic is desperately sought by Government.

What’s crucial to bear in mind is that whatever solution is implemented, unless a route entirely outside the WHS is found, it will have a permanent impact on the setting of one of the most important landscapes in the world, and that we all have a responsibility to the future not to make a terrible mistake.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Memory Code: The Memory Technique That Unlocks the Secrets of Stonehenge and Ancient Monuments the World Over.

21 02 2017

The memory technique that unlocks the secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and ancient monuments the world over. Lynne Kelly has discovered that a powerful technique used by the ancients can unlock the secrets of the Neolithic stone circles of Britain and Europe

Without writing, indigenous elders memorised a vast amount of factual information onmemorycode which survival depended both physically and culturally: knowledge of thousands of animals and plants, astronomical charts, vast navigation networks, genealogies, geography and geology … the list goes on and on. How did they remember so much? And why does this explain the purpose of ancient monuments including Stonehenge, Easter Island and the Nasca Lines? Can we use these memory methods in contemporary life?

This lecture will focus on the transmission of scientific and practical knowledge among small-scale oral cultures across the world, drawing on Australian Aboriginal, Native American, African and Pacific cultures. Dr Kelly will explain the exact mechanisms used and why this explains the purpose of many enigmatic monuments around the world. We have a great deal to learn from the extraordinary mnemonic skills of indigenous cultures.

Dr Lynne Kelly is a science writer and Honorary Research Associate at Latrobe University, Australia. Her most recent books are Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: orality, memory and the transmission of culture (Cambridge University Press) and The Memory Code (Atlantic Books).

Wednesday 22nd February, University of Nottingham: Indigenous memory and Stonehenge – yes, there is a link, Workshop and public lecture. Click here to book

The Memory Code
The Allen & Unwin description:

Lynne Kelly has discovered that a powerful memory technique used by the ancients can unlock the secrets of the Neolithic stone circles of Britain and Europe, the ancient Pueblo buildings in New Mexico and other prehistoric stone monuments across the world. We can still use the memory code today to train our own memories.

In the past, the elders had encyclopaedic memories. They could name all the animals and plants across the landscape, and the stars in the sky too. Yet most of us struggle to memorise more than a short poem.

Using traditional Aboriginal Australian songlines as the key, Lynne Kelly has identified the powerful memory technique used by indigenous people around the world. She has discovered that this ancient memory technique is the secret behind the great stone monuments like Stonehenge, which have for so long puzzled archaeologists.

The stone circles across Britain and northern Europe, the elaborate stone houses of New Mexico, the huge animal shapes at Nasca in Peru, and the statues of Easter Island all serve as the most effective memory system ever invented by humans. They allowed people in non-literate cultures to memorise the vast amounts of practical information they needed to survive.

In her fascinating book The Memory Code, Lynne Kelly shows us how we can use this ancient technique to train our memories today.

Praise for The Memory Code:

As we rediscover the extraordinary endurance of the oral memories of people who do not depend on writing, and as we begin to rediscover that many of those memories include knowledge of distant times, Lynne Kelly has explored how vast, non-written memory systems can work. She explores the notion that memories were or are encoded in spaces that can be marked by natural or build elements and applies that exploration to some of the remarkable physical monuments of the last ten thousand years. She takes the reader on a fascinating journey into the past and around the world and into the minds of people who would not need to publish a book like this. They already knew it. An engaging and exciting read.
Iain Davidson, Emeritus Professor, University of New England

Dr Kelly has developed an intriguing and highly original account of the purpose of Stonehenge, Avebury and other stone monuments. The depth and breath of her research, and experimental experience she has brought to study, command respect and invite serious attention.
Dr Rosamund Cleal, Museum Curator, Alexander Keillor 

Visit her website and blog here

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Stonehenge tunnel plans finalised by government.

12 01 2017

Long-awaited plans for a road tunnel past Stonehenge have been finalised by the government.

The proposal for a 1.8-mile (2.9 km) dual carriageway tunnel is aimed at easing congestion on the nearby A303.

a303

The proposals involve building a tunnel for the A303 which runs past the ancient monument

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the proposal will “transform’ the road and benefit people by “cutting congestion and improving journey times”.

A public consultation aimed at drivers and residents will run until 5 March.

The tunnel plans form part of a £2bn government scheme to upgrade all remaining sections of the A303 between the M3 and M5.

Highways England’s Jim O’Sullivan said: “Our plans for the A303 recognise the national importance of the route and these improvements will bring real benefit to the region and local communities.

“The public exhibitions will provide an excellent opportunity to explain further our plans and to hear feedback from stakeholders on our proposals to deliver the scheme.”

A report by UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites has recognised the benefits of the project.

At the moment the busy A303 passes within a few hundred metres of the ancient monument.

However, campaign group Stonehenge Alliance believes any tunnel shorter than 2.7-miles (4.3 km) would do “irreparable damage to the landscape”.

In 2015 it launched a petition calling for a longer tunnel which gained 17,500 signatures.

A spokesperson said: “The Alliance does not advocate new road building at Stonehenge but accepts the need to improve the tranquillity and appearance of the World Heritage Site and its setting.

“If the government insists on widening the A303 by means of a tunnel it must be sufficiently long to avoid any further damage to [Stonehenge] and its setting.”

English Heritage and the National Trust have also given their support to the option of “the longest tunnel possible”.

Chairman of Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust Andy Rhind-Tutt described the tunnel plan as a “self-destructing time bomb” which would “do nothing” for traffic problems in the area.
BBC NEWS

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English Heritage are hiring a new ‘solstice coordinator’ at Stonehenge.

12 01 2017

How would you like to help organise this year’s solstice celebrations at Stonehenge?

English Heritage is advertising for a solstice coordinator to help put on seasonal gatherings at the ancient site near Salisbury.

The successful candidate will be tasked with arranging access to the stones during pagan celestial celebrations.

Druid greets the dawn at Stonehenge

Druids were traditionally allowed to attend Stonehenge for free on the solstice but there has been controversy recently over parking charges.

English Heritage is looking for somebody to: “Coordinate the planning and delivery of safe managed open access to Stonehenge for celebration of the summer solstice, winter solstice, spring and autumn equinoxes (and any other agreed seasonal gatherings).”

The salary is £20,000 pro rata on a part time basis working 14 hours a week and you must be available overnight on the night of each seasonal gathering.

There is a history of tension between the druid and pagan communities and English Heritage. Last year tempers flared when King Arthur Pendragon, Britain’s head druid said high parking charges meant solstice visitors had to ‘pay to pray’ at the sacred stones. English Heritage has also accused protestors of ‘vandalising’ the site.

According to the job advertisement, “The right person for this role will have excellent organisational skills and experience of organising events and controlling budgets. Resilience, empathy, diplomacy and a good sense of humour are a must.”

English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites – from world famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles; from Roman forts on the edges of empire to a Cold War bunker.
Article by By JoeTSmith SomersetLive

Visit the English Heritage Jobs page

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Stonehenge, King Arthur and Merlin

8 01 2017

Merlin makes his first appearance in the Stonehenge story in Book 8, Chapter 10, of Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s epic work “Historia Regum Britanniae” (The History of the Kings of Britain, c. 1136AD) when Aurelius Ambrosius – recently annointed King of Britain and the brother of Uther Pendragon – seeks his advice for a lasting memorial to the British princes treacherously slain by the Saxons during a truce.

Merlin says:
“If you are desirous to honour the burying-place of these man with an everlasting monument, KIng Arthurs Merlin at Stonehengesend for the Giant’s Dance, which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand for ever.”

When Aurelius laughs at the idea of going such a long way when there are ample stones in Britain, Merlin continues:

“I entreat your majesty to forbear vain laughter; for what I say is without vanity. They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coasts of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design in this was to make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is no a stone there which has not some healing virtue.”

And so off to Ireland goes Uther along with Merlin and 15,000 men to fetch the Giant’s Dance.

Robert Wace’s Roman de Brut from about 1155AD retells this story for a Norman French audience. A 14th Century manuscript version of the Brut accompanies the tale with an illustration of Merlin carrying out the work of re-erecting the monument, employing a giant to help him (a detail that Wace added that wasn’t in Geoffrey’s original text).

Aurelius subsequently dies – poisoned by a Saxon at Winchester – and is buried near the Giant’s Dance, reputedly in the largest barrow on Coneybury Hill (Amesbury G23 “King Barrow”) according to local tradition written down by Stukeley in the 18th Century.

Uther succeeds Aurelius and then Uther’s son Arthur receives the crown after Uther also succumbs to Saxon poison whereupon “the bishops and clergy of the kingdom assembled, and carried his body to the convent of Ambrius, where they buried it with regal solemnity, close by Aurelius Ambrosius, within the Giant’s Dance.”

Arthur’s famous exploits are well documented in the romances, but ultimately Geoffrey reports him mortally wounded and departed to the Isle of Avalon, to be replaced by Constantine, son of Cador of Cornwall.

Constantine was eventually killed by Conan and “buried close by Uther Pendragon within the structure of stones, which was set up with wonderful art not far from Salisbury, and called in the English tongue Stanheng”.

There is only one documented burial of a body actually within the centre of the stone circle of Stonehenge itself, known as WA2724, which was discovered by Col. William Hawley in 1926. Whether this is either Uther or Constantine (or neither) is unknowable and the dating is difficult since the burial was badly disturbed and found with pottery from medieval to Bronze Age in date plus a Roman coin and some Victorian and Georgian artifacts as well.

The next nearest inhumation is from fractionally outside the circle on the east side, known as WA1676 and discovered by Hawley in 1923. This person was decapitated from behind, probably with a sword, and then unceremoniously stuffed into a grave not big enough for the body. It does date from Anglo-Saxon times, around 650AD. Interestingly, the very first radiocarbon date for this burial was commissioned by a Welsh dentist called Wystan Peach in 1975 – he was convinced the bones were those of King Arthur himself and published a booklet describing his theory in 1961.

More recently two novels have sought to place Arthur and Merlin back in the Bronze Age at the time of the construction of Stonehenge rather than in the post-Roman Dark Ages – “Stone Lord” and “Moon Lord”, by J.P. Reedman. Drawing on the latest archaeological discoveries from the Stonehenge landscape these novels are a fascinating addition to the mythology of these legendary characters that are so iconic to the British sense of self.

stonelord moonlord

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

MoonLord: The Fall of King Arthur – The Ruin of Stonehenge.  Buy on Amazon
StoneLord: The Legend Of King Arthur, The Era Of Stonehenge. Buy on Amazon
Visit Janet Reedmans Blog for more information

Recent Blog: Druid Leader King Arthur Uther Pendragon, Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband.

English Heritage: The King Arthur Story and links to Arthurian locations
BBC HistoryKing Arthur, ‘Once and Future King’

Stonehenge Guided Tours offer King Arthur Tours including Stonehenge and associated sites in the South West of England.

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