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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Pre-history may have to be re-written due to groundbreaking finds by Stonehenge team

2 11 2014

Pre-history may have to be re-written following a recent dig by university students near Stonehenge.

Senior research fellow David Jacques

Senior research fellow David Jacques

Signs of human habitation 8,000 years ago have been discovered by Archaeology MA students from the University of Buckingham, led by senior research fellow David Jacques.

Mr Jacques said: “This year we’ve found burnt flint – a sign that people had made fires, so were in the area, around 8,000 years ago.

“The finds will have to be carbon-dated to get a precise date.

“It’s been wonderful that the first ever University of Buckingham archaeology students have unearthed mesolithic tools as part of the team of volunteers at the dig.”

The archaeologist, who is leading the new Archaeology MA course at the university, has just completed a two-week dig at Vespasian’s Camp, a mile from Stonehenge, at which MA students and University of Buckingham staff worked as volunteers, sifting through remains.

A number of ancient flint tools were among the finds.

More than 12,000 items from the mesolithic era (8000 – 3500BC) have been uncovered, including hunting tools, the cooked bones of aurochs – a gigantic cow-like animal – deer, wild boar, and even toads’ legs.

The finds have revealed that the site was in use continually for over 3,000 years, and could even be the reason why Stonehenge is where it is.

Mr Jacques suspects the site will contain evidence of settlements, which would be some of the earliest ever found in the UK and would completely change our understanding of this era.

Mr Jacques appeared on TV this year in BBC 1’s Operation Stonehenge and BBC 4’s The Flying Archaeologist.

And the MA students working alongside him at the dig a fortnight ago found themselves being filmed for a forthcoming episode of Horizon.

Digs at the site over the last few years have already yielded a staggering 32,000 artefacts dating from as far back as 7500BC.

Last year, the dig resulted in 8,000-year-old burnt frogs’ legs being found, revealing the delicacy was originally English and not French.

Earlier this year, carbon dating of finds from the dig led to the revelation that Amesbury is the oldest town in the country.

A previous public lecture by Mr Jacques at the university drew a packed audience.

Following the latest dig, Mr Jacques is returning to deliver another public lecture on Thursday, November 13.

The free event will take place at 6.30pm, in the Chandos Road Building, as part of the university’s autumn concert and lecture series.

In the lecture, Mr Jacques will unveil startling new evidence showing how the mesolithic period influenced the building of Stonehenge.

The lecture will focus on the area around the dig, Blick Mead, which features a natural spring, which would have attracted settlers to the area.

The warm spring water has caused stones to turn a bright puce, a colour of stone not found elsewhere in the UK.

David Jacques was elected a Fellow of the Society of the Antiquaries (FSA) in recognition of the importance of his discoveries there.
Link Source:

Stonehenge News Blog





The New Discoveries at Blick Mead: the Key to the Stonehenge Landscape

29 10 2013

An archaeological team from the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute has been uncovering very large amounts of Mesolithic material from a site immediately adjacent to Stonehenge.

Stonehenge At a point called Blick Mead (a part of the Stonehenge landscape known as ‘Vespasian’s Camp’ on the mistaken assumption that it was the remains of a former Roman settlement) around 12,000 pieces of worked flint and burnt flint have been unearthed, as well as over 500 pieces of bone dating from over 8000 years ago. Virtually all the tools are in pristine condition – indeed, some of the team have had their fingers cut by them as they are still so sharp.

The most significant consequence of the excavation is that we have now discovered where the communities who built the first monuments at Stonehenge once lived – something that has eluded archaeologists for the best part of two centuries.  But the fact that the site also provides evidence for ritual activity in later periods suggests that the Buckingham team has also discovered a rare ‘multi-phase’ site, which was occupied over several millennia – indeed into the early medieval period.

David Jacques, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute, has been directing the excavations at Vespasian’s Camp, Amesbury, Wiltshire, since 2005.

Burnt flint used in cookingThe archaeological potential of Vespasian’s Camp first came to light as a result of David Jacques’ detailed research of the site’s estate and nearby farm records. Indeed, before his team started their excavations, there was no evidence of Vespasian’s Camp having played any significant part in the Salisbury Plain ritual landscape or its history, and the site had been generally ignored by archaeologists, who assumed that any archaeological evidence on the site had been destroyed in the course of the landscaping of the area as a park for a neighbouring country house during the course of the 18th century.

Radiocarbon dating of objects from the Buckingham-sponsored excavations now shows that this site was occupied between 7550-4700 BC, which means that the Blick Mead site was in continuous use for almost 3,000 years.

This is generating great interest from archaeologists who have long pondered the possibility of a ‘missing link’ between the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods of activity at Stonehenge. The radiocarbon dates make this the oldest ever ‘homebase’ found in the Stonehenge area and could be one of the reasons why Stonehenge is sited where it is.

The findings produced by the Buckingham-funded excavations have led English Heritage to describe Vespasian’s Camp as potentially ‘one of the pivotal places in the history of the Stonehenge landscape’.

The 7500 BC dating of Blick Mead correlates strongly with the enigmatic posts found underneath Stonehenge car park in the late 1960s, which appear to be marking this area up as somewhere of special cultural significance

Finds from the springA copper alloy Bronze Age dagger, found nearby, at the Bluestonehenge monument in 2009, a 5th-century Anglo-Saxon disc brooch from a nearby spring, and medieval wooden staves from the main spring also connect Blick Mead to the early Anglo-Saxon and Amesbury Abbey periods. They add to the picture of the Blick Mead area being a place associated with veneration over the longue durée.

As a result of the support from the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute, further work is planned over the next two years.


Article Source: http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/research/hri/blickmead

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OU students’ Stonehenge dig put to the vote for award

19 12 2012

Excavations by Open University students that could point to the origins of Stonehenge, have been nominated for Research Project of the Year by Current Archaeology magazine.

http://www.open.ac.uk/platform/news-and-features/ou-students-stonehenge-dig-put-to-the-vote-for-awardYou can vote for the project, which is called Vespasian’s Camp: Cradle of Stonehenge? on the Current Archaeology website here.

The project is led by OU tutor David Jacques who has recruited more than 100 OU students to work on the site, alongside volunteers from the nearby town of Amesbury, since the dig began in 2005.

The ongoing dig, at a previously unexplored site 1.5 km east of Stonehenge, is uncovering evidence which suggests the area was an important centre for Stone Age hunters several thousand years before the famous stone circle was built.

“Many experts are now wondering if Stonehenge is where it is because of this new site, because radiocarbon dates obtained from it show a continued use of the site from the 8th millennium BC through to the 5th millennium BC,” says David Jacques.

“This is the longest continually used place yet found in the Stonehenge landscape, and it connects the hunter-gatherer Mesolithic period to close to the Neolithic period, when Stonehenge starts to be constructed.

“It must have been a very special place to be used for 3000 years, a point confirmed by Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University, who also described it as ‘the most important discovery at Stonehenge in many years’.”

The excavation team have uncovered the largest cache of Mesolithic tools ever found in the area, together with evidence of gargantuan Stone Age feasts.

They’ve also found weapons and other objects left as offerings to a god or goddess during the much later Bronze or early Iron Age, suggesting the site had a sacred tradition stretching over thousands of years.

The dig has also inspired the local community to create a museum at Amesbury to house the finds.

To find out more see the story here where you can watch a video and follow links to press reports.

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