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The cleaning of an Elizabethan tapestry map has revealed what may be the earliest depiction of the Rollright Stones, a series of Neolithic and Bronze Age megaliths in the English Midlands, says Maggie Wood, the keeper of social history at Warwickshire Museum. What appears to be a small stone circle is now visible in the lower right-hand corner of the Sheldon Tapestry Map of Warwickshire. Other details, including tiny cottages nestled among the trees, are also now visible. The textile was cleaned and conserved in 2011 in preparation for its inclusion in the British Museum’s exhibition “Shakespeare: Staging the World” (until 25 November).*
* Full article here. There is also a 14th century manuscript (thought to be the earliest known account of the stones) in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. See our earlier feature here.
Crossing boundaries: a guest feature by Littlestone.
‘Offerings’ at the Swallowhead Spring. Image credit Moss
The leaving of ribbons, dolls, articles of clothing, crystals, t-lights, even food and drink, at places of historic interest is now generally frowned on in the West and regarded by many as an unwelcome blot on the environment, or at the site of historic interest where they are left. There are, however, countries where the leaving of offerings in the form of ribbons, prayers written on paper which are then tied to the branches of trees or left at the base of stones, is commonplace and forms part of that country’s religion or cultural tradition. In Japan, massive ceremonial straw ropes (shimenawa) are often seen tied round the trunks of old or large trees and these form an intrinsic and deeply embedded aspect of the cultural makeup of the country. Often these trees are not on some secluded mountainside but are found in parks or city centres. Such is the reverence shown by the public towards the spirits that are thought to be, or to dwell within trees, rocks rivers and waterfalls, that it is not uncommon to see passers-by stop, put their hands together and bow respectfully to a tree or stone.
Sacred Japanese oak with shimenawa at the Imagumano Shinto Shrine, Kyoto © Littlestone
In modern Western societies there is a (perhaps) understandable reaction against the neo-pagan tradition of leaving offerings at springs and trees, but we should not look too unkindly on these practices as they seem to be tapping into a pre-Christian tradition and a deeply felt need to revere nature in its more ‘approachable’ manifestations such as trees, springs and stones. What is lacking in the West is a follow-up ceremony for such offerings. In other words, there are few who bother to clean up after an offering has been left at a site. In Japan this problem does not generally arise because, when visiting the grave of a loved one for example, where it is not only customary to take along flowers and burn incense but also to take rice cakes, and perhaps a bottle of sake for the deceased, those offerings are not left behind but taken away after one’s respects to the deceased have been paid. In Japanese this concept is embodied in the wider concept known as kimochi dake itadakimasu. Roughly translated this means ‘I will take only the spirit of your kindness’ and is used for example when thanking (but politely refusing) an offer of help. In practice, no bottles of sake or parcels of rice cakes are left at the family grave; instead they are placed there for a short time while respects to the departed are paid and then they are packed up and taken home to be consumed by members of the deceased family. In other words, only the spirit of the offering is left behind.
The sentiments behind the nature-based Shinto practices of Japan, and the neo-pagan ceremonies of the West, do seem to be broadly similar. What is different between the two cultures is the absence in the West of a ‘Rite of Disposal’ for offerings left at special or sacred places. In Japan there is a ceremony called Dondo Yaki (どんどやき). This is the annual and ritual burning of offerings left at sites throughout the year. To quote from the Let it Burn! blog –
If you don’t burn the New Year’s decorations, it’s like holding on to the past. Moreover, holding on to the past is an act that doesn’t help you grow and mature as an individual. It’s a time to say good-bye to the old year and to any old, emotional attachments that might have held you back on a personal or professional level.
Perhaps this is what the West needs for its ever-growing pagan tradition of leaving offerings at sacred sites – an annual burning celebration of the offerings, and worn out dreams, of one year and a clear statement heralding in the next.
Three separate photographs of “Ecce Homo” by painter Elias Garcia Martinez show extensive damage caused by an elderly woman who decided the masterpiece needed a little refurbishment. But in a time of austerity, rather than calling in a professional to complete the job, the unnamed woman attempted to restore the mural herself – at a devastating cost. The result was a botched repair where the intricate brush strokes of Martinez were replaced with a haphazard splattering of the octogenarian’s paint. Years of carefully calculated depth of expression simply washed out by copious amounts of red and brown.
More and a video here.
Jill Harding, writing in the Salisbury Journal yesterday, reports that –
PLANS to extend the opening hours of Amesbury’s new museum and visitor centre are moving ahead.
Each Wednesday the newly founded Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust has been opening the doors of Melor Hall and presenting a showcase on the hidden heritage of Amesbury. The trust now wants to open the museum for longer and more often and is looking to encourage people visiting Stonehenge to also come to Amesbury.
“We have just over a year to be prepared for a new visitor centre at Stonehenge,” said the town’s former mayor and trust founder Andy Rhind-Tutt. “This will be a big step forward for Amesbury and one that we need to be ready for.
The trust is working on a museum website and wants to extend the displays to create a larger, more permanent exhibition. Amesbury Town Council bought Melor Hall for £285,000 last year and opened it to the public at Easter. Although it has opened in the existing building, the council hopes to get funding from developer Bloor Homes to pay for a purpose built visitor centre on the site.
The exhibition is currently open from 11am to 3pm on Wednesdays. Refreshments are available and, weather permitting, there are craft exhibitions outside.
Two new branches of archaeological research in Japan are Jishin Kokogaku (Earthquake Archaeology) and Kazanbai Kokogaku (Volcanic Ash Archaeology). Earthquake archaeology developed simultaneously, but in a quite different way, from Mediterranean archaeoseismology, whose differences will be explored in this lecture. The dating and use of marker tephra across the Japanese Islands have given rise to Volcanic Ash Archaeology, which played a leading role in the Palaeolithic Scandal of November 2000. The correlation of historical records of volcanic eruptions with archaeological data will be examined in the context of Disaster Archaeology.
The Chimera of Arezzo. Etruscan, circa 400bce. Made of bronze and measuring 78.5cm x 129cm
Photo credit Antonio Quattrone, Florence
During September and December 2012 the Royal Academy of Arts will present Bronze, a landmark exhibition that celebrates the remarkable historical, geographical and stylistic range of this enduring medium. The exhibition will run from 15 September to the 9 December 2012 and can be viewed in the Main Galleries, Burlington House, London.
The Springfield Cursus
Watercolour by Frank Gardiner
Essex County Council
The 2001 edition of Essex Archaeology and History (published by the Society at the Museum in Colchester Castle) contains over fifteen articles, including one on the Prehistoric settlement and burials at Elms Farm, Heybridge by M Atkinson and S Preston, and the Bronze Age enclosure at Springfield Lyons in its landscape context by Nigel Brown. Brown writes in the latter that –
Another major monument, the Springfield Cursus (Buckley, Hedges and Brown forthcoming) was constructed in the valley below Springfield Lyons. The cursus as revealed by air photographs and extensive excavations prior to development, was a rectilinear enclosure 670m long and 40m wide with squared terminals and apparently aligned on the cropmark large mortuary enclosure. Together these two monuments cut off the neck of a spur of ground just above the Chelmer floodplain and marked by the 20m contour line within a broad loop of the river. The break in slope is not great but may have been significant. Despite the canalisation of the Chelmer in the 18th century and more recent drainage works, the river still floods each winter to the east of Chelmsford in the vicinity of the Cursus. The Springfield Lyons causewayed enclosure would have provided a panoramic view of the monument in the valley below. Today (or rather 20 years ago since the valley is now obscured by housing) the view from Springfield Lyons can often be dramatic in midwinter when the rising sun is reflected from the often frozen floodwater in the valley below. Such a view may have been more spectacular when the Cursus and oval barrow/mortuary enclosure were standing monuments. It seems likely that winter flooding in the Neolithic would have been even more extensive than it is today in which case, in midwinter, the cursus and mortuary enclosure/barrow would have formed a line of monumental earthworks cutting off an area of land surrounded on three sides by water.
The late Bronze Age causewayed enclosure at Springfield Lyons as it appears today
The above photograph shows the late Bronze Age causewayed enclosure at Springfield Lyons as it appears today; the line of sight is towards where the Springfield Cursus was situated some half a mile away. Although the view is now obscured by trees, and the causeway is now surrounded by houses and a retail park, the place still exudes a sense of history and a glimpse into what the area may have looked like, and what it may have meant, to the generations of people who once lived there.
The creation of a new stone circle in Dorset, England: A guest feature by Matthew Shaw.
Image © Matthew Shaw
Above is one of the photos taken immediately after the build of the latest stone circle in Dorset, as well as photos from the evening it was revealed and used as a venue for the first time. Each stone was applied fragrance on the evening, there was a half hour talk from Simon Constantine about his inspiration for his six new perfumes that make up his collection ‘Set in stone’. Simon’s talk was followed around 25 minutes of music performed live by John Metcalf to tracks composed by him and Simon Richmond. Each stone had its own speaker in front of it so that after the live element was finished there was a three day long sound installation, with six individual tracks playing simultaneously from six of the stones. It meant that as you moved around the circle you heard more of some pieces of music than others, creating your own mix by where you stood or sat. Similarly you got more or less scent from each of the stones as you moved around the circle.
The combination of the natural beauty and interest in the site, the stones, the perfumes and the music this was an incredibly powerful experience with people reminded of all kinds of memories and at times people we’re extremely moved emotionally by this. The evening concluded in grand style with a talk from Paul Devereaux, who was informative, speculative, charming and knowledgeable, taking everyone present of a brief journey through some of the theories he has been instrumental in developing over the years. The circle is now a permanent feature of this landscape. The idea was first hatched on the Winter Solstice of 2011ce and the circle was built in the week leading up to the Summer Solstice 2012 and was finished on the Solstice eve, its first day of completion being the solstice itself, with a lunar alignment.
Video © Matthew Shaw
Matt’s blog containing more images and information can be found here.
Harborough Museum reports that –
The type of coin known as a denarius was first struck in Rome in 211 BC, making the Hallaton coin a very early version. The surface of the coin is worn suggesting it was well used before arriving in Britain and being buried at Hallaton. How the Corieltavi tribe came into possession of this coin either before the Roman invasion of AD 43 or very soon after is a mystery. Did it arrive here through trade or diplomacy before the invasion, or was it brought to Britain by an invading soldier? Either way, it is a very rare find at a Late Iron Age site and suggests the Corieltavi tribe had contact with Rome earlier than previously thought.
The coin above and the Peatling Magna Hoard are on permanent display in the Hallaton Treasure Gallery at Harborough Museum.
Access to Pentre Ifan is along a short footpath from the road; there is parking space by the road for four or five cars. The cromlech is in a well-cared for, fenced off area at the end of the footpath and has a good information board showing, among other things, an artist’s impression of how the structure may have originally looked.
Administrative authority: CADW.
The Heritage Trust Cared for Rating **** (out of 5).
Suggested improvements: Better off-road parking facilities. Wheelchair access from road to site. Clear signs instructing visitors not to climb on the stones. One or two benches where people could pause and reflect on the monument and its setting.
See also moss’ feature on Three Cromlechs in Pembrokeshire.