You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2012.

The Elizabethan Sheldon Tapestry Map of Warwickshire showing the Rollright Stones
Writing in The Art Newspaper today Emily Sharpe reports that –


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).*

Detail of the Rollright Stones in the lower right-hand corner of the tapestry
A lecture by Maggie Wood, Keeper of Social History, Warwickshire Museum Service at the British Museum in July first mentions the presence of the Rollright Stones on the tapestry; “The Rollright Stones, a Neolithic monument built at a similar time to Stonehenge, appear on the tapestry in the lower right corner. They are very hard to spot! This is probably the first known visual depiction of this ancient site.” More information on the tapestry and it’s conservation by Maggie Wood here.


* 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.


Ecce Homo by the 19th century painter Elías García Martínez on the walls of the church of Santuario de Misericordia in the village of Borja, near Zaragoza, Spain. From left to right. The painting as it was in 2010, the painting in July of this year showing loss of pigment, and the painting as it appears now
Photo credit
Sometimes it’s best to leave damaged or decaying artefacts alone until a sure way of conserving them can be found. Using the wrong conservation materials, or the services of unqualified people, can have disastrous results – as the above photographs vividly show. Writing in The Telegraph on 22 August Amy Willis reports that –

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.

More here.


Two early (1920s?) postcards of Stonehenge, the one above shows the ticket office to the right of the Heelstone and the one below shows the Heelstone (the Friar’s Heel) in the centre of the picture and outside the monument itself.



The Universiteit Leiden reports on 23 August that Professor Gina Barnes will give a special guest lecture on Disaster Archaeology in Japan. The lecture will take place on Friday, 14 September 2012 from 15.15-17.00 in Lipsius/147, Leiden Netherlands and is entitled –

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.

More here.


Britain’s largest meteorite and tumulus artefact? Image credit The Open University
Culture24 reports on the 20 August that –
A 30,000-year-old meteorite, thought to be the largest rock ever to have landed in Britain and preserved by the freezing conditions of the last Ice Age, will go on show within striking distance of the house where it was found in a 12-day visit to the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.
The stone, which weighs 90kg, sat near the front door of Lake House, at Wilsford-cum-Lake, for at least 80 years. The Natural History Museum confirmed its meteorite status and kept it in storage after the house was sold. Researchers have been studying it ever since, concluding that cold and ice saved it from disintegration before it was built into a burial mound close to the house, where the local chalk environment helped preserve it further. Edward Duke, an antiquarian and excavator with his own private museum, may have been the man who found the meteorite during the 19th century, although photo evidence pictures it on the doorstep of Lake House when the property was owned by Joseph Lovibond, a brewer who had year-long stints as the Mayor of Salisbury in 1878 and 1890.
Professor Colin Pillinger, an expert on the Beagle 2 Mars spacecraft who has linked the meteorite to a smaller one found at Danebury Hill Fort in Hampshire, will also give a lecture on the discovery on September 11.
More here. See also our earlier feature Objects in space.
Conservators at work in the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, north-west China
Katie Hunt writing for CNN reports that –
The Mogao Grottoes complex in remote Gansu province in northwestern China may see visitor numbers limited next year as tourism takes its toll on the 1,000-year-old Buddhist frescos. The challenge for the local authorities in Kaiping, and at China’s other heritage sites, is how to manage tourists visits so that they bring maximum economic benefit without harming the heritage sites and those who live nearby.
One radical solution is to limit visitor numbers. For example, from next year the Mogao Grottoes in remote Northwestern China plans to allow 6,000 visitors per day, down from up to 11,000 at present, says Agnew at the Getty Conservation Institute.
More here.
The 5th century Daisen Kofun, one of the largest of many tumuli in the Mozu Kofungun area, Osaka, Japan. Source Wikipedia
National Land Image Information (Colour Aerial Photographs) Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
The Sainsbury Institute announces that there will be a lecture by Akira Matsuda on the 20 September 2012 from 6pm –
There are approximately 160,000 identified kofun, or ancient burial mounds built from the 3rd to the first half of the 7th century CE (Kofun period), in Japan. The archaeology of kofun is often considered a key to understanding the state formation in Japan and attracts large numbers of Japanese archaeologists specialising in them. While it may seem natural that archaeologists studying kofun are interested in how they were ‘originally’ built and functioned, far less attention has been given to what happened to those mounds after the Kofun period, with the exception of some considered to be the resting places of Emperors. This talk takes a biography approach to several examples of kofun and examines how they were perceived, understood and used in various ways from the post-Kofun period to the very recent past.
Details here.

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.

Details here.



Carn Wnda Cromlech in 1848
From Archaeologia cambrensis by the Cambrian Archaeological Association
Carn Wnda Cromlech today
The Heritage Trust

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.


The oldest Roman coin in Britain

Harborough Museum reports that –

A …hoard of ten gold Iron Age coins was found in 2010 by Steve Bestwick whilst metal detecting on fields near Peatling Magna, in the District of Harborough. They will be displayed permanently at Harborough Museum from Tuesday 17 July 2012.
The coins were probably produced between 60-50 BC in Gallia Belgica, the Latin name for modern north western France and the Low Countries. They show a stylised horse moving right, surrounded by symbols on one side and are blank on the other. These coins are slightly earlier than the majority of the coins in the Hallaton Treasure which is also displayed at Harborough Museum. It is rare to find hoards of early imported coins so far north, others are confined to East Anglia and the South East. Most Gallo-Belgic coins are found in hoards and usually in mint condition.  We think they may have been considered special because they were imported or perhaps they were hoarded because they were better quality gold than local coins.
The silver denarius coin pictured above …was found in one of the entranceway hoards at the Hallaton shrine. It is believed to date to 211 BC making it around 250 years old when it was buried by the Corieltavi tribe in the AD 40s or AD 50s. The front of the coin shows the goddess Roma wearing her characteristic helmet whilst the reverse shows the mythical twins, Castor and Pollux, astride horses galloping towards the right.

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.

More here and here.
Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire, South Wales by Rod Williams ATC, ATD (Manchester)
Pentre Ifan is the best known and, because of its height, the most impressive megalithic monument in Wales. It is the remains of a chambered tomb for the communal burial of the dead which would have been used for some period before being finally sealed. The tomb was erected in the Neolithic Age, perhaps as early as 3,500 years B.C.
Source CADW.

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.

Pentre Ifan
The Heritage Trust

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.




August 2012
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