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Building work at the new £135m Conservation Centre and Exhibition Gallery at the British Museum
 
Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent on The Evening Standard, reports today that –
 
A giant new conservation and exhibition centre at the British Museum is on time and on budget to open next year – despite the worst efforts of the winter to derail the project.
 
Presenting a progress report today, museum director Neil MacGregor showed how the steel frame of the £135 million Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery was made in just six months, after a full year of digging 19 metre-deep basements. A total of 4,369 trucks were needed to take away earth – and extra staff had to be hired for snow-clearing in the harsh winter. Work also had to stop when high winds made it too dangerous to use the two tower cranes. But Mr MacGregor said 80 per cent  of funding had now been raised, and the museum was on schedule to present its first exhibition, on the Vikings, in the 70-metre-long gallery in March 2014.
 
State-of-the-art facilities for science, conservation and storage would be open by June next year. The gallery is being named in honour of a £25 million gift from the Sainsbury family.
 
Full article here. See also our earlier feature (and British Museum video) here.
 
 

A guest feature by Roy Goutté.

King Arthur’s Hall viewed from the southern end of the western bank. Roughtor can be seen rising majestically in the background

On the 16th April I joined a working party from TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) of Cornwall  to clear some of the gorse off the banked enclosure known as King Arthur’s Hall on King Arthur’s Down, a part of Bodmin Moor. Always a fascinating place to visit, the day turned out to be far more exciting than I ever imagined! For a more descriptive article on King Athur’s Hall go here.

The TCV crew plan their strategy for the day with Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service archaeologist James Gossip to the extreme right explaining their brief

The volunteers remit was to remove the largest and most evasive gorse that was beginning to encroach onto the standing stones that line the interior of the enclosure from the banked area but not the plant life and James was there to advise and oversee the work. Visually it was the easterly bank that was suffering the most so that’s where work began. King Arthur’s Hall is a fascinating place and the only monument like it in the UK but it has never been dated and only lightly researched officially, but a site I would dearly love to know more about. Spending time working on its banks gave me this opportunity in a most unexpected way.

The guys I was working with were a great bunch and very friendly and worked really hard. It actually surprised me how quickly the very tightly packed gorse that inhabits Bodmin Moor was dealt with and how dry the ground surface on the bank was underneath it all considering all the rain we have been getting in this area. Knowing that adders frequent the moor it was something I was well aware of whilst working my way underneath the gorse because it acted as perfect cover for them, but luckily we never encountered any.

The area we dealt with first was so dense that it was covering the top of many of the remaining upright stones as well as many fallen and angulated ones and hiding the bank behind them like a blanket. Seeing the stones becoming slowly unveiled was like a magic moment to me as this eastern bank has in the main remained hidden from sight during the many visits I have made whilst researching. The gorse roots themselves are quite long so we were told to cut them at surface level and not to pull them out of the ground because you could damage the archaeology which lay beneath. Occasionally however, the long-armed cutters we were using didn’t do their job properly and jammed as we were pulling them away and did pull on the roots. This happened on one particular occasion as the lower level of the inner bank was reached at one point and due to the extra dryness of the soil here, a small ‘landslide’ took place. It was then that the unexpected appeared, because, as the earth fell away, it exposed something I’d never seen behind the uprights before… an apparent ‘walled’ area immediately behind the standing stones looking very much like a possible revetment to the bank.

Inner-face of the eastern bank at King Arthur’s Hall at a midway point along its length. Stones 1 & 2 are two of the main façade or upright standing stones associated with this enclosure

Stones 3, 4, 5 & 6 are what appear to be a series of horizontal ‘walling’ stones exposed when the loose bank fell away. These stones lie behind the façade stones and may be a form of original revetment to prevent the bank from encroaching against the main uprights. No further investigation or probing took place as this will be left until another day. To the best of my knowledge this stonework structure has never been noted before and it would be lovely to think that I may have been there on the day that it was first discovered. Whether or not it continues around the whole site is something we will just have to wait to find out as we were not allowed to investigate further, but it is a mouth-watering prospect. Having James on site to witness it was a real bonus as well particularly as it was his first visit. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that more investigative work will now be carried out leading to a greater understanding of exactly what we have on our hands here and a possible date to go with it. Discussion on-site was that it may have well have been used as a pound in more recent times, but why go to all the trouble of hauling stones around from wherever they came to keep animals in when it would have been far easier to just erect a timber stockade to the top of the banking. There is far more to this site than what has been generally accepted I personally believe and it ‘feels’ much older.

More open view of Stones 1 & 2 showing the stonework behind

An aerial view of Stone 2 showing the horizontal low-level ‘walling’ running behind it. The dark area on Stone 2 shows exactly how far the gorse and bank had extended to, thus blotting everything beneath it out

The eastern bank and façade stones prior to gorse removal. Once a continuous row of upright stones, many of them now lie buried or angulated. This photo was taken in May 2012

The eastern bank after clearance. A very rewarding days work carried out by TCV

The difference a day makes. A small bank collapse and the inner stonework reveals itself

 

 
Image credit Willow
 
A stone in the north-west quadrant of the Avebury Henge has been defaced with the name ‘Anthony’. The graffiti seems to have been done with chalk. The National Trust at Avebury have been informed.
 
 
 
 
web_banner_Stonehenge
 
The Splendour of Stonehenge
 
An exhibition of pictures from the Wiltshire Heritage Museum’s art collection
Image credit the Wiltshire Heritage Museum
 
The Museum has an extensive collection of paintings, drawings, engravings, prints and photographs of Stonehenge, dating from the 18th century to the present day. Artists represented in the collection include Frederick Nash, A V Copley Fielding, George Richmond, James Bridges and Henry Moore.
 
The exhibition will show how different artists have been inspired by the monument and how interpretation and emphasis has changed over the years. More modern studies show a bold, often provocative approach, with a greater understanding of the real nature of Stonehenge, contrasting with the (often technically inaccurate) classical Romantic interpretation of the 19th century.
 
The Museum has been fortunate in having recently acquired a number of important works depicting the monument and this exhibition is an opportunity for members of the public to view them for the first time.
 
The exhibition runs from 25 May until 1 September 2013 (not 29 March as previously advertised) and will be on show in the Museum’s Art Gallery. Details here.
 
 
 
Wiltonia sive Comitatus Wiltoniensis; Anglice Wilshire (1649) by Atlas van Loon
 
Reviewing in the 27 April-3 May edition of The Radio Times, Gill Crawford writes –
 
Archaeology isn’t a new, rigidly scientific discipline. According to Dr Richard Miles (presenter of 2010’s Ancient Worlds), the first person to set out to dig up the past was the Emperor Constantine’s aged mother Helena, who searched the Near East in the early fourth century for physical evidence of the life and death of Christ.
 
Richard Miles charts the history of archaeological breakthroughs in a mission to understand the ancient past. In the first programme [the first of three], he explores how the profession began by trying to prove a biblical truth.
 
The series begins Tuesday, 30 April from 9:00-10:00pm on BBC4 television with Archaeology: A Secret History. Episode one: In the Beginning. More here.
 
 
Writing in The Independent yesterday, David Keys reports that –
 
Archaeologists, excavating near the Royal Borough [of Windsor], have discovered the 4400 year old gold-adorned skeleton of an upper class woman who was almost certainly a member of the local ruling elite. She is the earliest known woman adorned with such treasures ever found in Britain. The individual, aged around 40, was buried, wearing a necklace of folded sheet gold, amber and lignite beads, just a century or two after the construction of Stonehenge some 60 miles to the south-west. Even the buttons, thought to have been used to secure the upper part of her now long-vanished burial garment, were made of amber. She also appears to have worn a bracelet of lignite beads.
 
The archaeologist in charge of the excavation, Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, believes that she may have been a person of power – perhaps even the prehistoric equivalent of a princess or queen.
 
It’s thought that the gold used to make the jewellery probably came originally from hundreds of miles to the west – and that the amber almost certainly came from Britain’s North Sea coast. The lignite (a form of coal) is also thought to have come from Britain.
 
The discovery is part of a still ongoing excavation which started a decade ago. The elite gold-and-amber-adorned Copper Age woman is merely the most spectacular of dozens of discoveries made at the site – including four early Neolithic houses, 40 Bronze Age burials, three Bronze Age farm complexes and several Iron Age settlements.
 
The excavations are being funded by the international cement company CEMEX, whose gravel quarry near Windsor is the site of the discoveries.
 
Full article here. See also the feature in Wessex Archaeology online here.

 
 
 
Ice Age art
arrival of the modern mind
 
A catalogue compiled by Jill Cook, Senior Curator in the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, to accompany the Ice Age art exhibition there. “This ground-breaking book explores the extraordinary sculpture and drawings created during the last European Ice Age, between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago – the oldest known figurative art in the world.”
 
 
Hardback, with a dust jacket, the book packs in over 300 illustrations (most in colour) along with diagrams and maps. The book has 288 pages, including 5 pages of Notes, a Further Reading list and an Index. This is a must-have book for anyone interested in art in general and the art of our prehistory in particular.
 
 
Please support the British Museum by buying directly from them.
 
 
 
 
Stonehenge Restored

From the 1880 edition of Our Ancient Monuments And The Land Around Them by Charles Philip Kains-Jackson
 
 
Mark Prigg, writing in the MailOnline today, reports that –
 
Human beings were occupying Stonehenge thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to archaeologists.
 
Research at a site around a mile from Stonehenge has found evidence of a settlement dating back to 7500BC, 5,000 years earlier than previous findings confirmed. And carbon-dating of material at the site has revealed continuous occupation of the area between 7500BC and 4700BC, it is being revealed on BBC One’s The Flying Archaeologist tonight [not all regions*].
 
Dr Josh Pollard, from Southampton University and the Stonehenge Riverside Project, said he thought the team may have just hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of Mesolithic activity focused on the River Avon around Amesbury. “The team have found the community who put the first monument up at Stonehenge, the Mesolithic posts 9th-7th millennia BC.”
 
Full article here. See also BBC News Wiltshire here and the article by Carly Hilts in Current Archaeology here.
 
* The Flying Archaeologist – Stonehenge is broadcast on Friday, 19 April at 19:30 BST on BBC One West and South. The series is broadcast nationwide from Wednesday, 1 May at 20:30 BST on BBC Four.
 
How to make a thaumatrope (what’s a thaumatrope and why would you want to make one?) and the illusion of movement in the prehistoric and historic. A guest feature by Littlestone.
 
Dirk Huds explains that, “A thaumatrope is a simple manual animation device. A piece of card is attached to pieces of string that, when manipulated, cause the card to rapidly flip over. Illustrations on each side of the card appear to merge into a single image as the thaumatrope is spun.” For example the dog below seems to be chasing the birds when the thaumatrope is spun.
 
 
The 1825 thaumatrope above is by John Ayrton Paris, which was shown in the Exhibit of Optical Toys (from the collection of Laura Hayes and John Howard Wileman) at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 1996. “The invention of the thaumatrope, whose name means “turning marvel” or “wonder turner,” has often been credited to the astronomer Sir John Herschel.  However, it was a well-known London physicist, Dr. John A. Paris, who made this toy popular. Thaumatropes were the first of many optical toys, simple devices that continued to provide animated entertainment until the development of modern cinema.” More examples of thaumatropes (and other optical toys) can be found on the wonderful The Richard Balzer Collection website here.
 
  
 
Auroch roundel found in the Mas d’Azil cave, southern France
Musée d’Archéologie nationale et Domaine national de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris
 
What’s really interesting is that there seems to be a thaumatrope in the Ice Age art exhibition now showing at the British Museum. The thaumatrope shows an auroch calf on one side and an auroch cow on the other so, when spun, the calf morphs into a cow (or vice versa). It’s astonishing that people 13,000-14,000 years ago had such and appreciation of movement and were able to depict it so ingeniously, not only in the thaumatrope (if that really is what it is) but also much earlier in the poise of animals, the representation of multiple legs, heads and whole body forms in their cave paintings and engravings. Movement was obviously very important to these early painters but was it important because it helped them understand how an animal ran or was it important as an appreciation of the beauty of an animal in motion (or both, or more).
 
 
The Horse Panel, Chauvet Cave, southern France
 
Until relatively recently (not until Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase of 1912) we seemed to have lost the ability to depict movement in our paintings – was that a result of placing too much emphasis on our ‘still life’ and portraiture paintings? Our attempt to freeze a thing or a person in the present rather than depicting them forever moving forward as our ancient painter ancestors were so adept at doing.
 
 
Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
Oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art
 
I say we seemed to have lost the ability to depict movement in our paintings until Duchamp, but perhaps not that recently; there is this example from the early 13th century showing a Taoist hermit at the court of a Chinese emperor (original in colour) lowering his eyes in deference. The effect of movement here, and the emotion that it conjures up is stunning, and perhaps not so far removed in intent from thaumatropes of 13,000-14,000 years ago and cave paintings from even earlier times.
 
 
A Taoist hermit from a mural in a 13th century Chinese Taoist temple
 See also The Heritage Trust’s earlier feature on the  World’s oldest animation? here.

Ham Hill Archaeology 2012 reports that –

Ham Hill is the largest prehistoric hillfort in [Britain]. Owing to the generally vast size of hillforts, excavation is often small in scale, leaving us with comparatively little understanding of their use and construction, and the reasons for their appearance in the Iron Age (from around 800 BC). The chance to excavate this nationally significant site has arisen because the Ham Hill Stone Quarry wishes to expand.

Meanwhile, This is Somerset reports that a Facebook group –

…has been set up to protest against the “devastating” effect of quarrying on Ham Hill. Two companies quarry the distinctive Ham stone from the hill with permission from Somerset County Council, which controls quarrying in the county. But a concerned Yeovil resident has accused the council of “turning a blind eye” to damage to the areas caused by digging.

[The resident] …wrote to English Heritage to voice his concerns and posted the body’s reply on the Protect Hamdon Hill Facebook page.
 
A spokesman for English Heritage said: “We do not believe that there is an alternative material available that meets the very specific needs of conservation projects. “The quarrying is being undertaken with our knowledge and consent and in the context of planning consent from Somerset County Council and Scheduled Monument Consent from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.” A Somerset County Council spokesman said: “Ham Stone is required for maintenance of many listed buildings both locally and nationally – it is not a common stone and there are no other economically viable places for it to be quarried.
 
Is the degradation or destruction of one heritage site justified on the grounds that it serves the ‘very specific needs’ of another? Or should we pay special attention to the operative words ‘economically viable’.
 
See also Kate Shrewsday’s feature here.
 
 

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill by Jake Turner
©
Jake Turner, all rights reserved

Jake Turner was born and bred in Swindon, Wiltshire, England and has been a keen photographer for around 2 years, more seriously in the past 12 months. He loves the countryside of Wiltshire where he grew up and tries to feature it as often as possible in his photos. More examples of his work can be found on his flickr and facebook pages.

 

nazca-lines-destroyed-by-heavy-machinery-five

A monkey geoglyph in the Lines of Nazca complex

Writing in Mining.com yesterday, Michael Allan McCrae reports that –

A portion of the Nazca Lines, massive ancient geoglyphs in southern Peru, were torn up by heavy machinery, reports El Comercio (Spanish).

The Nazca Lines, which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, are large figures etched into the desert between 400 and 650 AD. The company that is accused of the damage, which operates a limestone quarry and upgraded their operation a few months ago to produce construction material, says their land is privately owned and they are free to operate on it as they wish. A researcher is pushing back…

Full article here. See also our latest Greenpeace, you really should know better… feature.

The Rijksmuseum

Mark Savage writing for BBC News Entertainment & Arts reports that –

When Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands officially reopens the Rijksmuseum [this] week, it will mark the end of a painful restoration project. The work ran five years over schedule and millions of euros over budget. The Dutch state museum has been closed since 2003. Renovation was delayed by flooding, asbestos and a dispute over access for cyclists. “It was kind of Murphy’s Law,” says museum director Wim Pijbes. “What could go wrong did go wrong.”

On Wednesday, Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid was rehung, making it the last major work to return to the museum in the heart of Amsterdam. The old masters draw the eye, but so do the intricately decorated ceilings and pillars that frame them – all painstakingly recreated after being painted over in the post-war years. In the halls flanking the grand gallery, the decoration is more modern. British artist Richard Wright, a former Turner Prize winner, has dusted the ceilings with almost 50,000 stars, hand-painted in a swirling, shifting constellation. It all serves to set up the Rijksmuseum’s biggest star – Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

The museum is newly illuminated by 3,800 individual LED lights, which lack the paint-destroying heat and UV rays of incandescent bulbs. They were installed by Dutch lighting specialists Philips, who also claim the LEDs enhance the viewing experience. “Incandescent lights focus on ambers and reds,” says the company’s chief design officer, Rogier van der Heide. “The LED adds a beautiful return of the blues and greens. The cooler colours are clearer… So we get to see the full beauty of the colour spectrum.”

Full article here. See also our Kyoto National Museum under renovation feature.

 

 
Entrance to the Seahenge Gallery at Lynn Museum, Norfolk
 
On a recent visit to the Lynn Museum in Norfolk to see the Seahenge Gallery, it was noticed by our American friends, Bucky and Loie, that in each of the trunks that make up the circle there is a wedge-shaped cut extending the whole width of each trunk, and one or two inches into it. Bucky writes that, “Loie noticed a horizontal band of discoloration on one timber. When she pointed it out to me, I started looking at all of them and finding similar bands, at different heights. At first, I thought they might be strips of metal helping hold the timbers to the support posts: there was a tiny bit of space between some of the bands and the wood, as if the bands weren’t tight. Looking at the bands from as close to the timber sides as was possible, it was soon apparent the bands were not connected to the metal posts: light was visible between them. So the bands were in or on the wood. I soon saw that where the bands met the sides of the timbers, they continued around the sides. And the continuations were all triangular. It became apparent that the only explanation for all the different aspects we had noted would be horizontal wedges cut into the wood, and then inexpertly filled with some kind of painted putty.”
 
The cuts had indeed been filled and in-painted so, in the subdued lighting of the Gallery, they are not easily seen (which actually contravenes accepted conservation practice as restorations should be clearly visible). Staff on the reception desk at Lynn Museum didn’t know what the cuts were (and hadn’t even noticed them before) but after telephoning one of the museum curators it appears that English Heritage’s original intention was to leave the circle in situ to naturally degrade. In order to get as much information as possible before that happened however a wedge was cut out of each timber (not just the infamous chainsaw chunk from the central bole) for dendochronological cross-dating. English Heritage’s decision to leave the circle in situ was then reversed and all the timbers were subsequently removed for safety and conservation (now unfortunately with slices taken out of them – slices which subsequently needed to be filled in and ‘restored’).
 
 
Inside part of the wooden circle
 
Other observations at the Seahenge Gallery were that not all the timbers from the circle are on show – the rest are in storage at the Museum with no plans to bring them out for display. This is strange because there appears, actually, to be enough room in the Seahenge Gallery to display them all if things were rearranged. The large (and excellent) illuminated photo of the sea actually dissects the Gallery and if this were moved to a side wall the rest of the circle could probably be displayed (ingress and egress to and from the circle being made possible by having the two halves positioned slightly apart).
 
 
The central bole
 
What is really disappointing at Lynn Museum’s Seahenge Gallery is the position of the central bole; it stands in its own case outside the circle, against a wall (so one cannot walk round it) and next to a door which is often open and which reveals another gallery with some kind of fairground attraction in it – very disconcerting, not to mention distracting the visitor’s attention from the central bole and the rest of the Seahenge Gallery.
 
The Heritage Trust would like to see all of the circle displayed, the bole repositioned within it, and the door to the other gallery either screened off or fitted with a self-closing mechanism. Other suggestions we would like to make are that the replica cast of the smaller bole is removed (it is not a cast of the Seahenge bole anyway but of another one) and a mirror fitted to the ceiling of the case in which the Seahenge bole itself stands (so that its top surface can be seen from below).
 
Money to do these things is always a problem of course but perhaps an appeal could be launched to assist in fundraising. A dedicated collection box at the entrance to the Seahenge Gallery might be installed for this purpose. The collection box at the British Museum for example asks for a £5 donation from those who can afford it; a similar request at the Lynn Museum does not seem unreasonable given that it would help towards aiding the full, and proper, display of this unique monument from our ancient past.
 
 
 
Replica of the carved whetstone, and its decorative stag finial, from the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England 
Image
©
The Heritage Trust
 
The replica above can be seen in the National Trust museum at Sutton Hoo, along with other replicas from the ship burial and a reconstruction of the wooden burial chamber. The whetstone is too big to be functional and may have served as a ceremonial sceptre. Originals from the burial are now in a dedicated gallery at the British Museum.
 
For further information on the Sutton Hoo Museum, the burial mound, guided walks and opening times, visit the Sutton Hoo National Trust website here.
 
 

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