You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2014.

Young gallery visitors examine artwork with real depth
 
 
The Hurlers Stone Circle. The Cheesewring formation is just visible on the skyline
©
The Heritage Trust
 
The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) wound up the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting yesterday (26 June 2014) in Portsmouth, England. The meeting was held jointly at Guildhall and the University of Portsmouth Park and King Henry Buildings, and was sponsored by the RAS, STFC, SEPnet and Winton Capital. Of interest to archaeologists and researchers of prehistoric monuments was a discussion of –
 
…a developing field of research that merges astronomical techniques with the study of ancient man-made features and the surrounding landscapes… From the ‘Crystal Pathway’ that links stone circles on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor to star-aligned megaliths in central Portugal, archaeo-astronomers are finding evidence that Neolithic and Bronze Age people were acute observers of the Sun, as well as the Moon and stars, and that they embedded astronomical references within their local landscapes.
 
“There’s more to archaeo-astronomy than Stonehenge,” says Dr Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University, who [presented] updates on his work on the 4000-year-old astronomically aligned standing stone at Gardom’s Edge in the UK’s Peak District. “Modern archaeo-astronomy encompasses many other research areas such as anthropology, ethno-astronomy and even educational research. It has stepped away from its speculative beginnings and placed itself solidly onto the foundation of statistical methods.  However, this pure scientific approach has its own challenges that need to be overcome by embracing humanistic influences and putting the research into context with local cultures and landscape.”
 
 
The Crystal Pavement during excavation last year showing the original reddish ground surface beyond it
©
Roy Goutté
 
Brian Sheen and Gary Cutts of the Roseland Observatory have worked together with Jacky Nowakowski, of Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment Service, to explore an important Bronze Age astro-landscape extending over several square miles on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. At its heart lie Britain’s only triple stone circles, The Hurlers, of which two are linked by the 4000-year-old granite pavement, dubbed the Crystal Pathway. The team has confirmed that Bronze Age inhabitants used a calendar controlled by the movements of the Sun. The four cardinal points are marked together with the solstices and equinoxes.
 
 
The Pipers
©
The Heritage Trust
 
“The Pipers are standing stone outliers to the main circles. When standing between the stones, one to the right and the other to the left, one looks north & south; when lining both up, one faces east & west,” says Sheen.  “We also think the three circles that comprise The Hurlers monument may be laid out on the ground to resemble Orion’s Belt. Far from being three isolated circles on the moor they are linked into one landscape.”
 
Read the full Royal Astronomical Society’s press release here. See also our earlier feature, The Hurlers: Mapping the Sun event and the ‘Crystal’ Pavement. Update 2 by Roy Goutté here.
   

A guest feature by Roy Goutté. Text and images © Roy Goutté

An elevated view of the Trippet Stones taken in 2012 with Hawkstor farm in the background

After visiting King Arthur’s Hall the banked enclosure of uncertain age on King Arthur’s Down near St Breward, Cornwall, on the 12 June 2014 with fellow enthusiast Peter Castle, we decided on the way back to make a fleeting visit to the Trippet Stones stone circle on Manor Common. I’m very glad we did now otherwise we could have missed out on something quite interesting!

After wandering around the circle for a few minutes we came across two smaller stones that on first impression had that look that suggests that one part was the remaining stump of an upright, and the other, a broken section off it! In this instance however, on closer inspection, they were both found to be just lying on the surface or embedded just beneath, but neither seriously earth-fast! Where they came from I don’t know but the likelihood is that they are nothing to do with the circle at all and ‘just stones’ placed there at some stage.

However, on looking more closely at them, we noticed that one, the more secure of the two, had what appeared to be a form of horizontal and vertical crisscross carving on its stepped top. Some may even call it rock-art, something I’ll admit to knowing very little about, but maybe a follower of The Heritage Trust will.

It can be seen in the photo that both ‘steps’ in the stone appear to have been carved or ‘decorated’, but a more interesting point to me at the moment is the fact that the bottom and top halves of the stone have a fracture or fault running between them threatening to split the stone into two separate halves. If it did, it may well provide us with the answer as to whether the lower section of ‘grid-lines’ are natural or man-made. Obviously if the grid did run completely through the stone then the carving would be a natural feature, but if not…?

There must be many ways in which a stone can become ‘marked’ accidentally, one being when dragged out of the earth by a tractor when ploughing, but in this case I would have thought it unlikely, as the crisscrossed markings on the lower step go right up to the rising side of that step. 

The fracture or fault line clearly seen running through the stone between top and bottom. If separated, would it reveal more of the ‘carving’ or just a plain surface? One action could solve an archaeological mystery, the other, damage it irrevocably!

Do the ‘grid-lines’ continue through the fracture or stop against the face of the upper section as seen from above? If it is just a random stone and not part of the setting, should it be split as one would when fossil hunting to prove it one way or another or left well alone?

 

rt henge

©
Robert Thompson
All rights reserved, used with permission

 

 

 
STONEHENGE FROM THE NORTH
 
The Battle for Stonehenge: A BBC 2 Culture Show Special will be screened on Saturday, 21 June from 8:00pm on BBC 2 –
 
Stonehenge is our most famous prehistoric monument; a powerful symbol of Britain across the globe. But all is not well with the sacred stones. MPs have described the surrounding site as a ‘national disgrace’ and ‘shameful shambles’. Now, after decades of disputes over what should be done, English Heritage has just 12 months to create a setting that this unique monument deserves. But Stonehenge is more than a tourist attraction; it is also a temple.
 
In this hour-long Culture Show special, Alastair Sooke shows that Stonehenge has long been a place of conflict and controversy, and that passions still run high at the monument where druids, archaeologists and scientists all battle for the soul of Stonehenge.
 
More here.
   
 
The Bryn Celli Ddu chambered tomb on Anglesey, Wales. Source: Wikipedia Commons
 
Burial chambers dating back to the third millennium BC will be the setting for a series of events to celebrate the Summer Solstice as part of a project led by Cadw and the Arts Council of Wales.
 
The project ‘Horizons: Old and New’ will centre around Barclodiad-y-Gawres, one of the most significant Neolithic passage tombs in the British Isles and the impressive chambered tomb, Bryn Celli Ddu. The project will culminate on the weekend of the Summer Solstice (Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22) with a series of events including a dawn celebration at Bryn Celli Ddu, hosted by the Anglesey Druid Order (around 4.30am on June 21).
 
Details here.
   
 
Bamboo strips dating from circa 305bce. When correctly aligned the strips reveal a table for multiplying numbers up to 99.5
Image credit: Research and Conservation Centre for Excavated Text, Tsinghua University, Beijing
 
The sources of our knowledge lie in what is written on bamboo and silk, what is engraved on metal and stone, and what is cut on vessels to be handed down to posterity
Mo Tsu (墨子) Chinese philosopher (470-391bce)
 
Nature reports that –
 
Five years ago, Tsinghua University in Beijing received a donation of nearly 2,500 bamboo strips. Muddy, smelly and teeming with mould, the strips probably originated from the illegal excavation of a tomb, and the donor had purchased them at a Hong Kong market. Researchers at Tsinghua carbon-dated the materials to around 305 bc, during the Warring States period before the unification of China.
 
Each strip was about 7 to 12 millimetres wide and up to half a metre long, and had a vertical line of ancient Chinese calligraphy painted on it in black ink. Historians realized that the bamboo pieces constituted 65 ancient texts and recognized them to be among the most important artefacts from the period. “The strips were all mixed up because the strings that used to tie each manuscript together to form a scroll had long decayed,” says Li Junming, a historian and palaeographer at Tsinghua. Some pieces were broken, others missing, he adds: to decipher the texts was “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle”. But “21 bamboo strips stand out from the rest as they contain only numbers, written in the style of ancient Chinese”, says Feng Lisheng, a historian of mathematics at Tsinghua. Those 21 strips turned out to be a multiplication table, Feng and his colleagues announced in Beijing today during the presentation of the fourth volume of annotated transcriptions of the Tsinghua collection. When the strips are arranged properly, says Feng, a matrix structure emerges. The top row and the rightmost column contain, arranged from right to left and from top to bottom respectively, the same 19 numbers: 0.5; the integers from 1 to 9; and multiples of 10 from 10 to 90.
 
“Such an elaborate multiplication matrix is absolutely unique in Chinese history,” says Feng. The oldest previously known Chinese times tables, dating to the Qin Dynasty between 221 and 206 bc, were in the form of a series of short sentences such as “six eights beget forty-eight” and capable of only much simpler multiplications. The ancient Babylonians possessed multiplication tables some 4,000 years ago, but theirs were in a base-60, rather than base-10 (decimal), system. The earliest-known European multiplication table dates back to the Renaissance.
 
Full article here. Chinese writing developed from characters written on bamboo strips using a brush loaded with a carbon-based ink. Chinese texts are still written vertically and read from top to bottom today. For further reading see Written on Bamboo and Silk by Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien. The University of Chicago Press, 1962.
 
 
A scholar carrying a bundle of bamboo strips. Reproduced from a tomb tile dating from 300bce and now in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
 
 
The 180 year-old Bagaya Buddhist monastery in Mandalay, Burma
Image credit Teza Hlaing for The Irrawaddy
 
Writing for The Irrawaddy yesterday, Zarni Mann reports on a team of Japanese specialists who are assisting in the conservation a wooden monastery in Burma –
 
Japanese experts are training Burmese archeology officials in using high-tech techniques to maintain the country’s many aging wooden buildings, officials said. A group from both countries is currently surveying the Bagaya Monastery, a structure at Ava, Mandalay Division, that was built from teak in 1834 and is thought to be one of Burma’s oldest surviving wooden structures. It is hoped skills passed on by Japanese experts will help Burma to preserve many similar buildings that are at risk from the elements and termites.
 
The work is part of a three-year Japanese assistance project with Burma’s Ministry of Culture. Twelve Burmese engineers and architects are being trained by experts from the National Research Institute for Culture Properties in Tokyo and the Japanese Association for Conservation of Architectural Monuments, with the collaboration of Burma’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library.
 
Full article here.
    

The final phase (placing the capstone) in the restoration of the Giant’s Quoit in Cornwall will take place on Saturday, 21 June (the summer solstice). Details above, and congratulations to all involved in bringing this project to completion!

 

 
 
Ear studs, buttons or hair adornments? The studs are believed to be the only ones ever found in south-west England
 
In February this year we reported on the discovery of a tomb in a remote part of Dartmoor (south-west England) 18 months previously. At the time archaeologists had little idea they had found something of international importance (see our feature here). Three months on the Tavistock Times Gazette now reports –
 
A PREHISTORIC tomb discovered on North Dartmoor is slowly revealing its ancient secrets, as final analysis work on the artefacts found within nears completion. In August 2011, excavation work began on a cremation burial chamber discovered on Whitehorse Hill near Fernworthy Forest. Co-ordinated by Dartmoor National Park Authority with funding from English Heritage, the excavation has revealed an internationally important collection of early Bronze Age organic remains and artefacts. The find is now considered to be the most important assemblage of prehistoric grave goods ever recovered in South West England.
 
Analysis of the skilfully-made textile and animal skin object found in the cist has revealed that this is a band of textile made from finely woven nettle fibre. Stitched to the outer edges of this were two rows of leather binding with a fringe of outward pointing leather triangles made from thin calf skin. This object seems to be unique in North Western Europe, its fine decorative work suggests it was an item to be worn, possibly as a sash or belt. An arm band was also found within the tomb, with domed rivets made of tin and fibres made from cow hair. The use of tin for decorative objects is exceptionally rare within prehistoric burial contexts in Britain and despite tin being a locally available resource on Dartmoor, this is the first time it has been found within a prehistoric archaeological context.
 
Cow hair was also used to make a basket containing the majority of over 200 beads discovered, by far the largest number of beads found from a single Bronze Age discovery in South West England. Seven of those beads discovered are made of amber. Amber is an exotic resin from the Baltic, associated with supernatural powers and used as an amulet.
 
The analysis work has been funded by English Heritage, the Dartmoor National Park Authority, Devon County Council and a number of other organisations and private individuals. It has been carried out by specialists from English Heritage, British and European Universities and the British Museum. The painstaking conservation work, which was undertaken by the Wilshire Conservation Service, Chippenham has also finished and the artefacts will soon be transferred to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, with a major exhibition ‘Whitehorse Hill: A Prehistoric Dartmoor Discovery’ planned at the museum from September 13 to December 13.
 
Full article here.
 

The Bartlow Burial Mounds, Cambridgeshire, England in the late 18th century

Just a reminder that The Heritage Trust will be holding its Outreach Event this year at Bartlow, Cambridgeshire, England on Saturday, 21 June (the summer solstice).

Details here.

 
 
Teapots and teacups found at the old Shinbashi Railway Station in Tokyo
Image credit The Asahi Shimbun file photo
 
In April 1992, archaeologist Susumu Saito of the Tokyo Metropolitan Archaeological Centre, discovered piles of brick, stone and concrete on the former site of the old Shinbashi railway station in Tokyo. The station, along with the old Yokohama Station, was designed by American architect R P Bridgens during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) but is thought to have been demolished after being damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Among the debris, over 300 (train) teapots and 400 mugs were also found. Many of them were stamped with the names of other stations such as Shizuoka and Shimonoseki, as well as with the names of shops, and thus they provide a unique glimpse into the Meiji Period and rail travel at the time.
 
Kazuaki Owaki, Staff Writer for The Asahi Shimbun reports that, “Over a decade has passed since the excavation project finished, and the majority of the Shiodome ruins has been filled in. But anyone curious about Meiji Era rail travel can relive the past at the Old Shinbashi Station, even if the trains are no longer there. The Old Shinbashi Station and Railway History Exhibition Hall is open daily except for Mondays.”
 
Full Asahi Shimbun article here.
     

Offa’s Dyke descending to the Clun Valley in South Shropshire. This is not the section that has been destroyed
Used with permission
©
Jim Saunders, the Offa’s Dyke Association

According to the Wikipedia entry, “Ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law does not excuse” or “ignorance of the law excuses no one”) is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content.” It’s puzzling, therefore, that The Daily Mail reports today that –

A traveller who destroyed a 1,200-year-old listed monument will not be prosecuted because he ‘didn’t know it was an important ancient site’. A section of the world famous Offa’s Dyke, which marks the boundary between England and Wales was completely bulldozed by a traveller known as Danny. The ancient listed earthwork on the Welsh border is a World Heritage site which sits alongside the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal in terms of importance.

See our earlier feature here

   

The Paper Mill Museum in Amalfi, Italy. Image credit Simona Politini

A guest feature by Simona Politini, Founder and Project Manager Archeologiaindustriale.net

This Museum is housed in an old paper mill and dates back to the fourteenth, or perhaps the middle of the thirteenth century. The premises were donated to the Foundation in 1969 and recognized by Decree no. 1294 of the President of the Republic on 22nd November 1971. Comm. Milano was aware not only of the imminent danger of a further decline of the structure, and even the final loss of its identity, but also of the importance of preserving the “history” of Amalfi’s hand-made paper for posterity. Today, in the paper mill turned museum, we can see the tools used over the centuries for making paper by hand.

For further information visit the Il Museo della Carta di Amalfi in Campania website.

 

 
Two of four replica Neolithic houses at the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre
Image credit Alistair Deane for English Heritage
 
Maev Kennedy, writing in The Guardian yesterday, reports that –
 
English Heritage has based the four oval houses and a small store room on the foundations of real houses built 4,500 years ago at the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls, where archaeologists believe the people who built the most famous prehistoric monument in the world gathered for seasonal rituals and feasting. The height of the walls and the size of the roof could be estimated from the size of the foundations, but the roof structure remains guesswork – different techniques of thatch have been used on each house.
 
Well done English Heritage for this latest addition to the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre. Though we appreciate that ‘artistic interpretations’ are more than a little tricky we couldn’t help wondering ‘Where’s the decoration?’ (see our feature below on the Barbury Castle replica Iron Age roundhouse). The Stonehenge Neolithic houses may (originally) have been left completely undecorated but, given the blank white canvas of the interior and exterior walls it’s perhaps not too fanciful to imagine that some decoration was used on them. Perhaps just one of the replica houses could be decorated using pigments available at the time, while also drawing on imagery that may have meant something to the inhabitants of those houses?
 
Guardian article here.
   

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