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Detail of The Martyrdom of Edmund on the north wall of the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering, North Yorkshire, England
 
A project to highlight one of North Yorkshire’s hidden pictorial gems is being launched in Pickering this evening. The Pickering Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul is aiming to conserve its medieval wall paintings and improve visitor facilities through a Heritage Lottery Fund project entitled Let there be Light.
 
Pickering Church contains the most complete set of medieval wall paintings so far discovered in Britain (see our earlier feature here). The paintings, executed over 500 years ago, remained hidden under a thick coat of plaster until they were accidentally rediscovered in 1852. The Church is now working closely with the University of York on the best way to conserve and display these unique works of art.
 
This evening’s launch event will begin at 7:30 and will include a talk  by Dr. Kate Giles, leading expert on the paintings. There is no charge for the evening and those attending will have the opportunity to offer views and suggestions on the project.
 
 
A cognocenti contemplating ye beauties of ye antique
Caricature of Sir William Hamilton (Scottish diplomat, volcanologist and collector of antiquities) by James Gillray (1756 – 1815)
©
The Trustees of the British Museum
 
The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, Wiltshire, England will be hosting a lecture by James Ede, Chairman of Charles Ede Ltd, on Saturday, 5 March 2016 from 2:30pm. The talk, entitled Guardians of the Past or Looters? Connoisseurship, Collecting and the Trade in Antiquities, will fall into two parts. “The first deals with the revival of interest in the ancient world, the history of collecting (some of it scandalous) and the foundation of museums. The second part examines the importance of the trade and the challenges we face in the light of events in the Near East.”
 
Details here.
 
 
 
The 3,000 year-old Bronze Age wheel recently found at the Must Farm archaeological site in Cambridgeshire, England
Image credit Cambridge Archaeological Unit
 
A 3,000 year-old Bronze Age wheel recently found at the Must Farm archaeological site in Cambridgeshire, England (see our earlier feature here) is said to be the largest, earliest complete example of its kind ever found in Britain.
 
BBC News Cambridgeshire reports –
 
A complete Bronze Age wheel believed to be the largest and earliest of its kind found in the UK has been unearthed. The 3,000-year-old artefact was found at a site dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii”, at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire. Archaeologists have described the find – made close to the country’s “best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings” – as “unprecedented”.
 
Still containing its hub, the 3ft-diameter (one metre) wooden wheel dates from about 1,100 to 800 BC. The wheel was found close to the largest of one of the roundhouses found at the settlement last month.
 
More, with video, here.
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Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, sign an agreement to pave the way for a heritage protection taskforce
Image Credit Domenico Stinellis/AP
 
The Guardian newspaper reports yesterday that –
 
Italy is to work with the UN’s cultural agency to protect ancient artefacts and archaeological sites in conflict areas from extremists. The Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, and Unesco’s director general, Irina Bokova, signed an accord in Rome creating an Italian taskforce and a centre in Turin to train heritage protection experts.
 
Last year, activists reported that [Daesh] killed three captives in Palmyra, Syria, by blowing them up after tying them to ancient Roman columns. It also destroyed other monuments in Palmyra, a desert oasis standing at the crossroads of ancient civilisations, including the temple of Bel, temple of Baalshamin and the triumphal arch.
 
“We are witnessing a tragedy of destruction of heritage, systematic and deliberate attacks on culture,” Bokova said at the signing ceremony…
 
Full article here.
 

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Suffragette film producer Alison Owen surrounded by Law Scrolls in the Act Room of Victoria Tower, the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) London
Image credit Houses of Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The age-old tradition of recording and enshrining British law on vellum is to continue after almost coming to an end last week when the House of Lords decided to stop the enshrinement of British law on vellum for reasons of cost. Fortunately the British Cabinet Office has intervened and is to provide the necessary financing from its own budget for this thousand year-old tradition to continue.

Vellum is not a paper (which is generally made from vegetable fibres) but from carefully prepared calf-skin. Probably the most famous use of vellum in Britain are the several extant copies of the Magna Carta, drawn up some 800 years ago and sealed by King John, and the Lindisfarne Gospels. A more recent use of vellum was for the marriage certificate of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine Middleton in 2011.

Watch the preparation of vellum by Paul Wright, a parchmenter, here.

 

 Lord-Avebury-2006
 
 
Eric Reginald Lubbock, 4th Baron Avebury (29 September 1928 – 14 February 2016)
 
The Heritage Trust is sad to report the death of Lord Avebury, who passed away today aged 87. Among his many campaigns those that surrounded the iconic Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, England are of especial poignancy to those who care about the protection of our heritage. We can think of no better tribute to him than to republish here a letter to the Guardian newspaper which he wrote in 2007 entitled No climbing up on Silbury Hill
 
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Silbury
Image credit and © Frankie
 
While it was good that Peter May and his family had such an enjoyable visit to the Avebury World Heritage Site (Things to do with your family this week, Family, July 14), they ought to have been aware that Silbury Hill has been closed to visitors since 1974. Climbing the monument damages archaeology located just beneath the surface. It also threatens the flora and fauna, which are critical to Silbury Hill’s status as a site of special scientific interest. Incursion on to the monument underlines the need to support the notices and fences prohibiting entry, with clear public messages and examples of good conduct sensitive to the best interests of the site.
 

My grandfather purchased Silbury Hill, introduced the first legislation to protect ancient monuments, and placed the hill under permanent guardianship. As owner of the site, I am concerned by the conflicting messages now being sent out by English Heritage, such as their plan to allow a “time capsule” to be buried in the monument. The current Silbury Hill conservation project, for which EH deserves credit, is designed to restore the original fabric by backfilling with pure chalk. Placing a foreign object in the monument offends conservation principles, as well as the spiritual beliefs of some people. Describing the object as a time capsule means that EH expects it to be retrieved at some future date, requiring further tunnelling, yet the current works have been undertaken to correct the mistakes of past excavations.

English Heritage should give the public clear uncomplicated messages about how to enjoy ancient monuments respectfully, and should set the very best of examples themselves.

Eric Avebury
House of Lords

 

In the second feature in our mini-series on Stonehenge, Roy Goutté asks… Is the blatant over-publicising of anything remotely connected to Stonehenge justified, or making archaeologists look foolish?

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Stonehenge as it appears today

Throughout the UK, to many people, there are dozens of equally important sites if you happen to live in their areas, but they are, on the whole, totally overlooked compared to Stonehenge. Funding for research and excavation is always a problem with them it would seem, while, on the surface, the impression is that anything within five miles of Stonehenge has archaeologists crawling all over them. Sure it pays for itself and is the UK’s premier cash cow, but is the sheer hype and constant publicity it draws to the detriment of serious archaeology. Year in and year out, last year’s claims of what it was and what it was used for are swept aside as yet another fantastic claim is made and ‘proof’ provided for it. And year in and year out we have to ask ourselves what happened to the previous year’s ideas and proof that countless media articles covered and often sensationalised?
 
It’s been a Temple to worship the Gods; an Astronomical Observatory; a Prehistoric Calendar; a Centre for Healing; a Site for Ritual Feasting; a Circular Graveyard for the Elite and recently a Monument of Unification, bringing together people from across the many parts of Britain and just about anything else that had the slightest whiff of possibility about it.
 
It has been roofed by some; totally rejected of ever being so by others… and yes, you guessed it… they were all experts! Oh and I mustn’t forget, it was also claimed to have been a Mecca on Stilts!
 
It was considered a place of healing in certain quarters because the bluestones were seen as having therapeutic qualities. The buried remains of the so-called Amesbury Archer discovered in 2002 was lauded about to bolster up that belief by the media because the poor chap had a kneecap missing and had such an apparent serious bone infection that it became his reason for being there. It was speculated he was a pilgrim making his way to Stonehenge to be healed. Well if he ever did make it to the henge then his journey was in vain it would seem as no healing was evident!
 
The whole landscape around Stonehenge was then dragged into this media frenzy that it really was a place of healing because many of the other poor devils buried around and about also showed signs of life-threatening ailments, wounds or injuries. But you see that just about everywhere in Bronze-Age burials and not just near Stonehenge! It was, as is often the case when it comes to Stonehenge, pure over-reaction and speculation but a great story nevertheless!
 
We have got to accept these days that next year another theory provided by yet another expert will come to light and in all probability the following year yet another, so, is Stonehenge in danger of burning itself out, or to finally become a Centre of Ridicule?
 
That will hardly be surprising after the claim was made that Mesolithic Wiltshire men and woman dined out on ‘frogs’ legs after the charred remains of a single 8,000 year-old toad were discovered at Blick Mead near Amesbury just a mile from Stonehenge. Yes that’s right, a single toad, not a vast pile of their bones discovered in a midden heap or buried in a ditch. Even Sherlock Holmes would have required more proof than that before reaching that conclusion surely!
 
Recently reported would you believe, is a suggestion that ‘Stonehenge’ was once built in Wales but moved to Wiltshire 500 years later making the Stonehenge we all know and love, second-hand! No actual solid proof mind you just speculation again, but before long and until shown to be otherwise, will become yet another ‘fact’.
 
We’ve already had the ‘roofed’ idea but now here’s another which I rather like, having a background in the construction industry. Architect Sarah Ewbank believes that the stones could have possibly once been the supports for a two-storey timber built roundhouse, a venue for feasting, speakers and musicians, and gives a good account of herself with some well thought out ideas and excellent scaled plans and drawings which the following two links amply demonstrate here and here.  
 
All of this just goes to prove that even after all these years we are still fishing in the dark and to be honest, often making fools of ourselves along the way. The words ‘enough is enough’ spring to mind as the cost of all these studies, investigations and excavations over the years must have mounted up into multi-millions of pounds, yet the dozens of other sites of equal interest to others in various parts of the UK are simply waved aside when it comes to funding for research and excavations. While we are supposedly finding out everything there is to know within a five mile radius of Stonehenge, those other parts of the country, with a few notable exceptions, remain a complete mystery in comparison. This can’t be right surely.
 
‘Firsts’ are claimed every other month, thus making the area appear to be even more special than it already is, but we have no idea if that is true or not because those other areas are not being investigated with such fervour. A false picture could quite easily be building up!
 
When visitors from all over ask what Stonehenge was built for, they are, on the whole, asking what was the monument we see stood before us today built for, not the first of the three accepted stages of build in total starting around 3000bce. As there was then a 500 year gap before the second stage was started, shouldn’t the first build be seen as the most important and the one we should be concentrating our thoughts on and not what followed which is an entirely different thing altogether in my opinion?
 
To be considered a ‘stage’ it suggests there was a blueprint in use taking it through to what we see today. If the second stage had followed the first almost immediately, then I can well see the builders working to a blueprint, but not after a 500 year gap I can’t.
 
According to English Heritage, the first ‘structure’ consisted simply of a circular ditch and bank …the earliest known major event was the construction of a circular ditch with an inner and outer bank, built about 3000 BC. This enclosed an area about 100 metres in diameter, and had two entrances. It was an early form of henge monument.
 
Within the bank and ditch were possibly some timber structures and set just inside the bank were 56 pits, known as the Aubrey Holes. There has been much debate about what stood in these holes: the consensus for many years has been that they held upright timber posts, but recently the idea has re-emerged that some of them may have held stones. Within and around the Aubrey Holes, and also in the ditch, people buried cremations. About 64 cremations have been found, and perhaps as many as 150 individuals were originally buried at Stonehenge, making it the largest Late Neolithic cemetery in the British Isles.
 
I personally doubt the theory that some stones may have once stood in the Aubrey holes as packing stones would most certainly have been found in them but the words ‘Late Neolithic’ give you a clue as to why the ‘second stage’ and the introduction of a proven stone structure then appeared …and it had nothing to do with a continuance of the first stage or its use which would appear to have been purely for funeral practices being a graveyard.
 
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Stage 1
 
This was the ‘crossover’ period leading into the Bronze-Age and life and beliefs began to change in the southern part of Great Britain from a more nomadic way of life to a more settled and peaceful time with the arrival of the Beaker people from the Near East. We were on the cusp of leaving the Late Neolithic and entering the Bronze-Age and all that came with it. With their arrival the newcomers not only brought their way of life with them but also their beliefs. The meaning and use of the original ‘Stonehenge’ which, without a shadow of a doubt must have been a very, very special place and highly venerated was brushed aside just as the church was to later build over Pagan sites to Christianise them, so Stage 1 suffered the same fate!
 
Something similar was happening at Avebury just 20 miles away to the north. The West Kennet Long Barrow was closed down and the enigmatic Silbury Hill was rising up to challenge its influence from the valley below. One belief was being swept aside to make way for another.
 
The times they were a changing…and fast. Different time, different people, different purpose. Stonehenge as we see it today was on its way with just one main question remaining for that time …why was Stage 1 sited where it was?
 
Seek and you will find.
Coursing at Stonehenge in 1865
Coursing at Stonehenge in 1865. The Illustrated London News
 
In a recent BBC regional news report, Stonehenge manager Kate Davies is reported as saying an alcohol ban at Stonehenge would, “…help everyone to have a better experience of solstice.” In what way, Ms Davies, would such a ban help people have a better experience? Are you saying that by presently allowing a moderate degree of drinking at solstice time that is somehow adversely affecting people’s enjoyment of the overall solstice event there? If so, do you have details and the statistics to support such a claim? No-one, of course, wants to see drunkenness and rowdiness at Stonehenge but aren’t you perhaps taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut here? Perhaps this is an opportune time to remind you that, just over thirty years ago, a hard-won battle was fought to allow –
 
The Peace Convoy, a convoy of several hundred New Age travellers, from setting up the 1985 Stonehenge Free Festival in Wiltshire, England. The police were enforcing a High Court injunction obtained by the authorities prohibiting the 1985 festival from taking place. Around 1300 police officers took part in the operation against approximately 600 travellers.
 
Dozens of travellers were injured, 8 police officers and 16 travellers were hospitalised. 537 travellers were eventually arrested. This represents one of the largest mass arrest of civilians since at least the Second World War, possibly one of the biggest in English legal history.
 
Two years after the event, a Wiltshire police sergeant was found guilty of Actual Bodily Harm as a consequence of injuries incurred by a member of the convoy during the Battle of the Beanfield. Source: the Wikipedia entry on The Battle of the Beanfield.
 
In the same BBC report, Senior Druid King Arthur Pendragon is reported as saying English Heritage was, “…looking for confrontation [and that he will fight] “…the total ban on alcohol. It’s a celebration – not to be sanitized. It does not matter how they dress it up, we will not Pay to Pray.”
 
Well, is there a possible middleway here? The problem really comes down to a minority who spoil the event for everyone else. Would it not be more sensible, therefore, to control the amount of alcohol taken on site (as is now the case) and to restrict access to the actual stones; meanwhile allowing people the freedom to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the event from the perimeter?
 
If King Arthur were to bend just a little, and if English Heritage were to think a little more laterally, could we possibly achieve the best of both worlds? Last year 23,000 people attended the summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge. If each were to pay just £1 that would achieve £23,000 and would probably cover the cost of providing portaloos, litter pickups etc. Actually, why not go a little further and give people rubbish bags as they arrive on site with, Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site and sacred to many. Please take your litter home with you, printed on them. Why not try to persuade people to be considerate rather than employing what might be seen as profit-motivated, strong-arm tactics against them. Stonehenge has, after all, been a gathering place of one sort or another from the beginning. Let’s not relegate that fact to the rubbish bin through lack of compromise and creative thinking.
 
Heritage, after all, is not just about stones, architecture and artefacts; it’s also about real-time cultural awareness and real-time human interaction.
 
Published by the Sketch 1896 an open-air concert
An open-air concert at Stonehenge. Published by the Sketch 1896
 
 kofun-tomb
 
The 5th century Daisen Kofun (burial mound), the largest of all the keyhole-shaped kofun, in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, Japan.
 
David DeMar, writing in the NewHistorian, reports on the discovery of a wooden causeway linking one of Japan’s keyhole-shaped burial mounds to its surrounding land –
 
Research into an ancient Japanese burial mound has revealed evidence of a wooden bridge being used at the time of the occupant’s burial, before being taken down.
 
Located in the city of Sakai, south of Osaka, the keyhole-shaped burial mound could have been used as the final resting place of an important individual, either from the imperial family or an emperor himself from the Kofun period (late third to seventh centuries CE). Known as the Nisanzai Kofun, the mound has been dated to the late fifth century CE and would have been surrounded by a large moat, necessitating the construction of a bridge to reach it.
 
According to an interview in the Asahi Shimbun with Taichiro Shiraishi, Osaka Prefecture’s head of the Chikatsu Asuka Museum, the likelihood seems high that, during the burial, people would have stood on both sides of the bridge as the body, encased in a temporary casket, was laid to rest. Shiraishi pointed to the evidence, consisting of five newly-discovered bore holes that would have been ideal for the piers of a bridge; these holes, which were discovered during excavation efforts in the autumn of 2015, are in addition to the 26 bore holes ringing the burial mound discovered in a 2013 dig. An additional four holes were found progressing across the moat in 2013 as well.
 
Full article here.
 

Stone relief on the wall of the Abbey Church of Saint Foy in Conques, France. circa 1050

 

 

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