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Side view of the south-eastern chamber looking south-west
 
The University of Bristol News reports on the complex prehistoric patterns discovered around the site of ancient Welsh burial chamber –
 
A team of archaeologists, led by a researcher from the University of Bristol, has uncovered the remains of a possible Stonehenge-type prehistoric earthwork monument in a field in Pembrokeshire.
 
Members of the Welsh Rock art Organisation have been investigating the area around the Neolithic burial chamber known as Trellyffaint – one of a handful of sites in western Britain that has examples of prehistoric rock art.
 
The site of Trellyffaint dates back at least 6,000 years and has been designated a Scheduled Monument. It is in the care of Welsh heritage agency Cadw. The site comprises two stone chambers – one of which is relatively intact. Each chamber is set within the remains of an earthen cairn or mound which, due to ploughing regimes over the centuries, have been slowly uncovered.
 
More here.
 

Twilight at Stonehenge (circa 1840). Watercolour by William Turner of Oxford
Image credit Wikimedia Commons

 

A guest feature by Littlestone.

The Rudston Monolith
©
Littlestone

To quote Wikipedia, “The Rudston Monolith at over 7.6 metres (25 ft) is the tallest megalith (standing stone) in the United Kingdom. It is situated in the churchyard in the village of Rudston (grid reference TA098678) in the East Riding of Yorkshire.”

So, to mark this year’s St Valentine’s Day, Moss and I decided to make the 30 mile drive over from where we live in North Yorkshire to Rudston village to see for ourselves the ‘real thing’. Nothing quite prepares you for this ‘real thing’. Photos of the monolith we’d seen before but first sight, and first touch, of this towering Neolithic edifice left us both speechless. If there’s ever a stone that puts its neighbouring church into a shadow this is it. And the fact that it’s stood there for some 4,000 years makes it even more awe-inspiring. As ever, the similarity with other subsumed (Christianised) sites in Britain, seems the same. The Rudson Monolith stands close to a water source. A Roman villa once stood close by and there are Roman tiles in the church walls. There are also the remains of a Roman sarcophagus in the graveyard.

Outlier stone and the remains of a Roman sarcophagus behind it
©
Littlestone

Googling ‘Rudston Monolith’ will throw up all sorts of info but what intrigued me most, being actually there on site, was the smaller outlier stone in one corner of the graveyard. The stone is of the same composition as the monolith itself and evidently was once situated close to it. Could it be the missing top of the Rudsone Monolith? Did it fall away naturally or was it cut off because it offended past norms of acceptability? Who knows, but here’s an interesting comparison from Brittany in France.

The Plonéour-Lanvern megalith in Brittany, France circa 1900
Collection Abbaey de la Source, Paris
 
rillatoncup1
 
Sketch of the Rillaton Barrow and the Rillaton Gold Cup and Dagger
Artist unknown
 
Workmen engaged in construction work in 1837 plundered a burial cairn for stone on part of Bodmin Moor, at Rillaton. In one side of the mound they came upon a stone-lined vault, or cist, 2.4 m long and 1.1 m wide. It contained the decayed remains of a human skeleton accompanied by this gold cup, a bronze dagger and other objects that have not survived – a decorated pottery vessel, a ‘metallic rivet’, ‘some pieces of ivory’ and ‘a few glass beads’. The pot and gold cup were set beneath a slab leaning against the west wall of the cist.
 
Source British Museum.
 
 
The Rillaton Barrow today
©
The Heritage Trust
 
Please see our earlier feature on the Rillaton Gold Cup here.
 
 
 
The Bridge of Brodgar, Orkney in 1875 by Walter Hugh Patton (1828-1895)
Source Wikimedia Commons
 
For those interested in archaeology, and ancient Britain, tonight’s program on BBC TWO from 9.00pm to 10.00pm should make fascinating viewing –
 
Orkney – seven miles off the coast of Scotland and cut off by the tumultuous Pentland Firth, the fastest flowing tidal race in Europe – is often viewed as being remote. Yet it is one of the treasure troves of archaeology in Britain. Recent discoveries there are turning the stone age map of Britain upside down. Rather than an outpost at the edge of the world, recent finds suggest an extraordinary theory… that Orkney was the cultural capital of our ancient world and the origin of the stone circle cult which culminated in Stonehenge.
 
More here.
 
A 3,000 year-old gold torc recently found by a metal detectorist in a Cambridgeshire field
Image credit Dominic Lipinski/PA
 
The torc is so big that one expert thinks it may have been worn to protect a pregnant woman. It is made from 730 grams of almost pure gold and is regarded as the best found in England in more than a century. The workmanship is astonishing. “The torc was shaped from a square section bar of gold, and then twisted and burnished. “If you take callipers, and measure the gaps between the twists, they are absolutely spot on accurate.”
 
More by Maev Kennedy in The Guardian here.
 
 
 
 
 A dog tooth unearthed near Stonehenge and dating to around 5,000bce
 
The tooth, above, was found at Blick Mead in Wiltshire, southern England, and is believed to be evidence of the earliest journey in British history; so claims archaeologist David Jacques. The tooth is thought to be from a pet Alsatian-type dog that travelled 250 miles from present-day York, in northern England, to Wiltshire in the south. Blick Mead is close to Stonehenge, although Stonehenge as we know it today would not have existed.
 
According to BBC News, David Jacques is reported as saying –
 
“The fact that a dog and a group of people were coming to the area from such a long distance away further underlines just how important the place was four millennia before the circle was built,” Mr Jacques said.
 
“Discoveries like this give us a completely new understanding of the establishment of the ritual landscape and make Stonehenge even more special than we thought we knew it was.”
 
It has also been suggested that the dog was a trade item, though no evidence for that theory has been advanced.
 

Wade’s Causeway, North Yorkshire, circa 1995.
Notice at bottom left that there are four upright stones. These are unique in British Roman roads, and are thought to be there to stop the road slipping in the wet peat of winter.
©
Colin Coulson
 
For more on Wade’s Causeway see The Heritage Trust’s feature by Moss here, and the Wikipedia entry on the Causeway here.
  
 
 
Standing stones in the south-west quadrant of the Avebury stone circle
©
Littlestone
 
What has long been suspected, that the earliest stone monuments in Britain were built with astronomy in mind, has now been proven. Writing in the NewHistorian, Daryl Worthington reports that –
 
Through innovative use of 2D and 3D technology, researchers from the University of Adelaide have statistically proven that spectacular stone circles constructed up to 500 years before Stonehenge, were deliberately built in line with the movement of the Sun and Moon.
 
The findings, published last week in the Journal of Archaeological Science, give fresh insight into the relationships ancient Britons held with the sky; connecting the earth to astronomical phenomena through spectacular monuments.
 
“Nobody before this has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind – it was all supposition,” said project leader and University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow Dr Gail Higginbottom, who is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian National University.
 
Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis, and Stenness, Isle of Orkney; are the oldest stone circles in Scotland, built during the late Neolithic over 5000 years ago. It has long been thought that the megaliths were laid out to reflect the cosmos, but the quantitative tests carried out by the team on the patterns of alignment of the standing stones have finally provided convincing evidence that this was indeed the case.
 
More here.
 
 
The Ring of Brodgar: Unesco World Heritage Site
Image credit Alamy Stock Photo
 
Kevin McKenna, writing in The Observer, reports that, “British archaeologists have never had it so good. The Orkney Ness of Brodgar site is changing perceptions of neolithic man. More than 600 miles south, a bronze-age find is being hailed as ‘Britain’s Pompeii’. But funds are tight.”
 
The story started, one anointed day in March 2003, with a curious stone slab on a finger of Orkney hemmed in by seas. Nick Card, of the University of Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, remembers that it was a typically cold and wet day. He was accompanied by his departmental colleague, Professor Jane Downes, and Julie Gibson, the county archaeologist. What they encountered that day has changed their lives and changed Orkney. Ness of Brodgar was a sacred place that defined the passage of time.
 
What lay beneath their feet, as they discovered bit by bit over the next 12 years, was the world’s greatest neolithic find in the modern era: a complex settlement of buildings and structures made 4,500 years ago which is turning on its head our understanding and perception of this era and its people.
 
The Council for British Archaeology has designated the last two weeks in July as Britain’s Festival of Archaeology, with hundreds of digs and visits being arranged all over Britain. The organisers couldn’t have picked a better time for their festival. Some 650 miles south of Orkney, at Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, archaeologists are still in the first stages of wonder at an extraordinary bronze age site that they have begun to describe as “Britain’s Pompeii”.
 
More here.
 
 
Fragment of a Bronze Age copper/alloy knife recovered from a previously undiscovered burial site near Morecambe Bay
Image credit Stuart Noon
 
Dalya Alberge, writing in The Guardian yesterday, reports that –
 
A significant early bronze age burial site, believed to date from 2500BC, has been discovered near Morecambe Bay. Grave goods could include objects ranging from daggers and ceramic vessels to jewellery, textiles and material such as amber, jet and gold. The site will be excavated in July. Archaeologists were alerted to its existence by Matthew Hepworth, a nurse, who unearthed a well-preserved bronze age chisel using a metal detector.
 
Ben Roberts, a lecturer in later prehistory at Durham University and the British Museum’s former curator for European bronze age collections, said: “The potential is huge because untouched, undiscovered sites are very rare indeed. What’s really special about our site is that no one knew about it before … The barrow appears to be intact and it’s pretty substantial.”
 
Hepworth followed the correct procedure on discovery of the chisel, notifying the authorities under the portable antiquities scheme. He is now being given a rare opportunity to work alongside the professional archaeologists in an excavation that is being partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Morecambe Bay excavation is being partly financed through a crowdfunding project, DigVentures, a social enterprise founded by three archaeologists – including Wilkins – to address the severe cuts in local authority and university-funded research archaeology.
 
 
 
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.
 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.
 
 
Archaeologists working on a wooden platform uncover Bronze Age houses at Must Farm, Cambridgeshire
Image credit Cambridge Archaeological Unit
 
BBC News Cambridgeshire reports that –
 
Archaeologists have uncovered Britain’s “Pompeii” after discovering the “best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found” in the country. The circular wooden houses, built on stilts, form part of a settlement at Must Farm quarry, in Cambridgeshire, and date to about 1000-800 BC. A fire destroyed the posts, causing the houses to fall into a river where silt helped preserve the contents. Pots with meals still inside have been found at the site.
 

Historian Dan Snow introduces the Must Farm site where archaeologists have revealed incredibly well-preserved Bronze Age dwellings. The excavation in the East Anglian fens is providing an extraordinary insight into domestic life 3,000 years ago. The settlement, dating to the end of the Bronze Age (1200-800 BC), would have been home to several families who lived in a number of wooden houses on stilts above water.

 
More here.
   

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