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Stonehenge on right, traffic flow on the nearby A303  left
Mike Pitts
In his letter to The Times (Saturday, 16 September) Mike Pitts, Editor of the British Archaeological magazine, writes –

Sir, Tom Holland (letter September 13) notes that archaeologists have found ancient remains across the Stonehenge world heritage site, and implies that a road tunnel would threaten more. He is correct, but this is a red herring. Any works close to Stonehenge must be preceded by an archaeological survey. In the latest announcement the proposed route has been adjusted to avoid newly discovered sites. It is inevitable, however, that not everything can be saved in this way, and then excavation must occur. Remains will be disturbed, scientific studies will be conducted and finds will go to the local museum. We will learn more about Stonehenge. The process – turning loss into enlightenment – is exactly the same for all excavations, including those that have impressed Holland. All archaeological excavation is both destructive and creative.

If there is a problem, it is that the two excavating sides – one led by pure inquiry, one by development – do not talk to each other enough. In the years ahead, it is vital that all organizations work together for the benefit of Stonehenge and the public.

Mike Pitts
Editor, British Archaeology

Photo and letter published with the kind permission of Mike Pitts. See also Mike’s What would Trump do with Stonehenge?
A thought… by Moss.
Stonehenge by Hesketh David Bell (1849 – 1872)
Can one ever imagine  Stonehenge as peaceful and open as this painting, the clawed hand of industrial farming is still not to be seen, as are also the trees. Sometimes romantic versions of what we want and not what we have are just flights of fancy, as I am sure this painting is, though obviously painted when the dreaded car was yet to be seen.  I have seen elsewhere discussion about the rocks in the foreground, not to be seen today, but I think a certain artistic licence is granted to  artists, and Bell’s other work features dramatic rocky landscapes.  Strangely it reminds me of the North York moors, featureless except for the open space but coloured by the vegetation of its underlying stone. Subject matter contrasts our lowly ‘peasant’ with his two cows and smattering of sheep against the far off prehistoric stones. Judge against the ‘horror’ of the traffic laden road which is the subject of  controversy today and weep.
Stonehenge today. Image credit BBC News


See also Mike Pitts’ feature, What did the world heritage site mean to people who built Stonehenge? Nothing, here.

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


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.
The Winterbourne at Avebury flowing towards a snow-sprinkled Silbury in the background
The Heritage Trust
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Changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act saw protesters at the Australian State Parliament last year
Image credit and © ABC News: Katrin Long

Laura Gartry, writing for ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), reports that –

A proposed new West Australian heritage bill highlights a “disturbing racial differentiation” between the level of protection offered between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal sites, archaeologists say. It comes after the State Government released for public comment the draft Heritage Bill 2015, aimed at modernising heritage regulation.

The draft bill oversees the protection of all WA heritage sites except Aboriginal sites of significance, which come under the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA), itself also the subject of proposed changes by the Government. The draft Heritage Bill 2015 has been welcomed by the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA), the peak national body for the profession. But spokesman Professor Ben Smith from the University of Western Australia said the discrepancies and contradictions between the two proposed sets of changes were “untenable”.

“There is a perhaps unintentional but nonetheless very disturbing racial differentiation between the two types of heritage,” Professor Smith said. He noted how in the new Heritage Bill, the decision to add or remove a site will remain with the minister for heritage, while in revisions to the Aboriginal Heritage Act the decision will be left with a senior public servant.

“So here we have a very interesting contradiction where a site of state significance is Aboriginal, it will be a civil servant that decides whether it goes on [or off] the register. If the site is non-Aboriginal — that is settler, colonial — it is the minister that decides … the minister is the highest authority possible,” Professor Smith said.

“We have watering down of the Aboriginal Heritage Act whereas we have continued strength of non-Aboriginal preservation.”

“We seem to want to protect white fella heritage, better than we want to protect black fella heritage” adds AACAI WA Chairperson Phil Czerwinski.

Full article here. See also our earlier features on Australian heritage issues by keying in Australia in the search box above.

South-east quadrant of the Avebury Henge in Wiltshire, England
Avebury, in Wiltshire, England is one of the largest stone circles in the world. Part of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, that includes the West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill, it has achieved international fame as one of the finest and most complex Neolithic structures ever built. But where did the people who built the stone circle actually live? Now, according to the Western Daily Press
A team of experts from the National Trust, Southampton and Leicester universities and Allen Environmental Archaeology are currently in the middle of a three-week dig – having spent the last three years investigating the area.
“Avebury’s prehistoric monuments are justly world famous but one of the questions I’m most often asked is where the people who built and used them lived,” said Nick Snashall, the National Trust’s archaeologist for Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site.
“This landscape has been studied by antiquaries and archaeologists for almost 400 years, which makes it all the more astonishing that we had no idea where its Neolithic and Bronze Age residents lived or what they did in their daily lives.
“So a few years ago a group of us decided it was about time we changed that and teamed up to form the Between the Monuments Project.
“We’re trying to put the people back into Avebury. It sounds straightforward, but the houses the first farmers built are incredibly rare and difficult to spot.
“Finding stone circles and burial mounds is a doddle in comparison.”
More here.
Greenpeace’s publicity stunt adjacent to the famous Nazca hummingbird geoglyph in Peru
Photo credit Thomas Reinecke/TV News
While Greenpeace does an excellent job highlighting to the world serious environmental issues, the organization seems to have seriously slipped up this time. During the night a group of Greenpeace activists entered the protected Nazca site and unfurled large yellow letters reading –
The Guardian reports today Peru’s vice-minister for culture, Luis Jaime Castillo, as saying, “This has been done without any respect for our laws. It was done in the middle of the night. They went ahead and stepped on our hummingbird, and looking at the pictures we can see there’s very severe damage,” Castillo said. “Nobody can go on these lines without permission – not even the president of Peru!”
We agree, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that in April last year part of the Nazca geoglyphs were torn up by heavy machinery owned by a mining company which operates a limestone quarry in the area (please see our earlier feature Lines of Nazca damaged). The company responsible is reported as saying that they had upgraded their operation a few months earlier to produce construction material and, as their land is privately owned, they are free to operate on it as they wish. We would be interested to hear from Peru’s vice-minister for culture, Luis Jaime Castillo, how he feels about this mining activity and what steps have been taken to halt it.
Meanwhile Greenpeace has apologised for its latest publicity stunt but, “…last week [it] projected a message promoting solar energy on to Huayna Picchu, the mountain that overlooks the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, another protected archaeological site in Peru.” Greenpeace really should know better than to use heritage sites to promote its own agendas – no matter how worthy those agendas may be.
More here with video.

In the Shadow of the Hill: The Rough Tor Triangle. A totally speculative article but with a hint of truth to it?

Text and images © Roy Goutté

Rough Tor as seen from Middle-Moor cross on Bodmin Moor’s North-West perimeter

Nestling neatly in the shadow of Rough Tor lies the wonderfully rustic stone circle of Fernacre. Just 2km to the west of it is the equally rustic Stannon circle and 800m to the south east of that a third in this triangle of large Cornish circles…Louden. All three are believed to have been built in the Late-Neolithic although a lack of dating evidence in Cornish circles is a problem.

But that is not the only triangular thing about these three circles built on the north-west fringe of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, for within their settings they all feature a single large triangular granite upright. It is these iconic Cornish tri-stones and their possible meaning and connection to Rough Tor that I would like to concentrate on in this article and not so much about the circles themselves other than their basic details and possibly why they were erected where they are.

Fernacre circle has so much in common with the other two circles that it doesn’t take much figuring out that the three are likely to be contemporary with each other and possibly erected by the same people because they are so close together. All are very large by Cornish standards but are surprisingly made up of a large number of small stones. Stannon has around 70 laid out in an irregular ring but originally there may have been as many as 82+. Fernacre also has a large number of stones in its setting, Louden fewer, yet the three circles are the largest in Cornwall along with the Stripple Stones henge circle at the base of Hawk’s Tor and could have been amongst the first to be built. All three are irregular in shape and may have been laid out by eye instead of using a central peg and rope, rather like children marking out a demarcation area for a football pitch in the park with jackets and jumpers!

Unfortunately, Stannon circle lies immediately to the south of a huge china clay works, which, to my mind, destroys much of the magical feel associated with moorland circles we are used to seeing in an open landscape. I wonder if in these more enlightened times permission for this type of activity would still be allowed adjacent to a Scheduled Monument?

Stannon circle looking north-east toward the huge china clay works

All three circles have been labelled as ‘ceremonial’ in certain quarters, but I’m not quite sure what that is based on but may well be true. In my mind I visualise ceremonial circles as being not only large in size, but displaying magnificent uprights within their settings with a true look of grandeur. But this is not the case here as it almost seems that any size stones the builders could get their hands on were used in their construction and in this instance, quite small. It suggests to me that each circle was just one part of a much larger blueprint, so individual grandeur and precision was not required and their use different to other stand-alone circles…whatever that may have been!

Fernacre circle sits in a magnificent bowled landscape. Brown Willy to its east, Garrow Tor to the south, Louden Hill to the west-north-west and the daddy of them all and we believe most revered, Rough Tor to its north.

Aside from its own feature tri-stone it has around fifty-five stones remaining out of what some believe was around as many as ninety which indicates the smallness of many of them! It’s almost like the stones just marked out a temporary demarcation area rather than a permanent and functional structure to be admired. It is this side of things I find really odd.

Although it is just as irregular in its own diameter as Stannon circle, Fernacre is slightly larger being forty-six by forty-four metres, so again, somewhat slightly elliptical in plan.

A section through Fernacre circle looking toward the south-west. Louden circle is away to the top right on the left-hand side of the track. Note the selection of small stones for such a large circle and common in all three

It does appear that stone circles are located within the landscape in relation to other foci with sacred or spiritual significance, not all of which are necessarily visible today. The spacing of individual circles throughout the landscape has also been thought by some to represent a tribal gathering point for specific social groups and Fernacre, being set as it is within a landscape rich in contemporary ritual monuments, settlements and field patterns, demonstrates the complex integration of ritual practice with domestic and agricultural organisation of the landscape during the later Neolithic and Bronze Ages. (Access to Monuments. Cornish Heritage).

Louden circle, in elevation terms, is the highest of the three with Fernacre circle seen down from it to the north-east. It has an irregular diameter of between forty-five and forty-three metres and although now reduced in numbers, it probably had up to 40 stones in its original setting. Of the three, Louden circle is the least obvious to the eye due to recumbent and buried stones, but fortunately it still has its iconic tri-stone in place as a guide to finding it. However, a clearance of the turf now enveloping the fallen stones would be of benefit to finding it as PastScape list it as being on Louden Hill…which it isn’t!

Rough Tor Triangle 4 (2)

Louden circle. Less stones than both Stannon and Fernacre circles, but equally small ones

Let us turn our attention now to the iconic singular large tri-stones within the settings of these three circles and ask the usual questions…what is their meaning or purpose?

It was only when I was in Louden circle recently and taking a photograph of the tri-stone with Rough Tor in the background, that it suddenly dawned on me that I was seeing something close to a double take! I then ventured across to Stannon circle to take a similar photograph and to my amazement witnessed the same and wondered if the builders had purposely made an attempt at replicating the image of Rough Tor as best they could within their ring settings by erecting tri-stones which can be found amongst the clitter masses on the various tors and hills in the area. The same applied at Fernacre and it left me thinking!


Rough Tor as seen from the far side of the Louden circle and tri-stone


The Louden tri-stone as viewed from inside its circle…an attempt at replicating Rough Tor?


The iconic tri-stone at Stannon circle with the equally iconic Rough Tor in the background. Note the ‘notch’ in Rough Tor’s peak as seen from the circle

Stannon’s tri-stone as seen from inside the circle. Note the notch in the peak. Was it selected in an attempt at replicating the notch in Rough Tor’s?


The Fernacre tri-stone


Fernacre’s tri-stone with Rough Tor looming large in the background

The top photo is a natural tri-stone on Treswallock Downs and the lower the same on Leskernick Hill

So, we have three large irregular stone circles of similar size and with similar sized stones of all shapes and all with a prominent tri-stone in their ring settings and all in close proximity to each other.

It would be easy to suggest that if the people of their time revered or worshipped Rough Tor, then the tri-stones in each of the three circles may well have been seen as near images of their ‘God’ and revered during ceremonies carried out in the circles.

Let’s leave that thought for a moment though and look further into those tri-stones and consider where they are positioned within each circle as it could also tell a speculative but interesting tale.

Remarkably, the circle to the east (Fernacre) has its tri-stone positioned due east in its setting and the circle to the west (Stannon) has its tri-stone positioned due west in its setting. To complete the set, Louden, the southern-most circle, has its tri-stone due south in its setting. Why should all three circles have their individual tri-stones on the side of the triangle they themselves form in the landscape? Draw a direct line between those three circles and note that they form a scalene triangle (no equal sides) which ‘by ‘chance?’ just happens to be a mirror image of Rough Tor!

Copied directly off an OS map for accuracy, the triangle formed by the three circles produces a mirror image of Rough Tor in profile!

So, is this then the ‘finished product’ of the blueprint I referred to earlier and not the individual circles themselves? Are the circles just the demarcation points where boundaries joined up and possibly ritualistic ceremonies took place in…or just pure speculation on my part? In the photocopy above it can be seen quite clearly that the greater majority of solid black circles, rings and enclosure boundaries in the area (cairns, hut circles and field systems) are within the triangle. Black denotes Prehistoric, red, Medieval or Post-Medieval. Did our prehistoric ancestors not only live, work and get buried within sight of Rough Tor, but also within its mirrored image?

Furthermore, are there comparisons elsewhere?


The Heritage Trust

Ed Caesar’s article, in the Smithsonian Magazine, deals with a ground-breaking survey which is revealing tantalizing new clues as to what might have gone on in the Stonehenge area four and a half thousand years ago –

Gaffney’s [Vince Gaffney, archaeologist from Newcastle upon Tyne in north-east England] latest research effort, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is a four-year collaboration between a British team and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria that has produced the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, totalling more than four square miles. The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area – to which few people might ever have been admitted… Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing… something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really.”

Read the full Smithsonian article here.


On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe
Her [Silbury] base covers five acres of Wiltshire turf, the equivalent of three football pitches. Five acres that have not seen sunlight or stars for some 4,300 years and will never see sunlight again until, possibly, the ice of the next Ice Age to extend as far as southern England scratches her away like a pimple. In her day she must have been almost unimaginably colossal, since nothing else man-made came anywhere near. She was probably as white, when completed, as the dome of the Taj Mahal – not with marble, but with ungrassed chalk. To visitors seeing her for the first time, she would have seemed otherworldly, miraculous, impossibly smooth and symmetrical…
Adam Thorpe
More here. See also the review by Paul Farley in the Guardian.
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.

Silbury Hill, Wiltshire England
The Heritage Trust
The largest man-made mound in Europe, mysterious Silbury Hill compares in height and volume to the roughly contemporary Egyptian pyramids. Probably completed in around 2400 BC, it apparently contains no burial. Though clearly important in itself, its purpose and significance remain unknown. There is no access to the hill itself.
Silbury Hill is part of the Avebury World Heritage Site, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. In order to preserve this site for future generations, we ask that visitors observe the no entry signs and do not climb or damage fences in order to avoid considerable damage to the hill.
Mariam Ghaemi, writing in the East Anglian Daily Times today reports that –
A historian has said a prehistoric site in Suffolk “could be as significant as Stonehenge” and called for detailed research to be undertaken before the area could be spoiled by development.
Dr Duncan McAndrew, who has worked at the British Museum in London, said just outside the village of Fornham All Saints was a scheduled monument called a cursus [see here for another example of a cursus] – which is made out of earth – and in the same area there was evidence of two causewayed enclosures, which could have been one or possibly two wooden henges. Dr McAndrew has raised concerns about the proximity of this area to a site north-west of Bury St Edmunds where Countryside Properties is looking to build about 900 homes, and believes there could be significant archaeology within the development site itself.
Dr Jess Tipper, county archaeologist at Suffolk Archaeology Service, said there was a “major prehistoric ritual landscape” along the Lark Valley. He believed the cursus – which he said dated back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods – would have been “equally impressive” as Stonehenge. “We have never had the opportunity to investigate it and the site is preserved as an ancient monument,” he said.
Suffolk County Council said substantial archaeological assessment at the development site had established while there were archaeological remains, “there are no grounds to consider refusal of [planning] permission in order to achieve preservation in situ of any important below-ground heritage asset”.
Full article here.
Slender rods support the roof of the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre
The Heritage Trust
Rain clouds gathered as Trust members arrived at the entrance to the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre this morning. After decades of wrangling, and millions of pounds spent trying to decide what the Centre should be, what it should look like and where it should be sited, the big day had at last arrived – the first day that the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre opened its doors to the public. We can only say that the atmosphere there this morning was electric. The smiles and pride on the faces of the English Heritage staff, as well as on the faces of the windswept guides and security folk we saw and spoke to were infectious. There are still a few minor problems to sort out but English Heritage, and everyone else involved in the project, seem to have pulled it off in a way that will satisfy all but a few.
Entrance to the new Visitor Centre, with cafeteria and shop on the left, conveniences and exhibition hall on the right
The Centre itself could easily be mistaken for a large farm building, even from quite close up, and it sits comfortably in the surrounding landscape; light and airy but totally functional. The building is actually two quite plain buildings (exhibition hall in one and the cafeteria/shop in the other) both sitting under a floating, undulating roof; and it’s the roof that pulls the two together. We took the land train up to Fargo Plantation where it stops and where one can walk the remaining 15 minutes or so; Bronze Age round barrows on one’s left and the monument itself slowly appearing in the distance.
The final walk from Fargo Plantation to the monument
The Heritage Trust
The old ‘facilities’ are in the process of being demolished. The road that once ran past (and very close to) the Heelstone no longer does so and the stone has now regained much of its rightful place in the Stonehenge landscape. A new innovation is that visitors are now directed to walk round the monument clockwise from the Heelstone, not anticlockwise as was previously the case. The visual impact of this is that one sees the monument from ever increasing points of closeness – ending in a very close and stunning view at the end of the walk.
The Heelstone returning to its rightful place in the Stonehenge landscape
The Heritage Trust
The new Stonehenge Visitor Centre offers world-class facilities and an information/exhibition area second to none. We never thought we’d see some of the earliest literature and illustrations on Stonehenge, let alone see them gathered together in one exhibition room (it was worth the admission fee just for that!) though there is so much more to see and enjoy there now.
The closest point to the monument at the end of the clockwise walk one can get. Stonehenge revealed in all its majesty, but note the truck visible through the stones on the right as it travels along the A303 (click on image to enlarge). Next step, a tunnel or bypass to complete English Heritage’s excellent work so far?
The Heritage Trust


February 2023
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