FULL ARTICLE AT GUARDIAN.CO.UK
To learn more about the 34,000-year-old remains of the Red Lady, a Guardian writer spent the night in the cave where the bones were discovered.
It was probably more interesting 34,000 years ago. Then, from Paviland cave you would have seen mammoths, rhinos, oryx, vast herds of deer, even the odd sabre-toothed tiger, all roaming across the plain below. Now it’s just water – the Bristol Channel swashing against the jagged rock beneath the cave, Lundy Island in the distance, the coast of south-west England beyond that.
Paviland is only accessible for a couple of hours a day – unless you fancy a tricky climb – so I’ve decided to stay here for 24 hours, sleeping in the cave, sunbathing on the rocks, and wishing I’d brought some board games to play with my companions, local survival expert Andrew Price and photographer Gareth Phillips.
Cave life can be a little on the dull side.
Paviland cave, on the Gower peninsula in South Wales, is a crucial site for tracing the origins of human life in Britain. It was in here, in 1823, that William Buckland, the first professor of geology at Oxford University, excavated the remains of a body that had been smeared with red ochre (naturally occurring iron oxide) and buried with a selection of periwinkle shells and ivory rods. Buckland initially thought the body was that of a customs officer, killed by smugglers. Then he decided it was a Roman prostitute – he wrongly believed the iron-age fort on the hilltop above the cave was Roman. This misidentification gave the headless skeleton its name – “the Red Lady of Paviland” – and it is still called the Red Lady, even though we now know two things Buckland didn’t: the remains are those of a young man, probably in his late 20s, and they were buried 34,000 years ago. The Red Lady is the oldest anatomically modern human skeleton found in Britain, and Paviland is the site of the oldest ceremonial burial in western Europe.
To get in touch with this epic slice of pre-history I have chosen to sleep in the very spot where the Red Lady was discovered. I’m not sure what I expect to get out of this – a metaphysical connection with one of the first modern humans to come to these islands perhaps; the spiritual uplift pagans who visit this cave get when they come to pay homage to a figure they regard as a shaman. But in reality all I get is bitten on the hand by a spider. If Price had told me before the tide came in that there were spiders and bats in the cave, I probably wouldn’t have stayed.
Price has known the cave (called Goat’s Hole by locals) since he was a boy and is fascinated by the Red Lady. He likes to think spiritual significance was attached to the cave – larger than the others hereabouts, with an evocative, teardrop-shaped mouth – as a burial chamber. “I don’t think the aesthetics would have been lost on people then,” he muses. “And, even if you just look at it in practical terms, sitting up here gives you a great view of your hunting grounds.” Then, with global temperatures colder and sea levels lower, the estuary was miles back from the cave, and the plain teemed with the animals on which the small hunter-gatherer groups depended. They tracked herds of deer across hundreds of miles, and Paviland is likely to have been a stopping-off point on their annual round.
Excavators who came after Buckland found thousands of flints on the floor of the cave, suggesting it was in regular use, even though a few thousand years after the Red Lady was buried temperatures fell further, the ice advanced and Britain was abandoned by early man, leaving the cave’s occupant to lie alone for thousands of years.
As I struggle to get to sleep on the rocky, uneven floor of the cave, I try to dwell on his fate and conjure up the millennia, but all I can register is my tiredness and the constant boom of the sea as it penetrates the hollows in the cliffs.
Price believes the Red Lady was an important man. “Judging by the items that were found, I think he would have played a significant role. The ivory rods clearly had some ritualistic or artistic use. They weren’t hunting tools or anything like that, and that leads me to believe that his role in their society was of either religious significance or as a leader of some sort. I lean towards the idea that he might have been a mystic of some kind, or someone with a spiritual connection.”
FULL ARTICLE AT GUARDIAN.CO.UK
How didn’t the Preseli bluestones get to Stonehenge? Ask your maths teacher.
ARTICLE REPRODUCED BY KIND PERMISSION OF EDWARD PEGLAR. YOU CAN READ THE ARTCLE AT HIS OWN BLOG HERE.
The late Neolithic temple (or whatever) of Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, England, is constructed from two types of stones. These are the large ’sarsens’ and the smaller ‘bluestones’.
The sarsens are large slabs of a kind of rock called silcrete. Silcrete forms at the bottom of a sandy soil profile under semi-arid conditions in landscapes where there is little erosion. Silcrete once covered much of southern England. Now it is limited to small pockets in North Wiltshire, such as Fyfield Down and Lockeridge Dene. Whilst a bit of a schlepp, Neolithic oxen and people probably could have dragged silcrete blocks the twenty miles from these locations to Stonehenge. Whether they did… ?
Bluestones are a series of varied rocks which have their origins, for the most part, in the Pembrokeshire peninsula of South Wales. They are largely igneous rocks (similar to lava) which have experienced a small amount of metamorphism due to their deep burial in the Earth before they were brought back to the surface by erosion in the last few million years.
How to move the stones
The People Method: people quarried or collected the bluestones in Pembrokeshire, then brought them to Salisbury Plain by boat across the sea and pulled them the last part of the journey.
The Ice Sheet Method: the bluestones were broken off by an ice sheet (a kind of very large glacier) in a cold period around 400,000 years ago. As the ice sheet grew it spread to Salisbury Plain, or at least quite near. When the ice sheet melted it left the bluestones behind as what are known as glacial erratics.
For and Against
The arguments for the People Method are that the bluestones are similar in size and many are similar in composition. Most appear to have come from the Preseli Mountains and there is little evidence for other Welsh rocks on Salisbury plain.
The arguments for the Ice Sheet Method are that the stones are, in fact, quite diverse and even include a stone from far to the east. If there were an ice sheet, modelling suggests that it would be travelling in about the right direction to end up at Salisbury Plain. Finally, and most importantly, it’s an absolute bastard to carry a stone as big as a bluestone across the sea by boat, let alone drag it the last bit of the way to Salisbury Plain.
Now from a pure sense argument I’m very much inclined to support the Ice Sheet Method. It involves a simple natural process. It doesn’t ask people to do something that they haven’t done at almost any other stone circle, which is use non-local stone. It doesn’t demand the impossible or our poor feeble ancestors in their hide covered boats. Whilst the romantic in me loves the epic effort involved, the engineer wipes oily stains from his hands and says “Naa, not a chance, mate.”
But… something is niggling. It’s a small thing, but I can’t help thinking about it.
Glaciers and ice sheets are renowned for their lack of selectivity when it comes to stone collecting. Due to their bigness and force they can pick up any size of rock, from grain to boulder, on their frozen undersides. And they do. Also, because ice sheets and glaciers behave like one solid (well sort of solid) mass they can carry the small and the large with equal ease.
But when the ice sheet finally melts it dumps everything, from grain to boulder, in the same place. Unlike many other geological processes, ice sheets are astoundingly untidy. However, this jumble of rubble will tend fit tidily in one thing though – the statistical bell curve of size distribution by weight.
To explain: An ice sheet could pick up a really large boulder but it wouldn’t pick up many because their aren’t that many around. But with smaller rock chunks the ice sheet picks up more of them because there are more of them. So the ice sheet will be picking up thousands of tiny pebbles at the same time as it picks up one large boulder. So you get a graph of number of stones vs stone size like the one in Fig.1.
On the other hand those millions of tiny pebbles, when you weigh them, don’t weigh that much. Medium sized stones are heavier but the largest boulders are much heavier still. So with that you get a graph of the weight of each stone versus its size, as shown in Fig. 2.
You can combine this information by calculating the total weights of all the sizes of stones collected. This involves multiplying the number of stones of each size by the average weight of each stone of any size. What you get is the bell curve graph of the weight of all the stones in one size fraction vs stone size like that shown in Fig. 3.
Ice sheets lose
“So what?” I hear you say. Well it’s simple. If you plot the distribution of all the bluestones or related stones on Salisbury plain it would have one big spike. This represents the large, and
relatively similar in size, bluestones of Stonehenge. There may also be a couple of small spikes for those smaller stones found in local burial sites. Importantly, it doesn’t look like the ice sheet dump distribution. (Fig. 4)
So perhaps someone cleared the rest of the bluestones away. There are two clear arguments against this.
If the bluestones were the biggest stones deposited by the ice sheet (A on the bell curve) then there should be absolutely thousands of smaller bluestones lying around. Their aren’t. Even if farmers had subsequently collected the medium size stones for use in walls and houses (and there’s no evidence of this) there would still be masses of pebbles lying around. Their aren’t.
Alternatively, if the bluestones were the “average” stone size (B on the bell curve), then there should be much larger stones lying around. There aren’t. Perhaps the Stonehenge builders chopped these larger stones into bits. Maybe. Whatever, even in this cas you’d still find a large number of pebbles lying around. You don’t.
Notably, the Neolithic long barrows of Salisbury Plain, which are older than Stonehenge, do not include one single one of these theoretical large bluestone boulders in their construction. For that matter they include very few small “Welsh” stones. Indeed, for that matter, they don’t include any sarsens either.
In North Wiltshire and the Coltswolds, similar long barrows always used local stone in their construction if it was available. It seems odd that the builders of Salisbury Plain perversely chose not to use the handy bluestones of Salisbury Plain. But that’s probably because they weren’t there yet.
People win … at least partly
Reluctant as I am to say it, it’s time to give up on the idea of a glacier reaching Salisbury Plain carrying its bluestone bounty. People must have been involved in getting the stones to Salisbury Plain. I have no idea how they did it but just fact that they did makes the people of Neolithic Britain pretty smart (and unbelievably determined), in my opinion.
But whether an ice sheet carried carried the stones part of the way from Pembrokeshire, maybe to the Somerset plain… hmm. That’s another argument that I’ll leave alone for the moment.
Atkinson, R.J.C. 1956 Stonehenge, Pelican, pp221
Burl, A. 2006 A brief history of Stonehenge, Robinson, pp368
John, B. 2008 The Bluestone Enigma – Stonehenge, Preseli and the Ice Age, Greencroft, pp160
ARTICLE REPRODUCED BY KIND PERMISSION OF EDWARD PEGLAR. YOU CAN READ THE ARTCLE AT HIS OWN BLOG HERE.
The Anglesey Rock Art Project recently extended their programme to include excavation and recording of megalithic rock art on a stone at Llwydiarth Esgob Farm. The stone, made from a distinctive localised hornblende picrite, stands within the garden of the farmhouse and was moved there by the noted antiquary Thomas Pritchard at the beginning of the 20th century.
FULL ARTICLE AT PRESS & JOURNAL
STAFF at Aberdeenshire’s troubled prehistory park will lose their jobs today – but talks will be held later this week to try to rescue the tourist attraction.
The last four workers at the Archaeolink centre were to have been made redundant at the start of this month – the day it should have opened for the new visitor season.
But they were kept on for a further fortnight as discussions continued between the Archaeolink Trust and a potential investor.
Last night, Mid Formartine councillor John Loveday, who sits on the board of trustees, said: “I am still hopeful that Archaeolink can be saved.
“I did say things were going right down to the wire last week but it isn’t over yet.”
Mr Loveday said the trust remained determined to do everything it could to preserve the prehistory park at Oyne, and staff had made every effort to help achieve that.
But he added: “The situation now is that the talks that have been continuing over these past weeks have hit a complication.
“Unfortunately, we just cannot hold on to the staff any longer for financial reasons. We simply would not have enough cash remaining now to meet bills coming in and to meet the redundancy terms.
“They will get the package agreed but it does mean the staff redundancies will have to take effect.”
It is understood that discussions with the one remaining party to have shown an interest in taking over the site broke down because of a legal issue involving the terms of the deed of trust agreement.
READ FULL ARTICLE AT PRESS & JOURNAL
FULL ARTICLE AT WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY
Excavations at the site of the former MOD Headquarters at Durrington have revealed deposits dating to the Late Upper Palaeolithic (Late Glacial) c. 12,000BC and evidence of human activity from the late Neolithic (2550-2200 BC) through to the modern period, with the main focus of activity dating from the Late Iron Age c.100BC to Romano-British period (AD43-410). The site is located within an archaeologically rich landscape just 1km north of the Neolithic Durrington Walls henge and between the Romano-British settlements at Figheldean and at the Packway enclosure to the north and south respectively.
Two monumental Neolithic posthole alignments, which appeared to follow the contours of high ground, contained Grooved Ware pottery. Potentially contemporary with these alignments was a natural swallow hole or sink hole 25m across which had been consolidated with a flint pebble surface which created a metalled platform covered with flint knapping debris and a broken late Neolithic flint axehead or chisel. In the Iron Age, the site comprised a number of paddocks and small fields, formed by shallow gullies and ditches.
READ FULL ARTICLE AT WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY
Work to create new visitor centre and make road improvements could start next year after financial announcements by ministers
READ AT THE GUARDIAN The on-off saga of sorting out the roads around Stonehenge and building a proper visitor centre seems to be back on track after ministers announced two important measures which could mean work finally starting as early as next year.
The closeness of the A344 to the stones near Salisbury, as well as the visitor facilities described by the public accounts committee in 1993 as a “national disgrace”, have long been a problem in need of fixing. Government funding for the latest project was axed as part of £73m of savings announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sports in June.
The heritage minister, John Penrose, said the government was giving English Heritage the permission it needs to access £2m from its historic reserves of £8m. That is money given philanthropically over the years and the DCMS said its use represents “the government’s commitment to philanthropic support for major cultural projects”.
Penrose said the way Stonehenge – listed by Unesco as a world heritage site in 1986 – had been presented to the public had been “woefully inadequate. Decades of dithering and indecision have got us nowhere.”
He added: “It was bitterly disappointing when the country’s dire financial state meant we had to withdraw government funding for the visitor centre here last June. But I – along with English Heritage and my colleagues across government – have been committed to finding other ways to support the project. The fact that we have now almost secured private funding is an example of the ‘big society’ in action, with everyone working together to ensure a mix of funding solutions.”
The £27.5m project already has £10m of lottery money in the pot as well as money which English Heritage has made in profit from its commercial activities and fundraising. Today’s announcement means there is now just £3m to raise – a sum English Heritage is confident of getting to allow work to start in 2012.
A brain in near-perfect condition is found in a skull of a person who was decapitated over 2,600 years ago. (Full article at Discovery.com)
A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an “exceptionally preserved” human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science study.
The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it’s one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world.
“The early Iron Age skull belonged to a man, probably in his thirties,” lead author Sonia O’Connor told Discovery News. “Cause of death is rarely possible to determine in archaeological remains, but in this case, damage to the neck vertebrae is consistent with a hanging.”
“The head was then carefully severed from the neck using a small blade, such as a knife,” added O’Connor, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Bradford. “This was used to cut through the throat and between the vertebrae and has left a cluster of fine cut marks on the bone.”
The brain-containing skull was found at Heslington, Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. O’Connor and her team suspect the site served a ceremonial function that persisted from the Bronze Age through the early Roman period. Many pits at the site were marked with single stakes. The remains of the man were without a body, but the scientists also found the headless body of a red deer that had been deposited into a channel.
Laser imaging, chemical analysis and other examinations revealed that the brain naturally preserved over the millennia. The scientists found no evidence for bacterial or fungal activity, and described the tissue as being “odorless…with a resilient, tofu-like texture.”
The condition of the brain is remarkable for its age.
Read full article at Discovery.com
ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT NEW SCIENTIST
EUROPEANS may have used magic mushrooms to liven up religious rituals 6000 years ago. So suggests a cave mural in Spain, which may depict fungi with hallucinogenic properties – the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.
The Selva Pascuala mural, in a cave near the town of Villar del Humo, is dominated by a bull. But it is a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects that interests Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico. They believe that the objects are the fungi Psilocybe hispanica, a local species with hallucinogenic properties.
READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AT NEW SCIENTIST