In our film, Rupert very boldly asserts that the Stonehenge ‘bluestones’ were brought all the way from the Plesilis in Wales – that’s 135 miles as the crow flies. I think we based our certainty (in the face of what was, and still is, a hot topic of controversy) on the then recent discoveries made by the archaeologist Tim Darvill and the compelling argument he made for the stones having come from a particular ‘quarry’ in the hills. He had also put forward some quite convincing reasons as to why the builders this phase of Stonehenge would have gone to such lengths to transport the stones to Salisbury plain – to create it as a place of healing.
Be that as it may, we are very glad that further – and more concrete evidence – for the human transportation (as opposed to the glacial) of the bluestones has been provided by new research. Read on: (ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT ARCHNEWS)
It has been around for the best part of 5,000 years and still holds many mysteries but new research into Stonehenge has overturned established ideas about where some of the rocks came from.
Dr Rob Ixer from the University of Leicester Department of Geology has been studying the famous monument in collaboration with Dr Nick Pearce from Aberystwyth University and Dr Richard Bevins from the National Museum of Wales. Their particular interest was in the ‘bluestones’ which are not the iconic massive uprights and cross-pieces but smaller stones, weighing a mere(!) four tonnes or so each.
Stonehenge is not just a ‘stone circle’ but is structurally quite complex. There is an outer circle of massive ‘sarsen’ stones: uprights and cross-pieces, weighing anything up to 50 tonnes, collected from the Marlborough Downs about 25 miles away. Within this is a ring of bluestones – which predates the outer ring – then a horseshoe of sarsens, then a horseshoe of bluestones, then the central stone commonly referred to as the ‘altar stone’.
Even that’s not all because there are circular earthworks around the stone circle and all manner of stone detritus scattered within and around. Furthermore any investigation into Stonehenge is, of course, complicated by the number of stones which have fallen over or been moved – and complicated even more by the number which have been stood up again! As recently as the 1960s work was carried out to lift some of the fallen stones and set them in concrete bases which was not, strictly speaking, how they were held up five millennia ago…
Most of the bluestones are a type of rock called spotted dolerite, an igneous rock similar to basalt but coarser grained. It was in 1923 that the source of this rock was comprehensively identified as the Mynydd Preseli district, a range of hills to the east of Fishguard, meaning that each of these stones was transported about 240 miles.
However, while the spotted dolerite is distinctive, the origin of the non-dolerite bluestones, which include sandstone, silica-rich rhyolites and volcanic ejecta called basaltic tuffs, are harder to pin down. They have generally been assumed to come from the same location as the dolerites because, well, there are rocks like these in the Preseli Hills.
Rob Ixer and his colleagues analysed samples from the Stonehenge bluestones and found that they matched rocks in the Pont Saeson area just outside Newport. Having established a likely origin, they looked in detail at zircons within the stones. These are tiny crystals of zirconium silicate (about 150?m across) which have distinctive signatures of trace elements within them, such as hafnium, yttrium and scandium.
Long story short, the Stonehenge bluestones matched the Pont Saeson samples extremely closely whilst being markedly different from control samples of similar rocks collected elsewhere.
Rock and rollers
As so often in research, solving one outstanding mystery just raises more questions, in this case regarding transport.
The accepted view of how the bluestones got to Salisbury Plain is that they were transported overland due south to Milford Haven (probably using logs as rollers underneath the stones), then by raft up the Bristol Channel, then more log rolling to take them across to Stonehenge. Which is fine if all the stones started life at the top of the Preseli Hills because it’s all downhill from there.
But if some of the stones came from Pont Saeson, that’s low ground to the North of Mynydd Preseli. In other words, to get those stones to Milford Haven, our Neolithic building gang would have had to transport them over the Preseli Hills. Which seems, frankly, unlikely.
This research builds on work published by the team in 2006 which showed that the ‘altar stone’, previously believed to have originated at Milford Haven, came from somewhere else much, much further away.
This new, detailed chemical analysis of the stones actually has enormous (pre-)historical implications, overturning established theories about how this extraordinary creation was constructed. The mystery of Stonehenge continues…
READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT ARCHNEWS
READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT BBC CORNWALL
The collection of 47 artefacts, found on St Michael’s Mount, is on display in the island’s castle.
Pieces – including axe-heads, daggers, ingots and a complete metal clasp – have been verified by the British Museum as being about 3,000 years old.
Archaeologists said the objects probably belonged to a blacksmith who had hidden them away for later use.
The objects were discovered by Darren Little when he was clearing ivy and found an opening in some rock.
“I first found a small axe head, and, after some more investigation, founds ingots, pieces of swords and chisels,” he said.
Although the age of the objects has been identified, archaeologists said they were not sure how they came to be where they were found.
National Trust archaeologist Jim Parry said: “They could have been stashed away when he was doing a deal and he didn’t want to bring them with him, or it could have been a safe bit of overnight storage.
“He could have had a smith’s working area in front of him and just tucked some pieces behind him, forgot about them and moved on.”
READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT BBC CORNWALL
READ FULL ARTICLE AT THE BBC
An archaeology group has called for the site of a 3,500-year-old settlement in the Vale of Glamorgan to be protected.
The remains of a Bronze Age village at Bendrick were first uncovered near the Atlantic Trading Estate near Barry in the 1980s.
Archaeology Cymru says the site is rapidly deteriorating due to off-road biking and other activities by people who may be unaware of what is there.
The county council, which owns the land, said it would investigate.
Archaeology Cymru director Karl-James Langford said he first became aware of the significance of the site when working as a volunteer excavating the land 25 years ago.
He said the remains of a Bronze Age roundhouse were still visible today.
But he said with no signs to warn people what was at the site nothing was being done to protect it.
“The destruction is immense. The archaeology has been badly damaged and very soon it will be gone,” he said.
READ FULL ARTICLE AT THE BBC
Between 3200 BCE and 1100 BCE the inhabitants of the Aegean islands known as the Cyclades produced unique marble figurines and vessels, bronze tools and weapons as well as ceramics. There is an article at Past Horizons on an upcoming exhibition or artefacts in Istanbul. READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE.
Istanbul’s Sakip Sabanci Museum will showcase an exhibition on the civilization and culture of the Aegean Sea region 5,000 years ago with material provided by the Greek National Archaeology Museum in Athens and the N.P. Goulandris Foundation Cycladic Art Museum.
The new exhibition at the Sakip Sabanci Museum is expected to open at the end of May and is the first of its kind highlighting Cycladic Art in Turkey featuring a remarkable 600 pieces from Greece.
The exhibit “Karsidan Karsiya” (From One Side To Another) concentrates on the civilization and culture of the Aegean Sea region 5,000 years ago.
Between 3200 BCE and 1100 BCE the inhabitants of the Aegean islands known as the Cyclades produced unique marble figurines and vessels, bronze tools and weapons as well as ceramics. These physical items demonstrate the extensive commercial and cultural relations between both sides of the Aegean Sea through the islands during this period .
This significant Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age culture is best known for its schematic flat female idols carved out of the islands’ pure white marble, centuries before the great Middle Bronze Age (Minoan) culture arose in Crete, to the south.
The Cyclades are a group of islands in the southwestern Aegean of some thirty small islands and numerous islets. The ancient Greeks called them Kyklades, imagining them as a circle (kyklos) around the sacred island of Delos, the site of the holiest sanctuary to Apollo.
Each of the small Cycladic islands could support no more than a few thousand people in scattered communities. When the highly organized palace-culture of Crete arose, the islands faded into insignificance, with the exception of Delos, which retained its reputation as a sanctuary into the period of Classical Greece over a thousand years later.
The chronology of Cycladic civilization is divided into three major sequences: Early, Middle and Late. The early period, beginning ca. 3000 BCE merges into the less well understood Middle Cycladic ca. 2500 BCE. By the end of the Late sequence (ca. 2000 BCE) there was essential convergence between Cycladic and Minoan civilisation.
READ COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE.
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
Here is a nice long clip from the DVD – all about henges. It just so happens that the most important of them occur within a quite small distance from one another in the South of England. Now, the two sites in the film that actually have the word ‘henge’ in their name turn out to be NOT true henges in the sense that the word has come to be accepted. As is shown in the film, although the word originally derives from the name ‘Stonehenge’, it turns out that Stonehenge itself is an anomaly amongst ‘henges’ and does not now count as one – strictly speaking. Woodhenge ‘may’ have been a henge – but was so named long before it was discovered that the post holes that make up all that is now visible of the site was surrounded by a raised mound. As for places like ‘Seahenge‘ for example – well, it becomes clear that the tag ‘henge’ is easily used by the media to indicate that a new discovery – whether of rock, wood or earth – is a pretty ancient one.
This section of the film gave me an opportunity to go to town with CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and do my best to produce some watchable reconstructions of how the sites MAY have looked. The two ‘true’ henges that are featured – Avebury and Stanton Drew – really are wonders. Avebury is, of course, the most visually spectacular of the two today, but as Rupert and I found out more about what was lurking beneath the soil of the farm field that the stone circle of Stanton Drew inhabits, so our imagination was spurred and led to a surprising idea about their purpose. So, I’m not going to spoil it for you now, but let me just say that, however radical our thoughts may seem, they did not come from nothing. Our main suggestion is supported by evidence from other sites and most notably by Mike Pitts observations about the excavations at Durrington Walls in his book ‘Hengeworld‘. Most of all though, it was the privilege of spending time at these places – being present to their grandeur and scale as a human being that gave rise to our speculations. And speculations is all they are. We don’t pretend to have any answers – we’re not experts – but we do hope that a little “thinking outside the box” can inspire ideas that really do crack the mystery of these wonderful places.
“Kilmartin Glen, in Argyll, has one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Europe. The glen contains at least 350 ancient monuments, many of them prehistoric, including burial cairns, rock carvings and standing stones. But archaeologists have identified a period of almost 1,000 years in which no monuments were erected and the population there ‘diminished’. They claim this period is marked by the start of a colder, wetter climate.
Dr Alison Sheridan, an archaeologist and head of early prehistory at the National Museum of Scotland, who has studied Kilmartin Glen for more than 20 years, said: “The earliest activity dates back to hunter-gatherers around 4,500 BCE, who left behind nothing more than a few pits, charcoal and some flint. It was a sacred landscape from at least as early as 3,700 BCE until as late as 1,100 BCE. It was a place for ceremony, for burying people and observing the movements of the sun and the moon. We are not too certain what happened between 1,100 BCE and around 200 BCE. A hoard of swords has been found and a few artefacts buried as gifts to the gods in the late Bronze Age between 1,000 and 750 BCE. But there are very few structures and no settlements. Certainly, in some parts it seems to have become colder and wetter after about 1,200 BCE, and the people may have moved away.”
Kilmartin Glen was home to self-sufficient and successful communities with links around the country and even overseas. Historic monuments include standing stones, a henge, a linear cemetery comprising five burial cairns and numerous cists, or stone coffins, which contained remains of adults and children as young as four. Neal Ascherson, visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, said climate change brought an end to “this strange, idyllic period of late Neolithic and Bronze Age in this area”. He said: “The weather, which was dryer and finer than it is now, seems to have come to an end around 1,000 BCE, when it began to change and the whole ecology began to alter. At the same time, culture changed. The capacity or wish to build these monuments and indeed to honour them or take account of them, died away. And in the Iron Age nobody took much account of these monuments and certainly nobody tried to build anything of the kind again. Instead, you get a quite different culture in which you get tiny fortified settlements and you feel everything is colder and more hostile. The population diminished heavily, but whoever was left seemed to fear everyone else.”
Sharon Webb, the curator of the Kilmartin Museum, said: “When the first people moved in to this landscape it would have been a landscape of plenty. It was a really rich place for the hunter-gatherer people to find enough resources to live.”"
As I said in the diary post about shooting at Cainbaan, everyone loves a puzzle, but when you get this close to the mysteries our ancestors left behind, a solution always seems only a hairsbreadth away, and yet – gaze into space for as long as you want – understanding remains tantalizingly just out of reach. Rock Art is about as close as you can get to looking into the mind of our ancestors, but although we may feel close in space – touching the very same curves, hollows and textures in rock that they created – not being able to comprehend the purpose behind these symbols can make us feel as remote as ever from fellow humans who just happen to have preceded us by a few thousand years.
BY the way, if you are particularly interested in this aspect of our ancient heritage English Heritage have launched a wonderful website completely devoted to English prehistoric Rock Art. I recommend a visit.
I absolutely cannot recommend this website enough if you have the slightest interest in the magnificent site of Avebury Henge.
If there’s anything – anything at all you need to know about Avebury then go here NOW! The site is beautifully presenrted, and as a bonus to all the information available here, there is also a complete facsimile edition of William Stukely’s ‘ABURY – A TEMPLE OF THE BRITISH DRUIDS‘ online.