Archaeologists working near the Stonehenge World Heritage Site have discovered important new sites that rewrite the Stonehenge landscape.
Some sites predate the construction of Stonehenge itself. The remains, found at Larkhill and Bulford, were unearthed during excavations ahead of the construction of new Army Service Family Accommodation.
The dig at Larkhill has found remains of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure – a major ceremonial gathering place some 200 m in diameter, and dating from around 3650 BC has been found.
About 70 enclosures of this type are known across England, although this is only the second discovery in the Stonehenge landscape, with the other further to the north at Robin Hood’s Ball on the Salisbury Plain Training Area.
In Wessex they occur on hilltops and along with long barrows are some of the earliest built structures in the British landscape. They were used for temporary settlement, as ceremonial gathering places, to manage and exchange animals, including the first domesticated cattle and sheep and for ritual activity, and disposal of the dead including by exposure.
The Larkhill enclosure has produced freshly broken pottery, dumps of worked flint and even a large stone saddle quern used to turn grain into flour. The Neolithic period saw the first use of domesticated crops and this find provides evidence of this. Early farming would have caused significant localised change across the landscape as small fields were created for the first time. Human skull fragments were also found in the ditch, probably reflecting ceremonial practices and religious belief.
The Larkhill causewayed enclosure is around 700 years older than Stonehenge, and is part of a landscape that included long barrows and cursus monuments. Long barrows may have served as markers within the landscape, often commanding key positions that overlooked areas of downland and only occasionally containing burials. Cursus monuments are possible processional ways, one of which known as the `Lesser Cursus` appears to align on the new enclosure at Larkhill.
The Greater Cursus, an earthwork nearly 3 km in length, is the longest structure. It connects and divides parts of the landscape, and separates the Larkhill causewayed enclosure from the place that became Stonehenge. The eastern end of the cursus terminates just short of the large Amesbury 42 long barrow.
The people who built the causewayed enclosure are the ancestors of the builders of Stonehenge and were shaping the landscape into which the stone circle was placed. Their work shows that this was a special landscape even before Stonehenge was constructed. People were already living and working within what we now call the Stonehenge landscape and they were building the structures that would culminate in the Stonehenge complex of stones and earthworks.
The Larkhill site shows that they had the social organisation necessary to come together to build significant earthworks and the resources to support the work, as well as the people to carry it out. The offerings in the ditches also show the rich religious life they had created.
Dr Alistair Barclay of Wessex Archaeology said “this is an exciting new find and one that transforms our understanding of this important monumental landscape.”
While part of the site has been investigated the majority of the monument remains undisturbed within the Larkhill Garrison.
At nearby Bulford archaeologists have found further evidence of prehistoric activity. Although henges are well-known across the landscape, Bulford has a double henge, the only one known in Britain. Each henge is formed by an open space enclosed by a ditch. The earliest phases were created around 2900 BC with the enclosures formed by ditches dug in segments with openings to the north. This form was altered when both were enclosed within further ditches in the Early Bronze Age (2000 BC), perhaps showing that their function changed or because they had been closed down.
From one of the Bulford henges a skull from a large dog or wolf, maybe a working companion, a trophy from the hunt, or even a totemic symbol, was recovered.
Martin Brown, Principal Archaeologist for WYG said “These discoveries are changing the way we think about prehistoric Wiltshire and about the Stonehenge landscape in particular. The Neolithic people whose monuments we are exploring shaped the world we inhabit: They were the first farmers and the first people who settled down in this landscape, setting us on the path to the modern world. It is an enormous privilege to hold their tools and investigate their lives.”
Archaeological work on both sites is being managed and directed by WYG on behalf of Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), with fieldwork undertaken by Wessex Archaeology.
The sites’ development is part of wider plans to accommodate the 4000 additional Service personnel plus their families who will be based on and around Salisbury Plain by 2019 under the Army Basing Programme. In total, the MOD is planning to invest more than £1 billion in the area which will provide more than 900 new homes for Service families, over 2,600 new bed spaces for single soldiers and the construction, conversion or refurbishment of 250 other buildings within bases, such as offices, garages, workshops and Mess facilities.
News source: WYG.
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Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
What is Human Rights Day?
Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10th December. It commemorates the day (10 December 1948) the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Magna Carta is famous as a symbol of justice, fairness, and human rights. For centuries it has inspired and encouraged movements for freedom and constitutional government in Britain and around the world. But when it was issued by England’s King John in June 1215 it was an attempt to prevent a civil war between the king and his powerful barons…
Magna Carta (Latin for “Great Charter”) is one of the most celebrated documents in English history. At the time it was the solution to a political crisis in Medieval England but its importance has endured as it has become recognised as a cornerstone of liberty influencing much of the civilized world
Salisbury Cathedral is extremely proud to be home to the finest of the four surviving original 1215 Magna Carta. Their Magna Carta is on permanent display to visitors in the newly-conserved Chapter House.
Only four copies of Magna Carta dating from 1215 have survived the ravages of time and Salisbury Cathedral is proud to be home to the best preserved original manuscript. Elias of Dereham, priest and steward of the archbishop of Canterbury is thought to have brought Salisbury’s copy of to Old Sarum in the days following the events at Runnymede and it has remained in the Cathedral’s care ever since
The Salisbury Connection
At Runnymede King John was urged to accept the demands of the barons and agree Magna Carta by his half-brother, William Longspeé, whose Effigy is in Salisbury Cathedral. Also present at Runnymede was Elias of Dereham, who at the time was steward to one of the key players in the crisis, the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. Elias himself was a skilled negotiator and was at the very centre of the discussions between the King and the barons. Once Magna Carta was agreed and sealed he was entrusted with delivering ten of the thirteen copies made, one of which was given to the original cathedral at Old Sarum. Elias later became a Canon of Old Sarum before masterminding the building of the present Salisbury Cathedral.
The excellent Visit Wiltshire website will help you plan your trip to Salisbury and Wiltshire.
The Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours Experts
The winter solstice occurs at the moment when the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun, giving us the shortest day of the year. (Metro U.K)
It happens at the same moment for everyone around the world. This year, in the UK it’s happening at 10:44 GMT on Wednesday 21st December.
It falls on a different date each time – between 21 and 23 December, thanks to the fact that the 365-day year is actually 365 days, five hours and 45 seconds long.
The solstice occurs around six hours later each year, meaning the date gradually adjusts over time. Each leap year, the date jumps back to December 21 and we begin again.
The average duration of a year is approximately 365 days five hours 48 minutes and 45 seconds,’ Dr Somak Raychaudhury, Reader in Astrophysics at Birmingham University told the BBC.
‘Even this varies by a few seconds every year, since the Earth’s motion is not just caused by the Sun’s pull of gravity.
‘It is perturbed by the pull of the planets and moons in the Solar System. The relative positions of these change from year to year.’
How much daylight will we get on the shortest day?
On 21 December, the sun will rise in the UK at 8:04am and set at 3:45pm. This gives us just 7 hours and 49 minutes of daylight.
Where does the winter solstice come from?
Tracking the sun’s yearly progress dates back to the earliest people on Earth, who knew that its path across the sky, amount of daylight and location of the sunrise and sunset changed according to a regular pattern throughout the year.
Monuments such as Stonehenge in England and Machu Picchu in Peru were built to track the sun’s progress over the course of the year.
The winter solstice was seen as especially important in the past, as people were economically dependent on the seasons, with starvation a common occurrence in the early months of winter.
Is the winter solstice linked to Christmas trees?
Winter solstice customs led to the Christmas tree becoming a major symbol. The Druids used evergreen trees, holly and mistletoe to symbolise everlasting life during their winter solstice rituals.
Centuries before the time of Jesus, cultures brought plants and leaves into their homes when the winter solstice arrived to celebrate the return of life at the start of winter’s decline.
Why are mornings still dark after the solstice?
The mornings remain dark until January due to a formula called the Equation of Time.
The equation explains how solar time, which is measured on sundials, differs from clock time.
Because the Earth’s axis is tilted, and its orbit is the shape of an oval, the two times don’t always match – they can be as much as 16 minutes out of sync.
Solar noon – when the sun is at its highest in the sky – isn’t always the same time as noon according to clock time.
As the Earth moves faster in the part of its orbit where it’s nearest to the sun – which comes after the winter solstice – this increased speed pushes the solar noon back, causing winter sunrise time to stand still for a few days.
In other words, the sunrise is ‘hanging’ during the late December – early January period, making mornings remain darker for a bit longer.
When’s the next solstice?
The summer solstice is on Wednesday 21 June 2017.
The Stonehenge Travel Company based in Salisbury are offering a guided tour with a local expert on the 21st December 2016. Witness the sun setting on the shortest day of the year and hear why Stonehenge is astronomically aligned. Their exclusive small group Stonehenge Winter Solstice sunset tour departs from Salisbury.
The Stonehenge Experts
Witness the sun setting at Stonehenge from the ceremonial Avenue on the Winter Solstice. Visit two World Heritage Sites in one day!
Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset and it is now thought that the Winter Solstice was actually more important to the people who constructed Stonehenge than the Summer Solstice
Winter Solstice Guided Tour Highlights (21st December):
- Visit Stonehenge at Sunset on the Winter Solstice
Visit the English Heritage visitor centre
See Bronze Age Burial Mounds
Look inside the reconstructed Neolithic houses
Stand in the 360° theatre and watch the solstice sunset
Visit Avebury Stone Circle
See Silbury Hill / Ancient Chalk Hill Figures / Neolithic Burial Mounds
Luxury Mini Coach, expert guide services and all entrance fees included
Full Day Tour departs from Salisbury.
On this guided tour we’ll follow in the footsteps of people from 4,500 years ago as the made their way across the landscape and up the ceremonial Avenue towards Stonehenge as the Sun set into the centre of the monument before the longest night of the year.
Visit Avebury Stone Circle on the Winter Solstice
Avebury Henge is one of the Wonders of Ancient Britain. Originally, the megalithic complex consisted of over 700 standing stones and contained the world’s largest stone circle. Long and meandering stone avenues coursed for one and a half miles which led to the inner circles and the heart of the stone temple. Walk amongst the Stones with the Druids and Pagans absorbing the magic of the largest Stone Circle in the world at one of the most important times of year. Take time to reflect upon its powerful, mysterious presence and the ancient engineering and design.
Enjoy a walking tour of this ancient and see the many Druids and Pagans gathering for the solstice celebrations. There’s also time to explore the charming village with its thatched cottages, antiques and Saxon village church. Maybe enjoy a traditional cream tea or if you are feeling brave enough why not try some local ale in Avebury’s haunted Inn, the Red Lion (the most haunted pub in England) before we continue to Salisbury via the scenic country back roads
You will pass famous white horses carved into the chalk hillsides and picturesque, tucked away villages. We also explore the mysterious phenomena of crop circles and take a closer look at any which may be in the area (seasonal generally from May to August). Their appearance is always unexpected, unpredictable and largely unexplained. We will pass ancient burial mounds and the mysterious Silbury Hill. This is Europe’s largest prehistoric man-made monument yet still a mystery to modern day man.
Sunset on the 21st December is at 15.52pm. We will be there for sunset!
The Local Stonehenge Experts