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Test Pitting in the Avebury Landscape

FragmeNTs

Last week, the Living with Monuments team started test pitting* in Avebury, in fields to the north west and the south west of Avebury Henge, in order to gather information about what the landscape might have looked like in the past and how it has been transformed over the millennia.

_DSC8369v2 Archaeologists from the National Trust and the University of Leicester test pitting in the shadow of Silbury Hill ©Mike Robinson

Before the work began, it was assumed that the test pits would essentially show the same thing; however, what they showed instead was how diverse and different the landscape was in the past.

_DSC8427 Archaeologist, Mike, from the University of Southampton recording one of the southern test pits ©Mike Robinson 

Previous understanding of past landscapes in Avebury was based upon John Evans’ work in the 1980s, which has been taken as the general model for the area, but we are now realising that it’s much…

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Ancient Britain in a day. Exploring Prehistoric Wiltshire

The American travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote:

“Impressive as Stonehenge is, there comes a moment somewhere about 11 minutes after your arrival when you realize you’ve seen pretty well as much as you care to, and you spend another 40 minutes walking around the perimeter rope looking at it out of a combination of politeness, embarrassment … .”

avebury-pic

Avebury Stone Circle. Image: Tharik Hussain

In many ways, Bill is spot on. The first time I visited England’s most iconic ancient site, I too had set aside a couple of hours to “take in,” “absorb,” “immerse” and “feel” the mystical stone circles that adorn the cover of almost every guidebook to Britain, and then, just like Bill, about 11 minutes in I looked at my watch, then back up at the huge stones and began to wonder what I should do next.
That’s the problem with ancient stones. Besides staring at them for a while, there really isn’t much else to do.
Fortunately, Stonehenge is in an area littered with ancient monuments that bring prehistoric Britain to life, and as spectacular as it is, Stonehenge is certainly not the only ancient site in the English county of Wiltshire. In fact, two historic sites are less than an hour away by car, making it the ideal region to spend a day exploring the very best of ancient Britain, and here’s how …

Avebury
Start in the little village of Avebury, as it is the easiest to access from London via the M4, and the one that will take the longest time to explore. This is because Avebury is home to the largest stone circle in Europe. It doesn’t have the impressive arches Stonehenge can boast, but Avebury’s size makes it clear it was probably more important than its headline-grabbing neighbor. It is certainly far more atmospheric and remains an important site for modern British pagans who frequent it for gatherings at various times of the year, including the summer and winter solstices.
Many of the original stones are missing, though quite a few were put back up by the circle’s late Victorian savior, Alexander Keiller. Keiller was a Scottish businessman-cum-archaeologist, who studied at nearby Eton and fell in love with the area’s ancient history. He had many of the stones dug up from where they had been buried by earlier fundamentalist Christians, and re-installed. Before Keiler, the stones were neglected and dismissed as a “shameful” reminder of England’s pagan past.
In total there are three circles around a henge – a bank and a ditch – the largest of which is 348m in diameter. Despite the village of Avebury cutting across the huge site, there is definitely an “atmosphere” about Avebury’s stone circles, which is no doubt enhanced by the fact that the crowds here are much smaller than those at Stonehenge.

Silbury Hill
From Avebury, head south on the B4003, turning right where it meets the A4. Do not drive too fast otherwise you’ll miss it, for Silbury Hill is on your right only minutes after the turn. It is true that in the pictures it looks just like any other hill, but when you are standing next to Europe’s largest man-made ancient structure, the perfection of the hill makes it clear this was not crafted by nature.
In truth, visiting Silbury Hill is no more thrilling than staring at a large grassy mound, for that is what it is. The excitement of reading the sign that tells you this is the largest prehistoric man-made structure in Europe is about as good as it will get – at least until English Heritage develop some kind of tourist access to the ancient monument. Until then, you’ll have to admire it from the roadside as you speculate what possessed ancient Britons to build the thing. No one knows the real reason of course, but I personally like the local legend that it is the final resting place of King Sil, represented as a life-size statue of gold and riding a horse.

Stonehenge
From Silbury Hill carry on toward the A361 and turn left to head south. From there you can follow signs all the way down to Britain’s most famous ancient site, Stonehenge, now accessed via the new visitor’s center. English Heritage appear to have taken Bill’s comments on board as the new center seems to have been designed specifically to occupy visitors for more than 11 minutes.
They do this first with the center’s exhibition where you can discover the Stonehenge story — essentially a rundown of all the latest theories about the possible purpose of the famous henge. Outside the center, there is a Neolithic village that has been built to show us how the prehistoric Brits who built the henge may have lived, and next to this is a replica of one of the huge sarsens they somehow brought all the way here and positioned in that spectacular style. This comes complete with a rope to pull and a screen that tells you just how many more of you are needed to move the real thing – 95 in my case.
The approach to the stones is either an “atmospheric” 30-minute walk or a short ride on the shuttle bus, with most people combining the two. After your 11 minutes admiring England’s most famous set of rocks, the visitor center’s cafe will make the ideal place to enjoy that other classic English institution, a cup of tea.
Article source: <IMG src=”http://b.scorecardresearch.com/p?c1=8&c2=19888642&c3=2″>Ancient Britain in a day : Tharik Hussain

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Walk with an Archaeologist: Durrington and the Stonehenge Landscape Revealed

Stonehenge News and Information

Durrington Walls is beginning to give up its secrets and here is your opportunity to join Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the World Heritage Site on a half day exploration of this enigmatic site to find out the latest discoveries.

Durrington_Walls“Follow in the footsteps of the people who built and used Stonehenge and visit the ancient places, prehistoric monuments and former settlements surrounding the famous stone circle. The National Trust cares for over 800 hectares of land within this World Heritage Site and visitors can wander freely across the grasslands. Step back in time and discover what lies beneath.”

Follow in the footsteps of the people who built and used Stonehenge and visit the ancient places, prehistoric monuments and former settlements surrounding the famous stone circle. The National Trust cares for over 800 hectares of land within this World Heritage Site and visitors can wander freely across the…

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Major archaological find in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire: metal detectors’ Roman hoard gives up rare evidence about ancient plant life

Mick Rae, Rob Abbott and their friend Dave were detecting in a field in the Vale of Pewsey in October 2014 when they came across a hoard of eight metal vessels – including a cauldron and four small pans from weighing scales.

cauldron

Cauldron showing scale pans [Photo copyright Portable Antiquities Scheme]

The vessels were buried in a pit beneath about 350 millimetres of top-soil and, as one would expect, were in varying states of disrepair.

The find was quickly identified as Roman. The discovery was reported to Richard Henry who is Wiltshire’s Finds Liaison Officer. His role is to record archaeological finds made by members of the public – mostly metal detectorists, but also by people who are just walking in fields or digging in their back garden.

Most of the cauldron survives and a large copper-alloy vessel had been placed upside down into the cauldron – forming a sealed cavity. What was inside?

There were no gold necklaces or bronze coins in this hoard of Roman vessels. But what was found inside is worth its weight in gold to archaeologists – remains of plants preserved by the copper vessels’ own micro-environment.

Among the remains of the dried plants were heads of common knapweed and pieces of bracken. They also found seeds of cowslips or primrose, milkwort, lesser hawkbit, sedges, clovers, vetches and sweet violet, fat hen, knot grass, black bindweed, buttercup and corn spurrey. They may be what is left of some careful packing.

Remains of the flowers and bracken are now on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Organic matter never survives if buried unprotected in the Pewsey Vale’s greensand – so to find dried plants and pollen this old provided the scientists with many opportunities for research.

The find did not count as ‘treasure’ so remains the property of the finder and the landowner. The detectorists donated the organic material to Wiltshire Museum – the scientific processes used to test it with would ultimately destroy it.

Richard Henry led the quest to discover more about the find. He brought in a team to excavate the site of the discovery, led by David Roberts of Historic England with the Assistant County Archaeologist, members of the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group and the finders. They found shards of domestic and imported ceramics and ceramic building materials.

The project to analyse the plant remains has been led by the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and supported by Historic England, Southampton University, the Association for Roman Archaeology and Wiltshire Museum.

The scientists discovered that the plants were dated between AD380 and AD550. They

plants

Some of the flower heads from the hoard [Photo Steven Baker at Historic England – their copyright]

believe the hoard was hidden sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries – during the early Anglo-Saxon period. And interestingly, the find was within striking distance of the major Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered in Blacknall Field – finds from which can be seen in the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

But if the age in years is a little speculative, the state of the plants reveals pretty accurately that they were picked and packed away in late summer soon after the harvest – late August to early October.

When their own kind of Brexit happened, the Romans obviously left much more behind them than roads, mosaics, villas and hoards of coins.

Wiltshire Museum’s Director, David Dawson, is thrilled they can display this important material: “Richard Henry has led this remarkable partnership project, drawing specialists from across the country to piece together the fascinating story of the burial of Roman bronze cauldrons that took place on a summer’s day 1,500 years ago.”

Richard Henry said “Such discoveries should be left in situ to allow full archaeological study of the find and its context. The finders did not clean or disturb the vessels which has allowed us to undertake detailed further research. If the vessels had been cleaned none of this research would have been possible.”

It is very tempting to imagine how this hoard came to be made so long after the vessels were first used. It is as though someone today decided to bury the Victorian kitchen pots Aunt Bertha inherited – and packed them with plants.

Why they were buried remains a matter for speculation. Does the careful packing of the metal vessels mean they were the antiques of their day? Were they, so long after the Roman era, still valued as useful cooking pots? Or was this some kind of votive offering?

Marlborough.News understands that metal detector Dave aims to have the vessels professionally conserved.

Ruth Pelling and Stacey Adams will be talking about their research on the flowers and other recent Wiltshire discoveries at the Archaeology in Wiltshire Conference on April 1 in Devizes. Their talk is titled “Bake Off and Brewing in Roman and Early Saxon Wiltshire: recent archaeobotanical finds.”

Article written by Written by Tony Millett and published on the Marlborough News Online Website

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Roman bronze pots and pans buried with flowers

Mike Pitts – Digging Deeper

vessels drawing tinned.jpgHere’s another great story from the new British Archaeology, which went live online today (February 8). Conservation of a hoard of late Roman bronze pots and pans found near Pewsey, Wiltshire, has revealed they were packed with plants, among which were bracken and knapweed flowers.

Eight mostly plain vessels had been carefully nested inside each other. There’s a bit of tinning on some of them, so I coloured the diagram silver rather than a reddish bronze.

The plants gave a rare radiocarbon date for a hoard, of AD380–550, placing its burial most probably in post-Roman (after AD410) or Anglo-Saxon times. It may be contemporary with a nearby early Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Blacknall Field.

dig-ph13Richard Henry, Wiltshire finds liaison officer, and Rachel Foster, assistant county archaeologist, excavating the hoard site in 2014. Photo Past Landscapes Project

Three men and a woman with metal detectors made the discovery in late 2014 (Tony…

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Other Sarsen Stones near Stonehenge and Woodhenge

Stonehenge News and Information

Sarsen boulders lie scattered in substantial “drifts” across the landscape of the Marlborough Downs near Avebury.

By contrast, close to Stonehenge there are almost none. This is one of the reasons why most archaeologists believe that the large sarsens for the monument were not locally sourced.

There are, however, a few examples of substantial sarsens dotted about Salisbury Plain within a couple of miles of Stonehenge. And there are tantalising hints that others used to exist.

The most obvious, and easily accessible, is the Cuckoo Stone. This stone is about 2m long by 1.5m wide by 1.5m thick and lies in the field immediately west of Woodhenge.

Cuckoo Stone

The Stonehenge Riverside Project excavated around the Cuckoo Stone in 2007 and discovered that the stone once had been set upright right next to the hollow in which it had originally formed.

Close by were two neolithic pits containing pottery worked…

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Current Archaeology Awards 2017. Rethinking Durrington Walls: a long -lost monument revealed.

The 9th annual Current Archaeology Awards celebrate the projects and publications that made the pages of CA this year, and the people judged to have made outstanding contributions to archaeology. Research Project of the Year category includes;

Rethinking Durrington Walls: a long-lost monument revealed

 (CA 320 – Stonehenge Riverside Project / Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project / National Trust)

Ongoing research at Durrington Walls has revealed a massive and previously unknown palisaded enclosure beneath the banks of the famous Neolithic henge. It is a discovery that is set to rewrite the site’s history.

To cast your vote, click here!

Voting closes 6 February 2017

Durrington Walls, two miles from Stonehenge, is named after the Neolithic henge that calls the location home. But with ongoing research revealing a massive and previously unknown monument hidden beneath its banks, the site’s history is set to be rewritten. Carly Hilts spoke to Vince Gaffney, Mike Parker Pearson, and Nick Snashall to find out more.

monument-landscape-1

Looking towards Durrington Walls henge, over the concentric rings of posts that mark Woodhenge. Ongoing research has revealed huge post holes (inset) belonging to another wooden monument hidden beneath the prehistoric bank.

Around 4,500 years ago, hundreds of people gathered two miles from Stonehenge to build another massive monument, at a location known to us as Durrington Walls. The spot they had selected lay within sight of the celebrated stones, and had previously been home to a village that may have housed the community that erected them (CA 208). But now the short-lived settlement lay abandoned, and – perhaps motivated by a desire to commemorate its presence – the new group of builders punched through the living surfaces and midden material of their predecessors to complete their work.

Their efforts were not focused on raising the imposing earthworks of the henge that gives the site its modern name, however. Instead, their labour created a previously unknown earlier phase whose full extent is only now being revealed by ongoing research: as many as 300 huge wooden posts, evenly spaced 5m apart in a ring almost 450m across. It would have been an arresting sight, yet within a maximum of 50 years the monument had been decommissioned once more, its posts removed and their sockets filled in, before being covered over by the henge that we see today. All trace of the post circle would lie hidden beneath the banks of its successor for millennia – until it was brought to light once more by a series of excavations and the largest geophysical survey of its kind. Why did the site undergo such a sudden change in design, and what can we learn about the rise and fall of a long-lost monument? As analysis continues, intriguing clues are beginning to emerge.~
Full story here

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