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A chance to meet Stonehenge ancestors. Neolithic long barrow burial mound discovered between Stonehenge and Avebury.
A “house of the dead” dating from more than 5,000 years ago could contain the remains of the ancestors of people who lived around Stonehenge, archaeologists have said.
A Neolithic long barrow burial mound in a place known as Cat’s Brain, in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, is being excavated by experts and students from the University of Reading in the first full investigation of such a monument in the county for 50 years.
The barrow, which is in the middle of a farmer’s field halfway between the important monuments of Avebury and Stonehenge, was spotted by aerial photography and assessed by geophysical survey imagery.
It consists of two ditches flanking what may be a central building covered with a mound made of the earth…
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It’s a question that has plagued archaeologists and stone enthusiasts for centuries: what’s the deal with Stonehenge?
No one has ever been quite sure where the famous circle of giant bluestones came from or how they came to be arranged in such a precise formation in the wilds of Wiltshire.
A recent paper from researchers at UCL suggested that the stones were collected in at quarries Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin around 5,000 years ago, then dragged from Wales to Wiltshire by men.
But archaeologists writing the Archaeology in Wales journal says that UCL got it all wrong.
This newer report says there are “no traces of human intervention in any of the features” that the UCL researchers “so excited”.
Instead, the Arachaeology in Wales paper’s authors, Dr Brian John, Dr Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes, think they have evidence that suggests the rocks were moved by glaciers.
Accusing the UCL team of getting carried away by a good yarn, Dr John wrote, “There is substantial evidence in favour of glacial transport and zero evidence in support of the human transport theory.
“We think the archaeologists have been so keen on telling a good story here that they have ignored or misinterpreted the evidence in front of them.
“That’s very careless. They now need to undertake a complete reassessment of the material they have collected.”
Visit Stonehenge and explore the ancient landscape with a local expert tour guide and hear all about the many new theories. Our Stonehenge Special Access Tours allow you to enter the inner circle and walk freely amongst the Stones at sunset or sunrise
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Some of the stones used to create Stonehenge may well have been first erected in Wales, a new study has suggested.
Some of the stones used to create Stonehenge may well have been first erected in Wales, a new study has suggested.
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of quarrying for the world heritage sites’ bluestones in Pembrokeshire – 500 years before they were erected in Wiltshire.
They believe the most likely explanation is that the stones were first used in Wales before being transported 140 miles to Salisbury Plain where they formed part of the monument’s inner horseshoe.
Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came.
Stonehenge was built during the Neolithic period, between 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.
Both of the quarries in Preseli were exploited in the Neolithic, and Craig Rhos-y-felin was also quarried in the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago.
Project director Professor Mike Parker Pearson, from UCL Institute of Archaeology, said: “We have dates of around 3,400BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3,200BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2,900BC.
“It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view.
“It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”
The discovery has been made by a team of scientists from UCL, the universities of Manchester, Bournemouth and Southampton, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and Dyfed Archaeological Trust.
Professor Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, believes the ruins of any dismantled monument are likely to lie somewhere between the two megalith quarries.
“We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot,” she said.
“The results are very promising – we may find something big in 2016.”
The Stonehenge bluestones are of volcanic and igneous rocks, the most common of which are called dolerite and rhyolite.
The scientists identified the outcrop of Carn Goedog as the main source of Stonehenge’s ‘spotted dolerite’ bluestones and the outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-felin as a source for one of the “rhyolite” bluestones.
The special formation of the rock, which forms natural pillars at these outcrops, allowed the prehistoric quarry-workers to detach each standing stone with a minimum of effort.
“They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face” said Dr Josh Pollard, of the University of Southampton.
“The quarry-workers then lowered the thin pillars onto platforms of earth and stone, a sort of ‘loading bay’ from where the huge stones could be dragged away along trackways leading out of each quarry.”
Radiocarbon-dating of burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers’ camp fires reveals that there were several occurrences of megalith-quarrying at these outcrops.
The megalith quarries are on the north side of the Preseli hills, and this location undermines previous theories about how the bluestones were transported from Wales to Stonehenge.
Previous writers have often suggested that bluestones were taken southwards from the hills to Milford Haven and then floated on boats or rafts, but this now seems unlikely.
“The only logical direction for the bluestones to go was to the north then either by sea around St David’s Head or eastwards overland through the valleys along the route that is now the A40,” said Prof Parker Pearson.
“Personally I think that the overland route is more likely. Each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than two tonnes, so teams of people or oxen could have managed this.
“We know from examples in India and elsewhere in Asia that single stones this size can even be carried on wooden lattices by groups of 60 – they didn’t even have to drag them if they didn’t want to.”
The new discoveries may also help to understand why Stonehenge was built.
Prof Parker Pearson and his team believe that the bluestones were erected at Stonehenge around 2,900BC, long before the giant sarsens were put up around 2,500BC.
“Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery of why Stonehenge was built and why some of its stones were brought so far,” he said.
Further excavations are planned for 2016.
The findings, Craig Rhos-y-felin: A Welsh Bluestone Megalith Quarry For Stonehenge is published in the journal Antiquity
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A detailed plan of a medieval city has been produced by experts without any digging at the site.
The latest scanning techniques were used to uncover a network of buildings at the 11th Century Old Sarum near Salisbury in Wiltshire.
The results include a series of large structures, possibly defences, with open areas of ground behind possibly for mustering resources or people.
Old Sarum was the original site of Salisbury, which is two miles away
WHAT IS OLD SARUM?
- It was the location of the original Salisbury
- It combines a royal castle and cathedral within an Iron Age fortification
- The Romans, Normans and Saxons have all left their mark there
- For 150 years it was a major centre of government
Source: English Heritage
It was originally an Iron Age fort, established around 400 BC, and occupied by the Romans after the conquest of Britain in AD 43.
This latest survey of the site was carried out by the University of Southampton and concentrated on the inner and outer baileys of what would have been the fort.
Modern techniques used to survey the land included magnetometry, earth resistance, ground penetrating radar and electric resistivity tomography, which uses electrodes to probe underground.
The university’s director of archaeological prospection services, Kristian Strutt, said: “Archaeologists and historians have known for centuries that there was a medieval city at Old Sarum, but until now there has been no proper plan of the site.
“Our survey shows where individual buildings are located and from this we can piece together a detailed picture of the urban plan within the city walls.”
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Archaeologists have just completed the most detailed study ever carried out of the life story of a prehistoric Briton
What they have discovered sheds remarkable new light on the people who, some 5500 years ago, were building the great ritual monuments of what would become the sacred landscape of Stonehenge.
A leading forensic specialist has also used that prehistoric Briton’s skull to produce the most life-like, and
arguably the most accurate, reconstruction of a specific individual’s face from British prehistory.
The new research gives a rare glimpse into upper class life back in the Neolithic.
Five and a half millennia ago, he was almost certainly a very prominent and powerful individual – and he is about to be thrust into the limelight once again. For his is the prehistoric face that will welcome literally millions of visitors from around the world to English Heritage’s new Stonehenge visitor centre after it opens tomorrow, Wednesday. The organisation estimates that around 1.2 million tourists from dozens of countries will ‘meet’ him as they explore the new visitor centre over the next 12 months.
The new scientific research has revealed, to an unprecedented degree, who this ‘face of prehistory’ really was.
He was born around 5500 years ago, well to the west or north-west of the Stonehenge area, probably in Wales (but conceivably in Devon or Brittany)
Aged two, he was taken east, presumably by his parents, to an area of chalk geology – probably Wiltshire (around the area that would, 500 years later, become the site of early Stonehenge). However, aged 9, he then moved back to the west (potentially to the area where he had been born) – and then, aged 11, he moved back east once more (again, potentially to the Stonehenge area).
Aged 12, 14 and 15, he travelled back and forth between east and west for short durations and at increased frequency. Scientists, analysing successive layers of the enamel in his teeth, have been able to work all this out by analysing the isotopic values of the chemical elements strontium (which changed according to underlying geology) and oxygen which reflected the sources of his drinking water.
He grew into a taller than average man, reaching an adult height of 172 centimetres. In Neolithic Britain, the average height for adult males was 165 centimetres, while in Britain today it is 176. He probably weighed around 76 kilos (12 stone) and had fairly slender build. Throughout his life, he seems to have consumed a much less coarse diet than was normal at the time . His teeth show much lighter wear than many other examples from the Neolithic. He also had a much higher percentage of meat and dairy produce in his diet than would probably have been normal at the time.
By analysing nitrogen isotope levels in his teeth, a scientific team at the University of Southampton, led by archaeologist Dr Alistair Pike, have worked out that he obtained 80-90% of his protein from animals – probably mainly cattle, sheep and deer.
A detailed osteological examination of his skeleton, carried out by English Heritage scientist, Dr Simon Mays, has revealed that he probably led a relatively peaceful life. The only visible injuries showed that he had damaged a knee ligament and torn a back thigh muscle – both injuries, potentially sustained at the same time, that would have put him out of action for no more than a few weeks.
There is also no evidence of severe illness – and an examination of hypoplasia (tooth enamel deformation) levels suggest that at least his childhood was free of nutritional stress or severe disease. Hypoplasia provides a record of stress through a person’s childhood and early teenage years.
But he seems to have died relatively young, probably in his late 20s or 30s. At present it is not known what caused his death.
However, he was probably given an impressive funeral – and certainly buried in a ritually very important location.
Initially his body was almost certainly covered by a turf mound but some years or decades later, this mound was massively enlarged to form a very substantial mausoleum – one of the grandest known from Neolithic Britain. He was the only individual buried there during his era – although a thousand or more years later, several more people were interred in less prominent locations within the monument.
This great mausoleum – 83 metres long and several metres high – was treated with substantial respect throughout most of prehistory – and can still be seen today some one and half miles west of Stonehenge. Fifteen hundred years after his death, his tomb became the key monument in a new cemetery for the Stonehenge elites of the early Bronze Age.
All the new evidence combines to suggest that he was a very important individual – a prominent member of the early Neolithic elite.
The research into his life has yielded a number of fascinating new revelations about that period of British prehistory.
First of all, it hints at the degree to which society was stratified by this time in prehistory. Far from being an egalitarian society, as many have tended to think, the evidence points in the opposite direction. Most early Neolithic people were not given such grand mausolea . The type of monument which was constructed over his grave (known to archaeologists as a long barrow) was primarily a place of ritual, not just a place associated with burial. By having one erected over him, he was being given a very special honour.
Of the 350 such long barrows known in Britain, it is estimated that 50% had no burials in them at all, that a further 25% had just one person buried in them – and that most of the remaining quarter had between five and 15 buried in each of them.
Secondly, it shows, arguably for the first time, that high social status in the early Neolithic was already a matter of heredity. The isotopic tests on the man’s teeth show quite clearly that his privileged high meat diet was already a key feature in his life during childhood.
Thirdly, the scientific investigation suggests that at least the elite of the period was associated with a very wide geographical area. In other words, they were not simply a local elite but, at the very least, a regional one. The fact that he seems to have moved back and forth between the west of Britain (probably Wales) and the southern chalklands (probably the Stonehenge area) every few years, at least during his childhood and teenage years, suggests that his family had important roles in both areas.
Given the ritual significance of the Stonehenge area, even at this early stage, it is possible that he and his father and other ancestors before him had been hereditary tribal or even conceivably pan-tribal priests or shamans in a possibly semi-nomadic society. It is also likely that such people also played roles in the secular governance of emerging political entities at the time.
Most tantalizing of all, is the newly revealed likely link between Wales and the pre-Stonehenge ritual landscape. When the first phase of Stonehenge itself was finally built in around 3000 BC, the stones that were probably erected there were not, at that stage, the great sarsens which dominate the site today, but were probably the much smaller so-called ‘bluestones’ (some of which are still there).
Significantly, it is known from geological analysis that those bluestones originally came from south-west Wales – and were therefore almost certainly brought from there to Stonehenge by Neolithic Britons.
Indeed, as late as the 12th century AD, the Anglo-Norman chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth, wrote down an ancient legend also suggesting that the stones had come from the west (albeit, in his account, from Ireland, rather than Wales). Archaeologists will now be investigating whether the Stonehenge landscape’s link with Wales was in reality even older than that first phase of the monument.
In that sense it is spookily relevant that the mid-fourth millennium BC man chosen by English Heritage to be the ‘face of the Neolithic’ may actually have been a key part of the original cultural process which ultimately, five centuries later, led to early Stonehenge being erected.
The new visitor centre – built with steel, wood and glass in ultra-modern style – tells the story of Stonehenge and its prehistoric ritual landscape and illustrates it with 300 mainly stone and ceramic artefacts from antiquarian and archaeological excavations carried out around the great stone monument over the past two centuries
David Keys: Archaeology Correspondent
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Archaeologists have started a new excavation of Amesbury in an attempt to uncover some of the mysteries of Stonehenge. Amesbury is located in southern Wiltshire, England, and in recent years has revealed some incredible archaeological discoveries, including numerous monuments and artefacts dating back to the Mesolithic era. The major dig due to start soon could help to explain why Stonehenge was built where it was.
Excavations since 2005 have indicated that Amesbury and the surrounding area has been settled for around 10,000 years, much earlier than previous thought. Findings have included large scale prehistoric structures and settlements and numerous monuments around Stonehenge.
The last significant finding occurred at a site called Vespasian’s Camp, approximately 1 mile from Stonehenge, which showed traces of human settlement 3,000 years before nearby Stonehenge was apparently built. David Jacques, a researcher who has directed eleven small excavations between 2005 and 2012, has described the site as “potentially one of the pivotal places in the history of the Stonehenge landscape.”
New excavations will be seeking to establish Amesbury as the oldest continuous settlement in the UK. At the moment, neighbouring region, Thatcham, has evidence for the oldest settlement with well-preserved remains of a Mesolithic settlement dating back to 7,700 BC. In Amesbury, evidence of settlement has been found dating back to 7,596 BC, but archaeologists have not yet reached the bottom section of the trench where previous digs took place, indicating that much older evidence may be found beneath. The team is hoping to find evidence of settlement going back to 10,000 BC.
But the dig is about much more than establishing the oldest date of settlement. The team or archaeologists believe that findings may help to explain why Stonehenge is where it is.
“No-one would have built Stonehenge without there being something really special about the area, said Andy Rhind-Tutt from Amesbury Museum.” There must have been something there beforehand and Amesbury may well be it – [it could be] one of the greatest Mesolithic sites in the country.”
The dig will finish on 25th October and findings from the excavation will be reported then.
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