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For a town which has such a close association with Stonehenge, a history of royal patronage, military activity and Arthurian legend, it has always seemed strange to me that there was no museum or interpretation centre.
In 2012 that situation changed when the Town Council purchased Melor Hall on Church Street and with the help of a team of volunteers created what has become the Amesbury History Centre.
The centre is open from 10am until 3.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and is an excellent starting point for your exploration of this remarkable area. Tour groups and educational visits are welcomed and you can book in advance to have exclusive access to the facilities.
Exhibits and displays tell you about the discovery of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer settlement at Blick Mead which dates back at least 10,000 years and has led the Guinness Book of Records to label Amesbury as the longest continually inhabited settlement in Britain.
Finds from the University of Buckingham’s archaeological digs from the last several years are on show, from Mesolithic flint tools and bones of prehistoric cattle called aurochs through to the astonishing magenta pink flints that are found in the spring.
You can also learn about the discovery of the Amesbury Archer, a Bronze Age burial found in 2002 when a new housing estate was being built in the town.
This man was obviously someone of huge importance because he was buried with extensive grave goods including five beaker pots, three copper knives, 16 barbed flint arrowheads, some boar’s tusks, a flint-knapping and metalworking kit and two beautiful gold hair ornaments – the earliest gold yet found in England.
Analysis of the Archer’s teeth indicates that he wasn’t a local man, but had travelled from central Europe. He may have been one of the first metalworkers to bring his skill to Britain.
Amesbury’s fascinating history continues through the Iron Age, Roman Britain, Anglo-Saxon times and beyond. There is a tale that the legendary King Arthur’s wife Guinevere retired to a convent in the town.
Outside of legend, Henry III’s wife Eleanor of Provence was buried within the grounds of Amesbury Abbey in 1291 although her burial place has been lost and she is the only Queen of England with no known grave.
In more modern times, the military have had a large presence in the surrounding area beginning over 100 years ago with the use and eventual purchase of land on Salisbury Plain for their training.
Nearby, military aviation began at Larkhill in the early 20th century and later Boscombe Down airfield – Britain’s “Area 51” – was the site of the development of many types of experimental aircraft.
All these stories are told in the History Centre, which also has an extensive reference library, maps, interactive models and souvenirs as well as excellent tea and cakes.
Outside in the car park there is the famous mural that used to adorn the wall of the underpass that led up to Stonehenge from the old visitor centre, so if you’ve ever had your photo taken pretending to climb over the stones into the middle of the monument, you can recreate it here.
The Amesbury History Centre has its own website (http://www.amesburyhistorycentre.co.uk/) where you can find out more.
Article submitted by local historian Simon Banton
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A tooth unearthed near Stonehenge shows dogs were man’s best friend even in prehistoric times, it has been claimed.
The tooth, dug up at Blick Mead in Wiltshire, is believed to be evidence of the earliest journey in British history.
It is thought to be from a pet Alsatian-type dog that travelled 250 miles from York with its owner.
Archaeologist David Jacques said it was significant as it was not known people travelled so far 7,000 years ago.
The shape and size show the tooth was from a domestic dog, he said.
It also suggests people were visiting Stonehenge 2,000 years before the monument was built.
“The fact that a dog and a group of people were coming to the area from such a long distance away further underlines just how important the place was four millennia before the circle was built,” Mr Jacques said.
“Discoveries like this give us a completely new understanding of the establishment of the ritual landscape and make Stonehenge even more special than we thought we knew it was.”
Bones found near the tooth suggest the dog would have feasted on salmon, trout, pike, wild pig and red deer.
Researchers at Durham University used carbon dating to discover the age of the tooth and isotope analysis on the enamel.
Mr Jacques, a senior research fellow at the University of Buckingham, said: “We know it was probably born in the area of York.
“It was drinking from the area when it was young, it went on a journey of about 250 miles to the Stonehenge area with people and it ate what the people were eating on this site at Blick Mead.
“You would not get a wolf travelling 250 miles but you’re much more likely to get a dog doing that because it’s travelling with its people.”
Previous excavations have uncovered tools from Wales and the Midlands and evidence people lived near Stonehenge for long periods of time, near the natural springs used hollowed out tree trunks for shelter.
Full story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-37574881
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Have we underestimated the first people to resettle Britain after the last Ice Age? Evidence from a variety of sources suggests that early Britons were more sophisticated than we could have imagined.
Archaeologists once thought that the story of the early hunter-gatherer Britons was lost to the mists of time.
The hunter-gatherers left almost no trace of their nomadic existence behind.
As a result, the stone-age settlers of ancient Britain were thought of as simple folk, living a brutal hand-to-mouth existence.
But now, evidence is emerging that turns those assumptions upside down. Archaeological sites all over the UK and northern Europe are producing evidence that paints these people in a very different light.
Thanks to this cutting-edge science, we now have an increasingly clear picture of prehistory, and the adaptable, culturally rich, and sophisticated people who inhabited these islands.
A BBC Horizon documentary, screened on Wednesday, tells the story of this quest to understand the first Britons.
Some of these Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, people lived at Blick Mead, Wiltshire – a few miles away from the future site of Stonehenge.
Here, groups seem to have managed and cleared rich forests, built structures and returned to the same place for over 3,000 years, according to a radio carbon date range that has yielded a uniquely long sequence for any Mesolithic site in Britain and Europe – 7,596-4,246 BC.
The springs at Blick Mead may have been the initial and practical reason why people lived there long before Stonehenge was built.
They have also preserved the remains of the animals they killed, tools they made and used, and possibly a structure they lived in.
The quantities of flint tools and animal bones, especially from extinct wild cattle known as aurochs, point to people living here for long periods of time and there being long-term special memories and associations with the place.
The types and variety of flint seem to reflect the movements of people who followed game with the seasons, and chose to stay in different areas according to the changing availability of plants for food and materials, and the needs for shelter.
Taken together, the flint and other stone tool evidence suggest that Blick Mead was a feasting and gathering place for thousands of years that people travelled large distances to reach. Far from it being a place nomads dropped into once in a while, time would have been spent there, ideas exchanged and new technologies discussed and adapted.
Hunter-gatherers prospered in Britain, but then, 6,000 years ago there was a dramatic and permanent change in the way our ancestors lived their lives. So dramatic in fact that it’s been given a different historical name. This was the start of the new Stone Age in Britain – the Neolithic.
It was during the Neolithic that pottery emerged, the time when people built monuments like Stonehenge – but above all else, it’s the point at which people became farmers.
Scientists and archaeologists have begun to uncover evidence that local hunter-gatherer ways survived the arrival of farming rather than being extinguished, as is often depicted.
And at Blick Mead, where rare evidence of hunter-gatherer life is so well preserved, finds include bones of mice, toads and fish – we can also discover more about the origins of Stonehenge.
Excavations at the site are showing that people were living in the area from the time of the first monuments to be built at Stonehenge.
We have always thought of Mesolithic people, the first Britons, as hunter-gatherers, living a nomadic life, primitive and precarious. But what has been recently revealed at Blick Mead, and elsewhere, is the existence of a much more complex, dynamic society.
The dramatic discoveries at Blick Mead are only partly important because they provide the back story to the Stonehenge story; they are also important because they reflect the growing importance of these peoples to British history generally.
And these earliest British stories are showing that the Mesolithic was a defining period in the history of these isles.