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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

Join us on a guided tour from Salisbury and explore hear more about the recent archaeological discoveries.

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Visit the Amesbury History Centre

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.

ahc

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.

interior-view

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.

mural

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

We now include the centre on our Stonehenge private guided tours from Salisbury.

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Anglo-Saxon cemetery teeming with ‘fascinating’ objects is unearthed near Stonehenge for the second time in a month.

  • The 1,300-year-old cemetery was found on land marked for development 
  • Cemetery of 55 graves dates to the late 7th and early 8th century AD
  • The majority of the items found in graves were small iron knives 
  • Combs, pins made of bone, beads and pierced coins were also found

Salisbury Plain may be best known for Stonehenge, but the chalk plateau has revealed other, more hidden secrets over the past month.

In April an Anglo Saxon cemetery of around 150 graves holding beautiful grave goods was unearthed in Bulford, Wiltshire.

saxon-grave

The 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered on land marked for a £70 ($102) million housing development for army families. The cemetery of about 55 graves (one pictured) dates back to the late 7th and early 8th century AD

And now, another cemetery has been discovered with 55 graves, just 7 miles (11km) down the road in the village of Tidworth.

The 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered on land marked for a £70 ($102) million housing development for army families.

The cemetery of 55 graves dates back to the late 7th and early 8th century AD.

Most of the the burials contained personal effects or significant items.

The majority of the items were small iron knives, although other finds included combs, pins made of bone, beads and pierced coins thought to form necklaces. There were also several spearheads.

The land, in Tidworth, Wiltshire, is part of a new housing development to build 322 new homes for Army families.

Read the full story in the Daily Mail

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The Anglo Saxon cemetery near Stonehenge: Graves reveal a curious ‘work box’ and ‘fertility’ shells at a site that may have been used for 5,000 years

  • Around 150 Anglo Saxon graves found in the village of Bulford, Wiltshire
  • Grave goods include a ‘work box’, shells a spear tip and intricate comb
  • Nearby site is home to Neolithic chalk goods and carefully arranged bones
  • Army site may have been of spiritual significance 5,000 years ago

Salisbury Plain may be best known for Stonehenge, but the chalk plateau hides other secrets too.

Archaeologists have unearthed an Anglo Saxon cemetery of about 150 graves holding beautiful grave goods, including an intricate comb, jewellery, a ‘sewing box’ and intriguing shells in the village of Bulford, Wiltshire.

saxon-grave

Archaeologists have unearthed an Anglo Saxon cemetery of about 150 graves holding beautiful grave goods, including an intricate comb, jewellery, a ‘sewing box’ and intriguing shells in the village of Bulford. This grave of a woman contains a shell and work box (just seen on the right of her spine and shoulder)

There are also indications the site has been of spiritual significance for 5,000 years with collections of Neolithic goods suggesting it may also have been an important burial site for Stone Age man.

Experts at Wessex Archaeology excavated the site, earmarked for 227 new Army family homes. It is around four miles from the famous Stonehenge circle.

Investigations revealed about 150 graves from the mid-Anglo-Saxon period in England, with one grave dated to between AD 660 and 780.

It held the remains of an Anglo Saxon woman who died in her mid to late 20s and was laid to rest with two boxes and a cowrie shell.

Simon Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology told MailOnline the grave contained a copper alloy ‘work box’ that may have been used as a little sewing box, because pins have been found in similar cylindrical boxes at other sites.

‘But they might be amuletic [served as a lucky charm] – on some occasions they might contain a piece of bone from a saint or a piece of cloth’ he explained, because at the time Christian influences were spreading across the largely pagan population.

The small cylindrical boxes have been found in tens of Anglo Saxon graves as far north as Northumberland and south as the Thames Valley, according to a study by Catherine Hills of the University of Cambridge.

‘Most have some indication that they could be suspended – they have attachment loops and/or chains,’ she wrote.

The work boxes may have been suspended from a woman’s girdle, but then again, they may have been too fragile and unwieldy and could have been carried in a bag, for example.

The box in the grave was found placed next to the woman’s head, which is relatively unusual as it was more normal for them to be buried by the wearer’s legs, based upon others unearthed.

The boxes have largely only been found in the graves of Anglo Saxon women, as have shells.

Two cowrie shells, possibly from as far away as the Red Sea or India, were also found at the site. Mr Cleggett said they may have come from Cyprus, Egypt, Syria or even India.

‘They are almost always buried with women and children,’ he said, explaining they may have symbolised fertility.

Because of the shells’ origins, they shed light on trade links at the time, stretching across the Mediterranean sea and beyond.

One large shell was found in the woman’s grave along with the work box, while another – buried with a child – has a hole in it, meaning it could have been used as a pendant.

Read the full story and see the image gallery on the Daily Mail website

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Top ten things to do on a trip to Salisbury 2016

DISCOVER the magic of Stonehenge and the fun of an off-road safari on a trip to Salisbury Stonehenge attracts tourists from across the globe to Salisbury.

Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in Britain (GETTY)

But the attractions of the city don’t start and end with the incredible prehistoric monument.

Go on safari across a chalk plain, watch polo and test your fitness on a climb up the tower of Britain’s tallest church spire.

There so much to discover on a trip to Salisbury in Wiltshire.

1. Look up to discover Salisbury Cathedral – it has the tallest spire in Britain at a whopping 123 metres tall. Inside you’ll find one of the most significant churches in the country as it houses one of the original copies of the Magna Carta. For great views, take the Tower Tour. It’s a 332 step trip to the top and the reward is stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

2. Find yourself steeped in legend on a visit to Stonehenge. It’s a magical place shrouded in history steeped in legend. If you stand on Salisbury Plain at sunrise or sunset it’s easy to understand why the ancient Britons believed Stonehenge was special. Its orientation on the rising and setting sun is one of its many outstanding features, but why it was built in this way remains a mystery. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/
Join the local Stonehenge experts for a guided tour: http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/plan-your-visit/stonehenge-guided-tours-p1550943

Stone henge
Salisbury’s most famous attraction Stonehenge GETTY

 3. Watch polo, or even sign up for a beginners’ lesson at Druids Lodge Polo, which is open all year round six days a week (closed on Mondays). From October to March polo takes place in the floodlit arena which is hidden away in a sheltered area near the main house and stables. Druids Lodge provides pony hire, polo livery and high quality tuition for all levels and is the home club for a number of school and university teams. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/druids-lodge-polo-p1938583

4. Go for the ultimate race car experience – on a virtual car! Kids over 12 can have a ago and it’s a great experience to keep them happy during the half-term week. The Ultimate Race Car Experience (URCE) is an exciting brand new, purpose built facility, providing the very latest in full motion race car simulators. You’ll find it at Sarum Business Park,Lancaster Road, Old Sarum, in Salisbury. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/ultimate-race-car-experience-p1827763

5. Get up close to aircraft and see restoration taking place at Boscombe Down Aviation Collection.. It’s a great thing to do when the weather’s bad as it’s mainly all indoors. The collection of aircraft, cockpits, replicas and models weapons and equipment show the story of flight and flight test in the UK. Many of the cockpits are open and you can sit in and use the controls. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/boscombe-down-aviation-collection-p1416553

6. Explore the streets of Salisbury by following the Murder Mystery Walking Treasure Trail of the city. It’s a self-guided fun and imaginative way to explore the city. As you follow the route, there are clues to solve and spot on the buildings, statues and monuments you pass. A great way to keep the kids happy on a walk. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/salisbury/things-to-do/treasure-trails-the-salisbury-murder-mystery-walking-treasure-trail-p1773823

7. Get on your bike! Cycling around is a great way to discover a new area. Hire yours at Hayball Bike Hire and peddle away. Flat, safe traffic-free trails, make Salisbury a cycle friendly city and you can even cycle all the way up to Stonehenge.http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/hayball-bike-hire-p1957623

Salisbury town
Explore the streets on the gruesome murder mystery tour GETTY

8. Go carting! Take the kids and try your hand around the track at Wessex Raceway Indoor Carting centre. It’s got a unique a700-metre indoor asphalt track, free of pillars with no ramps or bridges – which allows ALL our adult karts to reach a maximum speed of over 50 miles per hour! http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/wessex-raceway-indoor-karting-p547143

9. Learn how to juggle at the Discovery Day Circus Workshop at Salisbury Museum over half-term on February 16. Experts will be on hand to teach this top skill at a drop-in session from 10am-1.30pm. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/whats-on/discovery-day-circus-workshop-p1953053

10. Go off road and on safari with Salisbury Plain Safaris for an exciting trip to discover wildlife and local history. Go on tour in a luxury Land Rover Defender 110 that takes groups of up to six. Tours include a refreshment break and chances to get out and explore areas and tracks to parts of the Plain that are simply not accessible to cars and buses.

Spectacular views of Europe’s largest chalk downland and the UK’s largest military training area. http://www..visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/salisbury-plain-safaris-p1960783

By Anne Gorringe (Daily Express)

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Stonehenge stones ‘spent centuries erected in Wales’ before being transported

Some of the stones used to create Stonehenge may well have been first erected in Wales, a new study has suggested.
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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.

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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Stonehenge Inner Circle Tours 2016

Be one of the few people to walk amongst the inner stone circle of Stonehenge in 2016

In the evening after Stonehenge is closed to the public, or at dawn before it is open, we can arrange for you to visit this awe-inspiring prehistoric monument and walk among the giant sarsen stones towering 6.4 m high and weighing up to 50 tonnes. Marvel at how stones of such monumental scale were quarried, transported and erected 5,000 years ago when the only tools available were made of wood, bone and stone.

Exclusive entry into the stone circle allows you to wander in and around the world heritage site and experience an up close and personal look at this iconic monument*

Stonehenge inner circel tours sunrise

Stonehenge Inner Circle Tours. Voted Best Small Group Tour 2015

*For those of you who have not visited Stonehenge, we should mention that the complex is roped off. Visitors observe the stones from a distance and are not permitted within the Stone Circle which can be somewhat frustrating. Our private special access tours allow you to be amongst the stones.

Stonehenge Private Viewing Tours – Go beyond the fences in 2016……

What better way to experience the magic and mystery of Stonehenge than with a private viewing at sunrise or sunset on our ‘award winning’ tours. On our popular exclusive private guided tours from Salisbury or London, guests will be able to access the historic stone circle, and explore the surrounding area rich in history, myths and legends.  Regular small group tours depart throughout 2016

“A truly magical experience!”

Salisbury and London tour departures throughout 2016: Perfect for individuals, couples, families and small groups
Experience an up close look at Stonehenge with a private viewing and exclusive entry into the inner circle in 2016.

“After traveling thousands of miles to England to experience Stonehenge, make the journey truly worth while with a professional Driver-Guide and local expert.”

Email us today and register your interest for advance 2016 availability and travel options: tours@stonehengetravel.co.uk

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