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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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The remains of 14 women believed to be of high status and importance have been found at Stonehenge, the iconic prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England.
The discovery, along with other finds, supports the theory that Stonehenge functioned, at least for part of its long history, as a cremation cemetery for leaders and other noteworthy individuals, according to a report published in the latest issue of British Archaeology.
During the recent excavation, more women than men were found buried at Stonehenge, a fact that could change its present image.
In almost every depiction of Stonehenge by artists and TV re-enactors we see lots of men, a man in charge, and few or no women,” archaeologist Mike Pitts, who is the editor of British Archaeology and the author of the book “Hengeworld,” told Discovery News.
“The archaeology now shows that as far as the burials go, women were as prominent there as men. This contrasts with the earlier burial mounds, where men seem to be more prominent.”
Pitts added, “By definition — cemeteries are rare, Stonehenge exceptional — anyone buried at Stonehenge is likely to have been special in some way: high status families, possessors of special skills or knowledge, ritual or political leaders.”
The recent excavation focused on what is known as Aubrey Hole 7, one of 56 chalk pits dug just outside of the stone circle and dating to the earliest phases of Stonehenge in the late fourth and early third millennium B.C.
Christie Willis of the University College London Institute of Archaeology worked on the project and confirmed that the remains of at least 14 females and nine males — all young adults or older — were found at the site. A barrage of high tech analysis techniques, such as CT scanning, was needed to study the remains, given that the individuals had been cremated.
Radiocarbon dating and other analysis of all known burials at Stonehenge reveal that they took place in several episodes from about 3100 B.C. to at least 2140 B.C. Long bone pins, thought to be hair pins, as well as a mace head made out of gneiss — a striped stone associated with transformation — have also been excavated at Stonehenge.
As for why no children’s remains were found during this latest excavation, both Willis and Pitts believe that such corpses must have been treated differently. Pitts suspects that infants and children were also cremated, but that their ashes were scattered in the nearby river Avon.
“There is a common association between late Neolithic religious centers and the sources or upper reaches of significant rivers,” he explained.
Stonehenge’s location is also important because prior U.K. burial sites, which were often large mounds containing stone and timber chambers, tended to be erected on hilltops or other high ground, far away from where people lived.
While Stonehenge was also set apart from housing, it and other later cremation cemeteries tended to be on lower ground near rivers that locals must have frequented.
Pitts said this placement is “perhaps in line with a move from a focus on male lineage and hierarchy to both genders and family or class. This reflects a parallel shift from markers of territory and land (via the barrows) to commemorations of communities.”
As for the culture(s) represented by Stonehenge, Willis said the monument was built about 1,000 years after agriculture arrived from the Middle East. The people had wheat, barley, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, but no horses yet. They did not yet use wheels, but had well-crafted stone tools. Metalworking spread to Britain at around 2400 B.C., which was well after the early stages of Stonehenge construction.
Stonehenge, now a World Heritage Site, radiates timeless beauty and achievement, but it seems women’s status proved to be more ephemeral.
Willis said that the role of women in society “probably declined again towards the 3rd millennium B.C…both archaeological and historical evidence has shown that women’s status has gone up and down quite noticeably at different times in the past.”
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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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The super-henge of Durrington Walls has been hiding a secret for thousands of years. A huge row of megalithic stones buried beneath.
A huge ritual monument which dates from the time of Stonehenge has been discovered hidden under the bank of a nearby stone-age enclosure.
Durrington Walls, a roundish ‘super-henge’ has long puzzled archaeologists because one side is straight while the rest of the structure is curved.
As early as 1810, historian Richard Colt Hoare suggested that its shape had been left ‘much mutilated’ by centuries of agriculture.
But now ground penetrating radar has found that the straight edge is actually aligned over a row of 90 massive standing stones which once stood 15ft high, and formed a c-shaped arena which has not been seen for thousands of years.
The stone line, which curves into a c-shape towards one end, is likely to have marked a ritual procession route, and is thought to date from the same time as the sarsen circle at Stonehenge.
Archaeologists believe the stones were pushed over and a bank built on top, but they are still trying to work out exactly why they were built. Nothing exists like it in the world.
“It’s utterly remarkable,” said Professor Vince Gaffney, of the University of Bradford. “It’s just enormous. It is definitely one of the largest stone monuments in Europe and is completely unique. We’ve never seen anything like this in the world.
“We can’t tell what the stones are made of, but they are the same height as the sarsens in the Stonehenge circle, so they may be the same kind.
“It was probably for a ritual of some sort, or it could have marked out an arena. These monuments were very theatrical. This a design to impress and empower.
“Not only does the new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier.”
Durrington Walls, which sits in a depression not far from the River Avon, near Amesbury, Wiltshire, is one of the largest known henge monuments, measuring around 1,640 feet in diameter and built around 4,500 years ago in the Neolithic, or new stone age.
It is surrounded by a ditch of up to 54ft wide and a bank of more than three foot high and is built on the same summer solstice alignment as Stonehenge. Some archaeoolgists have suggested that the builders of Stonehenge lived at Durrington. A nearby wooden structure, called Wood Henge was thought to represent the land of the living while Stonehenge represented the realm of the dead.
But the discovery of the stones suggests that Durrington Walls had a far earlier and less domestic history than has previously been supposed.
The Bradford archaeologists have been working alongside an international team of experts as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes project which has been mapping the entire area around with the latest technology.
“Everything previously written about the Stonehenge landscape and the ancient monuments within it will need to be re-written,” said Paul Garwood, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Birmingham and principle prehistorian on the project.
Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site, said the new results were providing ‘unexpected twists in the age old tale.’
“These latest results have produced tantalising evidence of what lies beneath the ancient earthworks at Durrington Walls. The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story.”
The research will be presented at the British Science Festival in Bradford this week.
Story By: Sarah Knapton, Science Editor – The Telegraph
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MARK THORNTON (Western Australian) finds ancient tales and spirits permeate at prehistoric Avebury.
What’s the connection between a prehistoric English monument older than Stonehenge, marmalade and a Victorian MP?
The English prehistoric site is the Neolithic stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire. The MP is Sir John Lubbock, who bought it in 1871, and the marmalade connection comes from Alexander Keiller, who made his fortune from the confection and used it to buy the site 20 years after Sir John’s death.
Avebury, encompassing 11.5 hectares, is the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world. Construction was intermittent and spanned hundreds of years but was completed around 2600 BC. It’s 14 times larger and 500 years older than Stonehenge, 30kms to the south.
As with Stonehenge, many people have theories as to why it’s there. One is that it was the focal point of large-scale religious ceremonies and rituals during the Neolithic and Bronze ages. Another is that the shape and alignment of the stones, which have almost geometric precision, suggest it was an astronomical observatory.
Antiquarian Dr William Stukeley first visited the site in the 1720s and after 30 years research, claimed the original ground plan of Avebury represented the body of a snake passing through a circle to form a traditional symbol of alchemy. Other researchers have since said it was a centre of science, learning, pilgrimage, a cultural meeting place for regional tribes, and even a hub for extra-terrestrial activity—though this suggestion was made in the 1960s when hippies with vivid imaginations, and often heightened sensibilities, discovered the site. Sadly whoever built Avebury left no written or pictorial clues.
The site consists of a circular bank of chalk 425 metres in diameter and six metres high, enclosing a ditch that was nine metres deep when dug but after 4600 years of weathering, still has a depth of more than six metres. Archaeologists estimate the ditch would have taken nearly 300 people 25 years to complete and required 200,000 tons of rock to be chipped and scraped away with crude stone tools and antler picks. This suggests a sizeable, stable and well-organised local population lived at the site with a successful agrarian economy able to support the build. However, they had disappeared long before the Saxons built a settlement there 1500 years ago. The word Avebury probably comes from Ava, the Saxon leader at the time.
Inside the ditch there is a circle of 27 sandstone pillars, each weighing up to 50 tons. There used to be three times that many, but over the past 1000 years local villagers used the site as a quarry for building materials. Inside the circle of sandstone pillars are the remains of two smaller stone circles, each originally consisting of about 30 uprights and each about 105 metres in diameter. At the centre of the southern inner circle a tall obelisk once stood surrounded by smaller boulders.
It’s a big and impressive site, and due to the presence of Avebury village, built inside the ring of stones with its church and edged by some ancient large trees, it’s softer and less foreboding than Stonehenge. Nonetheless, it has a strong sense of mystery. Four huge beech trees stand out, each with a spectacular tangle of roots spread over the surface of the chalk bank. Locals call them the Tolkien Trees, claiming J R R Tolkien was inspired by them to create the Ents for Lord of the Rings. Meandering among the stones in the late afternoon under a lowering sky it’s easy to give your imagination free rein.
Avebury is more accessible than Stonehenge, which is now fenced off and requires you to buy your $30 admission tickets— that only give you two hours on site— in advance. Avebury has no admission fee, fences or closing times and you can walk among the ancient stones and mounds as long as you like, soaking in the mystery. Some people even camp among the stones. It’s this ambience that attracted Sir John Lubbock and later marmalade baron and amateur archaeologist Alexander Keiller.
Sir John, a close friend of Charles Darwin, was a visionary whose main political agendas in Parliament included promoting the study of science in primary and secondary schools and protecting ancient monuments. He invented the terms ‘palaeolithic’ and ‘neolithic’ to denote the old and new stone ages. He bought Avebury in 1871 when the locals seemed bent on destroying it by using the ancient stones as building material. Some cottages still have large pieces of the standing stones as massive cornerstones.
Sir John was responsible for the Ancient Monuments Act in 1882, the first piece of legislation that protected archaeological sites, paving the way for English Heritage.
Pious locals had begun destroying the site more than 1000 years earlier with the encouragement of the Christian church, which controversially urged the destruction of pagan symbols, yet was not averse to encouraging the villagers to build a church in the village from those same ‘pagan’ stones. During his tenure and oversight of repairs Sir John discouraged any more building within the site, describing the village and its church to be “like some beautiful parasite (that) has grown up at the expense and in the midst of the ancient temple”.
When he was raised to a peerage in 1900 Sir John chose Avebury for his title, becoming Lord Avebury thereafter.
Keiller bought the site, including the entire village with its then population of about 500, in 1934 with the intention of completing Lord Avebury’s work in restoring it. He knocked down cottages and farm buildings to remove human habitation from within the stone circle and re-erected fallen stones and set concrete markers in places where stones originally stood. In doing so he both upset and impressed villagers, who soon came to accept him as a well-meaning eccentric who brought work to what was a poor community. He spent the equivalent of $4 million in today’s money on the restoration, which includes a magnificent museum. He sold the site to the National Trust in 1943 and his widow donated the museum to the nation in 1966.
The museum is worth a visit on its own. Particularly fascinating is its collection of ancient jewellery made from rare metals and bronze, many featuring semi-precious stones. Although made thousands of years ago, the jewellery has in its perfect simplicity a timeless style and beauty.
Avebury is well worth a visit, not just for itself, but for a number of other prehistoric sites nearby, including Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Long Barrow (a burial mound), both of which are several hundred years older than Avebury. Together they lie at the centre of a collection of Neolithic and early Bronze Age monuments and all are part of a World Heritage Site in a co-listing with Stonehenge.
Our knowledge of the people who worshipped at Stonehenge and worked on its construction is set to be transformed through a new project led by the University of Reading.
This summer, in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Wiltshire Museum, archaeologists are embarking on an exciting three-year excavation in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.
Situated between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the Vale of Pewsey is a barely explored archaeological region of huge international importance. The project will investigate Marden Henge. Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden’ is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain’s most important but least understood prehistoric monuments.
Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.
Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology and Director of the Archaeology Field School, said: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.
“Why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. How the giant stones were transported almost defy belief. It must have been an astonishing, perhaps frightening, sight. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction.
“Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out.”
The Vale of Pewsey is not only rich in Neolithic archaeology. It is home to a variety of other fascinating historical monuments from various periods in history, including Roman settlements, a deserted medieval village and post-medieval water meadows. A suite of other investigations along the River Avon will explore the vital role of the Vale’s environment throughout history.
Dr Leary continued: “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there – a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved – from prehistory to history.”
Duncan Wilson, Historic England Chief Executive, added: “Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment.”
The Vale of Pewsey excavation also marks the start of the new University of Reading Archaeology Field School. Previously run at the world-famous Roman town site of Silchester, the Field School will see archaeology students and enthusiasts from Reading and across the globe join the excavation.
The six week dig runs from 15th June to 25th July. Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance.
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