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Archaeologists find 'tomb of tribal king' hidden on moor
Wharfedale and Airedale observer.
A prehistoric cairn circle which may have been the tomb of a tribal king has been identified on Askwith Moor.
The discovery at Snowden Crags was made by the same group of antiquarians who uncovered evidence of several other cairns, or ancient graveyards, on the moor earlier this year.
Antiquarian Paul Bennett – aided by friends Michala Douglas, Dave Hazell, Robert Hopkins, Paul Hornby and Geoff Watson in finding and examining the spot – is convinced the large circle is an important find.
He said: "The circle is still pretty much overgrown and requires a decent excavation. But it is, without doubt, a prehistoric cairn circle, probably Bronze Age, and appears to be the centre-piece in the middle of the Snowden Crags necropolis.
"For years, several of us have wondered whether or not a stone circle was the antiquity that was being described in the only singular reference of the place, mentioned almost in passing in Eric Cowling's fine survey of this area – Rombald's Way, 1946 – more than 50 years back. But despite various explorations on these moors over the last 20 to 30 years, Cowling's curious singular reference has remained a mystery – until now.
"Thankfully now we have a good view of the place. The site was relocated during one of our exploratory walks assessing the extensive walling, settlement pattern and prehistoric graveyard that scatters the central and north-western section of the moors here.
"Michala had stumbled upon an average-sized ring of stones, between one and three feet tall, and about 13 yards across, with what seemed like an entrance on its southern side, seemingly untouched in the middle of the mass of decaying bracken.
"It took longer than expected to shift all the bracken, but eventually, once we'd done it, we were looking at a very distinct man-made circular monument, measuring 13 yards by 12 yards across and, at its highest point, not even three feet above the present ground level.
"But today's ground level is certainly much higher than it was when these stones were first placed here."
Mr Bennett, from Oakworth, now hopes someone will fund a proper archaeological dig at the site although, with a long waiting list and limited money available for such endeavours, he is not holding his breath.
He said: "What we have so far is this: a large flattened circle consisting of at least a dozen upright stones that define the edges. Between these are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of smaller stones.
"Inside the circle is a scattered mass of many small stones, typical of cairn material, filling the entirety of the monument, but the central region has been dug into at some time in the past.
"It sits on a flat plain of moorland amidst the Snowden Crags necropolis with around 30 other small cairns. But this particular site is several times larger than all the others, probably indicating that whoever was buried or cremated here was of some considerable importance in the tribal group – a local king, queen, tribal elder or shaman."
More details about Paul's local discoveries can be found at megalithix.wordpress.com.
Dry weather reveals archaeological 'cropmarks' in fields
BBC news link above.
Hundreds of ancient sites have been discovered by aerial surveys, thanks to a dry start to the summer, English Heritage has said.
The surveys show marks made when crops growing over buried features develop at a different rate from those nearby.
The newly-discovered Roman and prehistoric settlements include a site near Bradford Abbas, Dorset.
The Roman camp was revealed in June after three sides became visible in sun-parched fields of barley.
The lightly-built defensive enclosure would have provided basic protection for Roman soldiers while on manoeuvres in the first century AD and is one of only four discovered in the south west of England, English Heritage said.
The dry conditions also allowed well-known sites to be photographed in greater detail.
"It's hard to remember a better year"
Dave MacLeod English Heritage
Newton Kyme, near Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, was shown to not only be home to a Roman fort dating back nearly 2,000 years but also a larger, stronger defence built in 290AD.
English Heritage senior investigator Dave MacLeod said: "It's hard to remember a better year.
"Cropmarks are always at their best in dry weather, but the last few summers have been a disappointment.
"This year we have taken full advantage of the conditions. We try to concentrate on areas that in an average year don't produce much archaeology."
Flights over the Holderness area of the East Riding proved particularly productive with about 60 new sites, mainly prehistoric, found in just one day including livestock and settlement enclosures.
English Heritage said some sites which have not been visible since the drought of 1976 reappeared this summer.
Aerial photos above.
New Scientist above.
Did our ancient ancestors build to please the ears as well as the eyes? Trevor Cox pitches into the controversial claims of acoustic archaeologists. And in our web-only article Acoustic archaeology: The secret sounds of StonehengeSpeakerMovie Camera, he explains how the acoustic footprint of the world's most famous prehistoric monument was measured
"The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp. No other sound came from it... Overhead something made the black sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the pillars horizontally. They entered carefully beneath and between; the surfaces echoed their soft rustle; but they seemed to be still out of doors..."
This atmospheric description of a "temple of the winds" comes from the dramatic climax of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The setting is Stonehenge, arguably the most famous prehistoric monument of all. Its imposing ring of standing stones is visible for miles on Salisbury plain in southern England. On the day of the summer solstice its outlying "Heelstone" is exactly in line with rays of the rising sun. A more perfect example of the visual impact of an ancient monument would be hard to find.
Might we be missing here something that both Hardy and our prehistoric ancestors understood? Some archaeologists have begun to think so. They argue that sound effects were an important, perhaps even decisive, factor in how early humans chose and built their dwellings and sacred places. Caves that sing, Mayan temples that chirp, burial mounds that hum: they all add up to evidence that the aural, and not just the visual, determined the building codes of the past. But is that sound science?
Assessing the claims of "acoustic archaeology" rapidly encounters a fundamental problem: sound is ephemeral. Pottery fragments, coins, bones and bits of buildings can survive for centuries, waiting to be analysed, interpreted- and reinterpreted. The sounds of the past, by contrast, have long since died away. Where historical records make mention of acoustic intent in designing structures, the claims are often based on faulty science (see "Sound design?"). Going back into prehistory, we do not even have the luxury of knowing what our ancestors were thinking- or often a clear idea of the original layout and acoustic properties of the structures we are interpreting.
There is, however, a plausible argument that sound must have been important to our ancestors, perhaps more so than it is to us now. "Today we guzzle sounds and make a lot of noise," says UK archaeologist Paul Devereux, an advocate of the claims of acoustic archaeology. "We are visually very sophisticated, but acoustically very primitive." Our ancestors, by contrast, would have been "acoustically more calm and attentive in a much quieter world", he says. Without artificial light, listening intently would have been imperative to ward off night-time predators. In a time before writing, moreover, information was principally communicated orally. It seems reasonable that prehistoric humans would have paid more attention to their acoustic landscapes than we do today. "Senses as a whole were more fused," says Julian Thomas, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester, UK. "There wasn't the separation of vision from the other senses as there has been over the last few centuries. Nowadays we tend to prioritise vision."
We also know that our ancestors appreciated their ability to exploit their environment to make sound early on. The discovery of three flutes in 2009 in a cave in south-west Germany, the best preserved of them made from a vulture's wing bone and containing five finger holes, pushes the origins of music back to the middle Palaeolithic era, 40,000 years ago.
Lithophones or rock gongs- stones that create a tone when hit- are found around the world. A cave at Fieux à Miers in the Midi-Pyrénées region of the south of France contains a 2-metre-tall feature which resonates like a gong when struck. Recalcified fractures on the lithophone indicating where it was struck can be dated back to the upper Palaeolithic, around 20,000 years ago (Oxford Journal of Archaeology, vol 4, p 31). Outdoor examples include Kupgal Hill in Karnataka state, southern India, where an outcrop of dolerite boulders emits loud ringing tones when hit with granite stones. Nicole Boivin of the University of Oxford suggests that shamans might have used the rock gongs during formal rituals. Dating the wear marks in boulders is impossible, but the presence of Neolithic rock art indicates that the site was used for many thousands of years (Antiquity, vol 78, p 38).
Imagery such as cave paintings, markings or etchings also provides tantalising clues to how prehistoric humans might have exploited their surroundings to make sound. Iegor Reznikoff of Nanterre University, Paris, has examined the caves of Rouffignac in the south of France and showed that paintings are located where the most interesting sound effects are heard. Devereux, in his book Stone Age Soundtracks, cites numerous other examples around the globe of seemingly premeditated placing of petroglyphs or pictographs, including sites where art is painted on concave rock walls that give distinct echoes.
Systematic analyses of such sites are few and far between. Rupert Till, a musicologist from the University of Huddersfield, UK, says acoustic archaeology is where conventional archaeology was a century or more ago. "The subject is in its infancy," he says. "It's like the days of the Victorian gentleman wandering around digging holes in the ground."
It is one thing to show that our ancestors were aware of their acoustic environment. It is quite another to prove that they intentionally designed their surroundings with acoustics in mind. As soon as humans began constructing their own dwellings and other structures, this question of "intentionality" looms large.
One focus of this debate lies with enclosed spaces such as burial mounds, underground temples and burial chambers dug out of rock and earth. In the 1990s, Devereux and his colleagues measured the acoustics of six sites in the UK and Ireland dating from around 3500 BC to 400 BC, and found that all of them have resonant frequencies between 95 and 120 hertz, within the range of a male voice. Chant in a drone at the right frequency and you can map out the shape of the acoustic resonance, hearing the sound loud in one place and hardly at all in another- a dramatic and impressive sound effect (Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol 99, p 649). "Certainly this would have been a dense sensory experience," says Thomas- one accentuated by tight squeezes, poor light and the stench of rotting bodies.
Devereux thinks this is no coincidence: the spaces were tuned to maximise the acoustic impact of ritual chanting. The burial mounds consist of a stone chamber and entrance passage covered in earth. In theory, at least, the builders could have moved stones around and tuned the chamber before piling on the earth, perhaps copying previous burial mounds with particularly good acoustics. Similar claims of acoustic tuning for religious purposes have been made of pre-Inca temples in Peru (New Scientist, 6 September 2008, p 37).
It's a nice theory, but not everyone is convinced. Matthew Wright, an acoustics researcher at the University of Southampton, UK, is scathing in his commentary. "If you are going to conclude that particular burial mounds were designed for chanting, then you have to also conclude that my bathroom was made for singing," he says.
Till thinks that this argument overlooks how unusual stone buildings were in the past, and therefore underestimates the amount of thought that would have gone into building them. Both he and Devereux accept that acoustic intent in the design of burial mounds is far from proved, and it will be difficult to do so conclusively. Till suggests that proof might come in identifying repeat features in burial mounds that change over time, indicating an empirical development process.
Nevertheless, he thinks that some of the evidence brought for ancient acoustic effects is judged too harshly. If artefacts or monuments look good, then we believe with little hard evidence that they were designed to look good. Where interesting sound effects are heard, though, we dismiss them as flukes or demand evidence for acoustic purpose- perhaps because, in our noise-filled modern environments, we are far more attuned to visual cues than acoustic ones.
Acoustic consultant David Lubman agrees. In 1998 he suggested that the curious echo reflected from the steps of the El Castillo pyramid at the Mayan site of Chichen Itza, Mexico, was no accident. The steps had been designed, he said, to generate a sound that resembles the chirping of the quetzal, the sacred bird of the Mayans.
Many archaeologists dismissed his idea. "Some of this is understandable," says Lubman. "Many outsiders promote unscientific, ignorant, and even superstitious ideas." But acousticians have a crucial role, he says, in getting archaeologists to recognise the visual bias they bring to their studies.
Weddings, Sex, Theatre, Contraception... 10 Best Uses for a Stone Circle
Submitted by Lyn on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 14:24
Geoff Holder is an extensively-published author with books that cover Earth mysteries, archaeology, witchcraft and a lot more. His books are an authoritative mix of extensive historical study combined with diligent field research. They are often geographically-based, with titles such as The Guide to Mysterious Glasgow and The Guide to the Mysterious Lake District.
He describes himself as a Fortean, which means he's interested in all things strange and weird, even if they're not true. Archaeology features large in his books, with a particular emphasis on stone circles, henges and other neolithic ritual and funerary sites. His most recent book is 101 Things To Do With A Stone Circle, which covers what people have believed about and done with stone circles and other megaliths over the past few centuries.
Here he selects his top 10 things to do with a stone circle.
1: Commemorate the Dead
Sometimes a society links its own honoured dead with the mythologised dead of the past, to bring together politics and patriotism in a sentimental tour-de-force. The 'stone ship' at Blomsholm, Sweden, is a spectacular ship-shaped monument built as an Iron Age cemetery. During the military campaigns of Karl XII (King of Sweden from 1697 to 1718), the nearby farm was used as a field hospital. The officers who died of their wounds were said to have been buried within the ship, thus equating the dead of Karl's imperial wars (against Denmark-Norway, Russia and Saxony) with the ancient warriors of a glorious golden age.
2: Get Married
The Odin Stone was a tall monolith that once stood north of the famous Stones of Stenness circle on Orkney, and for centuries was the focus of a host of rituals, contracts and cures, all solemnised by the hole that pierced the stone.
If a couple clasped hands through the hole and swore to be faithful to each other, this 'marriage' was more potent than a church wedding. When an Orkney pirate was hanged in London his lover travelled to the gallows so she could touch his dead hand, thus releasing herself from the Oath of Odin they had pledged at the stone.
Fertility stones are appropriately abundant; the Scottish stone called The Bhacain, however, may be the only contraceptive stone in the British Isles. In the 1800s, when local lasses were about to leave the Perthshire mountain valley of Glen Lyon for jobs in the Lowland fleshpots of Glasgow and Edinburgh, they would crawl under the arm of this low P-shaped standing stone; if they could do this successfully, they would be protected against pregnancy (although it is not clear for how long). I strongly suggest this should not be relied upon as a dependable form of birth control.
4: Medical Miracles
Mên-an-Tol in Cornwall. Photo by DA GinjaNinja
A concern with health and the relief of pain is a universal constant within human experience, and one of the most common uses for stone circles in recent times was as places of healing. Children suffering from rickets and scrofula were passed naked through the huge hole in one of the stones at Mên-an-Tol in Cornwall.
The 'cure' also required that they be hauled along the grass three times towards the east. Adults suffering rheumatism, back pain or ague had to crawl through a total of nine times. It is not recorded if they had to be naked as well.
5: Make a Wish
Wishing at stones is an exchange process; you offer something, such as a coin, and the supernatural agency resident in the stones – whatever it might be – may grant the wish in return. At the dolmen called Kit's Coty House in Kent, the ritual involved visiting at night under a full moon, placing a personal object on the capstone, and walking around the monument three times. After which the object would have disappeared, snatched by the invisible power, and the wish granted. This was regularly carried out until 1946, when local newspaper reports prompted the participants to desist for fear of being thought superstitious.
6: Sex and Fertility
There's no evidence to suggest this visitor to Kerloas is a newlywed. Photo courtesy of Geoff Holder
In the 19th century, France was a hotbed of megalithic amour. Women hoping to conceive straddled the Pierre-de-Chantecoq stone while easy childbirth was assured by sliding down menhirs smeared with butter or honey.
In Brittany, girls danced round the phallic menhir of Plonéour-Lanvern, and newly-wed couples made surreptitious nocturnal visits to Kerloas, the tallest standing stone in Europe, where they rubbed their naked bellies on the stone. In Sweden, an attempt to avert a famine involved a virgin couple having sex and smearing semen and wheat grains into prehistoric cupmarks, all while the mayor, Lutheran minister and villagers looked on.
7: Dine Out On Top Of Stonehenge
In 1723, the pioneering antiquarian William Stukeley and his patron Lord Winchelsea climbed onto one of the Stonehenge trilithons. Despite the lintel being only 4.5m by 1.5m in size, Stukeley considered there was space enough for "a steady head and nimble heels to dance a minuet on". More incredibly, he claimed his Lordship and he had "dined at the Place, and left their Tobacco Pipes upon it." Sadly for the story the al fresco lunch is almost certainly a pipe-dream, invented by Stukeley in his old age to entertain his peers: "That Stukeley! Dined out on top of Stonehenge! What a fine fellow!"
8: Doctor Who and the Druids
The King's Men (Rollright Stones), Oxfordshire
The Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. Photo by Lucy Martin
In 1978, Doctor Who, in his Tom Baker guise, visited the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire for the Stones of Blood episodes. After a run-in with some human-sacrificers at the British Institute of Druidic Studies, it transpires that three of the stones are malevolent silicon-based aliens, and the archaeologist's research assistant is an immortal extraterrestrial criminal masquerading as a bloodthirsty Celtic goddess. The script crackles with subtle jokes - the Doctor mentions that he once met the 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey, who told the Time Lord he had linked stone circles with Druids just for a bit of a laugh.
9: Theatre in the Round
Medieval mystery plays, Civil War defences, Methodist meetings, political rallies, fêtes, the Cornish Gorsedd of Bards, wrestling matches, Home Guard training exercises, devilish illusions – St Piran's Round in Cornwall has seen them all. This Iron Age/Romano-British fortified farmstead was reworked in the Middle Ages as a plen-an-gwary, an open-air theatre where pious travellers following the pilgrimage route of St Piran watched
When all else fails, build your own.
religious plays. Theatrical pieces are still performed here, often connected with the annual St Piran celebrations in March, held in nearby Perranporth. The large embanked open space is now cared for by the St Piran Trust, who have provided excellent interpretation.
10: Build Your Own Circle
Ever since the days of William Stukeley, it has been fashionable to have a megalith of one's own. In recent years more stone circles have been built than at any time since the Bronze Age, and the number of modern circles hidden away in gardens and estates is both enormous and uncounted. You even find them in business parks, and there's one at a service station on the M6. One of the joyful curiosities of modern circles is that, no matter how recent they are, people still treat them as special, even spiritual places. If you build them, they will come.