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Legislation forces archaeologists to rebury finds

Bones and skulls from ancient settlements will be reburied and lost to science under controversial legislation that threatens to cripple archeological research

Human remains from Stonehenge and other ancient settlements will be reburied and lost to science under legislation that threatens to cripple research into the history of humans in Britain, a group of leading archaeologists says today.

In a letter addressed to the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, and printed in the Guardian today, 40 archaeology professors write of their "deep and widespread concern" about the issue.


History highlights on the BBC

Martin Davidson, the BBC's commissioning editor for history, reveals what we can expect to see on TV in the year ahead.

... This year Neil Oliver delves further into the distant past while remaining closer to home when he presents landmark series A History of Ancient Britain. His epic quest through thousands of years of ancient history tells the story of how Britain and its people came to be. He journeys from the glacial wasteland of Ice Age mammoth hunters, through the glories of the Stone Age, to the magnificence of international Bronze Age society ...

Stonehenge (Stone Circle) — News

Hundreds turn out for winter solstice at Stonehenge

SNOW and ice failed to keep people away from Stonehenge today as they gathered to see the sun rise on the winter solstice.

More than 2,000 people came together at the stones, which were surrounded by a thick blanket of snow.

The winter morning mist obscured the actual sunrise - which took place at 8.09am - but an eclectic mix of people celebrated the ancient festival.

Among the Druids, hippies and sun worshippers were those just curious to experience the spiritual event at the site, on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire.

Serving soldier of 15 years Lance Corporal Paul Thomas, who fought in Iraq, was ''knighted'' with a sword by Druid protester King Arthur Pendragon.

Formerly known as John Rothwell, King Arthur changed his name by deed poll.

Formerly of Winchester, Arthur stood as a parliamentary candidate for the city in 2005 and in Salisbury during this year's general election.

This morning, he also performed a handfasting - a Pagan marriage ceremony - inside the stones.

As well as the traditional Druid and Pagan ceremonies, a spontaneous snowball fight erupted as people enjoyed the cold weather.

The shortest day of the year often falls on December 21, but this year the Druid and Pagan community marked the first day of winter today because the modern calendar of 365 days a year - with an extra day every four years - does not correspond exactly to the solar year of 365.2422 days.

During the winter solstice the sun is closer to the horizon than at any other time in the year, meaning shorter days and longer nights.

The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, leading up to the summer solstice in June.

Maeshowe (Chambered Tomb) — News

Winter solstice: See the light on the darkest day

Ancient monuments become giant cameras, catching sunlight in a moment of mystery and wonder.

It is time to pray for the return of the sun. In this deep midwinter, we can start to imagine what the winter solstice meant to the ancient inhabitants of Britain who built Stonehenge and Maeshowe, and who aligned these mysterious buildings to receive the remote rays of the sun on the darkest day of the year.

This is the holiest time of the year – if you happen to share the beliefs of these ancient pagans, which, in fact, are obscure because they left no writings or even much in the way of figurative art. But the winter solstice must have been deeply important to them because on this day, and this day only, sunlight creates startling effects at Britain's late neolithic and early bronze age monuments. Most astonishingly of all, it enters the long narrow entrance passage of the burial mound of Maeshowe on Orkney's Mainland island and glows on the back wall of the inner chamber. The building becomes a giant camera, catching sunlight in a moment of mystery and wonder.

The architecture of Maeshowe is one of the marvels of these islands. Inside the earthen mound is a profoundly impressive chamber made of massive blocks of stone arranged in powerful lintels neatly layered, perforated by accurately rectangular openings. There is a precision to the stone construction and its plan, with symmetrical side chambers. When later Viking warriors broke into the chamber they wrote runic inscriptions on its stones, adding to the strange atmosphere. But it is at the winter solstice that Maeshowe consummates its mystery with the astronomical spectacle of the sun piercing its dark sanctum of death.

Light in darkness, life in death, the moment when the sun begins its return journey towards midsummer. Truly the pagan midwinter is a moving celebration. But, as we rush around buying presents, do we remember the true meaning of the winter sun festival?

Newgrange (Passage Grave) — News

Ireland's Newgrange: Countdown to winter's magic moment

On the morning of 21 December, a select group of people made their way through a dark, narrow passage and gathered in a small cross-shaped chamber at Newgrange in Co Meath, Irish Republic, to celebrate the winter solstice. Why?

Newgrange, located 40km north of Dublin and perched high above a bend of the River Boyne, is a prehistoric passage tomb, covered on the outside by a large grassy mound.

At over 5,000 years old it is the older cousin of Stonehenge and it predates the pyramids by about 500 years.

It is difficult to estimate how long it would have taken to build it.

"They were a very sophisticated society with a sound economic base as they were able to divert a large number of people to the building of passage tombs," says archaeologist Professor George Eogan.

"The ritual of the dead was very important in their lives and the site combines engineering, architectural and artistic skills."

Shaft of light

Newgrange is unique because the builders aligned it with the rising sun.

Just after sunrise, at 0858GMT, on the shortest day of the year, the inner chamber will flood with sunlight, which enters through a 25cm (9.9ins) high "roof box" above the passage entrance.

The phenomenon was discovered by archaeologist, Professor Michael J O'Kelly on 21 December 1967 during research on the site.

"He found the roof box when uncovering the roof chamber but wondered about its purpose," says his daughter Helen Watanabe O'Kelly.

Local people always said it was aligned to the sun but the measurements did not fit the summer solstice.

"My mother, who worked closely with him, suggested that it might be connected with the winter solstice. And that was how he discovered it in 1967."

Ms O'Kelly recalls how she experienced it with him the following year.

"There were just the two of us. It was cold and dark - no razzmatazz, like you have now. I still remember sitting in the cold and we just waited.

"Suddenly this shaft of light came into the chamber and hit the back wall. I remember being quietly moved - it was like someone was speaking to you from thousands of years before. I still see it like a picture before my inner eye - it was a golden light."

Since the discovery of the winter solstice alignment, Newgrange has been developed as a major tourist attraction and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Demand to attend the midwinter solstice is high and since 2000 it has been regulated by a lottery system. This year, more than 25,000 people applied but only 10 were selected to attend on 21 December. Each can bring one guest.

The lucky winners - drawn by primary school children from three local schools - include people from Ireland, the US, England, Scotland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

In addition, 40 other winners and guests can attend on the days around the solstice, when some light enters the chamber.

Clare Tuffy, the visitor centre's manager who has worked at Newgrange since the early 1980s, says that guests are kept outside for as long possible on the solstice morning.

Even though the passage way and chamber are only 24m (78ft) long, once you enter you are cut off from the outside world and lose a sense of time passing.

"When the sun clears the horizon you can hear a big cheer from those gathered outside.

"We have to wait four minutes after sunrise to experience the light entering the chamber because the earth's angle has changed since it was constructed 5,000 years ago. The light remains in the chamber for 17 minutes before retreating."

The centre's staff do not orchestrate what happens in the chamber. Sometimes people ask to sing a song, say a poem or chant, but any activity is done with the agreement of the group.

Those not lucky enough to get a place in the draw are welcome to gather outside.

People are motivated to come by the symbolism of the light and dark and the turning of the year. Some have made it a tradition and come year after year. Druids also assemble outside, chanting and singing.

Even though she is a veteran of the experience, Clare Tuffy is still moved by it and she is keen to make it special for the lottery winners.

"I get very excited and anxious every year that it will all go well. My husband calls it 'solstice fever'. It starts in early December and doesn't finish until Christmas."

Lunar eclipse

Irish weather is frequently inclement, but there will not be any drips inside Newgrange to dampen the enthusiasm of the solstice watchers.

The ancient engineers designed it to be waterproof, packing sand and burnt soil among the roof stones and even cutting channels into them to direct water away from the passage and chamber.

But the privileged few who will come to marvel at this masterpiece of human creativity are counting on "third time lucky".

The past two years have been cloudy and overcast on 21 December, which means the chamber remains in darkness. This year they hope for clear skies and a bright solstice sunrise.

To add extra excitement to this year's experience there will also be a lunar eclipse on the morning of the 21st.

The moon will start to brighten again just as the sun starts to enter the inner chamber.

It is the first time in over 450 years that a lunar eclipse and the winter solstice have coincided.

Stonehenge (Stone Circle) — News

Stonehenge 'was built by rolling stones using giant wicker baskets'

It is one of the abiding mysteries of Britain's Neolithic past.
For all the awe-inspiring wonder of the standing stones at Stonehenge no one has ever worked out how our ancient ancestors were able to heave boulders weighing many tonnes over such huge distances.

But now an engineer and former BBC presenter believes he has come up with a theory which explains how the giant stones were moved.

Garry Lavin believes that the engineers who built Stonehenge used wicker basket-work to 'roll' the huge boulders all the way from Wales to their present location.

'I always thought that dragging these huge stones was physically impossible because of the friction on the surface. The key thing is the technology was always there around them,' he said.

It is the movement of the 60 famous Bluestones which causes historians such problems. Each stone weighs up to 4 tons and they originally came from the Preseli Mountains in Wales – some 200 miles away.

Mr Lavin has come up with a cylinder 'basket' to roll the massive and irregularly-shaped stones.

The basket is created by weaving willow and alder saplings to form a lightweight structure that can be easily moved by 4 or 5 men. To complete the rig and to ensure the best rolling and floatation conditions, the gaps between the basketwork cylinder and the irregular stone are packed with thin branches.

This spreads the load as the basket flexes in transit, much like a modern tyre, and creates buoyancy when transported down rivers and across the sea.

One of Mr Lavin's key discoveries during his earlier experiments was that the wicker cages that contained the stones were able to float. This would have enabled Neolithic man were able to get the huge stones across rivers on their journey, as well as making it easier to transport them over long distances without having to carry them the entire way.

The men would have been able to place the stones in a river, such as the River Wye, and then guide them on their way.

Mr Lavin said: 'Woven structures were everywhere at the time, there are even wells which they have discovered were full with woven basketwork. It's just taking that technology and using it in a new way.

'It is not without some foundation. It was staring us in the face the whole time.'

In the summer Mr Lavin tested out his theory near Stonehenge and succeeded in moving a large one-ton stone in a wicker cage that he had made himself.

Mr Lavin now wants to set out on his final mission to rewrite history by creating a supersize cradle capable of moving a huge five-ton stone.

To do so he has enrolled the help of an engineer, an ancient wood archaeologist and a professional willow weaver to help him with the final test and construction.

He hopes to run the test around the time of the summer solstice next year.

'The physics is there it's just so obvious. It's one of the things that when you think about it you say "oh yes, of course", ' he said.

He believes the original stones could have been moved by two teams of ten men each with one team resting while the others pushed the 'axles' containing each bluestone all the way from Wales their final destination.

George Oates, who works for the engineering company Expedition UK that recently designed the Olympic Velodrome as well as the Millennium Bridge, has looked at the new theory from a physics perspective.

He looked at the height and weight of Neolithic men as well as the stone's weight, the strength of the wicker basket and the inclines that would have to be negotiated.

Mr Oates said: 'We feel that it is possible that Garry's theory of a woven basket around the stone, moving these four-ton stones all the way from the Welsh mountains to Stonehenge is at least viable.'

Last week a competing theory from the University of Exeter was published which suggested that the stones may have used wooden ball bearings balls placed in grooved wooden tracks would have allowed the easy movement of stones weighing many tons.

Cerne Abbas Giant (Hill Figure) — News

Giant goes on display at Wiltshire Heritage Museum

I know it's a few days old now, but:

"A previously unseen oil painting of the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset is now on display at Wiltshire Heritage Museum.

The painting, by Devizes artist David Inshaw, is one of a number of additions to the White Horses and Hill Figures exhibition at the museum in Devizes.

Also on display are a triptych from wildlife artist Joanna May which shows white horses alongside her trademark British brown hares.

Alongside these new artworks are historical programmes and souvenirs showing celebrations held at the Westbury White Horse for coronations and jubilees.

The exhibition focuses primarily on the chalk figures of Wiltshire but also includes figures from all over Britain.

The exhibition will run until February 27."

Durrington Walls (Henge) — News

Open Day - Excavation at Durrington, Wiltshire

Visit the Big Dig!
Wednesday October 13th 2010

Where: Avon Fields: Former MoD Headquarters
Netheravon Road

The village of Durrington is well known for its early archaeological heritage, including the largest Neolithic henge in Britain at Durrington Walls and nearby Woodhenge, both over 4500 years old. However, excavations by Wessex Archaeology in advance of the construction of new housing by Persimmon Homes South Coast on the former Ministry of Defence estate offices have started to uncover the remains of a late Iron Age/ Romano-British settlement.


(Dammit - why a weekday? :( I'd go if it were a weekend!)

Stonehenge and its Environs — News

Upcoming walks

3 walks you may be interested in:

Walks in the Stonehenge Landscape

Dates: 9 October 2010, 30 October 2010 and 13 November 2010

Price: Adult £3
Stonehenge Landscape

On an afternoon stroll up on the downs, find out about ancient peoples, hidden histories, wildlife and the changing landscape. Discover what lies beyond the stone circle.


Explore the landscape with your DSLR camera

Dates: 16 October 2010 10:30am

Price: All £28
Stonehenge Landscape

Explore the Stonehenge landscape on an intermediate photography workshop, with professional photographer Mark Philpott. Learn how to get the best from your DSLR camera and be inspired by King Barrow Ridge, its ancient mounds and earthworks and its diverse wildlife. Workshop size limited to allow Mark to give lots of one-to-one help and there will be the opportunity to share photos and receive constructive feedback.


Autumn photography walk

Dates: 23 October 2010 3:00pm

Price: All £4
Stonehenge Landscape

An evening walk to capture the colours of autumn. Join photography expert Mark Philpott and a National Trust guide on an autumnal evening walk around the Stonehenge landscape. Mark will show you how to capture evocative vistas and the changing seasons in a landscape rich in archaeology and wildlife.


Stonehenge (Stone Circle) — News

Bronze Age teenager buried at Stonehenge had travelled to visit site from the Mediterranean

The Boy with the Amber Necklace: Bronze Age teenager buried at Stonehenge had travelled to visit site from the Mediterranean

Every year, one million visitors flock to Stonehenge from around the world to gaze in wonder at its towering stones.

Now scientists say that the prehistorical monument was also attracting tourists from overseas thousands of years ago.

Today they revealed that a Bronze Age teenage boy buried at the stone circle around 1550BC was born and brought up in the Mediterranean.

The boy - aged 14 or 15 - had travelled to Britain from Spain, Italy, Greece or France, crossing the English Channel in a primitive wooden boat, they say.

Read more:

(Apologies for link to the Daily Mail!)

Marlborough Mound (Artificial Mound) — News


There is a free talk at 20:00 tonight at Marlborough College. Subject is the Marlborough Mound and how it fits into the Avebury Landscape.

Contact Mrs Longland on 01672 892 200 for a seat. Donations instead of a fixed price requested please.


(thanks to Avebury News for the above info)

Pollachar (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images (click to view fullsize)

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Trippet Stones (Stone Circle) — Miscellaneous

Whilst reading "The English Year - A month-by-month guide to the nation's customs and festivals, from May Day to Mischief Night" by Steve Roud, I came across an item in the section about traditional sports which could point to a possible origin of the name of the Trippet Stones.

"Tipcat was once and internationally popular game with children and adults alike, but is now largely forgotten in England. The 'cat' was a piece of wood, placed on the ground, so shaped at the ends that when a player hit it with their bat (or catstaff) it would fly into the air. As it came up, the player tried to hit it as far as they could. A large ring had been marked out, or agreed, and if the player failed to hit the cat out of the ring they were out. If they succeeded, then a score was awarded, depending on the distance the cat had travelled. Variant names for the game are 'Cat', 'Trippet', 'Nipsy', 'Piggy' or 'Peggy'.

The earliest reference to the game so far discovered in Britain is in an Anglo-Latin lexicon of c.1440, but wooden 'tipcats' were found in the ruins of Rahan, Egypt, dating from about 2500BC.

In a variant form, a number of evenly spaced holes were made round the circumference of a circle, and a player was placed by each hole, armed with a stick. The cat was thrown to the nearest batsman and if they hit it the players ran on from hole to hole until the cat was retrieved, scoring a point for each hole reached."

Holes with people in? In a circle? Sounds like a Pipers-/Hurlers-/Merry Maidens-/etcetc type legend to me!

Marden Henge (and Hatfield Barrow) — News

Take a guided tour of Marden Henge

Archaeologists are excavating at Marden Henge, a site that could dwarf Stonehenge in size and is potentially more significant.

It is one of Britain's least understood ancient sites, dating back around 4,500 years.

Dave Fellows, an archaeologist working on the site, gave BBC correspondent Robert Hall a guided tour.


Sweden (Country) — News

Prehistoric Swedish dildo - or is it a tool?

A dig in Motala (Sweden) recently turned up a carved antler bone that bears a strong resemblance to an erect penis. The phallic object is 10.5cm long and 2cm in diameter. The team, led by National Heritage Board archaeologist Fredrik Molin, were shocked by the find, as archaeologist Gsran Gruber noted "Nobody here, and nobody that we heard of or talked with had ever seen something like this in northern European or Scandinavian sites." Symbols of feminine sexuality or fertility, on the other hand, are not uncommon on ancient artefacts.

The exact use of the object is unknown; it may be a dildo or a tool used to flake flint, or both. Gruber says "For you and me, it signals this erected-penis-like shape, but if that's the way the Stone Age people thought about it, I can't say." Another enigmatic phallic object was found in Germany in 2005, although it is 28000 years old and made of stone.

The site at Motala has revealed many other finds that date from the Mesolithic (4000 to 6000 BCE). Gruber notes of the object "It's an organic object, that's why it's so special. Normally when we excavate early Mesolithic sites we never get the organic material. But this site where we're excavating now is along the shoreline. The preservation is very good here - it's been lying in the bottom sediments and clay layers of the river, and it's been very well-preserved there."

Brittany (Province) — News

Tourists heave menhirs in France to solve ancient mystery

In the Asterix comic books you only had to drink a magic potion to be able to lift a menhir. But in reality you need vast quantities of muscle power and lots of patience. That is what a group of 30 holiday-makers found out when they heaved on a rope to move a 4.2-tonne stone block as part of an experiment probing the mysterious history of megaliths in France's northwestern Brittany region.

"You don't need magic powers to move a block, you just need a lever," said Cyril Chaigneau, who has programmed several stone-pulling events for holiday-makers throughout the summer season. The first such experiment in France was held in Bougon in western France in 1979, when 150 volunteers helped shift a block of 32 tonnes. "It's experimental archeology," explained Chaigneau, an architect who runs a programme on the megalithic sites of Petit Mont and Gavrinis in the Gulf of Morbihan. "We're trying to find out how men from the Neolithic period moved enormous blocks across distances of 10 kilometres (six miles) or more," he said.

Chaigneau's investigation focuses on the journey of a slab that makes up part of the dolmen on the island of Gavrinis, an engraved block of 17 tonnes that serves as the ceiling of a funeral monument built in 3,600 BCE. Work carried out by other archeologists has established that this slab was in fact a fragment of another dolmen five kilometres away. That huge structure was erected a thousand years earlier and stood 25 metres tall (82 feet), three metres wide and weighed around 300 tonnes. The stone it was made of came from a quarry situated ten kilometres away. "The goal is to reconstitute the journey by land and sea or river but also to help members of the public get a practical understanding of prehistory, to engage the public in science in action," said Yves Belfenfant, the director of the sites of Gavrinis and Petit Mont.

Elisabeth, a banking executive, was one of the 30 people trying to move the massive stone. She said she and her husband and their five children liked 'cultural' holidays and that was why they wanted to take part in this experiment. "It's impressive to see this massive stone moving," she said. Jerome, a 36-year-old father, said he was taking part because he had "always wondered how the Egyptians built the pyramids." "This is far better than school to help you understand," said nine-year-old Valentine, who was proud of her part in pulling the giant stone forward across logs laid on the ground. The tourists managed to pull the stone 4.4 metres in about 12 minutes on their first stint, but by their fifth try their technique had improved and they pulled it 22 metres in 24 minutes.

No one today knows how or why the sedentary tribes that settled 7,000 years ago on this stretch of the Atlantic coast transported and then erected the menhirs, dolmens and other huge stone steles that dot the Breton landscape.


2,000-year-old Woodhenge analysed in Ohio

Although WAY outside of TMA's geographical range, thought this might be of interest to some, considering the new henge found near Stonehenge...

Today only rock-filled postholes remain, surrounded by the enigmatic earthworks of Fort Ancient State Memorial (map). Some are thousands of feet long and all were built by Indians of the pre-agricultural Hopewell culture, the dominant culture in midwestern and eastern North America from about A.D. 1 to 900.

This year archaeologists began using computer models to analyze Moorehead Circle's layout and found that Ohio's Woodhenge may have even more in common with the United Kingdom's Stonehenge than thought—specifically, an apparently intentional astronomical alignment.

The software "allows us to stitch together various kinds of geographical data, including aerial photographs and excavation plans and even digital photographs," explained excavation leader Robert Riordan, an archaeologist at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

The researchers had known, for example, that an opening in the rings; a nearby, human-made enclosure; stone mounds; and a gateway in a nearby earthen wall are all aligned.

Full story here:

London — News

What Lies Beneath? Archaeology in Action @ Museum of London

You never know - there may even be summat prehistoric!

Ever wonder what lies beneath your feet? On 16 July the Museum of London opened Archaeology in Action. The exhibition offers visitors a flavour of the varied day to day work of archaeologists in London, today and in the past. From the ground to the display case, Archaeology in Action gives visitors an insight into what happens to objects unearthed by Museum of London Archaeology.

Countless exciting archaeological discoveries have been made, and continue to be made each day in London. These have greatly contributed to our ever evolving understanding of the capital. Archaeology in Action presents some of these valuable finds. Sites that feature include the Roman High Street unearthed at number 1 Poultry and the Saxon town of Lundenwic uncovered at Covent Garden. There is also a changing display of new finds from London sites, starting with Shakespearean playhouses, including The Rose and The Theatre.

The exhibition space will host a varied programme of events, including a selection to celebrate the Festival of British Archaeology, 17 July – 1 August 2010. Visitors can expect to handle ancient artefacts, meet an osteologist or identify finds from the Thames foreshore.

Taryn Nixon, Managing Director of Museum of London Archaeology, says: "The exciting thing about the Museum of London is that it runs one of Europe's largest archaeology teams, and has literally been unearthing the secrets of London's past for decades. This exhibition gives us a chance not only to share our discoveries as soon as they are made but also to show what really goes on behind the scenes in archaeology."

Jon Cotton, Senior Curator of Prehistory, says: "Archaeology is one of the Museum of London's key calling cards and excavated finds inform every gallery display. Archaeology in Action celebrates this commitment to London's buried past and provides a space in which some of the latest finds will be displayed."

The Museum of London Archaeology is a long-standing and highly regarded in-house archaeological team and has unearthed a wealth of archaeological treasures. These finds are cared for in the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre - Europe's largest archaeological archive.

Cambridgeshire — News

Cambridgeshire Quarry throws up 4,500-year-old find

A remarkable piece of Neolithic rock art, unlike anything previously found in Eastern England, has been unearthed in the Cambridgeshire village of Over.

The hand-sized artefact, which could date back to 2,500 BC, was found by a participant in a geological weekend course which was being run by the University of Cambridge's Institute for Continuing Education.

It consists of a hand-sized slab of weathered sandstone with two pairs of concentric circles etched into the surface - a motif which, according to archaeologists, is typical of "Grooved Ware" art from the later Neolithic era.

More here:

Orkney — News

The curious case of the Cairns 'broch'

It's definitely broch-like but is it a broch?

That's the question still facing the archaeologists at the ongoing excavations at the Cairns in South Ronaldsay.

Overlooking Windwick Bay, the Cairns is a massive archaeological jigsaw puzzle, with a sequence of Iron Age buildings, representing centuries of use.

The first building on site was a massive broch-like roundhouse - with five metre thick walls forming a structure with an exterior diameter of 22 metres.

This structure, in particular its interior, has been the focus of much of this year's excavation, with the archaeologists painstakingly removing huge quantities of rubble from the interior to reach the floor level.

During the excavations this year, a clear picture has emerged of the inside of the 'broch' building. A large area of the interior and its entrance has been excavated of tonnes of rubble to reveal the impressive internal fixtures and fitting across about a third of the building.

More here:

(This seems a bit familiar, so apologies if I've posted this before!)

Untangling the history of the Cantick mound

Another season of excavations at Cantick, South Walls, concluded last week, following the continued investigation of a prehistoric burial mound.

A team from ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology) based at Orkney College were joined by students from Aberdeen and Durham Universities. Local volunteers also received field training in Hoy, funded by the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Full story:


The Thunderstone Mystery: What's a Stone Age Axe Doing in an Iron Age Tomb?

"If one finds something once, it's accidental. If it is found twice, it's puzzling. If found thrice, there is a pattern," the archaeologists Olle Hemdorff and Eva Thäte say.

In 2005 the archaeologists investigated a grave at Avaldsnes in Karmøy in southwestern Norway, supposed to be from the late Iron Age, i.e. from 600 to 1000 AD. Avaldsnes is rich in archeological finds. They dot an area that has been a seat of power all the way back to around 300. Archaeologist Olle Hemdorff at the University of Stavanger's Museum of Archaeology was responsible for a series of excavations at Avaldsnes in 1993-94 and 2005-06.

More -

Neolithic men were prepared to fight for their women

Neolithic age men fought over women too, according to a study that provides the most ancient evidence of the lengths men will go to in the hunt for partners.

Many archaeologists have argued that women have long motivated cycles of violence and blood feuds throughout history but there has really been no solid archaeological evidence to support this view.

Now a relatively new method has been used to work out the origins of the victims tossed into a mass grave of skeletons, and so distinguish one tribe from another, revealing that neighbouring tribes were prepared to kill their male rivals to secure their women some 7000 years ago.

More -

5500 Year Old Shoe

Reported today in the open access journal PLoS One is the news of a 5500-year-old shoe, discovered in the Chalcolithic age deposits at Areni-1, a dry cave in in Vayots Dzor province of Armenia. The dry conditions of the cave have led to fabulous preservation, and the cave includes well-preserved occupations between the Neolithic and late Middle Ages.

More here:

Orkney — News

Orkney's archaeological 'treasures trail' in the national spotlight

Archaeological Treasures Trail - Orkney

Orkney is one of the richest Neolithic landscapes in Europe - a place of stone circles, villages and burial monuments. Several monuments on Orkney are part of The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site (WHS) including the Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle and Henge, Maeshowe, Skara Brae and the Stones of Stenness. All these monuments are relics of the period when great civilisations started to arise across the world.

Read more:

[EDIT - I should say I found this news here:]

Archaeological papers in Honour of Daphne Home Lorimer MBE — now relocated to Orkneyjar.

These pictures and papers have been gathered in honour of Daphne Home Lorimer MBE on the occasion of her retirement as Chairman of Orkney Archaeological Trust, to mark our affection for her as a friend, our respect for her as a colleague and our admiration for all that she has achieved.

"We know Orkney has a rich archaeological heitage, but Daphne Lorimer's commitment has ensured that interest in its discovery and conservation has the recognition it properly merits. To know Daphne is to be infected by her enthusiasm, and the study and pursuit of archaeology in Orkney has been so much enriched by her enthusiasm and interest." - Jim Wallace MSP March 2004


Stone Age Color, Glue 'Factory' Found

The Stone Age version of successful businessmen like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates might have been involved in the color and glue trade.

A once-thriving 58,000-year-old ochre powder production site has just been discovered in South Africa. The discovery offers a glimpse of what early humans valued and used in their everyday lives.

The finding, which will be described in the Journal of Archaeological Science, also marks the first time that any Stone Age site has yielded evidence for ochre powder processing on cemented hearths -- an innovation for the period. A clever caveman must have figured out that white ash from hearths can cement and become rock hard, providing a sturdy work surface.

"Ochre occurs in a range of colors that includes orange, red, yellow, brown and shades of these colors," project leader Lyn Wadley told Discovery News. "Yellow and brown ochre can be transformed to red by heating them at temperatures as low as 250 degrees Celsius (482 degrees Fahrenheit)."

Wadley, who authored the study, is a professor in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies and in the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand. She said ochre has been found on bone awl tools probably used for working leather, so it is possible that the ancients sported colorful leather clothing and other leather goods.

Red-hot leather clothing is still found in stores today, but the probable wearers then were a far cry from today's fashion elite.

Ochre is derived from naturally tinted clay that contains mineral oxides. In addition to coloring objects, it makes a compound adhesive when mixed with other ingredients, such as plant gum and animal fat.

"This glue would have attached stone spear or arrowheads to hafts, or blades to handles for cutting tools," Wadley explained.

Ochre can also be used as body paint and makeup, as a preservative and as a medicinal component, so it could have served many different functions during the Stone Age.

Wadley analyzed the ochre "factory" at the large Sibudu rock shelter north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The site consisted of four cemented hearths containing the ochre powder. The cement workstations could have held grindstones and/or served as storage receptacles for the powder, according to Wadley, who also excavated about 8,000 pieces of ochre in the area.

She believes the natural material was collected just over a half a mile away from the site, where it would have been heated and ground or just ground directly onto coarse rocks.

Francesco d'Errico, director of research at the National Center of Scientific Research at the University of Bordeaux, said pigment material is found in bits and pieces at various early sites. However, not much was known in detail before about how it was processed and used.

Based on the nature of the cemented ash and the geology of the Sibudu site, d'Errico believes that people 58,000 years ago intended to produce large quantities of red pigment in a short time frame.

He now thinks ochre pigment was a "fundamental constitute of Middle Stone Age culture, and that its production likely involved the work of several members of the group."

Hengistbury Head (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork) — News

Plan for Hengistbury Head barn visitor centre on show

A nature reserve in Bournemouth is set to get a new visitor centre.

The borough council has been planning to create a visitor centre at Hengistbury Head for the past 10 years.

Proposals to convert the thatched barn at the site in Dorset to house displays about the archaeology and wildlife of the area will now go on display.

Residents can see and comment on the plans next to the Hiker cafe from 2 to 6 June. If approved for funding, the new centre would be completed in 2012.

It will feature displays showing the nature reserve's plants and animals and their habitats.

The centre will also have archaeology exhibitions about Hengistbury Head, chronicling its history from 60 million years ago when it was beneath a tropical sea, through to the Stone Age when humans hunted and camped there, to the Iron Age when it was an important trading port.

Mark Holloway, senior community parks and countryside officer, said: "We plan to use display panels, videos and audio to show off the nature reserve at its best.

"There will be cameras to bring live pictures from nesting birds and activities for children and adults alike to get involved in the conservation of the reserve."

Bournemouth Borough Council said it hoped to secure most of the funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and through other grants and donations and the centre would be run by volunteers.

A planning application will be submitted during the summer and a funding request will be put to the Heritage Lottery Fund in November.

If agreed by the fund, building work is expected to start in 2011 and be completed by the summer of 2012.

Westray — News

'Orkney Venus' is back home for the summer

Westray schoolchildren met Scotland's oldest face — the Orkney Venus — at the Westray Heritage Centre today, Friday, May 14. The children were the first visitors to the Westray exhibition, which opens to the public on Saturday, May 15.

The visit is part of the official opening of the exhibition, which sees the figurine return to Westray for the summer, after a tour of sites across Scotland.

During the day, the children from Pierowall school were joined by residents of the local care home, then, in the evening, there will be an open evening for the community at night.

The 5,000 year old figurine — known locally as the Westray Wife — attracted international interest when it was discovered last summer by archaeologists working on Historic Scotland's excavation at the Links of Noltland, in Westray.

The figurine is the only known Neolithic carving of a human form to have been found in Scotland.

The exhibition will run in Westray until October, before the carving completes its tour at the Orkney Museum, in Kirkwall.

Fylingdales Moor (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art) — News

North Yorkshire rock carving matches similar in jungles of Columbia

I just stumbled across an interesting article on Michael Bott's blog regarding similarities between 2 vastly geographically separated carved stones... (apologies for cutting huge swathes of it out - read the article from the link at the bottom - it's much better!)

"Recently, there have been quite a few archaeological revelations coming to light from the result of a wildfire that swept the moors of Fylingdales, N. Yorkshire. One of the items discovered is a "unique" carved stone, thought to be 4,000 years old.


Just so you can make your own mind up, here is the photograph that Rupert took of the Kogi 'Map Stone' in the jungles of Columbia alongside the photo of the stone recently uncovered on the North Yorkshire Moors."

Full article here:

D27 Borger (Hunebed) — Links

360 Cities

Hunebed in Borger - 3D panoramic view of this massive hunebed


Happy Birthday The National Trust!

Founded on this very day in 1895. Many happy returns - keep up the good work!

Neanderthal 'make-up' containers discovered

50,000BC may be a little early for TMA, which is possibly why this hasn't been posted previously, but this may be of interest nevertheless! (Unless it HAS been posted, and I just can't see it. in which case I apologise.)


"Scientists claim to have the first persuasive evidence that Neanderthals wore "body paint" 50,000 years ago.

The team report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that shells containing pigment residues were Neanderthal make-up containers.

Scientists unearthed the shells at two archaeological sites in the Murcia province of southern Spain.

The team says its find buries "the view of Neanderthals as half-wits" and shows they were capable of symbolic thinking.

Professor Joao Zilhao, the archaeologist from Bristol University in the UK, who led the study, said that he and his team had examined shells that were used as containers to mix and store pigments.

Black sticks of the pigment manganese, which may have been used as body paint by Neanderthals, have previously been discovered in Africa.

"[But] this is the first secure evidence for their use of cosmetics," he told BBC News. "The use of these complex recipes is new. It's more than body painting."

The scientists found lumps of a yellow pigment, that they say was possibly used as a foundation.

They also found red powder mixed up with flecks of a reflective brilliant black mineral.

Some of the sculpted, brightly coloured shells may also have been worn by Neanderthals as jewellery.

Until now it had been thought by many researchers that only modern humans wore make-up for decoration and ritual purposes.

There was a time in the Upper Palaeolithic period when Neanderthals and humans may have co-existed. But Professor Zilhao explained that the findings were dated at 10,000 years before this "contact".

"To me, it's the smoking gun that kills the argument once and for all," he told BBC News.

"The association of these findings with Neanderthals is rock-solid and people have to draw the associations and bury this view of Neanderthals as half-wits."

Professor Chris Stringer, a palaeontologist from the Natural History Museum in London, UK, said: "I agree that these findings help to disprove the view that Neanderthals were dim-witted.

But, he added that evidence to that effect had been growing for at least the last decade.

"It's very difficult to dislodge the brutish image from popular thinking," Professor Stringer told BBC News. "When football fans behave badly, or politicians advocate reactionary views, they are invariably called 'Neanderthal', and I can't see the tabloids changing their headlines any time soon." "

Google Street View goes off road to add areas like Stonehenge

Google Street View, the internet road mapping service, is extending its scope to cover areas further away from driving routes including Stonehenge.

It is putting its 3-D cameras on rickshaw-style tricycles to film popular off-road spots which also include Loch Ness and the Angel of the North.

In April a privacy watchdog said Google's photographing of homes in every town in Britain did not breach data protection laws.

The internet search company's street-level mapping service caused controversy when it started in Britain as householders said that it could be used by burglars or terrorists to research targets.

Residents of the village of Broughton, Bucks, formed a human chain to prevent one of Google's camera vehicles filming their properties without permission, claiming that the website encouraged voyeurism.

But the Information Commissioner's Office rejected a complaint by the Privacy International pressure group, which had called for the service to be suspended.

Street View allows web users to "walk" along streets, exploring 360-degree images recorded from eye level.

But its cameras have also captured some embarrassing moments, including a man entering a sex shop and another being sick in the street.

The application allows users to access 360-degree views of roads and homes in 25 British towns and cities and includes photographs of millions of residential addresses, people and cars.

It has been hailed as a helpful tool for home hunters and would-be tourists.

Bronze age boat recreated at loch

A team of history and woodwork experts have teamed up to build a replica Bronze Age logboat at Loch Tay.

The group will work with the tools and techniques that were used about 3,000 years ago.

They will make the boat from a single Douglas Fir trunk, measuring about 12m in length.

The project was inspired by the discovery of a logboat in the loch dating back to 1500 BC and another one in the River Tay dating to 1000 BC.

The Loch Tay logboat was discovered in 1994, but it was only when it was dated three years ago that it was revealed how old it really was.

The modern day team will spend the next three weeks recreating such a craft at Dalerb.

They hope to learn more about how prehistoric communities made such vessels.

(This was also mentioned on Radio 4's Today show this morning: )

Avebury (Stone Circle) — News

Heritage Action's 4th Avebury World Megameet

Just a reminder that we're now one day away from Heritage Action's fourth annual Avebury Megameet on the 1st of August. If you haven't ventured forth for one of these before please give it a try. Put faces to names and meet up with some of the folks you may have only ever cyber-chatted to before. The Avebury Megameets are an informal gathering of people from all walks of life (artists, archaeologists, conservators, historians, pagans and others) but all with an interest in the Avebury Henge and our megalithic heritage in general.

The Megameet will be in the south-east quadrant, either by the Obelisk marker stone or close to the stone here and will kick off from around noon. It's a good idea to bring something to sit on and something to eat and drink too if you fancy it. If the weather's bad we'll be in one of the rooms at the Red Lion (the front largest room if it's available). Look out for this T-shirt – designed by BuckyE for the 2007 Avebury Megameet!


Astronomical calculator kept track of ancient Olympics, study finds

"A 2,100-year-old bronze and iron computer that predicted eclipses and other astronomical events also showed the cycle of the Greek Olympics and the related games that led up to it, researchers reported today. [Well, a few days ago, actually!]

The research team also has been able to decipher all the month names from the heavily corroded fragments of the so-called Antikythera mechanism, providing the first concrete evidence that an astronomical scheme devised by the Greek astronomer Geminos was put to practical use.

Teasing out the month names was "a really spectacular achievement," said science historian Francois Charette of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, who was not involved in the research.

Historians "had until now doubted that this scheme had actually been used in civil life, but the evidence from the Antikythera mechanism now proves them wrong," he said.

The inclusion of the data about the Olympic Games on what is now called the Olympiad Dial of the clock-like mechanism was a surprise to the researchers because the dates of the ancient Olympics, held every fourth summer from 776 BC to AD 393, would have been well known to the populace, just as the time of the modern Olympics is now.

"The inclusion of the Olympiad Dial says more about the cultural importance of the Games than about their advanced technology," said Tony Freeth of Images First Ltd. in London, who was a member of the research team that reported the results in the journal Nature.

The Antikythera mechanism, so named because it was found in 1901 in a Roman shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, is thought to have been made about 100 BC.

Its purpose was a mystery for more than 100 years, but in 2006, researchers used a massive X-ray tomography machine, similar to that used to perform CT scans on humans, to examine the heavily encrusted fragments.

They concluded that the device originally contained 37 gears that formed an astronomical computer.

Two dials on the front show the zodiac and a calendar of the days of the year that can be adjusted for leap years. Metal pointers show the positions in the zodiac of the sun, moon and five planets known in antiquity. Two spiral dials on the back show the cycles of the moon and predict eclipses.

Using more powerful computers to analyze the CT data, Freeth and his colleagues, all affiliated with the in Cardiff, Wales, were able to decipher the names of all 12 months, as well as names identifying several Greek games."

Full story with pics:

Hampshire — News

New Forest discovery thought be one of oldest ever made in UK

(With thanks to Ocifant for sending me this)

TWO 6,000-year-old tombs have been unearthed in Hampshire in one of the biggest archaeological finds for years.

The discovery, thought to be among the oldest ever made in the UK, is set to shed new light on the life led by the county's earliest settlers.

Flint tools and fragments of pottery have already been retrieved from the Neolithic site at Damerham in the New Forest.

The nationally important find has been made by a team of experts from Kingston University in London.

Archaeologist Dr Helen Wickstead said she and her colleagues were "stunned and delighted" when evidence of the prehistoric complex came to light.

She added: "Some artefacts have already been recovered and in the summer a team of volunteers will make a systematic survey on the site.

"If we can excavate, we'll learn a lot more about Neolithic people in the area and discover things such as who was buried there, what kind of life they led and what the environment was like 6,000 years ago."

The site, 15 miles from Stonehenge, is close to Cranborne Chase, one of the most thoroughly researched prehistoric areas in Europe.

Last night New Forest author and historian Peter Roberts described the find as extremely rare.

The former New Forest Verderer added: "It's clearly very exciting and will throw new light on the settlements between Cranborne Chase and the Forest."

The tombs were discovered after staff from English Heritage studied aerial photographs of farmland in the Damerham area and saw signs of buried archaeological sites.

Dr Wickstead said she was astonished that the monuments had remained undiscovered for so long.

She added: "Cranborne Chase is one of the most famous prehistoric landscapes, a mecca for prehistorians. You'd have thought the archaeological world would have gone over it with a fine tooth comb."

The team has vowed that any human bones found in the tombs will be treated with dignity.

"The recovery of ancient human remains is always handled sensitively," added Dr Wickstead. "We feel respect for the dead people we study and we treat their remains with care."

Plozévet (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images

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Plozévet (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

If it wasn't for the entry in Aubrey Burl's "Megalithic Brittany", I'd probably have passed this by believing it to be a folly!

According to Burl, "It is a thin, grey pillar, striated by the weather. It stands at 2.3 metres high and has been incorporated into a memorial to the dead of the First World War".

Now - I've seen a few standing stones in churchyards, and a few christianised ones, but never, until now, one that's been turned into a war memorial!

It's a fine sight, though. Sort of jumps out at you as you round the corner. The later additions are quite odd. Really makes it look like the whole thing is a modern construct.

The war memorial, as far as I can tell, was built by René Quillivic. According to Wikipedia:
"After World War I he had the opportunity to pursue his art in the form of war memorials, in which he typically emphasised pacifist ideals. Most of these were located in Finistère (Carhaix, Coray, Fouesnant, Loudéac, Plouhinec, Plouyé, Plozévet, Pont-Croix, Pont-l'Abbé, and Saint-Pol-de-Leon)."

Slightly separate from the main memorial is another (modern) menhir, with the head of a woman and an inscription bearing names of the deceased.

At the other end of the churchyard is the "fontaine de Saint Théleau à Plozevet" - a delightful little holy well which I sadly didn't take any photos of!

About 21km on the D784 from Quimper towards Audierne, on the right hand side of the road, in the churchyard. there is a car park next to the church.

Avebury & the Marlborough Downs (Region) — News

Tea-time over for Avebury clock

The clock at the Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury, Wiltshire, will be removed for repair on 8 April, the National Trust has confirmed.

The 18th Century turret clock on the Stables Gallery has been stuck at four o'clock for more than a year.

The National Trust's Meg Sims said: "It's always time for tea at Avebury."

The clock will be restored in Somerset at a cost of £5,700. It is hoped the feature will be ready and reinstalled by Easter 2010.

The museum is named after the archaeologist and businessman, Alexander Keiller.

Coate Stone Circle — News

Coate could be the new Avebury

A CONTROVERSIAL area of land in Swindon that is earmarked for a housing development could instead become Swindon's own "mini-Avebury", according to campaigners.

The claim comes after ancient stones, which could be part of Swindon's Neolithic history, were unearthed at Coate.

The two sarsen stones were uncovered by the Highways Agency last week opposite Day House Farm, near the protected Coate Stone Circle.

The find has excited speculation that more historic stones may still lie undiscovered in the area.

Campaigners against a planning application by the Swindon Gateway Partnership to build 1,800 homes and a university campus on land near Coate Water say the development could rob the town of huge potential historic and tourist value.

Jean Saunders, from the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust, said: "There is a real chance here to create almost a mini-Avebury.

"This particular area is steeped in pre-history. We know of a Bronze Age settlement just south of Coate Water, two round barrows opposite Richard Jefferies' old house at Coate, two stone circles on Day House Farm and lines of stones linking these together with others.

"It would be criminal to surround these ancient relics of the past with modern buildings. Who knows how many more of these old stones lie undiscovered? Can Swindon afford to lose more of its history?

"This raises a lot of unanswered questions. We are very aware of the importance of this whole area and it is not just Bronze Age, but medieval and Roman.

"This is something I wanted to bring up at the inquiry but because the developers didn't actually put forward an archaeologist there wasn't the chance. The problem was that English Heritage and the county archaeologist dropped their objections at the eleventh hour, so it no longer became an issue for the planning inspector."

Felicity Cobb, from the Save Coate campaign, said: "It would be nice if the planning inspector took this into account but I'm not holding my breath."

Wiltshire county archaeologist Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger said: "I haven't been able to go and see the stones yet but they do occur naturally in the area. There is a stone circle nearby which is a scheduled monument."

The inquiry into SGP's planning appeal officially closes on March 27, after which the planning inspector will make his recommendations to secretary of state Hazel Blears.
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