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By Dr Sandy Gerrard
Earlier reports on the Bancbryn stone alignment have demonstrated a visual link with Hartland Point in Devon. The very precise nature of this link strongly supports the idea that the alignment was placed to take advantage of the views created by a blocking hill in the foreground. Recent work in SW England has found that this is a pattern that is repeated many times and in the coming months the preliminary results of this work will be reported here. In the meantime, this research has also revealed a particularly interesting and significant relationship between the Bancbryn alignment and the Nine Maidens stone alignment in Cornwall. The Nine Maidens is an alignment consisting of large upright slabs which was first described in the early part of the 17th century.
The alignment survives within enclosed farmland and has as a result suffered significant damage. Despite this the alignment includes a line of stones leading up a gentle south facing slope towards a single stone known as the Fiddler situated on the north brow of the hill. From The Fiddler there is a view towards Hartland Point, but most significantly the surviving length of the alignment is on the same orientation as the length at Bancbryn which points at Hartland Point. The significance of this relationship is most easily expressed by a map showing the position of all three places.
It would therefore appear that two separate alignments are pointing at the same prominent natural feature as well as including a large body of sea. Indeed on mainland Britain this is probably the largest single expanse of water that could have been treated in this way. This may be significant or a coincidence, although it is perhaps worth mentioning at this juncture that a large number of SW English alignments have convincing and demonstrable links with the sea and that the precision of their siting can be explained purely in terms of visual references to the sea. These exciting new discoveries will be presented in future articles.
This far we have established that the Bancbryn and Nine Maidens alignments share the same broad orientation (remembering that alignments are very rarely precisely straight) and that their uppermost lengths are also aligned towards Hartland Point. The two alignments share a number of other details. Both separate discrete clusters of cairns and both include lengths which do not have sight of Hartland Point. The southern lengths of both alignments have no views of the sea and therefore in simplistic terms whilst progressing along both alignments a point is reached where the sea appears and disappears. This point may have been of particular importance and is marked at Bancbryn by a shift in the orientation. Sadly at the Nine Maidens this part of the alignment has been removed.
If we start from the premise that alignments were designed to denote a special and very particular route it is perhaps more than a little significant that both alignments include lengths with only local outlooks leading to lengths with far reaching views including the sea. I would suggest that should this be repeated regularly at other sites then we are perhaps getting closer to an understanding as to why stone alignments were built where they are although details of any rituals along the way will inevitably remain obscure. The importance of topography in the siting of other classes of ritual and funerary monuments of this broad period is universally accepted. The barrow in a prominent position so that it can be viewed from afar may disappear for a short time as you approach it before being finally revealed as you reach it. Some journeys through ritual landscapes were clearly special enough to be marked with stones and it is therefore not surprising to find particular themes being repeated time and time again along the journey.
There is more to come in this fascinating series over the coming weeks – Ed.
By Dr Sandy Gerrard
In the moorlands of Western Britain are two very similar stone rows. They have a great deal in common but whilst one is in England the other is in Wales. The English one was discovered in 1917 whilst the Welsh one was found nearly 100 years later in 2012. Both:
- have been damaged by industrial activity
- sit within a prehistoric context
- have a cairn at their upper end
- are composed of small stones
- have the largest stone at the lower end
- are not straight
- have a significant change in orientation at a point where a coastal headland becomes visible
- have sea views along their upper length
- have no sea views along their lower length
- are associated with cairns
- have not been positively dated
There the similarities end. The English row is a scheduled ancient monument whilst the Welsh one is not because there is “insufficient evidence”. The peculiar thing is both rows have exactly the same amount of evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation and yet whilst English Heritage considers this sufficient Cadw do not. As we have seen, a lack of evidence does not normally prevent Cadw from scheduling sites so why are they so reticent to schedule this one?
Lines of stones leading from mounds of stones have traditionally been treated as stone alignments. So why is it that in England this is seen as sufficient evidence to offer protection, whilst in Wales it is not?
These lines of stones are so similar it is difficult to appreciate why one can be seen as nationally important and the other as not.
QUESTION: When is an alignment of stones leading from a stony mound within a rich prehistoric ritual landscape dismissed as probably post-medieval?
ANSWER: Perhaps when it is embarrassingly found by a third party after the archaeological mitigation work has been completed.
English Heritage (EH) have recently made a big splash in the media on the release of their latest ‘Heritage at Risk‘ register, which lists heritage assets deemed to be in danger from deterioration, damage, development or other threats.
When I contacted EH some years ago to enquire, I was told that the vast majority of Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) in England are lucky if they are officially inspected once a decade. Some are never visited officially, and many can go 20 years or more without any official inspection. Frequently the responsible body will rely upon reports from landowners, the public or police regarding any damage that occurs to a site. The response given to a Freedom of Information request to EH earlier this year shows that what I was told nearly a decade ago still holds true today (check some of the ‘Last Visited Dates in any random spreadsheet in the reply).
But now we’d like to change all that, with your help.
We know that many of our readers visit SAMs and other heritage sites on a regular basis, be it a local site that they’re familiar with, or a site that has been selected as the target of a day trip, or holiday visit to an unfamiliar area. All we ask is that when on such visits, you keep your eyes open for any evidence of Heritage Crime. What is heritage crime? Quite simply, as stated on the EH web page on the subject, it is “any offence which harms the value of England’s heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations”.
So how can you help? Firstly by taking note of any evidence. Pictures are always helpful. If you actually witness a crime being committed, the EH web page on reporting crime suggests phoning 999, but we’d say only do this if you will not be endangering your own personal safety by doing so. The first port of call for any crime will be the police, whether via 999 if a crime is in progress, or 101 if not (see the previous EH link above). If this all sounds familiar, we’ve previously highlighted these steps, here on the Journal.
But in addition, the relevant authority should also be informed, whether that be English Heritage or the National Trust in England, Cadw in Wales or Historic Scotland north of the border – see the contact links below.
It might also be worth recording your visit and any actions taken on one of the hobbyist web sites so that others can see what has already been reported – the Megalithic Portal has a useful Visit Log facility for registered users in addition to its site comments facility.
With your help, the integrity of many of these forgotten and threatened sites can hopefully be maintained, and any damage brought to the attention of the relevant people.
Useful Contact Links:
Here at the Heritage Journal we were overjoyed to hear that Pip Richards has been deservedly awarded the title of Cornwall’s new Heritage Champion. She is the first female to be accorded the award.
Lt Col Philip Hills, Chairman of Cornwall Heritage Trust said ‘I am delighted to be able to announce that this year’s winner of the Sir Richard Trant Memorial Award goes to someone who has done so much to promote our unique history, whilst inspiring and engaging communities to carry on this vital work for future generations’.
The award is in memory of Sir Richard Trant who was a Cornishman of extraordinary talents. After a very distinguished career in the Army he retired to his beloved Cornwall and dedicated his remaining years helping to promote Cornwall’s heritage. Each year the award is presented to an ‘unsung hero or heroine’ – someone who gives their time and energy in a voluntary capacity and has made a significant contribution to Cornwall’s heritage.
Colonel Edward Bolitho OBE and President of Cornwall Heritage Trust agreed that “Pip Richards has made an outstanding contribution to preserving and strengthening our iconic landscape and is certainly a very worthy heritage champion, following on from our previous year’s winner Cedric Appleby.”
Following this personal recognition of work as the project manager, the Council for British Archaeology has awarded the Sustainable Trust the Marsh Award for the best Community Archaeology project. ‘This award recognises and promotes innovation and quality in the dissemination of the results of research and/or fieldwork through publication, communication and archiving. In 2014 the winning project is the Restoration of Carwynnen Quoit, a neolithic monument which collapsed following a reported earthquake in the 1960s.’
The official ceremony for the award will be made at the CBA’s AGM at the London Academy in early November. Lead Archaeologist Jacky Nowakowski from the Cornwall Archaeological Unit will accompany Pip Richards to the ceremony.
Pip commented ‘This is a great honour for me, Sustrust and Cornwall. I have enormous gratitude for all the members of the community who have made this all possible by participating in so many different ways. We are currently producing a commemorative book ‘The Restoration of Carwynnen Quoit’. Making sure that everyone gets a credit on the acknowledgements page is a great challenge. The prize for the award will be put towards our next project.’
Sustrust manages two large groves on the Old Clowance Estate for outdoor learning and volunteering opportunities. Pip may be contacted by email firstname.lastname@example.org
See our previous articles covering the restoration at Carwynnen.
We visited the Coldrum Stones previously, about 3.5 years years ago, so it’s time for a revisit as part of our occasional A-Z series.
The best preserved of the Medway Megaliths, Coldrum is a Neolithic Longbarrow, one of several in this part of the country. Recent radiocarbon dating of at least 16 individuals buried within the chamber at Coldrum, has shown that this particular monument was probably constructed nearly 6,000 years ago. This date from Coldrum makes it one of the earliest known monuments in the British Isles. Similar dates have been suggested for the Early Neolithic Long Hall buildings found during excavations for the HS1 railway, at the White Horse Stone site, on the other side of the River Medway.
The Coldrum monument now sits on the edge of a deep lynchet down which some of the stones, including the capstone, have tumbled. A rectangular enclosure of sarsen stones sits behind the monument to the west. it is this enclosure which led to the early identification of Coldrum as a ‘stone circle’, later rebuffed by Petrie, among others.
Flinders Petrie and Benjamin Harrison surveyed the site prior to the first excavations at Coldrum being undertaken by F. J. Bennet and colleagues in 1910, though some pottery finds had been unearthed in 1856.
‘No sooner had I put my fork in, than I at once turned up some human bones, under only a few inches of soil’.
Five skulls, and bones of up to 22 individuals were excavated, along with pottery sherds, and a flint ‘saw’. The finds were split between the Royal College of Surgeons, and Maidstone Museum. Bennet’s excavations were written up and published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 43 (Jan. – Jun., 1913), pp. 76-85. and can be accessed via JSTOR.
Folklore has it that an underground tunnel existed between the stones and the local church, containing ‘treasure’, and it may be that attempts to find this tunnel in antiquity caused the escarpment to collapse, as Bennet makes reference to a ‘cave’ in the slope.
The name ‘Coldrum’ comes from a farm lodge which lay nearby to the south, but which is now demolished. Using the National Library of Scotland facility to search older OS maps, shows that on the 1870 survey, the Coldrum site is marked as the remains of a stone circle.
On the 1909 map, two further stone circles are marked in the vicinity of the lodge, but by the time of the 1936 survey, these have been demoted to ‘sarsen stones’ whilst the monument itself is now in the care of the National Trust, having been purchased by the Trust ten years ealrier. The site is now dedicated as a memorial to Benjamin Harrison of the Kent Archaeological Society, who spent much of his adult life looking for evidence of Kent’s earliest settlers.
An excellent review by Paul Ashbee of the various investigations at Coldrum can be found in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 118 1998, available for download from the Kent Archaeological Society archives (pdf link)
Last weekend, a group of diverse individuals came together at the Rollright Stones, in Oxfordshire for the latest Heritage Journal Megameet. The weather stayed fine, if a little chilly at times, and a good crowd turned up from all corners of the country, including all the usual suspects. There was much discussion covering a variety of topics, many involving an appreciation of old stones, rock art, cave paintings, wildlife and the power (and use) of social media. And of course there were the stones to appreciate: The King’s Men circle, the King Stone and the Whispering Knights burial chamber.
Jane Tomlinson, the Heritage Journal’s ‘artist in residence’ created a very quick iPad ‘doodle’ of the stones, which given the light/screen glare and the time involved was considered an impressive piece of work by all who saw it on the day. For your delectation and delight, we’ve been given permission to reproduce it for the masses, below (click to embiggen).
Some quotes from some of the participants on the day:
- “Loved every minute of it, only wish it could have been longer”
- “Great to meet old friends again”
- “Such a shame we can’t do this more often”
- “Even the kids enjoyed themselves”
- “Such a lovely bunch of people!”
Planning for next year’s meet will begin soon – there has been talk of a possible overnight camp for those hardy souls who indulge in such things (and have a distance to travel).
Before the days of English Heritage, Cadw and the like, many scheduled ancient monuments across the UK came under the remit and protection of ‘the man from the ministry’ – the Ministry of Works.
In an early version of today’s ubiquitous information boards, signs were erected at many sites, giving often very brief information, but warning that the site was under protection, and that any damage would be punishable by law. These signs were often made of long-lasting cast iron, and many can still be seen today around the country.
In a celebration of these old signs, Sue Greaney, an English Heritage Historian, has recently launched a new Facebook Group, the “Ministry of Works Signage Appreciation Society“, with a view to collecting as many photos of the surviving signs, and their latter day replacements as possible.
The group is open for anyone to join and contribute photos or reminicenses. We would encourage all those interested in the history of our ancient scheduled monuments to join in.
Every year, up and down the country, field schools provide the opportunity for students and volunteers to ‘get their hands dirty’ by becoming involved in real archaeological excavation work. It can be tough, rough, uncomfortable but ultimately satisfying work, and the benefits it brings to the rest of us in terms of the increase in knowledge of the past are innumerable.
Many of these exploratory or research digs are run by universities or local archaeology societies, and often include an Open Day near the end of the season, for interested memmbers of the public to see what’s been going on and why, what’s been found and how it’s been interpreted.
For those of us who are geographically separated, or maybe not quite so mobile or flexible as we once were, many of these digs provide regular updates via their site diaries, published in blogs online. This provides a degree of outreach, and allows inclusion of many people in the project who may not be able to physically take part or visit. To this end, here’s a very brief overview of some of the 2014 digs that have caught our eye this summer.
Run by the Faculty of Science & Technology at Bournemouth University, the Durotriges Project is an archaeological investigation studying the transition from the late Iron Age to the early Roman period in southern England.
Caerau (Cardiff University)
Now in it’s 18th (and final) year, the dig at Silchester has been directed by Prof. Martin Fulford. Visitors are always welcome – there’s even an iPhone app available!
Since 2009, an international team has been excavating the Roman fort and town at Binchester and surveying its place in one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world.
This year’s fourth season at Ipplepen in Devon, run by the University of Exeter, will return to the Roman road and associated burials revealed in 2011, and a complex series of enclosures and structures thought to be part of the largest Romano-British settlement in Devon outside of Exeter.
The Vindolanda Trust has been accepting volunteers on to its excavations since its foundation in 1970 and over 6400 people have benefited from this challenging experience so far.
The Lyminge Archaeological Project is an ambitious programme of village-core archaeology. It is directed by Dr Gabor Thomas of the University of Reading.
DigVentures run crowd-funded digs, this is their second year at Leiston Abbey in Suffolk.
Overseen by Dr. Neil Faulkner, the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP) is one of the largest independent archaeological projects in Britain, and firmly rooted in the local community.
by Katharine Range
Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick in Cumbria, is one of the most beautiful stone circles in Britain. It stands on a superb natural plateau commanding a panoramic 360 degree view over the surrounding fells. The slightly oval-shaped ring is among the earliest raised in Britain; about 3000 BC during the Neolithic period. To give a bit of context, this was slightly after the construction date of Newgrange in Ireland, thought to be about 3200 BC and about the same time as the earliest phase of Stonehenge; several hundred years prior to the structure we know today. Cumbria is rich in the stone circle department, having some 50 in number which range from the dramatic, large circles, such as Castlerigg at just over 32 metres, to the diminutive Castlehowe Scar at just 7 metres. There are 38 stones in a circle approximately 30 metres in diameter. Within the ring is a rectangle of a further 10 standing stones. The tallest stone is 2.3 metres high. They are all un-hewn boulders, although some have fallen in the 5000 years since they were raised. It has been estimated there were originally around 41 stones, so Castlerigg is relatively well preserved when compared with other circles in the British Isles.
Castlerigg Stone Circle was one of the first sites to be covered under the Ancient Monuments Protection Act in 1888 and in 1913 it was acquired by the National Trust through the efforts of Canon Rawnsley. The circle was first brought to public notice in 1725 by the antiquarian William Stukeley, who recorded that the circle was “very entire, consisting of 50 stones, some very large.” But in 1849, in his Guide To The Lakes, Jonathan Otley reported the current 38 stones. The original purpose of the site is unknown. It could have been used as a trading post. Three stone axes have been discovered inside the circle. In the Neolithic period axes were made from volcanic stone quarried in the fells. Current thinking has linked Castlerigg with the Neolithic Langdale Axe industry in the nearby Langdale fells: the circle may have been a meeting place where these axes were traded or exchanged. Ritually deposited stone axes have been found all over Britain, suggesting that their uses went far beyond their practical capabilities. Exchange or trading of stone axes may not have been possible without first taking part in a ritual or ceremony.
Other possible uses include a meeting place for tribal gatherings, a site for religious ceremonies and rituals or even an astronomical observatory. It is important to archaeo astronomers who have noted that the sunrise during the Autumn equinox appears over the top of Threlkeld Knott, a hill 3.5 km to the east. Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various lunar positions.
Excavations in the inner ring in 1882 provided very little in the way of archaeological finds, although quantities of charcoal were discovered. What subsequently happened to the samples of charcoal is unknown, other than they are now likely to be lost or, if not, too contaminated to be worth modern scientific analysis. Nevertheless, Dover’s excavation is the only one to have been carried out at Castlerigg. A wide space to the Northern end of the circle, framed by two large stones may have served as an entrance to the site. In the early 20th century, a single outlying stone was erected by a farmer approximately 90m to the south west of Castlerigg. This stone has many linear ‘scars’ along its side from being repeatedly struck by a plough, suggesting that it was once buried below the surface and also why the farmer dug it up. It is not possible to say whether this stone was originally part of the circle, or just a naturally deposited boulder.
There is a legend that it is impossible to count the stones of Castlerigg; that each attempt will result in a different answer. However as with most legends, there is a small kernel of truth here. Over the years, smaller stones have “appeared” next to the larger ones.This is due to erosion of the soil around the stones through time and visitation by we humans. These stones seem to be “packing” stones, used to support the large stones when the circle was erected and would have been buried originally.
Another story involves one well-documented sighting of a strange light phenomena. In 1919, a Mr. T. Singleton and a companion watched as white orbs travelled slowly over the stones. Strange lights are a recurring theme at many ancient sites all over the world and may well have been one of the reasons our ancestors built monuments in specific places. Although there is plenty of speculation, it is thought to be most probable that they are caused by natural processes related to fault lines.
It has been noted that many of the stones of Castlerigg seem to reflect features in the surrounding hills, as though the landscape site is an interplay between the sacred space and the landscape beyond. Although open to criticism, it seems as though there are many features at Castlerigg that still have to be examined in the context of how ancient man would have experienced the site.
I have to remind myself, somewhat enviously, that ancient man was so much more in tune and aware of what was around him in nature. Even though he could master it, he was still part of it. Today most of us have no concept of that, caught up as we are as to whether we remembered to “check in” on Facebook while visiting Starbucks or Castlerigg. When I visit somewhere as breathtaking as Castlerigg, I am humbled. And this for me, is the heart of why these sites should be protected and cared for as most precious.