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Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.
From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).
We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plain, the Hillfort Glow experiment, the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag, the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!
Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology - do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers. A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at email@example.com).
Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.
The Dover Bronze Age Boat, when first discovered in 1992 during a road-building scheme and construction of an underpass, sparked several frantic days of rescue excavations to save it from destruction.
It was dated as being some 3500 years old (cue museum curator joke “I guess that makes it 3521 years old now then”). The boat was made using oak planks sewn together with yew lashings. This technique has a long tradition of use in British prehistory; the oldest known examples are from Ferriby in East Yorkshire (upon which the recent Falmouth Log Boat reconstruction was based).
Unfortunately, as the remains of the boat continued under a nearby building, the entire boat could not be rescued as part of the excavation, leading to speculation as to it’s true size. In total 9.5 metres of boat were excavated for preservation. At it’s widest point, the boat was 2 metres wide, ample room for two rowers to sit abreast.
In its buried situation, the boat was in an anaerobic environment, which meant that the wood was largely preserved. However, once uncovered, like the timbers of the Mary Rose and the ‘Seahenge’ timber circle, the wood started to decompose.
However, this process seems to be well understood, the timbers were kept in a waterlogged state and shipped to the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth for conservation. The preserved timbers were eventually returned to Dover for reassembly and display in 1998.
In March of 2012, a project was launched to build a half-sized replica of the boat, using mainly tools which would have been available at the time of the original (1550 BCE). Sadly, unlike the Falmouth project which launched successfully in 2013, the Dover boat did not fare so well. It would seem that the Falmouth project learned valuable lessons from the Dover experience.
The replica boat has since been ‘on tour’ in museums in France and Belgium, but has now returned to the UK where a Kickstarter project has recently been launched to raise funds to enable the replica to be ‘reworked’ to make it more watertight. The project will only be funded if at least £5,000 is pledged by Wednesday Jul 31, so visit the Kickstarter page, watch the video and make your pledge!
The eventual hope is to see it ply along the Kent coast, and possibly even across the Channel, as it no doubt used to do all those years ago. A new exhibition ‘Beyond the Horizon’ has also opened recently in Dover Museum. It celebrates the cross-channel connections of 3,500 years ago, when the coastal communities in Kent probably had far more in common with communities on the other side of the channel than with most of the rest of Britain.
Update: The original goal of £5000 funding pledges has now been reached, with more than a week to go to the end of the funding period. Additional ‘stretch’ goals have now been added, with additional benefits for funders if these new goals are reached. See the KickStarter page for current details .
By Alan Simkins
Our brief Cornwall break continues…
As regular readers will be aware, I’ve visited the National Maritime Museum a couple of times since last Spring, to check on the progress of their reconstruction of a Bronze Age boat, based upon the design of a boat uncovered at Ferriby in East Yorkshire. This is true experimental archaeology, using only hand tools that would have been available at the time.
The original plan was for the boat, started in April, to be launched sometime in October, but several delays meant that this deadline was missed. On my last visit in October, a possible date in November was mentioned for the launch, but this was always overly ambitious, given the work left to do. A new date of early spring this year has now been set for the flotation.
And so, on the last day of 2012 I visited again (the museum having a policy of limitless revisits in a 12 month period) to gauge the state of play. Luckily, although the group was on a Christmas break, one of the volunteers had popped in to finish off his last paddle, and after a brief discussion invited me behind the barriers to take a close up look, for which I’m very grateful.
At first glance, it didn’t look as if much real progress had been made, but on closer inspection a great deal has been accomplished. The second of three layers of planks have been added to the sides, and much of the yew stitching to hold the planks together has been completed, including the caulking. This has been done using a mixture of moss, wood shavings and sheep fat, and looks to be very effective.
The completed vessel will be just over 49 feet long, and weigh approx 5 tons. There are 7 struts along its length, and it will be powered by 16-18 rowers, using 5′ paddles made of ash. A total of 20 paddles have been prepared.
The project has been managed by professional boatbuilder Brian Cumby, under the control of Exeter University, and with a team of 15 volunteers. Month by month time lapse videos of the build are available via YouTube.
By Alan Simkins
It’s that time of year again, when I take a short holiday break in Cornwall, and subsequently there will be a short series of posts about our exploits there. First up, a short look at the Higher Drift Stones.
This pair of standing stones, also known as the Triganeeris Stones, or the Sisters, lie in a field just south of the A30 some three miles west of Penzance.
The field is often in crop, and so is inaccessible, but if you time your visit right, it’s possible with care to get up close to these stones which stand some 18 feet apart, aligned NW to SE. The smaller stone is around 7.5 feet tall, and it’s larger sister to the south a foot taller at around 8.5 feet. The larger stone has a natural diagonal crevice on it’s south face, which is home to a large colony of snails!
W.C.Borlase excavated the site in 1871, and found a pit had been cut between the stones (offset and slight north of centre), but no finds were recorded by him. Despite this lack of evidence, the stones are assumed by comparison with similar stone pairs, to be of Middle Bronze Age date (1000-1500 bce).
Why sisters? This alludes to the common legend found at many Cornish sites where young women are ‘turned to stone’ for dancing or playing on the Sabbath. In this case, as with the Boscawen Un circle further to the west, the musician is thought to be the ‘Blind Fiddler’ or Tregonebris Longstone, which lies half a mile to the west of the Drift Stones. Payne, in Romance of the Stones, suggests that the name Triganeeris could either indicate a farming origin connected with pigs, or more intriguingly via a Welsh linguistic connection, a place to dwell, or to die.
The nearest ancient site to the Sisters is not the Blind Fiddler mentioned above, but the Tresvennack Pillar. This 11.5 feet tall stone sits approximately a quarter of a mile to the southeast, across the other side of the Lamorna Valley. It’s entirely possible that the sites are, or have been in the past, intervisible.
Back in June, we were excited to see the reports coming out of Monmouth about a potentially unique Bronze Age site built from 3 massive tree trunks chopped in half and laid next to each other. Stories about this discovery were all over the net, see here, here and here for example.
All of which makes the descent into another CADW farce all the more disappointing. Despite carbon dates and well respected archaeologists from Monmouth Archaeology dating the site back to the early bronze age, CADW are refusing to schedule the site as “its date and function remains uncertain, and its full extent unclear.”
In a written reply to queries by the Monmouth AM Nick Ramsey, Welsh Heritage Minister Huw Lewis has suggested that the interpretation by the excavating archaeologists could be completely wrong and the site may instead “represent part of a later Roman system of drainage ditches”.
The discovery was made during excavations in advance of a new housing development, and scheduling would clearly scupper at least some of those plans. Not scheduling however will presumably allow the development to continue once the excavations are complete.
We shouldn’t worry about preservation of the site though, as “Parts of the trench system will anyway remain preserved below an adjacent planned green space within the development.” Phew!! And here was us thinking it would just be built over.
The Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments of Thornborough, North Yorkshire
Sat 21 July; 13.00-17.30
To the north of Ripon, in Yorkshire’s North Riding, are some remarkable prehistoric monuments. No less than six giant henges, along with many other Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, can be found here, suggesting this was a special landscape between 4000-1500 BC. The most famous of these monuments is the alignment of three henges at Thornborough.
It is a truly spectacular icon of Neolithic Britain – and its story offers an enthralling insight into prehistoric life. This event, organised by the Thornborough Heritage Trust, is dedicated to Thornborough’s remarkable prehistory. An introductory talk (1-2.15pm) by Dr. Jan Harding, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Newcastle University, will be followed by an opportunity to handle prehistoric finds, including flint and pottery found at Thornborough (2.15-3.30pm). The event will culminate in a two hour walk of the monument complex (3.30-5.30pm), , An entry fee of £1 per person will enable participants to attend the talk, handle the artefacts, and go on the walking tour. Refreshments will be available for a charge. The event will be held in the West Tanfield Memorial Hall. The village of West Tanfield can be found on the A6108 to the north of Ripon in North Yorkshire. Limited parking is available outside the hall.,
Location: West Tanfield Memorial Hall, West Tanfield, Ripon HG4 5JU.
Archaeoastronomy is all about the connection between ancient sites and astronomical features. Many such connections have been proposed, whether likely, possible or implausible but so far as we know no-one has yet suggested the ancients were clever enough to deliberately use a site for viewing a transit of Venus…..
Still, on 6th June several astronomers from the Peak District Dark Skies Project will be on hand from 4:30am with telescopes and special glasses to allow members of the public to view the transit of Venus from the summit of the Mam Tor “Mother Hill” which is enclosed by Bronze Age earthworks.
You have to wonder, has the transit ever been observed from there before? Or a number of times?!
As previously reported, a project is underway at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, Cornwall, to reconstruct a Bronze Age log boat. The remains of three Bronze Age ships were discovered at North Ferriby on the Humber foreshore between 1937 and 1963, and design of these are being used to devise the current boat, which could be as much as 50+ feet long when completed.
The construction, which is still in it’s early stages, can be viewed by visitors to the museum. Currently, two large (3 ton) English Oak trunks are being sculpted, using nothing more than bronze axes, to form the keel of the boat. Sculpted, because the design requires various ‘blocks’ to remain attached within the body of the boat.
The block of wood on which they’re standing above, will be only 4 inches thick when completed Once the keel’s two halves are completed, a further large tree (8 tons of wood!) will be used to form the planking for the sides of the boat. The whole will be secured with flexible yew stems, and caulked with other vegetation.
Of the 14 tons total of wood, it is estimated that around 9 tons will be waste – though in the Bronze Age such a term would not be used. The chippings and off cuts would be used as fuel for fires, and possibly for insulation or packing.
As part of the exhibition about Bronze Age seafarers, the master copy of the Nebra Disk is also on show, the connection being that it is thought that panned gold, from Carnon Downs near to Falmouth, was used in it’s construction along with Cornish Tin.
The exhibit, which through until September, is well worth a visit, if only to provide some encouragement to the volunteers doing all the hard labour!
Prehistoric Heritage lovers visiting Cornwall this summer have some wonderful treats to look forward to. Of course, there are the copious sites to visit, from the West Penwith peninsula, across the Lizard and on to the delights of Bodmin Moor further east.
But the area’s museums also have something special to serve up this summer too.
The Penlee Gallery, Penzance
Situated in the grounds of Morrab Gardens, the Penlee Gallery is a small museum, largely given over to displaying historic works of art from local artists. However, this summer they have an addition in the Penwith lunula, a crescent shaped gold collar dating from the early Bronze Age (2500bc). It was discovered in 1783 by a John Price, though the location is uncertain, being attributed to Paul parish (where he lived), or more possibly the Gwithian area northwest of Hayle.
In a letter to a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Price described it being found: ‘in the hundred of Penwith, in this county, by a husbandman, in collecting manure nigh the remains of a circus which from description he apprehends to be composed of earth & not stone.’
A much later account, written in 1860, describes how it was first found in Gwithian, taken to the author’s grandfather (an apothecary in Camborne) to be assayed, and was then sold to Mr Price.
On Price’s death in 1797, the lunula passed to his son. By 1838, it was in the possession of Edward Trafford Leigh, a coin collector who was rector of Cheadle in Cheshire. Leigh had bought it to prevent its export to America. He sold it to the British Museum for 25 guineas in 1838 (an early example of PAS Outreach, perhaps?) – it has remained there ever since, but has rarely been on show. It returned to the Penwith area last year, when it was on loan to Penlee for a few weeks. Now it has returned once again for a more extended loan, and will be on display for the foreseeable future.
The National Maritime Museum, Falmouth
A new exhibition, running for 6 months from April at the National Maritime Museum: 2012BC: Cornwall and the Sea in the Bronze Age allows visitors to step back in time, to over 4500 years ago.
The exhibition provides a full picture of prehistoric Cornwall’s maritime heritage, confirming the county’s importance for trade within Europe at that time. A number of artefacts have been loaned from various museums, including the master copy of the Nebra Sky Disc, the oldest representation of the cosmos anywhere in the world. The gold on the disc has been identified as Cornish, coming from Carnon Down mines near Devoran. Cornisg Tin was also used in the disk’s construction, showing how well Cornwall was connected in those times.
In addition to the exhibits, visitors will be able to watch an archaeological experiment, the recreation of a Bronze Age log boat which will be taking place during the exhibition. The prehistoric boat will be built to scale using replica tools, such as bronze axes. The Bronze Age sewn-plank boat is unique to England and Wales and will be stitched together with yew tree fibres and use moss as caulking, to stop the boat from leaking.
I’ll certainly be visiting both of these in my forthcoming trip to Cornwall later next month.