You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Bronze Age’ category.
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.
Now, I know that headline sounds like something out of Monty Python:
Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to become a gynaecologist. And this week on ‘How to do it’ we’re going to show you how to play the flute, how to split an atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, but first, here’s Jackie to tell you all how to rid the world of all known diseases.
Jackie: Hello, Alan.
Alan: Hello, Jackie.
Jackie: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there’ll never be any diseases ever again.
Alan: Thanks, Jackie. Great idea.
Well, our idea isn’t quite that simplistic, there’s no substitute for years of studying and sheer hard work in the trenches. In fact, it’s not even our idea, but it will allow people who have always wanted to know how it feels to go on a dig to have that opportunity, with plenty of guidance and advice from experts on hand throughout the project. In the process, you’ll be doing it all in the knowledge that information will be saved every step of the way for a site that’s in danger of being lost forever. But first, a bit of background.
Many people with an interest in prehistory will have heard of Star Carr in Yorkshire, a Mesolithic site first excavated in 1949, and which has provided many rare discoveries, mainly due to the anaerobic conditions on the site, which allowed 11,000 year old wood to be excavated, still with the bark intact! However, in 2007, British Archaeology magazine reported that “Less than 5% of the site has been excavated and there is still much to learn…but time is running out. Although Star Carr has been studied for over 50 years, we may have less than five years before much of the waterlogged remains deteriorate completely.” Now whilst that prophecy has not come completely true, the situation at Star Carr remains grim.
What many people may not realise is that further south, on the outskirts of Peterborough, a much later Bronze Age site is in a very similar situation; only a small part has been excavated to date, anaerobic conditions have allowed a remarkable state of preservation teaching us much about the period, but the site is also in danger of drying out and being lost due to similar factors of modern farming and drainage techniques. This site is Flag Fen, first identified in 1982 by Dr Francis Pryor.
Now, given the importance and significance of the site, and the general lack of funding for non-development driven archaeology, a new idea has been put forward by DigVentures to:
- raise funding for a much larger scale excavation.
- project manage the excavation itself.
This idea involves Crowd-Sourcing and Crowd-Funding, where many people donate small (or not so small!) amounts toward the project. Everyone who donates becomes a part of the project, their involvement depending upon the level of donation.
So for instance, a £10 donation provides access to an online website for insights, news and updates throughout the project, plus a PDF version of the final excavation report and an invite to the wrap party at the end! £25 gets the above plus a printed copy of the report, and so on.
Where it gets interesting, and the reason for the headline above, is the £125 and above donation levels. At these levels, access to the actual site is available, with the chance to dig alongside the experts for a day or more. So, a real chance, at an affordable level, to try your hand on a real exvacation.
Work is scheduled to begin on site in July 2012. Some of us here in Heritage Action have already donated, although personally I’m not sure my knees are up to the rigours of actually excavating these days! If you’d like to become involved with this wonderful project, then visit the DigVentures site and sign up today, it takes less than 5 minutes to make a difference.
The eyes of the archaeology world will be on Peterborough, as if this idea proves popular (and they reached nearly 30% of their target funding within a week of project launch, which suggests it is) then there’s no telling how many more excavations could potentially be funded this way in future!
Recent calls by the Wiltshire Heritage Museum for a funding increase of £60,000 seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Despite currently giving only £35,500 per year (obliging the museum to be run on a shoestring despite its national importance) the Wiltshire Council has just refused any increase.
As if to rub salt into the wound, “Nobody is losing out“ soothes Council leader Jane Scott speaking of the austerity programme. “We’re becoming more efficient by taking waste and bureaucracy out of the system.”
We beg to differ. Everyone loses out if the Museum isn’t supported. Archaeology is Wiltshire’s greatest asset and attracts countless millions of visitors and tourist pounds. The Museum contains the best Bronze Age archaeology collection in Britain. Plans are in hand for new lottery-funded galleries at the Museum to house some of its iconic items from Stonehenge and elsewhere and for that development to be run in co-ordination with the new English Heritage Stonehenge Visitor Centre and new galleries planned by Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. The pivotal importance of the Museum in terms of bringing massive future tourism benefits to Devizes, Wiltshire and Britain is clear for all to see.
And yet….having just agreed a budget of £330m for the coming year Wiltshire Council is refusing to allocate less than a five thousandth of it to ensure the financial viability of the museum !
Cultural institutions are being closed or squeezed all over the country but this is surely the most egregious example – and is in the last place one might expect. Archaeologists protested bitterly about the cultural philistinism and short-sightedness recently displayed by the Fenland District Council. Let’s hope they make even more fuss over this – and force a re-think.
Word has reached us of a newly discovered stone row on the site of a proposed wind farm in Wales. Unconfirmed reports say the row at the Mynydd y Betws wind farm development had been “missed” by archaeologists researching the site prior to work starting. This is somewhat worrying given how clearly visible the row is in the photos and that it has now been damaged by work taking place.
There are two roads scheduled to cross the stone row but work has now stopped in the area around the row pending clarification by archaeologists working for Cambrian Renewable Energy Limited, the company building the wind farm. We are watching for further updates with worry as this country’s recent record with important sites discovered during development isn’t exactly glowing, see Rotherwas Ribbon et al. Preservation in situ under a road isn’t an option as far as we are concerned.
For any subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.