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Sometimes a real jewel pops up in the overcrowded blogosphere and Clonehenge is just such a site for anyone that likes megaliths.
As they say –
“It is a celebration of those first builders who erected Stonehenge as we understand it today, whose idea has turned out to be the ancestor of all icons, so powerful in image that five thousand years later people feel compelled to emulate their achievement, often in the most unlikely places and unsuitable media. It is also a celebration of the ingenuity and mad genius of those people today who decide, usually for no reason except fun and the challenge, to make Stonehenges out of anything they can lay their hands on. Hurray for the builders!”
Each clone is given a score in “druids” out of ten (yes, they do know the druids didn’t build it!). The one above scores 7 druids and this one scores a well deserved 8½…
Two of our favourites are the UK’s Foamhenge (having been inside it we’d give it 9½ druids for sheer power and atmosphere) and Straw Echo henge , built temporarily by a farmer in the summer of 1996 right next to the original, for it’s sheer exhuberance, the pleasure it gave to visitors and the fact it had no function other than to pay a quiet local tribute to the genius of the original. Perhaps our least favourite is Privy Henge where for once Banksy was off form.
The site also has many small-scale tributes and of these Beach Henge that once stood fleetingly in Wales, is one of the nicest.
Altogether, Clonehenge is well worth a visit. We’re sure they’ll welcome more nominations.
A Landscape Revealed: 10,000 Years on a Chalkland Farm by Martin Green. Tempus Publications. ISBN 0 7524 1490 9. £17.99.
I loved this book mostly for its patient uncovering of a host of fascinating facts, the marvellous illustrations of how life might have been in the Neolithic and bronze age, the illustrations giving a vibrancy to the text.
Martin Green has devoted a lifetime to patiently exploring and excavating the prehistoric sites on his farm. It was here at the Monkton Up Wimborne Neolithic Complex that the bodies of four individuals were found, three children and a woman aged about 30 years old. DNA analysis revealed that this small group had probably come from the Mendip Hills, some forty miles away to the north-west. Of the three children, two were unrelated to the women but were probably brother and sister, the third child was the daughter. What the chemical ‘signatures’ of these four revealed was that the women had travelled to Cranborne Chase ‘acquired’ the two children and then returned to the Mendips where she gave birth to her daughter. They then returned to Cranborne and met their death there. The specialist work was sponsored by the BBC during the making of a Meet the Ancestors programme.
Publisher’s Review; “The Down Farm landscape (where the author’s family have farmed for generations) is one of the most carefully studied areas in western Europe. The farm is part of Cranborne Chase, just South of Salisbury (where coincidentally, the famous General Pitt Rivers began his pioneering work in the 1880s). It not only contains the Neolithic Dorset Cursus, numerous long barrows and Hambledon Hill, but over the last 30 years henges, shafts, plastered houses, land divisions, enclosures and cemeteries have been identified and excavated.”
Foreword by Richard Bradley; “The story he has to tell is an exceptionally interesting one in which the development of Cranborne Chase is interwoven with an account of his own fieldwork. It begins with chance discoveries that could have been made on any part of the chalk of southern England and it ends with a unique programme of research, in which Martin plays a pivotal role, involving no fewer than five universities and a major field unit.”
We are used to thinking of badgers as enemies of archaeology, pests that burrow into ancient banks and barrows and do great damage – as indeed they do. But we were intrigued by a piece in the admirable North Stoke blog which provides a reminder that in the wider scheme of things they have a place – and an ancient claim to ownership of these monuments that is just as strong as ours.
By Jon Parton
The East Kennet Long Barrow is little regarded compared with its celebrated and far more visited neighbour, West Kennet Long Barrow. This inequality is unjust, firstly because East Kennet is enormous – a cathedral to the parish church that is West Kennet – and secondly because, unlike the opened, eviscerated West Kennet, graffitied, tealit and crassly modernised, robbed of its bones and mystery, East Kennet has not been opened.
In the early 1970s a small kofun (tumulus) was excavated in central Japan; inside was a single stone chamber containing nothing more than a bronze mirror, lacquered fragments of a coffin and a few human bones – nothing more that is other than spectacular paintings on its four walls, and a gold and silver-studded star chart on its ceiling. The tumulus is known today as the Takamatsu Zuka Kofun and it is unusual in one way more than any other – most of the imperial tombs of Japan (the great Keyhole Kofun surrounded by water) still remain out-of-bounds and unexcavated after some two millennia. Compare this with China’s more open policy of excavating and uncovering its ancient past – perhaps most spectacularly represented in the 2nd century bce imperial complex in Shanxi Province with it’s Terracotta Army.
In 1937, a middle-aged lady sat at her window and looked out across a night-cloaked lawn to a tumulus in her grounds. She was Mrs Edith May Pretty, and from her window at Sutton Hoo it is said she could see warriors in ancient armour riding around the mound. Mrs Petty commissioned the local archaeologist Basil Brown to excavate the tumulus and from its depths there came one of the most extraordinary archaeological finds ever made on English soil: the Sutton Hoo longboat and treasure. The Sutton Hoo dig was to revolutionise our understanding of Anglo-Saxon England, its arts, crafts and its culture. It was a defining moment in the clarification of England’s beginnings. Beowulf sprang to life with each artefact uncovered, cleaned and conserved – that great saga from our Anglo-Saxon heritage suddenly had a visible and tangible link to both our past and our present in the Sutton Hoo finds of helmet, buckle, whetstone and dozens other artefacts.
On a hillside close to the hamlet of East Kennet in Wiltshire there is a long barrow. Other than some minor excavations in the past the barrow has never been thoroughly explored – unlike its more well-known sibling of West Kennet Long Barrow a couple of miles away. Some believe that the East Kennet Long Barrow should be excavated, both to advance our knowledge of the period when it was constructed and also to save it from the intrusive tree cover that must be ever contributing to its demise. Some are vehemently opposed to the idea fearing it will become yet another tourist trap like West Kennet Long Barrow. But what are we protecting here? The contents within (if there are any) or the ancient sanctity that you will find there if you visit the place. There are no easy answers, at least not for this writer, who is torn between a longing to know more about our past and the need to keep back from the hurry of it all a place here and there to dream what might or might not have been.
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“The National Secular Society believes that the National Trust and English Heritage have abdicated their clear responsibility to the nation to turn down the requests from the Council of British Druid Orders (CoBDO) an unelected and unaccountable group, for the reburial of ancient human remains at the Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury.”
So say The Secular Society in their response to English Heritage’s public consultation. CoBDO’s claim is of course an absurd assumption, because it is impossible to claim ancestral links that far back. We know little of the funerary practices, use of barrow monuments, or ritual beliefs of the old ‘stone age’ people.
Archaeologists have sparse knowledge from what little evidence remains; that we can look on these monuments and preserve them, and treat ancient old human bones with respect is of course the right way forward, but to tangle the argument with modern day Druidism and its newly found rituals is a foolishness.
Not that any religion or belief system should not be given the respect it is due today, that is not the argument, it is the interference and the supposition on the part of a small group of Druids that they consider they have a right to interpret a past religion.
Science has come a long way forward in understanding human history, through the study of bones we know more about our past. Even archaeologists, whose job it is to ‘delve and dig’ feel that moment of direct connection with the bones of the individuals that they may encounter, here is part of a letter published in the current edition of British Archaeology.
“We don’t know much about the religious beliefs of these people, but know that they wanted to be remembered, their stories, mounds and monuments show this. Their families are long gone, taking all memory with them, and we archaeologists, by bringing them back into the world, are perhaps the nearest they have to kin. We care about them, spending our lives trying to turn their bones back into people. We look at the things they made and used, and, by enjoying the things that they enjoyed, human hands and minds touch over the centuries. Their bones give us direct evidence of who they were, where they came from, how they lived and even what they looked like. The more we know the better we can remember them.”
This surely shows that we all have a common humanity, a respect for the dead, the issue is complex, ancient bones reside in museum showcases and in archaeological storehouses, their fate must be decided by more rational means than a sentimental response, or perhaps more importantly, a modern belief system that wishes to usurp an old belief system that we know nothing about.
Judgment always walks a fine line, the argument has many strands leading to its centre, but it is well to remember that our lives are short lived, our belief systems vanish with the winds, all that is left are the old stones, monuments to a past way of life. Religions on the other hand are balanced on words, the need of humanity to express itself in a different form.