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There was quite a good bog-body article in the Independent this week; in which Clodagh Finn filled in the background behind a free lecture in the National Museum, in Dublin;

One of the bodies described; ‘Old Croghan man’ (362 – 175 BCE), would have been 6 feet 6 inches in height (how ‘special’ would that have seemed, back then?) and had “beautifully manicured” hands – implying that his life was free from labour. He been stabbed, sewn through the arm with a hazel branch and beheaded.

The other, a near neighbour; the contemporaneous ‘Clonycavan man‘, was much shorter, perhaps about 5 feet 2 inches, but his hair had been gelled (expensively) so that it would rise a couple of inches into the air. His demise was also both gruesome and multi-layered; he had received three axe blows to the head and one to the chest, due, possibly, to a disembowelling action.

Modern digital tech can do wonders with facial reconstruction and the results on this man’s ’head’ were striking enough to prompt a remark from Eamonn Kelly, keeper of antiquities at the Museum; “When he saw the image, my brother rang and said, ‘Ned, he is the image of my wife’s cousin in the Midlands’. And it’s true, he could be around today — he looks like a junior Offaly hurler.” And why not? Some of those junior Offaly hurlers might even be descended from him.

Both bodies had their nipples slashed and both had been placed in boggy pools on a territorial boundary, and Clodagh Finn’s article has some interesting speculation about the possible links between Iron Age human sacrifice and kingship. It’s worth reading. For information about the lecture and about other events, see here;

First broadcast in August of this year, “Sandi Toksvig takes listener Sonia Mabberley’s advice and travels on the 49 Bus route from Swindon to Devizes on market day calling at Avebury on the way.” Before leaving Swindon, however, Sonia draws Sandi’s attention to one of Ken White’s murals on the side of a terrace house.*

“Ken White is one of Britain’s [and certainly one of Wiltshire’s] most successful artists. Perhaps best known for his murals that are sited all over the world in all sorts of different locations, exterior and interior works, to date he has painted over 100 murals. He was also for many years the personal artist for Virgin Boss Richard Branson and has completed works for him in many Virgin establishments throughout the world, including record shops, hotels and airport lounges. With the launch of Virgin Atlantic in June 1984, Ken produced what is probably his most well-known work – the ‘Scarlet Lady’ emblem which features on all the airline’s aircraft.

“A man of undeniable talent and vision, he has also composed several collections of paintings that are widely varied in their inspiration. These include the railway yards where he worked as a child and Ancient Egypt, with his Akhenaten series.”

The Long Way Home by Ken White

Ken’s current exhibition is at the Panter & Hall Galleries in Mayfair; on show are paintings with instantly recognizable Wiltshire backgrounds. The exhibition runs through to 12 November 2010. See –

Ken’s website is at –


 by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action

Pentre Ifan, one of the great icons of our Prehistoric Past
Image credit and © C. Brooks

School wasn’t the greatest time of my life. For what ever reason, I always had trouble with my writing and spelling, I wasn’t looked upon favourably by many teachers and ended up being placed in the bottom groups in most subjects.  But like most young boys growing up in the days before computers and video games, I had an insatiable interest in all ‘monsters’ prehistoric. At some point I think I must have borrowed every dinosaur book in the school library and closely raked over the lovely illustrations of giant horned reptiles and creatures of the deep with those razor sharp teeth!  I was also fascinated by the fossilised shells found in the sedimentary rocks close to where I lived on the southern edge of the Cotswolds and would often take them home to look at under my microscope. I also had a great interest in astronomy and at the weekend would sit out in my back garden with my small telescope and gaze into the dark skies until the late hours. At school I was treated as the ‘font of all knowledge’ on the subject and often asked to help out with homework questions by other kids.

So I always have had an inquisitive mind especially in those subjects I considered subjective and open to interpretation and forever changing as more and more was discovered. I left school in 1979, in a time when jobs weren’t that easy to come by in a small market town in Wiltshire.  I had no ‘O’ levels, no ideas and a handful of CSE’s (not as good as ‘O’ levels for those who can’t remember) but I managed to get a short term job painting door frames for a local carpentry company… but I digress. One day while visiting my local Careers Officer in search of a more long term income they suggested that maybe going to college to get a few of those elusive ‘O’ levels would help me in my job prospects. Those job prospects being to either work at the local slaughter house or at the only big employer in my area who happened to make railway equipment.

I sat at the enrolment interview with my dad and some college echelons hoping for a place at their establishment in order for me to get the qualifications to enable me to get a job in the second of my two options. They were quite nice actually and were happy to let me in to their nice college. They even suggested I did English and maths (I had managed to get a Grade 1 CSE in Physics at school which was a bit like an ‘O’ level back then so didn’t need to do it again) but as I had struggled at school, I should concentrate on those and choose three other subjects that wouldn’t tax my little brain too much (how nice of them).

So there I was at the enrolment session looking down the list of subjects I could do but which should it be? I had already chosen the Maths and English and was now looking for three others. Ah yes, Geography, I always wanted to do Geography at school but wasn’t allowed and ended up doing ghastly environmental studies or something with an even more ghastly, miserable and uninspiring teacher. Next on the list was Photography. I loved the idea of learning how to take pictures and to develop film, and my mate was doing it too (this was also something that would stay with me for the remainder of my life). But what else was there to do? That was when Archaeology caught my eye and I remember pondering over it for a while. Then the thoughts of those dinosaurs again entered my mind. That September I started my classes with a determination to succeed, to get my ‘O’ levels, to get a good job and prove my school teachers wrong.

My Archaeology teacher was in his late 40’s, a bit tubby, smelt of moth balls and reminded me a little of Terry Jones from the Monty Python team. I liked him for that. There were about 10 students in all (to start with anyway) and I felt quite excited about the course and everybody else also looked as enthusiastic as I did. Our first lecture began with an overview syllabus beginning with British prehistory, starting with the early Stone Age (what no dinosaurs I though to myself!!) up to and including the Roman invasion. At first I was a little disappointed with no prospect of digging up dinosaurs or even a hint of woolly mammoth (I was quite naive back then… obviously). But as the lectures began, and over the coming weeks, we talked about the daily lives of those people and the construction of the longbarrows, I found myself drawn into the world of our prehistoric ancestors. I was amazed at how, from scant pieces of evidence, we are able to make those assumptions and build up an image of their world. I remember having difficulty in accepting some explanations (and still do) but I still find the whole way archaeologist work absolutely enthralling.

Eventually we had our first field trip and were taken to Lanhill and Lugbury Longbarrows. These two places are just a few miles from my doorstep and I never knew they existed. I was particularly interested in Lanhill with its stone walled entrance and little chamber. This was my first barrow experience and until this day I feel quite protective about it. Our next field trip was to the Avebury Complex including Windmill Hill, Silbury and West Kennet which just blew me away. The lectures and the field trip had such a big impact on me and gave me a love of the Neolithic people and their awesome structures which has remained with me ever since.

I finish my year at college managing to get a grade ‘C’ in both maths and English (and prove to my old school teachers that I could do it) which would see me get a job in an industry I have worked in for the best part of 30 years. But what I was most proud of was getting my grade ‘A’ in archaeology and being forever interested in the stones.

As I hit my late teens I met beer, babes (can I use that word these days?) and bikes which would lead me astray from the stones for a good few years. But also by the end of my engineering apprenticeship I had met a girl and we had a baby on the way. The early 1980’s were desperate times and my company was in trouble, making many redundancies and unfortunately they had to let me go. Things were difficult (as they were for everybody) and work was now impossible to find in my town. In desperation I wrote to a company in Plymouth who also did railway equipment and they said they would be interested in seeing me if I moved down there. Two months after my first son was born we moved to Whitley in Plymouth and I started work again.

Now living on the edge of Dartmoor should have been a godsend to anybody interested in megaliths, and yes it would have been if I could drive and wasn’t working 6 days a week. However we did get the odd days out when my sister drove down and we would then all cram into the car and head up to the moor (or the coast if it was really nice). I would stand in front of a stone or two in the wind and rain admiring their beauty, until everybody got bored; not a pleasant experience for a young family… but I enjoyed it.

It stayed pretty much status quo for awhile and bringing up a young family is never easy. After the divorce and my move back to sunny Wiltshire, I learnt to drive and would still take the kids (two of them by now) to Avebury and Uffington. My wish to be near stones and photographing them was rekindled. The kids used to call chambered longbarrows ‘caves’ and it was my task to find new and interesting ones for them to explore. We found loads in the West Country; Hetty Pegler’s & Nan Tow’s Tump, Belas Knap, Wayland’s Smithy as well as a few stone circles such as Stanton Drew and the Rollrights. These places have such fabulous names which conjure up all sorts of images in the mind! Back in those days without the internet they were not as easy as they are now to see but it was just as much fun looking over OS maps and reading books.

Eventually I met a really nice girl, who I spent many years with exploring our ancient lands. She wasn’t a keen antiquarian but enjoyed a good walk which allowed me to fulfil my stoney and picture taking needs. We explored North West Wales including Anglesey and the mountains of Snowdonia and Cadair Idris. There’s plenty of prehistory in them there hills you know.

Time marched on and so unfortunately did my girl, but we are still friends and on her occasional holidays would show me pictures of stoney places she had visited. So it was nice to know that my passion had now infected another. As my boys grew up and found beer, babes and bikes as well, they left me to carry on exploring on my own. This was a bit of a lonely experience but made me take an old hobby of mine more seriously – photography. A mate of mine was a little tight for money and asked if I wanted to buy his digital SLR camera. As it was a Canon and the lenses from my old Canon film camera would fit it I agreed to buy it. I spent a good while revisiting all those sites over again taking pictures of all my favourite places. I now have thousands of pictures and need to store them on DVD’s as my hard drives are full.

One of my many early morning strolls near Avebury with Rex
Image credit and © C. Brooks

As I become more and more interested in the subject I wanted to travel further afield but it can be quite a lonely experience on your own (although good for quiet reflection and relaxation). Well I had a chat with my son and we ended up with a little black collie-X called Rex. Now Rex was a rescue dog with a few issues and to begin with he was also a bit of a handful. He could not be let off the lead and had to be muzzled when near other dogs, which was a bit of a pain, but after a lot of love and attention and walks about town, Rex became the most obedient dog you could ask for. I was able to take him off the lead and walk in the countryside quite freely… even when there were sheep about (but he was always put back on the lead) he would just ignored them. He did have a tendency to dislike cows though, so any fields with monuments and cows in them he would be kept on a tight reign. We went all over southern England and Wales sharing beautiful walks in very beautiful settings. Rex would sit patiently by my side while I took photos or would sniff around in any long grass. Well Rex has now been and gone (poor dear friend), but I am happy I gave him a good life outside that animal rescue centre and after after all, life has to go on.

Through Websites such as Heritage Action and The Modern Antiquarian I have begun a new interest in the preservation of our great ‘hidden’ history. All such places are at risk from developers, nature and just neglect no matter how famous or remote. Houses are being build just metres from the Avebury Henge, unnecessary roads have been built over an ancient bronze age serpentine track way called the Rotherwas Ribbon and barrows are ploughed, inch by inch, back into the soil all over the country. All those places that have survived the previous 6,000 years and those I have visited over my mere 47 years, need to be looked after, protected and respected in order that future generations can study, enjoy and photograph them as I and other people like me have.

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

How much do we know about our prehistoric past, or how do we find out about it? There are no written records – or, to use the language of crime-solving; there is no confession, or no witness statement – so it’s had to be a procedure of ‘case-formation’, a reconstruction from the evidence that its inhabitants left behind; from the buildings and objects, for example, that they used in the course of their lives. Or from their own remains; from flecks of their bones or teeth, that can be dated or placed. These are the objects and results that (after comparison and examination) allow theories to be formed.

But it’s not always so straightforward. As you may have noticed, the same pieces of evidence can often support radically different positions – look at the range of theories about Stonehenge or Avebury, to give just one example. Advances from such stand-offs, or from each ‘truth of the time’, for that matter, have generally been slow and painstaking and dependent on the gathering of more evidence; moving, in other words, at the limited speed of trowel and entrenchment.

Occasionally, though, something jumps up and hits the situation like a donkey’s back leg between the eyes, or shouts out loud; that’s it! The ‘radiocarbon revolution’ was, obviously, one such event – I wonder if the study of genes (in effect the study of the evidence of our prehistory inside us; inside our DNA, or genetic code) is to be another? Two papers, in particular, have given radically fresh perspective, both to the long-running question of the ‘Indo-Europeans’ and to the accepted notion of European origins in post Ice-Age re-colonisation from Iberia.

From the abstract to “A Predominantly Neolithic Origin for European Paternal Lineages” ;

“The relative contributions to modern European populations of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers from the Near East have been intensely debated. Haplogroup R1b1b2 (R-M269) is the commonest European Y-chromosomal lineage, increasing in frequency from east to west, and carried by 110 million European men. Previous studies suggested a Paleolithic origin, but here we show that the geographical distribution of its microsatellite diversity is best explained by spread from a single source in the Near East via Anatolia during the Neolithic. Taken with evidence on the origins of other haplogroups, this indicates that most European Y chromosomes originate in the Neolithic expansion. This reinterpretation makes Europe a prime example of how technological and cultural change is linked with the expansion of a Y-chromosomal lineage, and the contrast of this pattern with that shown by maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA suggests a unique role for males in the transition.”

And from the abstract to “European Population Substructure: Clustering of Northern and Southern Populations” ;

“Using a genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) panel, we observed population structure in a diverse group of Europeans and European Americans. Under a variety of conditions and tests, there is a consistent and reproducible distinction between “northern” and “southern” European population groups: most individual participants with southern European ancestry (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Greek) have >85% membership in the “southern” population; and most northern, western, eastern, and central Europeans have >90% in the “northern” population group. Ashkenazi Jewish as well as Sephardic Jewish origin also showed >85% membership in the “southern” population, consistent with a later Mediterranean origin of these ethnic groups. Based on this work, we have developed a core set of informative SNP markers that can control for this partition in European population structure in a variety of clinical and genetic studies.”

Basically, what these studies have found is that most Europeans are descended, on their father’s side, not, as commonly assumed, from men that came north after the Ice Age from Spain (“people that have always been there”), but from men that had originally lived in south-west Asia and spread from there into Europe during the Neolithic period (as in the theory of the ‘Indo-Europeans’). And because maternal ancestry, on the other hand, tends to be Palaeolithic in origin, the implication is that there was a takeover (of sorts?) or, at least, a significant out-breeding of the ’native’ males, post-expansion. Furthermore, they have found that Northern Europeans (for example; Irish, English etc.) tend to group together, in terms of their DNA, and are consistently distinguishable from Southern Europeans (Iberians, for instance).  

Of course (from her side of the stand-off), Marija Gimbutas, underneath all the ‘Goddess’ ideas, was writing this years ago; “This transformation, however, was not a replacement of one culture by another but a gradual hybridization of two different symbolic systems. Because the andocentric ideology of the Indo-Europeans was that of the new ruling class, it has come down to us as the “official” belief system of ancient Europe. But the Old European sacred images and symbols were never totally uprooted; these most persistent features in human history were too deeply implanted in the psyche. they could have disappeared only with the total extermination of the female population.” 

(Explanations of some of the jargon can be found here)

by Nigel Swift

It’s surprising this issue is back so soon as earlier this year there was a public consultation following which EH and NT said it was a no-no and that the vast majority of the adult population “support museums that wish to display and keep human bones for research purposes”.

And once again the idea has arisen that it’s something to be resolved mainly between druids and archaeologists. But if that was true, what was the public consultation about? No, surely druids and archaeologists are junior stakeholders and the general public are the main owners of both the ancient bones and the ancient sites from whence they came – and the public, it seems, are very clear they don’t want their two assets re-united.  In fact, they don’t want them removed from another of their assets, the museums!

Perhaps the recent awarding of charitable status to the Druid Network as part of a recognised religion has caused confusion? It will soon in our local Tax Office when they get my request for the cost of the Twix I gave to a tiny  person at my door on the holy day of Halloween to be treated as a charitable religious donation. But apart from that there’s been no real confusion caused: it has been pretty much conceded that druids can’t claim any more ancestral connection to these bones than the rest of the population and the other claim to a special hearing,  “shared belief and practices  with the ancient people” is actually also no more demonstrable by druids than the rest of us. How can that be said? What about all those rites and ceremonies? Well, the only consistent thing that is really known about the burial practices of the ancients is that they probably buried the departed with reverence and (maybe) hoped the interments would remain undisturbed – which is broadly what everyone believes nowadays. All that has happened is that wider society has shifted its views somewhat and now thinks the inviolability of graves and bones doesn’t necessarily have to last “forever”.

The fact that a minority of people (indeed a minority of pagans!) now disagree with our majority thinking, including the majority of pagans’ thinking, has morphed over time is neither here nor there. They have every right to put the opposite case and try to convince everyone of it (it’s a basic right called Democracy, invented by early pagans to their eternal credit!) but they don’t have any rights beyond that.

This is not to say those who think reburial is right are not “right”. Who can say what is right in this issue? It is simply to say they have no more rights in this than the rest of the community, just a vote or a right to be heard. I might well think (to take the argument to extremes) that all those bits of Catholic saints in cathedrals ought to be re-buried  or that Napoleon’s (alleged) penis ought to be shipped from New Jersey and back to Boney, but still I would have only a one sixty millionth of a share in the British “view” on the matter, not a speck more and certainly not a half share! The only way I could claim extra clout is by showing I had a lifestyle uniquely close to that of the saints or else family ties uniquely close to the Emperor of France,  – both of which would be a tad hard in my case but no more difficult than for a modern person to establish equivalent links of either sort with respect to prehistoric Bronze Age bones.  Having no DEC (demonstrable extra connection) – to invent a term that needs inventing – surely truncates our rights to a say in what actually happens simply at a level commensurate with our numbers and no more, even though we have an absolute, nay inviolable or even sacred right to say what we think ought to happen. This is basic political and moral philosophy, something that is a lot older than Archaeology and which outranks it in the affairs of men as it is our only bulwark against minority rule!    (IMO….!)

I think these issues need to be addressed better for two reasons:

First, in a new book by Tiffany Jenkins, “Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections” it is suggested that Museums are increasingly getting cold feet about exhibiting human bodies and body parts – despite surveys showing the public is fascinated and quite untroubled by such displays.  

Second, according to Mike Pitts and others the Ministry of Justice’s 2008 legislation insisting that bones must be reburied after two years is putting archaeological research in Britain at risk: “Suppose one of our palaeontologists found the remains of a million-year-old human,” said archaeologist Mike Pitts of the Stonehenge Riverside Project.  It would be a truly wonderful discovery and would transform our knowledge of our predecessors. But, according to the Ministry of Justice ruling, we would have to take that fossil – when we had only just begun to study it – and put it back in the soil. It is utterly absurd  

Indeed, if I’m right that the minority has no right to special pleadings and English Heritage is right that the vast majority of people support retention of ancient bones and if further surveys show the public is untroubled by their display in museums it is indeed “utterly absurd”. Should not the Ministry of Justice and the Museums listen to “The People” rather than to “those with a minority view and a commensurately minor right to influence the decision, not an inordinate one”? English Heritage and the National Trust have both grasped the nettle and said (effectively) giving a sympathetic hearing to a minority is all very well but bones in the Avebury Museum won’t be re-buried, for very good and democratic reasons. Isn’t it time their lead was followed by others?

Step into Stone Age Footprints at Pembrokeshire Archaeology Day School

Stone Age human footprints, submerged landscapes and medieval iron production are some of the topics heading up this year’s Archaeology Day School being hosted by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority. The annual event is being held at Pembrokeshire College on Saturday November 20th, and those attending will be sure to enjoy the five talks and question times organised over the course of what should be a very informative day.

Saturday, 20th November at Pembrokeshire College;  more details here.

Submerged forests around the  south Welsh coast reveal a past when sea levels were slightly lower than today, these forests date back 7,000 years when hunting was an important aspect of stone age economy.  At Lydstep, on the beach at low tide, footprints of animals, children and adults were discovered  this spring by a local resident Sarah Carlsen.  The footsteps are thought to have been made somewhere around 5,300bce and had been made in a shallow lagoon in peat which hardened over time.

More details in Welsh and English can be found on, this website(scroll down)

 Archaeologists on Orkney are facing a race against the elements to uncover a suspected 5,000-year-old tomb full of skulls found by a local digger.
Experts from the Orkney Research Centre are frantically attempting a rescue excavation on the mound, which has been badly damaged by JCB work.
The site was never thought to have been of archaeological interest until levelling work on the ground revealed large slabs and a network of chambers, causing a swift end to the development work. Culture 24

This newly discovered Neolithic burial chamber situated close to the Tomb of the Eagle is being excavated by a team of archaeologists from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology.  Sadly the mound covering the tomb was destroyed by a JCB due to garden landscaping.  More information here .

 Youtube videos of excavation;


November 2010

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