You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2011.

The Rollright Stones. Image credit and © Chris Brooks

Robin Smitten of The Rollright Trust writes:

Hello to all supporters of the Rollright Stones. Just to update you all on the progress at the Rollright Stones and to let you know of up and coming events.

Since re-starting the Wardens at Easter we have been able to cover most weekends with a Warden on site for a greater part of the day which has resulted in an exceptionally positive reaction from the public who appreciate someone to be able to talk to about the monuments. This has also increased our income through the sale of pamphlets etc. Whilst we have a core of people we are still looking to expand our number of Wardens over the summer – if you are still interested in becoming involved please get in touch or come up to the Stones on a dry day and have a chat. It may be that you might prefer to help out as a volunteer, to this end we have scheduled in a ‘site clearance’ weekend on Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th July. We plan to clear the site of rubbish including the wooded areas, get rid of any barbed wire on the fences, repair some fencing by the lay-bys and any other jobs that need doing. We will supply everything from gloves to food. If you think you may be able to spare a couple of hours or more to come along , either as a Warden or a Volunteer, you will be most welcome – and it is great fun.

Two major jobs which have been outstanding for ages have been completed, Warden Pete Egan closing the gaping gaps in the hedging where people were pouring through on sunny days to avoid paying a quid to get in. We also have a fully functioning money box – I say fully functioning – we purposely leave it unlocked and empty at night after someone broke the locks and stole the outer cowl about a week after it was installed. They only got away with about £5.00 worth of scrap but pointless, especially as there was a notice on the box which says it was empty.

Despite that minor setback the site is beginning to look good after the grass was cut (although it will not take long to grow back) and the prospects look exciting for the summer and autumn.


You can contact Robin to talk about becoming either a part time warden or a volunteer via


Published tomorrow The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer
Writing in The Guardian on 15 June, Peter Forbes reports that –
The Cro-Magnons were the creators of the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira – the ice age hunter gatherers whose art astounds us (“We have learned nothing,” said Picasso, after seeing Lascaux). They were modern humans who entered Europe only about 40,000 years ago, and there, despite the hostile ice age environment, created the first artistically sophisticated culture. But that wasn’t the end of human evolution. Modern genomics has now shown us that biological evolution actually accelerated from this point on, especially since the beginning of farming 10,000 years ago.
Stringer is most concerned with the period from the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa, around 195,000 years ago, to their arrival in Europe and the subsequent demise of the Neanderthals (who had left Africa hundreds of thousands of years before). The archaeological record shows Homo sapiens in Africa several times on the verge of a cultural breakthrough, but this is not consolidated until their arrival in Europe. Stringer writes: “It is as though the candle glow of modernity was intermittent, repeatedly flickering on and off again.”

Last year, the Neanderthal Genome Project, led by the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo, finally established that modern humans in Europe and Asia (but not Africa) have some admixture of Neanderthal genes, thus ending decades of speculation. And in December last year the same team produced a total surprise: a genomic analysis of human remains from a cave in Denisova, southern Siberia, which proved to be genetically distinct from all known human types. The team declined at this stage to give the find a Linnean species name, but, by analogy with the Neanderthals, named it Denisovan after the location. The actual Denisovan specimens in Siberia were 30-50,000 years old, and the type predated both modern humans and Neanderthals.

Apart from having what is probably a new species to fit into the pattern of human evolution, the big shock of the Denisovans is that they also have contributed something to the modern human stock in Melanesia (the islands north of Australia that include Papua New Guinea). We now see a pattern emerging of interbreeding between modern humans and earlier types: Neanderthals in Europe and Asia and Denisovans in Melanesia. There will surely be further finds. Especially interesting is East Asia, first peopled by Homo erectus as long as 1.7m years ago.

Format : Hardback
ISBN: 9781846141409
Size : 153 x 234mm
Pages : 352
Published : 20 Jun 2011
Publisher : Allen Lane

Stac an Armin with Boreray behind
Stac Lee in the middle ground and Hiorta (St Kilda) in the distance
© Stephen Hodges and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

“The remains of a permanent settlement which could date back to the Iron Age has been uncovered on a remote Scottish island, according to archaeologists. It was previously thought Boreray in the St Kilda archipelago was only visited by islanders to hunt seabirds and gather wool from sheep. Archaeologists have now recorded an extensive agricultural field system and terraces for cultivating crops. They have also found an intact stone building buried under soil and turf.”

More here –

and here –

Over thirty thousand revellers are expected to descend upon Carnac’s Alignments de Kermario for this year’s Summer Solstice. Sunrise will occur at about 4.45am on June 21, which is the longest day of the year and The Commission Régionale du Patrimoine et des Sites is opening the stones to the public from 7pm on Monday, June 20, to 8am the following day. Car parks will open from 7pm on Monday, June 20, with last admission at 6am on Tuesday, June 21.

Alignments de Kermario, Carnac – 30.000 people expected!
Image credit and © Tim Clark, Heritage Action 

Grégory Chopelain, spokesperson for the Conservateur Régional des Monuments Historiques (the Regional Conservator of Historical Monuments) confirmed that access to the stones and car park will be free of charge but appealed for people to use public transport where possible. He also asked that people act respectfully, but warned:

“Let us be realistic. We are well aware that such requests will fall on deaf ears in the case of many people who will climb on the stones in defiance of all pleas not to. On any other day we would charge for entry and keep numbers sufficiently low that control could be maintained, but at solstice we allow unlimited free access to both genuine people and chiffons d’orteil (toe rags) in such uncontrollable numbers that the toe rags are able to do what they like – and claim it is their right established during La Revolution.

Of course, all of us at the Commission Régionale know the event is inadvisable and contravenes the strict rules we impose for the other 364 days of the year. We are also aware it goes against our national duty of care and our country’s World Heritage obligations to UNESCO and that as archaeologists and carers we shouldn’t be allowing such a vast uncontrollable event. But somehow we’ve let our attention focus on that small minority of people wielding the “religion card” or the “freedom to party card” rather than the tens of millions who don’t turn up and don’t claim inviolable “access rights” but who look to us to take proper care of the stones. Since those who ask us the impossible – to “manage the numbers” rather than to “reduce attendance to manageable numbers” –  are clearly putting their own aspirations ahead of the protection and dignity of Carnac we should never have listened to them for a moment. No, we should have told them straight out, thirty thousand is a ridiculous number. I told my colleagues “Courage, mes braves. Duty before lobbyists!” but they didn’t listen and now that we have given the impression that bowing to the wishes of two minority groups is what matters it is difficult for us to change track since it would be an admission we’ve…

Oh, sorry! It’s Stonehenge that is being thrown open to 30,000 revellers, not Carnac. Please disregard the above. (And abject apologies to the French for suggesting they don’t know how to look after their World Heritage Sites!).



by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action.

Day 1:

After successfully transferring from train to bus and finally plane, I arrived in a reasonably sunny Inverness. It was about 4pm and after picking up the hire car I made my way towards the Bronze Age Clava Cairns, a short distance east from the city. On the way I noticed a sign for the Culloden battle field and decided to take a quick look (well, I was already going past it after all).

A short journey up the drive and you are met with a futuristic wooden clad building which I assume is the museum, and a sign to pay a parking charge… no matter what time of day it is. Ignoring the museum due to lack of time (but not the parking charge) I headed for the battlefield itself. This was as you would expect in this part of the world, a large gorse field with various paths running across it and initially not too exciting. There are two rows of flags, one red representing the Duke of Cumberland’s governmental lines and the other blue flags representing the Jacobites. I must admit although this doesn’t sound too exiting, I did feel humbled in this place and as I walked around reading the various markers and information points they started to drive home the carnage that took place here.

I stayed for about an hour just walking and reading and thinking heavily about the purpose of wars and why we have them. I suppose they start for any number of reasons such as repression, greed, hatred and of course religion. They have been going on for many hundreds and thousands of years, as many of our ancient sites prove and I do not suppose they will ever stop. It was quite depressing really so I left Culloden and made my way to Balnuaran of Clava just down the road.

Clava Cairns. Image credit and © Chris Brooks

I drove into a large well kept parking area which was empty but for one other car. Apparently you can get coachloads of people to this place so I felt quite privileged to have got here at such a peaceful moment. Stepping through a kissing gate which has one of those electronic device for detecting the comings and goings of visitors, you enter the site and are teased of what lies ahead by the obstructing trees swaying in the strong breeze. As I continued forward the couple who owned the other car appeared and as they walk past they said “hi, this place is amazing”. Clearing the trees I noticed the first cairn on my right gleaming yellow/white in the bright warming evening sunshine. Then as I looked around I realised that I was stood in a field full of cairns, boulders, stone circles and various humps, lumps and bumps and initially it was almost all too much to take in.

The first Cairn is a massive passage grave surrounded by a circle of equally impressive standing stones. The cairn itself seems to be set upon a rubble plinth with large kerb stones around the outside. A fairly long passage takes you to its central circular heart some 3m in diameter and where some of the internal wall stones carry evidence of cup marks. These were often difficult to see (or photograph) due to the lack of shadow in the chambered area. According to the nearby information board these stones are made of various different types of rock designed to catch the the mid winter sun. They also detail the way the stones in the circle around the cairn are arranged so that the largest two stand guard of the passageway and then get gradually reduce in size as they circle the cairn, finishing with the smallest of the original 12 at the back directly opposite the passage entrance.

The second cairn has no passage way but does have a central chamber which is open to the sky. Commonly know as ring cairns it is believed that these were not designed to be re-entered after initial use and were closed off for that reason but as I didn’t want to climb the cairn, I couldn’t get access to the centre. What was apparent were 3 low banks radiating like spokes on a wheel, from the cairn towards the outer stone circle but which wasn’t present on the first cairn.

The third and probably the smallest cairn was very similar to the first with a passage way leading to the central chamber and also showed signs of the radiating banks similar to the second.

There is a very much smaller circle of stones from what I think is a later structure. In fact because there are lots of stones and bumps on the whole site, it is quite difficult to work out what is what just by looking. The various information boards are very useful in helping you see what you probably miss just by looking around and I spent a long time at this site doing just that.

It was very moody with the sun going down, the wind in the trees and the birds making themselves known and it was 7:15pm before I got in the car again, I was behind schedule and needed to get a move on.

Edderton Stone.  Image credit and © Chris Brooks

I next drove to a standing stone called Edderton or Clach Biorach (Sharp Stone) described as having a series of early class 1 Pictish designs. Standing stones are not big on my wish list and it was a little off route but I tend to like those that are a little different and wanted to see this one as it wasn’t far from the side of the road so no big walk was involved. I eventually found it, after my satnav seemed to take me the long way round, standing in a field about 50m from the road. Parking is very easy as is access through the gate. It isn’t a particularly tall standing stone but was nicely set against the nearby hills. The normal wooden fence surrounded the stone to keep the cattle off but unfortunately it was also covered with barbed wire as if to keep people out too. Now I am not the most nimble of people and I wasn’t willing to risk cuts and bruises or ripping my clothing at the beginning of my trip so I declined to climb the fence, which was a bit of a shame really. As the sun began to set behind a nearby hill it brought out the carvings very nicely. A very strong image of a fish was present with some further difficult to recognise markings lower down. I couldn’t stay too long but got a few photos before returning to the car.

The next place was supposed to be Camster but it became clear that as the sunset I was not going to be able to make it in time …. or at least in daylight. This was a disappointment as the site came highly recommended and maybe I should have not bothered with Edderton but that was the way it was.

I continued the drive north only to find that my overnight stay in a local B&B was taken by somebody else as I had not told them I was going to be so late (it was gone 11pm by now!) I drove around a bit (went to John O’Grouts and Dunnet Head just to say I had!) but eventually decided to get my head down in the car at the Gills Bay ferry port and looked forward to the following day…


by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action.

Many of us harbour a dream of visiting far away places on a ‘trip of a lifetime’, whether that be to the other side of the country, or to the other side of the world. One Heritage Action member recently did exactly that, and fulfilled his dream. This is his account of his journey to the far reaches of… Scotland!
Getting There:

I had always wanted to satisfy my longing to see the ancient prehistoric sites of Orkney having viewed many of the beautiful images on TV programmes and in my ever extending collection of books. It had always seemed such a mystical place to me, sparsely populated and with the added bonus of getting some really good atmospheric pictures into the bargain too.

The journey to visit the islands of northern Scotland from the south of England is not to be taken lightly and deciding the method(s) of travel is certainly not an easy one to make. Shortening the time it takes to get there (i.e. by plane) is offset by the increasingly proportional costs of the method of transport used… often to the point where it can be prohibitive for non-wealthy types (me).

But with the ever increasing possibility of redundancy and my son’s ‘kick-up the backside’ statement of, “If you don’t do it now you will never go” I set myself on the road for my latest venture. Whilst mulling over the best travel and accommodation options it occurred to me that if this was going to be a one shot occasion, (which it probably would be) why not try to get over to the isle of Lewis also. After all everybody has told me I need to go and see the mighty Callanish at least once in my life. As mentioned before, the various options of getting there all have their good and not so good points but after even much deliberation, I finally had a plan. This plan involved almost all forms of public transport, but would allow me the freedom I required to visit both Orkney and Lewis… but obviously with some compromises.

I would catch a train to Bristol from sunny Wiltshire, catch the Bristol Flyer (bus) to the airport, fly a certain cheap airline to Inverness and hire a car there for the duration. I would then drive to Orkney via the Pentland ferry at Gills Bay and stay in a holiday cottage for the week I was there. I would then return to the Scottish mainland and drive to Lewis via the CalMac ferry from Ullapool. I would stay on Lewis for a few nights in a B&B to see Callanish and and other sites and would then return to Inverness to catch my plane back to Bristol and then onward to home.

Doing it this way would avoid having to drive almost 700 miles to Gills Bay which would likely take a minimum of 12 hours, and also likely need overnight stays en-route. But by using this method my main compromise would be in what I would be able to carry on the plane to Inverness. As a keen photographer I have a range of equipment but there is no way I would be able to take much of the heavy stuff such as my uni-loc tripods. However, I would still have the opportunity to visit a some good prehistoric sites after arriving at Inverness airport just over an hour after leaving Bristol.

The cost of buses, planes, trains, automobiles and the ferries as well as accommodation and fuel… you don’t want to know… OK you do… all in and including most things it would turn out to be about £1400 for the trip for just me (the price of a good holiday in guaranteed sunshine). Now obviously if there are more of you or you live within reasonable driving distances of northern Scotland then the proportional cost per person would be very much less as you could save on such things as flights and car hire as well apportioning costs of fuel (12p/litre more expensive on the islands) and ferry costs.

The following blogs are a short summary of my trip which I hope you will enjoy…


Gathering Time by Alasdair Whittle, Alex Bayliss and Frances Healy

Gathering Time: dating the early Neolithic enclosures of southern Britain and Ireland, “…is a research project funded by English Heritage and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. A monograph by Alasdair Whittle, Alex Bayliss and Frances Healy that marks the completion of this eight-year project is published by Oxbow Books.” ISBN-13: 978-1-84217-425-8 and ISBN-10: 1-84217-425-8.

More here.

The Constable and Salisbury exhibition currently being held at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum is quite a coup for the county. John Constable (1776-1837) visited Salisbury seven times, with more sketches and paintings arising than from anywhere beyond the countryside he had known since childhood. A host of the artist’s Wiltshire and Dorset paintings are on show in this exhibition, for which an entrance time needs to be booked. Both Constable’s and Turner’s paintings of Stonehenge are on display, although not side by side.

Following this lead perhaps English Heritage could bring them together for the opening of the new visitor centre?

The Watchstone, Stenness. Image credit and © Chris Brooks

County: Isle of Anglesey.

Sat 30 July 09.30–18.00.

A remarkable bus tour, starting at Beaumaris Castle before visiting significant prehistoric sites on Anglesey and seeing demonstrations of historic art and crafts. Songs from Stones tour: starting at Beaumaris Castle with a brief talk on prehistoric Anglesey and a viewing of the ‘Songs from Stones’ exhibition and animation. This will be followed up with a bus tour of prehistoric sites on the island, including several featured in the animation. There will be demonstrations of historic crafts, and discussions about archaeological practise and theory. Finally, return to Beaumaris, and finish with a tour of the Castle itself.

Please book. Location: Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey.

Org: Cadw Name: Adele Thackray Tel: 01248 680129

Web: Songs from Stones


June 2011
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