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Writing in today’s BBC’s NEWS SCIENCE & ENVIRONMENT Louise Ord (Assistant Producer, Digging for Britain) reports that –
Archaeologists believe they have found the first pre-Roman planned town discovered in Britain. It has been unearthed beneath the Roman town of Silchester or Calleva Atrebatum near modern Reading.
Prof Mike Fulford, an archaeologist at the University of Reading, said the people of Iron Age Silchester appear to have adopted an urbanised ‘Roman’ way of living, long before the Romans arrived.
by Littlestone, Heritage Action
Entrance to Gors Fawr stone circle, Pembrokeshire, Wales
The Welsh are certainly fond of large slate signs, but at least they do take the trouble to highlight the relics of their megalithic past. Gors Fawr is one of the few stone circles remaining in Wales, it’s just a short walk from the road and is set in what is now quite a waterlogged field. It’s the sort of circle that immediately suggest that its primarily use was utilitarian (ie as a coral) although it does have the remains of an avenue (which does not rule out its use as a coral however) and what might be seen as male and female stones comprising the circle itself.
It’s impossible to put ourselves into the minds of the people that constructed Gors Fawr but the effort required to do so must have been considerable, and its use perhaps multifunctional – as a coral, a place of refuge and/or ceremony, or perhaps even marking the perimeter of a settlement within.
Gors Fawr stone circle
Administrative authority: CADW.
Heritage Action Cared for Rating **** (out of 5).

Essays we like. Rob Irving: Art and Artifice featured in The Circlemakers.

Metaphor is the key: we don’t necessarily have to either believe in, or reject, the phenomena to gain from the vision. By presenting us with unexpected novelty which threatens, cajoles and ultimately ridicules blind belief and its mirrored twin, blind scepticism, we learn new ways to perceive it.

Before they disappear this year, crop circles must surely appear as an article on the Journal. Now all good sceptics amongst us just know that they are made by the hand of man.  Mysterious flying objects from the sky that touch down, make an intricate pattern in the wheat, and then disappear without any appearance of their alien pilots, it  is unbelievable!  But in a long and cleverly argued essay by Rob Irving  the fact that the phenomena of manmade crop circles is an act of creative imagination which leads us forward in our thinking should not be dismissed.

So let’s welcome the sight of the intricate geometrical designs spread with such ease on the Wiltshire landscape, and don’t ask the more pertinent question as to why aliens are attracted to prehistoric monuments, could it be the white horses? or maybe it’s a ‘Banksy’ alien given to doodling graffiti in the wheat, or maybe it’s the human challenge of ‘designing’ something that will excite the imagination.  And on a more serious note, yes the farmers do get cross by what can often be seen as vandalism or destruction of valuable crops, especially by ‘crop circle tourists’ that invade the areas round Avebury and tramp round the circles with solemn expectancy of ‘earth energies’ but some farmers do seem to manage to profit by charging entrance fees, according to the following John Vidal article.

So whether you are a believer or a sceptic, read Rob Irving but if you are a tad sceptical, read John Vidal’s  article in the Guardian in 2009 titled – The bizarre revival of crop circles – and advice on how to make your own. It is a good historical overview of crop circles.


Writing in today’s BBC’s NEWS SCIENCE & ENVIRONMENT Louise Ord (Assistant Producer, Digging for Britain) reports that –
A suspected Iron Age road, made of timber and preserved in peat for 2,000 years, has been uncovered by archaeologists in East Anglia. The site, excavated in June, may have been part of a route across the River Waveney and surrounding wetland at Geldeston in Norfolk, say experts. Causeways were first found in the area in 2006, during flood defence work at the nearby Suffolk town of Beccles. It is thought the road is pre-Roman, built by the local Iceni tribe. Exact dating has yet to be carried out but tree-ring evidence suggests a date of 75BC. That dates the timber road to more than 100 years before the Roman invasion, which saw the Iceni and their leader Boudicca lead a revolt which threatened to end Roman rule. In AD60, the Iceni ambushed one Roman legion and sacked Roman settlements at London and Colchester before being defeated.

Full article here –


Further information and photos from the Daily Mail, with a video of the excavation featuring Alice Roberts

See also Boudicca’s lost tribe .

The Wiltshire Tourist Authority today issued an apology for the poor quality of this year’s crop circles.

“We are very sorry that standards have slipped so disastrously” said Head of Marketing Peter Bread, “and we realise how worried all the businesses that rely on circles must be. We have had a word with those responsible and have warned them that things must improve if the contract with them next year is to be renewed”.

The row is believed to have come to a head following the appearance of this circle next to Silbury Hill. Lyn Zoon, a spokesblob for the fourth dimension Aliens currently supplying Wiltshire admitted that standards had slipped recently and blamed “staffing difficulties and the cost of diesel”.

by Nigel Swift.

Detecting forum UKDN recently made a new rule forbidding reference to “sales of coins or artefacts on EBay”. They deny it’s to keep it from the public that many of them are engaged in selling finds but it’s hard to see how telling people to keep quiet about something isn’t keeping something quiet. Anyhow, their denials have just become even less credible. They’ve posted an advert for a detecting rally at Little Maplestead, Essex with an extraordinary “license agreement” that the landowners have already signed and crucially it says: “Only items subject to the Treasure Act 1996 are to be divided 50/50 with the respective landowners.” Trouble is, those items all belong to the State so can’t possibly be subject to a private agreement to share them, as detectorists all know. The sole effect is to make the landowner think the detectorists are offering him something. They aren’t!

Worse, since it specifies “only” Treasure items will be shared it means non Treasure items don’t have to be. Yet non Treasure items are often far more valuable than Treasure items and anyway comprise 99.9% of anything that’s likely to be found! Let me put it in stark terms: almost every item found, be it worth ten pounds or ten thousand, has been signed over in full to the detectorists and if another Crosby Garrett Helmet is found the landowner will get nothing and the detectorist will get £2.3 million! Did anyone explain? Would the landowners have signed if they’d understood? And there’s more. The £14 entry fees (but not the finds, nota bene) go to Maplestead Round Church restoration (as they should!) so it is presented as an entirely beneficial “charity” event – to such an extent that the Friends of the Little Maplestead Round Church are running a food and drink stall to supply those that are busy relieving the locals, the church funds and the landowner of 100% of what is found!

So there we are. Doubtless the locals have heard the universal detectorists’ mantra “we’re only interested in history” and assume the attendees are all charitably minded heritage heroes for whom the selling of finds is anathema (and visiting detecting websites like UKDN won’t have taught them otherwise!) And even if they did have fleeting doubts, PAS will be there, giving every impression the whole process is archaeologically sound, officially sanctioned and not at all an oikish, unnecessary, damaging and acquisitive racket.

Finally, if you still don’t think there’s a problem that officialdom ought to warn the public about, consider this simple truth: if communities are dead set on allowing the digging up of their local archaeological record to raise charity money (and they shouldn’t be – let them ask PAS or any archaeologist in private what they think) they’d be vastly better off hiring a few detecting machines for their local amateur archaeology society to do it (although their ethics would hopefully preclude it). That way, 100% of any government Treasure rewards could go to the charity, 100% of all the other finds could go to the charity and 100% of the finds would be willingly and accurately reported to PAS (making the exercise less damaging than any metal detecting rally in history!) Let’s hope it never happens*** but tell me Dear Reader, if avoidable archaeological damage had to take place would you rather it was on the basis that £2.3 million might go to a church restoration fund or to self-proclaimed history lovers every one of whom had signed a contract ensuring every single last penny went to themselves and not the landowner or charity?

*** P S:
This might be the first time anyone has mentioned DYCAAS (Do-it-Yourself Community Archaeological Artefact Stripping) so I should clarify I’m against it. But it illustrates two truths:

First, it shows up the illogicality of British official policy. Big Society or not, The Establishment would never get involved in a stunt by a local community to dig up artefacts to raise money for charity. They’d see it as crass and uncivilised. Yet that’s what they do in the case of charity detecting rallies which produce less benefit to charity and cause more damage to the archaeological record.

Second, it confronts detectorists with their own dogma. They endlessly opine that the way to combat nighthawking is to invite them to strip sites that might otherwise be nighthawked. DYCAAS is the product of identical thinking. Amateur archaeologists would be invited to strip sites that might otherwise be subjected to charity metal detecting rallies since that would deliver, beyond scope for serious denial, more benefits for charity and less harm to the archaeological record. A group that proclaims its primary concerns are to serve the public interest, raise money for charity and preserve history could hardly object to that.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting….

by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action. All images © Chris Brooks.

Day 4

Well, return I did. After a good night sleep I got up and drove straight back to Brodgar but again it was occupied by the maintenance team cutting the grass. Just checking my map, there were a couple of other places in the area I could visit and so drove down to the Barnhouse Stone.

This standing stone sits in a field near the turning onto the Brodgar road near Maeshowe burial tomb. Being quite close to the main road the traffic can be distracting and there is nowhere easy to park nearby. Although quite thin, the stone is top heavy, being quite broad at the top and narrowing significantly as it enters the ground. Its uppermost part is covered with a beautifully thick head of moss and yellow lichens form flashes down its lower sides. This stone aligns with the entrance to Maeshowe during midwinter sunrise. Access to the stone was limited as the field in which it sits was in early crop and the stone itself is surrounded with a low height barrier. I managed to get a few shots although I couldn’t get the alignment with the famous tomb it is associated with.

I returned to Stenness, but rather than going into the stones I followed the sign and walked to the close by Barnhouse settlement. You approach the small settlement via a short grassed track that passes alongside the standing stones.

One thing I like about Orkney is you never failed to be surprised at almost every site, and again this was not exception. On the ground before you lie the shape of what looks like a house. But at a second glance it becomes obvious that this is not a house at all… or at least not in the normal sense of the word. The floor plan is of a more or less square circle with a grass covered retaining wall around the outside. There is then an intermediate area which is entered through a ‘doorway’ in the outer wall. There is then a walled passageway entrance to the even more square inner area which contains a central hearth. Interestingly, there is a second hearth in the passageway entrance to this section also which is the first clue that this is not a home. The outer and inner entrances are not aligned either so you have to walk around the intermediate area to get to the inner section. The outer entrance has a couple of portal stone whereas the inner entrance is more grand and complex. Surely this is the reverse of what you would do for a home (well it is these days) and the fact that you would first have to traverse a fire to get into the centre points to an entirely different purpose maybe relating to some sort of ritualistic ‘rite of passage’.

There is another large square building in the complex which resembles a modern semi-detached home. This structure is split into two mirrored images in that it has two hearths separated from each other by a thin stone wall which goes across the centre. Around the hearths are what look like sleeping areas, again separated by thin walls. This building may be a home but I think not as many as the normal round houses on the site which are just that, normal. They are smaller, round and have a single hearth at their centre. The first impression I got was that this is all part of some sort of ritual procession that involves these structures and the Standing Stones of Stenness. The information boards more or less confirm this. The fact that there is a build containing two similar layouts suggests some sort of bonding ceremony, maybe, where each person is separated before the bonding. It could be marriage or it could be coronation related… but I am only guessing. The fact is that there is so much here to get you thinking, which is something I very much liked about the place. There are many structures here, enough to keep you busy for a good while anyway, and there is a small standing stone next to the loch which is a good place to contemplate when it get busy.

Again I returned to the standing stones where, as normal, it was quite busy; unnoticed by the crowd however were two seals sunbathing on the shores of Stenness Loch. I took a few shaky pictures from a distance and got back in my car.

The Ring of Brogdar. Image credit and © Chris Brooks

We notice that the Avebury Parish Council is to form a planning sub committee with a quorum of only three Members that will “have the right to make a decision on the council’s behalf”.

Even though “all members of the Parish Council would be emailed all draft decisions and allowed 72 hours to respond” this doesn’t seem to us to be the best looking decision in the world for although forming small sub-committees of this sort is perfectly normal and practical elsewhere, Avebury is not a normal village – it is a World Heritage Site. What happens there is not just the concern of the locals but of the national and international community and therefore allowing decision to be made by just three people doesn’t look like a very sensitive move. Particularly bearing in mind that the predecessors of the current council actually voted in favour of the Bond’s Garage redevelopment contrary to the wishes of all the official and professional bodies!

Part of an Iron Age clay wall from Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

Archaeologists in Saxony-Anhalt have discovered a 2,600-year-old wall painted in bright patterns. It reveals that Iron Age houses were not the drab constructions they were once thought to be. The State Museum for Prehistory in the eastern German city of Halle put part of the prehistoric clay wall on display on Monday. The wall was apparently part of a sprawling, Iron Age human settlement. “We know now that prehistoric times were not grey but rather that prehistoric houses were colourfully painted,” Saxony-Anhalt state archaeologist, Harald Meller, said. It was the greatest Iron Age wall painting discovered north of the Alps, he said.

The dominant colours are red, beige and white. For pigments, the prehistoric painters used substances such as iron oxide, which gives the reddish, ochre colour. The design shows typical ornamental patterns from the Iron Age such as triangles and S-shaped hooks, but also symbolic characters.

Full article here.


August 2011

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