The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 109

Issue 109

Nov / Dec 2009



Museum calls for fund to study treasure finds

Missing Stonehenge circle did not come from Preselis

with Important revision to Stonehenge bluestone theory
An interim note on the latest developments, by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins

Found: "The great lost monument of Cambridge"

in the press

in brief & phase 2


Staffordshire Gold

Nevern Castle – Castell Nanhyfer

Tracking Hunters and Gatherers on the Continental Limits

with Bibliography

Remembering the Great War with Lutyens

Extending the British Museum


your views and responses

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones looks at excavation websites

Matt Ritchie introduces Forest Heritage Scotland

CBA Correspondent

Don Henson looks at the Marsh Award shortlist


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


News is written by Mike Pitts

Museum calls for fund to study treasure finds

The discovery of an exceptional prehistoric hoard in 2005 delighted archaeologists in Cornwall. But money for writing up the excavation, and for analysis and display of the hoard, is still being sought, highlighting the challenges that treasures found by detectorists can bring to museums.

The hoard, from Mylor near Falmouth, consists of 33 Sompting type, socketed copper alloy axes, that had been freshly cast, packed into a pot and buried in a pit dug for the purpose. The axes date from the Llyn Fawr late bronze/early iron age transition (800–650BC). This is the first such hoard found in south-west Britain – and the largest of any bronze age hoard from Cornwall. Many different hoards have been found across the UK, but very few have been professionally excavated.

After finding two axes, Paul Burgess and Harry Manson phoned Anna Tyacke, the Portable Antiquities Scheme's local liaison officer, at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, on a Saturday morning. Matt Mossop of Archaeological Consultancy Ltd, realising that the discovery was already becoming well known, mounted an immediate excavation. The finders pinpointed the site with metal detectors, and the archaeologists dug a 1.1×1m trench. The axes, protected by an earth plug that had fallen in after the decay of a cover (possibly leather), sat in a loose packing of bracken.

Laura Ratcliffe, former conservator at the RCM, extracted soil from inside the axes in the museum laboratory and conserved the hoard. She says seeds, insects, caterpillars, grass and twigs also survived, promising rare insights into the local environment at the time of burial. But there are no funds to analyse these or the metals, or provide a critical radiocarbon date. The Cornwall Archaeological Society has given Mossop £100 to write up the dig. "It's not all about money", he told British Archaeology, "but it would be good if we could be paid something".

The finders and landowner received £8,500 (the greater part coming from the Headley Trust). Nobody questions their right to this, or the professional way in which they reported the hoard. But at the RCM, funding cuts by the Museums, Libraries and Archives council have led to the loss of 14 jobs – including the conservator's. "If the hoard was found today", says Jane Marley, curator of archaeology and world cultures, "the museum would have to raise £4,000 for Ratcliffe to work as a freelance conservator. What is needed", she adds, "is a grant fund for the conservation, analysis and publication of treasure finds".

Missing Stonehenge circle did not come from Preselis

A new theory about the Stonehenge bluestones is set to divide geologists and archaeologists, and open new inquiries into how and why the famous stones reached Stonehenge.

The site's megaliths are traditionally classed into two groups, sarsens (a local sandstone) and bluestones. While the former, at an estimated total weight of 1,700–1,800 tonnes, outscale the 250-odd tonnes of the latter, the bluestones have dominated debate. The issues of where they came from and how they reached Stonehenge, have polarised into two widely divergent views:

  • Most derive from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, south-east Wales, and were taken to Wiltshire by the builders of Stonehenge around 3000–2500BC
  • Alternatively, they come from a variety of sources in south Wales, and reached Salisbury Plain as glacial erratics during the ice age, thousands of years before Stonehenge was built.

Most prehistorians believe people moved the stones. This was what geologist Herbert Thomas proposed, when he first identified the Preselis as the origin in 1920: a view endorsed by geologists including Christopher Green and James Scourse, and recently by archaeologists Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, who claim to have found quarry outcrops and "sacred springs" at the source of the megaliths around Carnmenyn.

Geologist George Kellaway proposed in 1971, by contrast, that the bluestones had been transported by a glacier. This view has been supported by archaeologist Aubrey Burl, and (in a differing glacial interpretation) an Open University team of geologists including Olwen Williams-Thorpe. Last year the latter wrote on a BBC Timewatch blog that the bluestones "are a rag-bag mix... from all over south Wales", and Brian John published The Bluestone Enigma (see Books in the printed magazine).

Now geologists Rob Ixer (University of Leicester) and Richard Bevins (National Museum of Wales) are proposing a third option. They say many bluestones came not from Pembrokeshire, but from "a far wider and, as yet, unrecognised area or more likely areas" – perhaps north Wales (Snowdonia, the Llyn Peninsula and Anglesey), or even beyond. The well-known spotted dolerite, is a Preseli rock, they say – but Carngoedog was the likely source, not Carnmenyn.

These conclusions derive from a new study of thousands of Stonehenge rock specimens: from near the west end of the Cursus earthwork (where a lost bluestone circle has been proposed), collected in 1947 and excavated by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2006/08; and from Stonehenge, excavated by Mike Pitts in 1979/80 and Darvill and Wainwright in 2008.

The geologists also found the Cursus bluestones, which are all rhyolitic and mainly tuffaceous (with no Stonehenge dolerites), had significant mineralogical differences from visually similar rocks at Stonehenge. The Darvill and Wainwright excavation produced significant amounts of a type of rhyolite or rhyolitic tuff "not recorded in north Pembrokeshire and noticeably absent in the Mynydd Preseli area".

How the stones were moved, Ixer told British Archaeology, "is an archaeological problem", though he wondered if "different groups [of people] brought different stones?"

Ixer and Bevins's detailed study will be published in the 2009 Wiltshire Studies. In WS 2006, Ixer and Peter Turner suggested that the Stonehenge Altar Stone (the largest bluestone) came from an unidentified source far from Milford Haven – the traditional attribution said to indicate where the Preseli stones were taken downriver and out to sea by Neolithic gangs.

Since this news item was published, a number of developments occurred which have altered the theories. See below for the updated item.

Important revision to Stonehenge bluestone theory

In the News pages of the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of British Archaeology, it is reported that new petrographical work by Rob Ixer (University of Leicester, Department of Geology) and Richard Bevins (National Museum of Wales) had suggested that some of the Stonehenge bluestones had not come from Pembrokeshire, but (in Ixer's words) from "a far wider and, as yet, unrecognised area or more likely areas". As the magazine was being printed, however, Bevins was out in the field, and found an apparent source for the rocks in question north of the Preselis. Ixer and Bevins have kindly written this interim note on this latest development.

Stilpnomelane-bearing rhyolites/rhyolitic tuffs at Stonehenge are most probably from the Preseli Hills region

Field and petrographical work continues on new Stonehenge lithics and on in situ material from areas around the Preseli Hills. This includes excavated material from the Avenue at Stonehenge, and rocks from undistinguished outcrops in the low ground north of Mynydd Preseli, close to Pont Saeson.

The former, as expected, conformed to the range of lithologies seen throughout Stonehenge. But the latter had surprising results, and has led to our radically modifying our proposal that many of the bluestones do not have a Preseli Hill origin, but have an unknown and possibly non-southern Welsh origin.

In thin section the Pont Saeson fine-grained acidic rocks show most of the features of our class of Stonehenge rocks, informally called "rhyolite with fabric", including a lensoidal fabric and the presence of stilpnomelane. Despite nearly a century of collecting and analysis, this is the first record of this mineral in rhyolitic rocks in south Wales. The only previous recorded occurrences of stilpnomelane in acidic rocks in Wales are from the Cregenen granophyre in the Cadair Idris area of southern Snowdonia, and in granophyric rocks of the St David’s Head Intrusion, in north-west Pembrokeshire.

Although not an exact match for the Stonehenge rocks, the Pont Saeson lithics strongly suggest that the "flinty rhyolite/rhyolite with fabric" found in the excavations at Stonehenge has an origin in the Preseli region, and that there is no longer a need to look further north in Wales for this important class of Stonehenge debitage.

The other and more abundant unusual rock-type (carrying distinctive titanite-albite inter-growths) from the Great Cursus area (but not so far identified at Stonehenge) is still unprovenanced, and its petrography has still yet to be matched with rocks from south Wales, or indeed from the rest of Wales.

An interim summary of where we now believe the Stonehenge bluestones come from, and incorporating these new data, is:

  • Spotted and unspotted dolerites, the flinty rhyolite/rhyolite tuffs and possibly the basaltic tuffs have a Preseli origin, but a search for their associated source rocks must no longer be restricted to the prominent outcrops on the Preseli Hills
  • The Altar stone Devonian sandstone – the largest bluestone – cannot be from the Preseli region
  • The rare other sandstone orthostats comprising a Palaeozoic sandstone are also not from the Preseli Hills, but may be southern Welsh in origin
  • The titanite-albite-bearing rhyolitic rocks have yet to be sourced, but it is now anticipated that they too will have come from the Preseli region; only detailed and dedicated collecting and petrography will be able to prove that.

Rob Ixer & Richard Bevins

Found: "The great lost monument of Cambridge"

Two teenage boys, trespassing on their bikes in a disused Cambridge quarry, found some human bones. Further investigation established that they had inadvertently alerted archaeologists to the survival of part of a major iron age hillfort believed completely destroyed.

The site at Limekiln Hill, recently acquired by the Wildlife Trust with a view to public opening, was perched at the top of a dangerous chalk pit. A section of ditch was all that remained of a circular enclosure around 150m across, known as War Ditches. There had been excavations there on many occasions between 1893 and 1962. Yet, says Oxford Archaeology East which has conducted a rescue dig at the site funded by English Heritage, the monument's date and exact location were still uncertain. OAE's Richard Mortimer told British Archaeology that the 4m-deep ditch had been dug in the fourth or third centuries BC, and the site reoccupied around 50BC–0AD after a period of abandonment. Within two centuries it had been flattened.

In the press

The Daily Telegraph

In extracts of taped conversations, Silvio Berlusconi, 72, after small talk about sex – including explicit advice from the Italian prime minister – is heard boasting to call girl Miss Patrizia D'Addario, 42, that there are "a fossilised whale and 30 Phoenician tombs from three centuries before Christ" at his Villa Certosa on Sardinia. Manuela Ghizzoni, of the opposition Democratic Left's Culture Commission, said: "We shall be asking the government for a full report – it is very curious that the archaeological community was completely unaware of this significant discovery". 24 Jul

The Jerusalem Post

Israel Antiquities Authority deputy director Dr Uzi Dahari accused the World Archaeological Congress of excluding Israelis from a conference in Ramallah and allowing it to be used for political propaganda, condemning Israeli archaeology with "huge numbers of inaccuracies". WAC president Claire Smith said the decision to hold the conference stemmed from past problems with Palestinian archaeologists being refused visas to many countries. Dr Mahmoud Hawari, an Oxford University research associate, suggested that Israeli archaeologists had decided to boycott the event and then complain about not being invited. 13 Aug

The Daily Telegraph

Headland Archaeology struggles to press home the message that its insights are worth paying extra for. Owner Tim Holden says, "People have low expectations of archaeologists. We did a huge M74 project recently and were off site as programmed. The archaeological archive is littered with contracts that have not gone that way." [Advice from] Kevin Taylor, president, Chartered Institute of Public Relations: "Headland has to demonstrate an understanding of the economics of the construction industry, so it can put clear water between itself and archaeological enthusiasts digging for treasures." [Advice from] Andrew Colwell, group marketing director, B2B: "Headland's website doesn't feel like a sector-leading business that turns over more than £12m. It looks academic." 8 Sept

Cave Men

Creswell Craggs Opening

The opening of the new museum, education and visitor centre for Creswell Crags on June 26 attracted over 3,000 people. As Sir David Attenborough prepared to cut the red ribbon with a flint blade, he remembered archaeologist Glyn Daniel, who chaired one of the early TV successes on which he worked, quiz show Animal Vegetable Mineral. "Glyn was a great enthusiast for ice age art", said Attenborough, "and Paul Bahn... was one of Glyn's pupils. Were he here now, his heart would be bursting with pride". Photo shows Bahn and Paul Pettit (rear), who first identified the Crags' art in 2003, with Attenborough and Creswell Heritage trustee Barry Lewis. The ambitious £7m Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire project has been supported by several other museums: the opening temporary exhibition boasted the famous horse head scratched on a sliver of bone, loaned by the British Museum.


Camden council (which turned down British Museum plans, see feature) has an out of school learning service for children and teenagers. This includes a three-year archaeological programme, which this summer ran a dig at Kentish Town school (photo shows pupils Summer and Eadie), working with archaeologists from Birkbeck University of London. The dig lasted a week, was fully equipped (says the council press office) with trowels, water and toothbrushes, and will be written up on the project blog. As well as debris from Victorian houses, they found what Robin Densem thinks is a bronze age flint tool.

In brief

Bronze age gold will be seen

On 28 August, the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) / Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund announced 34 grants totalling £4m. Recipients include the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter and Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend. The Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes, obtains £150,000 towards a new bronze age gallery. This will display the original Bush Barrow gold artefacts (feature, Jan/Feb 2009), currently in a bank for want of suitable security. The DCMS and Wolfson Foundation said there will be no grants in 2010, allowing a "pause... to assess what the fund has achieved in the last eight years".

Scotland leads heritage legislation

The Scottish Government's 2009–10 programme includes the historic environment (amendment) Scotland bill. This aims to improve historic environment management, but also to "avoid introducing significant new burdens" and to "keep... costs low". While the England and Wales heritage bill remains on hold, a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS15) is to replace two planning policy guidance notes (PPG15 and PPG16): PPG16 (1990) transformed archaeology, creating the present system of developer-funded excavation. Similar protection levels are promised in PPS15, whose launch was described by English Heritage as "a major milestone in England's heritage protection reform". It has been well received, though Alison Taylor of the Institute for Archaeologists has noted that storage of archives, conservation and display are not addressed. Consultation ends on October 30. See English Heritage: Heritage Protection Reform.

Fort William remains saved

Excavation in 2007 at Fort William, Lochaber, by Tony Pollard, University of Glasgow, had shown there to be significant archaeological deposits on the foreshore outside the scheduled area of the 1654 Cromwellian fort. In June Robert Cairns, chair of the newly-formed Lochaber Archaeological Society, intercepted foreshore clearance in the scheduled area against the fort's stone walls. The work had been initiated by a supporter of a proposed 37ha retail development.

Phase 2

BA 108 cover

A curious typo in the last issue must not go unremarked. On the front page of Nash, Fairwood and Summerscales' feature about ROF Featherstone, the Royal Ordnance Factory that produced munitions throughout the cold war, I chose to put a builders' roofing plan. It looked much like drawings of farm barns I remember from my childhood, but the structure was in fact for the manufacture of depleted uranium armour plating, a particularly controversial product said to cause increased risk of birth defects. Except the caption called it "depleted uranium amour plating". For Russia, you might say, with love.

A less forgivable error was spotted by Tim Clough, honorary editor (clearly a good one) of the Rutland Local History and Record Society. "How many readers have noticed", he asks, "that the CBA has quietly mastered time travel?" In News (Sep/Oct, p8) it was stated that two centuries after the designation of Pentre Ifan as a scheduled ancient monument in 1884, archaeologists including Geoffrey Wainwright and Dai Morgan Evans gathered to celebrate the event. "We should congratulate these two gentlemen on their longevity", says Clough, "they seem to be remarkably spry in the accompanying photograph considering their age in 2084".

Without wishing to diminish the said archaeologists youthfulness, it must be said this should have been 125 years (in fact, to the day). Continuing our coverage of BA's coverage by other media, perhaps the best mention of the last issue came in the Times on August 13, when Adam Sherwin led the People column with the story that "the august journal, British Archaeology" had rebuked moat-cleaning MP Douglas Hogg (a reference to Penny Dransart's feature on Fetternear).

Could have been... An archaeologist. After watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, I built a huge rock collection.
Actor Helen Baxendale, Guardian 29 August 2009

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