The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 84

Issue 84

September/October 2005



We found new megalith, say dowsers

Good news for Silbury Hill - if money is found

Orkney dig first to date gold and amber jewellery

Objectors scent victory at Stonehenge

Exeter bids for new students

Stone plaque is first neolithic face in over a century

In Brief


Saving the H Blocks - Long Kesh/Maze: An archaeological opportunity
The artefacts of fear...and why we should preserve them - Laura McAtackney questions Northern Island proposal

Cemetery requiem for a lost age
Roberta Gilchrist reveals extraordinary Christian practices

Lake rescue
Saving Llangors Crannog, a unique medieval Welsh royal island, from erosion

on the web

Recommended websites


Views and responses

CBA news

Headlines from the CBA office.


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


We found new megalith, say dowsers

Dowsers tracking an "energy line" at a neolithic henge at Knowlton, Dorset have found a stone they believe may once have been standing. Thought to be about the same age as Avebury and Durrington Walls, Wiltshire (c2500–2000bc), the four smaller Knowlton henges have been little investigated.

Paul Craddock was directing a Bournemouth adult education dowsing course in May, when a student exposed a rectangular slab around 1m by 40cm inside the Church Henge, the only one surviving as a substantial earthwork (named after a ruined Norman church at its centre). Craddock, also trained in hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and handwriting analysis, says a second stone lies close by, and both may be part of a circle or avenue of further stones.

A technical officer from English Heritage noted that a little poorly established turf had been pulled back, and though they would be contacting the dowsers, it was unlikely harm had been done. John Gale, School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, and director of research in the area, says the stone may have been dressed. It appears not to be local heathstone, but a foreign sarsen.

In 2000 archaeologists learnt from the farmer that two stones had been ploughed out from the larger Southern Henge, immediately to the south, some 30 years before. They were examined and thought to be heathstone. One (c1m by 60cm) had pecked into it four concentric rings, one of only two cases of "megalithic art" of this type yet seen in southern Britain, the other found in a bronze age barrow near Dorchester in the 19th century.

The large sarsen circles at Avebury and Stonehenge are well known, but smaller arrangements of such stones may have been common in Wessex. Evidence that small megaliths once stood inside the henge at Mount Pleasant, near Dorchester, Dorset was found in excavations 1970–71.

Good news for Silbury Hill – if money is found

Once appropriate funds are found, English Heritage will reopen an old tunnel in Silbury Hill, part of the Avebury World Heritage Site in Wiltshire. Archaeological evidence will be fully recorded for the first time and the tunnel properly backfilled.

Research had revealed that the tunnel, dug by archaeologist Richard Atkinson and the bbc in 1968–9, was unstable, threatening the mound's structure and uniquely preserved evidence for ancient ecology. The news will be welcomed by archaeologists, concerned that the likely cost of the work might deter English Heritage.

After a major research programme following a collapse at the hill's centre in 2000, English Heritage announced options for Silbury's future last autumn (British Archaeology Jan/Feb). Richard Bradley, archaeology professor at Reading University, said that as successor to the body that permitted the 1960s work, which "should never have taken place", EH had a public responsibility to make a detailed record of the deposits: "it is", he wrote (BA Jan/Feb), "a question of professional ethics by which posterity will judge [its] effectiveness".

After removal of existing collapse and backfill and archaeological investigation, the tunnel would be filled with chalk to the same density as the original mound. Temporary capping on the hill's summit would then be replaced with chalk.

Orkney dig first to date gold and amber jewellery

Archaeologists in Orkney excavating a barrow first explored 150 years ago have found gold and amber jewellery and human bone, offering a rare chance to radiocarbon date a classic rich grave of the early bronze age (2050–1500BC). Director Jane Downes tells British Archaeology that the dig was "amazingly successful".

Groups of round burial mounds known to archaeologists as barrow cemeteries, often aligned on contours below ridges, are common in Wessex and the Thames valley. Many were dug by early antiquarians, who sometimes found human remains with fine objects of gold, copper or bronze, jet, amber and other rare materials. Crude recovery techniques mean these graves are poorly understood, and few have been studied in modern times.

The Knowes of Trotty, not far from older stone circles at Stenness and Brodgar and the neolithic chambered tomb of Maeshowe, is unique for a "Wessex" cemetery so far north. Amongst two lines of 16 barrows, the largest was investigated by the owner in 1858. Local antiquarian George Petrie reported a stone cist, amber beads and four gold leaf discs, now displayed in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

The new excavations, directed by Jane Downes (Head of Archaeology, Orkney College UHI) and Nick Card (Orkney Archaeological Trust) are part of an Historic Scotland project run by Downes to research and assess the management of Orkney barrows. Orkney Islands Council and Orkney College are also sponsors of the excavations.

After earlier survey and excavation, the cist was relocated this summer. Petrie's belief that "a number of beads have been lost among the debris" was proved correct, as six prismatic amber beads and part of an amber "spacer plate" were recovered, with a few scraps of gold, and, most significantly, cremated bone, that will be dated using a recently developed radiocarbon technique.

Alison Sheridan, head of early prehistory at the National Museums of Scotland, says "This will be the only directly dated amber spacer plate necklace". She believes the close parallels between craft objects suggest people made heroic journeys from Orkney to Wessex, following a tradition of long distance contacts.

Also excavated was a contemporary stone building perhaps occupied by those taking part in funerary ceremonies.

Objectors scent victory at Stonehenge

The "Stonehenge project" – road changes, visitor centre and public access scheme – may have to be abandoned.

Decades of debate seemed to come to an end on July 26 when planners rejected English Heritage's proposed visitor centre, six days after the Department for Transport asked for a roads review. The public inquiry report, released on the same day, supported the examined 2.1km a303 tunnel, but, the dft said, there was a "significant increase on original costs". Objectors were jubilant, while promoters, especially English Heritage, seemed stunned.

The project dates from English Heritage's formation in 1984. New EH chairman Lord Montagu of Beaulieu backed closure of the A344 by the stones and a new visitor centre at Larkhill, 1km to the north.

The final plan, arrived at after intensive evaluation and debate, was launched in 1998, with heritage sources providing a third of road funding: a visitor centre would be sited beyond the east edge of the world heritage site. Announced in 2003, the complete roads scheme was costed at £183m. A parliamentary question on June 22 ascertained that this had risen by 22% to £223m. On July 20 the Department for Transport announced a further rise ("after allowing for additional factors including land, preparation and supervision") of 65%, from £284m to £470m.

The Salisbury council panel voted six to four against the visitor centre application. English Heritage said it might appeal, but the grounds for refusal could "easily be addressed" and early resubmission was likely.

Exeter bids for new students

Time Team presenter Tony Robinson, (with one of archaeology graduate Andrew Young's balls), has received an honorary doctorate in law from Exeter University, for his acting, writing and political activities. The university has arranged a strong link with Time Team. From the the new academic year, producer Tim Taylor will become honorary professor and Mick Aston will teach for the ma in landscape archaeology as visiting professor. MA students in experimental archaeology will work with the television series, one of whose trademarks is reconstructions of ancient technologies (but can replication explain neolithic stone balls?).

  • Exeter is to drop its archaeology and Egyptology distance learning courses. Head of lifelong learning John Blewitt advised students to transfer to the Open University: but it has no courses in these subjects.

Stone plaque is first neolithic face in over a century

Excavations at Rothley Lodge Farm, Leicestershire, have uncovered a large neolithic pit containing thousands of artefacts, amongst them a unique stone plaque engraved with a human face. Archaeologists say the plaque was deliberately broken, then ritually buried in what may have been the sunken floor of an abandoned house.

The plaque is made from fine grained sandstone, probably derived from a skerry bed in local Mercia mudstone deposits. The original design would have been symmetrical, say site director Leon Hunt and University of Leicester Archaeological Services director Patrick Clay, making a "stylised face" with eyes, nose and mouth.

A few plaques of this date (3000–2000BC) have been found made in stone and chalk, with abstract linear designs. Possible eyes and eyebrows are carved into a neolithic tomb slab on Orkney, but the most convincing faces appear on three chalk drums found in 1889 in a barrow on Folkton Wold, East Yorkshire. They are so rare that pottery expert Ian Longworth has suggested a "firm [neolithic] taboo" existed on facial depiction.

Grooved Ware in the Rothley pit included many pieces highly decorated with the typical abstract lines of this late neolithic pottery. The pit also contained some 25 flint scrapers, and two stone axeheads whose distinctive rock identifies them as petrological group XX, from nearby Charnwood Forest. The smooth ground finish had been flaked away: lithic specialist Lynden Cooper suggests they had been ritually "undressed" before burial.

A smaller pit 5m away contained animal bone and burnt flint, including an axehead calcined by intense heat, and a unique pottery "golf ball". A possible sunken-floored building was recorded at Aleck Low, Derbyshire in the 1980s; two large pits, also containing Grooved Ware, may be related.

Excavations were conducted in January and February at an industrial estate developed by Costains and Weldon Plant Hire for Rosemound.

Amongst the finds were unique chalk drums from Folkton, East Yorkshire (largest 11cm high), found in 1889 beside the body of a neolithic child. They are now on display in the British Museum

In brief

Blows to past

Some 20 years ago Frances Griffith, now county archaeologist, flew across Devon looking for new archaeological sites. North of Dartmoor, between Bow and North Tawton, she found significant prehistoric crop marks, including one of Devon's few henges and several ring ditches. All this, says Peter Green of the Den Brook Valley (Wind Turbine) Action Group, is now under threat. Renewable Energy Systems hope to build a windfarm in this "breathlessly beautiful valley". Outdoor and conservation bodies typically hold strong views on the siting of windfarms. Thus Friends of the Earth seeks "a presumption in favour of renewable energy sources", while the Open Spaces Society opposes wind stations on common land. All work is covered by planning law (PPG16), but otherwise archaeologists do not have a united view on farms. Neil Campling, of North Yorks county council heritage section, says in a proposal for eight turbines at Knabs Ridge the footings are 20m by 20m and 3m deep. A public inquiry starts in August: the initial application was turned down, partly because the company had failed to look for archaeological remains with a geophysical survey.

Living research pays better

British Archaeology has highlighted both the unprecedented sums being spent on UK excavation and research, and poor pay and working conditions of many practising archaeologists (not as contradictory as at first that sounds). Low pay levels are confirmed by the Times's good university guide (May 23). In a list of 61 subjects ranked by graduates' starting salary, archaeology came last, beaten by, amongst others, drama, hospitality and (at 39th place) anthropology. Student applications for ba archaeology degrees have fallen almost every year since 2000. There are fears that low pay may be a cause.

Education circle

Channel 5's full scale replica Stonehenge was visited by pupil's from Amesbury's Stonehenge School, most of whom had not been inside the real thing. Now Carol O'Gorman, leader of North Wiltshire district council, hopes to save "Foamhenge" by finding a permanent site for it. Planning consent has been applied for.

Phase 2

Designer with the Battlefields Trust of a research programme for the battle of Bosworth (1485), Glenn Foard wrote in British Archaeology (Nov 2004) that "it seems easier to fund an interpretive project than to find the far smaller sums needed to ensure the validity of that interpretation". The good news is that at Bosworth Leicestershire county council is nowappointing an archaeological consultancy to manage a three-year project, part-funded by the HLF, to locate and interpret the battle site.

Andy Worthington, author of our feature on the battle of the beanfield (Jul/Aug), has now edited a book of that title (Enabler Publications, ISBN 0952331667). Norman Hammond reported for the Times (June 27) on Cambridgeshire Archaeology's survey of attitudes to human remains (May/Jun). We received several student requests for that feature: back issues can be obtained from the CBA (contact details page 5).

Also well covered by the Times, the topic of managing erosion on the Hadrian's Wall Path National Trail (raised by News May/Jun and feature Jul/Aug) was picked up by BBC1's Countryfile (July 24); Peter Fowler writes in this issue after his visit (Letters). It was announced in July that the wall is part of a new Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site.

Reader Hilary Cool sent us a story from newspaper La Repubblica, reporting our Preseli quarry feature (Jul/Aug): Italians may have been confused by a mirror image of Stonehenge and midsummer sun rising in the south.

Apologies to anyone who tried to watch the Time Team Prittlewell special on June 20: as the magazine was printed, Channel 4 moved the film back to June 13.

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