The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 91

Issue 91

November/December 2006



New finds 30 years on from the drought of 76

Houses near Stonehenge astonish archaeologists

Roman pool may be for early Christian baptism

Logboat's last voyage launches new journey

In Brief


English landscape: lovely, isn't it? It's dead
Cider with trunk roads - Trevor Rowley casts an archaeological eye on the last century

Final proof of ancient UK contact with Sicily?
Salcombe and Dover - Bronze age wrecked cargoes in Devon and Kent

Science: evidence for ancient dairying
Neolithic farmers milked their animals in 4000BC

on the web

Recommended websites


Views and responses

CBA news

Headlines from the CBA office


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


The editor receives much correspondence that has little to do with issues raised by the magazine. Just for once he has selected some of this. As always, letters may have been shortened – mostly much, much shortened.

Grain mill

Clyde Hollifield

For most of its existence Stonehenge was like any other grain working stone circle. It had an outlying rat ditch and a few upright stones to work the grain against. During the last phase of construction at the site everything changed. Stonehenge would become the world's first mechanical grain mill.

The design of the mill required the construction of a great elevated stone grind way now know as the sarsen circle. The perfect stones were found on the Marlborough downs. It was called sarsen stone, a type of very hard sandstone. Neolithic grain grinding querns had long been made of hard sandstones.

The basic design of the mill required an elevated circular track way that would be the grinding surface. This required that the top of the sarsen circle be completely flat. The post and rigging over the central horseshoe would have risen like a cone above the great stones. On top of the sarsen circle, was a beautiful carousel of rope and light poles that contained the dozen or so grinding wheels and kept them centered on top of the wall. When in full sail the mill at Stonehenge must have looked like a great ship at sea.

Old stories of sound coming from Stonehenge may be folk memories of the grinding and rumbling noises of the working mill. The sails would also have added popping and rattling noises.

Clyde Hollifield, North Carolina.

Phoenicians & tsunamis

S Weeks

[One of many] barriers to the truth is the education authority's reluctance to believe that the Britons had a culture before the Romans arrived here. It is widely quoted that the Romans brought the knowledge of mining here, yet these same scholars know that the Cornish miners traded their tin with the Phoenicians for goods from Egypt, the Middle East and Spain.

Herodotus wrote that "[the Phoenicians] came from the east" and "had slit eyes". Wherever they made a settlement you will find descendants of theirs who have slit eyes; well known examples are Nelson Mandela and Wynford Vaughan Thomas; also Francis Drake had those features, as has a brother-in-law of mine.

Authorities are very concerned about global warming; they should be more concerned about suffering more tsunamis. As the earth's interior cools, and voids are formed, so will large land masses sink where rifts occur, causing those huge tidal waves.

S Weeks, Clevedon.

Zodiac signs

Helen Finch

After reading a book which – among other things – suggested that ancient monuments reflected the Zodiacal Rising Sign of their era, I got out my model of Stonehenge and some photos I took when privileged to go right into the monument in September 1998 and made an astonishing discovery. If Stonehenge represents the glyphs of the Zodiac, then the reason there are no more lintels is because there are no other linked glyphs. The symbols are all in the correct order and oriented correctly, in so far as the sun rose behind Libra late in September 98. There is only one stone standing that I cannot reconcile with the glyphs – between Gemini and the fallen stones of Cancer.

Helen Finch, Coventry


Malcolm Stopani-Thomson

Purchase 14 very large plastic bowls and place three of them in a line at the foot of the NW Stonehenge trilithon to represent the 3 stones # 160a, b, & c. Place one bowl in the middle of the 19 bluestone "horseshoe" and surround it with the remaining 9 bowls placed simply on the sward. Multiply 9.42 (3 × pi) by the other 4 trilithon constants; 9.42 × pi = 29.5938 = 29.6 (in metres is the official diameter of the Sarsen Ring). 29.6 × pi = 92.97 metres is the diameter of Stonehenge's ditch. 92.97 × pi = 292.1 metres is the diameter of the first "brilliantly white" ring; 292.1 × pi = 917.6 is the distance to the north bank of the Cursus; subtract the length of the west end of the Cursus, -133 metres = 784.6 m. And then place this number in ratio to the length of the Cursus, ie 784.6:2,800 = 1:3.5687 = 1:3.57, which is the ratio of the diameter of the solar system to the aphelion of the star named "Wormwood" in Revelations.

Malcolm Stopani-Thomson, Elgin, Ontario

Old tracks

Gordon Harris

Archaeologists do not appear to have looked very deeply into the impact stone circles have on the surrounding landscape. I have been looking into this possibility for many years. A very large number of straight tracks once radiated from Stonehenge and stretches of present day roads are based upon them. The landscape around other circles suggests that tracks once radiated from Fowler's Arm Chair stone circle in Wales. [My study] very strongly suggests that an abundance of tracks radiated N&ndahs;W from the Threestoneburn stone circle in the Borders Region, [and further] suggests (to me at least) that the road system in the Borders Region has evolved from straight tracks radiating from three stone circles. Standing stones, moats and churches can be found dotted along some of the alignments shown. Perhaps Alfred Watkins only saw the tip of an iceberg?

Gordon Harris, Frodsham, Cheshire

Nero in Suffolk

Jude Plouviez

While new ideas about old finds are always of value it would have been helpful if Miles Russell had given more consideration to the contexts of the items from Suffolk he discussed (feature, Jul/Aug). The fine statuette of Nero he describes as "ostensibly from a site near Ipswich, Suffolk" was recorded as found before 1800 in a deep feature on land near Barking Hall, which gives rise to that memorably apt label, the "Barking Nero". Interestingly Barking parish is adjacent to the area of Baylham Mill (in the parish of Coddenham) which includes the sites of two overlapping 1st century forts and the 19th century findspot of a bronze mirror case, most likely from a cremation burial, decorated with a portrait of Nero (also now in the British Museum). A military context seems very plausible for these portable items depicting the current emperor at the time of suppression of the local tribes following the Boudican revolt, and indeed perhaps the survival of the statuette can be attributed to it having been buried following his death and condemnation by the senate.

The bronze head normally identified as Claudius was found in the River Alde at Rendham – although this is near Saxmundham it seems somewhat confusing to describe it as the "Saxmundham whoever". Were it indeed Nero its appearance in an east Suffolk river would remain difficult to explain except again as looted from the colonia at Colchester during the revolt in AD60/61. This is not an area where Roman style buildings are at all common, and certainly there is nothing in 1st century Suffolk to suggest a context for a larger than life-size imperial statue. Given that both the local tribes, Iceni and Trinovantes, tried to expel the Romans by force and had then been subjected to a short, sharp, military occupation in the early 60s it seems unlikely that there was a "fledgling Romano-British elite" in this region who had either the spare cash or the inclination to invest in classical statuary before Nero's death in 68.

Jude Plouviez, Archaeological Service, Suffolk county council

Parliamentary support?

Nick Corcos

I give way to noone in my respect for the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group and my admiration for what it has achieved in raising the profile of the profession where it really counts – at the very heart of power (Letters, Sep/Oct). But exactly how strong really is APPAG's support among the quoted 135 rank and file MPs and peers which it claims as adherents?

Some time ago, I made an appointment to see my then local MP (he has since lost his seat) about the fate of the warship hms Sussex. Having noted that he was listed on the APPAG website as one of its named supporters within parliament, I suggested during the course of our conversation that this would obviously, by definition, give him an interest in the case of the Sussex. His reply, however, took me aback. He said that there were numerous interest groups within parliament, all demanding attention. If he was listed as an APPAG supporter, he had obviously signed up for it but could not even remember doing so, and had no particular interest in or knowledge of archaeology. He was quite open about this, and said that it was very much the "done thing" for MPs to put their signatures to something if it seemed remotely "worthy" at the time.

Nick Corcos,

Saving treasure

Don Mountford

It appears that Tony Robinson does not like metal detectorists (My archaeology, May/Jun). Most finds (treasure trove included) are from fields that have been repeatedly ploughed. As a metal detectorist with the West Sussex Metal Detecting Society and a member of the Sussex Archaeological Society I have, on many occasions, detected for archaeologists on sites, checking their "spoil heaps".

During the last six months, I have worked with up to 25 archaeologists on a large excavation in Chichester city centre. My finds in the spoil heaps included:– 349 coins, 9 brooches, 6 buttons, 5 rings and half a ring, 1 ring key, 2 keys (parts of) and 25 unidentified copper/bronze items.

Whilst detecting, I also spotted 3 bone hair pins and 1 glass candle holder. All these Roman finds would now be buried under tons of concrete.

Don Mountford, Angmering.

Hill mystery

Diane Coulson

I often travel past Silbury Hill, now that my sister lives nearby, and every time I go by I wonder what it was built for. Would the people have buried something in the ground, and then built the massive hill over the top, thereby making very sure that no-one can disturb what they have buried?

Diane Coulson, Newbury

Contact sought

Jeff Wilkinson

Will Mr Duncan Thomas, or anyone knowing the whereabouts of Mr Thomas, formerly a student at the Archaeological Sciences Department, University of Bradford, please contact Calderdale Museums Service at the following address: Bankfield Museum, Akroyd Park, Boothtown Road, Halifax HX3 6HG. 01422 352334,

Jeff Wilkinson, Calderdale Museums Service.

Please send your ideas for the magazine: we may not publish them all, but we will read and take notice. Ed

We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.

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