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Saturday, 26 November 2011

Secret history of Stonehenge revealed -- again, and again, and again.....

Haven't we heard all this a thousand times before?  Well, yes we probably have.  This is a piece from David Keys in "The Independent" -- no doubt based upon a University of Birmingham press release.  It's almost impossible to say whether this is saying anything new, or not.  All of these research teams feel that they have to flag up their "findings" with maximum hype, and I recall that not long ago Mike Pitts had a real go at this particular team for -- shall we say -- over-egging their latest pudding to a considerable degree.  Anyway, it's good to see that work is still going on -- and I do like the thought that a wide survey across the Stonehenge landscape might reveal previously unknown sites, stone or post holes and even buried stones made of sarsen or bluestone..........  and who knows, they might even find a moraine or another cluster of erratics!


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Secret history of Stonehenge revealed

Ancient site may have been place of worship 500 years before the first stone was erected

David Keys
Saturday 26 November 2011

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/secret-history-of-stonehenge-revealed-6268237.html


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Extraordinary new discoveries are shedding new light on why Britain’s most famous ancient site, Stonehenge, was built – and when.

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Current research is now suggesting that Stonehenge may already have been an important sacred site at least 500 years before the first Stone circle was erected – and that the sanctity of its location may have determined the layout of key aspects of the surrounding sacred landscape.

What’s more, the new investigation – being carried out by archaeologists from the universities’ of Birmingham, Bradford  and Vienna – massively increases the evidence linking Stonehenge to pre-historic solar religious beliefs. It increases the likelihood that the site was originally and primarily associated with sun worship

The investigations have also enabled archaeologists  to putatively reconstruct the detailed route of a possible religious procession or other ritual event which they suspect may have taken place annually to the north of Stonehenge.

That putative pre-historic religious ‘procession’ (or, more specifically, the evidence suggesting its route) has implications for understanding Stonehenge’s prehistoric religious function – and suggests that the significance of the site Stonehenge now occupies emerged earlier than has previously been appreciated.

The crucial new archaeological evidence was discovered during on-going survey work around Stonehenge in which archaeologists have been ‘x-raying’ the ground, using ground-penetrating radar and other geophysical investigative techniques. As the archaeological team from Birmingham and Vienna were using these high-tech systems to map the interior of a major prehistoric enclosure (the so-called ‘Cursus’) near Stonehenge, they discovered two great pits, one towards the enclosure’s eastern end, the other nearer its western end.

When they modelled the relationship between these newly-discovered Cursus pits and Stonehenge on their computer system, they realised that, viewed from the so-called ‘Heel Stone’ at Stonehenge, the pits were aligned with sunrise and sunset on the longest day of the year – the summer solstice (midsummer’s day). The chances of those two alignments being purely  coincidental are extremely low.

The archaeologists then began to speculate as to what sort of ritual or ceremonial activity might have been carried out at and between the two pits. In many areas of the world, ancient religious and other ceremonies sometimes involved ceremonially processing round the perimeters of monuments. The archaeologists therefore thought it possible that the prehistoric celebrants at the Cursus might have perambulated between the two pits by processing around the perimeter of the Cursus.

Initially this was pure speculation – but then it was realized that there was, potentially a way of trying to test the idea. On midsummer’s day there are in fact three key alignments – not just sunrise and sunset, but also midday (the highest point the sun reaches in its annual cycle). For at noon the key alignment should be due south.

One way to test the ‘procession’ theory (or at least its route) was for the archaeologists  to demonstrate that the midway point on that route had indeed a special relationship with Stonehenge (just as the two pits – the start and end point of the route – had).  The ‘eureka moment’ came when the computer calculations revealed that the midway point (the noon point) on the route aligned directly with the centre of Stonehenge, which was precisely due south.

This realization that the sun hovering over the site of  Stonehenge at its highest point in the year appears to have been of great importance to prehistoric people, is itself of potential significance. For it suggests that the site’s association with the veneration of the sun was perhaps even greater than previously realized.

But the discovery of the Cursus pits, the discovery of the solar alignments and of the putative ‘processional’ route, reveals something else as well – something that could potentially turn the accepted chronology of the Stonehenge landscape on its head.

For decades, modern archaeology has held that Stonehenge was a relative latecomer to the area – and that the other large monument in that landscape – the Cursus – pre-dated it by up to 500 years.

However, the implication of the new evidence is that, in a sense, the story may have been the other way round, i.e. that the site of Stonehenge was sacred before the Cursus was built, says Birmingham archaeologist, Dr. Henry Chapman, who has been modelling the alignments on the computerized reconstructions of the Stonehenge landscape

The argument for this is simple, yet persuasive. Because the ‘due south’ noon alignment of the ‘procession’ route’s mid-point could not occur if the Cursus itself had different dimensions, the design of that monument has to have been conceived specifically to attain that mid-point alignment with the centre of Stonehenge.

What’s more, if that is so, the Stonehenge Heel Stone location had to have been of ritual significance before the Cursus pits were dug (because their alignments are as perceived specifically from the Heel Stone).

Those two facts, when taken together, therefore imply that the site, later occupied by the stones of Stonehenge, was already sacred before construction work began on the Cursus. Unless the midday alignment is a pure coincidence (which is unlikely), it  would imply  that the Stonehenge site’s sacred status is at least 500 years older than previously thought – a fact which raises an intriguing possibility.

For 45 years ago, archaeologists found an 8000 BC Mesolithic (‘Middle’ Stone Age) ritual site in what is now Stonehenge’s car park. The five thousand year gap between that Mesolithic sacred site and Stonehenge itself meant that most archaeologists thought that ‘sacred’ continuity between the two was inherently unlikely. But, with the new discoveries, the time gap has potentially narrowed. Indeed, it’s not known for how long the site of Stonehenge was sacred prior to the construction of the Cursus. So, very long term traditions of geographical sanctity in relation to Britain’s and the world’s best known ancient monument, may now need to be considered.

The University of Birmingham  Stonehenge area survey - the largest of its type ever carried out anywhere in the world – will take a further two years to complete, says Professor Vince Gaffney, the director the project.

Virtually every square meter in a five square mile area surrounding the world most famous pre-historic monument will be examined geophysically to a depth of  up to two metres, he says.

It’s anticipated that dozens, potentially hundreds of previously unknown sites will be discovered as a result of the operation.

The ongoing discoveries in Stonehenge’s sacred prehistoric landscape – being made by Birmingham’s archaeologists and colleagues from the University of Vienna’s Ludwig Boltzmann Institute – are expected to transform scholars’ understanding of the famous monument’s origins, history and meaning.

35 comments:

Tony H said...

Trouble is, would they know a moraine or a cluster of erratics if they saw one?

Surely it's time these University research teams had on board, in relation to this special, world-renowned landscape, a geomorphologist or two worth their salt? Surely, for example, the University's Geography Dept. would be only too willing to supply a geomorphologist?

The Stonehenge Riverside Project had Charly French & Mike Allen: "experts on reconstructing how a place looked thousands of years ago" [environmentally]- that's a quote from 'If Stones Could Speak: unlocking the secrets of Stonehenge' by Mike Aronson with the generous cooperation of Mike Parker Pearson & the Riverside Project(National Geographic, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4263-
0600-6)
These two came up with the idea that natural ridges in the soil may have suggested the site for the new Avenue and for Stonehenge on top of the hillside.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Tony -- quite agree! The MPP dig at Craig Rhosyfelin this summer was crying out for at least one geologist or geomorphologist to be involved -- but there was apparently not one. (Although it is rumoured that Richard Bevins from Cardiff turned up at some stage....) Some sensible advice on landscape formation might have come in quite gandy....

re the Avenue etc, are you referring to the famous "periglacial stripes"?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oops -- I meant "handy".. Maybe "dandy" would have been better....

Tony H said...

Yes, I am. Mike Allen seems to be some type of environmental specialist, and I think his main interest is Quaternary Studies (Bournemouth) in relation to flora & fauna e.g. snails. We've talked about Charly French before, he's at an outlier of Cambridge University.

We need some assertive University geomorphologists to shout from their University building roof-tops: "Employ me in your Studies!" The National Geographic book I quoted earlier makes much of the fact that the SRP did not rely on just One Man to form all the Big Ideas (a la Richard Atkinson, who is now persona non grata), but utilised a large team of specialists to look at things afresh, each with their own unique vision.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree with that -- there must be lots of bright young things who have contributions to make. But they have to be more assertive -- and bodies like BGRG and QRA should be more proactive too. I reckon that some archaeo digging teams have never even heard of geomorphology. Certainly the media haven't! In recent weeks I have seen Dai Bowen, Jim Scourse and even myself described as "geologists" -- which we aren't. Maybe the word "geologist" is easier to spell?

tony H said...

I HAVE actually heard MPP use the word geomorphologist, and pronounce it correctly. However, I'm not at all sure he (at the time, at least), really knew it was a specialism in its own right and not just a posher word for Environmental Studies, which, of course, is much broader in its coverage.

Tony H said...

Dr Henry Chapman, who is mentioned half-way through this long report, has established links with Channel 4's Time Team. There is a very interesting account of his specialist work on the Uni of Birmingham website. Has he struck 'gold' at Stonehenge? We shall see.

Geo Cur said...

I have mentioned this elsewhere but despite the fact that they have to given the location of the pits it looks like they have got something wrong .
The orientation of the sun rise and sun set as seen from the heel stone at summer solstice in both cases is on the horizon beyond the cursus but also in both cases the points where the imaginary line crosses the Cursus are not intervisible with each other and you wouldn't be able to see the heel Stone at that distance (1.5km) even if it was on the horizon .There is also a problem with the midway point between the two rise and set points on the cursus ,due south from there does not lead to the centre of Stonehenge or the Heel stone either ,it's about 190 m to the east .If anyone needs the detail /figures etc I'll happily send them on .

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, has Vince Gaffney's team committed another gaff?

Anonymous said...

yawn!

Geo Cur said...

The "procession" theory being unfalsifiable doesn't matter quite so much but it would entail the punters knowing the central point between two others approx 1.8 km apart , making that point salient , then "processing " into the midday sun towards the centre of a monument that they couldn't see . Even if the calculation was correct ,why choose the central point why process at all and why at midday ? Surely they will eventually find something that is of genuine interest with this study why so desperate ?

Geo Cur said...

Tony ,I was involved a small scale excavation and study around some marked rocks last year and one of the members of the 4 person team was specifically chosen because of her geological qualifications .

Tony H said...

This report does seem to attempt to push back the wider Stonehenge Landscape's origins back at least into the Mesolithic. As recently as October 4th this year, The Independent reported the Open University findings of 5,500 Mesolithic flints in 2 small trenches, as well as a huge Mesolithic aurochs feast, within what was to become the so-called Vespasian's Camp beyond The Avenue towards Amesbury. Mesolithic flints had previously been foun closer to The Avon river, and there are also the Mesolithic postholes at Stonehenge carpark.

It does look as though the Landscape held importance for Mesolithic folk, for whatever reason.

Tony H said...

Good to hear about the person being chosen because of her geological qualifications, Geo, and that sounds very relevant in that context of rock markings etc. But, speaking as a Geographer, I would love to see Physical Geography specialists i.e. Geomorphologists, chosen to participate in important landscape studies. This would be SPECIFICALLY
useful on the Salisbury Plain Training Area (where there are, of course, loads of prehistoric sites in good condition, because of the cooperation between the Wiltshire County Archaeologist and the Army).

We might then be able to truly begin to understand any glacial processes that may have been involved in forming the present-day landscape and its surface geology.

Tony H said...

Geo, re your 17.13 comment, "why process at all.........and why so desperate?"

Perhaps the answer to your query over apparent desperation by the researchers lies in another abstact noun: Recession (rather than procession). As Brian says, all the institutions are competing for attention - and cash! Then, of course, there's that natural human failing, the need for attention by the human Ego.

heavenshenge said...

"It increases the likelihood that the site was originally and primarily associated with sun worship"

Does anyone know why they believe that this evidence increases the chances of the site being associated with sun worship? (or any type of worship)

Is this another piece of sensationalism or is there some factoid that I missed?

Thanks in advance

Jon

Tony H said...

If they "processed" towards the midday sun from their salient mid-point, would they have been wearing a suitably primitive form of sunglasses,to avoid glare, or would they have opted, like the Goons, for simply walking backwards [on Mid-Summer's Day, rather than for Christmas]? Answers on a postcard, please. Perhaps Vince G knows.

The Stonehenge Enigma said...

I have to agree with Geo Curs (yes honestly!) these so called alignments are impossible.

Moreover, the article did have its positive points, they state that this re-dates Stonehenge 500 years earlier to the same date as the Cursus 3600BC and 'The five thousand year gap between that Mesolithic sacred site and Stonehenge itself meant that most archaeologists thought that ‘sacred’ continuity between the two was inherently unlikely. But, with the new discoveries, the time gap has potentially narrowed.'

Its now being recognised that the site has been used since the Mesolithic Period - which is quite correct and supports my hypothesis :-)

RJL

Geo Cur said...

Tony ,to be fair it was ever thus but it has become more apparent in the last few years ,I got tired of prefacing every complaint about headline grabbing nonsense with " we realise that funding is tight but ..."

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if they were able to determine the size of the pits found inside the cursus?

Geo Cur said...

Moss at TMA found this ,
http://www.heritagedaily.com/2011/11/discoveries-provide-evidence-of-a-celestial-procession-at-stonehenge/
which suggests that is worse than expected .That spot ,a 150 metres from the cursus is within sight of the Heel Stone but is five weks off the solstice ,interstingly the dodn't mention fwiw that it if projected a wee bit further west it aligns on the mini henge in Fargo Plantation .

Geo Cur said...

RJL , I doubt that you are in agreement , my argumnet involved some calculation , you mention nothing . Can you explain why the “alignments “ are “impossible “ ?. I never said that , I said there must be something wrong ,now we know the site of one of the pits it is clear what is wrong .
There is nothing to date the site of Stonehenge earlier than the date w already have .It may well be earlier but we can’t prove that .

Tony H said...

Hope I'm not being too uncharitable, but it occurs to me that, apart from wishing to over-hype their findings purely for publicity and funding reasons, this team at the University of Birmingham may be feeling just a LITTLE overshadowed by their colleagues in the same Archaeology Dept, who brought the attention of the World and his
Wife to the amazing Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire hoard in 2009.

Tony H said...

Stonehenge "revelations" and a strange sense of "deja-vu"

The above is quite a long and deeply-felt piece written by Blogmeister Dennis Price very recently on his Eternal Idol Blogsite. He, too, has heard, and indeed thought, it all before!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I saw that. a degree of cynicism creeping in here, I think.....

Geo Cur said...

Tony , I have the distinction of having been banned twice from that site , the first time was accepted as a mistake the second had no explanation , I was never rude just presented facts .
It’s certainly lengthy , but all that is said is that , it has all been said before .The difference is the archaeos had something to back up their conjecture ,it just so happens to be wrong a fact that seems to have gone unnoticed despite the diagrams .

Tony H said...

Now Vince Gaffney & Ludvig from Vienna have issued ANOTHER Press Release.............Will read it tomorrow.........after all, it probably has been released for maximum media coverage on Monday.Listen to the 8 o'clock News, folks.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oh dear -- I have a sort of sinking feeling.....

heavenshenge said...

Geo Cur is correct (George?). I'm not at all sure what they've discovered, but the press releases appear to be both vague and incorrect.

Did any press realease happen today?

Tony H said...

I must go and see the 2009 Staffordshire Saxon Hoard when I'm next in the Midlands: same University Dept was heavily involved in this as this latest revelation. Somewhat more tangible.

Geo Cur said...

It now looks like the “ heritage daily "pic of the one of the pit sites was wrong , it was of a site claimed to be a “henge “ by the same team a year ago .There was a bit of a brouhaha about that suggestion too .This means the teams calculations were not five weeks out but regardless as noted by my first post prior to any knowledge of the wrong pic the figures still don’t work .Anyone needing the detail do ask .

heavenshenge said...

Thanks for the update GeoCur: If you find out more, could you let us know? I was seriously hoping that they would find two pits in the cursus representing summer solstice poles and then that the angle of the line between the two pits would be either 4.5 or 5.25 degrees rotated anticlockwise relative to an East-West line.

Difficult to explain why without detailed graphics but it has to do with what you would logically do if you had a geocentric perception of the World.

Geo Cur said...

Latest news H. is that Mike Pitts has finally got some good info from Brum so now we know where the pits are and resulting problems with the theory .
http://mikepitts.wordpress.com[...]11/29/view-from-the-heelstone/

Tony H said...

GeoCur & heavenshenge..Mike Pitt's article not only fully details this recent Brum Uni research, but also presents a very useful list of all the OTHER recent or still on-going landscape analysis. Pitts is to be congratulated for supplying us with this compendium. After all, we're entitled, as tax-payers, to know.

heavenshenge said...

Thanks: 6 degrees relative to an East-West line by the look of the diagram. C'est la vie!

Cheers

Jon