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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Wooden "halls" predating Long Barrows in Herefordshire



This story is all over the media at the moment -- interesting.  No doubt much more to be revealed.....


Public release date: 30-Jul-2013
Contact: Mike Addelman
michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk

Two 6,000-year-old 'halls of the dead' unearthed, in UK first

The remains of two large 6000-year-old halls, each buried within a prehistoric burial mound, have been discovered by archaeologists from The University of Manchester and Herefordshire Council -- in a UK first.
The sensational finds on Dorstone Hill, near Peterchurch in Herefordshire, were thought to be constructed between 4000 and 3600 BC.
Some of the burnt wood discovered at the site shows the character of the building's structure above ground level -- in another UK first.
The buildings, probably used by entire communities, are of unknown size, but may have been of similar length to the Neolithic long barrows beneath which they were found – 70metres and 30m long.
They were, say the team, deliberately burnt down after they were constructed and their remains incorporated into the two burial mounds.
However -- much detail has been preserved in the larger barrow: structural timbers in carbonized form, postholes showing the positions of uprights, and the burnt remains of stakes forming internal partitions.
Most importantly, the core of each mound is composed of intensely burnt clay, representing the daub from the walls of the buildings.
The buildings were likely to have been long structures with aisles, framed by upright posts, and with internal partitions.
The smaller barrow contains a 7m by 2.5m mortuary chamber, with huge sockets which would have held upright tree trunks at each end.
These massive posts bracketed a linear 'trough' lined with planks, which would have held the remains of the dead.
Professor of archaeology from The University of Manchester Julian Thomas and Dr Keith Ray Herefordshire Council's County Archaeologist, co-directed the excavation.
Professor Thomas said: "This find is of huge significance to our understanding of prehistoric life-- so we're absolutely delighted.
"It makes a link between the house and a tomb more forcefully than any other investigation that has been ever carried out.
"These early Neolithic halls are already extremely rare, but to find them within a long barrow is the discovery of a lifetime."
He added: "The mound tells us quite a bit about the people who built it: they sought to memorialize the idea of their community represented by the dwelling.
"And by turning it into part of the landscape, it becomes a permanent reminder for generations to come.
"Just think of how the burning of the hall could have been seen for miles around, in the large expanse of what is now the border country between England and Wales."
Archaeologists have long speculated that a close relationship existed between houses and tombs in Neolithic Europe, and that 'houses of the dead' amounted to representations of the 'houses of the living'.
In addition to the two long mounds, the site has provided evidence for a series of later burials and other deliberate deposits, including a cremation burial and a pit containing a flint axe and a finely-flaked flint knife.
The objects have close affinities with artefacts found in eastern Yorkshire in the Late Neolithic (c. 2600 BC).
Dr Ray said: "These subsequent finds show that 1000 years after the hall burial mounds were made, the site is still important to later generations living 200 miles away – a vast distance in Neolithic terms.
"The axe and knife may not have been traded, but placed there as part of a ceremony or an ancestral pilgrimage from what is now East Yorkshire.
"So we witness an interconnected community linking Herefordshire and East Yorkshire by marriage and by descent 5000 years ago."
He added: "In the British context, the Dorstone find is unique and unprecedented.
"We were hoping our work with The University of Manchester would help us to give us a clearer picture of the origins of these long barrows- but we were surprised how clearly the story came through.
"It's very exciting for us: for 15 years I have been arguing that Herefordshire has something important to say on the national picture of our Neolithic heritage."
=========================
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Images are available from the excavation
An artist's impression of a hall of the dead is available
Professor Thomas and Dr Ray are available for comment
Journalists are welcome to visit the site at any point on Monday or Tuesday
For media inquiries contact:
Mike Addelman
Press Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567
Michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk

33 comments:

TonyJ said...

Professor Julian Thomas was part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project team. His work there is well described in Mike Parker Pearson's recent book, Stonehenge (2012). For example, he worked on the excavation of the Neolithic Greater Cursus and the long barrow to its east. No wonder he is delighted by what he has just helped to find!

BRIAN JOHN said...

That should of course be Tony H.....

alexgee said...

Of course: If the timber built main accommodation block of your community caught fire and burnt to the ground.
You wouldn't dream of building a tomb(long barrow ) on the site to bury the deceased? Would you?

geocur said...

Alex , there is no suggestion that anyone lived in the building , similar "halls " elsewhere were also burnt down ,probably deliberately i.e. not accidentally or act of aggression ,some more than once .
They didn't all have long barrows built over them but one at Balfarg did and it is not uncommon for long barrows and similar monuments to be built over earlier wooden “mortuary houses “ or the site of earlier settlement .





.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Are you saying, Geo, that this is a common scenario? So why all the fuss about this being totally unique and wildly exciting?

geocur said...

Brian ,no not at all I wasn't saying that . What is unique here is that there are two halls with certain evidence of roofing material , that have been burned down then covered by a long barrow .Timber halls from the early Neolithic are rare but they get burnt down sometimes replaced and burnt again.Long barrows are often built over wooden structures i.e. "mortuary houses " or , particularly on the continent e.g. France Poland , earlier settlement .The combination of factors is what is unique here .

Anonymous said...

Geocur

It says that "The buildings, probably used by entire communities, are of unknown size, but may have been of similar length to the Neolithic long barrows beneath which they were found – 70 metres and 30m long."

The word beneath implies that the hall was built on top of the long barrow and not as you described.

Why build a tomb 70m x 30m on top of a mortuary just 7m x 2.5m - a touch of 'overkill'?

geocur said...

Anon , I suggest that you have misunderstood the "beneath" .The Long barrow was built over the hall(s) .
I don't know the dimensions of the hall(s), the Scottish examples were approx 25m x 9 . Overkill , of course ,typical conspicuous construction of the period . Look at the chambers in any long barrow they occupy a small percentage of the building .Why build a portal tomb with a fancy sloping capstone when it is only to cover a handful of deposits in a couple of pits ?. Did Stonehenge whatever it's function , really need to have such huge stones and ditch ? did Silbury need to be that big ? Why build something so huge and time consuming as a cursus ?and we don't even understand what it is never mind why .Overkill is what to expect in monuments of the period not practicality .

BRIAN JOHN said...

As I have always said, follies here, follies there, follies everywhere......

Jon Morris said...

Why build a portal tomb with a fancy sloping capstone when it is only to cover a handful of deposits in a couple of pits ?. Did Stonehenge whatever it's function , really need to have such huge stones and ditch ? did Silbury need to be that big ? Why build something so huge and time consuming as a cursus ?

Some types of construction look as if they are follies or overkill. But, if you look at all the other alternatives, they are the least effort for a given purpose. Often happens today, but we know why we have built things in the way we build them, so things that might appear over-designed to an outsider might instead look entirely ordinary to us.

For example, why build a highway wide enough for 20 cars when it only goes half a kilometre from somewhere to nowhere: We know it's an airport runway, but an outsider would not know this unless he saw a plane land.

Without knowing the reason, it is not possible to say that folly/overkill was an intent; it's only possible to say that it looks like overkill to us given what we think the monuments were for?

geocur said...

Jon ,I didn't say they were follies or suggest that I/we knew the function of the monuments . I suggested that practicality was not necessarily a consideration .

Jon Morris said...

I suggested that practicality was not necessarily a consideration .

Could be George. It's possible that the aims of construction did not follow a logic that would be understandable to us, in which case it's easy to see that practicality of construction might not apply.

Difficult to know without knowing their motivation for doing all this. With the exception of Silbury Hill, I can see circumstances in which all those monuments represent the least overall effort to achieve certain types of aim. So I can also imagine that practicality could have been a, (if not the), major construction consideration.

Anonymous said...

Geocur

Balfarg is not a long barrow as suggested, its a henge?

As it was the example you used to justify you claim, I suggest that the long barrow was there prior to the hall as quoted in the statement.

Also LB's have stone chamber walls where they left the bones of the dead. Clearly, this is a funeral pyre, both forms of burial are from different societies at different times.

geocur said...

Anon /RJL ,there is a henge at Balfarg in fact there might be two , there are also many other monuments including a wooden mortuary house/which has also been interpreted as a hall this predated any covering mound .Your earlier description
"the hall was built on top of the long barrow " is not borne out by the archaeos description " each buried within a prehistoric burial mound ".
There is no reason to suggest it is a funeral pyre , it is hall /mortuary house that has been burnt , common practice with both monuments but the practice is not a cremation it is burning the wooden monument .As the timber hall and Long Barrow traditions overlap there is no reason to suggest that this was from a different period or different"society " .

geocur said...

Jon , I'm sure for the builders in some cases , it was simply what they had to do , in others e.g. Silbury , Stonehenge it was cumulative , with the original builders never having any notion of what the final monument at their site would look like .

geocur said...

Anon /RJL . "LB's have stone chamber walls where they left the bones of the dead." Not all long barrows fit that description , there is a large group barrows , the Earthen Long barrows , that don't have stone chamber walls ,,wooden mortuary srtuctures are also found as part of their architecture ,under the mound .

Jon Morris said...

Jon , I'm sure for the builders in some cases , it was simply what they had to do , in others e.g. Silbury , Stonehenge it was cumulative

Agreed: Especially those two.

geocur said...

Anon/RJL If it wasn't already obvious enough this should clarify that the timber hall(s) /mortuary structures were not built upon or after the Barrows . About 18 secs in note "underneath ""http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/nessofbrodgar/

geocur said...

Apologies , that link related to "underneath " should have been .
http://ruvr.co.uk/2013_07_30/dead-found-Herefordshire/

Anonymous said...

Geocur

2.27 of your ref 'turned into a long cairn of stone'.

More archaeological nonsense.

geocur said...

c

geocur said...

oops sorry Brian dunno how that previous post got like that . Missed the e and m ?

RJL , 2.27 ? If that is a ref to the interview ,then that could be describing one of the mounds .In what way is that "archaeological nonsense " ?. Mind you ,if you think all long barrows "have stone chambers where they left the bones of the dead " and manage to construe that the timber hall(s) were built on top of the barrows when it is perfectly clear from the descriptions they weren't , then you might imagine anything .

BRIAN JOHN said...

I thought it was a coded message, between you and somebody anonymous. i published it because I thought it might be important......

geocur said...

Mind you c is used all the time these days , but not having a mobile and never having sent a text I shouldn't know .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Congratulations! I am a no mobile / no text person as well..... much to the disgust of the grandchildren.

geocur said...

I don't have a watch either but do wear clothes .

TonyH said...

Have just achieved senior citizen status and still no mobile phone. But down 'ere in prehistoric Wiltshire very few do 'ave 'em. Just gather together in the Causewayed Camps every so often.......

Myris of Alexandria said...

No I have never used a heliograph either, bluetooth-have you seen the price of Egyptian Blue! Papyrii and a slave with long legs and good lungs was good enough for my forfathers, plus a bit of hand waving.
M

alexgee said...

Thanks Brian
How do we know that these timber structures were set fire to?

Just curious

Cheers
Alex

TonyH said...

Myris

Brian is the expert on the Norwegian Blue of course, he bought several from a rather dodgy Michael Palin back in the '60's.

Tony

TonyH said...

Alex

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Light the blue touch paper and retreat..........

BRIAN JOHN said...

Alex -- don't ask me! If anybody involved in the dig is reading this, over to you......

geocur said...

For anyone interested in recognition of burnt timbers within a mortuary enclosure .See .

http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-352-1/dissemination/pdf/vol_121/121_027_044.pdf