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Archive for August 12th, 2010

First sighting of Perseids in Wiltshire

Perseids

The Perseids are particles left in the wake of the Swift-Tuttle comet

A Wiltshire man was startled to see a bright light in the sky travelling fast on Saturday 7 August.

Daniel Hodder from Salisbury was travelling along the A303 when he spotted the object.

He said: “We saw an enormous light in the sky north of Amesbury. We could only assume it was a meteorite.

“It was a very bright, white and blue light moving incredibly fast to our right-hand side, there was a long stream, a long tail of about 400 or 500 metres.”

Andy Burns from the Wiltshire Astronomical Society had a straightforward explanation for what Daniel and several other people witnessed on the day.

He said: “What has been seen is a meteor, not a meteorite. A meteorite actually lands on the earth and is a lump of rock or stone that you can pick up. A meteor is a stone in the atmosphere that burns up.

“What we are seeing is the beginnings of the Perseids meteor shower. This tallies with the very bright fireball that has been seen in the north. You don’t need a telescope to see this type of phenomenon, you can see it with the naked eye.”

Daniel Hodder from Salisbury spotted the Perseids on Saturday 7 August

The Perseids are visible between 23 July and 22 August every year, but peak activity is expected on the nights of 12 and 13 August with around 80 meteors per hour.

Like most meteor showers, the Perseids can be traced to the orbit of a comet, in this case that of Swift-Tuttle.

The meteors consist of dust-sized particles which burn up on entering the Earth’s atmosphere, at an altitude of 60 to 70 miles, as the Earth passes through the trail left by the comet.

It’s consistently impressive display can be traced as far back as 36AD when Chinese astronomers noted high numbers of meteors.

The best way to observe them is to look towards the northeast after dark. They appear to originate from the constellation of Perseus, which at midnight lies just below the easily recognisable ‘W’ of Cassiopeia.

The highest frequency of meteors is likely just after midnight but with the moon, just past full, the best time to look for the ‘shooting stars’ will be between 9:00pm and 10:00pm when the moon is still low.

The chalk downland of Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge was named by the National Trust in 2009 as one of the seven best places in the UK to witness the Perseids.

They consider that light pollution in towns and cities has increased so much in recent years, that the countryside is the perfect environment to witness such astronomical spectacles as the Perseids.

Stonehenge has been voted the best place to witnes this meteor shower

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Stonehenge and Wiltshire

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It is cramped, draughty and unlikely to win any design awards. But, according to archaeologists, this wooden hut is one of the most important buildings ever created in Britain.

The newly discovered circular structure – as shown in our artist’s impression – is the country’s oldest known home.

Built more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge, it provided shelter from the icy winds and storms that battered the nomadic hunters roaming Britain at the end of the last ice age.

Ancient find: Manchester University student Ruth Whyte on the archaelogical dig in Flixton near Scarborough which has unearthed an 11,000 year old tree and remainsAncient find: Manchester University student Ruth Whyte on the archaelogical dig in Flixton near Scarborough which has unearthed an 11,000 year old tree and remains

Pictures from the dig where archaeologists believe that one of the first houses in Britain may have been buriedPictures from the dig where archaeologists believe that one of the first houses in Britain may have been buried

The remains of the 11ft-wide building, discovered near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, have been dated to at least 8,500BC. It stood next to an ancient lake and close to the remains of a wooden quayside.

Dr Chantal Conneller, from the University of Manchester, said it was between 500 and 1,000 years older than the previous record holder, a building found at Howick, Northumberland.

‘This changes our ideas of the lives of the first settlers to move back into Britain after the end of the last ice age,’ she said. ‘We used to think they moved around a lot and left little evidence.

‘Now we know they built large structures and were very attached to particular places in the landscape.’

None of the wood used to make the building has survived. Instead, archaeologists found the tell-tale signs of 18 timber posts, arranged in a circle. The centre of the structure had been hollowed out and filled with organic material.

STONEAGE HOUSESTONEAGE HOUSE

The researchers believe the floor was once carpeted with a layer of reeds, moss or grasses and that there may have been a fireplace.

Dr Conneller said the hut was used for at least 200 to 500 years – and may have been abandoned for long stretches.

‘We don’t know much about it and we don’t know what it was used for,’ she said. ‘It might have been a domestic structure, although you could only fit three or four people in it. It could have been a form of ritual structure because there is evidence of ritual activity on the site.’

Previous archaeological digs have unearthed head-dresses made from deer skulls close to the hut, along with remains of flints, the paddle of a boat, antler tools, fish hooks and beads.

Archaeologists have been excavating at the Mesolithic site Star Carr since 2003 Archaeologists have been excavating at the Mesolithic site Star Carr since 2003

The researchers also found a large wooden platform alongside the ancient – and long vanished – lake at Star Carr. It was made from timbers which were split and hewn.

The platform, which may have been a quay, is the earliest evidence of carpentry in Europe. At the time, Britain was connected to the rest of Europe. The occupiers of the hut were nomads who migrated from an area now under the North Sea to hunt deer, wild boar, elk and wild cattle.

Dr Nicky Milner, from the University of York, said: ‘This is a sensational discovery and tells us so much about the people who lived at this time.

‘From this excavation, we gain a vivid picture of how these people lived. For example, it looks like the house may have been rebuilt at various stages.

The ancient Star Carr site is located not far from the Yorkshire town of ScarboroughThe ancient Star Carr site is located not far from the Yorkshire town of Scarborough

 

‘It is also likely there was more than one house and lots of people lived here. And the artefacts of antler, particularly the antler headdresses, are intriguing, as they suggest ritual activities.’

Although Britain had been visited by hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, it was only at the end of the last ice age, when the glaciers finally retreated from Scotland, that the country became permanently occupied.

Thousands of miles away, in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of Mesopotamia, the earliest farmers were learning how to sow seeds and domesticate animals in a discovery that would transform the world – and herald the age of villages, writing and civilisation.

But in northern Europe, the hunter-gatherer way of life that had served prehistoric man for millennia remained unchallenged.

 

A depiction of a stone-age house in Ireland.A depiction of a stone-age house in Ireland. The original building at Star Carr would have looked very similar to this, with thatched roof and circular shape

Salisbury and Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History

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