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Archive for June, 2011

THE rain failed to dampen spirits as thousands of Druids, Pagans and tourists gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice on Tuesday morning.

About 18,000 revellers from across the country and abroad braved the weather to welcome the longest day at the ancient stone circle.

Although the sun did not make an appearance as dawn broke in an overcast sky, people enjoyed the festival atmosphere with Morris dancers, musicians and people in traditional robes.

The rain stopped before the sun rose at about 4.51am and crowds cheered as the sky started to brighten.

Denny Bartley, who travels from Essex with friends every year for the Solstice, said: “It’s been good – the Solstice is a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and I enjoy being with the other druids.”

Pagan rituals were led by senior druid King Arthur Pendragon at the Heel Stone, which included two pagan marriage ceremonies.

Mr Pendragon said: “It has been a good night. There are a lot of youngsters and a lot of people here asking all the right questions – they’re here for the right reasons.

“A lot of people came here to celebrate the birth of the sun for the longest day.”

Fewer people attended than last year, something which head of Stonehenge Peter Carson put down to the weather and the fact that the Solstice fell mid-week.

“It’s gone extremely well considering how poor the weather was. Everyone has come along and had a fantastic time yet again and they are leaving with big smiles on their faces,” said Mr Carson.

By Hannah White http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/

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 The weather may not be anything to write a postcard home about – but the West’s tourism industry enjoyed a twin boost yesterday.

Key visitor attractions featured prominently in the first global TV adverts for a decade and new research showed up to 17 million Brits will holiday at home this year.

VisitBritain, the national tourism agency, yesterday unveiled its international TV campaign to attract overseas visitors to the country.

The adverts will be screened around the world, and include Stonehenge, Glastonbury and the Cotswolds.

Stonehenge is already in the spotlight because of the summer solstice, and VisitBritain say the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most important prehistoric monuments on the planet.

As well as the 5,000-year-old site, there are money Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in the surrounding landscape, and Avebury, the largest stone circle in Europe, is nearby.

Glastonbury is synonymous with the annual music festival taking place at the weekend, with international superstars such as U2, Coldplay and Beyonce, as well as theatre and circus performers and much more.but VisitBritain also point to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, and the iconic Tor, along with myths and legends about the Isle of Avalon, King Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail.

The agency adds: “For many visitors, the Cotswolds represent everything that is quintessentially ‘English’, with villages and churches of honey-coloured limestone set among gentle hillsides, cottage gardens, beech woods and drystone walls.”

Historic sites include Sudeley Castle and Chedworth Roman Villa, while VisitBritain urges tourists to sample local produce such as Gloucester Old Spot pork, Tewkesbury mustard and the famous Cotswold cheeses.

Other locations in the TV adverts include London landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral, the Lake District, Snowdon in Wales, Edinburgh Castle and the Highlands.

Celebrities such as actress Dame Judi Dench, fashion icon Twiggy and chef Jamie Oliver – who has restaurants in Bath and Bristol with another opening in Cheltenham this summer – star in them.

The campaign kicks off a major marketing push that seeks to build on the global impact of the Royal Wedding, with the Olympics next year also guaranteeing the international spotlight.

It will concentrate on the current most important tourism markets, such as the US and Western Europe, and the big growth areas for the future, including China and India.

VisitBritain chief executive Sandie Dawe said: “This is our first global TV campaign for 10 years and marks the start of an ambitious marketing programme. With the eyes of the world on us, we have an opportunity to showcase Britain and then to close the sale with great travel deals and offers from our partners.

“This campaign aims to inspire visitors to come and explore for themselves. Over four years, we aim to attract four million extra overseas visitors, who will spend £2 billion across Britain.”

Meanwhile a new survey has found nearly 40 per cent of Britons will stay at home this summer as families strive to balance household finances.

Many of them will instead enjoy ‘staycations’, with the West sure to cash in.

The poll was carried out for savings bank ING Direct, and chief executive Richard Doe said: “It’s not surprising that the summer holiday is often being sacrificed.”

Visiting Britain ? Visit the West Country!

Wessex Tour Guide
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The Trundle near Chichester, Sussex, is one of the first large monuments built in Britain

The Trundle near Chichester, Sussex, is one of the first large monuments built in Britain

Researchers have developed a new dating technique that has given the first detailed picture of the emergence of an agricultural way of life in Britain more than 5,000 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

A new analysis of artefacts recovered from the first monuments built in Britain shows that the Neolithic period had a slow start followed by a rapid growth in trade and technology.

Scientists say the new approach can be used to unravel the detailed sequence of events of many more important moments in human prehistory.

It relies in part on radio-carbon dating – counting the amount of a radioactive type of carbon atom in decaying matter. But the methodology also incorporates many other dating sources, together with some powerful statistical analysis, to produce far more discrete timings for happenings in the past.

The Neolithic period in Britain occurred between 4000 and 2000BC.

It was when people took up agriculture as a way of life and stopped being nomadic hunter-gatherers.

It also saw the emergence of trade across the British Isles and the development of new technologies. But until now, we have had only a rather coarse picture of the chronology of events during this eventful period in our history.

The new analysis by Dr Alex Bayliss, an English Heritage dating expert, has brought the occurrences of that time into sharper focus.

“We can start to tell a bigger story and write a history for the prehistory of Neolithic Britain,” she told BBC News.

“What we thought before was very imprecise. We simply knew that all sorts of different sites and all sorts of new kinds of practices started to happen sometime in the 500 or 600 years of the early Neolithic in Britain.

“We’ve actually now been able to give a timetable, or story of what happened when, to disentangle these things so that we can start to see why certain things may have followed others.”

According to Dr Bayliss’s analysis, Neolithic farming practices began in south-east England probably a few decades before 4,000BC. But then they spread very, very slowly, taking about two centuries to reach western parts of England. And then, she says, there was a sudden increase in activity.

“Monuments, cattle, sheep, the whole farming way of life, bursts across Britain and suddenly – having taken 200 years from getting from Kent to Gloucestershire – it then takes 50 years to get from Cheltenham to Aberdeen.”

The new dating also indicates that by 3700-3800BC, early Britons had developed pottery with regional styles of decorations. Long-distance trading networks were also being established in stone axes and certain other types of pottery

Windmill Hill, a large Neolithic causewayed enclosure in Avebury, was previously thought to have been built around 3700-3100 BC. The new dating shows it was built in 3700-3640 BC
Windmill Hill, a large Neolithic causewayed enclosure in Avebury, was previously thought to have been built around 3700-3100 BC. The new dating shows it was built in 3700-3640 BC

Of particular interest are the first monuments that were built in Britain, called causewayed enclosures. These were made up of concentric rings of ditches and banks – the largest of which can span 300m (1,000ft).

It had been thought that they spread slowly across the country over five centuries. But the new dating approach suggests they spread rapidly within 75 years.

This revelation has been described by archaeologists working on the project as Britain’s first “building boom”.

Professor Alistair Whittle of Cardiff University said: “With more accurate dating, the Neolithic period is no longer the sleepy, hazy swathe of time where it is the default position to lump everything together.

“This research fundamentally challenges the notion that little happened among our Stone Age farmers. We can now think about the Neolithic period in terms of more rapid changes, constant movement of people and fast diffusion of ideas.”

Collective violence

One interpretation of these events is that once the initial “pioneer” phase of the Neolithic period was over, independent groups of people came over from the continent and set up villages across Britain and social structures began to form.

These social structures led to the construction of the enclosures for people to gather and possibly for chieftains to emerge and amass power.

The new dating suggests that there was more collective violence once the enclosures were built. Several of them, particularly in western Britain, were attacked by large numbers of people with showers of arrows, and enclosures’ ramparts were burned down.

This indicates that the enclosures created a hierarchy that was being contested in some way.

The new dating technique involves comparing carbon dates with other markers in the archaeological record. On its own carbon dating is imprecise, but when it is cross-reference with documented events it allows researchers to more accurately date artefacts.

Researchers say this new methodology could in principle be used shed further light on any significant event in our prehistory, such as the emergence of farming in China and the collapse of the Mayan civilisation in the Americas.

 

A reconstruction of the Whitehawk causewayed enclosure in the South Downs, Sussex
A reconstruction of the Whitehawk causewayed enclosure in the South Downs, Sussex

Why not visit Windmill Hill and nearby Avebury and learn more about Neolithic Britain?

Stonehenge and Avebury stone Circle Tour Guide
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Archaeological investigation dates Marlborough Mound at around 2400 BC 

The Wiltshire landscape around Avebury and Silbury Hill is the heart of prehistoric Britain, and has World Heritage designation. Now another monument can be added to its archaeological treasures: the Marlborough Mound.

William Stukeley’s 1723 image of Marlborough “Mount”

William Stukeley’s 1723 image of Marlborough “Mount”

The Mound, in the grounds of Marlborough College, was already recognised as a feature of considerable historical significance. It was the motte on which the keep of Marlborough Castle was built fifty years after the Norman Conquest and it subsequently became the centrepiece of a major seventeenth century garden. The latest research has extended its history back by three millennia.

Recent coring of the mound at Marlborough College produced four samples of charcoal, allowing radiocarbon dating for the first time. The samples, which came from different levels in the mound, were taken from two bore holes through the height of the 19m monument, showing that it was built in the years around 2400 BC. This is the first firm evidence proving the theory that the castle motte is largely a re-used prehistoric structure of the highest national standing.

Jim Leary, who led the recent archaeological investigations for English Heritage at the nearby Silbury Hill, and is co-author of the recently published ‘The Story of Silbury Hill’ coordinated EH’s contribution, which also included radiocarbon dating. He says, “This is an astonishing discovery. The Marlborough Mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape. For centuries people have wondered whether it is Silbury’s little sister; and now we have an answer. This is a very exciting time for British prehistory”

After the prehistoric mound was re-used as a castle motte – the only known example of its kind – it became an important royal castle for the Norman and Plantagenet kings. It was occasionally the scene of major political events, such as the general oath of allegiance to King John in 1209, as well as being a favourite royal hunting lodge. In the fourteenth century the castle passed to the queens of England, and gradually became neglected.

In the seventeenth century it came into the possession of the Seymour family, and its next avatar was as a feature in a historically significant early romantic garden: a spiral ramp was cut in its side, with a hawthorn hedge enclosing the path which wound to the summit, where there was a water feature.

The Master of Marlborough College, Mr Nicholas Sampson, said: ‘We are thrilled at this discovery, which confirms the long and dramatic history of this beautiful site and offers opportunity for tremendous educational enrichment.’

The work is part of a major conservation programme being undertaken by the Marlborough Mound Trust, specially formed at the invitation of the College and under the coordination of Donald Insall Associates. The Chairman of the Trust, Mr Michael Macfadyen says, ‘The inspiration for this was our founder Eric Elstob, a former pupil at the College, whose generous legacy has provided the means for this work. He would have been totally delighted by this news.’

Links: https://www.marlboroughcollege.org

“This is an astonishing discovery. The Marlborough Mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape. For centuries people have wondered whether it is Silbury’s little sister; and now we have an answer. This is a very exciting time for British prehistory”

Wiltshire Tour Guide
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