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Archive for August 30th, 2011

An archaeologist believes a wall carving in a south Wales cave could be Britain’s oldest example of rock art.

The location of the wall carving is being kept secret for the time being

The location of the wall carving is being kept secret for the time being

The faint scratchings of a speared reindeer are believed to have been carved by a hunter-gatherer in the Ice Age more than 14,000 years ago.

The archaeologist who found the carving on the Gower peninsula, Dr George Nash, called it “very, very exciting.”

Experts are working to verify the discovery, although its exact location is being kept secret for now.

Dr Nash, a part-time academic for Bristol University, made the discovery while at the caves in September 2010.

He told BBC Wales: “It was a strange moment of being in the right place at the right time with the right kit.

“For 20-odd years I have been taking students to this cave and talking about what was going on there.

“They went back to their cars and the bus and I decided to have a little snoop around in the cave as I’ve never had the chance to do it before.

“Within a couple of minutes I was scrubbing at the back of a very strange and awkward recess and there a very faint image bounced in front of me – I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

He said that although the characteristics of the reindeer drawing match many found in northern Europe around 4,000-5,000 years later, the discovery of flint tools in the cave in the 1950s could hold the key to the carving’s true date.

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“Start Quote

This drawing was done with the right hand and the niche is very, very tight”

End Quote Dr George Nash

“In the 1950s, Cambridge University undertook an excavation there and found 300-400 pieces of flint and dated it to between 12,000-14,000 BC.

“This drawing was done with the right hand and the niche is very, very tight and the engraving has been done by somebody using a piece of flint who has drawn a classic reindeer design.

“My colleagues in England have been doing some work in Nottinghamshire at Creswell Crags and got very nice dates for a red deer and one or two other images of around 12,000-14,000 BC.

“I think this [newly found carving] may be roughly the same period or may be even earlier.”

Glacial geology

The limestone cliffs along the Gower coast are known for their archaeological importance.

The Red Lady of Paviland, actually the remains of a young male, is the earliest formal human burial to have been found in western Europe. It is thought to be roughly around 29,000 years old.

It was discovered at Goat’s Hole Cave at Paviland on Gower in 1823 by William Buckland, then a geology professor at Oxford University.

Dr Nash added: “We know from the glacial geology of the area this was an open area just before the ice limit came down from the glaciers 15,000-20,000 years ago and it stops just about 2km short of the cave site.

“We know hunter fisher gatherers were roaming around this landscape, albeit seasonally, and they were burying their dead 30,000 years ago and making their mark through artistic endeavour between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago.”

The find is now being officially dated and verified by experts at the National Museum of Wales and Cadw.

Its location will be revealed to the public in the future.

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Archaeologists searching for King Arthur’s round table have found a “circular feature” beneath the historic King’s Knot in Stirling.

The King's Knot in the grounds of Stirling Castle

The King's Knot in the grounds of Stirling Castle

The King’s Knot, a geometrical earthwork in the former royal gardens below Stirling Castle, has been shrouded in mystery for hundreds of years.

Though the Knot as it appears today dates from the 1620s, its flat-topped central mound is thought to be much older.

Writers going back more than six centuries have linked the landmark to the legend of King Arthur.

Archaeologists from Glasgow University, working with the Stirling Local History Society and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society, conducted the first ever non-invasive survey of the site in May and June in a bid to uncover some of its secrets.

Their findings were show there was indeed a round feature on the site that pre-dates the visible earthworks.

Historian John Harrison, chair of the SLHS, who initiated the project, said: “Archaeologists using remote-sensing geophysics, have located remains of a circular ditch and other earth works beneath the King’s Knot.

“The finds show that the present mound was created on an older site and throws new light on a tradition that King Arthur’s Round Table was located in this vicinity.”

Stories have been told about the curious geometrical mound for hundreds of years — including that it was the Round Table where King Arthur gathered his knights.

Around 1375 the Scots poet John Barbour said that “the round table” was south of Stirling Castle, and in 1478 William of Worcester told how “King Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle”.

Sir David Lindsay, the 16th century Scottish writer, added to the legend in 1529 when he said that Stirling Castle was home of the “Chapell-royall, park, and Tabyll Round”.

It has also been suggested the site is partly Iron Age or medieval, or was used as a Roman fort.

Extensive work on the royal gardens was carried out in the early 17th century for Charles I, when the mound is thought to have taken its current form.

The first known record of the site being called the King’s Knot is from 1767, by which time it was being leased for pasture.

Locals refer to the grassy earthworks as the “cup and saucer”, but aerial photographs taken in 1980 showed three concentric ditches beneath and around the King’s Knot mound, suggesting an earthwork monument had preceded it.

The new survey — funded by Historic Scotland and Stirling City Heritage Trust — used the latest scientific techniques to showing lost structures and features up to a metre below the ground.

It also revealed a series of ditches south of the main mound, as well as remains of buildings, and more recent structures, including modern drains which appear at the northern end of the gardens.

Mr Harrison, who has studied the King’s Knot for 20 years, said: “It is a mystery which the documents cannot solve, but geophysics has given us new insights.

“Of course, we cannot say that King Arthur was there, but the feature which surrounds the core of the Knot could explain the stories and beliefs that people held.”

Archaeologist Stephen Digney, who coordinated the project, said: “The area around Stirling Castle holds some of the finest medieval landscapes in Europe.

“This investigation is an exciting first step in a serious effort to explore, explain and interpret them. The results so far suggest that Scotland’s monarchs integrated an ancient feature into their garden, something we know happened in other countries too.

“We are looking forward to the next stage in September when we hope to refine some of the details.”

Dr. Kirsty Owen, Cultural Heritage Adviser at Historic Scotland, added: “The project has the potential to add to our knowledge of the landscape context of the medieval and early modern occupation of Stirling Castle.

“The ditches identified may intriguingly be part of historically documented earlier garden features, or if prehistoric in origin could add to our scant knowledge of prehistoric activity at Stirling Castle.

“We look forward to seeing the results of the next phase of investigations.”Futher work including a ground-penetrating radar survey, is now planned to take place next month to find out more.

A small display of the interim results can be seen close to the site at the Smith Museum.

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