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AMESBURY’S archaeology will come under the spotlight again this weekend with a significant dig on the outskirts of the town.

A BBC crew will be filming the excavations in the area known as Blick Mead for a documentary focussing on the area’s Mesolithic past. Thousands of flints and primitive tools have already been found at the site, and with many more expected to be uncovered, Amesbury could prove to be the home of the largest collection of Mesolithic finds in the country.

Although the dig is taking place on private land, the Amesbury community will be able to learn more about the discoveries at a special event taking place at the town’s new museum.

AMESBURY’S archaeology will come under the spotlight again this weekend with a significant dig on the outskirts of the town.

A BBC crew will be filming the excavations in the area known as Blick Mead for a documentary focussing on the area’s Mesolithic past.

Thousands of flints and primitive tools have already been found at the site, and with many more expected to be uncovered, Amesbury could prove to be the home of the largest collection of Mesolithic finds in the country.

Although the dig is taking place on private land, the Amesbury community will be able to learn more about the discoveries at a special event taking place at the town’s new museum.

The dig is creating widespread interest, with a leading archaeological magazine branding Amesbury “the cradle of Stonehenge”.

“With hundreds of worked flint tools appearing in every measured collection of soil sample that is wet sieved, it looks very likely that the haul of tools and finds will, in volume alone, surpass any other Mesolithic site ever found in Britain,” said Andy Rhind-Tutt, founder of the Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust.

“Experts believe this will give sound evidence as to why Stonehenge is where it is and why our ancestors travelled hundreds of miles over thousands of years to be here.”The dig is being led by archaeologist David Jacques, who is working with a team of experts and Open University students.It will feature in a special BBC programme expected to be broadcast next year, and it is hoped the discoveries will enhance Amesbury’s bid to become a tourist destination based on its historic significance.

In addition to the special opening this weekend, Amesbury Museum is also open every Wednesday from 11am to 3pm when visitors can also use the cafe and library of local history books.

By Jill Harding – http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/

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Long before the Egyptians began the pyramids, Neolithic man built a vast temple complex at the top of what is now Scotland. Robin McKie visits the astonishing Ness of Brodgar

Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site. Photograph: Adam Stanford

Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site. Photograph: Adam Stanford

Drive west from Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, and then head north on the narrow B9055 and you will reach a single stone monolith that guards the entrance to a spit of land known as the Ness of Brodgar. The promontory separates the island’s two largest bodies of freshwater, the Loch of Stenness and the  Loch of Harray. At their furthest edges, the lochs’ peaty brown water laps against fields and hills that form a natural amphitheatre;  a landscape peppered with giant rings of stone, chambered cairns, ancient villages and other archaeological riches.

This is the heartland of the Neolithic North, a bleak, mysterious place that has made  Orkney a magnet for archaeologists, historians and other researchers. For decades they  have tramped the island measuring and ex- cavating its great Stone Age sites. The land was surveyed, mapped and known until a recent chance discovery revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all  others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.

This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although  it covers more than six acres of land.”

Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

The people of the Neolithic – the new Stone Age – were the first farmers in Britain, and they arrived on Orkney about 6,000 years ago. They cultivated the land, built farmsteads and rapidly established a vibrant culture, erecting giant stone circles, chambered communal tombs – and a giant complex of buildings at the Ness  of Brodgar. The religious beliefs that underpinned these vast works is unknown, however, as is the purpose of the Brodgar temples.

“This wasn’t a settlement or a place for the living,” says archaeologist Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, who excavated the nearby Barnhouse settlement  in the 1980s. “This was a ceremonial centre, and a vast one at that. But the religious beliefs of its builders remain a mystery.”

What is clear is that the cultural energy of the few thousand farming folk of Orkney dwarfed those of other civilisations at that time. In size and sophistication, the Ness of Brodgar is comparable with Stonehenge or the wonders of ancient Egypt. Yet the temple complex predates them all. The fact that this great stately edifice was constructed on Orkney, an island that has become a byword for remoteness, makes the site’s discovery all the more remarkable. For many archaeologists, its discovery has revolutionised our understanding of ancient Britain.

“We need to turn the map of Britain upside down when we consider the Neolithic and shrug off our south-centric attitudes,” says Card, now Brodgar’s director of excavations. “London may be the cultural hub of Britain today, but 5,000 years ago, Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.”

It is a view shared by local historian Tom Muir, of the Orkney Museum. “The whole text book of British archaeology for this period will have to be torn up and rewritten from scratch thanks to this place,” he says.

 

Farmers first reached Orkney on boats that took them across the narrow – but treacherously dangerous – Pentland Firth from mainland Scotland. These were the people of the New Stone Age, and they brought cattle, pigs and sheep with them, as well as grain to plant and ploughs to till the land. The few hunter-gatherers already living on Orkney were replaced and farmsteads were established across the archipelago. These early farmers were clearly successful, though life would still have been precarious, with hunting providing precious supplies of extra protein. At the village of Knap o’Howar on Papay the bones of domesticated cattle, sheep and pigs have been found alongside those of wild deer, whales and seals, for example, while analysis of human bones from the period suggest that few people reached the age of 50. Those who survived childhood usually died in their 30s.

Discarded stone tools and shards of elegant pottery also indicate that the early Orcadians were developing an increasingly sophisticated society. Over the centuries, their small farming communities coalesced into larger tribal units, possibly with an elite ruling class, and they began to construct bigger and bigger monuments. These sites included the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae; the giant chambered grave of Maeshowe, a Stone Age mausoleum whose internal walls were later carved with runes by Vikings; and the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two huge neighbouring circles of standing stones. These are some of the finest Neolithic monuments in the world, and in 1999 they were given World Heritage status by Unesco, an act that led directly to the discovery of the Ness of Brodgar.

“Being given World Heritage status meant we had to think about the land surrounding the sites,” says Card. “We decided to carry out geophysical surveys to see what else might be found there.” Such surveys involve the use of magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint manmade artefacts hidden underground. And the first place selected by Card  for this electromagnetic investigation was the Ness of Brodgar.

The ridge was assumed to be natural. However, Card’s magnetometers showed that it was entirely manmade and bristled with features that included lines of walls, concentric pathways and outlines of large buildings.  “The density of these features stunned us,”  says Card. At first, given its size, the team assumed they had stumbled on a general site  that had been in continuous use for some  time, providing shelter for people for most  of Orkney’s history, from prehistoric to  medieval times. “No other interpretation seemed to fit the observations,” adds Card. But once more the Ness of Brodgar would confound expectations.

Test pits, a metre square across, were drilled in lines across the ridge and revealed elaborate walls, slabs of carefully carved rock, and pieces of pottery. None came from the Bronze Age, however, nor from the Viking era or medieval times. Dozens of pits were dug over the ridge, an area the size of five football pitches, and every one revealed items with  a Neolithic background.

Then the digging began in earnest and quickly revealed the remains of buildings of startling sophistication. Carefully made pathways surrounded walls – some of them several metres high – that had been constructed with patience and precision.

“It was absolutely stunning,” says Colin Richards. “The walls were dead straight. Little slithers of stones had even been slipped between the main slabs to keep the facing perfect. This quality of workmanship would not be seen again on Orkney for thousands of years.”

 

Slowly the shape and dimensions of  the Ness of Brodgar site revealed themselves. Two great walls, several metres high, had been built straight across the ridge. There was no way you could pass along the Ness without going through the complex. Within those walls  a series of temples had been built, many on top of older ones. “The place seems to have been in use for a thousand years, with building going on all the time,” says Card.

More than a dozen of these temples have already been uncovered though only about 10% of  the site has been fully excavated so far.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” says York University archaeologist Professor Mark Edmonds. “The density of the archaeology, the scale of the buildings and the skill that was used to construct them are simply phenomenal. There are very few dry-stone walls on Orkney today that could match the ones we have uncovered here. Yet they are more than 5,000 years old in places, still standing a couple of metres high. This was a place that was meant to impress – and it still does.”

But it is not just the dimensions that have surprised and delighted archaeologists. Two years ago, their excavations revealed that  haematite-based pigments had been used to  paint external walls – another transformation  in our thinking about the Stone Age. “We see Neolithic remains after they have been bleached out and eroded,” says Edmonds. “However, it is now clear from Brodgar that buildings could have been perfectly cheerful and colourful.”

The men and women who built at the Ness also used red and yellow sandstone to enliven their constructions. (More than 3,000 years later, their successors used the same materials when building St Magnus’ Cathedral in  Kirkwall.) But what was the purpose of their construction work and why put it in the Ness of Brodgar? Of the two questions, the latter is the easier to answer – for the Brodgar headland  is clearly special. “When you stand here, you find yourself in a glorious landscape,” says Card. “You are in the middle of a natural amphitheatre created by the hills around you.”

The surrounding hills are relatively low, and a great dome of sky hangs over Brodgar, perfect for watching the setting and rising of the sun, moon and other celestial objects. (Card believes the weather on Orkney may have been warmer and clearer 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.) Cosmology would have been critical to society then, he argues, helping farmers predict the seasons –  a point supported by scientists such as the late Alexander Thom, who believed that the Ring of Brodgar was an observatory designed for studying the movement of the moon.

These outposts of Neolithic astronomy, although impressive, were nevertheless  peripheral, says Richards. The temple complex at the Ness of Brodgar was built to be the most important construction on the island. “The stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the other features  of the landscape were really just adjuncts to that great edifice,” he says. Or as another archaeologist put it: “By comparison, everything else  in the area looks like a shanty town.”

For a farming community of a few thousand people to create such edifices suggests that the Ness of Brodgar was of profound importance. Yet its purpose remains elusive. The ritual purification of the dead by fire may be involved, suggests Card. As he points out, several of the temples at Brodgar have hearths, though this was clearly not a domestic dwelling. In addition, archeologists have found that many of the stone mace heads (hard, polished, holed stones) that litter the site had been broken in two in exactly the same place. “We have found evidence of this at other sites,” says Richards. “It may be that relatives broke them  in two at a funeral, leaving one  part with the dead and one with family as a memorial to the dead. This was a place concerned with death and the deceased, I believe.”

Equally puzzling was the fate of the complex. Around 2,300BC, roughly a thousand years after construction began there, the place was abruptly abandoned. Radiocarbon dating of animal bones suggests that a huge feast ceremony was held, with more than 600 cattle slaughtered, after which the site appears to have been decommissioned. Perhaps a transfer of power took place or a new religion replaced the old one. Whatever the reason, the great temple complex – on which Orcadians had lavished almost a millennium’s effort – was abandoned and forgotten for the next 4,000 years.
Full Article by Robin McKie – The Observer,            

For more information or to donate to the dig, go to orkneyarchaeologysociety.org.uk

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A new find in the region surrounding the Ring of Brodgar, a stone-pillar construction mounted atop a sloping terrain, has overthrown the scientific conception of Stone Age life in the British Isles. Archeologists have uncovered a six-acre temple complex of painted stone and paved walkways, which was built five thousand years ago—before the pyramids of Egypt or even Stonehenge.

Archaeologists excavate the ruins. Photo: Susan van Gelder

Archaeologists excavate the ruins. Photo: Susan van Gelder

As Robin McKie writes in The Guardian, although the Ring of Brodgar has long been a focus of archeological excavation, a geophysical survey of the Ness of Brodgar, the region around the temple, “revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.”

What archaeologists thought to be a natural moraine, a pile of dirt and rock left over by a receding glacier, turned out to be much more. Buried beneath the dirt were “two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high.” Within these walls, says McKie,

[T]he complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

According to scientists working on the dig, the findings suggest the northern Orkney Islands may be spawning point for much of Stone Age British culture. As Nick Card with the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology told The Guardian,

Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.

Full Article: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2012/10/archaeologists-uncover-massive-stone-age-complex-in-scotland/

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Archaeologists hunting for the remains of King Richard III may have made a crucial breakthrough – after finding human remains in the ruins of a medieval friary underneath a modern-day car park.

A team from Leicester University, which has been digging in the city centre, will today announce what it claims is “a dramatic development in the search for crucial breakthrough – after finding human remains in the ruins of a medieval friary underneath a modern-day car park.

A team from Leicester University, which has been digging in the city centre, will today announce what it claims is “a dramatic development in the search for Richard III”.

Last month, archaeologists began searching for the body of the last king of the House of York, who was defeated in battle by a Lancastrian army in 1485. They have unearthed the site of a Franciscan friary in Leicester called Grey Friars, and also believe they have found the burial place of Richard – a church – where human remains were found. The DNA material will be tested to see if matches that of a 17th-generation descendent of the monarch’s sister.
NICK CLARK – http://www.independent.co.uk

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Richard Taylor, a spokesman for the university, said: “What we have uncovered is truly remarkable”.

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TOP ARCHAEOLOGY NEWS SITES

There are many websites with the latest world archaeological news. Here are our recommendations:

  1. Archaeologica Hand-picked links to each day’s top stories. Usually about six per day.
  2. Archaeology Magazine Updated every weekday, a summary with links to about six news stories.
  3. BBC Latest Archaeology News Selected top stories – about one per day
  4. National Geographic Ancient World News Brief  summaries linked to full stories written by National Geographic reporters. About one story per day.
  5. Discovery Channel Brief summaries linked to pages, about one story per day.
  6. Stone Pages Archaeo News
  7. EurekAlert Public Releases of latest research. About 2 per week.
  8. Science Daily Brief summaries and links to full stories by Science Daily reporters. Mixed with Palaeontology stories. One per day.
  9. Archaeology News Automatic News Feed
  10. Explorator Links to David Meadow’s weekly newsletters, each containing about 50 links to the week’s stories.
  11. Archaeology in Europe Regularly updated with summaries and links. About 20 stories per week, but only Europe.
  12. Google Archaeology NewsSearch results for the last week. Automatically listed, so much irrelevant material.
  13. Yahoo Anthropology and Archaeology Automatic news feed with some irrelevant content.
  14. Topix Archaeology News A mixed collection of news storiesHisTOURies UK
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Tour: Fri 31st Aug – Sun 2nd Sept 2012
Henges, burial mounds of all shapes and sizes, causewayed camps, early field systems and ‘cursus’ monuments are scattered everywhere in Wessex, forming a landscape which hints at its past, but whose story is unintelligible to the untrained eye.

Our experts have been introducing people to this, one of the richest prehistoric landscapes in the world, which lies on our very doorstep, since Andante’s inception.

Day One
Meet in the evening for an introductory lecture and dinner together in a local restaurant. Overnight in Sarum College in the beautiful Cathedral Close.

Day Two
By coach to Avebury for a full exploration of the huge Neolithic henge, so large that part of the village lies within it. It is one of the largest and best preserved of 1300 stone circles known in the British Isles. Morning walk around the henge and along the ceremonial Avenue.  We approach the stones of Avebury just as one would have done in prehistoric times.

Afternoon circular walk (2 hours) past Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe.  The most famous of its excavators crawled into an earlier excavation chamber and recorded later:
“the sides of the open chamber provided one of the most astonishing sights that I have ever seen…it was clear that this innermost mound had been covered by a series of conical shells or cappings…the effect was of finding oneself in an enormously complicated and highly coloured layer cake of gigantic size..”
The walk continues to the Long Barrow at West Kennet and a chance to explore the chambered tomb within.  This kind of monument is the earliest known to have been built in Britain – in commemoration of the dead. Continue to the ‘Sanctuary’, a small, complex timber and stone circle on the top of Overton hill. Walking in our ancestors’ footsteps helps us try to understand their motives and methods.

Day Three
Stonehenge for an early (7.30am) visit inside the stone circle before the public arrives. This will be followed by a walk (2 hours) through the wider religious landscape – the cursus, King Barrows and Stonehenge Avenue.
A short drive takes us to Woodhenge, where the remains of wooden post settings have been found – now marked by concrete. From here there is a good view over the huge henge at Durrington Walls, site of exciting recent excavations which revealed the settlement which may have housed the builders of Stonehenge.

Return to Salisbury Museum for a visit to the Stonehenge and Prehistory Galleries. We have arranged a private demonstration of flint-knapping in the gardens here, which is not only much enjoyed, but adds considerably to your understanding of the way in which our prehistoric forebears were able to fashion all manner of implements and tools from our good local flint supplies.  In a world without metal technology this was a critical and highly sophisticated art.
Disperse about 5pm.

Should you choose to arrive earlier or stay later, you might like to visit Old Sarum, the hillfort to the north of Salisbury which was later chosen as the site of our first cathedral, or, of course,  our beautiful Gothic cathedral – straight in front of the College.

NB Most of every day will be spent walking, and you must be prepared for this, with suitable footwear and weatherproof clothing. You will also have to carry your own water, and negotiate a variety of stiles.

  • The original Andante Tour – accept no imitations!
  • We have been introducing guests to these monumental prehistoric landscapes for 26 years
  • Accommodation spectacularly situated within Salisbury cathedral close
  • Bring your hiking boots!
  • Several good cross-country walks

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ARCHAEOLOGY WEEKEND

It’s the Festival of British Archaeology – this is your chance to meet a real archaeologist and to uncover artefacts from Old Sarum’s history. Enjoy a weekend for all the family with plenty of hands-on activities and crafts to keep everyone busy! Take part in a mini-dig and have a go at identifying objects lost over time.

About Old Sarum

Discover the story of the original Salisbury and take the family for a day out to Old Sarum, 2 miles north of where the city stands now. The mighty Iron Age hill fort was where the first cathedral once stood and the Romans, Normans and Saxons have all left their mark.

Today, 5,000 years of history are told through graphic interpretation panels on site. Families, heritage lovers and walkers can enjoy a great value day out at Old Sarum- you could even bring a picnic and enjoy the fantastic views across the Wiltshire countryside. The gift shop has a delicious range of ice-creams and exclusive English Heritage gifts and produce. Wooden bows and arrows are also on sale to help the kids imagine what life was like all those years ago!
DON’T MISS
The spectacular view from the ramparts at Old Sarum to the ‘new’ cathedral in the centre of Salisbury
Our interesting interpretation panels bringing 5,000 years of history to life
Old Sarum’s literary connections- you can buy some of the famous books written about the site in our shop

English Heritage: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/old-sarum/

HisTOURies UK – www.Histouries.co.uk
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