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THE discovery of a Stone Age temple on Orkney looks set to rewrite the archeological records of ancient Britain with evidence emerging it was built centuries before Stonehenge.

Stonehenge Wiltshire

Stonehenge

 Archeologists have so far found undisturbed artefacts including wall decorations, pigments and paint pots, which are already increasing their understanding of the Neolithic people.

Experts believe the huge outer wall suggests the site was not domestic, while the layout of the buildings has reinforced the view it might have been a major religious site. Archaeologists think the temple was built 500 years before Stonehenge, regarded as the centre of Stone Age Britain.

However, only 10% of the site at Ness of Brodgar has been excavated and it could be years before the scale and age of the discovery is fully understood.

It sits close to the existing Ring of Brodgar stone circles and the standing stones of Stenness, near to the town of Stromness.

The uncovered wall around the edges of the site was built with 10,000 tonnes of quarried rock and may have been up to 10 ft high.

Thermal technology also indicates the site could cover the same area as five football pitches, with some parts potentially older than Stonehenge, in south-west England, by as much as 800 years.

Charcoal samples from beneath the wall indicate it was built around 3200 BC. A 30mm high figurine with a head, body and two eyes, and called the “Brodgar Boy”, was also unearthed in the rubble of one of the structures.

About 18 months ago, a remarkable rock coloured red, orange and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings.

Project manager Nick Card said the discoveries are unparalleled in British prehistory and that the complexity of finds is changing the “whole vision of what the landscape was 5000 years ago.” He said it was of “a scale that almost relates to the classical period in the Mediterranean with walled enclosure and precincts”.

Mr Card added: “It’s a huge discovery; in terms of scale and complexity there really is nothing else quite like it.

“At first we thought it was a settlement but the scale and complexity within the buildings makes you think along the lines of a temple precinct. It’s something you would associate with the classical world.”

Archeologist Julian Richards, who has written several books on Stonehenge, added: “The indication is that building was taking place when Stonehenge was still, relatively speaking, insignificant. We have tended to think we know how things were in the Neolithic period, then something like this turns that on its head.”

Full story: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/orcadian-temple-predates-stonehenge-by-500-years.16330802

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A huge winter solstice feast might have taken place around Stonehenge some 4,500 years ago.

Abundant cattle and pig bones recently unearthed a few miles from the megalithic site suggest that prehistoric people celebrated the connection between the stone circle and the sky with hundreds of roasts.
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According to initial research led by Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, U.K., the animals were walked from different places and for hundreds of miles to be slaughtered immediately after arrival at Durrington Walls, a massive circular earthwork, or henge, two miles northeast of Stonehenge. 

Parker Pearson’s research has shown that this site attracted people in droves as far back as Neolithic times.

“The considerable quantities of pig and cattle bones, pottery, flint arrowheads and lithic debris indicate that occupation and consumption were intense,” wrote Parker Pearson, who has was awarded a grant of £750,000 to analyse a range of materials found at the site.

So far, the archaeologist has found no evidence that Durrington was permanently inhabited. He believes that the intense human activity was linked to feasting during the solstices.

“The small quantities of stone tools other than arrowheads, the absence of grinding querns and the lack of carbonised grain indicate that this was a ‘consumer’ site. The midsummer and midwinter solstice alignments of the Durrington and Stonehenge architecture suggest seasonal occupation,” Parker Pearson said.

This year the winter solstice will be celebrated at Stonehenge on the morning of Thursday, December 22nd 2011

Stonehenge will open at 7.45 a.m. for people who brave the cold to watch the sun rise shortly after 8 a.m.

Full Article:  http://news.discovery.com/

 
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Two previously undiscovered pits have been found at Stonehenge which point to it once being used as a place of sun worship before the stones were erected.

The pits are positioned on celestial alignment at the site and may have contained stones

The pits are positioned on celestial alignment at the site and may have contained stones

The pits are positioned on celestial alignment at the site and may have contained stones, posts or fires to mark the rising and setting of the sun.

An international archaeological survey team found the pits as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

The team is using geophysical imaging techniques to investigate the site.

The archaeologists from the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection in Vienna have been surveying the subsurface at the landmark since summer 2010.

Procession route

It is thought the pits, positioned within the Neolithic Cursus pathway, could have formed a procession route for ancient rituals celebrating the sun moving across the sky at the midsummer solstice.

A Cursus comprises two parallel linear ditches with banks either side closed off at the end.

Also discovered was a gap in the northern side of the Cursus, which may have been an entrance and exit point for processions taking place within the pathway.

These discoveries hint that the site was already being used as an ancient centre of ritual prior to the stones being erected more than 5,000 years ago, the team said.

Archaeologist and project leader at Birmingham University, Professor Vince Gaffney, said: “This is the first time we have seen anything quite like this at Stonehenge and it provides a more sophisticated insight into how rituals may have taken place within the Cursus and the wider landscape.”

More on this story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-15917921

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A metal detector enthusiast located more than 100 bronze items, thought to be about 2,700 years old, on a farmland site which is being kept secret.

Having first found a spearhead, he decided not to disturb the ground and notified archaeologists, who were able to conduct a meticulous excavation.

The finds, from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, include tools such as chisels, axe heads and gouges, and weapons including fragments of a sword and scabbard and more spearheads.

Experts are hugely excited about the hoard, which is still being catalogued. They are not prepared to guess at its value yet but say it is the biggest in the area since the Salisbury Hoard – now in the British Museum – was discovered in the 1990s.

Salisbury & South Wilts Museum director Adrian Green said: “It’s a very rare and important find, and it’s still fresh out of the ground. This was not previously a known archaeological site. The guy was just metal detecting as a hobby.

“What was significant about it was that he very responsibly told the finds liaison officer for the county, Katie Hinds, who is paid by the British Museum to record finds made by chance like this, rather than just digging it up himself and potentially losing valuable archaeological information.

“This was brilliant, and exactly what we want detectorists to do. She was able to arrange a specialist team to go and dig it up. That’s very important from an academic point of view.

“You could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way.”

The hoard will go to the British Museum to be assessed and there will be an inquest to determine whether it is treasure trove.

If so, Salisbury Museum will have a chance to raise funds to buy it.

Neither the finder nor the landowner wish to be identified
Link : http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/news/9336972.Ancient_artefacts_unearthed_in_Tisbury/

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The jawbone which has caused so much excitement

The jawbone which has caused so much excitement

Could a piece of jawbone found at Torquay’s famous Kents Cavern caves be the oldest part of modern human to be unearthed in Europe?

A piece of jawbone excavated from a prehistoric cave in England is the earliest evidence for modern humans in Europe, according to an international team of scientists. The bone first was believed to be about 35,000 years old, but the new research study shows it to be significantly older — between 41,000 and 44,000 years old, according to the findings that will be published in the journal Nature. The new dating of the bone is expected to help scientists pin down how quickly the modern humans spread across Europe during the last Ice Age. It also helps confirm the much-debated theory that early humans coexisted with Neanderthals. Beth Shapiro, the Shaffer Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State University and a member of the research team, explained that the fragment of maxilla — the upper jaw — containing three teeth was unearthed in 1927 in a prehistoric limestone cave called Kent’s Cavern in southwestern England. Records from the original excavations, undertaken by the Torquay Natural History Society located in Devon, England, indicate that the jawbone was discovered 10 feet 6 inches beneath the surface and was sealed by stalagmite deposits. “In 1989, scientists at Oxford University dated the bone as being about 35,000 years old. However, doubts were later raised about the reliability of the date because traces of modern glue, which was used to conserve the bone after discovery, were found on the surface,” Shapiro said. “We knew we were going to have to do additional testing to re-date the bone.” Because the remaining uncontaminated area of bone was deemed too small to re-date, the research team searched through the excavation archives and collections in the Torquay Museum to obtain samples of other animal bones from recorded depths both above and below the spot where the maxilla was found.

Members of the research team then obtained radiocarbon dates for the bones of wolf, deer, cave bear, and woolly rhinoceros, all of which were found close to the maxilla, and all of which could be dated at between 50,000 and 26,000 years old. Using a Bayesian statistical-modelling method, the scientists then were able to calculate an age for the maxilla. The new date indicates that the bone is between 41,000 and 44,000 years old.

Tom Higham, Deputy Director of Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and a member of the research team, said “Radiocarbon dating of ancient bones is very difficult to do. Because the initial date from this fragment of jawbone was affected by traces of modern glue, the initial measurement made in 1989 was too young. The new dating evidence we have obtained allows us, for the first time, to pinpoint the real age of this key specimen. We believe this piece of jawbone is the earliest direct evidence we have of modern humans in northwestern Europe.”

Shapiro explained that the new and more-accurate date is especially important because it provides clearer evidence about the coexistence of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. “If the jawbone is, in fact, 41,000 to 44,000 years old, that means it was from a time when Neanderthals were still present in Europe, so we first had to confirm that the bone was from an anatomically modern human, and not a Neanderthal,” Shapiro said. Shapiro and her team first tried to extract mitochondrial DNA from one of the teeth, but there were insufficient amounts for valid DNA sequencing. Eventually, team members were able to use a virtual three-dimensional model based on a CT scan of the jawbone to carry out a detailed analysis of the fossil. They compared the external and internal shapes of the teeth with those of modern human and Neanderthal fossils from a number of different sites. They found early modern human characteristics in all but three of the 16 dental characteristics.

Studies of the maxilla have been under way for the last decade, but it was only with the application of the latest investigative and dating techniques that the research team was able to make this breakthrough in identifying the jawbone as the earliest modern human so far known from Europe.

“Comparative data were lacking for some of the traits our team was studying,” Shapiro said. “So, thankfully, our team member Tim Compton of the Natural History Museum in England helped by building a completely new database to help discriminate modern features from Neanderthal features. While the dominant characteristics are certainly modern, there are some that are ambiguous, or that fall into the Neanderthal range.” The research team believe that these ambiguous features may reflect inadequate sampling of modern human variation, shared primitive features between early modern humans and Neanderthals, or even interbreeding between the two species. “We’ll have to delve a little deeper and do more work to resolve these questions,” Shapiro said.

Another exciting feature of the new study is that it could help solve the apparent discrepancy about the known dates of the Aurignacian period — a time of cultural development in Europe and southwest Asia that lasted from around 45,000 to 35,000 years ago. Previous researchers have discovered artefacts and tools from this period that are thought to have been produced by the earliest modern humans in Europe. However, strangely, these artifacts have been found to be much older than the rare skeletal remains found in the same vicinity. While Aurignacian tools and ornaments have been dated at as old as 44,000 years, tests to pinpoint the age of relevant human remains have resulted in dates that reach no further than between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, indicating a significant gap.

“The new date and identification of this bone from Kent’s Cavern is very important, as we now have direct evidence that modern humans were in northwest Europe about 42,500 years ago,” Higham said. “It confirms the presence of modern humans at the time of the earliest Aurignacian culture, and tells us a great deal about the dispersal speed of our species across Europe during the last Ice Age. It also means that early humans coexisted with Neanderthals in this part of the world, something that a number of researchers have doubted.”

In addition to Shapiro, Higham, and Compton, other members of the research team include Chris Stringer, Roger Jacobi, and Chris Collins of the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom; Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in the United States; Barry Chandler of the Torquay Museum in the United Kingdom; Flora Gröning, Paul O’Higgins, and Michael Fagan of the University of Hull in the United Kingdom; Simon Hillson of University College London in the United Kingdom; and Charles FitzGerald of McMaster University in Canada.

The research was funded by two organizations in the United Kingdom: the Leverhulme Trust, established at the wish of William Hesketh Lever, the first Viscount Leverhulme, and the Natural Environment Research Council.
Link: http://esciencenews.com

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Archaeologists have found the first intact Viking boat burial site in the UK. The 5m-long grave contained the remains of a high-status Viking who was buried with an axe, sword, spear and bronze ring-pin.

”]Excavations at the Ardnamurchan Peninsula [Credit: Ardnamurchan Transitions Project]
The 1,000-year-old find, on the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula, in the Highlands, was made by Ardnamurchan Transitions Project, a team led by experts from the universities of Manchester and Leicester, CFA Archaeology Ltd and Archaeology Scotland. 

Other finds included a knife, a sharpening stone from Norway, a ring pin from Ireland and Viking pottery. 

Dr Oliver Harris, project co-director from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, said: “This project examines social change on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula from the first farmers 6,000 years ago to the Highland clearances of the 18th and 19th century. 

“It has also yielded evidence for what will be one of the best-dated Neolithic chambered cairns in Scotland when post-excavation work is complete.” 

Source: This is Leicestershire [October 18, 2011]

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I don’t normally do articles on ancient sites outside of my own Country,  Britain.  However I felt this was a significant discovery in Europe and has a Stonehenge connection.

General plan of the early Celtic burial mound with sky constellations.

General plan of the early Celtic burial mound with sky constellations.

A huge early Celtic calendar construction has been discovered in the royal tomb of Magdalenenberg, nearby Villingen-Schwenningen in Germany’s Black Forest. The order of the burials around the central royal tomb fits exactly with the sky constellations of the Northern hemisphere.

Whereas Stonehenge was orientated towards the sun, the more than 100-meters-wide burial mound of Magdalenenberg was focused towards the moon. The builders positioned long rows of wooden posts in the burial mound to be able to focus on the Lunar Standstills. These Lunar Standstills happen every 18.6 year and were the corner stones of the Celtic calendar.

Archaeo-astronomic research resulted in a date of Midsummer 618 BCE, which makes it the earliest and most complete example of a Celtic calendar focused on the moon.

After the complete destruction of the Celtic culture by Rome, these types of calendars were completely forgotten.The full dimensions of the lost Celtic calendar system have now come to light again in the monumental burial mound of Magdalenenberg.

Like other European Iron Age tribal societies, the Celts practiced a polytheistic religion. Rites and sacrifices were carried out by priests known as druids. The Celts did not see their gods as having human shapes until late in the Iron Age. Celtic shrines were situated in remote areas such as hilltops, groves, and lakes.

Roman reports of the druids mention ceremonies being held in sacred groves. La Tène Celts built temples of varying size and shape, though they also maintained shrines at sacred trees and votive pools.

Druids fulfilled a variety of roles in Celtic religion, serving as priests and religious officials, but also as judges, sacrificers, teachers, and lore-keepers. Druids organized and ran religious ceremonies, and they memorized and taught the calendar. Other classes of druids performed ceremonial sacrifices of crops and animals for the perceived benefit of the community. Neo-druidism is still practiced today.

Sources: Examiner, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, via AlphaGalileo and Science Daily

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A pair of carved stone ducks unearthed at Vespasian’s Camp near Stonehenge are believed to be the oldest known figurines found in the UK, and are amongst other findings that suggest the sacred site was in use several thousand years before the megalith itself was constructed.

Two stone carvings, in the shape of ducks, dated to around 700 BC. (Luke Beaman/The Open University)

Two stone carvings, in the shape of ducks, dated to around 700 BC. (Luke Beaman/The Open University)

Led by archeologist David Jacques at The Open University, several students uncovered a hoard of artifacts from the mid-Stone Age, including a ceremonial dagger, the remains of an aurochs feast, and more than 5,000 flints and tools.

“We thought it was probably a mixed cache of early prehistoric tools, and assumed some were contemporary with Stonehenge,” Jacques said in a press release.

“When we took them back to Cambridge and a number of experts suggested they were all Mesolithic, we started to get very excited.”

The team found evidence of a fire with over 200 cooked animal bones from at least one aurochs, which were radiocarbon dated back to about 6,250 BC, more than 3,000 years before the giant stone circle was erected.

“Mesolithic people were nomadic hunter-gatherers who would have had temporary settlements,” Jacques explained.

“Salisbury Plain would have been something like the Serengeti with herds of animals roaming across it, and people could have used the hills that sort of create a basin around it as vantage points from which to see the movement of animals.”

Now extinct, aurochs were a type of large cattle that once roamed Eurasia and North Africa, reaching almost two meters in height.

“An aurochs was something like a large minivan in size,” Jacques said. “To catch an animal this big would have been a major feat.”

“It would have fed a lot of people. It’s likely there was a large gathering, possibly as many as 100 people, who cooked and feasted on the aurochs.”

Meanwhile, the ducks were dated back to 700 BC, and the dagger to around 1,400 BC. The figurines are believed to be part of a Bronze Age tradition based on casting sacrificial offerings into water.

Only a few other Mesolithic artifacts have previously been found in the area. Field archeologist Tom Lyons at Oxford Archaeology East said in the release that the discovery is highly significant.

“It’s really exciting to get such a cache of material,” he said. “This certainly makes this find nationally important, if not internationally important”

Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/science/mesolithic-discovery-could-alter-our-understanding-of-stonehenge-62434.html

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Round Barrows – That’s where Bronze Age people buried their dead init! Nuff said”. Factually correct, if a tad simplistic, but of course the potential for learning more about society from studying these monuments it could be argued is still in its infancy. The landscape of Cranborne Chase has been at the forefront of British prehistory and archaeology since the middle of the 19th century, it having one of the densest concentrations of prehistoric monuments in north-west Europe.

image credit: High Lea Farm excavation © Bournemouth University

image credit: High Lea Farm excavation © Bournemouth University

In 2003 John Gale embarked upon a seasonal campaign of excavations at the little known and apparently flattened barrow group at High Lea Farm near Hinton Martell north of Wimborne. The fieldwork was completed in 2009 and the analysis currently under way is discovering information which suggests that we still have a lot to learn about these ‘familiar’ monuments of the Wessex landscape.  

John will also be incorporating some early results of his recent survey work at the Clandon Barrow in west Dorset which has a bearing on the lecture title.

 A lecture in the Salisbury Museum Archaeology Lectures (SMAL) series. SMAL lectures are held on the second Tuesday of each month from September to April (2011)

A talk by John Gale, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, Bournemouth University.

Link: http://www.salisburymuseum.org.uk/what-s-on/lectures/188-the-knowlton-prehistoric-landscape-project-–-we-know-a-lot-about-round-barrows-dont-we.html

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Two children have found “rare” specimens of a fossilised sea creature at the Cotswold Water Park.

Another Rieneckia ammonite was found in the park several years ago

Another Rieneckia ammonite was found in the park several years ago

Emily Baldry, five, from Chippenham, discovered the Rieneckia ammonite during a fossil hunt organised by the Cotswold Water Park Society on Sunday.

Hugo Ashley, from Poulton, and his grandfather also found an ammonite cadoceras, and another Rieneckia ammonite.

A society spokeswoman said Rieneckia ammonites were “extremely rare”.

Ammonites were free-swimming molluscs of the ancient oceans, living around the same time as dinosaurs.

‘Quite phenomenal’

Society spokeswoman Jill Bewley said: “The chances of finding something like this [Rieneckia ammonites] are really, really slim.

“It’s the proverbial needle in a haystack so to hit upon something like this is quite phenomenal.”

After Emily hit upon the fossil with a spade, her father and palaeontologist Dr Neville Hollingworth helped her dig out the block of mudstone the 162.8 million-year-old object, which had spikes to ward off predators, was encased in.

A range of other fossils, including many ammonites, were also found during the hunt, in a sand and gravel quarry within the water park.

Ms Bewley said that once work to expose the Rieneckia ammonite, which measures about 40cm (16in) in diameter is complete, it will go on display at the Gateway Information Centre along with a range of other fossils.

She said Dr Hollingworth found another Rieneckia ammonite in a similar quarry in the park several years ago.

The 42 sq mile site of the Cotswold Water Park, which has 150 lakes, is on the Gloucestershire-Wiltshire border.

During the Jurassic period, 165 million years ago, the area was a warm shallow sea.

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