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A team of archaeologists, led by a researcher from the University of Bristol, has uncovered the remains of a possible Stonehenge-type prehistoric earthwork monument in a field in Pembrokeshire.

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Side view of the south-eastern chamber looking south-west

Members of the Welsh Rock art Organisation have been investigating the area around the Neolithic burial chamber known as Trellyffaint – one of a handful of sites in western Britain that has examples of prehistoric rock art.

The site of Trellyffaint dates back at least 6,000 years and has been designated a Scheduled Monument. It is in the care of Welsh heritage agency Cadw.

The site comprises two stone chambers – one of which is relatively intact. Each chamber is set within the remains of an earthen cairn or mound which, due to ploughing regimes over the centuries, have been slowly uncovered.

On the capstone that covers the south-eastern chamber are at least 50 engraved cupmarks (one of the most common forms of later prehistoric engraving in Western Europe), the meaning of which has been long forgotten but probably represented some sort of pictorial message.

Before now, it is thought that the site has never been fully investigated.

Dr George Nash, lead project director from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol and his team, which includes former Bristol students, have conducted a series of non-intrusive surveys in and around the monument.

The fieldwork element of the project started in December 2016 following the acceptance of a project design by Cadw.

This phase included a magnetometry study which covered 80 square metres around the monument and a detailed earthwork survey of the monument itself.

The geophysical survey uncovered a number of anomalies which are considered to be more than likely buried prehistoric features.

Dr Nash said: “To the south and southwest of the stone chamber and appearing to run underneath the southern section of the Trellyffaint mound are two clear circular anomalies.

“It is regarded that this feature may possibly be a henge (otherwise referred to as a hengiform) measuring around 12 metres in diameter.

“It is not clear if this feature possesses an accompanying ditch, however, a circular anomaly extends around this feature, again we are unclear of the relationship (if any) with the smaller circle – only excavation will tell.”

Further subsurface features of a probable later prehistoric date occur to the north-east, north and west of the Trellyffaint monument.

Although the precise depth of these features is, for the moment unknown, the team were interested to note that 2-3000-years’ worth of accumulated soil has not created any visible earthworks. This phenomenon though is not uncommon in coastal areas where soil deposition and accumulation can be rapid.

Dr Nash added: “This site, one of only nine Neolithic burial-ritual monuments in Wales with prehistoric rock art – or what I would term aptly ‘a visual communication system’.”

So far, the results of the geophysical survey have yielded a set of subsurface anomalies that reveal a complex ritualised landscape that includes the precursor to a Stonehenge-type earthwork monument and is similar to the six or more features that were found using similar geo-prospection methods at the nearby Neolithic site, Trefael, in 2012.

Dr Nash said: “The next stage of the project is to apply for Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) which will include targeted excavation over recognised anomalies identified from the magnetometry survey.

“Before we do this, we will be widening the geophysics area and apply resistivity as well further magnetometry over a wider area.”

This fieldwork will take place between April 21 and 23. For details on how to get involved, visit the Welsh Rock Art Organisation’s Facebook page.
Full story here

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This year has been memorable for many reasons – some bad, and some good. But in the world of archaeology, a veritable smorgasbord of discoveries have been unearthed over the last 12 months, allowing us to dig deeper into our history. As 2016 comes to an end, we took a look at some of the most interesting archaeological finds in Britain. (IB Times)

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Remains of women at Stonehenge challenge assumptions about their role in neolithic times (Getty)

The women of Stonehenge

The origin and purpose of Stonehenge, one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, is an enduring mystery – but scientists are gradually finding out more about the rocks. In April, archaeologists discovered the cremated remains of 14 women at the site, revealing more about the status of women in thousands of years ago.

A recent excavation of “Aubrey Hole 7″– one of 56 pits dug outside of the circle of stones – uncovered the bodies of the women, who were buried between 3100 BCE and 2140 BCE. Archaeologists believe anyone buried at the site had a high social status, so the find challenges assumptions about the role of women in neolithic times.

Lindisfarne monastery

An amateur archaeologist stumbled upon an incredible find in Northumberland in July: a rare grave marker from the mid 7th to 8th Century believed to be evidence of Britain’s most famous monastery, Lindisfarne.

One of England’s earliest Christian monasteries, it was originally founded by in 635AD but was was ransacked by the Vikings around 1,300 years ago. The Lindisfarne monastery is home to one the most beautiful books in Europe, the Lindisfarne Gospels, which incorporates Celtic, Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon designs and is thought to be dedicated to Saint Cuthbert.

Black Death plague pit

An extremely rare mass grave of plague victims in was discovered at 14th century monastery hospital in Lincolnshire by University of Sheffield archaeologists in November. The 48 skeletons – 27 of which were children – show how the small community was overwhelmed by the Black Death, one of the worst pandemics in human history.

The Black Death, which was most likely bubonic plague, claimed the lives of an estimated 75 to 200 million people across Europe between 1346 and 1353.

One of the archaeologists on the dig, Dr Hugh Willmott, said: “The finding of a previously unknown and completely unexpected mass burial dating to this period in a quiet corner of rural Lincolnshire is thus far unique, and sheds light into the real difficulties faced by a small community ill prepared to face such a devastating threat.”

Earliest surviving fresco from Roman Britain

In February, archaeologists at the Museum of London found a wall painting dating back to the late 1st century AD – one of the earliest surviving frescos from Roman Britain.

The painting most likely to have been used to decorate a reception room where guests were entertained. Researchers are now studying the elaborate fresco further to find out more about the fashions and interiors favoured by London’s first wealthy citizens.

Oldest handwritten documents

In June, archaeologists discovered the earliest-known handwritten documents in Britain among a haul of more than 400 waxed writing tablets, used by Romans for note-taking. The artefacts were discovered during excavations for Bloomberg’s new London-based headquarters and reveal what life was like in the city under Roman rule. Some of the wooden tablets have been deciphered to reveal names, events and business transactions.

Latin expert Roger Tomlin, who translated the tablets, said: “The Bloomberg writing tablets are very important for the early history of Roman Britain, and London in particular. I am so lucky to be the first to read them again, after more than 19 centuries, and to imagine what these people were like, who founded city of London.”
Read the full story at the IB Times website

Wessex Guided Tours conduct guided tours of Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape. These specialist tours can depart from Bath or Salisbury.

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An ancient village dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii” was just a few months old when it burnt down, it has emerged.

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The beads found at Whittlesey show this Bronze Age village of the ancient Fens was nevertheless tied into a trade network that may have stretched to the Middle East

Analysis of wood used to build the settlement suggests it was only lived in for a short time before it was destroyed.

Despite this, archaeologists said the site gives an “exquisitely detailed” insight into everyday Bronze Age life.

Evidence of fine fabric-making, varied diets and vast trading networks has been found during the 10-month dig.

At least five circular houses raised on stilts above the East Anglian fens have been found.

David Gibson, of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, University of Cambridge, said the site allowed researchers to “visit in exquisite detail everyday life in the Bronze Age”.

“Domestic activity within structures is demonstrated from clothing to household objects, to furniture and diet,” he said.

“These dwellings have it all, the complete set, it’s a ‘full house’.

The level of preservation at the site, in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, has been compared to that seen at Pompeii, a Roman city buried by ash when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79.

What the excavation reveals:

  • The people living here made their own high quality textiles, like linen. Some of the woven linen fabrics are made with threads as thin as the diameter of a coarse human hair and are among the finest Bronze Age examples found in Europe
  • Other fabrics and fibres found include balls of thread, twining, bundles of plant fibres and loom weights which were used to weave threads together. Textiles were common in the Bronze Age but it is very rare for them to survive today
  • Animal remains suggest they ate a diet of wild boar, red deer, calves, lambs and freshwater fish such as pike. The charred remains of porridge type foods, emmer wheat and barley grains have been found preserved in amazing detail, sometimes still inside the bowls they were served in
  • There were areas in each home for storing meat and a separate area for cooking
  • Even 3,000 years ago people seemed to have a lot of stuff. Each of the houses was fully equipped with pots of different sizes, wooden buckets and platters, metal tools, saddle querns (stone tools for grinding grains), weapons, textiles, loom weights and glass beads

BBC History – Bronze Age Britain

Evidence, including tree-ring analysis of the oak structures, has suggested the circular houses were still new and had only been lived in for a few months.

The homes were, however, well equipped with pots of different sizes, wooden buckets and platters, metal tools, saddle querns (stone tools for grinding grains), weapons, textiles, loom weights and glass beads.

Archaeologists say beads found at the site originally came from the Mediterranean or Middle East.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “This has transformed our knowledge of Bronze Age Britain.

“Over the past 10 months, Must Farm has given us an extraordinary window into how people lived 3,000 years ago.

“Now we know what this small but wealthy Bronze Age community ate, how they made their homes and where they traded.

“Archaeologists and scientists around the world are learning from Must Farm and it’s already challenged a number of longstanding perceptions.”

Must Farm was named best discovery at the 2016 British Archaeological Awards

Full story: BBC

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