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LONDON: Archaeologists said Tuesday they had discovered what were believed to be the best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain, providing an extraordinary insight into prehistoric life from 3,000 years ago.

bronze

The skeleton of a man between 2460 and 2290 BC, during the early Bronze Age, and was buried near the world heritage prehistoric monument of Stonehenge is displayed at the new Stonehenge visitors centre, near Amesbury in south west England on December 11, 2013. (AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)

 

The settlement of large circular wooden houses, built on stilts, collapsed in a fire and plunged into a river where it was preserved in silts leaving them in pristine condition, Historic England said.

Discoveries from the dwellings in Whittlesey, in central England, which archaeologists said had been frozen in time and dated from between 1000-800 BC, included pots with food inside and finely woven clothing.

“We are learning more about the food our ancestors ate, and the pottery they used to cook and serve it,” Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said in a statement.

“This site is of international significance and its excavation will transform our understanding of the period.”

Among the finds at the site, about two meters (6.5 ft) below the modern ground surface, are exotic glass beads forming part of a necklace, rare small cups, bowls and jars. Archaeologists also said that the site was so well preserved that even the footprints of those who lived at the site had been discovered.

There are also charred roof timbers clearly visible in one of the houses and the excavation team have speculated that those living at the settlement abandoned it in haste when it caught fire.

David Gibson, Archaeological Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, said they only usually came across a few pits or metal finds at Bronze Age sites.

“This time so much more has been preserved – we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round,” he said. “It’s prehistoric archaeology in 3D with an unsurpassed finds assemblage in terms of range and quantity

Read the full story in the Daily Star

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A PRE-HISTORIC elephant has revealed clues of what life was like for early humans and how it met its end.

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University of Southampton lecturer and archaeologist Dr Francis Wenban-Smith discovered remains and has spent the last ten years studying the creature.

Now he has published a book that will teach other archaeologists about life for people that existed thousands of years before Neanderthals.

The extinct straight-tusked elephant was found in Ebbsfleet in Kent, below, while construction workers were preparing the build the High Speed 1 rail link between the Channel Tunnel and London.

The species was twice the size of today’s African elephant and almost four times the weight of a family car.

The 420,000-year-old remains were buried along with other creatures, including prehistoric ancestors to cattle and extinct forms of rhinoceros and lions.

It was also found surrounded by flint tools used to cut meat from carcasses, which have lead Dr Wenban-Smith to believe early humans may have eaten and possibly hunted the creature in a group.

Dr Wenban-Smith, pictured below, said: “The key evidence for elephant hunting is that, of the few prehistoric butchered elephant carcasses that have been found across Europe, they are almost all large males in their prime, a pattern that does not suggest natural death and scavenging.

“Although it seems incredible that they could have killed such an animal, it must have been possible with wooden spears.

“Rich fossilised remains surrounding the elephant skeleton, including pollen, snails and a wide variety of vertebrates, provide a remarkable record of the climate and environment the early humans inhabited.

Full article in the Salisbury Journal: http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/archive/2013/09/22/10690698.Prehistoric_giant_elephant_unlocks_mysteries_of_ancient_hunters/
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Archaeologists, excavating near the Royal Borough, have discovered the 4400 year old skeleton of an upper class woman
bones-1

Windsor may have been popular with royalty rather earlier than generally thought.

Archaeologists, excavating near the Royal Borough, have discovered the 4400 year old gold-adorned skeleton of an upper class woman who was almost certainly a member of the local ruling elite.

She is the earliest known woman adorned with such treasures ever found in Britain.

The individual, aged around 40, was buried, wearing a necklace of folded sheet gold, amber and lignite beads, just a century or two after the construction of Stonehenge some 60 miles to the south-west. Even the buttons, thought to have been used to secure the upper part of her now long-vanished burial garment, were made of amber. She also appears to have worn a bracelet of lignite beads.

The archaeologist in charge of the excavation, Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, believes that she may have been a person of power – perhaps even the prehistoric equivalent of a princess or queen.

It’s known that in southern Britain, some high status men of that era – the Copper Age – had gold possessions, but this is the first time archaeologists have found a woman of that period being accorded the same sort of material status.

It’s thought that the gold used to make the jewellery probably came originally from hundreds of miles to the west – and that the amber almost certainly came from Britain’s North Sea coast. The lignite (a form of coal) is also thought to have come from Britain.

The funeral rite for the potential prehistoric royal may have involved her family arranging her body so that, in death, she clasped a beautiful pottery drinking vessel in her hands. The 25 centimetre tall ceramic beaker was decorated with geometric patterns.

Of considerable significance was the fact that she was buried with her head pointing towards the south.

Men and women from the Stonehenge era were often interred in opposing directions – men’s heads pointing north and women’s heads pointing south. Europe-wide archaeological and  anthropological research over recent years  suggests that women may have been associated with the warm and sunny south, while mere men may have seen  themselves as embodying the qualities of the colder harder north!

The woman’s skeleton and jewellery were found 18 months ago – but were kept strictly under wraps until now, following the completion of initial analyses of the woman’s bones – and metallurgical analysis of the gold.

The discovery is part of a still ongoing excavation which started a decade ago. The elite gold-and-amber-adorned Copper Age woman is merely the most spectacular of dozens of discoveries made at the site – including four early Neolithic houses, 40 Bronze Age burials, three Bronze Age farm complexes and several Iron Age settlements.

The excavations are being funded by the international cement company CEMEX, whose gravel quarry near Windsor is the site of the discoveries.

Archaeologist Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, who is directing the ongoing excavation, said that the woman unearthed at the site “was probably an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items. She could have been a leader, a person with power and authority, or possibly part of an elite family – perhaps a princess or queen.”

 

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It feels as if we’ve always cherished the ruins of our stately homes, great abbeys, castles and ancient monuments. Yet our love affair with historic buildings is relatively recent. It’s been a revolution that flew in the face of industrial change and has been inspired both by acts of personal bravado and government intervention.

Main Image: BBC/English Heritage

Main Image: BBC/English Heritag

A new series on BBC Four this month called “Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past” looks at those pioneers of the past who fought to save the physical remains of the nation’s history. Some like William Morris, Octavia Hill and John Betjeman are familiar names, others – the “men from the ministry” /who worked quietly behind the scenes – are unsung heroes.

 
The first episode charts the birth of the heritage movement and the battle to save Britain’s great sites from destruction. The second episode looks at the interwar years, the rise of the day out to a historic site, and the struggle for the future of the English country house. And the final episode examines how in the second half of the 20th century, the definition of what did and did not constitute “heritage” changed.heritage-bbcfour

Made in partnership with English Heritage, the series features contributions from many of EH’s experts and draws upon its research into the early acts of heritage legislation – including the landmark Ancient Monuments Act of 1913.

A timely reminder to all of us about just how important these buildings remain, how we so nearly lost so many and the lessons we mustn’t forget.

Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past starts tomorrow at 21.00 on BBC Four
Links source: http://www.primeresi.com/heritage-the-battle-for-britains-past/12094/

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The Chalke Valley History Festival is unique, with a literary history festival, living history through the ages, and a new schools programme.  Attracting some 13,000 in only its second year in 2012, 2013 promises to be even better…

The Chalke Valley History Festival has been created to further the enjoyment and understanding of our rich and varied history. All proceeds go to the Chalke Valley History Trust, created to help further the education of history in our schools. We look forward to seeing you there…

chalk-valleyLiving History.

The Festival will become a giant encampment of living history through the ages, from Romans to the Second World War, and displayed by some of the very best re-enactors and historical interpreters in the UK.  With an air show featuring Spitfires and other warbirds, with Sword School, Have-a-Go Archery, an interactive First World War trench experience, and a battle re-enactment of the Battle of Vitoria, there will be much to see for all the family.

Literary Festival

Throughout the week, the Festival plays host to many of our most popular, passionate and leading historians, from Max Hastings and Neil Oliver, to Michael Morpurgo and Dan Snow, and from Horrible Histories through to Boris Johnson and Tom Stoppard. Covering a wide variety of subjects from Ancient Rome to the Iron Curtain and with debates, discussions, lectures, seminars and events for all the family, this is Britain’s premier History Literary Festival.

Schools Programme

Two days of history featuring a wide range of curriculum-based subjects delivered by leading and best-selling historians, including Tom Holland, Michael Burleigh and Laurence Rees. From 1066, through the Tudors and the First World War, and the rise of the Nazis to the Second World War, the programme will offer a series of lectures, seminars, living history and inter-active demonstrations to bring history alive, excite and inspire Year 10 and 12 students.

http://www.cvhf.org.uk/

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Civilisations around the world have been celebrating the start of each new year for at least four millennia. Today, most New Year’s festivities begin on December 31st (New Year’s Eve), the last day of the Gregorian calendar, and continue into the early hours of January 1 (New Year’s Day). Common traditions include attending parties, eating special New Year’s foods, making resolutions for the new year and watching fireworks displays.

Salisbury Cathedral New Year Fireworks

Salisbury Cathedral New Year Celebration Fireworks

Early New Year’s Celebrations

The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. In addition to the new year, Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose: It was during this time that a new king was crowned or that the current ruler’s divine mandate was symbolically renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilisations around the world developed increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese new year, meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

A move from March to January

The celebration of the new year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice.

Early Roman Calendar: March 1st Rings in the New Year

The early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the new year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. That the new year once began with the month of March is still reflected in some of the names of the months. September through December, our ninth through twelfth months, were originally positioned as the seventh through tenth months (septem is Latin for “seven,” octo is “eight,” novem is “nine,” and decem is “ten.”

January Joins the Calendar

The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C. (In fact, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February.) The new year was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year, the month that the two newly elected Roman consuls—the highest officials in the Roman republic—began their one-year tenure. But this new year date was not always strictly and widely observed, and the new year was still sometimes celebrated on March 1.

Julian Calendar: January 1st Officially Instituted as the New Year

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the new year.

Middle Ages: January 1st Abolished

In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter.

Gregorian Calendar: January 1st Restored

In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as new year’s day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire —and their American colonies— still celebrated the new year in March.

For more New Year’s features see New Year’s Traditions and Saying “Happy New Year!” Around the World.

Read more: A History of the New Year — Infoplease.com
http://www.history.com/topics/new-years

Did you know ?In order to realign the Roman calendar with the sun, Julius Caesar had to add 90 extra days to the year 46 B.C. when he introduced his new Julian calendar”

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Human remains found in the resting place of Richard III have already been identified as those of the king but information is being held back ahead of a major press conference next month, sources close to the project claim

A source with knowledge of the excavation told the Telegraph archaeologists will richard_3
name the skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park in September as the
Plantagenet king even if long-awaited DNA results on the bones prove
inconclusive.

Additional evidence not revealed at a major press conference after the remains were found demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt that the body is the King’s, even without genetic proof, the source said.

Leicester University experts announced earlier this year that there was convincing evidence suggesting the remains were those of Richard III, but have always insisted DNA analysis is needed before a conclusion can be reached.

Clues to the body’s identity include a wound to the skull and a twist in the spine which match historical accounts of the King and his death in battle, but these alone are not enough to prove it is the King, archaeologists said at the time.

A spokesman for Leicester University denied any information had been withheld from the public at the press event in September, but said various new evidence gathered since then will be announced to the public next month.

This will include the results of radiocarbon dating tests, which will indicate the date the individual died within an 80-year range, and analysis of dental calculus which could reveal details about their and lifestyle, as well as the first images of the body.

The spokesman said: “There will be things that have been discovered during the course of the investigation that will be announced at the press conference, but everything we were willing to reveal and that we were sure of, we revealed [in September].”

A Channel Four documentary, which initially led to the university’s involvement, will also be screened in January and is expected to reveal new information about the project.

The University insists it has been open about the analysis of the skeleton from the start, but a number of people close to the study have become uncomfortable that new evidence is not being published.

A source told the Telegraph: “Unfortunately, an awful lot of stuff is being kept from the public.

“I am told that circumstantial evidence of the find which is not going to be broadcast until this programme (on Channel Four) is brought out in January will confirm the body is Richard III’s, even if the DNA does not.”

The University said all available information will be announced at the press event and insisted it had no knowledge of any information which is being withheld for the documentary.

The body was identified just weeks into a project which began when experts identified a council car park in Leicester as the most likely historical location of the church of Grey Friars, where the King was said to have been buried after his defeat in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The archaeologists initially described the dig as a “long shot” but have since uncovered the foundations of a church along with two bodies, one of which is thought to be that of the King.

By , Science Correspondent – Full article

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Had the question been posed at the dawn of time – which is the species most likely to survive and dominate the planet? – mankind would probably not even have featured.

After all, we’re a somewhat puny lot. We don’t have claws or sharp teeth to help us hunt, or fur to keep us warm. We’re neither the tallest nor the fastest animals on Earth.

Our babies are born pitifully weak. As species go, you’d have been crazy to have bet on us.

Jane's new TV series Mankind: The Story Of All Of Us on the History Channel tells the whole story of humankind in 12 hours

Jane’s new TV series Mankind: The Story Of All Of Us on the History Channel tells the whole story of humankind in 12 hours

Yet survive we have, while 99 per cent of all life forms have become extinct. How on Earth did we do it? My new TV series Mankind: The Story Of All Of Us on the History Channel sets out to answer this question. It tells the whole story of humankind in 12 hours.

We wanted to take a completely new look at who we are and where we came from, and make it thrilling television at the same time.

It’s a ridiculously huge undertaking, but with the world beset by economic crisis and threatened by climate change, we wanted to tell an optimistic story of the incredible things that we, as a species, have accomplished.

We have, after all, manipulated the forces of our planet. We used fire to cook our food, making it easier to digest – giving us smaller stomachs and bigger brains (they’ve doubled in size in  2 million years). We turned other animals into companions – our Ice Age enemy, the wolf, became a hunting buddy and man’s best friend.

These ancient wolves are the ancestors of all the dogs alive today. And we unravelled the chemistry of our planet, unlocking nitrogen from the atmosphere to use as fertiliser – revolutionising food production and helping our population to grow faster in the first 50 years of the 20th century than it did in the previous 50,000.

Mankind’s journey from a few thousand hunter-gatherers on the African savannah 100,000 years ago to a population of seven billion today has been one built around science, invention and warfare.

Along the way we have learned about the weather, navigation and trade, about medicine, evolution and the explosive power of the atom. The sacking of Rome, the industrial revolution and mapping our own DNA are just a handful of the pivotal points along the route.

Today, one in three people on the planet is Christian, but word of the death of a man called Jesus from Nazareth 2,000 years ago might never have spread across the world if it hadn’t been for the might of the Roman Empire.

It was the Romans who mastered road-building and built a vast network of shipping lanesIt was the Romans who mastered road-building and built a vast network of shipping lanes, allowing goods and ideas to flow across three continents. In the Andes, the Spanish opened up the largest silver mine in the world in the 16th century, minting millions of coins which transformed the global economy – filling the chests of pirates, fuelling a stock market boom and, via the British Empire, helping to pay for the Taj Mahal.

As trade boomed, millions of people came into the New World as slaves, bringing their customs and culture with them and creating a diaspora that has spread around the planet.

The tale we’re telling is a global story. What most of us learn at school is our own history: I learned British history, but now I live in America with my British husband and very American seven-year-old daughter, Molly.

She gets taught American history and knows everything about George Washington, but not so much about Brunel. It’s the same story across the world: in Shanghai you learn Chinese history, in Lima, Peruvian history. None of us grows up thinking about how astoundingly interconnected the whole world is.

How many of us realise that ancient Britons built Stonehenge around the same time as the Egyptians constructed the pyramids, over 2,000 miles away? Or that farming was discovered – across the world – at almost exactly the same time?

How different would the world be if every child, everywhere, grew up thinking about all the things that have united mankind for millions of years, rather than the things that divide us right now?

People ask me how you go about condensing so much information into 12 hours of television, and the answer is prodigious planning, then breaking it down into manageable nuggets. We decided where we wanted to start (the Big Bang) and end (the near future).

Then our team spoke to an awful lot of people. Our main consultant was Ian Morris, the British professor of History and Classics at America’s Stanford University, but we also spoke to a further 200 or so historians across the globe.

 

When we made the series The British for Sky TV earlier this year we had experts who knew our entire history. With Mankind we had to find the one person who knew about the Vikings in America, for example, then someone else who knew about corn in the Mayan diet, and so on.

Most importantly we wanted to create must-see television. I want there to be a buzz and for people to want to be at home for it. To realise that feeling of excitement we’ve tried not only to tell incredible tales from the past, but to show them in a totally different way.

We spent two years filming in four different countries to give the shows a variety of landscapes that would make them visually astounding.

We’ve tried to give people a feature-film experience. I want the audience to feel as though the history is growing around them – which we’ve attempted to do with computer graphics to complement the drama.

The final piece of the jigsaw was securing Stephen Fry for the voice-over. His excitement about knowledge is a joy to behold and very close to the heart of what we’re trying to do.

I hope everyone watching will discover something new. For me, it all comes down to one big thing. The world we live in has to contend with ferocious storms and economic meltdowns, but in the mid-14th century plague wiped out a third of the population of Europe in a couple of years.

Mankind survived, and a new world emerged. We are incredibly resilient and we go on and on. If you take the really long view, things always get better.

Mankind: The Story Of All Of Us, Wednesday, 10pm, History Channel

Link source and ful ariticle: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2233399/Former-BBC2-controller-Jane-Root-ambitious-TV-project–condensing-entire-history-human-race-just-12-hours.html

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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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