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Intense and brooding images of Stonehenge and other prehistoric monuments in a new exhibition are taking visitors deep into the heart of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Wessex’.

Archaeologists debate the purpose of Stonehenge, but for Hardy it was a haunting symbol of isolation and suffering.

The exhibition by three artists at Salisbury Museum mirrors the Dorset author’s emotional response to the archaeological sites he knew and used with such effect in his novels.

His use of landscape was highly symbolic and deeply emotive. Nowhere is that more clear than in his description of Stonehenge, which features in the climactic scene of Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

In the dead of night, Tess stumbles upon the monument, and lies down to rest on an ancient altar, giving the allusion of her character as a sacrificial offering to a society that has cast her out. Hardy describes the isolation of the monument on Salisbury Plain, and once inside, the feeling of enclosure.

Symbolism is central to Hardy’s writing, which may be why so many artists use his work as their inspiration.

Artists Dave Gunning, David Inshaw and Rob Pountney have collaborated to show the dramatic landscapes and archaeology in media ranging from charcoal to steel etching and oil paint.

They share a common interest in how Hardy used landscape to symbolise the emotional and physical experiences of his characters.

He revived the Saxon name ‘Wessex’ as a part-real, part-dream landscape, thinly disguising place names so that Salisbury becomes Melchester and Dorchester becomes Casterbridge. Salisbury Plain is sometimes called the “Great Grey Plain”.

Dave Gunning, who was awarded the Year of the Artist Award in 2000-1 by the British Arts Council, has spent more than 25 years studying the prehistoric landscape in the West Country, particularly the ancient monuments within the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and Avebury.

David Inshaw is one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists. His work is often inspired by literature that takes landscape and nature as its focus.

Rob Pountney has always been fascinated by Thomas Hardy’s work, and says the use of dramatic contrasts of light and shade in his work captures the striking visual aspects of the geological and archaeological features of the Wessex landscape, and his interpretation of Hardy’s response to them.

Salisbury Museum is the perfect place for the exhibition, which opened on Saturday and runs until April 14.

In Jude the Obscure, Hardy bases the college that Sue Bridehead attends on the training college for schoolmistresses that his sisters attended. This was the King’s House, Salisbury, and is now home to the museum.

Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet in the parish of Stinsford to the east of Dorchester.

He became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died at Max Gate just after 9pm on January 11, 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed. The cause of death was cited, on his death certificate, as “cardiac syncope
Link: http://www.dorchesterpeople.co.uk

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A 2,000-year-old mass grave full of dismembered bodies and skulls has been discovered at an ancient burial site being dug up to create a road for the 2012 Olympics.

Archaeologists excavating the Weymouth Relief Road, on Ridgeway Hill near Weymouth, believe the pit of corpses comprises Iron Age war casualties massacred by the Roman Army.

The road is being dug as part of transport links for the Olympics. Picture courtesy Oxford Archaeology

“We have counted 45 skulls so far in one section of the pit, and several torsos and leg bones in separate sections,” said David Score, Project Manager for Oxford Archaeology.

“It’s very early days but so far, after a visit to the site by our head of burial services, the skulls appear to be predominately those of young men.

Torsos and bones feature. Picture courtesy Oxford Archaeology

“At the moment we don’t fully understand how or why the remains have come to be deposited in the pit, but it seems highly likely that some kind of catastrophic event such as war, disease or execution has occurred.”

Score’s gory finds on the £87 million transport route to the proposed “Olympic Village” are an unprecedented follow-up to the discovery of 12 skeletons at the site in January, when he predicted the team “could find anything” while stripping the soil back.

Archaeologists have been working at the site for months. Picture courtesy Oxford Archaeology

“It is rare to find a burial site like this one,” he added. “There are lots of different types of burial where skeletons may be aligned along a compass axis or in a crouched position, but to find something like this is just incredible.”

Dorset County Council said the development was “extraordinary”, and Head of Highways Andy Ackerman warned the public to stay away from the six-metre pit, which has been fenced off.

Visiting Weymouth during the UK 2012 Olympics ?  We operate private guided sightseeing tours of Dorset, Wiltshire and the West Country

Mysical Landscape, Magical Tours………
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History

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A chance discovery of coins has led to the bigger find of a Roman town, further west than it was previously thought Romans had settled in England.

The town was found under fields a number of miles west of Exeter, Devon.

Roman coins found by two local men led to the discovery of a town

Roman coins found by two local men led to the discovery of a town

Nearly 100 Roman coins were initially uncovered there by two amateur archaeological enthusiasts.

It had been thought that fierce resistance from local tribes to Roman culture stopped the Romans from moving so far into the county.

Sam Moorhead, national finds adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins for the PAS at the British Museum, said it was one of the most significant Roman discoveries in the country for many decades.

“It is the beginning of a process that promises to transform our understanding of the Roman invasion and occupation of Devon,” he explained.

After the coins were unearthed by the local men out using metal detectors, Danielle Wootton, the University of Exeter’s liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), which looks after antiquities found by the public, was tasked with investigating further.

After carrying out a geophysical survey last summer, she said she was astonished to find evidence of a huge landscape, including at least 13 round-houses, quarry pits and track-ways covering at least 13 fields, the first of its kind for the county.

“You just don’t find Roman stuff on this scale in Devon,” said Ms Wootton.

She carried out a trial excavation on the site, and has already uncovered evidence of extensive trade with Europe, a road possibly linking to the major settlement at Exeter, and some intriguing structures, as well as many more coins.

“This was a really exciting discovery,” said Ms Wootton. But she said most exciting of all was that her team had stumbled across two burial plots that seem to be located alongside the settlement’s main road.

“It is early days, but this could be the first signs of a Roman cemetery and the first glimpse of the people that lived in this community,” she explained.

Romans in Devon

Not enough excavation has been done yet to date the main occupation phase of the site, but the coins that were found range from slightly before the start of the Roman invasion up until the last in 378AD.

The Romans reached Exeter during the invasion of Britain in AD 50-55, and a legion commanded by Vespasian built a fortress on a spur overlooking the River Exe. This legion stayed for the next 20 years before moving to Wales.

A few years after the army left, Exeter was converted into a bustling Romano-British civilian settlement known as Isca Dumnoniorum with all the usual Roman public buildings, baths and forum.

It was also the principal town for the Dumnonii tribe, a native British tribe who inhabited Devon and Cornwall. It was thought that their resistance to Roman rule and influence, and any form of ‘Romanisation’ stopped the Roman’s settling far into the south west.

For a very long time, it was thought that Exeter was the limit of Roman settlement in Britain in the south west, with the rest being inhabited by local unfriendly tribes.

Some evidence of Roman military occupation has been found in Cornwall and Dartmoor, thought to be protecting supply routes for resources such as tin.

However on this site, more than just the coins are Roman. Pottery and amphora fragments recovered suggest the town embraced trading opportunities in Europe that came with Roman rule, and a fragment of a Roman roof tile has also been found.

Danielle Wootton received some funding from the British Museum, the Roman Research Trust and Devon County Council in June to carry out the trial excavation but said more money was needed as they still had not reached its outer limits.

“We are just at the beginning really, there’s so much to do and so much that we still don’t know about this site.

“I’m hoping that we can turn this into a community excavation for everyone to be involved in, including the metal detectorists,” she explained.

Sam Moorhead said he believed more Roman settlements may be found in the area in the next few years.

The excavation of this unique site will feature in the forthcoming BBC Two series Digging For Britain.

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  • The 15ft-high road ran from London to Exeter viaOld Sarum

    It was a route once trod by legionnaires as they marched across a conquered land.

    But, eventually, the Romans left Britain and the magnificent highway they created was reclaimed by nature and seemingly lost for ever.

    Now, some 2,000 years after it was built, it has been uncovered in the depths of a forest in Dorset.
    And, remarkably, it shows no sign of the potholes that blight our modern roads.

    Half-mile long: Laurence Degoul from the Forestry Commission stands on a 15ft-high section of Roman road uncovered in Puddletown Forest in Dorset

    Half-mile long: Laurence Degoul from the Forestry Commission stands on a 15ft-high section of Roman road uncovered in Puddletown Forest in Dorset

    Constructed by the Roman invaders as part of a route from London (Londinium) to Exeter (Isca), the 85ft wide earthwork stands more than 15ft high and consists of a sweeping road with deep ditches at the side.

    It was so densely covered by trees, however, that although its existence was known about, it simply could not be found until now.

    One of the country’s first roads, it was uncovered when the Forestry Commission, acting on advice from English Heritage expert Peter Addison, cleared the Norway spruce fir trees in Puddletown Forest.

    Mr Addison said it was the biggest Roman road he had come across and that it was probably designed to make a statement. It is thought that it might have been built shortly after the Roman conquest in the first century and its scale would have been chosen to intimidate people living nearby.

    The sight of a Roman legion marching along it would surely have had the desired effect.
    It is thought the road would have been made from layers of gravel and the fact it still exists is testimony to the skills of the builders.

    There is a central cobbled ‘street’, which would have been used for rapid troop movements, and outer ‘droving’ roads for livestock, as well as ditches for water drainage.

    Mr Addison said: ‘It’s extraordinary. It has been known about but when the Forestry Commission wanted to find it, they struggled.

    ‘The trees were planted so tightly it was difficult to move through them. But they called me in and I managed to find it.

    ‘It is part of the road that goes from Badbury Rings to the fort at Dorchester and was part of the network of roads from Old Sarum (now Salisbury) to Exeter.

    Artist's impression: The Roman road being built in the Dorset forest 1,900 years ago

    Artist's impression: The Roman road being built in the Dorset forest 1,900 years ago

  • It is absolutely huge and unlike anything I have ever seen. Here you have a large road with huge ditches either side. It is raised very high which is unusual. It is only speculation, but the height might have been to make a statement.

    ‘It is thought this was a road made early in the occupation and not used for long. If so, then it would have been incredibly impressive to the local people.

    ‘In other parts of the forest we know the road was made using gravel and they probably used layers to build up the agger (embankment). They built ditches on either side to act as soakaways to prolong the life of the road.

    ‘But more work needs to be done to find out these details.’

    It is hoped that archaeologists will be able to examine the road.

    A Forestry Commission spokesman said it would not be planting any more trees on it.

    The road will probably be grassed over in the future, he added.

    ‘We have painstakingly uncovered one of the UK’s most remarkable sections of ancient Roman road,’ the spokesman said.

    Wessex Tour Guide
    HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

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    Key Facts

    Sport: Sailing, Paralympic Sailing
    Capacity: No seats at venue
    New or existing? Existing, Permanent
    Travel and Tours: See below

    Location and regeneration

    The venue is a combination of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) and the adjoining commercial marina, in Dorset on England’s south coast.

    It has kick-started the regeneration of the former Naval Air Station at Portland, now known as Osprey Quay, where new residential, commercial and marina facilities are already underway. It is an exposed spot at the western end of the English Channel, providing some of the best natural Sailing waters in the UK, with facilities on land to match.

    About Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour

    Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour provides some of the best natural sailing waters in the UK, with facilities on land to match.

    The site has already hosted numerous international sailing events, including the 2006 ISAF World Youth Championships attended by over 60 nations.

    Getting ready

    Work to enhance the sailing facilities at Weymouth and Portland has been completed. The enhancements to the existing WPNSA facilities include a new permenant 250m slipway and new lifting and mooring facilities.

    The project was completed on budget and ahead of schedule, providing world-class facilities for elite athletes and the local community more than three years before the Games.

    During the Games

    Sailing has historically been a non-ticketed event. We are currently reviewing our ticketing strategy with a view to bringing a spectator experience to suit various levels. This may include free ‘Live Sites’; quiet cliff observation points; ticketed venues with TV, tracking and commentary; and ticketed and specific spectator boats.

    The ticketing review process is currently underway.

    After the Games

    The National Sailing Academy will benefit from the improved facilities that the Games will leave behind, providing a state-of-the-art facility for elite training, competition and local community use.

    This use has already started: from a community programme through to hosting the Olympic Windsurfing discipline, RS:X class World Championship in 2009. This events programme is extensive and will also include hosting the IFDS (Paralympic Sailing) World Championship in 2011.

    About Weymouth
    Weymouth’s heritage as a seaport and fishing centre is overshadowed by its 18th century renaissance as a watering-place, and its more recent revival as a popular seaside resort. Most of the finest buildings are remnants of the town’s glory days as a Georgian resort, but there are even earlier houses to be found, including the converted Tudor cottages on Trinity Street.

    George III lived in Weymouth, at Gloucester House (now a hotel). Reminders of the monarch are not hard to find; his likeness is cut into the turf of a hill outside the town, and a large statue stands on the busy seafront near the Tourist Information Centre.

     The seafront is the hub of activity in Weymouth, a stretch of golden sand bestrewn with deckchairs and crowded with sun seekers in summer. More relaxing perhaps are the opportunities for fishing and boating in the area. Within walking distance of the town centre are two nature reserves. Radipole Lake is home to birds who love open water, reedbeds and scrubby bushes, and Lodmore offers flood meadows, rough pasture and saltmarsh habitat.

     Weymouth is located between two Heritage Coasts (Purbeck and West Dorset Heritage Coast), and inland from the sea the entire surrounding region has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The town is just north-east of the Isle of Portland, a wonderfully isolated coastal area tenuously joined to the mainland by the narrow sweep of Chesil Beach. Portland is excellent bird-watching territory, with Pulpit Rock a good spot to observe puffins during the early summer. On the north-east coast of the Isle is Portland Castle, one of the best-preserved of Henry VIII’s coastal defenses.

    Weymouth Beach
    Weymouth Beach

    Another, more modern defensive structure is Nothe Fort, built on a headland jutting into Portland Harbour in 1860. It was in service until 1956, and has since been transformed into a living museum, tracing the history of the fort, and in particular the role of Weymouth in the Second World War.

    High speed ferries leave Weymouth harbour for the Channel Islands and St. Malo, in France.

    Tours and Transport
    Histouries UK are able to offer guided sightseeing tours of this stunning part of southern Britain including Dorset and Wiltshire.  We are able to offer tours from London to Weymouth visiting Stonehenge, Salisbury, Bath etc on route and vice-versa – ideal for famailies and small groups.  Maximise your time in Britain during the 2012 Olympics and book a tour (well in advance)

    External links:
    HisTOURies UK – Private guided tours
    Coach Tours and Transport during the Olympics

    London Tourist Information
    http://www.london2012.com/games/venues/weymouth-and-portland.php
    Visit Weymouth and Visit Portland
    The Official Tourist Information Website for Weymouth and Portland

    Dorset Tourist Guide
    Histouries UK – The Best Tours of Dorset and Wilsthire

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