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A face from the past

This face is 2000 years old. He is a mature man with hair combed back, clean-shaven except for a well-groomed moustache. Images of prehistoric Britons are very rare and in the Iron Age people were almost never shown as statues or carved as part of the decoration on objects. La Tène art styles were usually abstract and rarely showed images of people, animals or plants. This pattern changed at the very end of the Iron Age in the south east of the England. Here, there are a few pictures of Iron Age men shown on coins or as decorations on wooden buckets.

This is one of three small bronze models of men’s faces that were the decoration on a wooden bucket found in a Late Iron Age cremation burial. The grave probably belonged to someone of great importance and wealth, perhaps even a king or queen. The bucket would have looked similar to the one found in another Late Iron Age cremation burial at Aylesford, Kent. This also had men’s faces on the handle mounts.

The grave was the burial of a king or queen similar to another royal grave at Welwyn Garden City. The grave also contained two bronze jugs and a bronze pan, similar to examples from the Aylesford burial. There were also two Roman silver cups, five Roman wine amphorae and many pots.

S. James and V. Rigby, Britain and the Celtic Iron Ag (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

I.M. Stead, Celtic art in Britain before t (London, The British Museum Press, 1987, revised edition 1997)

Source: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_prb/b/bronze_model_of_a_human_head.aspx

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A “nationally significant” hoard of Roman gold coins has been found by a metal detectorist in Hertfordshire.

The stash - found on private land north of St Albans - is believed to be one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards discovered in the UK.

The stash – found on private land north of St Albans – is believed to be one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards discovered in the UK.

The stash – found on private land north of St Albans – is believed to be one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards discovered in the UK.

The 159 coins date to the end of the 4th Century during the final years of Roman rule in Britain. After AD 408 no more coin supplies reached the country.

The value of the hoard has not yet been assessed.

A team from St Albans City and District Council museums’ service investigated the site at the beginning of October to confirm the find.

The council said the coins were scattered across a fairly wide area and that there were “practically no other comparable gold hoards of this period”.

They were mostly struck in the Italian cities of Milan and Ravenna and issued under the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian, Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius.

Councillor Mike Wakely called it “an exciting find of national significance” and said the coins would go on display at Verulamium Museum.

David Thorold, from the museum, said that during Roman occupation, coins were usually buried either as a religious sacrifice to the Gods, or as a secure store of wealth to recover later.

“Threat of war or raids might lead to burial in the latter case, as may the prospect of a long journey, or any other risky activity,” he said.

‘Extremely valuable’

The curator added that gold coins were “extremely valuable” and not exchanged on a regular basis.

“They would have been used for large transactions such as buying land or goods by the shipload,” he said.

“Typically, the wealthy Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay were the recipients.”

The 1996 Treasure Act legally obliges finders of historic metal objects to report their discovery to the local coroner who determines whether or not it constitutes treasure.

Full article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-19965507

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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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Prepare for the ultimate historical adventure as over 2,000 costumed performers bring the story of England to life over one action-packed weekend14th – 15th July 2012

HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2012

Bringing over 2,000 years of history to life, Festival of History 2012 is packed full of spectacular battle re-enactments, awesome combat displays and celebrations of daily life through the ages.

MAIN ARENA

  • The 1066 Battle of Hastings (NEW!) – Sat & Sun, 12.30pm
    For the first time at Festival of History, re-live the atmosphere and tension of one of England’s most famous conflicts, and witness the making of the most famous date in our history.
  • The Battle of Stoke Field – Sat & Sun, 11am
    See the last bloody battle of the Wars of the Roses brought to life, as the Tudor age begins and Henry VII takes the English crown.
  • Drop Zone D-Day – Sat & Sun, 4pm
    We’ve a surprise in the skies to help our heroes on the ground in a World War Two battle re-enactment.
  • Prince Malik’s Lancers – Sat & Sun, 1pm
    A favourite with all the family, enjoy this truly spectacular show of unparalleled horsemanship and skill.

PARADE GROUND

  • The Roman Imperial Army – Sat & Sun, 12.15pm & 3pm
    Witness the might and power of the Roman Empire, with a trip back to the 1st century AD.
  • Medieval Joust Tournament – Sat & Sun, 2pm
    A firm favourite returning for 2012, cheer on your champion in the 15th century full-contact joust.
  • The War of 1812 (NEW!) – Sat & Sun, 11.30am
    In the year of the Bicentenary we remember the epic conflict, fought on land and sea between the new United States of America and the British Empire.
  • Victorian Gymkhana – Sat & Sun, 11am
    Watch in wonder as our elegant Ladies and Gentlemen dazzle you with displays of skill and bravery in this Victorian equestrian show

LIVING HISTORY

  • Gladiators! – Are you ready? With awesome hand-to-hand combat displays, our Gladiators keep the ferocious ancient sport alive. And there isn’t a ‘travelator’ in sight!
  • Edwardian Falconry – Marvel at the breathtaking speed and grace of falcons in flight, learn about the history of these magnificent birds of prey and their use throughout the Edwardian era.
  • First World War Music Hall (NEW!)- If the action in the main arena gets too much, escape for a good old sing song in the First World War Music Hall. (Please note that this will replace the Victorian Music Hall previously advertised.)
  • Second World War Vintage Fashion & Beauty (NEW!) – Fancy a new look? Pick up some wartime tricks and tips at these new demonstrations of fashion from the ’40s.

AND MUCH MORE!

  • First World War Trench Experience – Extended for 2012, experience what life would have been like in the Great War in the recreated First World War trench.
  • Festival of Historical Writing – Back by popular demand!
  • Family Zone – From creating giant historical street scenes in the Family Activity Tent to sandcastle building on the Victorian Beach, there’s plenty for all the family to enjoy together.

Link: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/events/foh-2012/

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The 2012 Circles of Knowledge Conference will take place on 14th and 15th July 2012 (with extra tours on the 13th and 16th).  Once again we will welcome crop circle and ancient knowledge enthusiasts from all over the world and bring them together in the beautiful surroundings of Marlborough College in Wiltshire.  This year the lectures will be taking plave in the modern Ellis Theatre, offering us state of the art audio and visual facilities.

There are many unknown factors to the crop circle phenomenon and under such circumstances it is best to

July 2012 Crop Circle

July 2012 Crop Circle near Avebury

stick to facts. Crop circles are happening in our reality here and now, and as the designs are imprinted in real fields in the countryside, they can be visited and studied at close hand.

Many people, several of whom live in Wiltshire full time, are actively engaged in full time research in an attempt to establish what this phenomenon is about and where it is leading us.  Since 1980 thousands of designs have been investigated and recorded in databases worldwide. This is impressive by anyone’s standard.

The Study of Crop Circles is based on facts:

  • Crop Circles exist.
  • They are found all over the world.
  • More than 6,000 have been documented since 1980.
  • Over the last twenty years analyses of thousands of plant and soil specimens from hundreds of formations worldwide have been carried out in laboratories in various countries, and most extensively in the UK and in the USA.
  • These analyses show that the cellular structure of the plants has been strongly affected and that the composition of the soil greatly altered in crop circles (man made designs exhibit no such results).
  • Their designs are based on complex geometry, ancient symbology and advanced mathematics.
  • They can be decoded.
  • The message that comes through is important for mankind at present.

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After hunting for buried treasure for three decades – and not finding a great deal – even the most diligent of us might have given up.

But not Reg Mead and Richard Miles. The two amateur metal detectors kept up their search of the same area throughout the decades and have finally struck gold – or rather silver.

A coin in the hand: Archaeologists believe the hoard, found by two metal detectors, is worth about £10million

A coin in the hand: Archaeologists believe the hoard, found by two metal detectors, is worth about £10million

 

They have unearthed the largest hoard of Celtic coins ever found. Each one of the 30,000–50,000 coins is estimated to be worth around £200 each, putting the value of the haul at up to £10milion

  • Coins were buried to protect them from Julius Caesar
  • Three-quarter ton hoard estimated to be worth £10m
  • Two enthusiasts searched for three decades in field in Jersey

They are thought to be from the first century BC and were found buried 3ft deep under a hedge in a farmer’s field on Jersey.

Two thousand years ago the Channel Island – which remains a popular spot to stash large sums of money –  was a refuge for tribes fleeing what is now northern France from the invading Roman armies.

As the legions of Julius Ceasar drew closer, the treasure is thought to have been buried by a Celtic tribe called the Coriosolitae, in the hope it could be dug up once the danger had passed.

And there the coins – packed in clay and weighing a ton – have remained undisturbed until last week.

The men who discovered them, Mr Mead, 70, and Mr Miles, a customs officer in his 40s, suspected treasure was in the area three decades ago, when they heard rumours a farmer had found some silver pieces on his land. After a series of largely unsuccessful forays in the area, they unearthed a stash of 120 coins in February.

Mr Mead, a grandfather who lives with wife Ruth in St Clement, Jersey, said: ‘Richard found the first one and it was amazing – when you see him raising his hand above his head (saying) “got one”.’

The pair used a powerful metal detector known as a deepseeker to search for more treasure in the field and struck lucky last week

‘The machine picked up a really strong signal – so we immediately got in touch with professional archaeologists,’ Mr Mead said. ‘They started digging and we could not believe how many coins there were.

‘All of them were stuck together. I have been searching for things like this since 1959 and never found anything on this scale before.

‘We had been searching that land for 30 years.’

After four days of careful digging the hoard was hauled to the surface by crane. It will now be subject of an inquest to determine ownership rights

Mr Mead added: ‘I am absolutely numb at the moment. To find one haul of coins in a lifetime is rare, but to find two is just unheard of.’

The location of the find is being kept secret.

Neil Mahrer of Jersey Heritage Museum, who helped to excavate the money, said: ‘This is the biggest Celtic coin hoard ever found which is tremendously exciting.’

The previous record find was in 1935 at La Marquanderie in Jersey when more than 11,000 were discovered.

Mr Mahrer added that the coins, which are called staters and quarter staters, weigh as much as a 50p piece.

‘All the coins are silver and a common theme is a picture of a man or god’s head on one side of the coin and a horse on the other,’ he said. ‘They are covered in green corrosion because the silver is mixed with copper and copper corrodes. But they should come up again in a good condition.’

Dr Philip de Jersey, a former Celtic coin expert at Oxford University, said: ‘The find is very significant. It will add a huge amount of new information, not just about the coins themselves, but the people who were using them.’

Article by By COLIN FERNANDEZ – Daily Mail

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Chalke Valley History Festival near Salisbury is Britain’s biggest festival devoted entirely to history.

The 2012venue is the second such festival to be held in a 22 acre field set amongst the gentle downs of the Chalke Valley, surely one of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain, 12 miles south-west of Salisbury.

Chalke Valley History Festival

Chalke Valley History Festival

The Chalke Valley History Festival is in its second year now & really getting into its stride. The festival is being held just outside Ebbesbourne Wake, one of the villages within the Wilton Community Area. As well as literary talks covering an amazing variety of topics & periods in history, there are also other activities to get involved in. Among the impressive line-up of speakers at the festival, there are many household names such as Sir Max Hastings, Amanda Vickery, Jeremy Paxman, Michael Morpurgo, Ian and Victoria Hislop, Tom Holland, Dan Snow and Michael Wood.

If you’re interested in history, this is an event you won’t want to miss: “The Chalke Valley History Festival is Britain’s biggest festival devoted entirely to history. This is our second Festival and we are much bigger this year with over fifty events and an extraordinary array of speakers. Joining us are some of this country’s most popular and influential historians who are shaping our understanding of the past and setting the context for understanding the future.”

Check out the Chalke Valley History Festival website for more information & to buy tickets. http://www.cvhf.org.uk/

Another good reason to visit Wiltshire…………………..

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