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THE workforce that built Stonehenge 4,500 years ago came in their thousands from the length and breadth of Britain, a study shows.

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Settlers are said to have travelled from as far away as the Scottish highlands

The massive stone circle was erected over a decade by people attending the equivalent of “Glastonbury festival and a motorway building scheme at the same time”, says Professor Mike Parker Pearson, from University College London.

Analysis of a nearby Wiltshire settlement suggests 4,000 people at once would have gathered at the site when Britain’s then population was only tens of thousands.

Cattle and pig teeth show people travelled from as far away as the Scottish Highlands.

Prof Parker Pearson said construction of the monument was “not all fun, there’s work too”.

Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons is on Channel 4 tomorrow at 8pm

Full story in the Express: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/382949/Secret-behind-the-building-of-Stonehenge

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The outer circle was composed of 30 sarsen uprights with a similar number of lintels: this enclosed five sarsen trilithons (pairs of uprights with a lintel across each), arranged in a horseshoe shape, with the open end towards midsummer sunrise.

Stonehenge Bluestones, which clearly had a special significance for the builders, were re-erected in a circle between the outer sarsen circle and horseshoe, and inside the horseshoe. Some bluestones were later removed to leave the final setting, the remains of which can be seen today.

In the landscape immediately around Stonehenge there are visible remains of many different types of monuments, and many more have been detected. Neolithic monuments include long barrows, and the long rectangular earthwork to the north, the Cursus ( so called because it was once thought to resemble a chariot racecourse): together with the henge monuments at Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, contemporary with the middle phases at Stonehenge. The most numerous monuments are the remains of many Bronze Age round barrows, which were built after Stonehenge Stone Circle was complete.
***source: english-heritage.org.uk

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) west of Amesbury and 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. It is at the centre of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.[1]

Archaeologists had believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 BC, as described in the chronology below. One recent theory, however, has suggested that the first stones were not erected until 2400-2200 BC,[2] whilst another suggests that bluestones may have been erected at the site as early as 3000 BC (see phase 1 below). The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury Henge monument. It is a national legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage, while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.[3][4]

Archaeological evidence found by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2008 indicates that Stonehenge served as a burial ground from its earliest beginnings.[5] The dating of cremated remains found on the site indicate burials from as early as 3000 BC, when the initial ditch and bank were first dug. Burials continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years.[6]”
***source: wikipedia.org

Stonehenge Access Tours – go beyond the fences! 

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Stonehenge access toursAn opportunity to get close to the stones and learn more about the monument and the surrounding landscape.

The visits will be led by David Dawson, Director of the Society, who will point out the main features of the circle and its surrounding landscape and explain the cycle of its construction and rebuilding during the Bronze Age.

This is an opportunity to inspect and photograph (for non-commercial purposes only) the stones closely, and see the inscriptions, including the famous ‘daggers’ believed to date from prehistoric times, Wander at will inside the circle, indeed do whatever you wish other than touch, climb on the stones, picnic or play music, none of which is allowed!

23rd August (from 7.30pm to 8.30pm).

Meet at Stonehenge car park 10 minutes before booked time. Tour lasts no more than one hour.

COST
Adults £22 (WANHS members £20)*
Children £13*

Book here: http://www.wiltshireheritage.org.uk/events/index.php?Action=2&thID=710&prev=1

For information on special access inside the Stone Circle see below:

 

Please note that special access is limited, open to no more than groups of 20 or so, and outside normal hours. Visits are either early mornings or evenings, and not every day (the English Heritage Website has details).

 

It is well worth making the effort to go inside the Circle, especially if you are travelling from abroad, and it may be your only opportunity. You may hear people who have only walked around the rope barrier at a distance describe Stonehenge as ‘a pile of rocks in a field’, that’s their preception on viewing it at a distance – but nothing could be further from the truth. It is only when you get close to the stones the true and awesome scale of the structure becomes apparent. If you have read ‘Solving Stonehenge’, with the aid of its many plans and illustrations, the extraordinary achievement of the prehistoric builders in designing and setting out the massive structure to an accuracy of just a few centimetres will astonish you

 

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Beginning at sundown on the eve of July 31st to sundown on August 1st

The Celtic Harvest Festival – Lughnasadh – also known as Lammas – is a harvest celebration beginning at sundown on the eve of the 31st of July until sundown on August 1st and derives its name from the Irish God Lugh. In Wales, this time is known simply as Gwl Awst, the August Feast. Lugh is associated with the power of sun and light, and so fires were burned in honor of Him on this day. In addition to His associations with light, Lugh is a God of Skill and Craft, a master of all human skills. On this His feast day, it is particularly appropriate that we celebrate our own abilities and skills.

“Celtic Festival of the first fruits and ripening corn “

Lugh dedicated this Celtic festival to his foster-mother, Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, who died from fatigue after working and clearing a great forest so that the land could be cultivated. When the men of Ireland gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games and celebrations in her honor. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song.

Lammas (was christianized as Lammas:  the word ‘Lammas’ is an Old English word meaning ‘Loaf Mass’) celebrates the first harvesting of crops, the first of three harvest festivals.  The Earth yields up Her first gifts to us … a blessing from the Mother and the product of our human hands.  It is a time to celebrate the fruitfulness of the Earth and fruits of our labors.  We have sown and nurtured, and now we are reaping the benefits in rhythm with the Earth.  In later times, the festival of Lughnasadh, but in rural areas it was often remembered as “Bilberry Sunday,” the people would gather the earth’s freely-given gifts of black berries.  As well people sang and danced jigs and reels to the music of melodeons, fiddles and flutes, and held uproarious sporting contests and races.

Corn, grains and berries are of particular significance at this holiday (see recipes below from corn, flour and grains).  Traditionally, the newly harvested grain is made into bread to be shared with all in this celebration.  Fruits and vegetables are ripe and ready for canning and preserving.  We celebrate and partake in the fullness of the Earth while beginning to make provision for the cold months ahead.

This was also an occasion for handfasting and displaying of their skills and specialized crafts.  Through the centuries, Ireland’s country-people have celebrated the harvest at revels, wakes and country fairs. Some still continue this festival today with an entertaining manner and it is usually celebrated on the nearest Sunday to August 1st, as so that a whole day could be set aside from work.

It is a time to ask ourselves:  “What are my talents?  What are my skills?   How do I express my creativity?  How do I use my abilities to re-craft my world … to add beauty …. color … richness?  Our skills may include woodworking, designing, creating, sewing and needlecraft, art, music, dance, sports or communication, organizing, healing, parenting, problem solving etc.  Whatever our talents or abilities, this is a time to recognize them and honor them, and to share our recognition of the talents and abilities of others around us.  If you have had an interest or urge to develop a particular skill or creative outlet, now might be the time to make a pledge or commitment to yourself to pursue your interest.  By offering the fruits of our labors back to the Universe we enrich both ourselves and our world.

Because Lughnasadh is a celebration of the new harvest, people cooked special ritual foods and festive meals.  If you are curious about this historic celebration and the abundance of foods prepared, please search the internet. It is a wonderful time to celebrate the abundance we receive from mother earth and be with our special loved ones.

Lammas Traditions

Lammastide was the traditional time when craft fairs and pageants were held. Long Summer evenings are beginning to get shorter.
In Ireland Lammas is traditionally a time for buying and selling, horse trading and music.
The ‘Oul Lammas Fair’, Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair, which takes place in Ballycastle, Co Antrim on the last Monday and Tuesday in August, attracts people in their thousands at festival time.

Saint Catherine was celebrated – ‘ The Catherine Wheel’ came from the Pagan rites when a wagon wheel would be tarred, set on fire and rolled down a hill – symbolizing the decline of the Sun God as the seasos wheel turns to Autumn Equinox. If the wheel went out before it reached the bottom – poor harvest, abundant if it remained lit.

St. Ciaran’s Well, Clonmacnois, County Meath – pilgrims go with torches at midnight on the first sunday in August – looking for a trout. The sun was believed to live in holy wells during the night.

Celts erected temporary hills to celebrate the harvest festival of Lammas. In Ireland a girl would be seated on the hill-top, garlanded with flowers and proclaimed the goddess of the hill. Celts would climb hills to pray to the gods and gather bilberries at Lammas.
The raising up of Celtic crosses onto stone steps recalls the Lammas tradition – Perrons – a type of man-made holy terraced mountain.

Making of the Corn Dolly from the best ears of corn taken from the last sheaf to be harvested.
This was usually kept hanging over the hearth to bring good luck, and the seeds were added to the new seeds in the Spring.

Link: http://www.mysticfamiliar.com/library/witchcraft/lughnasadh.html
L
ink: http://www.new-age.co.uk/celtic-festivals-lammas.

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

Stonehenge Wiltshire

Stonehenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scarce images of life, one here, one there,
Lay vast and edgeways; like a dismal cirque
Of Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor,
When the chill rain begins at shut of eve,
In dull November, and their chancel vault,
The Heaven itself, is blinded throughout night.
Each one kept shroud, nor to his neighbour gave
Or word, or look, or action of despair.

Keats Stonehenge

When we stand amid the columns of broken temples, gaze upon riddling hieroglyphics or trace the spiral patterns on cavern walls, we glimpse the gods of ancient times. Who or what were they? Did they really walk upon the earth? And could their weird and twisted forms possibly return to haunt our imagination?

In this extract from his poem “Hyperion,” Keats describes the Titans, the gods who ruled before the Olympians. Their power is waning. Try as they might, they cannot rouse themselves from lethargy and confusion. Soon, the charismatic Jupiter will wrest the throne from Saturn, the King of the Titans, and the names of Coeus, Gyges, Dolor, and Porphyrion will be banished forever—except perhaps to live on in poetry.

Every epoch must end, every vision of perfection replaced by another. (The Olympians will, of course, be themselves deposed by the God of the Christian era.) Take the idea of the zeitgeist. Changes in culture dictate what people believe and what they don’t believe, but where such changes spring from is remarkably tricky to pin down. They just happen to be blowing in the wind.

In a brilliant phrase, Keats compares the old gods to a “dismal cirque/ Of Druid stones,” linking the image of a stone circle with a dreary circus out of a nightmare, maybe because it goes nowhere, endlessly.

He evokes Stonehenge, whose massive blocks of granite have stood on Salisbury plain for more than 3,500 years. Was it a temple? An astronomical clock? A place for storing grain? Despite all the theories, no one has ever worked out its purpose. Even the Druids are a mystery, their way of life obliterated by the invading Romans.

Stonehenge is only one of hundreds of stone circles that dot the British countryside. West Cornwall, in particular, is full of sites such as the Merry Maidens, the Nine Maidens, the Hurlers and the Pipers. As the names suggest, there is a persistent myth that these stones were once human, whether women punished for dancing on a Sunday, or men for playing games—and it’s easy to imagine that it’s true, seeing their silent forms at dawn or dusk, on the borderline of reason and wonder.

Keats shows us the stones with the “chill rain” pattering down “at shut of eve,” as night takes hold and the light is extinguished. This is our world too, as we read the poem at the end of “dull November” and we prepare for the rigors of winter. The heavenly blue sky has turned into a “chancel vault,” enclosing the gods—and us—in a slate gray tomb. We all await our rebirth in the spring.

Beyond joy and despair, and through every season, the stones remain as an essential part of the landscape. Here are the thoughts of the artist JT Blight writing in The Gentleman’s Magazine back in 1868: “Nor is there any more impressive evidence of the mutability of human affairs than these rude, lichen-stained stones. They, themselves but the relics of once perfect structures, have yet, even in their ruined condition, outstood the downfall of cities, and have yet remained whilst palaces and the finest works of art have become mere refuse heaps, or have crumbled to dust.”

A Reading from ‘Lamia’ by John Keats

So what happens to the Titans in the poem? Do they die or do they return? It seems oddly fitting that we never discover. Keats abandoned his work halfway through, frustrated he couldn’t find a voice that was independent of Milton, author of the epic “Paradise Lost.” Keats’ decision was an act of rebellion, mirroring Jupiter’s insurrection against Saturn. Today, “Hyperion” resembles the Druid circle it describes: a magnificent, melancholy ruin, full of secrets for every reader who wanders in.

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/arts-entertainment/the-antidote-classic-poetry-for-modern-life-2-150671.html

 John Keats (1795–1821) was an English Romantic poet. His most famous works include “Ode to a Nightingale,” “The Eve of St. Agnes” and “Lamia.”

Christopher Nield is a poet living in London. 

Join us on ‘Stonehenge Special Access Tour’ and one of our experienced guided nwill show you where Keats carved his name onto one of the upright megaliths (1814) 

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Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween. 

Samhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) literally means “summer’s end.” In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as O�che Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter’s calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.

 

In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods in pagan times. All the harvest must be gathered in — barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples — for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come. The endless horizons of summer gave way to a warm, dim and often smoky room; the symphony of summer sounds was replaced by a counterpoint of voices, young and old, human and animal. 

In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centers of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year.   The greatest assembly was the ‘Feast of Tara,’ focusing on the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, the point of conception for the new year. In every household throughout the country, hearth-fires were extinguished. All waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year — not at Tara, but at Tlachtga, a hill twelve miles to the north-west. It marked the burial-place of Tlachtga, daughter of the great druid Mogh Ruith, who may once have been a goddess in her own right in a former age. 

At at all the turning points of the Celtic year, the gods drew near to Earth at Samhain, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire,  and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe, as at Beltane. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people surely felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, projects and hopes for the year to come. 

The Samhain fires continued to blaze down the centuries.  In the 1860s the Halloween bonfires were still so popular in Scotland that one traveler reported seeing thirty fires lighting up the hillsides all on one night, each surrounded by rings of dancing figures, a practice which continued up to the first World War. Young people and servants lit brands from the fire and ran around the fields and hedges of house and farm, while community leaders surrounded parish boundaries with a magic circle of light. Afterwards, ashes from the fires were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter months — and of course, they also improved the soil. The bonfire provided an island of light within the oncoming tide of winter darkness, keeping away cold, discomfort, and evil spirits long before electricity illumined our nights. When the last flame sank down, it was time to run as fast as you could for home, raising the cry, “The black sow without a tail take the hindmost!”

Even today, bonfires light up the skies in many parts of the British Isles and Ireland at this season, although in many areas of Britain their significance has been co-opted by Guy Fawkes Day, which falls on November 5th, and commemorates an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament in the 17th century. In one Devonshire village, the extraordinary sight of both men and women running through the streets with blazing tar barrels on their backs can still be seen! Whatever the reason, there will probably always be a human need to make fires against the winter’s dark.

Divination at Halloween  

Samhain was a significant time for divination, perhaps even more so than May or Midsummer’s Eve, because this was the chief of the three Spirit Nights. Divination customs and games frequently featured apples and nuts from the recent harvest, and candles played an important part in adding atmosphere to the mysteries. In Scotland, a child born at Samhain was said to be gifted with an d� shealladh, “The Two Sights” commonly known as “second sight,” or clairvoyance. 

Apple Magic
At the heart of the Celtic Otherworld grows an apple tree whose fruit has magical properties. Old sagas tell of heroes crossing the western sea to find this wondrous country, known in Ireland as Emhain Abhlach, (Evan Avlach) and in Britain, Avalon. At Samhain, the apple harvest is in, and old hearthside games, such as apple-bobbing, called apple-dookin’ in Scotland, reflect the journey across water to obtain the magic apple. 

Dookin’ for Apples
Place a large tub, preferably wooden, on the floor, and half fill it with water. Tumble in plenty of apples, and have one person stir them around vigorously with a long wooden spoon or rod of hazel, ash or any other sacred tree. 

Each player takes their turn kneeling on the floor, trying to capture the apples with their teeth as they go bobbing around. Each gets three tries before the next person has a go. Best to wear old clothes for this one, and have a roaring fire nearby so you can dry off while eating your prize!
If you do manage to capture an apple, you might want to keep it for a divination ritual, such as this one: 

The Apple and the Mirror
Before the stroke of midnight, sit in front of a mirror in a room lit only by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence, and ask a question. Cut the apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror, eat eight of the pieces, then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Turn your head to look over the same shoulder, and you will see and in image or symbol in the mirror that will tell you your answer.

(When you look in the mirror, let your focus go “soft,” and allow the patterns made by the moon or candlelight and shadows to suggest forms, symbols and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition.) 

Dreaming Stones
Go to a boundary stream and with closed eyes, take from the water three stones between middle finger and thumb, saying these words as each is gathered:                        

         I will lift the stone
           As Mary lifted it for her Son,
           For substance, virtue, and strength;
           May this stone be in my hand
           Till I reach my journey’s end.
 

(Scots Gaelic)
          Togaidh mise chlach,
          Mar a thog Moire da Mac,
          Air bhr�gh, air bhuaidh, ‘s air neart;
          Gun robh a chlachsa am dh�rn,
          Gus an ruig mi mo cheann uidhe.

Carry them home carefully and place them under your pillow. That night, ask for a dream that will give you guidance or a solution to a problem, and the stones will bring it for you.
Article from ‘The Stonehenge Stone Circle’ Website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No comprehensive guide to our islands’ buildings should exclude Hadrian’s Wall or Stonehenge
Stonehenge

Jonathan Glancey’s introduction to the Guardian’s Guide to British Architecture encourages a reading of architecture and an immersion in its language (Architecture: an autobiography, 10 September). The buildings “tell tales of people who have lived, loved and worked inside them”. The stories of buildings’ birth, life and death, their design and fabrication, use and abuse, rebirths and ruin, are indeed the narrative that describes a society and its architecture.

Yet the guide as a whole surely misses the deep and longer story of British architecture. Joseph Rykwert’s seminal work The Idea of the Town views the myths and rituals of many previous civilisations; Glancey only allows a brief view of “eight millennia” of architecture with a mention of “the cities and ziggurats (towers) of ancient Sumeria, now hidden from the world in the deserts of southern Iraq”.

Surely Britain is allowed its ancients: does the history of architecture only start with the arrival of Christianity, the dominant force in architecture? Surely it should include places deep in our psyche and defining the last six millennia. Where are the precise fabrications of Stonehenge, and the domestic and environmental connectivity exhibited at Skara Brae? Where are the Romans’ technical marvels, Hadrian’s Wall, and their integrated plumbing and heating?

Are we witnessing an editing moment similar to the TV series Civilisation; or perhaps these Unesco world heritage sites are seen as just buildings, like Nikolaus Pevsner’s bicycle shed – and therefore written out of the story? They were important enough for John Wood, the designer of the Circus in Bath, to survey Stonehenge; and earlier Christopher Wren, a great baroque master, allegedly visited and marked the stones. Peter Ackroyd, in his Hawksmoor novel, develops a narrative that connects Wren at Stonehenge to the death of Wren’s son at the Pyramids of Giza.

Glancey compares the reading of literary greats to the reading of buildings, yet he misses the sensory duet between body and buildings, exemplified by Georges Perec, who combined mathematical and literary puzzles across the life of a Parisian apartment block in Life: a Users Manual. My own favourite from Dickens is a body landscape duet from Great Expectations as Magwitch turns Pip in Cooling churchyard, creating a large-scale metaphoric Thames rotation, moving London west to east.

For me as an architect and tutor, the longer view of British architecture, with civilisations waxing and waning in the face of creative and destructive environmental change, wields salutary lessons.

We can take fictional futures that use the deep and modern past such as those of China Miéville, JG Ballard and Italo Calvino. Digging beyond Calvino’s Invisible Cities, one arrives at the architecture of Cosmicomics, and a fascination in new and rare materials, scientific concepts that become mythical in the Italian’s hand – they are hinted at in your guide’s article on new materials.

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Legends of Glastonbury

There are so many myths associated with Glastonbury that it is difficult

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

to know where to begin to talk about them. There are two main streams of legend that surround Glastonbury, though they twine around each other to some degree. The two streams revolve around the romantic figures of Joseph of Arimathea and King Arthur. Let’s take them one at a time.

Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph was the Biblical figure who took Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. According to some legends he was actually Jesus’ uncle, and had visited Britain years before with Jesus in the pursuit of his interests in the tin trade. It appears that there actually was a strong Jewish presence in the west of England at that time, and many of the tin miners may have been Jewish settlers.

At any rate, when Jesus died, Joseph thought it prudent to flee Palestine, and after many travails he came to Britain with a company of followers. He brought with him the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Some versions of the legend have it that the Grail contained two drops of blood captured from Jesus’ side when he was wounded on the cross.

When Joseph came to Britain he was granted land at Glastonbury by the local king. When he arrived at Glastonbury, Joseph stuck his thorn staff in the earth, whereupon it rooted and burst into bloom. A cutting from that first tree was planted in the grounds of the later Glastonbury Abbey, where it continued to bloom every year therafter at Christmas time. There is still a thorn tree in the Abbey grounds, of a variety native to the Holy Lands, and it does indeed bloom around Christmas time.

Joseph was said to have established the first church in England at Glastonbury, and archaeological records show that there may well have been an extremely early Christian church here. What happened to the Holy Grail is another matter. Some legends have it that Joseph buried the Grail at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, whereupon a spring of blood gushed forth from the ground.

There is a well at the base of the Tor, Chalice Well, and the water that issues from it does indeed have a reddish tinge to it, from the iron content of the water.

Other legends have it that the Holy Grail was interred with Joseph when he died, in a secret grave. The search for the mysterious Grail emerges again and again in the tales of Glastonbury.

Further legends tell that the church founded by Joseph continued for many years. Eventually it became a monastery, and one of the first abbots was the future St Patrick, who was born in the west country.

King Arthur and Glastonbury

Glastonbury Abbey, where King Arthur is said to lie buriedLegends of King Arthur swirl about Glastonbury like a tantalizing fog from the nearby Somerset marshes. The nearby hill fort at South Cadbury has long been suggested as the location for Camelot. Indeed, excavations of South Cadbury suggest that it was in use during the early 6th century, which is the likeliest era for the real Arthur to have lived.

The association of Arthur and Glastonbury goes back at least to the early Middle Ages. In the late 12th century the monks of Glastonbury Abbey announced that they had found the grave of Arthur and Guinivere, his queen. According to the monks, an excavation found a stone inscribed “Here lies Arthur, king.” Below the stone they found the bones of a large man, and the smaller skeleton of a woman. The monks reburied the bones in the grounds of the abbey, where they were a very handy draw for pilgrims. The site of the grave can be seen today in the abbey grounds.

Glastonbury Tor, the enigmatic conical hill that rises above Glastonbury, has been linked with the Isle of Avalon, where King Arthur was buried after his death. This isn’t so farfetched as it may sound, for a millennium ago the water level was much higher, and the tor would indeed have been an island. Avalon was also called “the isle of glass” which does suggest similarities to the name “Glastonbury”.

The Holy Grail, the object of Arthur’s questing, is said to be buried beneath Glastonbury Tor, and has also been linked to Chalice Well at the base of the Tor.

One final myth of Arthur at Glastonbury: the landscape around Glastonbury is said to have been moulded and shaped so that the features (such as roads, churches, and burial mounds) create a zodiac calendar replete with Arthurian symbology. Like so many of the Arthurian myths, so much is open to interpretation and your own predisposition to believe or disbelieve.

Glastonbury Abbey
Is there a place more steeped in legend and myth than Glastonbury? Glastonbury AbbeyProbably not. Legend holds that the earliest church here was founded by St. Joseph of Arimathea in about 60AD, and that when he planted his staff in the earth a thorn tree burst forth.

In the grounds of the ruined Benedictine monastery there is a thorn tree of a variety common to the Middle East which is given to bloom around Christmas time.

By the late Middle Ages Glastonbury had become the richest abbey in England, due to the heavy pilgrimage trade. It was rich enough to build an inn for well-to-do pilgrims (the George Inn, on nearby High Street, which still welcomes guests 500 years later). The best preserved building in the abbey grounds is the old Abbot’s Kitchen (see photo), a curious square building which appears round due to its octagonal roof. In the abbey grounds are the reputed graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, which were conveniently discovered by the Glastonbury monks in the 12th century, when the abbey needed a financial boost. Outside the grounds are the abbey tithe barn, which now serves as the Somerset Rural Life Museum (well worth a visit), and 4 miles away at Mere is the abbey’s Fish House, were fish was salted and cured.

The abbey is entered through the Abbey Gatehouse  an imposing arched gateway located on off Magdalene Street. Visitors pass through a fascinating museum depicting life at Glastonbury during the Middle Ages, and then enter the Abbey grounds proper. The first building you see on entering the grounds is St Mary’s Chapel, a roofless structure that boasts wonderful architectural details, from the recessed arches of the door to the repetitive arcading that rings the interior. Look up, where the curious small towers at each corner of the chapel seem almost Georgian in style.

If you continue past the chapel you will soon reach the Abbot’s Kitchen, probably the most recognizable symbol of the Abbey, and subject of numerous postcards! This is a peculiar building, with a high octagonnal tower over a square base bedecked with gargoyles. The interior is notable for the very large ovens and the high dome supported on reed-thin vaulting ribs.

Return from the Abbot’s Kitchen towards St Mary’s Chapel and you will pass a small sign on the green lawn. This marks the old burial ground, where, in the 12th century, monks conveniently found bones beneath an engraved stone indicating the burial place of legendary King Arthur. The bones and those presumed to belong to Arthur’s queen, Guinivere, were reburied within the Abbey Church, where a small memorial can be seen.

The grounds of Glastonbury Abbey emanate a sense of calm and peace; it is truly a magical place, and taken as a whole with the other attractions of this ancient town, make Glastonbury well worth an extended visit.

Visitor Information
Glastonbury Abbey
The Abbey Gatehouse
Magdalene Street
Glastonbury
Somerset
UK
BA6 9EL
Web: http://www.glastonburyabbey.com
Email: nfo@glastonburyabbey.com
 
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