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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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Silbury HillIN A modest house in Swindon, an 86-year-old man formulates exquisitely-detailed theories that turn conventional Wiltshire arch- aeology on its head.

If retired builder Eric Crook is right – and his belief that he’s right is unshakeable – the remains of a neolithic princess have lain deep beneath Silbury Hill for more than 4,000 years.

Even more startling is his insistence that the stones of Avebury once formed a carved amphitheatre of countless thousands of human and animal faces. These carvings would have appeared to move in flickering firelight; an illusion to thrill audiences of people who were centuries dead before Christ was born or the invading legions of Rome set foot on English soil.

These stone faces, Mr Crook says, can still be found in fragments hacked from the stones down the centuries, whether for buildings or perhaps because the powers that be disapproved of such images.

The reaction from the archaeological mainstream has so far been distinctly underwhelming, but Mr Crook, having spent well over 50 years researching and documenting his subject, is undaunted.

“Archaeologists are trained by other archaeologists,” he said. “But they are not trained in a natural learning process going through building technology.

“They learn only through what they can see. I heard of a professor who was asked the question, ‘when do you think you’ll get the answers to Silbury Hill and Avebury?’ “She said it would be another generation, but I thought to myself, ‘The answers are already there and you’re the generation behind.’”

Wiltshire, A Journeyman’s Tale, is £9.99 and can be ordered from Amazon and bookshops, ISBN978-0-7223-3900-8

Well worth touring Avebury and Silbury Hill at the moment.  There are several amazing crop circles in the area

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THE rain failed to dampen spirits as thousands of Druids, Pagans and tourists gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice on Tuesday morning.

About 18,000 revellers from across the country and abroad braved the weather to welcome the longest day at the ancient stone circle.

Although the sun did not make an appearance as dawn broke in an overcast sky, people enjoyed the festival atmosphere with Morris dancers, musicians and people in traditional robes.

The rain stopped before the sun rose at about 4.51am and crowds cheered as the sky started to brighten.

Denny Bartley, who travels from Essex with friends every year for the Solstice, said: “It’s been good – the Solstice is a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and I enjoy being with the other druids.”

Pagan rituals were led by senior druid King Arthur Pendragon at the Heel Stone, which included two pagan marriage ceremonies.

Mr Pendragon said: “It has been a good night. There are a lot of youngsters and a lot of people here asking all the right questions – they’re here for the right reasons.

“A lot of people came here to celebrate the birth of the sun for the longest day.”

Fewer people attended than last year, something which head of Stonehenge Peter Carson put down to the weather and the fact that the Solstice fell mid-week.

“It’s gone extremely well considering how poor the weather was. Everyone has come along and had a fantastic time yet again and they are leaving with big smiles on their faces,” said Mr Carson.

By Hannah White http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/

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Bath | Stonehenge | Paganism | Ley Lines| Druids | Masonic Lodge

It is said that the Circus is joined to the Royal Crescent by a ley-line, that they

The Royal Circus is the same circumference as Stonehenge

represent the sun and the moon, and that Brock St which links them is the most paranormally active street in Bath!  The circumference of the Circus also matches – almost exactly – that of the inner circle of rocks at Stonehenge, the most famous druid monument of them all.

The Circus really does epitomise the elegance of Georgian Bath. Beautiful curved terraces of Bath limestone sweep round in a circle, and it doesn’t take much to imagine the ladies and gentlemen of society on this street. So charming and respectable – but look closer….

The Circus was designed by the architect John Wood, who had a fascination with Paganism. He incorporated his interest into the buildings around the crescent, all of which are adorned with Pagan and naturalistic carvings such as pan pipes and mystical figures, each one quite individual. At the top of each house is an acorn. The circular crescent represents the sun, and the Royal Crescent, which he also designed, represents the moon. It is said that the road that connects the two is an ancient ley line.

John Wood the Elder – Stanton Drew Circle and Stonehenge.

Bath is famed for its neo-classical architecture but what underpins the thinking of the 18th century architect John Wood when he drew the designs for The Circus is a strange mish-mash of legend and myth, this of course is the age of the new ‘druidism’ that took hold when such figures as William Stukeley called such places as Stonehenge the Druidical Temple.

Fertile imaginations played with the ideas of sacrificial wicker constructions filled with victims, and Wood took it much further and in his book – A Description of Bath, he writes a history for Bath that is at once absurd yet full of that energetic imaginings that are still to be found in today’s new age books.

To understand why Wood designed The Circus as he did one must go back to the myths that formed the literature of the 18th century. Wood, though including neo-classical forms in the building, was not returning to a Roman past but a pre-Roman past steeped in the myths of a Britannic origin. The myth can be found in the 12th century writings of Geoffrey of Monmouthshire, and according to (R. S. Neal – Bath, A Social History) a 16th century edition of Monmouth’s book written in Paris was very much alive in the oral tradition of Bath. Putting stone circles and Druids together seems rather strange, but Wood thought that the chief ensign of the Druids was a ring.

So as he began to plan his city on paper, he incorporated the pagan elements, but also he was relating the pagan symbol of the circle back to Jewish symbolism, therefore Christian, and then British and Greek, which led quite nicely to the “Divine Architect” who was of course God. This is all creative flummery, a mixing of ideas, so when we look at The Circus we see classical lines, but with little touches of druidism – in the acorns that sit atop the surrounds of the roofs – and the frieze which incorporates specific symbols of Masonic details.

First  though must come the story of Bladud, the founding father of Bath, an exiled prince because of his leprosy, whilst out herding pigs one day happened to notice that the pigs loved to roll in the hot muds of the spring. Bladud also tried this and was cured, and then went on to found the city of Bath on the spot. Our mythical King Bladud is given a date of 480 BC, and as Wood saw it Bladud created the city about the size of Babylon. Bladud was a descendant of a Trojan prince, a high priest of Apollo and a ‘Master of Pythagoras’. Therefore this high priest was a devotee of the heliocentric systems of the planets from which the Pythagorean system was derived. That the Works of Stantondriu (Stanton Drew) form a perfect model of the Pythagorean system of the planetary world

Do the 108 acorns on the parapets refer to the story of ‘Prince Bladud’ (the founder of Bath) or a reference to the Druids and oak trees ?

At Stanton Drew it must have taken him many hours, with his assistant wandering round taking measurements of the circles, which were probably at this time partly covered in orchards. There was a precedence for this fascination with megalithic stones, Stukeley and Inigo Jones were all entranced by these heathen stones of an earlier age, and the development of myths round druidic religions were already forming and capturing imaginative minds – a bit like today.

Now Stanton Drew was, according to Wood, the university for British Druids, which thereby made Bath the metropolitan city seat of the British Druids. ‘And since there is an apparent connection between the ancient works of Akmanchester (Bath) and those of Stantondriu, it seems manifest that the latter constituted the University of the British Druids; that this was the university which King Bladud, according to Merlyn of Caledon planted; that it was at Stantondrui the king feated his four Athenian colleagues and that they were not only the heads of the British Druids in those early ages, but, under Bladud, the very founder of them‘ 

The Circus is based on a diameter of 318 feet, Wood’s rough measurements of the circumference of the stone circle at Stonehenge, the terraced houses form a perfect circle around a ‘timber’ circle of planted trees in the centre. There is an early drawing by J.R.Cozens which shows hitching stone post for the horses arranged symmetrically round the The Circus which would give the allusion of stones.

Wood also incorporated into his thinking the hills around Bath, giving them various titles such as Sun and Moon Hill, and The Parade is also aligned on Solsbury Hill which had an Iron Age settlement on top. The Royal Crescent built by his son John Wood the Younger, was crescent shaped representing the moon.

Where you might ask is the masonic symbolism, well it is only seen from the air, taking The Circus as the round part of the key walk down Gay Street to Queens Square which is square, and you will see the ‘key’ of Bath.

What is a Ley Line?
Ley lines are alleged alignments of a number of places of geographical interest, such as ancient monuments and megaliths, natural ridge-tops and water-fords. Their existence was suggested in 1921 by the amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins, in his books Early British Trackways and The Old Straight Track. Watkins theorized that these alignments were created for ease of overland trekking by line of sight navigation during neolithic times and had persisted in the landscape over millennia.  In more recent times, the term ley lines has come to be associated with spiritual and mystical theories about land forms, including Chinese feng shui.

 I wonder if the fashionable Georgians who lived in these houses knew of the symbolism?
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What was there before Stonehenge?

Stonehenge is a multiphased monument ie built in phases over a long period of time. It was built between 3000 and 2000 BC, but is part of a much larger ceremonial landscape which dates back somewhere up to 10,500 years ago. The earliest monuments in the landscape are markedSite of mesolithic post holes in the car park at Stonehenge by 3 small white discs on the tarmac at the lower end of the car-park. Chances are you will drive over them if you visit! The white discs mark where wooden postholes stood during the early mesolithic – the hunter gatherers – at least 3,500 years before the first phase of Stonehenge.Later features which predate Stonehenge that can still be seen are the Cursus and barrows or burial mounds. You will need more time or to go on a specialist tour to see these features.

Early ditch and bank at Stonehenge.

Though people had been meeting and using the landscape for some considerable time beforehand, the first phase of Stonehenge dates to between 3000 and 2920 BC with the creation of a ditch with internal bank. The bank has the appearance of a ‘…string of sausages’ and may have been upto 2m high though it is now much eroded.The dating of this part of the monument is believed to be fairly accurate because of the large amount of good dating evidence from antler and bone found in the ditch. After that the date for every other stage of Stonehenge is somewhat tenuous and subject to great debate.

Was there a timber phase at Stonehenge?

At the moment the theory is that from its beginnings to around 2600 BC there was a timber phase at Stonehenge. This included 56 timber posts just inside the bank and the post holes were later filled with cremated human remains and now known as Aubrey holes.In 2008 Aubrey hole 7 was opened by the Stonehenge Riverside Project and it looks more like a hole for a stone rather than timber. It may be that stones were here from the start rather than later. The results from the most recent dig are due out in 2011 so we may have the 3rd major rewrite of the Stonehenge story within 20 years!

Early stone phase.

Current dating assumptions suggest the first stones to arrive were the ‘bluestones’ from the Preseli Hills in west Wales. Bluestones inside StonehengeBluestone is a generic term for several types of volcanic rocks and each of them at Stonehenge weighs 4 – 6 tons.They are the ones that stand about man height as one looks into the stones. They don’t look blue until dressed (ie shaped) and the outer covering of the stone removed.You can how blue on a tour out of hours to the inner circle.
The bluestones were originally set in double concentric arcs with the open end facing the south/southwest. When removed they were filled are now known as Q & R holes.
Artist's impression of bluestone henge discovered in September 2009.In its final layout there are estimated to be 79 or 80 bluestones. An exciting discovery in September 2009 at the end of the Avenue where it meets the River Avon was a series of stone holes possibly holding bluestones. This ‘Bluestone’ henge may have held 24 stones. If the 56 Aubrey holes held stone rather than timbers it may be that there were two separate monuments that became united as the finishing phase of Stonehenge.

Late stone phase.

Around 2400 BC sees the arrival from 19 miles to the north of 75 sarsen stones. A very hard form of silicified sandstone it lies on or just below the ground surface. A circle of 30 uprights were erected in the outer circle each weighing around 25 tonnes. These were topped with 30 lintels each weighing 6 – 7 tonnes. Jointing to sarsens at Stonehenge.The lintels don’t rely on gravity to keep them in place they have mortice & tenon, and tongue & groove joints that we would normally find in a wood setting, but in stone. Each of the lintels also has some shaping on the inner and outer circular face to produce not far off a perfect circle.

The 5 trilithons (tri=3, lithon=stone) stand like a set of croquet hoops arranged in a horshoe shape in the centre of the circle. They step up in height as they go from the outer two to the remains of the Great Trilithon in the centre. Only 3 of the 5 trilithons still stand.

Final phase.

Around 2000BC the bluestones were re-erected. The altar stone was placed in the circle. Some realignments of external stones took place.

What is Stonehenge for?

Hundreds if not thousands of theories abound. A temple to the sun? Probably, but more about winter solstice sunset after which the days get lighter and warmer, rather than the more popularly attended summer solstice sunrise. A necropolis? Certainly. There are probably more than a tousand burials in the immediate area. Druidic temple? Probably not. They were a later ‘priesthood’ and the neo druids are an 18th century invention. A mystery?. Certainly.

Links:  http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/
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