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Archive for the ‘world heritage’ Category

With the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge, equally remarkable Avebury and the mighty Iron Age hill fort of Old Sarum, there really is plenty for the whole family to enjoy on a day out in Wiltshire. Discover the secrets of this seemingly ‘sacred landscape’ or get away from it all and explore a romantic ruined castle.

Please note English Heritage have now switched to our winter opening hours, meaning that while many properties are open at weekends, there may be restricted access during the week. Please check opening times before travelling.

PLACES TO VISIT : WILTSHIRE (ENGLISH HERITAGE)

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Visit Stonehenge! Sun worship temple? Healing centre? Huge calendar? How did they carry the great stones so far and build this amazing structure using only basic tools?

Old Sarum

Old Sarum

Site of the original Salisbury, this mighty Iron Age hill fort was where the first cathedral once stood and the Romans, Normans and Saxons have all left their mark during 5000 years of history.

Old Wardour Castle

Old Wardour Castle

Set in landscaped grounds beside a lake in peaceful Wiltshire countryside, these 14th century ruins provide a relaxed, romantic day out for couples, families and budding historians alike.

Avebury

Avebury

With its huge circular bank and ditch and inner circle of great standing stones, covering an area of over 28 acres, Avebury forms one of the most impressive prehistoric sites in Britain

Hatfield Earthworks (Marden Henge)

Hatfield Earthworks (Marden Henge)

The earthworks of a Neolithic henge and monumental mound, by a loop in the River Avon. Recent archaeological find of building equivalent to a priest’s quarters.

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

Dating from about 2300 BC, markers now replace rings of timber posts, which once possibly supported a ring-shaped building. Discovered in 1925 when rings of dark spots were noticed in a crop of wheat.

 

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Military environmentalism.  An ocean of grassland  and a sweep of big sky. Ancient monuments loom out of the mist; camouflaged soldiers crouch in the undergrowth. Salisbury Plain is a landscape of extremes. It is the largest remaining area of chalkgrassland  in Northwest Europe and home to 2,300 prehistoric sites yet also the largest military training area on British soil.

Salisbury Plain WalkingTourYou may be surprised to discover that the presence of the military has benefitted archaeological sites and natural habitats. The walk follows public footpaths that penetrate deep into the heart of the military training area taking you out of your comfort zone and to experience a totally new kind of landscape (don’t worry, it’s safe and legal).

Walk along the largest prehistoric long barrow in Britain to a 20th century East German village. Hunt in puddles for a tiny translucent shrimp and look out for the largest bird species in Europe. The extremes of Salisbury Plain sit side by side. Use this spectacular landscape to stretch your legs, blow away the cobwebs and fire the imagination.

 

Map and full details: http://www.discoveringbritain.org/walks/region/south-west-england/salisbury-plain.html

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Long before the Egyptians began the pyramids, Neolithic man built a vast temple complex at the top of what is now Scotland. Robin McKie visits the astonishing Ness of Brodgar

Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site. Photograph: Adam Stanford

Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site. Photograph: Adam Stanford

Drive west from Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, and then head north on the narrow B9055 and you will reach a single stone monolith that guards the entrance to a spit of land known as the Ness of Brodgar. The promontory separates the island’s two largest bodies of freshwater, the Loch of Stenness and the  Loch of Harray. At their furthest edges, the lochs’ peaty brown water laps against fields and hills that form a natural amphitheatre;  a landscape peppered with giant rings of stone, chambered cairns, ancient villages and other archaeological riches.

This is the heartland of the Neolithic North, a bleak, mysterious place that has made  Orkney a magnet for archaeologists, historians and other researchers. For decades they  have tramped the island measuring and ex- cavating its great Stone Age sites. The land was surveyed, mapped and known until a recent chance discovery revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all  others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.

This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although  it covers more than six acres of land.”

Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

The people of the Neolithic – the new Stone Age – were the first farmers in Britain, and they arrived on Orkney about 6,000 years ago. They cultivated the land, built farmsteads and rapidly established a vibrant culture, erecting giant stone circles, chambered communal tombs – and a giant complex of buildings at the Ness  of Brodgar. The religious beliefs that underpinned these vast works is unknown, however, as is the purpose of the Brodgar temples.

“This wasn’t a settlement or a place for the living,” says archaeologist Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, who excavated the nearby Barnhouse settlement  in the 1980s. “This was a ceremonial centre, and a vast one at that. But the religious beliefs of its builders remain a mystery.”

What is clear is that the cultural energy of the few thousand farming folk of Orkney dwarfed those of other civilisations at that time. In size and sophistication, the Ness of Brodgar is comparable with Stonehenge or the wonders of ancient Egypt. Yet the temple complex predates them all. The fact that this great stately edifice was constructed on Orkney, an island that has become a byword for remoteness, makes the site’s discovery all the more remarkable. For many archaeologists, its discovery has revolutionised our understanding of ancient Britain.

“We need to turn the map of Britain upside down when we consider the Neolithic and shrug off our south-centric attitudes,” says Card, now Brodgar’s director of excavations. “London may be the cultural hub of Britain today, but 5,000 years ago, Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.”

It is a view shared by local historian Tom Muir, of the Orkney Museum. “The whole text book of British archaeology for this period will have to be torn up and rewritten from scratch thanks to this place,” he says.

 

Farmers first reached Orkney on boats that took them across the narrow – but treacherously dangerous – Pentland Firth from mainland Scotland. These were the people of the New Stone Age, and they brought cattle, pigs and sheep with them, as well as grain to plant and ploughs to till the land. The few hunter-gatherers already living on Orkney were replaced and farmsteads were established across the archipelago. These early farmers were clearly successful, though life would still have been precarious, with hunting providing precious supplies of extra protein. At the village of Knap o’Howar on Papay the bones of domesticated cattle, sheep and pigs have been found alongside those of wild deer, whales and seals, for example, while analysis of human bones from the period suggest that few people reached the age of 50. Those who survived childhood usually died in their 30s.

Discarded stone tools and shards of elegant pottery also indicate that the early Orcadians were developing an increasingly sophisticated society. Over the centuries, their small farming communities coalesced into larger tribal units, possibly with an elite ruling class, and they began to construct bigger and bigger monuments. These sites included the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae; the giant chambered grave of Maeshowe, a Stone Age mausoleum whose internal walls were later carved with runes by Vikings; and the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two huge neighbouring circles of standing stones. These are some of the finest Neolithic monuments in the world, and in 1999 they were given World Heritage status by Unesco, an act that led directly to the discovery of the Ness of Brodgar.

“Being given World Heritage status meant we had to think about the land surrounding the sites,” says Card. “We decided to carry out geophysical surveys to see what else might be found there.” Such surveys involve the use of magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint manmade artefacts hidden underground. And the first place selected by Card  for this electromagnetic investigation was the Ness of Brodgar.

The ridge was assumed to be natural. However, Card’s magnetometers showed that it was entirely manmade and bristled with features that included lines of walls, concentric pathways and outlines of large buildings.  “The density of these features stunned us,”  says Card. At first, given its size, the team assumed they had stumbled on a general site  that had been in continuous use for some  time, providing shelter for people for most  of Orkney’s history, from prehistoric to  medieval times. “No other interpretation seemed to fit the observations,” adds Card. But once more the Ness of Brodgar would confound expectations.

Test pits, a metre square across, were drilled in lines across the ridge and revealed elaborate walls, slabs of carefully carved rock, and pieces of pottery. None came from the Bronze Age, however, nor from the Viking era or medieval times. Dozens of pits were dug over the ridge, an area the size of five football pitches, and every one revealed items with  a Neolithic background.

Then the digging began in earnest and quickly revealed the remains of buildings of startling sophistication. Carefully made pathways surrounded walls – some of them several metres high – that had been constructed with patience and precision.

“It was absolutely stunning,” says Colin Richards. “The walls were dead straight. Little slithers of stones had even been slipped between the main slabs to keep the facing perfect. This quality of workmanship would not be seen again on Orkney for thousands of years.”

 

Slowly the shape and dimensions of  the Ness of Brodgar site revealed themselves. Two great walls, several metres high, had been built straight across the ridge. There was no way you could pass along the Ness without going through the complex. Within those walls  a series of temples had been built, many on top of older ones. “The place seems to have been in use for a thousand years, with building going on all the time,” says Card.

More than a dozen of these temples have already been uncovered though only about 10% of  the site has been fully excavated so far.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” says York University archaeologist Professor Mark Edmonds. “The density of the archaeology, the scale of the buildings and the skill that was used to construct them are simply phenomenal. There are very few dry-stone walls on Orkney today that could match the ones we have uncovered here. Yet they are more than 5,000 years old in places, still standing a couple of metres high. This was a place that was meant to impress – and it still does.”

But it is not just the dimensions that have surprised and delighted archaeologists. Two years ago, their excavations revealed that  haematite-based pigments had been used to  paint external walls – another transformation  in our thinking about the Stone Age. “We see Neolithic remains after they have been bleached out and eroded,” says Edmonds. “However, it is now clear from Brodgar that buildings could have been perfectly cheerful and colourful.”

The men and women who built at the Ness also used red and yellow sandstone to enliven their constructions. (More than 3,000 years later, their successors used the same materials when building St Magnus’ Cathedral in  Kirkwall.) But what was the purpose of their construction work and why put it in the Ness of Brodgar? Of the two questions, the latter is the easier to answer – for the Brodgar headland  is clearly special. “When you stand here, you find yourself in a glorious landscape,” says Card. “You are in the middle of a natural amphitheatre created by the hills around you.”

The surrounding hills are relatively low, and a great dome of sky hangs over Brodgar, perfect for watching the setting and rising of the sun, moon and other celestial objects. (Card believes the weather on Orkney may have been warmer and clearer 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.) Cosmology would have been critical to society then, he argues, helping farmers predict the seasons –  a point supported by scientists such as the late Alexander Thom, who believed that the Ring of Brodgar was an observatory designed for studying the movement of the moon.

These outposts of Neolithic astronomy, although impressive, were nevertheless  peripheral, says Richards. The temple complex at the Ness of Brodgar was built to be the most important construction on the island. “The stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the other features  of the landscape were really just adjuncts to that great edifice,” he says. Or as another archaeologist put it: “By comparison, everything else  in the area looks like a shanty town.”

For a farming community of a few thousand people to create such edifices suggests that the Ness of Brodgar was of profound importance. Yet its purpose remains elusive. The ritual purification of the dead by fire may be involved, suggests Card. As he points out, several of the temples at Brodgar have hearths, though this was clearly not a domestic dwelling. In addition, archeologists have found that many of the stone mace heads (hard, polished, holed stones) that litter the site had been broken in two in exactly the same place. “We have found evidence of this at other sites,” says Richards. “It may be that relatives broke them  in two at a funeral, leaving one  part with the dead and one with family as a memorial to the dead. This was a place concerned with death and the deceased, I believe.”

Equally puzzling was the fate of the complex. Around 2,300BC, roughly a thousand years after construction began there, the place was abruptly abandoned. Radiocarbon dating of animal bones suggests that a huge feast ceremony was held, with more than 600 cattle slaughtered, after which the site appears to have been decommissioned. Perhaps a transfer of power took place or a new religion replaced the old one. Whatever the reason, the great temple complex – on which Orcadians had lavished almost a millennium’s effort – was abandoned and forgotten for the next 4,000 years.
Full Article by Robin McKie – The Observer,            

For more information or to donate to the dig, go to orkneyarchaeologysociety.org.uk

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TOP ARCHAEOLOGY NEWS SITES

There are many websites with the latest world archaeological news. Here are our recommendations:

  1. Archaeologica Hand-picked links to each day’s top stories. Usually about six per day.
  2. Archaeology Magazine Updated every weekday, a summary with links to about six news stories.
  3. BBC Latest Archaeology News Selected top stories – about one per day
  4. National Geographic Ancient World News Brief  summaries linked to full stories written by National Geographic reporters. About one story per day.
  5. Discovery Channel Brief summaries linked to pages, about one story per day.
  6. Stone Pages Archaeo News
  7. EurekAlert Public Releases of latest research. About 2 per week.
  8. Science Daily Brief summaries and links to full stories by Science Daily reporters. Mixed with Palaeontology stories. One per day.
  9. Archaeology News Automatic News Feed
  10. Explorator Links to David Meadow’s weekly newsletters, each containing about 50 links to the week’s stories.
  11. Archaeology in Europe Regularly updated with summaries and links. About 20 stories per week, but only Europe.
  12. Google Archaeology NewsSearch results for the last week. Automatically listed, so much irrelevant material.
  13. Yahoo Anthropology and Archaeology Automatic news feed with some irrelevant content.
  14. Topix Archaeology News A mixed collection of news storiesHisTOURies UK
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Tour: Fri 31st Aug – Sun 2nd Sept 2012
Henges, burial mounds of all shapes and sizes, causewayed camps, early field systems and ‘cursus’ monuments are scattered everywhere in Wessex, forming a landscape which hints at its past, but whose story is unintelligible to the untrained eye.

Our experts have been introducing people to this, one of the richest prehistoric landscapes in the world, which lies on our very doorstep, since Andante’s inception.

Day One
Meet in the evening for an introductory lecture and dinner together in a local restaurant. Overnight in Sarum College in the beautiful Cathedral Close.

Day Two
By coach to Avebury for a full exploration of the huge Neolithic henge, so large that part of the village lies within it. It is one of the largest and best preserved of 1300 stone circles known in the British Isles. Morning walk around the henge and along the ceremonial Avenue.  We approach the stones of Avebury just as one would have done in prehistoric times.

Afternoon circular walk (2 hours) past Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe.  The most famous of its excavators crawled into an earlier excavation chamber and recorded later:
“the sides of the open chamber provided one of the most astonishing sights that I have ever seen…it was clear that this innermost mound had been covered by a series of conical shells or cappings…the effect was of finding oneself in an enormously complicated and highly coloured layer cake of gigantic size..”
The walk continues to the Long Barrow at West Kennet and a chance to explore the chambered tomb within.  This kind of monument is the earliest known to have been built in Britain – in commemoration of the dead. Continue to the ‘Sanctuary’, a small, complex timber and stone circle on the top of Overton hill. Walking in our ancestors’ footsteps helps us try to understand their motives and methods.

Day Three
Stonehenge for an early (7.30am) visit inside the stone circle before the public arrives. This will be followed by a walk (2 hours) through the wider religious landscape – the cursus, King Barrows and Stonehenge Avenue.
A short drive takes us to Woodhenge, where the remains of wooden post settings have been found – now marked by concrete. From here there is a good view over the huge henge at Durrington Walls, site of exciting recent excavations which revealed the settlement which may have housed the builders of Stonehenge.

Return to Salisbury Museum for a visit to the Stonehenge and Prehistory Galleries. We have arranged a private demonstration of flint-knapping in the gardens here, which is not only much enjoyed, but adds considerably to your understanding of the way in which our prehistoric forebears were able to fashion all manner of implements and tools from our good local flint supplies.  In a world without metal technology this was a critical and highly sophisticated art.
Disperse about 5pm.

Should you choose to arrive earlier or stay later, you might like to visit Old Sarum, the hillfort to the north of Salisbury which was later chosen as the site of our first cathedral, or, of course,  our beautiful Gothic cathedral – straight in front of the College.

NB Most of every day will be spent walking, and you must be prepared for this, with suitable footwear and weatherproof clothing. You will also have to carry your own water, and negotiate a variety of stiles.

  • The original Andante Tour – accept no imitations!
  • We have been introducing guests to these monumental prehistoric landscapes for 26 years
  • Accommodation spectacularly situated within Salisbury cathedral close
  • Bring your hiking boots!
  • Several good cross-country walks

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The detailed route for the Olympic torch announced today sees the flame visiting more than 50 West Country communities, and passing historic landmarks including Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor.

Olympic FlameMore than 95 per cent of the population will be within ten miles of the torch as it makes a snaking journey from Cornwall to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Torchbearers will carry it in relay. On parts of the journey it will go via horseback, bicycle, tram and steam-train.

People in Somerset will have plenty of opportunity to see the torch, despite the fact that back in 2009 the Conservative-led County Council refused to bid for it to pass through.

Resources portfolio holder Councillor David Huxtable said at the time that the cost in traffic management and disruption would be too high. But the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games had an ambition to ensure that it reached most people. Many thousands of people are expected to welcome the flame along the route each day and celebrate the achievements of the torchbearers in parks, squares and streets.

Lord Coe, chairman of the Games organising committee, said: “I’m delighted that the Olympic torch relay will take the 2012 Games to almost every corner of the UK and that we have achieved our ambition to take the flame to within an hour’s journey of 95 per cent of the population.”

The route in the West

On May 21 the torch will travel to Porlock, Minehead, Dunster, Carhampton, Washford, Williton and Taunton.

May 22: Ilminster, Yeovil, Ilchester, Somerton, Street, Glastonbury, Coxley, Wells, Croscombe, Shepton Mallet, Frome, Southwick, Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Bath, Bitton, Longwell Green, Hanham, and Bristol.

May 23: Flax Bourton, Backwell Farleigh, Backwell West Town, Nailsea, Failand, Leigh Woods, back to Bristol, then on to Chippenham, Calne, Marlborough, Chiseldon, Wroughton, Royal Wootton Bassett, Swindon, Stroud, Painswick, Brockworth, Shurdington and Cheltenham.

May 24: Gloucester, Maisemore, Hartpury, Corse and Staunton and on to Ledbury, Bartestree, Lugwardine and Hereford.

July 11: Ludgershall, Tidworth, Amesbury, The Winterbournes and Salisbury.

July 12: Salisbury, Wilton, Barford St Martin, Fovant, Ludwell, Shaftesbury, Fontmell Magna, Iwerne Minster, Stourpaine, Blandford Forum, Winterborne Whitechurch, Milborne St Andrew, Puddletown, Dorchester, Winterbourne Abbas, Bridport, Chideock, Lyme Regis, Burton Bradstock, Abbotsbury, Portesham, Chickerell, Wyke Regis, Osprey Quay, Portland, Weymouth.

July 13: Portland Bill, Southwell, Weston, Easton, Fortuneswell, Weymouth, Preston, Osmington, Winfrith Newburgh, Wool, Corfe Castle, Swanage, Stoborough, and Wareham.

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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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