Friday, 30 December 2011
Monday, 26 December 2011
Thursday, 15 December 2011
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
|The Great Barrow, Knowlton|
This is the list for January walks:
The Dorset Cursus - 8th Jan.
Dorchester & Town House - 15th Jan.
Bincombe barrows & Chalbury hillfort - 22nd Jan.
Knowlton Henge & Great Barrow - 29th Jan.
Hope to see you in the New Year.
Monday, 12 December 2011
|Diggers at work on a boat|
As with many other aspects of the media everything has to be definitive. So, according to most reports, the finding of several intact boats on the River Nene in East Anglia means that it "provides possibly the most detailed view yet of what life was like 3,000 years ago". This is after the last 'most detailed view' and before the next 'most detailed view'. They even used wooden cutlery! Who would have guessed. This is a very rare and significant find, but it is just one more piece in the infinitely complex fabric of human development over the last 3 million years.
|One of the boats post excavation|
The survival of wooden artefacts depends on them being in anaerobic conditions since they were deposited, thus microbes cannot set off the decay process. Usually you may be lucky to find a few small items or even parts of human beings (as in the 'bog bodies'). To find 6 boats is quite remarkable. They range from 2-8 metres in length and as with other examples they were made by hollowing out the trunk of a tree, in this case oak. Some of these boats have been decorated.
|Digging quite deep|
There is some indication that the weapons are similar to Spanish ones. It is no surprise that these Bronze Age people has extensive trading contacts with the south and the Med generally. Such links had been established for many centuries. Again the newspapers stated: "It (the finds) also indicates people were more mobile than previously thought". Not really. Archaeologists have known for some time that trade was international since the Stone Ages.
It is great that the diggers have possibly located the settlement associated with the boat site. This is the real significant find and would link in the living space with the 'port' that they would have used to travel and trade from. Also the finding of eel traps similar in design to those still used today underlines the old adage that 'if it is not broken don't fix it'.
|Keeping a boat wet until removal|
So, it is a good thing to have archaeology in the news but always take what is reported with a 'pinch of salt' and wait for the archaeologists report.
Sunday, 11 December 2011
You may have seen reports of this stunning figurine found in France and described as a 'fertility goddess' and 'earth mother'. Amongst archaeologists this is still hotly debated, with some 'leading' figures insisting that they are representations of ancestors (see past posts here). As you can see this clay figure resembles many such creations of a similar nature that were made not just c.6,000 years ago, as in this 8 inch high example from the Neolithic, but tens of thousands of years ago from the Palaeolithic. What is unusual is to find one so far north.
She was found on the River Somme in several bits and still in situ in a kiln. With an emphasis on the thighs and buttocks it follows the same pattern as many other examples of female figurines and is very stylised in other aspects, with no facial features or attempts at trying to make it look like a real human being. That is because she wasn't. In the papers she is called a 'cult' figure but there is evidence that a female dominated religion was widespread during the vast time period before the Indo-Europeans spread into the continent in the Bronze Age. To call this a cult is ridiculous.
The find was as a result of constructing a 60 mile long and 50m wide canal to allow barges to link the Seine and Rhine to Belgium ports, with the French government's 'Inrap' agency given funds to explore the possible 77 sites to be uncovered. Wouldn't happen here, as we have a private dominated archaeology culture overseen by government 'quangos'. Which is the best....?
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
|The site today|
I returned to my old home in Lewisham this weekend, also to see my grandsons in Essex and spend some time in Greenwich. When I was working for the Museum of London Archaeology Service from 1998 to 2002 the Channel 4 programme Time Team had a dig in Greenwich Park to see if they could confirm the site of a villa uncovered in 1902 during routine works. In that year they found three floors, one tessellated (made of clay squares), some fragments of inscribed stone, painted wall plaster, the right arm of a life-sized limestone statue, pottery, including decorated samien and 300+ coins of the 1st-5th centuries.
During the felling of some elm trees in 1978/9 further finds included evidence of a metaled floor surface to the south of a buildings wall.
In 1999 Time Team, with the help of MoLAS and Birkbeck University, found that this site was that of a temple not a villa. Evidence included a tile fragment stamped with the initials of the 'Procurator of the Province of Britain in London', the chief financial agent of the Emperor and only found on public buildings. A marble inscription was dedicated to the spirits of the Emperors and the god Jupiter with part of the dedicators name, probably Maecilius Fuscus, Imperial Governor of Britain in the mid-3rd century AD. 101 coins were also found of the 3rd to 4th centuries, more painted plaster, animal bones, probably sacrifices and more buildings to the immediate east of the original mound on which the temple stood.
|Maiden Castle temple|
Romano-British temples were used for healing, pilgrimage, worship and offerings to the gods. This site was near to the main road from Kent into London, Watling Street, so was probably not only used by locals but also travellers.
During filming a seasoned digger, who had worked for MoLAS for many years, found the inscribed stone and tile fragments and thrown them on the spoil heap! He thought they were part of an old drain!! Luckily a Roman expert saw them and they were recovered. He had to re-enact this senario several times until the film crew were satisfied and then had the added indignity of knowing that it would be shown on national television. Needless to say he was mercifully ribbed about this for some time. Even ol' lags make mistakes.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
|Thanks from me|
I would just like to thank all of you (local, national and international) for looking in at my blog. November was the best yet in terms of numbers and I hope that December will beat that. I am looking forward to 2012 to do more walking and visiting archaeological sites, some in the east of the county for the first time. I will be teaching courses on Dorset Archaeology and establishing the weekend Archaeotreks weekends too. All will be reported on here, with pictures and videos. Please leave any comments and hope to see some of you this month and into 2012.
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
|An example from Shropshire of how long roads can be used|
Due to my going to Essex to see my grandchildren I'm not doing a walk this weekend to the Grey Mare & Her Colts. My next walk will be to Thorncombe Woods to tread in the footsteps of the Roman Legionaries along a well preserved Roman road (as well as looking at the Rainsbarrows). I will be describing road construction and the type of vehicles used. Also look out for an article and pics to be published here on the same subject.
Thursday, 24 November 2011
|The Late Roman Town House|
If you have run my little film you can see that Dorchester has the best example of a Roman town house in the UK. A town house is different to a villa in that not only is it in a town they are generally not the same ground plan.
During the construction of the new County Hall in 1937 the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, led by Lt-Col. C.D. Drew and Mr K.C.Collingwood-Selby, excavated the site in advance of the building works. They found a series of structures of the 4th century, the earliest sequence being three separate houses of around 300 AD which were then converted into one house with outbuildings c.350 AD.
In the South Range of rooms there was a kitchen and store, a living room with a shrine (as most well-to-do houses had at this time) and a centrally heated bedroom, with a furnace against the outer west wall and the hypocaust taking air under the floor and up into the walls. With no windows this room would have been very cosy. This section of the house was fronted by a loggia or open corridor supported by columnettes, many of which were found at the bottom of the well, one being set up on site and the others taken to the county museum.
In the West Range of rooms was a small study off an entrance hall, a summer dining room, a corridor/living space and a bedroom. The only room to have a hypocaust was the winter dining room which turned into a summer bedroom.
Some of the best mosaics in Britain were found here, including the only known striped mosaic.
|The blue & orange mosiac had a later circular intrusion|
In the summer dining room (or triclinium-3 couches) the mosaic would have been of Dionysius riding a leopard with the surviving sections of the four seasons (although the middle did not survive these mosaics were made to a pattern). 8,200 tesserae (small squares of fired clay) were used just for the red border. This mosaic was copied from a much earlier 2nd century example. In the winter dining room the mosaic has an interlacing design, the only one in the UK. Also in this room was found an inscription, Paternus scripsit, or 'Paternus wrote this'. It was written twice and thus could be a school pupil practicing, or just being naughty.
Into the 5th century and after Roman rule collapsed, the house was used more in the way of an early medaieval hall, with a fire in the centre of the largest room and one bedroom turned into a kitchen with storage bins for grain.
|Some of the finds|
One unsettling discovery was that of several babies, which are now marked by plaques around the site. I remember finding such an infant burial in London, under a waterfront Roman warehouse next to London Bridge, some years ago. It is not as callous as at first sight. Babies were not human beings until they could recognise themselves (perhaps by name), which normally occurs around 2-3 years old. If they died naturally they are seen as pure spirits and it is lucky for the house and family to have them buried under the home. However, if the father did not recognise the infant as his they could be dumped onto the town refuse pile to die. All adults had to be buried outside of the town precincts.
Being situated at the back of the County Hall buildings this wonderful place is not visited as much as it should be. If you are in Dorchester do take some time to visit or better still come on one of my Dorchester walks.
Monday, 21 November 2011
|The trig point at Pilsden Pen, possible site of the 19th century lodge|
I will be walking up Pilsden Pen on Sunday the 27th November, 10am at the car park situated on the B3164 from Beaminster and Broadwinsor, if coming from the east and Birdsmoorgate if coming from the west - it's right on the road and easy to spot (plus I will be wearing my hi-viz). The views from the summit are stunning on a clear day.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
This is a little film promoting the Past Meets Present Weekend in February. Aimed primarily at visitors we would like to see local people too and a discount is to be had! Obviously there would be no need for B&B. It took an age to upload this! It's not professional as I used my little 'point-and-shoot' camera, but you get the point. You may not be able to run this is you haven't got the software.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
The course details are now confirmed at both locations.
- 8/15/22/29 January; 12/19/26 February; 4 March - Site visits = 5th Feb. & 11th March (A.M.)
- 18/25 January; 1/8/22/29 February; 7/21 March - Site visits = 19th February (A.M.) & 11th March (P.M.)
Friday, 18 November 2011
I am hoping to download a video next week as Claire Whiles and I wish to promote the Past Meets Present weekend in February. Dorchester is one of the venues for the weekend and so we are filming there (depending on weather).
I will also be attaching to every blog the information for the Dorset Archaeology course located in Bridport and Frampton village. I have a feeling that the Frampton location will be very busy. So booking essential via the usual ways.
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Not many people know that a type of pottery has been produced in the Poole/Dorset area for nearly 2,000 years. It's called Black Burnished Ware. This is a type of Romano-British ceramic with its roots in the earlier Iron Age.
BBW 1, as categorised by archaeologists, is the black, coarse and gritty pottery distributed throughout Britain from Dorset in the first centuries of the Roman occupation. Originally hand made it was then wheel-thrown and contains iron ores, flint, quartz and other materials as inclusions to stop the bowls, dishes and jars from exploding in the kiln.
BBW 2 is more gray in colour with a finer texture, with the body being hard and sandy with inclusions of iron ore, mica and quartz. This category was also made in the Thames estuary of Essex (my home county) and Kent.
The early BBW was made in well established Iron Age kilns in Dorset using local clays and traditional techniques. After the invasion in AD 43 potters used the wheel-thrown technology brought in by the Romans and supplied the army and civilian settlements with finely made wares. It was also used as part of grave goods and we find many examples in that context, including the Maiden Castle cemetery and the Portesham 'Mirror' burial.
Poole Harbour had excellent seams of clay, fuel and water supplies and of course a huge and safe harbour for exports. Dorchester excavations have produced large collections of fragments used for storage, domestic use and preparation of foodstuffs but no evidence that it was used for cooking over a fire.
I have a very nice example that I show people who come on my walks and always point out that Poole has this ancient tradition of pottery manufacture that continues to this day.
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
I am teaching a course on 'Dorset Archaeology' in Bridport starting on the 8th of January, the location being the Quaker Meeting Hall, South Street. It will be held on Sunday evenings 7-9pm and will include refreshments and two site visits. I am also planning to teach this course in Frampton village hall but I need to finalise the details for that location (forthcoming). I have located at these two places so that the people near Dorchester and Bridport can reach them easily. Please book your place by leaving a message here, text/phone or email. I'm really looking forward to it.
Forget the boring TV and come along and meet new people as well as engaging with Dorset's unique and wonderful heritage.
£8 per session - 10 weeks
£8 per session - 10 weeks
Monday, 14 November 2011
Here is the list of walks for December:
- The Grey Mare & Her Colts (Long Barrow) + Kingstone Russell (Stone Circle) [4th Dec.]
- Thorncombe Woods Roman Road + The Rainsbarrows [11th Dec.]
- Bincombe Barrows (Ridgeway) + Chalbury Hillfort [18th Dec.]
- Hambledon Hill (Iron Age Hillfort) [26th Dec.]
Hope to see you on one or more of these walks. The Hambledon Hill walk is a Boxing Day special and a bit further to travel than normal, so perhaps we could car share. As usual I will be sending out emails to contacts and putting up notices a week before on this blog. Maps will also be sent out and posted here.
It is important to book for all the walks at this time of the year. If I do not have enough people I will cancel. I would hate to have people just turning up and I'm not there. If I have to cancel any walk I will let the people who have booked know in plenty of time.
When asked by the Bridport History Society to give a talk on stone circles earlier this year I was not overjoyed. I knew that stone circles are not the easiest monuments to give an insight into past societies. There is no reliable dating due to little in the way of artefactual evidence, no graves and no domestic refuse to rummage through. All we can say is that they are related to henges, chambered tombs and isolated monoliths and thus probably date to the late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.
The average diameter of circles is between 25m and up to 40m, with a decrease in size into the Bronze Age. They stopped being erected around 1500 BC. We do not know if that was because of environmental, religious or social changes.
They were associated with many cultures by the early antiquarians, including the Egyptians (of course), the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Mycenaeans and the Druids. Of course, the local thicko's could never have made such monuments. Many of these monuments are more complex than at first appearance. Geophiz and magnetrometry has revealed, at many sites, a complex and long lasting series of developments over generations of building and rebuilding. Some stone circles have developed from earlier wooden ones and due to later people taking the stones away for building material, many sites have been partially or totally destroyed.
The monument we went to see on Sunday is called the Nine Stones (for an obvious reason). This is an elliptical monument, 9m x 7.8m with two large entrance stones to the NW. One is a pillar and the other a rough square block, both c.2m high. The other stones are less than a metre. The 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey described another stone circle about half a mile to the west since destroyed, although a fallen 2 metre stone lies partially buried next to the road and is called the Broad Stone. He sketched it as a circle 8 paces in diameter and described the stones as "petrified clumps of flint", which we now call conglomerate.
So what are they for? One idea is that they are connected to rituals relating to death, similar to henges. Many had avenues, long gone, of stones or timber and that the community had zones of the living and zones of the dead. They were connected by avenues and/or rivers, along which the dead were transported from one zone to the other. The rings of stone were portals that the dead passed through into the place where they would be buried. In this case in the round barrows that dot the landscape still. It was important to align the monuments to the heavens - stars, moon and sun - at a time of the rising and setting of these bodies.
Of course we shall never have definitive answers to the many questions regarding these monuments and theories will come and go. But humans are humans and will always look for the meaning of existence. So did they. We have gone beyond terms such as 'barbarian' and 'savage' and now respect the abilities and sensibilities of past societies.
Friday, 11 November 2011
My walk for the 19th/20th of November is around Dorchester and for those that have not been before it is a real treat. So many sites within a small area - the Town House (best example in the UK), the site of the terminus of the aqueduct, part of the wall around the town, Maumbury Rings and Poundbury hillfort. Starts at 10am, meet at the library. Parking can be had at the Top 'o Town CP for free.
Thursday, 10 November 2011
|14th century storage jars|
I would like to be indulgent for this post and show you a couple of pots that I personally dug up from a cess pit in the City of London. It was on the Plantation House site and a cess pit is the 'go to' feature if you want to find the best stuff. After all, if you drop something in a cess pit you are not likely to go in and get it back. Consequently whole pots are going to survive and not the usual fragments that are the 'bread and butter' of most finds experts.
The cess pit was chalked lined and about 3m x 2m x 1.5m, if I remember correctly. It took me several days to dig. Almost at once whole pots were turning up and I would climb out of the pit and head for the finds hut, with fellow diggers hailing each find with shouts of congratulation, or something. They generally started with "you lucky b....." and then I lost the sense due to noisy machines. The finds experts would then bounce off the walls for a few seconds before telling me that this pottery was imported from various places, including Spain, northern Africa and the Med area generally during the middle of the 14th century. Fenchurch Street was then lined with shops and merchant businesses, as now. The back of the buildings would have had their own toilet waste disposal pits and chucked, or lost, a lot of stuff in them. Being a soft and warm environment the pots remained whole. I gave some of the material I was digging to a ground worker and asked him to guess what it was. He jumped when I told him, but it was all nicely composted and very clean smelling. Lovely stuff to trowel.
One day I was working with the metal detectorist (we do get on you know) and he asked me if I had found any coins yet? I said no. "You have now" he said and held up a very nice gold coin of around 1350. This was not the only gold to turn up on this site, for this was also the home of the Roman gold coin hoard so lauded by the media at the time. I was talking to some ground workers, telling them that we wanted knowledge not treasure, when a shout went up, GOLD! Of course we all downed tools and ran over. The digger, Sev, was troweling a gully and the coins fell out like a 'one armed bandit' when you hit the jackpot (which in a way it was). c.70 coins were found.
I always visit my pots when in London. I had to take this speedily so as to avoid museum staff. Hence my ghostly image.
|Martin's Down Bank Barrow with later round barrows|
As you have read below we went to see Martin's Down Bank Barrow on Sunday, dating from the Neolithic. This barrow is oriented NE-SW and is 195m long by 20m wide (a uniform height and width) with parallel ditches either side, separated from the mound by a berm, and is the longest barrow in the UK. It is clearly visible from the A35. The bank has a V-shaped depression about one third of the way along its length, dividing the it into two unequal lengths. The ditches are continuous and it is thought that as a result the notch is not an original feature. But other examples have been shown to have been extended and as I know of no records of excavation at Martin's Down, this may be the case here. Only a handful exist in the UK and Dorset has three or four known examples.
Maiden Castle is one such, but is badly eroded. It was sample dug by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the '30s and found to be made up of a turf core capped with chalk rubble and had flat-bottomed ditches where, at the terminals, ox bones were found in the lower fills. At Long Low, Staffordshire a dry stone wall forms a central spine along its length with large flat stones resting against this wall. Maiden Castle and Pentridge, both in Dorset, have gaps separating the mounds into two.
Few investigations have been carried out and no burial chambers or other burial structures have been found to date. The only evidence of other features comes from Maiden Castle and here a series of pits and post holes were found at the eastern end.
Bank barrows continued to act as a foci for ritual even after they fell out of use. Secondary burials were inserted into the Maiden Castle barrow and Martin's Down is surrounded by Bronze Age round barrows.
Let's look at the facts from the little we do know. Bank barrows are Neolithic and have similarities with long barrows, as both are 'long mounds'. Both have parallel ditches and in at least one case a 'spine' runs along the internal length of the mound, as we see with some long burial mounds. It is possible that some examples have been lengthened and a notch left between the two parts; too much of a coincidence for these notches to be a later intrusion in my opinion. Both monuments make an impressive statement in the landscape, especially as they would have been a white marker when the chalk was fresh.
They are different in that burial mounds taper at one end and the fact of the burial, plus the sheer size of a bank barrow.
As I have said before, the shape means something (just like in Close Encounter of the Third Kind!). Going to all that trouble just to make a boundary between two tribal areas is ridiculous. Just build a fence or cut a ditch. No, both are powerful images in the landscape that were worth building, just like cathedrals or iconic modern architecture. They make a statement about the community and their place in the world and the world that comes after. I plump for an abstract image of the female deity placed in the landscape running alongside the monuments built primarily for burial.
And that notch? The smaller end is a head and with the larger end the body.
You may remember a post below that mentions a cannon ball found on Eggardon Hill by Paul. Well, a good friend of mine, who is into geology and fossils, tells me that chalk strata can be riddled with spherical voids into which iron rich water can gather. This hardens into a solid mass and can create spherical iron shapes which are then eroded from lower down into the top soil. The only way to find out is to cut the artefact in two. So if you want to do that Paul...
Monday, 7 November 2011
Sunday did not quite go as planned. I have been mixing up Little Berdy with Long Bredy and as a result Paul and Helen missed me standing at Long Bredy. Doh!, as Homer Simpson says. However I was spotted by some people because they came from the Bridport direction and had to go through Long Bedy on the way to Little Bredy. Helen and Paul did see me after the walk and were very understanding.
Paul has the ability to surprise me when he comes on my walks. See below for the artefacts Paul has found previously. On this occassion he had some nice flints, residue from preparing flint nodules from which tools are then struck. However, this possibly unique pipe bowl was the star find.
|Clay pipe bowl of the Boer War|
Paul, please give me the details of who this is as I have forgotten, either here or by email. Thanks. This side has been abraded and the detail is not so sharp.
However, this side was face down in the dirt and has survived very well. He has what we know now as an Australian bush hat, but they were used by the British Army too. The name will be posted as soon as I have Paul's information.
Friday, 4 November 2011
I have written a short article for a website called Dark Dorset on the subject of Well Dressing. If you put the name into a search engine it should come up and they are also one of my members for this blog. Please visit and see if you agree or disagree with my points. It is only my opinion.
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Today I went to Bridport to help with a finds workshop led by my colleague Phil Clarke of Arrowhead Archaeology (look for his website under that name). He is organising a field walking project and wants any volunteers looking to help push it forward. It's all about local communities researching and surveying their local heritage and is a great chance for individuals to make a contribution to a greater knowledge of Dorset archaeology. As I always say, archaeology gives anyone, with some training and developing experience, the chance to discover a unique piece of the past for themselves. So here is a chance to touch the past, from hundreds or even thousands of years ago, in an area where no-one else has done so. If you wish to take part contact me and I will pass on your details.
To help in this regard here are some pointers to identifying flint artefact's. Worked flints are very hard to differentiate from natural flints for the untrained eye, so here are 4 indicators to look for when you come across this amazing material (not hard in Dorset).
1. The striking platform - where the flint has been prepared for the striking blow.
|The platform is at the top|
2. The bulb of percussion - the bump where the blow has been struck.
3. The ripples - like in water these occur when the blow 'flows' through the flint.
|Just like throwing a stone into a pond|
4. Retouch - where the maker is chipping the edge of the flint to make it sharper or serrated.
|Chips but no fish|
Any or all of these means that it is more than likely been made by someone, sometimes thousands or even tens of thousands of years ago. And they can be just lying around on the surface of a field or path. Take any finds into the local museum and have them checked, just to make sure.
Best of luck, and as Shaw Taylor used to say "keep 'em peeled".
Saturday, 29 October 2011
Here is some information on my walk for Sunday 13th November at Nine Stones. I am promoting my walks under 'Archaeotreks' ready for the new year and my website. I'm the only community archaeologist in Dorset that works full-time to promote the heritage of the county doing regular walks and talks for local people and visitors. Pass the word folks. Hope to see you next weekend for the Martin's Down visit and don't forget to book from now on.
|The Nine Stones (Bronze Age)|
Meet at Winterborne Abbas Little Chef at 10am, walk last c.1 hour, £5 adults children free.
Thursday, 20 October 2011
|Martin's Down Bank Barrow|
Visit Martin's Down bank barrow plus numerous round barrows, and a wonderful view of Poor Lot barrow cemetery, on the weekend of 5th/6th November. If you can't make it one day come the next. Meet at Little Bredy village, just off the A35, 10am. It's a puzzle.
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
|'Venus' figurines: Dolni Vestonice (Czechia-clay); Willendorf (Austria-chalk); Lespugne (France-ivory)|
I gave a talk last night to a very nice gathering of 15 people in Weymouth. It was about how archaeology has studied the physical remains related to burial and its impact on the landscape, and what this tells us about the rituals communities practised in prehistoric societies. Also how these rituals are related to the development of mainly female imagery through sculpture (the so-called 'Venus' figurines) and the possible evolution of a unified 'Earth Mother/Goddess' theology from the Palaeolithic onwards.
|Ggantiga, Malta (see West Kennett below!)|
Monday, 17 October 2011
Britain has many fine churches central to the identity of our villages, towns and cities. They are still spiritual centres that are also, until recently, gathering places for the whole community. A place where people came together to praise God, but also a space that has cemented community relations and support networks since Anglo-Saxon times. But it should not be forgotten that the Christian era has only been a very small period of time in relation to the human story. Structures of stone and earth still stand, from the deeper past, testament to the spiritual needs and beliefs of that vast period of time before Christianity, and monotheism generally.
One such structure is the Hellstones, situated on Portesham Hill 600ft above sea level, on the summit of the south facing limestone escarpment of a flat-topped ridge running NW-SE.
One explanation of the name is that it is from the Saxon word 'helian', meaning to cover or conceal. The existing stones formed an entrance to a chambered Neolithic long barrow and were originally covered by a mound of earth, over 4,500 years ago, and is now 24m long by 12m wide.
The chamber we see today was re-erected in 1886 and consists of 9 'orthostats', or upright sarsen stones, supporting an oval capstone that was used by shepherds as a shelter.
Many of these long tapering mounds were built during the Neolithic and are our most ancient religious burial structures. The burials are all at the chambered end in single or multiple 'rooms'. The bodies are un-articulated and it is probable that they practised 'excarnation' (lying out of the body to rot) and the main bones then deposited in the tombs.
|West Kennet stone chambers (curved forecourt behind capping stones)|
Many of the long barrows have crescent-shaped 'forecourts' (moon connection?) where it is probable that rituals took place to honour ancestors, as the tombs remained open for long term access to the remains. It is possible to see people gathering at these centres to worship and feast in the presence of the revered ancestors, as we are surrounded today by the tombs of graves of family and community when attending church services.
|Malta figurine with spine & ribs accentuated|
However, when reading the books about this period the rest of the structure, the mound, is generally ignored. Why build a mound of earth and put a wooden or stone structure at one end? I believe that the shape of the mound is as important as the specific burial area. The overwhelming evidence supports a female deity(s), originating in the Palaeolithic, one based on using abstract sculptures (the so called 'Venus' figurines).
|Three early 'Venus' figurines|
This abstraction is translated into the landscape in the shape of the chamber and the mound. In a nutshell, the chamber is the deity as rebirth and the mound is the deity as death. Discuss! Our churches are in the shape of the cross and in 7,000 years time, if Christianity could be forgotten, future archaeologists would be right to suggest that this shape means something. Images spring, and persist, from the human mind, past and present.
On the day we visited, with a deaf spaniel, the little boy who owned the dog found a £1 coin and a 2p coin in the chamber. So someone had made a little sacrifice in this still sacred place. There will never be a definitive answer as to how and to what past people made worship, but we are still human and we still have human minds, and that little sacrifice made contact through time, in this space, with the barrow builders.