Farmer builds own burial chamber


Gavin Dollard has been planning the cromlech for four years

A Devon farmer has realised his dream by building a Bronze Age burial chamber on his land.

Gavin Dollard transported four huge pieces of granite from Dartmoor to his estate near Ivybridge to carry out the construction.

It is thought to be the first time in 2,000 years that a cromlech - defined as a prehistoric monument made of stones and thought to be a burial tomb - has been built in the UK.

Mr Dollard, 52, who wants to be laid to rest in the chamber, had hoped to have the edifice constructed in time for the Millennium celebrations.

However, work was only completed on Tuesday when a huge crane lowered a 14-tonne piece of granite on to three 10-tonne standing stones which had already been erected to create the chamber.

Mr Dollard's family have farmed on Dartmoor for centuries.

But in recent years he has diversified and turned part of his estate at Delamore in Cornwood into an open-air art gallery.


Gavin Dollard runs an open-air art gallery

He sees the cromlech as another piece of sculpture for his collection.

But he admits that, when he dies, it will serve its more traditional purpose as a burial site.

He said: "The idea for this came to us in 1999, but it was impossible to get four stones that size safely off the moor in such a short period of time.

"But what's a year here or there when we are taking about 2,000 years?"


Stone Age flints suggest town may be as old as Stonehenge

THE discovery of Stone Age flints and the remains of a huge Iron Age wall in Malmesbury mean the town dates back thousands of years, to the time when Stonehenge and Avebury were built.

A new report, published by the Bristol and Region Archaeological Services, reveals the date of finds uncovered near Malmesbury's St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary School have been confirmed using carbon dating technology.

The Stone Age flint blades date back to about 2500 BC, which means people have lived in the town for more than 4,000 years - making it the longest continually occupied place in Britain.

"It is very exciting," said the Mayor of Malmesbury, Coun John Bowen.

"Malmesbury is an extraordinary place. It is the first one mentioned in the Domesday book in the Wiltshire region in 1086.

"And we have to look at what made it so special."

The Neolithic flints and pieces of Bronze Age pottery, as well as the foundation of a huge wall dating back to about 800BC, were uncovered in a dig in 1999.

The excavation was funded by English Heritage and organised in conjunction with North Wiltshire District Council and Wiltshire County Council's county archaeologist Roy Canham.

The dig was led by Tim Longman, of BRAS and a two-metre trench was dug to the north of St Joseph's School.

The archaeologists hoped to find the original medieval town walls, as English Heritage planned to repair and renovate them.

Instead, a whole series of historical treasures were revealed including two Norman houses, one on top of the other, the remains of an Anglo Saxon settlement and the huge stones, which had once served as the foundation for an Iron Age defence.

Such important finds always take a long time to verify but BRAS has now confirmed the age and significance of the discoveries.

Coun Bowen said the report confirmed what he had long suspected - that Malmesbury's superlative resources and geographic position made it an ideal settlement, with roots stretching into antiquity.

He said historian William of Malmesbury, writing before 1200, had described the town as an ancient place of the Britons.

The town's position on top of a steep hill, with the River Avon running around it, and long views over the surrounding countryside made it an ideal situation for a stronghold.

The latest discoveries indicate Malmesbury is indeed the legendary ancient British city of Caer Bladon - Caer meaning stronghold and Bladon being an old name for the Avon.

Coun Bowen, whose family has lived in Malmesbury since the 1500s, has written a book about the history of the town and believes there is plenty more to learn.

He recently discovered field markings indicating the remains of a 50-house Anglo Saxon village in a field a mile to the north of the town.

"There is more coming up all the time," he said.

"The people living here in the Stone Age were probably Neolithic herdsmen. We have a settlement here as old as Stonehenge - so this may have been one of the communities that helped to build it."

Mr Canham said this was the first time speculation about the town's beginnings had been proved.

"It is really really exciting," he said. "No other town in Wiltshire has a background like that."

He said digs like this were very rare because so few new developments were undertaken in the town.

He hopes funding may be found to undertake another one in the future.

"We still don't know if there was any Roman occupation of the town," he said.

"Some coins have been discovered but that's not really proof of occupation."




Dozens of women want Bronze Age hunter's babies

Dozens of women have asked to be made pregnant by a prehistoric iceman who died 5,000 years ago.

The body of "Otzi the Iceman" was discovered by hikers in 1991 as ice melted in the Schnalstal glacier, high in the Italian Alps.

Alex Susanna, director of the Bozen Museum where his body is exhibited, says requests have been received by many women wanting to have Otzi's babies.

He told Austrian broadcasting company ORF that all of the requests had been turned down, not least because Otzi's penis had decayed away.

Otzi was found half emerged from the ice and his body was first thought to be that of a modern climber. Closer examination showed he was still wearing goatskin leggings and a grass cape.

His copper-headed axe and a quiver full of arrows were found nearby and radio-carbon dating showed the body was more than 5,000 years old.

Story filed: 10:26 Thursday 24th April 2003



09:00 - 01 May 2003


St Agnes Museum has reopened for the season and has so far attracted more than 200 visitors in the first two weeks.


It will remain open daily until October.


A new display entitled Domestic Life has been arranged on the first floor and contains a fine collection of 19th century textiles.


These include a finely worked Christening gown and nightdress; what is believed to be the first water closet installed in St Agnes by the late George Coulter Hancock at his private residence, Coulterville, (now Cleaderscroft Hotel), two tablecloths by the late Muriel Kneebone, some fine 19th century jewellery belonging to the late Agnes Reynolds, pottery, butter pats, a combined shoehorn and buttonhook, and a tool for making rag rugs.


Among items displayed for the first time are a collection of bottles dug up from a Goonown garden, coins from the wreck of the Hanover, railway memorabilia, baking tins and shop signs from Cowl's Bakery at Churchtown.


Also showing for the first time are two delicate miniature samplers, a very old set of ivory dominoes, and the family Bible of the Hitchens family who commissioned the building of the Lady Agnes, whose figurehead the museum purchased and brought back to the museum from Toronto, Canada.


Everyone is welcome and admission is free.




Priceless vase is hidden away

by Sam Bond


A PRICELESS artefact targeted by thieves or vandals at Stroud's museum is now at a secret location to prevent further damage.

The 18th century Warwick Vase, based on a 2nd century original, was damaged on Tuesday, April 22.

It is still unclear whether it was a bungled theft or an act of vandalism.

"It really is a tragedy," said curator of the Museum in the Park, Sue Hayward. "It's an internationally important piece." "The original influenced the development of western art."

The damage was done sometime between 2pm on Easter Monday and 8am the following morning.

The culprits smashed a wooden box which had been protecting the stone vase from the elements before attempting to move the piece.

"One of the intertwined vine handles has been broken off and is in pieces and the vase is chipped and bruised in several places," said the curator.

"It's not irredeemable damage but it won't ever be quite the same."

"There must have been four or five men involved as the piece weighs three quarters of a ton.

"We're still not entirely sure what happened and the police have taken away samples and are carrying out a forensic investigation."

The vase itself has been taken away by the museum to an undisclosed indoor location to protect it from the elements and any further attempts to damage it.

"We moved it to a secret location the same day it was discovered for security reasons," said Ms Hayward.

"We had to act quickly because if it was left where it was it would probably have incurred further damage." Staff are now hoping to bring in a specialist conservator to repair the damage.

"It is fairly substantially damaged," said Ms Hayward. "We are not sure how much it is going to cost yet but we may have to raise money."

The original Warwick Vase was unearthed in Italy around 1780 by the then Lord of Warwick castle at Roman general Hadrian's villa.

The 2nd Century piece was reproduced in a number of materials but there are believed to be only two surviving, both in stone. One is at Buckingham palace, the other in Stroud.

The orangery at the museum was built to house the vase, which was to form the centre piece of the display there. Ms Hayward said: "Ultimately it will be the jewel in the crown at the museum."


'Mummy's organ' removed from jar

UK scientists have opened a jar thought to contain a preserved internal organ of an Egyptian mummy more than 3,000 years old.


Few such containers have survived with their contents intact

Archaeologists at Birmingham University retrieved tough, leathery material, which looked like dried meat, from the container and sent it to a nearby hospital for analysis.

Experts say hieroglyphics on the Canopic jar - a type of covered urn - suggest the remains were from somebody called Puia, who died during the New Kingdom period around 1,400 BC.

Mummification in ancient Egypt often involved the removal and dehydration of internal organs.

These were then returned to the body after it had undergone a similar process of preservation or stored in the burial chamber in jars.

Dr Gillian Shepherd, curator of Birmingham's Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity Museum, said it was not yet clear what was in the vessel.

She told BBC News Online: "It ought to be intestines, according to the hieroglyphs on the jar itself, but the Egyptians didn't always get it right and it might also be liver or lungs.

"The pathological analysis will be able to tell us exactly what it is and hopefully some of the diseases or physiological conditions that this individual had."

The jar was subjected to a 3D scan before the contents were removed.

Dr Swarup Chavda, a consultant neuro-radiologist based at the city's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said the results had been encouraging.

He said: "It does look like an organ in terms of the fact that it's a different density to the rest of the material in the jar.

"We can also look at the jar in 3D which allows us to visualise the inside and outside of it without having to destroy it."

Records as to how the terracotta jar came to be at the University are hazy.

Dr Shepherd said although many such jars had survived, few still had their original contents.

"We've lost the lid of the jar, which should have been in the shape of a falcon's head, but there was clearly original linen sticking out of it which had been slightly disturbed but obviously most of the contents were still in there," she said.

The scientists expect to know more in a week's time.