Stonehenge's secret: archaeologist uncovers evidence of encircling hedges

Survey of landscape suggests prehistoric monument was surrounded by two circular hedges

Maev Kennedy, guardian.co.uk,     

Thursday 4 February 2010 18.02 GMT


The Monty Python knights who craved a shrubbery were not so far off the historical mark: archaeologists have uncovered startling evidence of The Great Stonehenge Hedge.


Inevitably dubbed Stonehedge, the evidence from a new survey of the Stonehenge landscape suggests that 4,000 years ago the world's most famous prehistoric monument was surrounded by two circular hedges, planted on low concentric banks. The best guess of the archaeologists from English Heritage, who carried out the first detailed survey of the landscape of the monument since the Ordnance Survey maps of 1919, is that the hedges could have served as screens keeping even more secret from the crowd the ceremonies carried out by the elite allowed inside the stone circle.


Their findings are revealed tomorrow in British Archaeology magazine, whose editor, Mike Pitts, an archaeologist and expert on Stonehenge himself, said: "It is utterly surprising that this is the first survey for such a long time, but the results are fascinating. Stonehenge never fails to reveal more surprises."


"The time these two concentric hedges around the monument were planted is a matter of speculation, but it may well have been during the Bronze Age. The reason for planting them is enigmatic."


Pitts wonders if the hedges might have been to shelter the watchers from the power of the stones, as much as to ward off their impious gaze.


If the early Bronze Age date is correct, when the hedges were planted the Stonehenge monument already had the formation now familiar to millions of tourists, after centuries when the small bluestones from west Wales and the gigantic sarsens from the Stonehenge plain were continually rearranged.


The survey also found puzzling evidence that there may once have been a shallow mound among the stones, inside the circle. It was flattened long ago, but is shown in some 18th century watercolours though it was written off as artistic licence by artists trying to make the site look even more picturesque. The archaeologists wonder if the circle originally incorporated a mound which could have been a natural geological feature, or an even earlier monument.



Long lost theory on Silbury Hill is uncovered

8:15am Tuesday 2nd February 2010

By Nigel Kerton


Letters that lay undiscovered in national archives for more than 230 years suggest that Silbury Hill, the enigmatic man-made mound that stands between Marlborough and Beckhampton, may have originally be constructed around some sort of totem pole.


Historians have uncovered in the British Library in London letters written in 1776 that describe a 40ft-high pole which once stood at the centre of Silbury Hill. Europe’s largest man-made mound.


The letters detail an 18th century excavation into the centre of the man-made mound, where archaeologists discovered a long, thin cavity six inches wide and about 40ft deep.


A separate excavation found fragments of oak timber within the cavity leading historians to believe that the mound was built around the pole dating from around 2,400 BC.


David Dawson, director of the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, said: “This is important, lost information dug out of the library, rather than through field work.


“It tells us that in one of its earliest phases some kind of totem pole was erected on the mound, then subsequent additions to build the hill up were piled up around that timber.”


The 18th century letters, written from Edward Drax to Lord Rivers, described excavations Drax had supervised at Silbury Hill.


He oversaw the digging of a vertical shaft from top to bottom that is sometimes claimed to be the work of the Duke of Northumberland.


Drax, a wealthy landowner who lived in Bath, had hired a team of miners to dig a shaft from the top of Silbury Hill, to the centre of the hill, 125 feet below.


To begin with the miners found little but chalk and pieces of deer antler, but 95 feet down - some 30 feet above where they expected the base of the mound to be – they stumbled upon a deep, narrow cavity.


The hole was six inches across but Drax noted: “We have already followed it already about 20 feet, we can plumb it about eleven feet more.”


In his letter he wrote that “something now perished must have remained in this hole to keep it open”.


Together with a later, independent account of fragments of oak timber found at the centre of the mound, the evidence adds weight to the totem pole theory.


Last year English Heritage completed a £2 million restoration programme on the mound to prevent it from collapsing after previous excavations, including the one by Drax, had left the structure weakened and prey to erosion.


Drax’s letters have been published for the first time in the new volume of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine.



Bronze brooch rises from the ashes



A 1,400-YEAR-OLD brooch dating from the early Christian period has been discovered in the remnants of a turf fire in a range in north Kerry.


It is believed the brooch fastened the cloak of a clergyman and was dropped, probably on a forest road which later became bog. It ended up in a sod of turf in the range of Sheila and Pat Joe Edgeworth at Martara, Ballylongford, near the Shannon estuary. Lands alongside the Shannon are chequered with early Christian ruins and holy wells.


The bronze brooch was found shortly before Christmas by Ms Edgeworth when she was cleaning out her range.


The turf had been cut by machine and drawn from the Edgeworths’ bog at nearby Tullahennel last summer.


The find has been hailed by archaeologists as most exciting.


Pat Joe Edgeworth told the Kerryman newspaper: “Sheila found it while cleaning the grate. ‘What in the name of God is this?’ she asked me. I said it looked like half a donkey’s mouth-bit, as they were always drawing turf out with donkeys. It was blackened from the fire, but as we looked at it closer and cleaned it up I had a good idea it was a brooch, because it was similar to the ones I had seen in books,” he said.


Known by archaeologists as a “zoomorphic penannular brooch”, it is a type that was developed in Ireland in the sixth and seventh centuries following earlier examples from Roman Britain. The Tullahennel brooch is “particularly interesting” because it is decorated on its terminals with two crosses, meaning that at the very least its original owner was a Christian, and most likely a member of the clergy, said Griffin Murray, collections officer at Kerry County Museum.


“Stylistically the brooch can be dated to around AD 600. It is a rare example of a piece of jewellery belonging to one of the earliest Christians in Ireland, only a generation after St Brendan. For that reason, it is a very exciting find,” Mr Murray said.


 “Provenance is all important when it comes to archaeological finds so, we were very lucky, in this instance, to be able to trace the brooch to a strip of bog owned by the finder’s husband, Pat Joe Edgeworth, at Tullahennel.


“The brooch had been lost in the bog by its original owner and survived being dug up by machine and then thrown in the fire in a sod of turf. The story is truly remarkable.”


The brooch is the latest in a number of early finds – including a hoard of Viking silver – which have been acquired under the National Monuments Act by the Kerry Museum in Tralee. Undergoing conservation, it is due to go on permanent exhibition in the next couple of months.



Search for Columba's monastery

Published Date: 04 February 2010

By Linda Engels


ARCHAEOLOGISTS are hoping to find the exact location of the original monastery built by St Columba when he arrived in Scotland in AD563.


The National Trust for Scotland is conducting a survey on the island of Iona, off Mull, this week to try to locate the remains of the early Christian monastery built by the sixth-century missionary.


A team from Orkney College is carrying out a series of geophysical tests in the fields around Iona Abbey, searching for evidence of a monastery built by the Irish monk. The last geophysical survey of the area was carried out in the 1970s, with relatively primitive equipment.


A spokeswoman said the results of the old search had given the archaeologists an idea where the wall might be. They hope the current survey, which is using far superior equipment, will reveal the real shape of the structures. They might even be able to create a 3D reconstruction.


Derek Alexander, an archaeologist with the National Trust for Scotland, said: "There's some debate about the exact location of Columba's monastery, but we're hoping that the project will enable us to locate not only the monastery, but other structures, such as dwelling houses and workshops that would have formed part of the religious settlement.


"The last survey was carried out in the 1970s, and while this has shown us where to start looking, the the equipment available now will enable us to explore the site in much greater detail."


Ground-penetrating radar and other equipment will be used to map underground features.


The survey has been joint-funded by Historic Scotland, which cares for Iona Abbey – the restored 13th-century building on the site of St Columba's original church.


Results from the survey will be published this spring.



1,500-yr old city gate discovered

A joint excavation team of France and Bangladesh have discovered an ancient city gate on the southwestern side of Mahasthangarh archaeological site in Bogra, Bangladesh


Archaeologists in Mahasthangarh archaeological site have recently discovered an ancient city gate, used as the city's entrance at least 1,500 years ago.


A joint archaeological excavation team of France and Bangladesh found the ancient city gate on February 1 on the south-western side of the site.


After the discovery, the team claimed that the age of the gate considering the earth and area is at least 1,500 years as they made a similar archaeological discovery at the location last year.


French archaeologist Ernelle Berliet said that several types of stone including sandstones were used along with brick to construct the floor of the gate. The width of the gate was at least 2.95 metres, according to archaeologists.


They however could not give further details at this moment.


Dr Jean-Francois Salles, programme director and team leader of the French team, said that the city entrance was for ordinary use.


“We have found some bronze and iron objects including iron nails during excavation which were used for making door and other purposes,” said Berliet.


Archaeologist Naheed Sultana said, “We found 22 building level in the city area of the ancient site during excavations from 1993.”


The joint team started excavation in mid-January this year in the south part of the city wall to find out more archaeological objects and structures.


A few years ago, a joint team found a mud stove of 400 BC in Mahasthangarh archaeological site during an archaeological excavation, sources said.



Extinct Ethnic Group Vestiges Discovered in Chihuahua



More than a dozen dwelling, ritual and funerary sites, some of them more than 1,000 years old, were located inside shallow caves at Barranca de la Sinforosa (Sinforosa Gully), Chihuahua. According to preliminary studies, vestiges could correspond to Tubar people, an indigenous group that isolated in Tarahumara Mountain Range during Colonial times to avoid evangelization, and extinguished in late 19th century.


Nine dwelling sites, 2 ceremonial and 2 of funerary character were found in Ohuivo, Chorogue, Zapuri and Güerachi localities of Guachochi municipality in Chihuahua.


Archaeologist Enrique Chacon, from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), declared that according to first explorations, 3 types of sites were identified, which, according to architecture, burial system and regional research references, are dated in 16th-17th centuries, while others could go back to 11th century of the Common Era.


Regarding the features of these sites, he mentioned they are similar to those known traditionally as “cliff dwellings”, found in Northwest Mexico and Southwest United States.


Chihuahua INAH Center researcher pointed out that at funerary sites detected in rocky shelters, 5 individuals were found: 2 children and 3 young persons, which remains have been dated between 1000 and 1450 AD. In a cave at least 6 individuals of both genders and different ages were located; these rests date from 16th or 17th centuries of the Common Era. Skeletons were found disperse, they were not placed in specific positions.


Associated material indicates they were wrapped up in vegetal fiber matting (Petate), tied up with rope, and assured with wooden needles. Offerings were found as well, such as ceramic artifacts and vegetal gourds, mainly.


Cultural affiliation has been preliminary determined: Rests correspond to Tubar people. “The collective memory of Raramuri or Tarahumara people refers that archaeological sites located were dwelled by Cocoyome, term used to name Tubares that would not accept evangelization”, explained the researcher.


“We know that Tubar people had 3 development stages: they were nomadic, semi-nomadic and finally they settled down in small communities, using caves as dwellings, graves and warehouses”, added Chacon.


Ceremonial or ritual sites correspond to cavities drilled in the rocks of hills where rituals took place, apparently. One of these sites was found atop a hill and the other at the entrance of a cave.


Archaeological exploration began after indigenous groups reported the vestiges in 2009.


“We obtained ceramic material samples to compare them to Tubar ceramics we keep at Chihuahua INAH Center”. Chacon concluded that the first step to protect caves and cultural heritage has been taken; vestiges are registered in the INAH Public Register of Monuments and Archaeological Sites.