January 2010

>WOW 360-degree views of Stonehenge – click here

Avebury and Stonehenge can be explored with the click of a mouse from today as the National Trust’s most famous sites have been added to Google’s Street View mapping.

Over 20 historic locations across the UK – including castles, landscapes and country houses – have been scanned using a panoramic camera, bolted to the back of a tricycle, and added to Google’s online mapping service.

Users can now take a 360-degree, ground-level tour of sites such as Corfe Castle in Dorset, Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland, and Plas Newydd in Wales.

Austen fans with a romantic sensibility can even take a virtual turn around Lyme Park in Cheshire – made famous by Colin Firth’s emergence from its lake as Mr Darcy in the BBC’s adaptation of Pride And Prejudice.

Google’s Street View cyclists pedalled over 125 miles on the 18-stone trike, following marked routes around the National Trust sites to capture them from every angle.

Ed Parsons, technologist at Google, said: “We were delighted to be able to open up some of the UK’s most famous landmarks to the rest of the world via the web.”

However, he does not believe the online experience will discourage tourists from visiting the sites in person.

“It’s a fun way to preview what to see and do on a day out,” he said.

“Or whet your appetite for where to go next.”

Google will continue to collect images from other National Trust sites throughout 2010, including UNESCO World Heritage Site the Giant’s Causeway, in County Antrim.

PLANS for the new £27.5million visitor centre and facilities at Stonehenge have been given the go ahead by Wiltshire Council.

Despite concerns raised about increased congestion, the size of the new car park and transportation from the centre to the ancient monument, 12 out of 13 councillors on the council’s strategic planning committee voted to approve the scheme.

The project involves building a new centre with a car park at Airman’s Corner, with a land train to take visitors to the stone circle.

The existing visitor centre and parking will be removed and the A344 from Stonehenge to the A303 will be closed off and grassed over.

Cars will be diverted to Longbarrow Roundabout and along the A360 to Airman’s Corner, where a new roundabout will be constructed.

“There is no question that something is needed,” said Amesbury councillor Fred Westmoreland. “To me, this site makes sense.

“Most of the objections which are being made are looking for a solution we are never going to get. This is the third planning application, or the fourth, and you will never get everyone to agree on everything.

“If in five years or five months time we find the road system does not work, no problem, we can change the system. If we find the buildings themselves are not working particularly well, we can amend them.

Cllr Christine Crisp said: “There is public money on the table to make this one happen. If it is delayed a year or two years, we will have no idea whether there is any public money on the table to make that development happen.”

Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge project director for English Heritage, said: “This is an important step in returning Stonehenge to a more dignified setting and creating facilities more fitting for a world-renowned tourist attraction.

“We can now begin to look forward to providing a much improved, high quality experience for visitors at an environmentally sensitive development.”

* Councillors also approved an application to move the Airman’s Cross monument from its current position at the staggered junction into the visitor centre grounds, where it will be placed next to the path from the car park to the centre.

English Heritage welcomes Stonehenge Vistor Centre decision

English Heritage has welcomed yesterday’s decision by Wiltshire Council’s planning committee to approve plans for a new visitor centre for Stonehenge.

Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge project director for English Heritage, said: “This is an important step in returning Stonehenge to a more dignified setting and creating facilities more fitting for a world-renowned tourist attraction.

“We can now begin to look forward to providing a much improved, high quality experience for visitors at an environmentally sensitive development.”

With planning permission in place for the visitor centre, plans for the closure of the A344 adjacent to the Stones (from the A303 to Byway 12) will now be put forward for approval. At the same time, Wiltshire Council will be consulting on proposals to restrict motorised vehicles on the remaining part of the A344 and on nearby Byways.

Following a lengthy consultation and extensive technical assessments, the Prime Minister announced on 13 May last year that Airman’s Corner would be the location for new Stonehenge visitor facilities. Together with proposals for the closure of the A344, the scheme will enhance the monument’s setting by removing the existing visitor facilities (including car parking) and improving the visitor experience with new exhibition and education facilities. A fully accessible transit system will run from the new visitor centre to a drop-off near the Stones.

Airman’s Corner is about 1.5 miles (2.5km) west from Stonehenge, on the junction of the A344 and A360. It is at the edge of the World Heritage Site and is easily accessible by road. The land is currently used for farming, with very few residents living close to the site.

Stonehenge may have been used as a site where knowledge was communicated ritually, according to a new theory.

Lynne Kelly, La Trobe University doctoral researcher and science writer, has been working on technologies oral cultures used to present and pass on scientific knowledge.

Kelly demonstrated the constant changes in the archaeology at Stonehenge are consistent with the mnemonic (conveying through chants and rituals) needs of the knowledge elite as they settle, while delivering the inaugural Marshall McLuhan Lecture in Chicago.

‘Instead of moving between sacred places to perform the cycle of ceremonies which encode all formal knowledge of their culture, Neolithic Britons replicated that landscape in the monuments they built over 1,500 years in transition from a mobile hunter-gathering to settled agriculture,’ says Kelly.

The Neolithic Britons who built Stonehenge, like other cultures starting to settle, lacked a written language with which to preserve their knowledge.

Kelly says the most reliable recording system they had were mnemonic methods, whereby knowledge ranging from animal behaviour to astronomy could be communicated.

To facilitate this, she argues that Stonehenge itself acted as a knowledge centre, a function that it had in common with many other sites around the world, says a university release.

Kelly’s research draws parallels with oral cultures such as Native American, African and Aboriginal Australian, and finds clues in the physical remains of Stonehenge.

A new research project that promises to significantly improve our understanding of Stonehenge is going ahead after receiving an £800,000 grant.

Dr Oliver Craig, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, is part of the team behind Feeding Stonehenge, a follow-up to the earlier Stonehenge Riverside project which saw a wealth of material excavated from nearby Durrington Walls.

The latest stage of the research involves the analysis of that material, including pottery, stone tools and animal bones, to shed new light on the people who built and visited Stonehenge.

“Earlier investigations have made huge inroads into our understanding of what is one of the world’s most important prehistoric monuments but many questions remain unanswered”

Feeding Stonehenge is being supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Dr Craig said: “This research will allow us to gauge Stonehenge’s significance in the 3rd Millennium BC and the extent of its sphere of influence.

“Earlier investigations have made huge inroads into our understanding of what is one of the world’s most important prehistoric monuments but many questions remain unanswered.

“The next stage will focus on how the people who built Stonehenge lived, what they ate, when the monument was visited and where the visitors came from.”

Initial chemical analysis of cattle teeth found in the area suggests the animals were raised hundreds of miles away before being walked to Durrington Walls for slaughter and consumption.

One aim of Feeding Stonehenge that will be covered by the York team will be to try and understand what the pottery was used for by conducting chemical analysis of any organic residues present.

Pottery was used for domestic as well as ceremonial activities but it is not known what types of foods were prepared for these different activities.

The Feeding Stonehenge research is led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield working alongside Dr Craig, Dr Umberto Albarella, from the University of Sheffield and Dr Jane Evans, from the NERC British Geological Survey.

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Britain’s failure to deal with road traffic around the prehistoric stone circle is condemned as ‘a national disgrace’

The traffic-choked roads still roaring past Stonehenge in Wiltshire have earned the world’s most famous prehistoric monument a place on a list of the world’s most threatened sites.

The government’s decision to abandon, on cost grounds, a plan to bury roads around Stonehenge in a tunnel underground and the consequent collapse of the plans for a new visitor centre, have put the site on the Threatened Wonders list of Wanderlust magazine, along with the 4×4-scarred Wadi Rum in Jordan, and the tourist-eroded paths and steps of the great Inca site at Machu Picchu in Peru.

Lyn Hughes, editor in chief of Wanderlust, said the A303 and A344 junctions near Stonehenge meant the site was “brutally divorced from its context”. She said: “Seeing it without its surrounding landscape is to experience only a fraction of this historical wonder. The fact that the government and various planning bodies cannot agree on implementing a radical solution to this problem is a national disgrace.”

The first great earth banks and ditches of the monument date back 5,000 years, and it was then repeatedly remodelled, with the addition of the circle of sarsen stones the size of doubledecker buses, and smaller bluestones brought from west Wales, and said to have healing powers.

Hughes was echoing the words 21 years ago of the parliamentary public accounts committee, which in 1989 damned the presentation of the site and the facilities for tourists as “a national disgrace”.

Since then millions have been spent on alternative road plans and architectural designs for the visitor centre, on exhibitions, consultations and public inquiries, without a sod of earth being turned.

Argument about how to care for the site raged throughout the 20th century: the circle itself is in the guardianship of English Heritage, while the National Trust owns thousands of acres of surrounding countryside, studded with hundreds more henges, barrows and other prehistoric monuments.

At the moment the best hope is that a much simpler and cheaper visitor centre can still be created, two kilometres from the site, in time for London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympics.

The team who worked on the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2009 are to return to their findings to explain the eating habits of the people who built and worshipped at the stone circle over four thousand years ago. Once again led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson from the University of Sheffield, the new ‘Feeding Stonehenge’ project will analyse a range of materials including cattle bones and plant residue.
At the time of the Winter Solstice experts believe people would have brought livestock with them to Stonehenge for a solstice feast. Initial research suggests the animals were brought considerable distances to the ceremonial site at this time of year. “One of the unforeseen outcomes (of the Stonehenge Riverside Project) is the vast quantity of new material – flint tools, animal bones, pottery, plant remains, survey data, and chemical samples – which now needs analysing,” explained Professor Parker Pearson. “We are going to know so much about the lives of the people who built Stonehenge – how they lived, what they ate, where they came from.”
A large collection of cattle jaws collected during the last few years’ excavations will now undergo strontium and sulphur isotope analysis to establish where they originally came from and when they were culled. This will give experts a better idea of where people had travelled from to visit the site. The research will also offer a better understanding of the dressing of the famous sarsen stones of Stonehenge and insights into how the public and private spaces at Durrington Walls and Stonehenge differ from each other. Researchers will also try and ascertain whether Britain’s Copper Age started 50 years earlier than first thought. Circumstantial evidence points to copper tools being in use at Durrington Walls earlier than originally thought. Cut-marks on animal bones should reveal whether they were made by copper daggers as opposed to flint tools.
“I’ve always thought when we admire monuments like Stonehenge, not enough attention has been given to who made the sandwiches and the cups of tea for the builders,” said Parker Pearson. “The logistics of the operation were extraordinary. Not just food for hundreds of people but antler picks, hide ropes, all the infrastructure needed to supply the materials and supplies needed. Where did they get all this food from? This is what we hope to discover.”
‘Feeding Stonehenge’, will take place over the next three years. Find out more about the Stonehenge Riverside Project at: http://www.shef.ac.uk/archaeology/research/Stonehenge

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