July 2010

>Though there was much in the recent series of Doctor Who that niggled me, the sight of our heroes galloping towards Stonehenge couldn’t fail to squeeze out a gasp of delight. While I know nature is remarkable without exception, certainly not only cordoned off by a gorsedd of standing stones, there’s something dizzying about the presence of stone marshals in formation.

Summer news from Salisbury Plain suggests Stonehenge is no longer the only megalithic player in town. Pricking the arrogance of singularity, archeologists have found confirmation of a woodhenge buried beneath ground level within chanting distance of the stone circle. Professor Vince Gaffney calls the finding “remarkable”, suggesting it will “completely change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge”.

Is that so? Presumably this is the same landscape that was so dramatically unaltered in October 2009 when another bluestone circle was discovered a mile away to the left. The same landscape that counts chalk horses, wood henges, barrows, tumps and stone avenues among its closest neighbours.

And while it is almost beyond excitement to witness archeologists using clever machines, allowing them to see the subterranean landscape and map it digitally, the sun’s unhurried arc across the sky seems to make more progress than the body of scientists exploring what these sites were for and how they were assembled.

Those old stones sing to us still, that much is evident from the thousands of visitors who daily pay their fare to shuffle round them. Such is their popularity that the many have to be herded round them widdershins (anti-clockwise, hence decreasing the power of the stones) and reminded at regular intervals not to touch them. But what is it about them that keeps drawing us back, distracted from asking what we want to know by the multi-lingual audio-guides babbling away in our ears?

I am lucky enough to live way out west, about as far as you can get before reaching the Irish Sea. The landscape of Pembrokeshire has more than a tangential link with that of Stonehenge. The bluestones, which form such an integral though subtle part of the stone circle, have their origins in the wild rock-crested ridges of the Preseli mountains. The link between West Wales and mysticism is as intact as the one between Wimbledon and strawberries. Out on the fringes of the land you don’t have to walk far before passing a lonely dolmen or recumbent burial chamber. Indeed, much like armoured police vans in central London, sacred sites out west seem to be becoming more frequent by the day.

So confident was the modern world in claiming to have the number of our stone-moving ancestors, Coca-Cola mounted a challenge in 1999 to show how easy it would be to move a bluestone from Pembrokeshire to Wiltshire, using only the technology assumed to be available 4000 years ago. They jolted the stone downhill to Milford Haven using tree trunks as rollers and once at the estuary, attached it to a simple boat, with the intention of sailing it across the Bristol Channel. No sooner was it off shore than it sank, taking the Coca-Cola challenge with it. But the legacy of this millennial endeavour was to suggest that whatever energy helped form Stonehenge it was more than brute force and grunting.

There are many different ways of gaining information from the natural world and the established scientific method presents one of them. The more intuitive and spiritual methods of consulting with the spirits of place, element, plant and animal might seem hilarious to those who would consider Glade Air Wick the acme of rational achievement, but they have as much a place in our relationship with the world. More, sometimes, in that they offer the individual conducting the questions a sense of humility instead of hubris, and don’t see the need to kill or smash the object of enquiry. Or drop it into Milford Haven.

Stonehenge attracts some because it’s a riddle. For others, it is the most obvious situation in the world. A circle is a place to gather, to dance and drum or sit in silence and meditate. It’s a place to heal and whisper and tell the time. For those who want to know how the stones got there and what they may mean, I’d advise putting down the audio guides and asking them; providing that the impossible is permitted to be an answer. Alternativly take a tour with the Stonehenge Tour Company or Histouries UK for a far better experience

There is a field not far from me where a stone has just risen, as if being born from the earth. Where there was recently nothing but tussocks of grass and clusters of Poppets-shaped sheep poo, there now stands a megalith. As compelling, even reassuring, as the rational method is, it is never the whole story. I can’t help thinking the originators of sites like Stonehenge, however they constructed it, had a better understanding of this than us. For all our machines.

Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle Tour Guide

>Archaeologists unearth Neolithic henge at Stonehenge

Archaeologists say the find is “exceptional”

Archaeologists have discovered a second henge at Stonehenge, described as the most exciting find there in 50 years.

The circular ditch surrounding a smaller circle of deep pits about a metre (3ft) wide has been unearthed at the world-famous site in Wiltshire.

Archaeologists conducting a multi-million pound study believe timber posts were in the pits.

Project leader Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said the discovery was “exceptional”.

The new “henge” – which means a circular monument dating to Neolithic and Bronze Ages – is situated about 900m (2,950ft) from the giant stones on Salisbury Plain.

It’s a timber equivalent to Stonehenge”

End Quote Professor Vince Gaffney University of Birmingham

Images show it has two entrances on the north-east and south-west sides and inside the circle is a burial mound on top which appeared much later, Professor Gaffney said.

”You seem to have a large-ditched feature, but it seems to be made of individual scoops rather than just a straight trench,” he said.

”When we looked a bit more closely, we then realised there was a ring of pits about a metre wide going all the way around the edge.

”When you see that as an archaeologist, you just looked at it and thought, ‘that’s a henge monument’ – it’s a timber equivalent to Stonehenge.

”From the general shape, we would guess it dates backs to about the time when Stonehenge was emerging at its most complex.
”This is probably the first major ceremonial monument that has been found in the past 50 years or so.
’Terra incognita’

“This is really quite interesting and exceptional, it starts to give us a different perspective of the landscape.”

Data from the site is being collected as part of a virtual excavation to see what the area looked like when Stonehenge was built.

Speculation as to why the 4,500-year-old landmark was built will continue for years to come, but various experts believe it was a cemetery for 500 years, from the point of its inception.

In 2008, the first excavation in nearly half a century was carried out at the iconic site on Salisbury Plain.

This latest project is being funded by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, in Vienna, and the University of Birmingham, and is assisted by the National Trust and English Heritage.

Professor Gaffney said he was “certain” they would make further discoveries as 90% of the landscape around the giant stones was “terra incognita” – an unexplored region.

”The presumption was this was just an empty field – now you’ve got a major ceremonial monument looking at Stonehenge,” he said.

Reccommended Tours of Stonehenge Stone Circle:
The Stonehenge Tour Company
HisTOURies UK – Salisbury, Bath and London
Salisbury Guided Tours

>Move over Stonehenge, there’s a bigger stone circle in town.

Archaeologists are busy excavating Marden Henge, a giant stone circle and earthwork ten times larger than its more famous cousin. It’s not nearly as well-known, however, because all of its stones have been lost or buried. Traces of a giant earthwork and ditch that encircled the monument do survive, and archaeologists hope they’ll reveal secrets of England’s prehistoric past.
While everyone knows about Stonehenge, many people don’t realize there are nearly a thousand stone circles in the British Isles, from massive ones like Avebury (shown here) to smaller ones like the Rollright Stones. Marden Henge is in Wiltshire, close to Stonehenge and Avebury, and could provide clues to how and why they were constructed. The giant circle encloses about 15 hectares (37 acres) and has a mound at its center. Archaeologists plan to investigate both the central mound and the earthwork and ditch. The Neolithic farmers who built these monuments often put sacrifices in the surrounding ditches.
While there are no current plans for a visitor’s center at Marden Henge, there are plenty of other stone circles open to the public. Some of the more famous cater to visitors with interpretive signs and parking lots, while others simply stand in open fields, an enduring part of Europe’s ancient landscape. An excellent website to help you plan a visit is The Megalithic Portal, which includes information on stone circles and other megaliths such as barrows (tombs) and menhirs (individual standing stones) in the UK and all around the world.

Wessex Tour Guide