Saturday, 29 October 2011

Nine Stones/Archaeotreks

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 walk

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

Placing the Dead-the quest for immortality

'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

...& A Deaf Dog Too

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.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

November Walks

Here is the itinerary for November. All walks will be posted individually with more details near their time. The double dates are repeated walks.

5th/6th - Martin's Down [Bank Barrow + round barrows]
13th - Nine Stones [stone circle]
19th/20th - Roman Dorchester
27th - Pilsden Pen [hillfort]

Hope to see you at one or more.

0776 869 51 62

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


The Hellstones (long barrow)

Just a reminder of my next walk to Hellstones this Sunday. Meet 10am at Abbotsbury (near the shops and old school) and we can then car share up to the layby where the path starts for the site. Just a short one this week unless people want to go and see the Hampton stone circle as well, which is nearby.

Hope to see you there.  

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Hill's Are Alive

Dorset is a county where you can walk from one unique archaeological site to another in minutes. This weekend we visited one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in the UK and one of the most famous Bronze Age 'Bowl' barrows.
Maiden Castle

Maiden Castle, as we see it now, was constructed between 450 BC and 200 BC and covers 47 acres. Driving into Dorchester it still dominates the town. But this massive monument is not the whole story. 6,000 years ago Neolithic farmers constructed one of the earliest features from our distant past to survive in our landscape, a causewayed enclosure. This consisted of two concentric circles deliniated by a series of elongated flat bottomed pits. Sir Mortimer Wheeler was digging here in the 1930s and was rather surprised to come across this puzzling feature. The most famous example is at Windmill Hill and we still do not know for sure what they were used for. They certainly could not be used for defense as the many gaps in the circle (the causeways) would make it easy for attackers to gain access to the interior. There is no settlement evidence (houses, domestic rubbish) and although two burials were found at this MC example (two child burials with pottery, animal bone and limpet shells) they were not funerary monuments. Suggestions that they were market places and ritual centres (that old standby) have been put forward. The Essex example at Orsett has evidence of palisades and how they were used to control access into the interior areas of the monument. Many cattle bones are found and remains of charcoal in the ditches and burnt areas suggest perhaps of slaughter and feasting.

What ever they were this MC example was abandoned around 3,400 BC. A remarkable long period of use. The other Neolithic monument to be found here is also hard to interpret; the Bank Barrow. Once again Dorset is a county that can say that out of only a handfull of examples it has three and possibly four of these enigmatic features. They are unique to Britain and the MC example is 546m long with two ditches 19.5m apart. Like other examples this one has been extended at some point, to its present length. No burials, as in long barrows (except secondary) and they have been interpreted as boundary markers.

The first hillfort was constructed in 600 BC and covered 16 acres of the eastern part of the present hillfort. The entrance was faced with limestone blocks brought from 2 miles away. During the Middle Iron Age many small hillforts were abandoned and large hillforts like MC extended. In the 1980s many strucutres, roundhouses and grain pits were recorded. But it would be a mistake to describe these places as either 'castles' or settlements. No one in their right minds would live in such windswept places with no water supply permanently. Also I/A people did not wage warfare with armies (until the resistance to the Roman Empire). Hillforts are now seen as statements of power and status and places where the tribal resource is seen to be 'protected'. The tribes would gather here, also, for events, rituals and markets. Many people into the modern age continued to gather on hilltops for events and markets.

The Romans took hillforts easily but they continued to be seen as places for ritual. The Romano-British temple built here after AD 367 is evidence of that. The so called 'war' cemetery is now seen to be one where people buried their dead carefully in this important place, even though it had ceased to be used as in past generations. 

Clandon Barrow

Clandon barrow was dug in 1882 by Edward Cunnington, who found the treasures now housed in the Dorset County Museum. Including an incense cup, a grooved dagger, a Kimmeridge shale macehead with gold inlay, and the gold lozenge similar to the one found at Bush barrow near Stonehenge.

Bush Barrow lozenge

The primary burial was not found, but two later inhumations of the Roman period were located in stone cists near the top of the mound. 

Bournmouth University has now established that the mound is in fact two mounds, one on top of the other (as can be seen here, where the notch is). All the treasure was from the later mound. So the occupant is still safely resting, as s/he has been for over 4,000 years.    

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Knowlton Henge

I recieved an email from Matthew Hart (Head of Visitor Operations-EH) regarding the signage to Knowlton Henge. They have to apply to the Highways Authority and meet a number of requirements, one of which is visitor numbers. It seems that not enough people visit to make signage desirable. It seems to me that if EH have the numbers they should send them to the HA, but it also seems that this is a Catch 22. If people do not know about the site and how to get to it the numbers will remain small and thus no signage will be put up to make it easier to find. Of course if the numbers rise it may well cause problems in itself. The site has a small layby on a narrow lane with space for only 2-3 cars. When I took my MA at UCL 10 years ago (Managing Archaeological Sites) this was just such a problem that we were trying to address. All the 'stakeholders' would have to be involved to resolve any issues but this site does deserve greater recognition. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Widening the Audience for Community Archaeology

The Archaeologist is a magazine for members of the Institute for Archaeologists. Its Autumn edition Number 81 has a section talking about public participation in archaeology in relation to PPS5 (government legislation relating to archaeology in the planning process). It is hoped that PPS5 will promote the development and enabling of community projects and public engagement, especially those groups at risk of social exclusion.

Many schemes have been set up to encourage Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) participation in heritage jobs. Less attention has been given to such aspects as socio-economic or disability barriers to heritage work and participation. Gloucester City Council's Heritage Service collaborated with GEAR to engage homeless people, for example. The Council for British Archaeology has set up the Community Archaeological Bursaries Project, funded by the HLF, to train future community archaeologists. All this is a step in the right direction. But (you could hear that coming) it is still to little and the results could still very well produce a narrow demographic of newly trained professionals coming into community archaeology from the same backgrounds, as I have witnessed as a digger. Namely white, middle class, university educated young people. That is only going to get worse as university fees cull working class people, young and old, from going to college. I could go to college as a middle aged man with two kids because of grants plus working through the holidays. Even so I was lucky to find someone of a similar background to me during my working life in the field. The only other people I did meet similar to myself came from the old MSC scheme which allowed them to work as archaeologists without needing a degree. Some have gone on to good careers.

The past cannot be changed. The demographic in archaeology will not change in a flash. Future community archaeologists will be from the same narrow range of backgrounds as in the field. The job demands having a degree and no less. Commercialisation of archaeology demands professional, highly trained people where time is money and no time for volunteers. The development of community archaeology through PPS5 will lead to a top-down programmes of engagement. The CBA scheme will lead to a few trained Community Archaeologists running a few projects in privilaged areas where developers with the inclination and money to pay for it. Meanwhile people like me (ex-professional, older, trying to engage local people with their past with no support) are struggling.

I don't have all the answers. But we could acknowledge that all our communities need to be allowed to choose to be engaged with their past. So we need as many trained and/or experienced archaeologists to supply that need. I would suggest that most communities have museums and that is where the community archaeologist could be located. Also in field units, heritage businesses, and local authorities. Community archaeology just won't work if it is not based in the community. That has to be small scale, bottom-up projects backed by the larger organisations with 'embedded' CAs. Who pays? That is a question for us all. How important is your heritage? We just have to sit down and work it out. Only then will the demographic change as more people from all walks of life, who have experienced the thrill of finding the past themselves, want to move into running more community projects or even become professionals, with or without degrees (we should move away from that criteria and value experience more).        

One example sited in TA 81 is a project at Telford New Town. The project set out to excavate workers' houses demolished in 1970 and a local iron furnace as part of the planning process (PPS5!). Pre- and post-residents got together and set up a heritage group with the help of a heritage business called NEXUS Heritage. This challenged the popular image of the New Town as having no heritage roots. This is an example of a project starting due to PPS5 and a business getting involved. Wouldn't it be great to see many such projects starting through the help of local community archaeologists and other partners (museums, units, businesses, local authorities, community groups etc) to work on small scale excavations (very local and not always on what would normally be seen as classic archaeology, as in Telford) and non-intrusive surveys.
Meanwhile I will just crack on doing my own thing as best I can.

Also go to: for news on cuts to our exisiting heritage service. The Philistines are back in charge.